Written by Haley Zerobnick, ESLLC 2017-2018
Coral is a complex organism that can be hard to understand. They look like plants but they have a hard skeleton, so what exactly is coral? Coral is an animal that takes root on the ocean floor. One “piece” of coral as we know it, is made up of hundreds of tiny creatures called polyps. These polyps secrete a hard, outer shell of calcium carbonate which gives coral this plant/ rock-like appearance. Coral also had a symbiotic relationship with a type of algae called zooxanthellae. These algae give the coral their brilliant colors and help the coral by removing waste products and using it in the photosynthetic process. The coral benefits because the algae remove the waste and provides oxygen allowing the coral to grow and thrive.
Coral reefs are extremely important for underwater ecosystems. Reefs promote biodiversity and provide a habitat for hundreds of creatures including small fish, invertebrates, and algae. Coral also protects the coastline from damage caused by waves and tropical storms. They are also an essential part of the food chain. Coral also helps with carbon and nitrogen fixation. The overarching question is: What is coral bleaching and why is it so bad for our environment?
When conditions in the ecosystem change, such as the temperature or the amount sunlight coral becomes very stressed. This stress causes them to expel the zooxanthellae algae which leaves them exposed and vulnerable. Once the coral is bleached, it is not necessarily dead, it just cannot thrive in those conditions and therefore is more prone to mortality. Without coral reefs, many marine creatures are left without a home and shore lines become more prone to damage. This is also detrimental to fishing industries and the ecotourism that some countries are known for. The best way to prevent coral bleaching is to reduce your carbon footprint and try not to contribute to the global trends that is climate change.