Coral reefs are the ultimate centers of biodiversity, teeming with life. It's in these rich centers you will find various types of fish, invertebrates and a plethora of other marine life. You may already know these things but were you aware of the fact that coral reefs are also alive? To know more about this we shall first learn more about what coral reefs are in the first place.
Coral Reefs- An overview
Let's discuss Corals and Coral Reef formation.
Defining a reef can be the best place to start when talking about coral reefs. Reef formation happens due to animals known as stony corals. These stony corals, in turn, are made of soft and tiny colonial organisms known as polyps. Being related to sea anemones and looking quite like them, polyps are invertebrate members of the phylum Cnidaria. The polyp sits within a calyx or cup in stony corals and is made up of limestone (also called calcium carbonate). Over this limestone skeleton, the interconnected polyps form a mass of living tissue. Due to the limestone, these corals get the name of stony corals.
How Do Coral Reefs Form?
The coral formation is the layer upon layer build-up of living polyps over the skeletons of older polyps that have lived and died. There are two ways in which the polyps reproduce- one, through fragmentation wherein a piece breaks off forming new polyps or two, through spawning or sexual reproduction.
Usually, a reef ecosystem is made up of myriad species of corals. A healthy reef is typically vibrant and is rich in biodiversity. These rich areas have a mixture of corals and other species inhabiting them. The other species are fishes, sea turtles, and invertebrates like shrimps, lobsters, sponges, seahorses, and crabs. Sea fans or other such soft corals might be found within a coral reef ecosystem although they don't build reefs themselves.
Organisms like coralline algae and other physical processes like waves help in cementing together the corals on a reef.
Apart from the animals living in and on the reefs, the corals are themselves a host to Zooxanthellae, single-celled photosynthesis conducting, Dinoflagellates. The Zooxanthellae and corals have a mutually beneficial relationship wherein the waste products of the coral are used by the Zooxanthellae. Similarly, the Coral grows on the nutrients that are provided by Zooxanthellae during photosynthesis. You will usually find reef-building corals in shallow waters since sunlight is accessible, which is essential for photosynthesis. Reefs thrive and grow larger due to the presence of the Zooxanthellae.
Coral Island formation is due to the growth of Coral Reefs. Coral reefs can be very large for example; the Great Barrier Reef stretches for more than 1,400 miles off the coast of Australia, making it the world's largest reef.
3 Types of Coral Reefs
Fringing reefs: These coral reefs are found close to the shores in shallow waters.
Barrier reefs: Separated from land by a lagoon, Barrier reefs, like the Great Barrier Reef, are large and continuous reefs.
Atolls: These ring-shaped reefs are located near the sea surface. How does coral form such ring shapes? They get their ring-like shape as a result of growing on top of inactive volcanoes or underwater islands.
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