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Physical Damage

Coral reefs face many threats. The physical damage done to reefs is significant. Blast fishing, cyanide fishing, warming waters, tourism along with a myriad of practices have harmed many reefs to point of no return. 30% of percent of coral reefs are in critical condition and may die within the next decade. By the year 2050 it is estimated that over 60% of reefs will have died off completely[1].

Damages to reefs can be either natural and anthropogenic (human-caused). Some examples of anthropogenic stresses can be coastal development, tourism, or fishing. Natural stresses could be anything from weather, such as hurricanes, cyclones, ocean acidification, and disease.

Resources of Damages

Coastal Development

Coastal Development

Around the globe the number of people moving and visiting the coasts is increasing. As coastlines around the world are becoming developed into new housing, hotels, and tourist developments, this intense human presence is taking its toll on coral reefs and inhabitants.

Development along the coasts threatens a quarter of the world’s reefs[2]. These threats can come from the excess sewage coming from the resorts that can lead to sediment overload. Litter from the coast can also harm coral reefs. The trash will release toxins into the ocean, which reduces the quality of the water. Litter can also block much of the light from getting to the corals and other plants, which reduces photosynthesis.

As more people move to the coast piers and docks are made to accommodate the tourism and trade industries. Sometimes these docks and piers are built right on top of the reefs.

The increased amount of people living by the coast also calls for more food, which is solved by fishing. Overfishing and destructive fishing practices becomes commonplace for more valued fish like the snapper or grouper.

Tourism and Entertainment

Scuba divers visiting coral reefs

The tourism sector can be a major economic factor for the lands located near coral reefs. The tourism-related impacts have been great over the years to coral reefs. Tourism impacts can be either indirect or direct. Examples of direct impacts can be boating, snorkeling, diving. Fishing can lead to over-exploitation and destroy much of the reef’s wildlife. Indirect examples can be coastal development, such as resorts, marinas, airports, etc.

Damage from snorkelers and divers consists mostly of the breaking of branched corals. Many divers cause minimal damage, but there are a few that have caused massive damage. Even though the damage is small, it can add up at sites that are visited frequently by tourist. It can end up killing corals or leaving them susceptible to diseases. It is recommended that only 5000 to 6000 divers per year so that excess degradation may not occur[3]. Training these divers to interact with the reef environment is a great way to minimize damage.

The damage caused by anchors can be heavy. The amount of damage usually depends on the size of the boats, the chain, and the traffic the site receives each year. Bigger anchors can harm even the most sturdy corals. The chains can scrape the sides of corals, which remove tissue or can wrap around the corals and snap them off as the boats floats with the ebb and flow of the tide[4]. A solution to anchor damage is moorings. Moorings are permanent structures that boats can be secured to. These will help to keep anchors out of the water and the reef environment.

Destructive Fishing Practices

A large threat to coral reefs are destructive fishing practices. Overfishing is one of the biggest threats to coral reefs because it greatly reduces many of the fish in the reef food chain. There are many methods of fishing that can have large negative impacts on reefs. For example, blast fishing uses dynamite or some other explosive to stun fish so that divers may collect them. The blasts though can do much damage to the reefs to the point where they may not be able to recover. Even though it is illegal in most places blast fishing it is common in many areas like Southeast Asia.

Another very dangerous method of fishing is cyanide fishing[5]. This type fishing happens when a diver sprays a fish with cyanide so that the fish will be stunned. Usually cyanide fishing is done to collect these fish and put them aquariums which is a multi-million dollar industry in the United States and Europe. Some of the excess cyanide gets sprayed onto the reefs and kills the coral. It is estimated that in the Philippines alone over 65 tons of cyanide are sprayed in the ocean each year[5].

Other destructive fishing practices include[5] :

  • Bottom Trawling
  • Dragnet Fishing
  • Longline Fishing
  • Ghost Fishing


  1. Coral Reef Task Force (CRTF). 2000. The National Action Plan to Conserve Coral Reefs. Washington, DC: CRTF. p. 3.
  2. Burke, Lauretta. "Reefs at Risk from Coastal Development." World Resources Institute. N.p., Feb. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
  3. Hof van’t T. 2001. Tourism Impacts on Coral Reefs : Increasing awareness in the tourism sector. UNEP and Tours Operators Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development. Available from
  4. "Tourism's Impacts on Reefs." United Nations Environment Programme. UNEP, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Fishing Problems: Destructive Fishing Practices." WWF. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.