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Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) Involved with Coral Reefs


NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) operate independently of traditional government bodies and programs at the local, domestic and international level to manage, protect and restore coral reefs. They are not for-profit organization that focus on a particular social or humanitarian issue. Technically all nonprofits are NGOs, but “NGO” usually refers to internationally focused organizations that work on social issues. Consisting of both volunteers and professional scientists/organizers, they use public and private funding to carry out a variety of programs aimed at augmenting and improving existing governmental and intern-governmental efforts. NGOs that work to conserve reefs focus primarily on Protection (preventing existing reefs from being destroyed), Rehabilitation (restoring reefs that have been damaged directly or indirectly by human activity) and Research (understanding the nature of coral reef ecosystems so that they may be better protected in the future). Even though many NGOs focus on one of these specific goals, almost all of them have programs that deal with more than just one of these goals. [1] [2]

NGOs have particular advantages over businesses and governments. They are a more nimble institution and not as constrained by laws and politics. They can also partner with a wide range of institutions: governments, universities, businesses, and individuals (local or international).

Common Features

  • Public awareness: most organizations, e.g. Coral Reef Alliance (CRA) and Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), emphasize public education and awareness as a means of fostering support for conservation
  • Domestic vs. international: While the majority of Coral Reef NGOs are small and limited to a single biome, many pursue their goals across borders
  • Community Involvement: CRA, Reef Check and other organizations with global impact rely heavily on volunteer subgroups operating near individual reefs
  • Partnerships: NGOs typically partner with multiple other types of organizations to accomplish their goals. Examples include partnering with governments to monitor compliance with laws, and partnering with businesses to identify ways they can become more sustainable.


NGOs, by their nature, must rely heavily on public and private funding sources to achieve their goals. They draw monetary support from a variety of sources, including (but not limited to):

  • Government agencies (NOAA, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, etc.) in the form of grants and partnerships
  • Universities and Research Institutions
  • Donations from companies, corporations and private citizens
  • Their own fund raising efforts


The following organizations have achieved notable successes in the areas of protection, research or rehabilitation.


Coral Cay Conservation

Coral Cay logo
Coral Cay logo

Coral Cay is a UK based conservation group that uses ecotourism to survey reefs and assist local governments in reef conservation and protection. Volunteers from countries around the world pay Coral Cay to come and assist in conservation activities. There are two types of projects that volunteers can work on: Terrestrial or Marine. Terrestrial volunteers work in parks connected to the coral reefs, where they survey plant and animal life and assist park rangers in maintaining the biodiversity of parks. As of April 2016, the only Terrestrial project was in Montserrat. Volunteers can work for 1 to 10 weeks, for which their costs range from $450 to $3,700. Marine volunteers receive scuba training, which they use to survey the plant and animal life on the actual reefs. As of April 2016, Coral Cay has two Marine projects, one in the Philippines and one in Montserrat. Volunteers have to pay anywhere from $1,200 to $5,000, with costs being lower for those volunteers that are already scuba certified.

Coral Cay has had numerous successes in the field of reef protection. They have been particularly active in the Philippines, which has some of the most threatened reefs in the world. They have helped create a UNESCO world heritage site in Belize and the Danjugan Marine reserve and Wildlife sanctuary in the Philippines. Of the 20 reefs they have surveyed in Leyte--an island in the Philippines--8 have been declared MPAs. Finally, they helped establish the world’s largest MPA, in the Chagos Archipelago. [3] [4] [5]

Earthwatch and Mitsubishi

Earthwatch Institute logo
Earthwatch Institute logo

The Earthwatch Institute is an international environmental organization that has utilized corporate partnerships to promote environmental protection. These partnerships are throughout the world and are in a various focus areas, one being a partnership with Mitsubishi that focuses on coral reef ecology and preservation. The Mitsubishi Corporation’s Global Coral Reef Conservation Project is a partnership with and helps fund the Earthwatch project Coral and Coastal Ecology of the Seychelles. This project was founded in 2004 and aims to promote conservation and increase the scientific community's knowledge of coral reefs. It seeks to remind the scientific community that reefs have high levels of biodiversity, provide a variety of benefits to the human race, and are extremely sensitive to climate change. In addition, Earthwatch Australia and Mitsubishi Corporation have been researching coral diseases in the Great Barrier Reef since 2011. The Financial Times has named this partnership in the Top 10 Global Environmental NGOs for Corporate Sector Partnerships. [6] [7]

Coral Reef Alliance

Stephen Cowell founded this San Francisco based group in 1994 in an effort to educate the reef diving community about human threats to coral reefs. The organization has since grown into an international education, management and advocacy group that carries out programs in more than a dozen countries. Its board includes prominent individuals from Industry (James Tolonen, former entrepreneur, CEO and current chair), government (Elizabeth Wagner, senior IRS official), and academia (Nancy Knowlton, Smithsonian Chair for Marine Science), who oversee a growing network of volunteers and experts across the globe. It carries out its goals via

  • Micro-grants to local groups working to protect nearby reefs
  • Promoting reef resiliency
  • Awareness programs in critical areas
  • Marine Protected Areas (flagship program)

Among the oldest and most well known, the CRA has weathered numerous management issues [8] and continues to expand, with sites planned in Micronesia and the Indian Ocean. Its expanding efforts in Recreational Tourism have become a model for similar efforts around the world.


