Working as a marine biologist, Dr. Christian Heesch understands that there are few ecosystems more important than the coral reefs that embellish the oceans and seas. Much of his practical education in graduate school was spent on the study of coral reefs, giving him a level of unsurpassed knowledge. Over the years, he has learned many unique and engaging facts about the coral reef systems.
There are few underwater environments with more biodiversity than what is found in a coral reef. This is one of the biggest reasons that coral reefs are so important to the oceans as a marine resource. More than an exciting recreational excursion for divers, coral reefs provide a home for many aquatic organisms, they offer potential medicines for the human population, they offer a buffer for many shorelines, and they create the sands for our beaches.
A coral reef is built from a collection of millions of coral polyps that closely resemble upside down jellyfish. In fact, corals themselves are a member of the cnidaria phylum along with anemones and jellyfish. To form a reef, this grouping of coral polyps leeches the extra carbon dioxide from the water and air atmospheres to create limestone.
It is only the hard corals that create coral reef ecosystems. These types of corals have a rigid skeletal system that is comprised of calcium carbonate or aragonite. This structural build gives them the ability to create and support the reef. Soft corals, such as sea fans, do not have a rigid structure. There are no soft corals that can create a coral reef, yet soft corals may certainly live on a coral reef with thousands of other organisms and animals.
Corals are unique in their own abilities and methods of reproductions. Scientists find it amazing that coral reefs have a completely symbiotic relationship with algae, where both provide a measure of support for each other. Coral is also one of the fewer organisms that can reproduce sexually and asexually via brooding or broadcast spawning.
Coral reefs are found in shallow and deep waters, in cold or warm tropical climates. The coral reefs that grow in shallow waters or warmer environments are usually more prolific as the tepid temperatures are a better environment for growth. Corals that are in shallow waters are also more exposed to sunshine.
One of the biggest concerns faced by marine biologists and all other scientists is the delicate nature of the coral reef. These structures are easily harmed, by natural environmental changes as well as human behavior. Dr. Christian Heesch works with his colleagues to promote a better education regarding the coral reefs that are endangered by climate change and pollution.