Explore the fascinating undersea world of coral reefs. Learn how we map, monitor, and model coral reefs so we can better understand, protect, and preserve our Nation's reefs.
Underwater photograph of Tumon Bay Marine Reserve, Guam, showing some of the amazing diversity of coral reefs.
Coral reefs are unique ecosystems of plants, animals, and their associated geological framework. Coral reefs cover less than 0.5 percent of the earth's surface, but are home to an estimated 25 percent of all marine species. Second only to tropical rainforests in size and complexity, some scientists estimate that more than one million species of plants and animals are associated with coral reefs. Coral reefs are also of great economic importance to those who live on or visit islands in the Pacific Ocean. Reefs shelter and provide nursery grounds for many commercially and culturally important species of fish and invertebrates, they protect the islands' harbors, beaches, and shorelines from erosion and wave damage by storms, and they are vital to the Pacific's marine tourism industry. Globally, these diverse ecosystems may provide valuable goods and services worth about $375 billion each year to communities around the world. Yet, as important as coral reefs are, these ecosystems are being threatened worldwide.
Photograph of waves breaking over the fringing coral reef that protects the shoreline of Waikīkī and infrastructure of Hawaiʻi's capital, Honolulu.
More than 6,000 square miles (16,000 km2) of coral reef habitat falling under U.S. jurisdiction are found in the Pacific Ocean, constituting more than 90 percent of coral reefs found in U.S. waters1. Most of these coral reefs still appear to be relatively healthy, but some areas of dead and dying coral have been found in recent years. The causes of this degradation are poorly known, but are probably in part related to human activities.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), working closely with academic institutions, state, and other Federal agencies, is spearheading an effort to better understand the oceanographic and geologic controls on the structure and processes of our Nation's coral reef ecosystems.
Underwater photograph off Molokaʻi Hawaiʻi, showing some of the impacts of land-based pollution, such as terrestrial sediment, on coral reefs: burial by sediment, algal overgrowth, and coral bleaching.
This web site is a gateway to USGS studies of coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean. We focus on the processes that influence the health and sustainability of coral reefs. From this work we are gaining new insight into the structure of coral reefs, providing the basis for future monitoring, and understanding better both the influences of natural processes and impacts of human activities on coral reef health. These efforts will help to preserve and protect the biodiversity, health, and social and economic value of these remarkable habitats.
To learn more about our efforts, use the links to the left.
Also visit the USGS Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST) website.