Coral Reefs Essay examples

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Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are one of the oldest types of living systems on earth, and certainly one of the most spectacular (Goreau, 1987). They are massive underwater structures formed by the limestone skeletons of tiny invertebrate animals. Reefs house a greater diversity of body forms, chemistry, and animal phyla (thirty-two compared to the eight that inhabit the most biodiversity ecosystems on land). Phyla comprise the second largest category of living things, after kingdoms.

Coral animals begin life as free-floating larvae, but settle on the sea floor in sedentary colonies. The term "coral" applies both to these animals and to their skeletons, particularly the skeletons of stone-like corals (Discover 1997).
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In Florida, patch reefs can be as close as one hundred meters to the shore. Ancient limestone reefs have occupied the Florida peninsula intermittently over the past 150 million years (Discover, 1997). Florida's present coral reefs came into existence 5,000 to 7,000 years ago, when sea levels rose following the Wisconsin Ice Age. The reefs in the Florida Keys are part of the third largest barrier reef system (360 square kilometers from Miami to the Dry Tortugas).

Coral reefs are continuously being both built up and decomposed, so different parts of a reef are in varying stages of succession (Richmond, 1993). Coral reefs are very fragile, because reef-building organisms cannot thrive if the surrounding water changes significantly. Coral reefs require very specific conditions in order to grow: a solid structure for the base; warm and consistent water temperatures (averaging between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius); stable salinity; moderate wave action; and clear water that is low in nutrients and plankton. The water on a healthy coral reef is clear because there are very few nutrients, so plankton that would cloud the water are few. In general corals grow slowly, but they are extremely efficient at living and reproducing in these conditions (American Zoologist, pg 524-536).

Reefs matter in many ways:

• Links to other coastal ecosystems: such as
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