Monday, September 23, 2013

What is it about corals?

We love our corals, those tiny animals who build such big colourful and heavily armed homes. Australia is well known for it's tropical coral reefs and some of our corals live in deeper waters and in cooler southern waters.

Stinging seajellies and anemones are related to corals so be careful not to touch them.

Hard corals make large constructions (reefs) of calcium carbonate so it is a surprise to find out that coral polyps that live as single animals that can be agile and move around. The mushroom coral can flip itself right over as it forages on the bottom.

Corals like their own space too. If a neighbour gets too close it means war. Stinging cells are sent out and the coral with the greatest fire power wins.

But what makes coral so important to us?

In earlier days sailors greatly feared coral seas and ships that strayed too close risked becoming wrecked. Navigation and pilotage systems are far advanced and now keep vessels on a safe course.

Increasingly we value these very old, diverse reef ecosystems for the environmental services they provide. Coral reefs are homes and breeding grounds for marine wildlife and diversity is essential in keeping the ocean healthy. Plants and animals of coral reefs not only provide abundance they are also important sources of new medicines.

Some coral reefs can be so vast that they can be seen from outer space. They attract visitors and bring dollars for the communities who look after the reef values.

Coral reefs join other coastal buffering zones like mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes in protecting our shorelines against waves and storms.

There is a lot to love about corals. Students and communities can become involved in looking after our magnificent corals by becoming citizen scientists with Coral Watch here and by checking out AUSMEPA's unit of work for middle year students, the Effect of Climate Change and Coral Bleaching here.
Coral Workshop, low tide at N Stradbroke Island, Qld

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