Coral Reef Ecosystem

The Coral Reef Ecosystem is one of the most – if not the most – diverse ecosystem on the planet, containing not only corals, but a myriad of other lifeforms, including crustaceans, sea turtles, sharks and dolphins, anemones, shrimps, crabs, jellyfish and many, many more. The biodiversity present in a coral reef is astounding, with each component part being dependant upon many others to survive and any fluctuation in the abundance of one species can dramatically affect countelss others. Every organism in a coral reef can be classified in three categories: producers, consumers, and decomposers.

Autotrophs, or producers, form the base of the food chain in a Coral Reef Ecosystem. They synthetise glucose and other organic compounds through photosynthesis. The symbiotic algae known as zooxanthellae that resides within most corals is a primary producer. It provides the coral with oxygen and helps it remove wastes, in exchange for a safe environment within the coral’s exoskeleton and compounds required for photosynthesis. The glucose and other compounds produced by the zooxanthellae are also vital to the coral’s synthesis of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), the main building material used for the contruction of the hard exoskeleton most corals live in.

Primary producers such as Phytoplankton are food for the primary consumers of the ecosystem: sea turtles, herbivorous fish, some crabs, zooplankton, sea urchins and even certain corals. Then there are the secondary consumers, such as plankton feeders, corallivores (fish that specialize in eating corals), benthic invertebrates like mollusks and crustaceans, and finally piscivores, fish that eat other fish. Tertiary consumers in a Coral Reef Ecosystem are large fish – sharks and barracudas – along with moray eels, dolphins and sea birds. They are at the top of the food chain, primarily feeding on smaller fish.

Decomposers serve a vital role in the ecosystem by breaking down dead biological matter and converting it into usable energy and returning materials to the environment. The primary decomposers in a coral reef are bacteria. Detrivores – scavangers such as snails, crabs and worms – play an equally important role by recycling waste material and dead fishes.

Coral Reefs protect the shoreline from water surges and storms, acting as barriers. They support an incredible diversity of fish, many of which cannot be found anywhere else. Reefs act as water filtration systems for surrounding waters. The Coral Reef Ecosystem is home to roughly a quarter of all marine species, yet only occupies less than 0.1% of the oceans’ surface – truly a marvel of nature.

Biotic Factors That Make Up The Coral Reef

The importance of coral reef ecosystem biotic factors cannot be overemphasized. While abiotic factorshave more to do with inanimate materials and elements, such as water, oxygen, sand, rocks and shells, the biotic factor of coral reefs has to do with the various creatures that inhabit the ecosystem and are part of the food web. These creatures are divided into three separate categories: producers, consumers and decomposers. Each of them has its own unique part to play in maintaining the food web and contributing to the coral reef ecosystem as a whole.

Producers are considered the most important of all coral reef ecosystem biotic factors. Without them, the other two types of animals would never be drawn to the reef, or they might not even exist. Producers can include vital algae like the life-giving zooxanthellae that are responsible for the health of coral polyps responsible for building the reef structures, as well as species such as coralline algae, phytoplankton, species of seaweed and filamentous turf algae. The role of these creatures is to use the process of photosynthesis in order to turn sunlight into usable energy through glucose, amino acids and glycerol – compounds that are essential to building and maintaining life.

Consumers are an extensive category of coral reef ecosystem biotic factors, and can mostly be divided up into three different types of animals. Primary consumers are invertebrates, larvae, sponges or gastropods. Essentially, they are consumers that eat producers (or herbivores). Secondary consumers prey mainly on primary consumers, and can be either carnivore or omnivore species. Examples include sea sponges, sea urchins and unique species such as the flounder. Finally, third-order consumers are exclusively carnivores, and they include apex predators like the shark, seal or dolphin, that only feed on secondary consumers.

The third and final category is made up of a species category known as decomposers or detrivores. These are the janitors of the underwater world, being in charge of consuming dead organic material in order to preserve the pristine cleanliness and efficiency of the coral reef ecosystem. They break down dead organic material, and are able to process it for energy through the production of various nutrients. These nutrients are in turn used by producers to complete the coral reef food web cycle. When it comes to the coral reef ecosystem, biotic factors play just as important a role as abiotic factors, in determining whether or not a coral reef system may survive and thrive.

