Coral reefs in Latin America: A natural spectacle at risk | Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Skip to content Skip to navigation
Coral Reef

Credit: David Doubilet

Credit: David Doubilet

Coral reefs in Latin America: A natural spectacle at risk

Gladys Martínez de Lemos, legal advisor, AIDA

Twenty five percent of all marine species have lived at some stage in coral reefs. In Costa Rica, these reefs are under threat from deforestation and other human activities.

Coral reefs help maintain balance in the marine environment. They are home to many marine species for human consumption, they protect coasts from erosion and hurricanes, and they offer coastal communities a source of income from diving tourism. But a lack of clear policies and regulations is threatening their survival. 

These natural wonders help balance the ecosystem by providing a source of food to superior organisms, thus forming vital food webs. Their environmental value is so significant that economists have estimated that a hectare of reef is worth over one million dollars per year. 

Even though coral reefs cover about a tenth of the ocean floor, current estimates suggest that 25% of all marine species have lived in coral reefs at some stage of their life cycle.

Despite this, coral reefs are under threat in Costa Rica and elsewhere from ocean acidification, destructive fishing practices, unsustainable coastal development, and pollution, among other factors. 

According to the Costa Rica's 15th State of the Nation Report, the loss of 75% of live corals in the Cahuita Reef is mostly due to sedimentation caused by basin deforestation and other human actions. 

Governmental inaction

It's evident that coral reefs are endangered. There are no clear and widespread policies and regulations to deal with this issue; there are no mechanisms for the control, monitoring or even protection to preserve coral reefs.  Even current international obligations on coral reef protection are overlooked.

This can no longer be. Marine biodiversity and ecosystems must be preserved for future generations to see the beauty and diversity of coral reefs.

We all have a son, nephew or cousin who we want to have the opportunity to enjoy the richness of the coral reefs, or the chance to savor fish and their valuable protein.  Most Latin American countries and their decision makers have not yet created special laws to protect the coral reefs.  They face a huge challenge -- and responsibility -- to protect the reefs.

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