Coral reefs are things of beauty. They are delicately crafted in under water worlds of color and are required for a healthy ocean. They are home to unlimited numbers of sea life and help feed the sea life at the same time, but what is a coral reef? They are ecosystems of coral polyps made of calcium. Those coral polyps are stony corals that are held together by calcium carbonate.
These reefs protect the shoreline from erosion and a healthy reef indicates the health of the water and the environment of that particular stretch of shoreline or ocean bottom. They are also home to large numbers of fish and other sea life that make those stretches of underwater terrain their homes.
There are several different types of reefs across the world and each has its own collection of organisms that live in it. They also have different characteristics which separate them from each other. They are varying in size, but often start as one reef only to become another with time as they grow and expand; though some will stay the same because of their location in warm or cold water or if they are located at a particular depth. The differences are listed below based on the type of reef it is:
A fringing reef is a reef that is near the shore and located near shallow channels or lagoons. They aren’t very wide. The reefs don’t lie too far beneath the water. Generally just below the surface of the water. The reefs run parallel to a coastline. The Red Sea is one of the largest reefs in the world and is a fringe reef.
Barrier reefs are very similar to fringe reefs the main difference being their size and depth. They don’t tend to extend so far, but they can go down deep to at least 230 feet below the surface of the water. It takes longer for a barrier reef to form than a fringe reef which may be one of the reasons they are rarer as the right combination of factors is needed for their development. They are thought to form as the sea beds lower and/or seas rise. The Great Barrier Reef Austraile is the largest Barrier Reef.
A Platform reef is formed on the continental shelf of the ocean and further out in the open ocean. The reefs grow large and may form a lagoon in the middle of them. Platform reefs can spread in all directions and even grow to reach the surface of the ocean. There are some on the east coast of the Red Sea near Jeddah.
An Atoll reef is a circular reef that grows around a lagoon. They grow from fringe reefs near volcanic islands. These islands tend to erode away over time and sink below the sea level. Atolls can be found primarily in the South Pacific and around the Indian Ocean in the Maldives, the Chagos Islands and Cocos Island.
There are eight other small variations of the above mentioned reefs. These do not generally expend so far and tend to resemble other more common reefs. They cover small and large areas in small, low-elevations.
Smaller reef coral on average grow only to around .12 inch in diameter, but the larger coral can grow up to weight several tons. For the larger, less common reefs, they tend to grow really slowly and do not exceed 1.8 inches per year under the best circumstances. These reefs often support up to 25 percent of all known species of marine life. That means, 0ver 4,000 species of fish of over 700 different specifies of coral and thousands of other plants and animals live within this ecosystem all at the same time.
The largest reefs in the world are as follows: Great Barrier Reef, Australia; Red Sea Coral reef Israel, Egypt and Djibouti; New Caledonia Barrier Reef, South Pacific; Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Atlantic Ocean; Florida Reef, Florida; Andros Coral Reef, Bahamas; and the Saya Del Malha, Indian Ocean. Each one of these structures is different in terms of what kind of sea life lives there, but they are also the same in that they are bustling centers of life and biodiversity.
Corals are actually invertebrate animals. They grow in colonies where there can be hundreds of thousands living together at once. One coral or poly can literally grow thousands of genetically identical copies of itself. They have a simple stomach and a single mouth opening with tentacles that sweep food into it. There are hard coral and soft coral species of it. Hard coral form various types of reefs all over the world. Soft corals support themselves by growing hard bases. They also have tentacles like hard corals, but they grow in numerals of 8 and look like feathers. They generally are found in caves or on ledges where they hang down to capture food that the current brings floating by.
Coral reefs are found all over the world, but there are differences depending on the temperature of the water to the depth of the water it can grow in. Shallow coral reefs such as fringe coral are estimated to occupy upwards of 93, 1758,530 square feet of the planet. Those are located in warmer waters; the deeper coral reefs have no estimate in terms of their length or depth except that it far exceeds the shallow water reefs. These reefs of both warm and cold water harbor more than one quarter of the earth’s sea life and are slow growing, but bustling centers of life. Much of our tropics is covered in these reefs and there are reefs located well below where humans normally dive to view them. They also drop down too deep to explore in some places.
The current issue surrounding coral reefs, both hot and cold versions of it, is that they are slowly dying. The sea waters are warming and their habitats are being eroded by chemicals and other refuse that is floating in the waters. These once thriving cities of ocean life are being consumed by pollution and burned up by heat. When observed, it appears as if they are slowly being strangled and starved by the heat.
It is also referred to as the “bleaching” of the reefs as they slowly turn white and die off. With continuous exposure to heat and chemicals, it is estimated that it one in three corals die in nine months. This devastation is attributed to human activity and it is called global warming. It has been estimated that the ocean has risen in temperature to 33.26° Fahrenheit. While it is not considered a lot, it is enough to cause widespread damage and constant concern about the future of these beautiful structures and the sea life that calls them home.
The causes of human destruction are many. The destruction can be blamed on overfishing, ocean acidification and pollution. Each one of those causes is enough to destroy a reef, but together the devastation is spreading far and wide. Governments and scientists alike are looking at this problem and declaring it is something that can be fixed and saved, but that it will take the combined effort of everyone on the planet to make substantial changes to the way their live their lives to make changes for the good of the biodiversity of the these watery cities.
We also need a way to reduce the amount of nitrogen entering the water. We do know that the animals and plants in this ecosystem cannot live in a nitrogen rich environment and the levels of nitrogen are rising every year. It encourages the over growth and over production of reef killing microbes and jellyfish. The problem with a lot of this information is that just knowing the information is not enough to stop them from dying off at an amazing amount every year. It does not stop the over fishing of the seas and it does not stop the pollution from all our cities eventually making it into the oceans.
So what is a coral reef?
It is a beautiful water based ecosystem of plant and animal life that helps keep the ocean healthy and full of life. It is also a fading infrastructure that needs immediate attention before it is lost completely to the world. The problem is, there is a good chance we are already too late. Like the rainforests, we need to take action now to prevent further devastation, but we also need to start exploring what the consequences will be once these wondrous structures are completely gone. There is so much we do not yet know about coral reefs and those sea creatures that live there. There are species that have yet to be identified and there are probably medicines and other health saving benefits yet to be discovered. Coral Reefs are also places of beauty that our children should be able to enjoy.