Information on Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are like the rain forests of the sea. Like rain forests, they have a wide variety of organisms. Plus, coral is in need of protection just like rain forests. But I think the biggest similarity is that they are both found in tropical areas and have a “sister” who is found in a cooler similar spot.

Their are two types of coral, hard coral and soft coral. Hard coral looks like rocks and usually isn’t thought to be alive. It also builds reefs with its hard calcium skeleton. Soft coral waves in the current and is easier to identify as coral. But the thing most people don’t understand is that coral is not a rock, or a plant, but an animal. Coral has small plankton like animals called Zooxanthellae that create food for the coral. The zooxanthellae also create the corals magnificent color.

The coral reef biome is very important to the world. Like its “sister”, the kelp forest, they are both found in shallow water and help out people around the world. Coral provides habitats and food for fish that fisherman can catch. Plus, tourism in the southern half of Florida alone makes over a million dollars.

The coral itself is made up of tiny polyps that form a hard calcium exoskeleton. The coral reef biome is actually made up of this calcium. The calcium provides shelter for the many fish that live there. If a polyp dies, the calcium meshes remain and are still home to the fish.

Unfortunately, the coral is endangered. The main problems are bleaching, people picking the polyps, and boats crashing into reefs. Why bleaching occurs is uncertain, but there are two main theories. The first theory (and the one that I agree with) is that humans are creating more CO2, which is causing the zooxanthellae to create excess amounts of food. When the coral sees that, it starts removing zooxanthellae (which provides color) and it becomes white, or bleached, though it is also believed that global warming is causing the oceans to heat up. With warmer waters, the zooxanthellae leave and the coral can become bleached. When boats crash into reefs, habitats that fish once lived in are destroyed, and the coral (along with the boat) gets scratched up and ugly, reducing tourism. Tourism can bring in people who will pick polyps. People picking the polyps is like a smaller scale boat hitting the reef.

Fortunately, there are ways to solve these problems. Florida has put signs up telling people not to pick the coral and to watch out when they are using boats. Bleaching is a whole other story. In Australia, people are trying to keep the water cool by shading it at the hottest point of the day and using pumps to pump cooler water up from the depths. In Hawaii they are using CO2 scrubbers to break down carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen. In Florida, they are adding tires and sunken ships for new coral to grow on and even adding in artificial coral. Dr. Tom Goreau is President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, a non-profit organization. Dr. Tom Goreau has designed a metal cage with a small current running through it called Bio-Rock. Bio-Rock has been tested and proven to work. Bio-Rock coral is not artificial and can survive bleaching better than normal coral (so the fish still have their habitats). But, me and a group of people found that if we used Bio-Rock with metal pipes with coolant running through it we could help the tourism because our coral would not bleach. (: