At the close of the first week of the UN Climate Conference in Egypt, WCS is sounding a global call to action for governments around the world planning for climate change mitigation and adaptation: put coral reefs front and center.

Without urgent commitments to reduce climate emissions, the world is on track to warm 2.5℃ by 2100 (UNFCCC 2022). Substantial progress is needed for climate action at the COP27 negotiations to avoid global environmental and social catastrophes. Without strong targets to drive down emissions and decarbonize economies, the intense flooding, wildfires, drought, heat waves that are already  impacting the Global South will continue to intensify and spread.

As the world prepares for climate consequences, safeguarding the resilience of coral reefs can help nearly one billion people adapt to the impacts of climate change1. Coral reefs provide livelihoods, health, food security and coastal protection; ecological services that will be urgently needed as local communities face off against climate change2. To advance adaptation action, we highlight the critical role of climate-resilient coral reefs for communities, economies, and biodiversity with particular focus on vulnerable populations – the poor, women, and Indigenous Peoples. With these five actions, WCS calls on governments to center coral reef resilience in national climate adaptation plans: 

  1. Protect and restore coral reefs as a climate adaptation strategy. Coral reefs are a natural barrier to protect communities from flooding and sea level rise, and coral reef-based economies of small-scale fisheries and tourism maintain local cultures, livelihoods, food security and nutrition3. Marine protected areas (MPAs) and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) can help mitigate local pressures and increase coral reef resilience4,5. Furthermore, coral reefs and associated mangroves and seagrass habitats are integral to coastal resilience. Efforts to conserve these ecosystems can be integrated into national adaptation planning and nationally determined contributions (NDCs). 
  1. Ensure that conservation benefits communities. Nearly one billion people live near coral reefs1, including Indigenous Peoples who have used and looked after these critical ecosystems for thousands of years. Coral reef conservation by national governments must benefit communities for long-term success. Conservation must be co-designed with local stakeholders to ensure management is equitable, inclusive and has the best chance for enduring success6
  1. Reduce pollution. Pollution flowing from watersheds to coastal environments is a major contributor to global human disease, with poor water quality estimated to result in at least 1.4 million deaths annually and US$12 billion in economic losses, a cost disproportionately borne by the poorest countries7,8. Pollution is also a top local threat to coral reefs worldwide9. Reducing pollution can improve human and coral reef health10, and requires addressing point-source pollution and improving the condition of watersheds upstream of coral reefs through nature-based solutions (e.g., forest protection and restoration, regenerative agriculture). Coupled with WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) investments, better pollution management are ‘win-wins’ for human health and coral reefs in a changing climate11
  1. Rebuild community fisheries. Small-scale coral reef fisheries are a renewable source of livelihoods, food security, and nutrition for coastal communities and local economies, if managed sustainably12. Over half of the world’s coral reef fisheries are below sustainable targets13. Safeguarding dietary nutrients from fisheries under climate change requires equitable and adaptive ecosystem-based co-management of fisheries as well as effective participatory area-based management  (e.g., MPAs, OECMs, or other managed areas)14,15
  1. Measure progress. Stabilizing and restoring live coral cover and reef fish biomass are two critical indicators of success for whether coral reefs can support climate adaptation for nearly one billion people worldwide. Implementing the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework can be a critical junction for coral reefs if key coral reef indicators are adopted and measured by national governments (e.g., with data platforms like MERMAID) to track progress on maintaining coral reefs above key ecological tipping points5,16,17.  Aligning efforts to measure progress for coral reefs is necessary across the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (CBD COP15) and through the UNFCCC Ocean Climate Dialogues.

To successfully adapt to climate change, we need a healthy ocean. Climate resilient coral reefs result in more climate resilient communities. Governments must act to adapt – the lives and livelihoods of fishers and families all over the world depend on it.


1 Sing Wong, A. et al. Glob. Change Biol. gcb.16391 (2022)

2 Eddy, T. D. et al. One Earth 4, 1278–1285 (2021)

3 DeGemmis, A. et al. 16 pp. (2021)

4 Mellin, C. et al. Ecol. Lett. 19, 629–637 (2016)

5 Darling, E. S. et al. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 3, 1341–1350 (2019)

6 Andrachuk, M. et al. 17 pp. (2022)

7 Shuval, H. J. Water Health 1, 53–64 (2003)

8 Fuller, R. et al. Lancet Planet. Health 6, e535–e547 (2022)

9 Andrello, M. et al. Conserv. Lett. 15, (2022)

10 Vega Thurber, R. L. et al. Glob. Change Biol. 20, 544–554 (2014)

11 Wakwella, A. et al. 22 pp. (2022)

12 Mellin, C. et al. Nat. Ecol. Evol. (2022)

13 MacNeil, M. A. et al. Nature 520, 341–344 (2015)

14 Andrachuk, M. et al. 16 pp. (2022)

15 McClanahan, T. R. Mar. Policy 128, 104478 (2021)

16 McClanahan, T. R. et al. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 108, 17230–17233 (2011)

17 Perry, C. T. et al. Nature 558, 396–400 (2018)

Coral reefs are home to over a quarter of all life in the ocean, and are a source of food, livelihoods, coastal protection, and cultural heritage for nearly 1 billion people. For more than 70 years WCS has been underwater studying coral reefs - based on decades of partnerships with local communities and underwater scientific monitoring, we know that there are still healthy coral reefs located in climate refuges around the globe. From Kenya to Belize, Mozambique to Cuba, WCS is conserving reef biodiversity hotspots and supporting communities who depend on reefs to survive. We currently work across 16 countries to protect coral reefs and ensure that they can continue to provide for the people and species that rely on them.

Visit: Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.