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How Are Coral Reefs Formed?

Coral reef formation involves a variety of processes operating at different spatial scales, and our
discussion of how coral reefs are formed reflects that reality.
The Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle, the epicenter for marine biodiversity and what is
considered the Amazon of the Sea. It is an area with more species of fish and corals than any
other marine environment on earth
Last year, Reef Check, an international organization assessing the health of reefs in 82 countries,
stated that only five percent of the country's coral reefs are in "excellent condition." These are
the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park in Palawan, Apo Island in Negros Oriental, Apo Reef
in Puerto Galera, Mindoro, and Verde Island Passage off Batangas.
How Are Individual Reefs Built?
The structural foundation of individual coral reefs is formed by a multitude of marine animals
and plants through the processes of slow accumulation and deposition of calcium
carbonate (limestone) extracted from seawater.
The Main Reef Builders
While a wide variety of marine life ultimately contributes to the structural complexities of coral
reefs, most of the reef's underlying solid framework is constructed by just a few types of marine
These are the hard (Scleractinian) corals, and the coralline red algae that grows upon and
amidst the coral colonies.
encrusting coralline algae grows upon a reef surface

Coralline algae. Courtesy NOAA

Shallow marine waters are rich in calcium (Ca++) and bicarbonate (HCO3-) ions.
Hard corals and coralline algae are able to extract these raw materials from sea water, and both
types of marine life have the ability to combine them to form calcium carbonate (CaCO3).This
substance, also known as limestone, is used to fashion the protectecive outer skeletons of
coral polyps as well as to harden the fleshy parts of the coralline algae.
After the individual organisms die, they leave behind their limestone skeletons. Over
time, the accumulated and compacted minerals contained in the multitudes of these skeletal
remains become the large, solid structures we call coral reefs.

The overall reef-building process is slow; coral reefs are built over decades and
centuries - not weeks or months.

Other Reef Builders

A great variety of other organisms - including many types of invertebrate animals - assist the two
primary types of reef builders (discussed above) in the reef-building process by depositing lesser
amounts of carbonate particles.
These minor contributors include sponges, octocorals ("soft" corals), fire corals, and many
other types of invertebrates. Individually, the contribution of each of these groups may be
comparatively small, but collectively their contribution can sometimes be substantial.
How Are Coral Reef Ecosystems Formed?
At the broader spatial scale of the entire reef ecosystem, structure and formation is shaped not
only by the dominant animals and plants. Rather, interactions among a host of other abiotic
("physical") factors AND the underlying geology of the area also come into play. In fact,
these physical factors usualy represent THE dominant influences on large-scale reef structure.
WHAT IS AN ECOSYSTEM? - Here, we define "coral reef ecosystems" as large, interactive
areas of coral reef development containing many individual reefs and associated habitats
(e.g., seagrass meadows). These ecosystem extends from the shorelines of tropical islands
and coasts to the deep blue waters of the open sea, and includes all the marine life within
the area as well as the non-living parts of their environment.
Most notably, such factors include sea floor depth profile, substrate composition, water
movement, light penetration, and other variables that affect hard coral species distribution,
growth forms, and abundance.
Types of Coral Reefs
Most reef scientists generally recognize three MAJOR types of coral reefs: Fringing
Reefs, Barrier Reefs, and Atolls.

Fringing Reefs (Shore

Reefs) Fringing reefs are
reefs that grow directly
from a shore.

surrounding Pacific
Barrier Reefs
Barrier reefs are extensive
linear reef
complexes that parallel a
shore, and are separated
from it by lagoon.

Fringing reefs

Atoll is a roughly circular

(annular) oceanic reef
system surrounding a large
(and often deep) central

Indo-Pacific atolls

How are coral reefs destroyed?

Coral Reefs are fascinating and mysterious ecosystems. They have been around for
over five hundred million years and are considered the marine equivalent of tropical
rainforests. Covering only 2% of the ocean bottom, they are the home to 25% of all
marine species.
Unfortunately this underwater paradise is slowly being destroyed.
Destructive actions such as the practice of uncontrolled, destructive fishing
oil spills,
pollution (from domestic and industrial wastes, fertilizers, and pesticides),
anchor damage,
untreated or improperly treated sewage, and
land runoffs are serious threats to the delicate reefs.
Fine sediment-like silt is also extremely harmful to corals. This kind of
sediment clouds the water and cuts down the amount of light that reaches the
Global Warming. Global Warming causes significant temperature increases in
waters in which corals inhabit.
Suggestions concerning our reefs.
Even though a lot is beeing done to protect our coral reefs they are still in trouble,
primarily from too many visitors. Various proposals to alleviate the situation have
been made such as,
limit access: Limiting access to the coral reefs is a very good idea but it would be very
difficult to enforce. Considering that anyone can access the parks at any time since
they have entrances from all sides. This is nearly impossible to control.
rotate reefs: This proposal has never been tried. Giving it a try would mean that
heavily impacted reefs would have to be closed for an indifinate time to give it time to
recover while visitors visit other reefs wich might be smaller.The needed time to
recover is unknown and these smaller reefs might not withsatand the pressure.
prohibit diving. Diving and snorkeling are two of the major factors contributing to the
deterioration of the coral reef. These activities can be prohibited for several years
until the coral reef recover.Glass bottom boats will stil be allowed to give tours of the
reefs but only those which are part of the park. Other boats outside of the area will
be prohibited to enter the park.
restrict diving: Experts strongly beleive that scuba diving and snorkeling are the
activities that put the coral reefs to danger the most. Prohibiting private snorkeling
and scuba diving would really help. Only allowing these activities to occur from dive
boats where divers could be closely supervised. This can be a very effective solution.
close the parks: Fullclosure of the parks would be a very drastic step and should be
considered only as a last resort. This step will be taken only if every other option

None of the suggestions given concerning human contact on the reef will alleviate the
problem if the problem of poluted water is not alleviated also. If all of us do not
cooperate, soon there will not be reef to save. Time is running out.