Coral Reef Facts: Ocean Biodiversity Hotspots
Coral are invertebrate animals that mainly reside in tropical oceans near the equator.
Despite occupying less than 5% of oceans, coral reefs provide a home for about 1/4 of marine species.
Not only are coral reefs biodiversity hotspots, they serve as part of the food chain, provide shelter for animals and are key indicators of overall ocean health.
They attract billions of dollars in tourism dollars annually. Despite their importance, overfishing, bleaching, rising temperature and human interactions threaten the health of coral reefs.
Coral are invertebrate animals
Coral is an invertebrate animal. Like jellyfish, it’s a member of the Cnidaria.
Filter-feeding organisms like coral gather suspended particles like dissolved calcium from the water. Like a strainer, they separate food particles from the water.
By extracting calcium carbonate from oceans, this helps them develop its stony polyps building an exoskeleton. The hard shell helps them protect their soft bodies.
Alternatively, soft corals lack a skeleton. They flutter in the moving water with all the colors of the rainbow.
Because coral is an animal, it is a food source for other animals, which in turn feeds other animals. Coral provides the basic building block of a food chain contributing to the marine ecosystem.
The rainforests of the oceans
Like a giant desert, most of the ocean is bare. Living conditions are hostile because they don’t provide a source of shelter for animals.
Without vegetation, fish can only rely on hunting for food in the open ocean. This is why some fish only occupy the open ocean during migration.
If open oceans are deserts, then reefs are like rainforests. This is because coral reefs provide shelter for fish, crustaceans and other creatures to live in.
Just like rainforests, they are more biologically diverse. And ecosystems rely on biodiversity for resiliency, health and food.
A loss in biodiversity is like a soccer team without a defense. If disease kills one type of fish, a diverse ecosystem would have other fish that can fill in the role.
Coral is a litmus test for overall health
Coral is under a lot of stress, mostly from human actions. Not only does over-fishing threaten coral reef health, but stress from rising temperature, ocean acidity and even sunscreen harms coral reef.
Because coral feed from the open water, they are an excellent indicator of ocean disturbance. Like an early-warning system, they detect factors like contaminants, pH changes and temperature fluctuations.
Scientists estimate that coral reefs face extinction in 50 years. So the spotlight is on coral reef with a real race to protect them. Scientists showed red flags entering a decade ago for coral reefs. Now there are signal fires.
The benefits are plentiful for coral reefs. For example:
- They generate $30-$375 billion a year annually worldwide mostly for tourism, fisheries and medicine.
- Coral minimize shoreline erosion, reduce flood risk and negate high impact waves.
- They stabilize marine ecosystems as key underwater biodiversity hotspots.
From an environmental standpoint, the spotlight is on coral reefs and bleaching. But for corporate industries, there’s more convincing to do.
Prevention is key. But replanting is just one way scientists are restoring these underwater biodiversity hotspots.