Just below the water's surface lies a magical world teeming with life and value. Coral reefs are home to 4,000 fish species and provide the world with goods and services — such as jobs, foods, medicines and storm protection — worth $375 billion annually.

But scientists estimate that 70% of all corals reefs could be lost by 2050 if current rates of destruction continue — from factors ranging from overfishing to climate change.

That's why The Nature Conservancy is supporting three major policy efforts by island nations around the world to conserve marine diversity — the Micronesia Challenge, the Coral Triangle Initiative and the newly launched Caribbean Challenge, which is being aided by a $20 million Conservancy pledge.

Together, these regions contain 83% of Earth's coral species, according to James Robertson of the Conservancy's Center for Global Trends.

"The threats to coral reefs are huge and occur across the globe, so coral conservation has to be at a scale that matches those threats," explains Lynne Hale, director of the Conservancy's Global Marine Program.

"The Caribbean Challenge is a perfect example of how the Conservancy is working with governments and people who depend on coral reefs to catalyze bold and immediate conservation action," says Hale.

Caribbean Nations Launch Challenge

The Caribbean Challenge will accelerate marine conservation in the region — with the aim of protecting 20% of the region's marine and coastal habitat by 2020.

The Conservancy announced its support for the challenge when it was launched by Caribbean leaders at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Bonn addressing worldwide threats to biodiversity.

The Caribbean Challenge will enable the Conservancy to help participating nations do essential marine conservation work, such as:

  • Create new marine protected areas (MPAs);
  • Hire, equip and train park managers and other staff;
  • Reduce destructive fishing practices;
  • Incorporate protection strategies that mitigate the impacts of climate change; and
  • Establish a sustainable funding source for future marine conservation.

"The Caribbean Challenge is a broad and collaborative effort," says Rob Weary, the Conservancy's senior conservation finance and policy advisor for the Caribbean. "By supporting island nations with funding, scientific expertise and training, we can help them achieve their goals."

It's an approach that's already working in two of the world's most significant coral areas — Micronesia and the Coral Triangle.

Protecting Marine Resources in Micronesia and the Coral Triangle

Launched in 2006, the Micronesia Challenge is a commitment by five governments to conserve 30% of their marine resources and 20% of their terrestrial resources by 2020.

In less than two years, the Micronesia Challenge has already spurred the creation of new protected areas and new legislation for the support and management of such areas. Heralded by the President of Palau and supported by the Conservancy, the Micronesia Challenge is the inspiration and model for the Caribbean Challenge.

The Conservancy is working similarly in Southeast Asia's Coral Triangle region — where an astounding 76% of the world's coral species are found.

"The Coral Triangle is the global epicenter of marine biodiversity," says Rod Salm, the Conservancy's director of marine conservation in Asia Pacific. "The world's coral diversity hinges on the health and survival of this area."

In the Coral Triangle, Salm and other marine scientists are pioneering the identification and protection of resilient coral communities — those that are most likely to survive bleaching and other traumatic events. They are hopeful that this effort will help save corals from the impacts of climate change.

"It's critical that we begin incorporating principles of climate change resilience to protect corals and all of our marine resources," says Salm. "The Conservancy is leading the way in helping marine resource managers to do this worldwide."

Explore an interactive map and photos of the world's coral reefs!