Coral Reef Ecosystem Animals

Coral reef ecosystem animals are still thriving. Despite being threatened by rising water levels and temperatures, human factors and a host of other potential stressors, some of these creatures thrive quite well in their respective habitats. Looking at the most unusual and fascinating of these animals, we find that there is virtually no limit to the huge diversity associated with coral reefs ecosystems.

The butterfly fish is one of the most beautiful coral reef ecosystem animals in existence. Aside from its unique stripes and colors, however, it’s worth mentioning that the butterfly fish is a corallivore, being forced to live near the reef and feed on coral polyps. Another unique fish species living in coral reef ecosystems is the clownfish living in a symbiotic relationship with its host anemone. The crown of thorns starfish is even more unusual along with the colorful humphead maori wrasse, which is only found on the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia. You can also see many other strange and unique types of fish as you dive near coral reefs, including cuttlefish and parrotfish species, guitarfish and the large potato cod, which is usually found near the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

Whales, dolphins and whale sharks are also among the most interesting coral reef ecosystem animals you can find in the ocean. These large and majestic creatures are sea mammals that have evolved to be remarkably intelligent. In the case of dolphins, high emotional intelligence is one of the most fascinating trait that scientists have discovered. Whales and dolphins are carnivore creatures surviving mainly by eating fish that make use of coral reef habitats or regularly visit coral reefs in order to feed. Sharks can also be found close to coral reef formations, especially hammerheads and reef sharks and whale sharks. The latter is the largest species of shark in existence, yet it’s also among the most docile, gaining nourishment mainly by filter feeding on plankton, krill, fish eggs and copepods.

Species like the spiny lobster add color and character to coral reef environments, and are highly dependent on the protection of coral reef ecosystems, especially when going through molting – a time during which they are considerably vulnerable. Other unusual reef-dwelling creatures include clams, copepods, sea turtles and jellyfish. In fact, the largest known species of jellyfish, the lion’s mane jelly, is one of the most well-known species found in the vicinity of the Great Barrier Reef. Other strange coral reef ecosystem animals also include the giant clam, which can live for up to 100 years, and the gentle dugong, which is also one of the most endangered species on the reef.

Coral Reef Ecosystems Support Over A Million Different Species

While scientists aren’t fully sure on the exact number, it is known that coral reef systems support over a million different species of marine life, regardless of whether it’s large or microscopic. Even larger predators come close to the reef to hunt, and many other marine creatures thrive by living on the coral reef itself and using it as a source of nourishment – usually by consuming marine flora, algae and other types of fish or marine creatures that have made their home on the coral reefs as well..

Some coral reefs can be impressively massive, and many support over a million different species of vertebrate and invertebrate marine creatures. These include both shallow water reefs and deep sea reef communities, some of which also support macrofauna and deep ocean fish species that not much is known about. Some accounts show that coral reefs form homes for about ¼ of all marine life species, offering food, shelter and resources to an estimate of about 1-3 million species. Some sources believe that about 200,000 of these species live in the Caribbean reefs alone, and areas in the Pacific, the Red Sea and other tropical and subtropical regions house even more species that are supported by coral reefs.

Coral reef systems support numerous species, but contrary to popular belief, many of these are microfauna, such as the coral polyps and zooxanthellae that are responsible for coral reef growth, as well as many other microscopic creatures and invertebrates. Invertebrates make up most of the species you’d find on or around coral reefs. They are usually species of sponges, crustaceans, mollusks and echinoderms. There are also many thousands of vertebrate species, including over 3,000 different species of fishes known to be supported by coral reefs, as well as 60-65 species of sea snakes and several types of sea turtles.

Corals create biodiversity based on three different factors: the types and number of zooxanthellae algae that support coral growth, the action of influencing currents and waves which determine how sheltered and isolated some coral reef habitats and ecosystems are when compared to others, and the interactions between reefs and various other types of ecosystems, such as mangroves and seagrasses. The protection and stability offered by these factors, along with the safety provided by the calcium carbonate layers that make up the reef, ensure that corals support over a million different species.

