With all the excitement of summer ending and the new school year beginning, let’s discuss a natural phenomenon occurring within our oceans. Coral spawning is a synchronized event where various colonies and species of corals release their gametes at the same time. Scientists are not sure what causes coral spawning, but they believe lunar cycles and temperature are key factors. Because many species of corals spawn at one time, it allows for the new corals to be more genetically diverse and for them to reach further distances.
Corals are not rocks and they are not plants. Corals are animals. The structures that we call “coral” are actually thousands of tiny animals called polyps. Most polyps have clear bodies and they receive their brilliant colors from tiny algae or zooxanthellae. Millions of zooxanthellae live inside one square inch of coral. Zooxanthellae receive protection and nutrients from the corals, and the corals receive nutrients and oxygen from the zooxanthellae. This is a perfect example of a mutualistic symbiotic relationship.
Coral reefs are one of the most productive and diverse ecosystems in the world. They are vitally important because they protect coastlines from erosion caused by storms, as well as serving as valuable habitat for one third of all marine fish species. The variety of life supported by coral reef habitats rivals that of any other species, including tropical rainforests. For this reason alone, reefs should be loved and protected.
Coral reef systems have weathered thousands of years of natural evolution, but many species are in trouble due to human influences. Coral species are highly threatened for a multitude of reasons. Their greatest threats are climate change, pollution, overfishing, destructive tourism and coral mining – the majority of which are a direct result of human interactions. To conserve this vital resource, we must make changes today.
Though corals are threatened, there are things we can do in our daily life to make a difference. Follow the steps below to support coral reef protection and restoration.
1. Conserve water. Reduce your consumption.
2. Help reduce pollution. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
3. Coral restoration projects. Help promote new coral growth.
4. Dispose of your trash properly. Clean up after yourselves and others.
5. Practice responsible diving. Do not anchor your boat on the reef. Contact with the coral will damage the delicate animals.
6. Passively Observe. Do not touch or take marine life.
7. Share your knowledge! Encourage others to get involved.
For more information about coral reefs and how to protect them, visit the NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries website.