I live in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I love their stoic beauty and diverse terrain, but every now and then a change of scenery is in order. I recently took a trip to the beaches of Florida, and it was wonderful to soak up all the different sights, smells and sounds of a coastal environment.
The experience got me thinking about the ocean and all the biodiversity hidden beneath its sparkling surface. Take coral reefs for instance. Few of us get the chance to see these unique ecosystems up close and personal, yet they’re directly linked to things we enjoy on a regular basis, like seafood and beach vacations. Keep reading for a list of surprising reasons these sunken treasures need our support and protection.
7 Amazing Things You Never Knew About Coral
1. Coral Reefs Protect the Beaches We Love
Several million people live in U.S. coastal areas. Many more visit them on vacations. Few realize that beachfront property wouldn’t exist without the work of coral reefs. “The coral reef structure buffers shorelines against waves, storms, and floods, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion. When reefs are damaged or destroyed, the absence of this natural barrier can increase the damage to coastal communities from normal wave action and violent storms,” explains the NOAA.
2. Most Coral Is Colorless
The most striking attribute of coral reefs is their vibrant color, but this underwater rainbow isn’t what you think. “Coral polyps themselves are colorless; the rainbow of hues they display stem from zooxanthellae algae, which live in the corals’ tissues,” reports Natalia Elias.
3. Some Coral CAN Adapt to Warming Oceans
One of the most obvious effects of climate change is a steady increase in ocean temperatures–an effect that’s fatal for most coral. According to recent research, however, “some corals can—on the fly—adjust their internal functions to tolerate hot water 50 times faster than they would adapt through evolutionary change alone. The findings open a new realm of possibility for understanding and conserving corals as climate changes,” reports Futurity. Unfortunately, coral are still threatened by pollution, ocean acidification, over-fishing and destruction by ships and other vessels.
4. Coral Reefs Are the Ocean‘s Nurseries
Want the most bang for your conservation buck? Spend it protecting coral reefs. “The total area of the world’s coral reefs amounts to less than one quarter of 1% of the entire marine environment” explains the WWF, yet it’s estimated that up to 2 million species call coral reefs home. In total, coral ecosystems are are home to 25 percent of all marine life, and form the nurseries for about a quarter of the ocean’s fish — including the ones you like to eat for dinner.
5. Coral Reefs Have Tremendous Economic Value
If that last statistic didn’t make it obvious how dependent we are on healthy coral reefs, maybe these will: Up to 1 million people in Indonesia, Philippines, India, Vietnam and China make a living by fishing in or around coral reefs. In Southeast Asia, coral reef fisheries alone are estimated to yield $2.4 billion annually while the annual net benefits from coral reef fisheries worldwide in 2010 were valued at an estimated $6.8 billion. Additionally, more than 100 countries and territories currently benefit from reef-associated tourism. In 2010, the global net benefits of reef tourism were valued at $11.5 billion.
6. Coral Are the Original 3D Printers
These days everyone is excited about the way 3D printing lets them make something out of nothing, but corals have been doing this for centuries. “Polyps, the living portion of corals, extract calcium from seawater and combine it with carbon dioxide to construct the elaborate limestone skeletons that form the reef backbone,” explains the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection. “The various reef architectural and compositional components create an environment that is ecologically diverse and productive; one that supports many other aquatic plants and animals.”
7. Coral Are Carnivores
Coral love to feast on the byproducts of photosynthesis produced by their algae neighbors, but they’re not always so gracious. Coral polyps “have barbed, venomous tentacles they can stick out to catch prey. They are nocturnal so you usually can only catch them hunting at night,” explains NatGeo. Using these tentacles like fishing poles, they scoop up zooplankton, small fish and sometimes even crabs.
Do you know an amazing coral fact that belongs on this list? Share it in a comment!
Images via Thinkstock