Coral Reefs, One Of The Oldest Ecosystems On Earth

If you ask marine biologists and coral ecologists, they can tell you that coral reefs are one of the oldest ecosystems on Earth. Not only are they hundreds of millions of years old, but they’ve had a hand in the development and evolution of numerous species of marine creatures, from clams and sea turtles to the huge varieties of coral and deep ocean fish species we observe in our environment today. Also, recent findings have shown that coral reefs are much more resilient than we give them credit for, having survived the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum event to thrive through more than 46 million years of evolution, since the Eocene period.

Recent studies conducted into the evolution of coral reef formations show that coral reefs are one of the oldest ecosystems on Earth and also among the first to help increase the biodiversity of living organisms. A new research study that followed the environment where more than 6,600 different species of marine life have evolved showed that 1,426 genera originated in coral reef environments. This number is 50% higher than it was initially estimated, and shows that reefs have contributed to biodiversity by increasing the number and diversity of marine habitats and supplying all the right ingredients for the development of new species throughout the past 500 million years of ocean life evolution on planet Earth.

Without a doubt, coral reefs are one of the oldest ecosystems on Earth, dating back to the very beginnings of life for most species, during the late Cambrian period. Corals were initially destroyed during the formation of Pangea in an event known as the Ordovician–Silurian Extinction Event, only to re-appear 410 million years ago, during the Devonian period. After having been destroyed again during the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event – the largest extinction event in history – corals were back to stay until 65 million years ago, when they disappeared again for a short time, during the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs.

Geological evidence indicates that there were other times when corals have experienced such drastic shifts in ocean temperatures as today. The Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum event is one of the best examples of that. More than 50 million years ago, the Earth experienced rises in temperature of over 6 Celsius degrees. The event caused quick rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide and the release of ice and sediment deposits. Most corals suffered and became extinct in this period, reemerging 10 million years later. It is important to note, therefore, that despite their seeming fragility, coral reefs have been known to survive global shifts that we can hardly imagine.

Coral Reef Similarities to Coastal Ecosystems

Because coral reefs are often considered to be a type of coastal ecosystem, the similarities between coral reefs and coastal ecosystems can be important to point out. While coral reefs are a specific type of ecosystem whose layers of secreted calcium carbonate form powerful barriers that protect coastal regions from strong ocean currents, coastal ecosystems can be widely diverse, ranging from estuaries and salt marshes, to sand dunes and mangrove forests. Despite the differences, however, there are also many common points that exist between these two types of ecosystems.

Significant similarities between coral reefs and coastal ecosystems exist that are worth mentioning. Like coral reefs, mangroves only grow near the equator, and their role is to protect inland masses and provide nourishment and shelter for a variety of wildlife species. Salt marshes such as estuaries and mudflats are similarly affected by many of the problems that have led to a decrease in coral reef populations, including sea water pollution, disturbance by people, dredging and sea level rise. Finally, when compared to corals, sand dunes are similarly fragile coastal habitats that are easily affected by salinity and acidity.

There are many similarities between coral reefs and coastal ecosystems such as estuaries, despite the fact that their structures aren’t overly similar. Like coral reefs, which are a transitional ecosystem between oceanic and various coastline ecosystems, including estuaries, the latter form the transitional area between marine and river ecosystems. Estuaries are greatly affected by marine environmental factors such as ocean currents and temperature, as well as low tides and water salinity, and like corals, they are also a rich and diverse habitat for many organisms that thrive off their resources. Estuaries also house some types of marine animals similar to those found in coral habitats, including clams, crabs, seahorses, shrimp and catfish.

When it comes to coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests, the impact that climate change has on them can be similar to the influence it has on coral reefs. Mangrove forests require stable sea levels in order to survive, and also need relatively calm conditions. Because of that, mangroves are affected by coral reef bleaching and destruction, since they need the coral barriers’ protection. Moreover, mangroves are affected by clearing, overharvesting and overfishing, just the same as coral reefs. As you can see, the similarities between coral reefs and coastal ecosystems are many, and depending on the type of coastal ecosystem we examine, you’ll find they may also be many factors that impact both in the same way, leading to similar influences of pollution or global warming when it comes to considering the health and integrity of each ecosystem in part.

