The International Year of the Reef

Material derived from the Newsletter of the UNEP Caribbean Environment Programme

Coral reefs, often referred to as the ‘rainforests of the sea’, are among the most complex, diverse, and economically valuable ecosystems in the world. Millions of people depend on coral reef ecosystems for their food, their livelihood and for the protection of the coastlines they inhabit. Yet a conservative estimate is that 10% of the earth’s coral reefs are seriously degraded and a much larger percentage is threatened, particularly in areas adjacent to human populations. If this decline continues, there could be a significant loss of the world’s reefs and their resources during the next century. Some of the human activities that may pose the biggest threats are:

  • over fishing and destructive fishing methods
  • coastal development, logging and agriculture
  • sewage, fertiliser run-off and other forms of pollution
  • poorly managed boating, diving and other recreational activities

    In response to the growing threats to coral reefs around the world, 1997 has been declared the International Year of the Reef (IYOR). This global campaign is aimed at arousing awareness and action for the conservation and sustainable use of coral reefs and associated seagrass and mangrove ecosystems.

    Since the launch of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) in 1995, concern over coral reefs has been integrated into decisions and work programmes of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development at the global level and in the workplan of UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP), at the regional level. The emphasis now is to translate this concern into committed action at the national level, and IYOR is helping to trigger this process between international and national NGOs and governmental agencies. IYOR will give a major boost to research, conservation and educational activities relating to reef management throughout 1997, and help to develop the long-term programmes that are needed to encourage the conservation and sustainable use of coral reefs.

    Associated with this, is the development of the IOC/UNEP/IUCN Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the involvement of global NGOs such as IUCN and WWF as active partners in the IYOR effort. IYOR activities have already been initiated in some 30 countries. Representatives of NGOs, government agencies, academic institutions, dive associations and other groups are banding together to form National IYOR committees in countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Germany, the UK, Colombia and Jamaica with workshops being held to pool expertise and information and develop national action plans.

    In the Wider Caribbean Region, CEP, as contact point for ICRI at the regional level, is promoting IYOR and public awareness activities. Media packages are being developed in English, French and Spanish and funds are being sought for the production of a poster and brochure. Additionally, through ongoing CEP projects, guidelines for integrated coastal zone management and protected areas management are being disseminated throughout the region.

    The Protocol concerning Land-Based Sources and Activities of Marine Pollution is under development for approval by Governments during 1998 and ‘Best Practices’ for sustainable coastal tourism are being identified and promoted through an ongoing USAID/UNEP regional project.

    Public awareness and environmental education are key to successful conservation. A range of coral reef television documentaries and video footage as well as exhibitions are being prepared to support the goal of IYOR to wake up the world to the plight of coral reefs. An important part of the message is that there is a role for everyone - fishing communities, divers and dive operators, NGOs and governments, educators and businesses - in safeguarding the future of these resources.

    To assist with the communication of coral reef issues through IYOR, IUCN and the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have created a global media outreach process. Through the “52 Coral Reef Stories” project, IUCN and NOAA will provide a coral reef story to international media outlets each week of 1997.

    Details on the above project and further information are contained in the IYOR/ICRI Reef Packs that are available to interested parties. Please contact:

    Robert Ginsburg, Chair,
    IYOR Organising Committee, University of Miami/RSMAS,
    4600 Rickenbacker Cswy, Miami FL 33149, USA.
    Fax: (1-305)361-4094. E-mail:

    Sue Wells, Co-Chair,
    IYOR Public Awareness and Conservation Committee,
    Ave du Mont Blanc, 1196 Gland, Switzerland.
    Fax: (41-22)364-5829. E-mail:

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