Intro to Coral Reef Biology

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Coral Reefs cover less than 2% of the ocean floor but support 25% of all marine life. They are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth, and also one of the most threatened.

Coral reefs are organic paradoxes- obdurate, ship-destroying ramparts constructed by tiny gelatinous creatures. They are part animal,part vegetable, and part mineral. They are at once teeming with life, and at the same time, mostly dead. Coral has mastered the art of calcification, working together in colonies of polyps to form massive exoskeletons that provide food and shelter for thousands of other organisms.

Corals are able to survive in water with very low nutrient levels. An overload of nutrients however causes eutrophication (when algae covers the corals) and kills them. One of the most common causes of this, especially here in Thailand where tourism is exploiting our reefs, is people feeding fish bread or other foods to attract them, or throwing organic food scraps into the ocean. Most people find justification in the fact that their foods are biodegradable and organic. However, by disturbing fish feeding patterns and filling the water with unnecessary nutrient, the delicate trophies scale is disrupted and tipped out of balance, leaving the corals to slowly die. In many touristic locations, the industry dominates the need to protect our precious reefs.

All over the world reefs are in decline, and scientists with the UN estimate that most could be lost as soon as 2050. Protection, conservation, and restoration are all essential to save what reefs we still have left.

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Photo credit to New Heaven Dive School

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