The Role of Coral Reefs

Coral reef off the coast of Key West

Coral Reefs are some of the most unique habitats on Earth. They are home to about 5,000 species of animal with more being discovered every day. Florida is unique in that it is home to the Florida Reef Tract, the largest reef ecosystem in the continental United States. The Florida Reef Tract lies in relatively shallow water off the southeast coast of Florida and stretches over 350 miles from the Dry Tortugas, north along the Atlantic coast to Martin County. Coral reefs in Florida and around the world are an incredibly vital habitat. Healthy reefs help increase the population of important fish species, contribute to local economies through jobs and tourism, provide food, protect our coasts, and even provide us with valuable medicines. Ecologically, coral reefs provide habitat for many species of fish, invertebrates, and sea turtles. These habitats are exceptionally important to our oceans. Even though they make up less than 1% of the ocean floor, they provide habitat for more than 25% of marine life. When reefs are healthy and functioning properly, they are able to support large populations of many fish species. Many of these species are sought after by both recreational and commercial fishermen.

Tourist sport fishing in Fla. waters

The presence of coral reefs, and the abundance of fish found there, can have dramatic impact on local economies. Fish that live on coral reefs are a significant food source for people all over the world. In the United States, about half of all managed fisheries rely on coral reefs at some point during their life cycle. In southeast Florida alone, recreational reef based fishing generates over $60 million annually. Commercial fishing in Florida is estimated to be a $3 billion industry that supports over 76,000 jobs. Within that industry, over $200 million comes from landing fish for human consumption that rely on the presence of coral reefs. Not only do reefs play an important role in the fishing industry, they are also integral to the success of Florida’s tourism industry.