The Importance of Coral Reef Ecosystems
Coral reefs are the most intricate and diverse ecosystem on planet Earth. There are thousands of different coral species that exist, whether they are in the form of a single organism or large colonies. They’re most commonly known for their exuberant colors, but in reality, they are SO much more than their aesthetics. Coral reefs are vital to civilization and the environment, which is why it’s so important to understand exactly what they are and their contribution to life as we know it.
What is a Coral Reef Ecosystem?
A coral reef ecosystem is created by an animal called a coral polyp. As previously stated, they show up in many forms, whether it be a single organism or an entire colony. Known as the “rainforests of the sea,” colonies of coral create shelter for thousands of marine life organisms; in fact, a quarter of the ocean’s fish depend on thriving coral reefs for survival! They are often categorized by being either from the shallow waters or the deep sea due to their differing characteristics..
Shallow water coral works together with zooxanthellae, a photosynthetic algae. The algae lives in the coral’s tissue and produces carbohydrates to nourish the coral, as well as providing oxygen and removing waste. In return, the coral provides safe shelter for the algae, as well as compounds it needs for photosynthesis.
Deep water coral does not contain zooxanthellae or depend on the algae for food. Instead , they take in plankton and other clean matter. In addition, they are in much colder waters.
Benefits of Coral Reef Ecosystems
Coral reef ecosystems are essential to thriving oceans because of how much they help the environment. But how do coral reefs help the environment exactly?
- Shelter. Up to 25% of fish (as well as thousands of other marine life organisms) depend on coral reef ecosystems for a place to live, as well as procreate.
- Protection. In addition to countless organisms taking shelter in these ecosystems, coral reefs also protect the coastline from less than desirable weather conditions.
- Economy. Coral reef ecosystems account for billions of dollars worth of jobs.
- Food and Medicine. Their genetic makeup provides the materials for new medicines, as well as food for marine life.
- Recreation. Human beings rely on coral reefs for snorkeling, diving and snorkeling!
Threats to Coral Reef Ecosystems
Coral reef ecosystems are currently being threatened by the global warming crisis, specifically for shallow water coral reefs. Coral reefs only thrive up to a certain extent when it comes to the temperature of the water they live in. As the waters continue to warm up, it causes coral to expel the algae they have a symbiotic relationship with, which causes them to turn white (hence the term “coral bleaching”) and put them at risk for dying. There is hope for these ecosystems to survive coral bleaching, as long as the conditions they exist in improve before it’s too late.