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Corals also have to worry about competitors. They use the same nematocysts that catch their food to sting other encroaching corals and keep them at bay. Seaweeds are a particularly dangerous competitor, as they typically grow much faster than corals and may contain nasty chemicals that injure the coral as well. Corals do not have to only rely on themselves for their defenses because mutualisms beneficial relationships abound on coral reefs. The partnership between corals and their zooxanthellae is one of many examples of symbiosis, where different species live together and help each other.

Some coral colonies have crabs and shrimps that live within their branches and defend their home against coral predators with their pincers. Parrotfish, in their quest to find seaweed, will often bite off chunks of coral and will later poop out the digested remains as sand. One kind of goby chews up a particularly nasty seaweed, and even benefits by becoming more poisonous itself.


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  • The greatest threats to reefs are rising water temperatures and ocean acidification linked to rising carbon dioxide levels. High water temperatures cause corals to lose the microscopic algae that produce the food corals need—a condition known as coral bleaching. Severe or prolonged bleaching can kill coral colonies or leave them vulnerable to other threats.

    Meanwhile, ocean acidification means more acidic seawater, which makes it more difficult for corals to build their calcium carbonate skeletons. And if acidification gets severe enough, it could even break apart the existing skeletons that already provide the structure for reefs. Scientists predict that by ocean conditions will be acidic enough for corals around the globe to begin to dissolve.

    For one reef in Hawaii this is already a reality. Unfortunately, warming and more acid seas are not the only threats to coral reefs. Overfishing and overharvesting of corals also disrupt reef ecosystems. If care is not taken, boat anchors and divers can scar reefs. Invasive species can also threaten coral reefs. The lionfish , native to Indo-Pacific waters, has a fast-growing population in waters of the Atlantic Ocean. With such large numbers the fish could greatly impact coral reef ecosystems through consumption of, and competition with, native coral reef animals. Even activities that take place far from reefs can have an impact.

    Runoff from lawns, sewage, cities, and farms feeds algae that can overwhelm reefs. Deforestation hastens soil erosion, which clouds water—smothering corals. Without their zooxanthellae, the living tissues are nearly transparent, and you can see right through to the stony skeleton, which is white, hence the name coral bleaching. Many different kinds of stressors can cause coral bleaching — water that is too cold or too hot, too much or too little light, or the dilution of seawater by lots of fresh water can all cause coral bleaching.

    The biggest cause of bleaching today has been rising temperatures caused by global warming. Temperatures more than 2 degrees F or 1 degree C above the normal seasonal maximimum can cause bleaching. Bleached corals do not die right away, but if temperatures are very hot or are too warm for a long time, corals either die from starvation or disease. In , 80 percent of the corals in the Indian Ocean bleached and 20 percent died.

    There is much that we can do locally to protect coral reefs, by making sure there is a healthy fish community and that the water surrounding the reefs is clean. Well-protected reefs today typically have much healthier coral populations, and are more resilient better able to recover from natural disasters such as typhoons and hurricanes. Fish play important roles on coral reefs, particularly the fish that eat seaweeds and keep them from smothering corals, which grow more slowly than the seaweeds.

    Fish also eat the predators of corals, such as crown of thorns starfish. Marine protected areas MPAs are an important tool for keeping reefs healthy. Smaller ones, managed by local communities, have been very successful in developing countries. Clean water is also important. Erosion on land causes rivers to dump mud on reefs, smothering and killing corals.

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    Seawater with too many nutrients speeds up the growth of seaweeds and increases the food for predators of corals when they are developing as larvae in the plankton. Clean water depends on careful use of the land, avoiding too many fertilizers and erosion caused by deforestation and certain construction practices. In the long run, however, the future of coral reefs will depend on reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is increasing rapidly due to burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is both warming the ocean, resulting in coral bleaching, and changing the chemistry of the ocean, causing ocean acidification.

    Both making it harder for corals to build their skeletons. The coral collection housed at the National Museum of Natural History may be the largest and best documented in the world. Its jewel is a collection of shallow-water corals from the U. South Seas Exploring Expedition of —one of the largest voyages of discovery in the history of Western exploration. The expedition brought back many unknown specimens that scientists used to name and describe almost all Pacific reef corals.

    These are known as type specimens in the collection. Altogether, the collection includes specimens of about 4, species of corals , and about 65 percent of those species live in deep water. In the late s, several Smithsonian scientists set themselves an ambitious goal: understanding the inner workings of Caribbean coral reefs. To study this complex ecosystem, they needed a field station where they could conduct research in one location, from multiple disciplines, over a long period of time. In they came across a tiny island with three shuttered buildings.

    It was the perfect spot. Check out this video of Smithsonian scientists monitoring Acroporid populations near Carrie Bow.

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    But by mimicking the nooks and crannies of real coral reefs, this Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure ARMS attracts crabs, shrimps, worms, urchins, sponges, and many other kinds of marine invertebrates. They leave the structures underwater for about a year. Then they retrieve the ARMS and analyze what life forms have taken up residence. CReefs researchers have deployed hundreds of ARMS around the world in places like Hawaii, Australia, Moorea, Taiwan, and Panama in order to compare biodiversity among different, and often distant, reefs. Coral reef biologist Dr.


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    • She has studied the ecology and evolution of coral reefs for many years and is deeply concerned about their future. But she remains hopeful. When he was 10 years old, Stephen Cairns lived in Cuba and collected sea shells. Deep-water corals live up to 4 miles deep in cold, dark waters. So Dr. Cairns conducts much of his field work on oceangoing research vessels and in deep-sea submersibles. Cairns has published about papers and books, in which he has described more than new species of deep-water corals. He assures us there are still many more to be discovered. Skip to main content.

      Credit: Wolcott Henry. Sections Introduction What Are Corals?

      Corals and Coral Reefs | Smithsonian Ocean

      The brownish-green specks are the zooxanthellae that most shallow, warm-water corals depend on for much of their food. All rights reserved.

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      Flower-like clusters of pink polyps make up this coral colony. Photo Collection of Dr. James P. A purple hard coral releases bundles of pink eggs glued together with sperm. Chuck Savall. Ultraviolet light illuminates growth rings in a cross-section of year-old Primnoa resedaeformis coral found about m 1, ft deep off the coast of Newfoundland. Owen Sherwood. Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation.

      Shallow water coral reefs straddle the equator worldwide. Scientists have been studying why populations of crown-of-thorns sea stars Acanthaster planci have mushroomed in recent decades. Tuesday Gallagher was acquitted of the most serious crimes he faced, including murder and attempted murder from his time in Iraq in Wednesday, the jury sentence, Gallagher to four months on the remaining charge of posing with a corpse on the battlefield.

      The maximum allowed under the charge is attorney Tim Parla. Tory said Gallagher accepted blame. Speaker 6: It was a regretful decision to pose in the photos and something that obviously if he could take that back, he would. Those photos have led to pretty horrific consequences for his family.

      Speaker 3: Gallagher was confined to nearly eight months in the Briggs, so he will not face additional prison time. He was lowered in rank from [inaudible] and will forfeit a portion of his pain. His legal team says he will follow the military appeals process to try to overturn the conviction. KPBS reporter John Carol has some tips on how to keep your four legged friends safe while the bombs are bursting in the air.