  • Belize: this former CRA site (and one of their first) saw significant results after 7 years of collaboration with reservations, resorts, newspapers and private citizens
Map of the world showing current future CRA sites [9]

Reef Relief Founders (RRF)

Formed in 1987 by a group of divers concerned about damage to reefs in the Florida Keys brought about by the rapid expansion of tourism in the region, RRF has garnered awards at the local, state, national and international levels for its extensive cleanup and monitoring programs. A smaller organization, its members provide reports on the ecosystems and management strategies of numerous sites in the Caribbean.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) [10]

WWF Symbol

Mission Statement "We work to conserve the world’s most important natural places and significantly change global forces to protect the future of nature. Our experts are active at every level—from field work to government—conserving the largest tropical rain forests, the most remote areas of our planet, and the world’s most endangered species."

Background The World Wide Fund for Nature is an international non-governmental organization that works on research, conservation and restoration of the environment. It is the world's largest independent conservation program, covering more than 100 countries with 5 million supporters, and supporting 1,300 conservation and environmental projects. It derives 57% of its funding from individuals and bequests, 11% from corporations, and 17% of its funding is from government sources. It was set up on the behalf of endangered animals and was proposed by Victor Stolan, an environmental activist. He and his two partners Julian Huxley and Max Nicholson opened its first office on September 11, 1961.

Approaches to conservation Currently, WWF's strategy is restoring species or species groups that are important to people or their ecosystem, as well as reducing ecological footprints when it comes to carbon emissions, grazing land, cropland, water, forestry, and fishing. WWF works in a number of avenues such as law, NGOs, governments, farmers, banks, finance, businesses, and individual consumption choices to achieve its goals. WWF's connection to the government is solely that of a lobbyist and collaborator.

Policy making The policies under WWF are made by board members who are elected on three-year terms. The National Council is an advisory group to the board, while the Executive Teams guide and develop WWF's strategies.

Important programs and campaigns

  • Debt-for-Nature Swap - A debt-for-nature swap is an agreement which offers eligible countries the option to support local conservation activities in exchange for paying off debts.
  • Earth Hour - Earth Hour is one hour out of the whole year that encourages millions of people across the globe to turn off their lights for an hour as a show of concern for the environment.
  • Marine Stewardship Council - "The MSC's fishery certification program and seafood ecolabel recognize and reward sustainable fishing. We are a global organization working with fisheries, seafood companies, scientists, conservation groups and the public to promote the best environmental choice in seafood."


Reef Check

Reef Check is a California-based organization that does a great deal of work in research and education. Like Coral Cay, they utilize volunteers to participate in reef surveys. However, it tends to use the data from these surveys for different purposes, primarily research and monitoring for compliance with existing laws. A particularly unique aspect of Reef Check is that they are one of the few organizations that work to protect California Rocky Reefs. California Rocky Reefs occur in the rocky ocean floor off the coast of California, where kelp beds and a diverse variety of marine creatures can be found. [11] Reef Check has partnered with the state of California to implement the Marine Life Protection Act, by educating the public on the act and helping monitor the health of the associated rocky reefs.

Besides its work with the Marine Life Protection Act, Reef Check has achieved numerous other successes. It has completed more than 10,000 surveys of reefs worldwide since its founding in 1997. It has made the data from these surveys available for public use, and academics from around the world have utilized it for their own studies. It has also used the data to create an online database, where anyone can look at the health of reefs from around the world. With regards to their concern for education, they have developed a snorkeling school in Haiti, the Rainforest to Reef to program in Malaysia, and the REEFSearch and Reef IQ program in Australia. Finally their research has helped establish MPAs in Haiti, Indonesia, Philippines, and the Dominican Republic. [12] [13] [14] [15]

Operation Wallacea (Opwall)

Opwall is a research institution unaffiliated with a government or university that carries out extensive conservation management research programs in remote locales (not limited to coral reefs). Using tuition and fees from students pursuing degrees under the program, it carries out around a dozen expeditions each year to various conservation sites. Its keystone operation is a four step monitoring program:

  • Assess Relative Biodiversity Value
  • Monitor Ecosystem Change
  • Monitor Socio-Economic Change
  • Establish and monitor conservation management programs

Opwall is unique in its emphasis on engaging students at the secondary and post-secondary levels in its research efforts, and it offers students interested in coral reefs the opportunity to promote conservation in an academic setting. The organization places great emphasis on respecting local culture and customs, providing economic benefits to the communities involved and, most importantly, providing comprehensive and relevant information to government agencies responsible for coral reef conservation.

