Coral Reef Ecosystem

Coral Reef Ecosystem

Kimberly Goodwin


August 19, 2013

Alison Barrett
Coral Reef Ecosystem

The coral reef is a very diverse and beautiful ecosystem; they have symbiotic and mutual relations with its inhabitantsthat produce biodiversity. Algae and other creatures help to supply the coral with its food, energy, and help it with protection against predators; for this the coral gives these creatures’ the living area they require, and shelter (Simon, 2010). Coral reefs are one of the most unique and richest environments creating biodiversity, they are animal that are attached to the sea floor but are still able to come into contact with the atmosphere that surrounds them.

The coral benefits greatly from the symbiotic relationships with many of the animals in its ecosystem. One of the most important relationships is the ones between the algae and the coral reef. Algae are eukaryotic animals which are very delicate, changes in salt, light and temperature can be devastating.   The algae maintain their lives in the coral using sun to transform their energy into food by the process of photosynthesis. The criteria needed for this relationship to live uniquely limits where and which atmospheres these creatures can live. Coral and algae live in warm waters keeping the temperatures between 77 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit, with these criteria the coral can be very vulnerable to small changes in their atmosphere. Human interactions create a danger to the survival of the coral. Over-fishing, sea front development, and climate changes are a few of the ways that the coral reef is affected. Regardless of these set-backs the coral still helps to supply a wide variety of animals and creatures with a place to live in a very unique and useful ecosystem (Dr. Knowlton & Dr. Cairns, 2013).

Organisms found in the Coral Reef

There are various animals and plants that reside in the Coral Reef. Each organism has an significant role in the ecosystem of the coral reef; this ecosystem has the nickname of being the rainforest of the ocean considering there are a vast amount of organisms that closely relate to those found in a terrestrial rainforest. There are approximately 500 different variations of coral which estimates to represent around a quarter of the identified sea life populations which amazingly still only makes up around one percent of the world’s known ocean life (Global Coral Reef Alliance, 2010). Some of the organisms that can be found in this unique ecosystem are but not limited to: Sea Anemones, Sea Turtles, Puffer fish, Parrot fish butterfly fish and Clown fish. These animals are well developed for this atmosphere and are important contributors to the coral reefs ecosystem. Their existence plays a key role to the biological variety of this ecosystem and they each have a specific role that helps them to successfully live in the coral reef.

Cnidarians, one known creature in this group is known as the sea anemone, which is a common predator in the ocean that disguises itself as a plant. The name Cnidarian comes from the Greek word “Cnidus” this means stinging nettle (Cnidarians, 2002). Other animals included in this group are jellyfish and corals; interestingly enough these creatures have no hard areas to their bodies. The sea anemone has a mouth in the middle of their body and what is known as a basal disk at the other end. The anemones mouth is in the middle of a bunch of stinging tentacles that restrain their prey and also tacky tentacles that snatches the prey. The tentacles move the immobilized prey to its mouth where it is ingested in a bag like hole. Anemones obtain their food source from other animals, but they also like to eat small prawns and other smaller fish. The remains of what the anemone digests are removed back through the mouth. The puffer fish, parrot fish and butterfly fish are some of the more unusual creatures that enjoy the sea anemone (Cnidarians, 2002).

One of the most amazing divers and swimmers would have to be the sea turtle. Sea turtles are cold blooded which helps with their metabolic process; this allows them to remain under water for long periods of time. Unlike tortious turtles limbs do not retract into a portion of their shell. This would take away from their swimming abilities. These turtles are omnivores; they enjoy eating a variety of animals including jellyfish, urchins, sponges and mollusks. The main predators of the sea turtle are sharks. One amazing feature of the sea turtle is their salt gland, this is a gland which helps their bodies eliminate salt so they do not have to find a new water source, and they receive all of their water from their diet and from the sea water. This gland is found in the turtle’s eyes which gives them the appearance that they are always crying, but it has a duel function this also helps to keep sand out of the female turtle’s eyes when she digs her nest (Coral Reef Information, 2012).

