Coral Reef Biodiversity Benefits to Human Health

With an estimated 600,000 to more than 9 million species of plants and animals, coral reefs are storehouses of genetic resources with vast potential for medicines.

Medicines from the Sea. Source: NOAA Ocean Today, 2009. Click here to view more ocean videos

Examples from the Coral Reef "Medicine Cabinet"

Medical Application Original Source
anti-inflammatory agent gorgonian coral (genus Pseudoterigorgia)
anti-tuberculosis agent gorgonian coral (genus Pseudoterigorgia)
orthopedic implants coral skeleton
anti-viral drugs sponge (Cryptotethya crypta)
anti-malarial agent sponge (genus Cymbastela)
anti-cancer drug sponge (genus Jaspis)
anti-cancer drug tunicate (Ecteinacidia turbinata)
anti-cancer drug bryozoan (Bugula neritina)
anti-cancer drug seahare (Dolabella auricularia)

Medicines from the coral reef cabinet. Source: U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, 2004

A Coral Reef

Because competition for space and survival on coral reefs is so intense, organisms have developed strong chemical defenses. These defenses provide the foundation for marine drug discovery. Credit: David Burdick.

Colony of tunicates

Colony of tunicates (Ecteinascidia turbinata). These animals contain ecteinascidians, a new class of anticancer agents currently being evaluated in human clinical trials. Credit: Kevin B. Johnson, Florida Institute of Technology

For more information:

Life-saving Products from Coral Reefs

Diving Deeper: The Value of Coral Reefs

An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century: Connecting the Oceans and Human Health

Closer Look

Relevant Links

The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008 (Waddell and Clarke, 2008)

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program

The Economics of Worldwide Coral Reef Degradation