The Beauty and Importance of Coral Reefs: Understanding the “Rainforests of the Ocean”
Coral reefs are nicknamed the rainforests of the ocean for a good reason. They are essentially large communities of underwater marine life held together by tree-like calcium carbonate formations generated by small organisms called corals.
The reefs provide a vital sanctuary to fish, clams, sea urchins, jellyfish, shrimp, sea worms, sea turtles and a host of other marine life that depend on the protection and nourishment offered by these vital underwater formations.
Coral Reef Definitions
The main accepted definition of coral reefs is that they are underwater ecosystems held together by the skeleton-like calcium carbonate structures secreted and formed over time by corals.
The reef structures themselves are actually not alive. Instead, the real culprit responsible for their formation are tiny colonies of marine animals that can be found in waters with low nutrient concentration. These colonies consist of groups of polyps that are supported by the carbonate exoskeletons much like a turtle would be protected by its shell.
Coral reefs require specific conditions in order to thrive. They need warm, shallow and clear waters that can allow an ideal amount of UV radiation to reach the corals, and they also grow best in agitated waters.
Why Are Coral Reef Formations so Important?
Even though they only make up about 0.1% of the global ocean surface, corals are responsible for about 25% of the entire marine life population of the Earth, playing a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Also, in the tourism industry, coral reefs are valued at more than $100 billion, due to having become remarkable touristic attractions in many places.
The true importance of coral reefs, however, has to do with their biodiversity and ability to keep rare, fragile marine species alive and thriving. Reefs are home to a huge variety of creatures, including shrimp, spiny lobsters, crabs, as well as mollusks, echinoderms, sea snakes and sea squirts.
Despite their importance both for marine species and humankind, coral reefs are dying all around the world. Pollution and global warming are the main causes, but other destructive (mostly man-made) threats, such as overfishing, blast fishing or the digging of canals has negatively influenced coral growth to a great extent, particularly in the past few decades.
This is precisely why environmental friendly laws and regulations are more important today than ever before, and through environmentally aware practices and strategies for reviving and prolonging the life of coral reefs around the world, many endangered species can be saved, while the global ecosystem itself may be led to a more balanced state.