According to research by UK’s University of Essex, the steep rise in population growth in coastal areas over the past 20 years have increased the risk to coral reefs globally. Research from the University of Essex has found that the number of people living in coastal areas by coral reefs has grown to nearly one billion – a rise of 250 million since 2000, and rates are going up in these areas quicker than global averages. Worryingly, the areas closest to the coral reefs – where people’s direct livelihoods rely on these valuable ecosystems – has seen a population density boom which is now four times the global average.
The new study by University of Essex, published in the journal Global Change Biology, provides the most up-to-date and extensive statistics on global, regional and nation-level differences in coastal population trends living within 5-100 KM of coral reefs. The data from 117 coral reef countries found the Indian Ocean saw a 33% increase in populations within 100 KM of a coral reef and 71% at 5 KM. There are 60 countries with 100% of their population within 100 KM of coral reefs.
In terms of India, there are now 30 million more people living within 100 km of coral reefs in 2020 compared to 20 years ago. This equates to just over 145 million people living with 100 km (60 miles) of coral reefs in 2020 – about 11% of the total Indian population. Population density has also increased nearly 1.5 times at 5 KM compared to 2000.
Coral reefs cover less than 0.1% of the world’s oceans, are extremely biodiverse, hosting up to one quarter of all marine fish species and are among the most productive and complex ecosystems found in the world. However, previous research has predicted coral reefs will decline between 70-90% in the next decade and up to 99% if global warming reaches 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Of particular interest are Small Island Developing States (SIDS), where the dependency on marine ecosystems are particularly high and are recognised as a special group of countries that are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change. The study found that 94% of SIDS population live within 100 KM of a coral reef.
Human populations near ecosystems are used to indicate the dependency on those ecosystems, as well as an estimated threat.