Carmabi Foundation: Caribbean based [16]

  • One of the very first marine research institutes (established 1957)
  • Study fringing reefs of Curacao
  • Operates Curacao Marine Park [17]

Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network

In 1995, the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) asked nations to agree on increasing research and monitoring of coral reefs to provide data needed in order to protect them and inform nations on policies and laws that need to be implemented in order to protect them. This reef monitoring was a major plank when the ICRI began during the United Nations GLobal Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Islands Developing States in Barbados in 1994. The GCRMN was established to do such monitoring and research.

The largest organization of its kind, the GCRMN is devoted to strengthening understanding of coral reefs, promoting the exchange of information throughout the GCMRN network and making such information publicly available in a timely fashion. Encompassing 17 nodes (reef regions): Australia, Central America, Eastern Caribbean, Antigua and Bermuda, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Antilles, West Indies, Grenada, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, East Africa, Hawaii and U.S. Pacific islands, Mesoamerica, Micronesia, East Asia, Persian Gulf, Red Sea, South Asia, Polynesia, SE Asia, SW Indian Ocean, SW Pacific, and Tropical Eastern Pacific, each with its own set of contacts and experts, GCRMN works with the U.N., Department of Interior and others to monitor ecological and socio-economic changes in the world's reefs. This information is compiled into status reports that is made available to governments, research institutions and NGOs around the world.

Sponsors The GCRMN is supported by the U.S. Department of State, the ICRI, NOAA, UNEP, the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Japan Ministry of Environment, Le Criobe, PERSGA, Reef and Rainforest Research Center, Reef Check Foundation, SPREP, SPAW Protocol, Convention on Biological Diversity, The World Resources Institute, The WorldFish Center


Large Reef Ball with holes for coral settlement [18]

Reef Ball Foundation

The Reef Ball Foundation is a 501(c)3 that manufactures and sells concrete settlement installations in various sizes. To date, it has succeeded in placing more than a half-million Reef Balls in 60 countries, where they are used to help rebuild reefs and mangroves and to prevent erosion. They are custom made to suit the environment in which they will be used, which includes the pre-planting of sea grasses and abelones, addition of 'stalagmites' to foster vertical coral growth, and the installation of deterrents to destructive fishing such as I-beams.


The SECORE (SExual COral REproduction) foundation, initially based at the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands, focuses on [[ReefInhabitants#Coral|coral] breeding. Keystone corals are grown under controlled conditions on substrate tiles and transferred to various sites upon maturation. While more costly than other approaches (some estimates as high as $100 million per hectare [19], coral breeding is a fast and direct method that gives immediate results. In addition, the foundation conducts a number of workshops for reef researchers and promotes interaction between marine scientists and aquariums.

Coral Restoration Foundation

The Coral Restoration Foundation is a non profit that builds nurseries for endangered coral species, particularly staghorn and elkhorn. Divers plant or hang coral in secluded locations under excellent conditions, where it is allowed to grow before being transferred to the reef itself.

Interactive Organization

ReefBase: A Global Information System For Coral Reefs

Resources include:


  1. Raney, Dave. "United States Coral Reef Task Force." U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Homepage. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization, Nov. 2005. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.
  2. Côté, Isabelle M., and John D. Reynolds. "Status of Coral Reefs of the World: Summary of Threats and Remedial Action." Coral Reef Conservation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. N. pag. Print.
  3. Welcome to Coral Cay Conservation! - Coral Cay Conservation. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from
  4. DPWH paves road to Southern Leyte's Napantao dive site. (2016, February 14). Retrieved April 20, 2016, from
  5. Stevens, A. (2015, November 30). The best job on the planet? Life on a Philippine reef. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from
  6. Murray, S. (n.d.). Corporate partnership: NGOs tread gingerly when matchmaking - Retrieved April 12, 2016, from,Authorised=false.html?siteedition=intl
  7. Earthwatch Corporate Partner: Mitsubishi Corporation. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from
  8. Wells, Sue. "Assessing the Effectiveness of MPAs." Ed. Isabelle M. Côté and John D. Reynolds. Coral Reef Conservation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. N. pag. Print.
  10. "WWF." - Endangered Species Conservation. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.
  11. The David Lucile & Packard Foundation - Surveying California's Rocky Reefs. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016 from
  12. Reef Check - Publications. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from
  13. Reef Check - "Scigirls episode wins an Emmy Award (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from
  14. Reef Check - New MPAs for Haiti Declared. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016,
  15. Reef Check (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from
  16. Carambi Annual Report 2011" Carambi Foundation. Ed. Stokkermans, Vermeij, De Freitas, and Matthëus, 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.
  17. Brown, Barry. "Acropora Restoration Project Curacao." Secore Foundation. SECORE Foundation, 2009, Web. 25 Feb. 2013.
  19. Zimmer, Beth. "Coral Reef Restoration: An Overview." Coral Reef Restoration Handbook. Ed. William F. Precht. Boca Raton, FL: CRC/Taylor & Francis, 2006. N. pag. Print.
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