Another incredible creature that was once found all over the coral reefs are related to the elephant. Manatees a peaceful giant that can consume vast amounts of sea plant life have become hard to find because of extensive hunting by people, habitat loss, pollution from the coast lines and trouble with fishing nets. In the last few centuries the manatee has been hunted to near extinction, many conservation efforts have been put into place but these gentle giants are still threatened with the possibility of extinction (Coral Reef Information, 2012).

Community Interactions

The future of the coral reef looks dim, due to things such as human interaction and air and water pollution, but one alternative that a group of scientists in Scotland have come up with goes beyond nature into the metallic life of robots. The scientists have concluded that by letting small robots loose on dying reefs to have them transplant healthy specimens in areas that are needed they may be able to bring back the population of the coral reef ecosystem. The challenge to create these coralbots remains mainly because the sophistication of the software would have to be unique to this ecosystem. These coralbots would have to be able to distinguish healthy coral from dying coral and be able to find their way around the ocean floor without incident. One of the keys to promoting coral growth with this community interaction would be how successful the scientists are to program the coralbots with the intelligence to work in whatis known as a swarm. Mimicking animals like bees or a colony of ants working together to complete the task. An article submitted to the New York Times created a lot of controversy when an Australianscientist Roger Bradbury stated that “…it is game over for the world’s coral reefs” (The Smithsonian Institute, Aug). Many scientists have suggested that while the situation may look devastatingly grim that there is still hope to saving this incredible ecosystem, we just have to come up with solutions that benefit this ecosystem instead of solutions that harm it. One study that was published by Stanford states “if carbon emissions stay near where they are now, there will, by the end of the century, be no water left on Earth that has the chemical makeup to support coral growth. The ocean will be too acidic” (The Smithsonian Institute, Aug)

Consumers of the Coral Reef

            In the coral reef ecosystem there a two main consumers; herbivores which are referred to as an animal that only eats or consumes plants and corallivores which are animals that eat and consume coral. The Sea urchin is one of the main herbivores to live in the coral reef they also uniquely move seaweed around by popping them from the rocky areas and moving them to another area. Another herbivore found in the corals are surgeonfish, they feed from the algae in and around the corals. Parrotfish are a unique and needed part of the ecosystem because they consume parts of the coral that have died, but they also eat portions of live coral. Butterfly fish are known for eating the coral polyps, these fish are a remarkable sight and a good asset to the reef because in the reefs these fish are found in have excellent health (Dr. Knowlton & Dr. Cairns, 2013). The fish that populate the reefs along with the herbivores and corallivores are crucial to the ecosystem and are all consumers that aid the coral reef in its existence.

An effective coral reef ecosystem is one where plants and animals correspond with each other and provide each other with the necessary sustenance to maintain their health. The coral reef needs these kinds of community interaction between each variety to stay robust and have continuous growth. The sunlight is one of the most basic origins of energy for the coral reef because they produce photosynthesis, algae and other plants expand on this feature (Dr. Knowlton & Dr. Cairns, 2013). These plants supply the sources of energy that some of the creatures in the coral reef need to nourish themselves. Where sunlight can reach plant life and varieties of plants flourish. Unfortunately, one of the biggest hazards to the coral reef, animals that populate it and the plants that live there are human interactions; when one species dies out from this ecosystem from overfishing, boating, people touching the corals, and contamination (Dr. Knowlton & Dr. Cairns, 2013). If creatures are not able to find their food source they die out which is a vicious cycle that has put the coral reef ecosystem in a fragile place. Until we as humans make an extensive attempt to change this cycle and stop the coral reefs from declining the cycle will continue until this beautiful ecosystem disappears forever.




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Dr. Knowlton, N., & Dr. Cairns, S. (2013). Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Retrieved from

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Simon, E. J. (2010). Campbell Essential Biology with Physiology (3rd Ed.). Old Tappan, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

The Smithsonian Institute. (Aug 15, 2013). Innovations: How human ingenuity is changing the way we live. Retrieved from