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Corals and the reefs they build are truly an amazing aspect of the natural world. Corals are not only living things they are actually animals, although they may look like plants. While they are beautiful and incredible to behold, they also serve a variety of invaluable purposes. Coral reefs provide value to both humans and the environment.

 

What Is a Coral, Exactly?

A coral is an animal that is classified as a cnidarian (meaning that is completely symmetrical from every angle). A coral resembles a sac with tentacles, and it has a hole in part of its body that acts as a mouth. The tentacles sting potential food that swims past the coral, grabbing onto the food and transferring it to the coral’s mouth.

During the coral’s mating season, coral polyps release sperm and eggs in the water, and ultimately, those sperm and eggs combine and create coral larvae. These larvae are known as planulae. The planulae float freely in the water until they find hard places to which they can attach themselves. They then build hard shells around themselves for protection. When you see a coral reef, what you are actually seeing is a mass of these corals enclosed in shells in a colony.

 

Reef Types

There are three types of coral reefs: Fringing, barrier, and atoll. Fringing reefs are the most common variety, and they extend from the shore to the water. A fringing reef will form a border around a shoreline, as well as around the other islands that surround a particular shoreline. A barrier reef also acts as a border around a shoreline, but it does so from more of a distance than a fringing reef would. When a fringing reef is built on a volcanic island, and the island becomes completely submerged in the sea, the result is known as an atoll reef. As the island continues to become submerged, the coral continues to form above the water in an upward direction.

 

Reef Formation

One reef created by larvae can take up to 10,000 years to become fully formed. Corals that build reefs require the right temperature, light, and level of saline in the water in order to grow. Atolls and barrier reefs can actually take up to 100,000 to 300,000 years to form. This means that if you see a reef in nature, you are looking at something that could be hundreds of centuries old.

 

Coral Reefs: Their Importance to the Ecosystem

Coral reefs are valuable to the ecosystem in an assortment of ways. They provide coastal protection by minimizing the impact of the waves and weather on shore. In this way, they help to reduce the amount of flooding and erosion of the land. This is also beneficial to the humans who may populate or visit such land.

Reefs of coral are essential to fisheries across the globe. They serve as nurseries for approximately 25 percent of the fish in the ocean. This benefits human greatly, and the results actually feed a large percentage of humans on the planet. Reefs also help to support the biodiversity of the ocean, ensuring that some life will survive in the aftermath of catastrophic occurrences.

 

Coral Reefs: Their Specific Importance to Humans

In addition to contributing much to the ecosystem, coral reefs are specifically beneficial to humans in several ways. Enabling a huge number of people to eat fish is one of the top ways that coral reefs are advantageous to humans. They are also expected to contribute much to the field of medicine in the near future. They could supply fungi and bacteria that may be used to create important drugs that combat various health conditions.

Coral reefs are valuable from an aesthetic perspective, as well. Few experiences equal the delight and wonder of seeing a coral reef on a scuba diving excursion. Viewing a coral reef from a vantage point on or above the water can also be an unforgettable experience.

 

Coral reefs are clearly important to the world and those who populate it. They benefit the ecosystem to a high degree. These lovely animals and their vibrantly hued reefs are truly one of the miracles of nature.

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