Importance Of Coral Reefs In The Marine Ecosystem

The importance of coral reefs in marine ecosystems is virtually immeasurable. Aside from the immediately observable fact that coral reefs offer protection for species that use them as their food source and habitat, there are also many other, more subtle connections involved, having to do with the indirect impact that corals have on the sustenance and ongoing survival of almost all coastal ecosystems.

The greatest importance of coral reefs in marine ecosystems is their ability to offer food and shelter to a wide variety of species of fish, crustaceans, as well as sea horses, sponges, sea snakes and a variety of other creatures that live around coral reef formations and are predatory in nature. The coral reef food web is teeming with life, and many sea mammals and fish that don’t live around the reef also depend on the health and welfare of the coral reef systems they visit. Also, it’s worth mentioning that coral polyps are not the only marine animals dependent on the microscopic organisms they support and feed on. The fragile larvae and younger members of many species depend on these organisms for nourishment, and their gradual disappearance could lead to the end of entire species.

The importance of coral reefs in marine ecosystems doesn’t extend just to the immediate vicinity of the reef formations themselves. Aside from the fact that corals build large walls that protect coastal areas, bays and lagoons from the harsh waves of the ocean, their influence also has to do with the thriving existence of species like the parrotfish. These fish are responsible for replenishing beaches and helping the beach ecosystem thrive as well. Countless creatures depend on this ecosystem, and are indirectly linked to the survival of coral reefs.

It has long been known that life acts to adapt and evolve as conditions change. Even though climate change is not considered a 100% natural occurrence, some scientists believe that the process is slow enough to allow coral reefs to adapt to it under certain conditions. For example, it has been observed that some species of corals can actually raise their surface elevation depending on sea level rise. As the latter is increased by climate change, the right factors, such as the absence of overfishing and pollution and the quality of the water, can induce the process, allowing coral populations to continue thriving and maintaining the ocean’s ecosystems. In this regard, the long-term importance of coral reefs in marine ecosystems cannot be estimated.

Red Sea Coral Reef Ecosystem

The Red Sea coral reef ecosystem is one of the most unique in the world. These reefs are quite old and extremely diverse, but most importantly, they are also known for their remarkable resilience in the face of changing climate and sea level conditions – shifts that have adversely affected a large percentage of the world’s coral reef populations.

The Red Sea separates the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, and it is uniquely sheltered from the currents of the Indian Ocean through a narrow strait known as Bab el Mandeb. Because of this fact, and as a result of the unique geological history of the sea, influenced by the gradual ongoing separation between the African and Asian continent, the Red Sea coral reef ecosystem is one of the most beautiful and unique in the world. Its depth is relatively small, around the average value of only 1,600 feet. Also, the clarity of the water here is greater than almost anywhere else, and the negative impact created by the dissipation of fine sediments that affect most coral reef formations from around the world does not exist here. These conditions and the lack of strong winds and currents that might appear in the ocean, have contributed to an impressive ecosystem biodiversity in the entire region.

Despite rising sea temperatures, the diversity and impressive resilience of the Red Sea coral reef ecosystem continues to support the presence and ongoing survival of many species of sea creatures that can no longer thrive anywhere else. A number of about 300 species of hard coral was recorded to live in the Red Sea, with about 200 species present mainly along the Egyptian coastline. The reefs support a number of 1,200 species of coral reef fishes, about 10% of which are not found anywhere else on Earth. While severely understudied and underrated in the past, the Red Sea coral reefs are now given full attention by various foundation, coral reef conservation movements and scientists from around the world. Their rare stability could help save many endangered or threatened marine life species that may have already disappeared in other parts of the world.

Red Sea corals are not immune to climate change and global warming. Despite being generally healthy, there is evidence that coral reef bleaching is slowly becoming a problem, and combined with the damage coming from shipping, fishing practices and improperly managed dive tourism, the continuing degradation of coral reef systems in the area seems all but inevitable. Fortunately, a number of protected areas have been established as early as the 1980s here, and their number is growing. Scientists hope that these initiatives can at least help slow down the damage that the Red Sea coral reef ecosystem is currently subjected to.

Whale in Ocean