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.