Coral: what is it for and what can we do with it?

Coral - Photographed while snorkeling on a fringing reef at Daydream Island (Australia) with a Canon Powershot D10 underwater camera

Tanya Puntti

Coral Coral – Photographed while snorkeling on a fringing reef at Daydream Island (Australia) with a Canon Powershot D10 underwater camera

One of the most efficient and important sea animals in the world is coral. Coral reefs are an ecosystem, composed of many sea creatures, including coral. The ecosystems are very diverse and intricate collections of species that interact with each other and their environment on a daily basis to survive. Coral is spread out around shallow seas in the world’s tropical and subtropical regions; some examples of this are Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, northwestern Hawaiian islands, and Florida. The purpose of coral has always been to provide shelter and spawning grounds to the ocean life around it. The benefits that coral can bring to society can also help us with the life around us, both inside and outside of the ocean.

Coral provides habitats to marine life and are linked to various sea stars, sea urchins, mudflat communities, and more. Over half a million species living in the ocean interact with and inhabit coral. With coral providing shelter and spawning ground to marine life, they’re shown as an important aspect of marine life. Coral can also provide shelter to zooxanthellae, which are polyps of reef-building corals that contain microscopic algae. With coral providing shelter to zooxanthellae, they are able to give oxygen (from photosynthesis), carbohydrates, and protein in return, which gives coral their needed nutrients. Another purpose of coral is regulating the CO2 levels within the ocean. The unbalanced carbon dioxide levels within the ocean would heavily affect the marine creatures of the ocean if coral wasn’t present. Unbalanced carbon dioxide levels would make the water more acidic; this would make it difficult for coral and mollusks (shell sea creatures) to grow in these conditions, which affects all other marine creatures. The last purpose that coral has is protecting the shore from ocean waves and currents by acting as a barrier that can protect the shorelines from erosion.

While coral reefs are a very important aspect to the marine world, they also have a huge effect on the human world as well. While marine life and human life both have the protection of coral reefs, the coral reefs can protect coastline from storms and erosions that might affect humans. Their ecosystems can provide local communities jobs and opportunities of recreation. With coral reefs being edible, they are also a source of food and have been used to make new medicines. Examples of these medicines are cytarabine (used for certain blood cancers), vidarabine and azidothymidine (used against HIV/AIDS infection), trabectedin (used for cases of soft-tissue sarcoma and ovarian cancer), and ziconotide (used to help chronic pain that doesn’t respond to painkillers). Furthermore, fishing, snorkeling, and diving near reefs has been an excellent source of income from the tourist industry, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars to local businesses. It has been shown that over half a billion people depend on coral as a source of food, business income, and protection. Coral has been very culturally important to indigenous people and their communities all over the globe for these reasons as well. The net worth of the world’s coral has been shown to be tens of billions of dollars.

In the article, “A Coral Crisis: My interview with a marine biologist on the future of the world’s reefs,” the author interviews marine biologist, Justin Bauman, on coral and the current risk to coral due to their ecosystems dying. One of the questions in the interview the author asks is, “What have you learned from your study thus far?”

Justin Bauman responds to this question with, “We found as you get into higher stress zones, there are few coral species, and there’s fewer coral in general….We are now looking at why are the stress tolerant corals here, and what about them makes them good at surviving these environments.”

In conclusion, coral is a class of colonial animals that have very diverse ecosystems. Their purpose has been to provide shelter and spawning ground within ocean life. They have helped marine life with providing habitats, regulating carbon dioxide levels, and protecting the shore from ocean waves and currents by acting as a barrier. While coral provides stability and protection for ocean animals and plants, they also help us and our environment as well. Coral can protect coastlines, provide local communities with jobs, are a source of food, can create new medicine, and are included in a million dollar industry of fishing, snorkeling, and diving. Coral has been used for many years, and the benefits that they give to the world and environment show just how important it is to protect coral reefs and everything that they bring to the world.

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