Coral hard skeletons that they produce are used

Coral reefs are
defined as being the “rainforest” of the ocean. According to Jeff Orlowski, a
filmmaker on ocean documentaries, about a quarter of all marine life in the
ocean is spends part of its life cycle on a coral reef. They are more than just
one of the ocean’s many beautiful phenomenon’s; they are ecosystems, a biological community
of interacting organisms and their physical environment. But why should we
care about them? The Coral Reefs are a vital source in keeping the biosphere
clean and contribute to beach formation. However, it is up to us to help
protect them so they can continue flourishing.

 Coral Reefs are rock-like structures that are
composed of limy skeletons by coral organisms and algae. At first sight, the
reefs appear to be beautiful underwater structures that are built from stone,
but that is far from the case. If you look closely into them, you can see that
they are actually composed of millions of living organism resting at the top of
ancestral skeletons. The majority of these organisms are the skeletons of
polyps, which constantly secrete calcium carbonate to build protective
skeletons. The hard skeletons that they produce are used for protection and
support, and links its skeleton to surrounding skeletons. What this does, is that
it creates one enormous coral colony. Polyps are consistently always forming
new and different skeletons at their base and sides. When they do this, they
extend upward and outward from the coral colony center, leaving the old
skeletons at the bottom. New polyps can be created, and old ones die off, but as
the whole colony continues to grow. Thus, most of the structure of a single
coral colony is made up of dead skeletal material.

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The
process of growing the skeleton consumes a lot of energy, which is provided by
the algae living in the corals’ tissues. The presence of one-celled algae living within the
bodies of the tiny coral assists by producing oxygen and help the coral remove
its wastes. According to Peggy Fong, the algae supply the coral with glucose,
glycerol, and amino acids, which are the products of photosynthesis.
The coral
uses these products to make proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and produce
calcium carbonate. “The relationship between the algae and coral polyp
facilitates a tight recycling of nutrients in nutrient-poor tropical waters. In
fact, as much as 90 percent of the organic material photosynthetically produced
by the zooxanthellae is transferred to the host coral tissue.” (Fong, 2010)

Besides, providing
energy to the reefs, algae also plays a role in the appearance of coral reefs. The physical attributes of coral reefs, such as its
pigmented color comes from the symbiotic algae that lives inside of them. In
addition, algae and other organisms can form tables, pillars, spirals, wires,
staghorns, and brain coral. These are all rigid structures with living polyps,
but they live in different places and require different conditions. As the
algae and different organisms die their old shells are incorporated into the
reef structure and contribute to the land building of the reefs. As the years
go by, the residue of these organisms articulates which inevitably piles up
together to form giant coral reefs that create the basis for twenty five percent
of all ocean life even though they are only one percent of the area of the
ocean.

There are many
different types of coral reefs and the one that is the most predominantly found
in oceans, are barrier coral reefs. These reefs are usually found near coast
lines. According to Mark Spanding, “barrier reefs are usually older structures
rising up from a deeper base at some distance from the shore, with a lagoon
separating them from the coast. Some have their origins as fringing reefs on
shelving coastlines, but develop when the coastline on which they are growing
subsides or is flooded by rising sea levels.” (Spalding, 2001) Because of their position in relation
to the landmasses, some of them form natural, protective walls for coasts. The
walls act as fortresses, diminishing the destructive forces of the waves as
they pound the shore during storms or times of high tides. In addition, they
also prevent erosion, damage to coastal sea life, coral reefs, and the homes of
people.

In addition, there
is also Atoll reefs which are reefs that are circular and enclose a wide
lagoon. They can be found away from the continental shelf that rise from the
abyssal floors of the ocean to just beneath high-tide level. According to,
Edward Winterer, “The characteristic features of an atoll include a reef rim,
from 100 to 500 m across, which is mainly awash at high tide, and flattish
islands, which remain a few meters above sea level and on which people may
live.” (Gillespie, 2009)  These reefs are mainly found within the Pacific Ocean Indian
ocean and are very rare elsewhere, but there are few in the Caribbean.

Coral
reefs serve as homes, nurseries, feeding grounds, and gathering places for
thousands of kinds of living things such as the pyramid bluefish. The great
variety of organisms found among the coral reefs makes them the most biodiverse
marine ecosystems on the planet. Some reefs are homes to types of organisms
that have been in existence for thousands of years. According to, Callum M.
Roberts, “Coral reefs support many diverse fish communities that can range up
to 500-700 species in the Caribbean and Central Pacific, to over 3,000 species
in the Philippines and Indonesia.” (Roberts, 1987)  A
few of the species that inhabit coral reefs are the following but certainly not
limited to, turtles, sharks, eels, crabs, shrimps, urchins, and sponges.

These ecosystems
can assist massive populations of fish because most of the residents of reefs
are specialized feeders. If fish competed with one another for food, many would
be driven away by hunger. Reef fish have been able to adapt feeding strategies
that allow each species to fill a specific role in the community. One strategy
involves feeding at different times. For example, two different species of fish
that eat the same food can share the supply if one feeds at night and the other
during the day. In addition, reef fish have learned by eating in different
sections of the habitat. Some bottom feeders dine on organisms living just
below the sand and sediment. A massive colony of fish actually eats the sand
and sediment, filters out the food, then releases the soil back into the
environment. A few species of fish have found niches for themselves by feeding
on organisms that nothing else wants to eat. Some of these dine on sponges or
urchins. Coral reefs support a large number and greater diversity of fish than
any other aquatic habitat, but why should we care?

There are many
ecosystem benefits of coral reefs, that directly affect humans. These brightly
colored communities are founded in over 100 countries, including but not
limited to China, Japan, Mexico, and Belize. About one sixth of the world’s
shores are protected by coral reefs. According to, “Reefs naturally form
barriers and thus inevitably provide some shore protection. At least 70-90
percent of the energy of wind-generated waves is absorbed during hurricanes and
tropical storms. In a tsunami, the buffering capacity of reefs and mangroves is
more variable and often reduced because of the different structure and form of
the waves.” (Wells, 2007)

Coral reefs help
keep the Earth’s biosphere, the part of the planet where living things are
found, in balance. One of the coral reefs important functions is maintaining
normal levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. At the point where the
atmosphere meets the sea, carob dioxide and other gases from the air dissolve
in the ocean water. In places where coral reefs exist, much of this dissolved
carbon dioxide is removed from the water by coral organisms. The organisms then
use the gas to build calcium carbonate, or limestone skeletons. As the
skeletons-biding proceeds, levels of the dissolved gas in the ocean water
decrease, permitting more Carbon Dioxide to enter the water from the
atmosphere. For this reason, reefs act as carbon “sinks”.

Coral Reefs also
contribute to beach formation. Natural forces break off pieces of the reef and
grind them into grains of sand. As wind and water strike the reef, they chip
away at the skeletal structures of reef animals, eroding them into small
pieces. Predators also loosen reef material by nibbling on it to get at choice
foods. Even some of the plants and animals that grow on reefs erode them. Once
dislodged, small particles of the reef are tossed and crushed by waves until
they form fine particles of sand. Beaches created primarily by erosion of coral
are very white. Barbados, an island in the West Indies, is one of hundreds of
islands built on coral and famous for its white beaches.

The reefs are affected
by some natural and some human-activity events. Storms and changes in weather
can alter the conditions of seawater around coral reefs, but most coral damage
is the result of human activity. Exploitation of reefs, overfishing, increased
rates of sedimentation in the water, and increased levels of nutrients in water
are some of the most recent causes of coral death, but the chief problem
appears to be global warming. Global Warming raises temperatures in the ocean’s
waters. Since coral animals can only live within a narrow range of
temperatures, every change is fatal to them.

Environmental
awareness is critical to keep the world’s coral reef populations healthy and in
order to do so, it is important to realize all the factors that put the reefs
in danger. First of all, coral reefs are not tolerant of changes in the
physical conditions around them. Fluctuations in temperature, salinity, or the
clarity of water can cause stress and damage. Since 1980, Scientists have
noticed that large sections of coral reefs have undergone bleaching. When this
happens, the algae living in their tissues leave. According to Jason Buchheim,
“Bleaching, or the paling of zooxanthellate invertebrates, occurs when the
densities of zooxanthellae decline and the concentration of photosynthetic
pigments within the zooxanthellae fall. When corals bleach they commonly lose
60-90% of their zooxanthellae and each zooxanthella may lose 50-80% of its
photosynthetic pigments.” (Buchheim, 2013) If the stressors are short term, the
algae often return to their hosts and the corals survive however if the stress
is serious, the coral animals dies. This can cause in reduced growth rates,
decreased reproductive capacity, and affect the species that depend on them.

In addition, the
activities of people near reefs dramatically affect them. As communities on
nearby islands and coasts increase in size, homes, school, etc. The
construction of buildings, loosens the soil and increases rates of erosion. As
soil and sediment enter the clear, reef waters, the materials cloud the water,
reducing the light that can reach the corals and their single-celled algae. It
is key, to increase public awareness to realize that simple things we do, harms
coral reefs. Marine scientists are calling for an immediate reduction in the
levels of greenhouse gas emissions and marine pollution. In addition, reserves
of protected marine areas are being established. Some reserves contain
artificial reefs made of cement blocks or old tires, and these structures seem
to help replenish populations of reef fish. Both national and international
efforts have been launched to protect these ecosystems. The Global Coral Reef
Monitoring Network, staffed by the United Nations and several other national
governments, keep an eye on the condition of reeds worldwide.

When I think about
our mother Earth I think about it’s beautiful oceans that we have yet to finish
discovering, but I am very ignorant because I contribute in being part of the
reason why coral reefs are declining. I sometimes leave the water faucet on for
too long, I drive a car that that emits fossil fuels into the air, or I forget
to throw away a wrapper; small things like this contribute to the decline of
coral reefs. There is a litany of different things we can do to help conserve
reefs and some of them are to conserve the water we use, dispose of our trash
properly, and be cautious of what we pour down the drain. Coral reefs serve as
one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world where thousands or organism
inhabit it. However, they play a vital role in keeping our biosphere safe and
create beaches. If we want to continue to have polyps and algae create these
phenomenal landscapes, we need to take action against global warming and help
protect our mother Earth. 

 

 

 

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