What’s a Coral?
A coral is a soft body animal called a polyp which has algae called zooxanthellae inside of it. Each polyp within the colony produces a hard, calcium carbonate skeleton making it have a hard structure. The Zooxanthellae is actually what gives the coral its darkish colour. Corals are part of a category of animals called Cnidaria (under the class Anthozoa). They are related to anemones and jellyfish.
Importance of Coral
Coral is basically the foundation of the reef ecosystem, it provides shelter to thousands of marine species, depending on the size of the reef. The reef is a place where some of the marine species grow up and when they reach mature ages they tend to move away from reefs and get into deeper waters. Marine species such turtles, many different families of fish, little crabs, many invertebrates all depend on reefs which is made of corals to provide them with shelter and food.
Furthermore, many countries around the world rely a lot on corals for example Seychelles. The 2 main industry in Seychelles which bring in economy into the country is Tourism and Fisheries. So it is very very important to have healthy corals around.
Corals also have other importance, it is very useful as a coastal defence. It reduces the impact of erosion of sand on the beach. It is also important to many fishermen as they can get fishes to sell to locals or even international market.
Threats to Corals
Corals feed through the processes of photosynthesis which the algae inside of it does. The product of photosynthesis is glucose which the coral uses. The coral and the algae shares a symbiotic relationship which is a relationship where both organisms benefits from each other. Some corals can get 90% of their food through photosynthesis and the rest by catching planktons. At night the coral extends its tentacles out and grabs microscopic particles in the water called planktons.
How can we help?
There are many on-going projects around the world trying their very best to sustain healthy corals. Even in Seychelles we have few NGOS and government projects such as WiseOceans and Nature Seychelles, SNPA and finally MCSS who are trying to restore the reefs by growing new corals due to the terrible coral bleaching which hit us few months ago and the many other threats the corals face, where we lost many of our healthy corals. Here at WiseOceans there is a programme called The Petite Anse Reef Restoration Project. The project itself is basically growing new corals in a in-situ nursery for several months before the new corals are transplanted to bare patches where they are left to grow.
So funding NGOS such as WiseOceans would be a great way to try and recover the reef.
There are also other ways we can get involved in coral awareness. For example there are coral watch surveys we can take part in doing which anyone can do. It a survey from Queensland University trying to get information about the health of corals around the world.
The survey is quite simple to complete. In the photo you can see me doing it, very simple. You basically go on a reef and check for healthy corals. You get the CoralWatch chart and
check the colour variation of one coral then mark the lightest and the darkest shade observed. You repeat this for several other corals and later enter your results on Queensland University’s Coral Watch website. Your result will help them study how healthy the corals are in different areas around the world.
Furthermore, there are simple task we can do to keep healthy corals alive such as
Fun fact: Some corals only grow 2-3 cms per year!
By: Frances Atienza Benstrong