Why coral reefs are important

Why Are Coral Reefs Important?

At first look, you may think you’re looking at a lump of colorful rocks. But, these are not rocks. These eye-catching figures are coral reefs! Found in oceans all over the world, coral reefs are home to many types of sea animals. Not only that, coral reefs are very important to both our economy and our environment. 

Do you know what a coral reef is? If you do, do you know why coral reefs are so important?

If you don’t know why coral reefs play such a big role in keeping our planet healthy, don’t worry. Read on to find out everything you need to know about these ocean formations.

Definition Of Coral Reefs

If you’ve ever watched the movie Finding Nemo, think back to the beginning of the movie. One of the first scenes opens up to his home. It was colorful, full of different kinds of sea animals, and had many different shaped structures. That is a coral reef.

Coral reefs are an underwater habitat made up of coral polyps. Coral polyps, though they look like a cross between a plant and an underwater rock, are actually animals. 

While coral polyps are animals, they don’t swim around like the species that live there. A reef is created when a coral polyp attaches itself to a rock on the ocean floor. From there, thousands of clones appear and a coral reef is born. 

Think of a coral reef like a garden. Above ground, a garden has plants, animals, and bugs, all living together in harmony. A coral reef is similar. There are giant clams, sea turtles, starfish, algae, and sea grass growing and existing side by side.

Why coral reefs are important

Why Are Corals Important?

Coral reefs have many different colors, shapes, and sizes. They also have many different uses that make them incredibly important for the Earth. (Research from
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Here are a few reasons why coral reefs are so important:

  1. Shoreline Protection: Coral reefs can be called “the speed bumps of the ocean”. Their shaped, jagged edges slow down waves as they roll in. This protects coastlines from the damage strong storms can bring. 
  2. Provides Sea Animals a Home: Coral reefs provide food, and shelter to more sea animals in one area than in any other part of the ocean. There are thousands of different types of sea creatures that rely on coral reefs to survive. 
  3. Helps Marine Biologists: Some scientists believe there are thousands more small organisms found within coral reefs that haven’t even been discovered yet. Coral reefs help marine biologists understand the ocean better. 
  4. Provide Nutrients: Coral reefs provide nitrogen, a required nutrient for many different types of marine life. 
  5. Help Our Economy: Hundreds of people rely on coral reefs for a job. Not only this, coral reefs bring in visitors all over the world, bringing in money to cities along the shore. 
definition of coral reefs

What Do Coral Reefs Do?

Influence The Food Chain:

As we have learned, coral reefs provide a home for many different kinds of sea animals. Since coral reefs have the largest variety of sea plants and animals than any other ecosystem in the world, this creates a food web ranging from the top of the food chain (sharks) to the very bottom (plankton).

Create and Pass On Energy:

Each type of life found in a coral reef interacts with one another and the environment. The starting point begins with the sun. When a coral reef and the sun interact, a series of energy transfers occur. This energy is created and then passed on when other animals come by and eat the plants or creatures found on reefs. 

Protect Sea Animals From Predators:

Shrimps, crabs, and lobsters all find safety from predators in the cracks and dips of a coral reef. Since these different kinds of sea creatures all play different important roles in the well-being of our underwater world, keeping them protected and alive is very important for ocean health.

Plants In Coral Reefs

We’ve already learned how sea creatures ranging from fish, lobsters, sea horses, and sea turtles all rely on coral reefs for food and protection. But, what about plants?

A few plants living in coral reefs are:

  • Zooxanthellae: One of the most important plants found in coral reefs. Zooxanthellae are plant cells that live within the structure of the coral reef. Using the sun, zooxanthellae provide corals with energy and important nutrients. 
  • Algae: Provides coral reefs with oxygen, and helps the reefs remove waste.
  • Seagrass: Provides shelter for smaller sea creatures like conch and lobster.
  • Sea Weed: Edible plants for sea creatures nearby.
  • Kelp: A kelp forest supports life for many sea animals
ways to save corral reefs

Are Coral Reefs Dying?

Even though coral reefs play such a big role in housing sea animals, and protecting those of us onshore, coral reefs are dying.  (Research from National Geographic Kids)

According to the “Status of Coral Reefs of The World 2020”, researchers and marine biologists alike have found that over the last 10 years, the world has lost 14% of its coral reefs. 

While coral reefs are fragile to changes, if caught in time, dying reefs are fixable. Coral reefs can often recover if the proper steps are taken to save them. 

A few ways you can save coral reefs at home are:

  • Recycle: When you recycle, you make sure that none of your own trash is ending up in our oceans.
  • Volunteer With An Environmental Organization: The oceans need as many hands as possible, so by donating your time you can do your part. 
  • Donate: There are many organizations dedicated to helping save coral reefs. You can find these organizations by asking an adult.
  • Spread The Word: Tell your family and friends about what you’ve learned so they can make better decisions that help coral reefs, too.

How Coral Reefs Grow

Coral polyps (tiny animals related to sea anemone) attach themselves to a rock on the ocean floor. These little creatures leak fluid that becomes hard and creates a base for other tiny organisms to attach to. Over time, the coral reef grows as these polyps divide and multiply. As the coral reef begins to get bigger, more and more creatures are drawn to the reef. 25% of the world’s ocean animals can be found near coral reefs!

how coral reefs are being destoryed

How Coral Reefs Are Being Destroyed

There is no one answer as to how coral reefs are being destroyed. There are a few ways that scientists know of:

  • Fragile: Although they are tough, they are sensitive. Any changes in the ocean can result in the inability of a coral reef to survive. 
  • Ocean Temperatures: When the temperatures of the ocean get warmer, coral reefs are put under stress. This causes them to release zooxanthellae, which results in coral bleaching. If coral bleaching does not get resolved, the reef will die.
  • Rising Sea Levels: These high waters can smother a coral reef.
  • Climate Change: With climate change, we have seen an increase in storms. These storms can harm the fragile structures of a coral reef.
  • Pollution: Humans have polluted the oceans for years, and coral reefs are very sensitive to foreign chemicals.

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