It’s the “make or break” point in the fight for our coral reefs, says the UN’s Executive Director of the Environment Programme. He says the shift away from coal and plastics is good news, and calls for more action from “countries that host” coral reefs to overcome the “huge decline” in the world’s coral

Reef coast.

Image credits Kanenori / Pixabay.

Efforts to save our planet’s coral reefs have reached their “make or break point” thinks Erik Solheim, chief of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP). He adds that countries which host such reefs have to step up and, by their example, lead to a world with fewer greenhouse gas emissions, less plastic pollution and lower-impact agriculture.

Speaking to The Guardian after the International Coral Reef Initiative launched is international year of the reef, Erik Solheim said he expected governments “to step up to concrete actions,” Solheim said.

Save the reefs!

Fiji took the lead, with its prime minister Frank Bainimarama announcing new protections set in place for large swathes of the Great Sea Reef by nominating it a Ramsar site. The Ramsar Convention is aimed at protecting wetlands (including coral reefs) that have a large part to play in maintaining global biodiversity and sustaining human life.

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Bainimarama paired his announcement with a more disturbing remark: that it was shocking to realize this might be the last generation to ever witness the beauty of coral reefs first-hand.

“Today I appeal to every single person on Earth to help us. We must replace the present culture of abuse with a culture of care,” he added.

Solheim said that another significant step towards coral reef conservation was taken earlier this year, when Belize imposed a moratorium on oil exploration and extraction in its waters. The move was hailed by Belize’s prime minister Dean Barrow, who added that this was the first time such a decision was taken by a developing country.

There are also other clear signs of improvement, Solheim adds, pointing to the global shift away from coal and into renewable energy, efforts to mitigate climate change in general and a growing public awareness on plastic pollution. However, we’re nowhere near out of the woods just yet.

“We have seen a huge decline in the reefs and that is absolutely serious,” Solheim cautioned.

“Beyond the complete moral failure of destroying the enormous beauty and all the different species in the ocean living in the reefs, it would also be an economic disaster.”

What he means by that is that coral reefs sustain the lives of an estimated one billion people around the world — either as direct food sources, as an economic resource, or simply by protecting coastlines.

The decline of the reefs is a global problem, Solheim adds, and global response needs to be well coordinated. As such, he “expects” host countries such as Australia, the Pacific Islands, and the Caribbean “to protect their coral reefs” and lead the way for others to follow. He “strongly” encouraged Australia to renew its efforts of moving away from coal and into renewables, adding that the country has already made important progress “but the faster it happens the better.”


“[Loss of the reefs] would have a huge impact for Australia – the reduction of tourism, and an impact on the fishing industry. Tourism is the most rapidly growing business on the planet and a huge job provider. At a time when every nation is desperate for jobs, restoring reefs is fundamental to economic success everywhere,” Solheim concludes.

During the same event, UNEP announced the start of a collaboration with WWF that aims to “drive an urgent response to combat the decline of coral”.