Coral Reef Hotspots

A new report lists and ranks the world's most precious marine environments.

Whether myth or reality, rumors abound of the Earth's undiscovered treasures, from pirates' loots buried on small islands far out at sea to ancient artifacts entombed in sunken merchant ships at the bottom of the ocean. Now a group of scientists has released a new story, one steeped in years of rigorous scientific study, that pinpoints-and prioritizes the conservation of-the world's most radiant aquatic gems, coral reefs.

The team, led by Callum Roberts from the University of York, United Kingdom, looked at the distribution of more than 3,000 different species of reef organisms from corals to snails, lobsters, and fishes. Combining species density with the estimated threat of species loss, they identified 10 marine biodiversity "hotspots"-regions on which to concentrate conservation to save the most species. The report, published in a recent issue of Science, singles out the Philippines, Africa's Gulf of Guinea, and Malaysia's {true?} Sunda Islands as the top three priorities.

In early 2000, a group of researchers published a list of 25 terrestrial hotspots around the world. Interestingly, 80 percent of the identified marine areas are adjacent to terrestrial hotspots, which strongly simplifies global protection strategies by integrating land and marine conservation. In fact, it now appears we may be able to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Arial view of the Bahamas. Photo: Gary Williams
Russel Group, Solomon Islands. Photo: Gary Williams
Arial Palau (left), Crown-of-Thorns on coral reef (right).
Photos: Gary Williams
Coral reefs are the most biologically rich, shallow-water ecosystems on Earth. Yet 50-70% of all reefs are threatened because of human activities.

Coral Reef Solomons (left), Xestopongia on Coral Reef Solomons.
Photos: Gary Williams