Most of the time when we see the word “coral” in a headline, the news is not so good. We wouldn’t open up the Blue Door on a Monday with bad news, come on, you should know us better than that by now. Let’s take a quick look at the facts.
Coral reefs are amazing biological structures made up of teeny tiny animals called coral polyps, which are related to jellyfish and anemones. Polyps are super soft and squishy, like tiny oceanic beanbags. In order to not get gobbled up by hungry fish, corals protect themselves by growing a hard limestone exoskeleton.
A coral reef starts when a single polyp attaches itself to a rock, or the sea floor, then divides and conquers. Ok it just divides. Into thousands of clones. Which form a colony that acts as a singular organism. I am so glad humans don’t do this. The process takes a very long time; some of the coral reefs alive today started growing over 50 million years ago.
Coral polyps themselves are actually translucent. The vivid bright colors we associate coral reefs with comes from an algae called zooxanthellae (ZOH-oh-ZAN-thell-ee), which kind of sounds like a Harry Potter spell. The coral and the zooxanthellae have a symbiotic relationship. Corals offer protection and a place to live, the algae provides oxygen, nutrients, and an all-inclusive cleaning service.
Often times when we see coral in the news we see the term “bleaching.” This has nothing to do with tide pods. Corals can become stressed from things like temperature change, pollution, or overfishing. When this happens, the corals spit out the brightly colored zooxanthellae, causing them to appear stark white.
Pretty relatable, right?
In all seriousness, coral bleaching is a huge problem. Between 2014 and 2017 around 75% of the world’s coral reefs experienced bleaching events. The amount of new coral growth at the Great Barrier Reef dropped by almost 90% in the span of two years. Coral reefs occupy less than 1% of the ocean floor, but support an astounding 25% of all marine life. It is not an exaggeration to say that losing our coral reefs would drastically change our planet.
At this point you’re probably like ok you promised not to do this to us. Where is the good news?
The good news is the coral crisis has sparked a massive effort to protect and restore coral reefs around the globe. There have been some huge strides made recently that show some real progress in the fight against coral extinction.
And we’ll tell you all about them tomorrow. 😉