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Showing posts with label Coral Reefs: Coral Plants and Animals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Coral Reefs: Coral Plants and Animals. Show all posts

Monday, February 20, 2012

Coral Reefs: Coral Plants and Animals

Coral Plants and Animals

A home to millions of coral plants and animals, coral reefs are amongst the most biologically diverse regions on Mother Earth. Here's a look at how coral reefs play an important part in the biogeochemical cycle.

There is another world that exists apart from our lives. I am talking about a life beneath the deep blue seas, a life that holds mysteries and new discoveries for mankind. Also a life that humans tend to infiltrate, and sometimes for the wrong reasons.

Coral reefs have been around for the last 25 million years and are now almost endangered. They are a result of the production that has occurred all these years. Coral reefs provide a habitat for numerous other sea creatures. Let us take a look at how coral reefs are amongst the most diverse and productive communities on Mother Earth.

Coral Reefs:
For the last 25 million years, coral reefs are amongst the most biologically diverse regions on Earth. Often a mystery, coral reefs were called an animal, a plant animal or a plant. Corals are actually a result of a combination of plant and animal life. It contains microscopic structures of plants known as algae. These live within the corals.

Algae that live within the corals are called zooxanthellae. The tiny animals called polyps, which are connected by a living tissue actually constitute the corals. The polyps only exist in the uppermost area of the coral reef. A reef is a structure found in the shallow parts of the ocean. (This serves as a home to animals and plants). Sunken ships are also known to have turned into reefs. As one sees new layers of the reef being built, these polyps with their algae soon depart. And every time we can see new layer of the reef structure.

Coral reefs are categorized into three types:
Barrier reefs- Barrier reefs grow parallel to the shoreline. They are separated by water from the mainland.
Fringing reefs- Fringing reefs are permanent with the landmass.
Atolls- Atolls are islands. These are made of coral surrounding a central lagoon.

Coral Reef Plants:
The main types of plants that are found in the coral reef environment are basically algae and seagrasses. These are the most important element in the entire reef ecosystem. The algae can range in various sizes. They can be simple plants such as the zooxanthellae or the common known seaweeds. Seaweeds are multicellular branching forms. These provide food to the corals through photosynthesis.

The multicellular algae are divided into two types-
Coralline Algae:
These spread out in thin layers over the surface. They are made of masses of very fine thread like filaments and these filaments produce calcium carbonate, which in turn gives these algae a rock -like appearance. These are very important to stabilize the coral reef structure.

Calcareous Algae:
These produce calcium carbonate (limestone) and are known to grow erect. The limestone in turn produces the sand that is found on the beaches when these degenerate.

The seagrass beds are flowering plants. These provide shelter to sea creatures such as the conch or the lobsters. Tiny organisms are also known to live in their leaves. The rhizomes or the stems of the sea grass (with roots attached) anchor the plant. They also keep the seawater clean as they trap large amounts of sediments. They play a very important role in preventing beach erosion.

Coral Reef Animals:
Coral reefs house at least 25% of life in the ocean. Animals use these as a shelter and these also are a prime source of food for them. Corals are mainly associated with sea anemones, sea jellies, sea urchins, sponges, worms, rays, lobsters, snails etc. Corals are themselves seen in a variety of colors like blue or brown. This is because of the presence of zooxanthellae within their tissues. This leads to the natural pigmentation, which in turn gives the color to the corals.

Today, we can see massive deterioration of the coral reefs. The causes however are uncertain. Experts have proven the coral reefs are beneficial and they are also an important part of the ecosystem. Coral reefs are also used as a part of various medicines for treatment of specific ailments. But with the constant destruction of the coral reefs, the scientists have now warned the next few years may see us lose these beautiful structures. Irresponsible human activities that lead to pollution, erosion and causes global warming are the main reasons behind their disappearance.

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