Delicate Coral Reefs

Wildlife — By Stephanie on October 4, 2008 at 9:03 am
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Coral Garden

I have never gone deep sea diving, though I regularly dream about the mysterious secrets that are held in the calm below the oceans’ surface. A fan of wildlife shows such as Animal Planet and National Geographic, I have viewed in awe the scenes shot of the delicate coral reefs in the world’s waters. Primarily found in tropical zones, shallow-water coral reefs are home to thousands of fish and other marine wildlife. Because a primary source of nutrition for coral is unicellular algae, and they depend on sunlight for their growth, coral is not often found below depths of 200 feet. Cold-water coral also exists, however.

To put it simply, coral reefs are the exo-skeleton (outside bony material) of a coral organism. Although there are many different species of hard coral, in a variety of shapes and sizes, corals are said to be similar to sea anemones. The calcium deposits that form coral reefs are built up over thousands of years. Unfortunately, they can be destroyed much more quickly.

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Fringing Coral Reef

Sadly, some scientists predict that more than half of the world’s coral reefs will be damaged or will vanish in the next 20 years. This is due in part to run-off from agricultural and building practices. Coral thrives in areas that have little nutrients in the water. Introduction of run-off into the waters increases algae blooms, choking out the coral. Removal of coral by divers and anchor-dropping by fishermen also depletes and damages sensitive coral reefs.

Coral reefs need a delicate balance of water temperature and salinity to survive. When conditions are not precisely right, coral will discharge the unicellular algae, leaving them as white as their skeletons – known as coral bleaching. Alarmingly, rising CO2 levels resulting from global warming are also taking a toll on coral reefs. Oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of more carbon dioxide dissolves in the waters’ surface. As the pH levels shift, the corals lose the ability to create the exo-skeletons, and – at extreme levels – portions of existing reefs are actually dissolved.

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Diving in the Wonderous Sea

Environmental protections in many countries are in place to try to save these amazing coral reefs from destruction. Because so many fish live in and around coral reefs, local economies benefit from both a food and tourism standpoint. Coral has survived for over 500 million years on this planet. Let’s not allow our greed and selfishness wipe out the species and sensitive marine habitat. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has put together a list of 25 things you can do to save coral reefs. None appears to be too difficult – as long as you are aware and educated of the value and fragility of coral reefs.

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  1. design says:

    I’m lucky enough to live in a place where coral is abundant. Unfortunately, coral bleaching is ruining some very beautiful places around the world. Snorkeling over an expanse of dying white coral has provided me with the most concrete evidence that our planet is sick.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Hi design, I have seen film footage of the bleached coral and it makes me sick. You are in a unique position to be able to snorkle and enjoy the healthy coral, while it lasts. I certainly hope that environmental regulations will slow, and one day stop, the destruction of these beautiful sea treasures.

  3. elizabeth says:

    hey i just wanted to say that the coral reefs rokkk!!

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