The Coral Reef Ecosystem

A. What are coral reefs?
Coral reefs are among the oldest and most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. Often referred to as the ‘rainforests of the oceans’, they originally emerged more than 200 million years ago. Coral reefs are home to 25% of all marine life on the planet. Q: What are they? A: Coral reefs are underwater structures made from calcium carbonate secreted by corals. Corals are colonies of tiny living animals found in marine waters containing few nutrients. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, and are formed by polyps that live together in groups. The polyps secrete a hard carbonate exoskeleton that provides support and protection for the body of each polyp, which form the reefs. Q: What is a polyp?

A: A coral polyp is a small, fragile tubular animal that secretes calcium carbonate to create a hard exoskeleton. The polyps reproduce thousands of times to form coral colonies of various shapes, depending on the species, wave action, currents, and sunlight in the area.

crustaceans. That means they grow right up to the edge of the shore. Q: How many species of coral are there estimated to be? A: There are estimated to be over 4000 different coral species. coral skeletons are often used as bone substitutes in reconstructive bone surgery. where they can get enough sunlight to grow.  The reefs themselves shelter vulnerable coastlines from harsh ocean storms and floods. Q: What is the difference between a fringing reef and a barrier reef? A: Fringing Reef Barrier Reef It is a reef that is directly attached to a shore or borders. It is a reef separated from a mainland or island shore by a deep lagoon.  They are a significant source of food for hundreds of millions of people supplying fishes.  There's evidence that organisms within the coral reefs could potentially be used to create medicines. . and act as an important source of biodiversity. Q: List 5 reasons why they are important. The corals also remove and recycle carbon dioxide from the air.Q: How warm must the water be? A: Coral reefs generally require warm ocean temperatures—68 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit— and tend to grow faster in clear water. which allows light to reach the symbiotic algae that lives in the coral polyp's tissue. including anti-cancer drugs and a compound that blocks ultraviolet rays. They also provide income and employment through tourism and marine recreation. and mollusks. A: Coral reefs are important because:  They sustain a crucial ecosystem within the ocean.  Currently. Q: In what depth of water are they found? A: Reef-building corals can generally be found at depths of less than 150 feet.

and around Florida and the Gulf of Mexico—and all over the Indian and Pacific Oceans.B. in water temperatures as low as 4ºC. They also live at depths of 40m down to 2. In recent years scientists have discovered corals are not just warm-water creatures. Some cold-water coral reefs are found off the coast of Norway and deep underwater in the Mediterranean Sea. Warm water coral reefs are found in the Western Atlantic Ocean—especially near the Caribbean islands. Bermuda.000m. . from the Red Sea down to Australia. Unlike tropical corals. Location of coral reefs Coral reefs generally thrive in clear tropical and semitropical ocean water. cold-water corals don't have symbiotic algae living in their polyps so they don’t need sunlight to survive. Bahamas.

Climate change Coastal Building seaside homes. Such bleaching events may be the final nail in the coffin for already stressed coral reefs and reef ecosystems. Major threats to coral reefs and their habitats include: Threat Pollution Explanation Urban and industrial waste. Reefs also face natural threats. including sudden changes in sea level.C. and oil pollution are poisoning reefs. Global warming has already led to increased levels of coral bleaching. and major tropical storms that can strip reefs of their corals. Corals cannot survive if the water temperature is too high. sewage. . development So can overfishing in reef areas. What threats do coral reefs face? On their own. Also careless tourism with boating. bleaching. stirring up sediment. Destructive fishing practices like cyaniding fishing. fishing. snorkeling. agrochemicals. people touching reefs. and muro-ami (banging on the reef with sticks) destroy coral reefs. such as sewage and runoff from farming. increase the level of nitrogen in seawater. Roughly one-quarter of coral reefs worldwide are already considered damaged beyond repair. diseases. coral can survive for decades. which 'smothers' reefs by cutting off their sunlight. blast or dynamite fishing. and dropping anchors on reefs affect the corals. But man causes the maximum damage. diving. hotels. and this is predicted to increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades. bottom trawling. with another two-thirds under serious threat. These toxins are dumped directly into the ocean or carried by river systems from sources upstream. but face a number of threats from humans. collecting coral. harbors etc can take a heavy toll on coral reefs. causing an overgrowth of algae. Some pollutants.

You will also contribute to reversing the warming of our planet and the rising temperatures of our oceans. o Plant a tree: Trees reduce runoff into the oceans. and make sure that reefs have fewer stresses on them so that they have the opportunity to recover from bleaching and adapt to increasing temperatures. Contact with the coral will damage the delicate coral animals. dive or snorkeling operators how they protect the reef. and controlling coastal development. o Spread the word and encourage others to get involved. controlling pollutants. boating. Any kind of litter pollutes the water and can harm the reef and the fish. Around the world. which researches and monitors reefs to provide for effective management. Some easy steps to help protect corals are : o Conserve water: The less water you use. o Contact your government representatives: Demand they take action to protect coral reefs. the less runoff and wastewater will pollute our oceans. The creation of marine sanctuaries—like the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. As individuals I think we should make a conscious effort to protect coral reefs damage because every small effort counts. Two major groups are the Coral Reef Alliance and the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.D. walk or car pool to places reducing fuel emissions o Dispose of your trash properly: Don't leave unwanted fishing lines or nets in the water or on the beach. o Practice safe and responsible diving and snorkeling: Do not touch the reef or anchor your boat on the reef. and anchoring on the reef can kill it. Efforts should include enforcing laws against coral destruction. o Help reduce pollution: Bike. expand marine protected areas and take steps to reverse global warming. established in 1975—may help. o Support reef-friendly businesses: Ask the fishing. stop sewage pollution of our oceans. Be sure they care for the living reef ecosystem and ask if the organization responsible is part of a coral reef ecosystem management effort. so look for sandy bottom or use moorings if available. the international community should create effective marine protected areas. aquarium. How can we help protect them? There are many groups fighting to protect coral reefs. . the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulates international trade of certain corals. According to the Coral Reef Alliance. hotel.

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