Education, Marine Sciences, Science

The Ocean’s Life Source: Coral Reefs (Part I)

By: Jordaina Denton

Coral Reefs 

Coral reefs are one of the most significant and breathtaking structures in our ocean. Millions of coral polyps held together by calcium carbonate make up their structure. Despite occupying less than 0.1% of the ocean, coral reefs – nicknamed the ‘rainforest of the sea’ – form some of the most diversified ecosystems known to man. At least 25% of all marine species such as various forms of sponges, crustaceans, fishes and much more call the reefs home. Its importance is unparalleled as it is the sea’s true life source.  

So why are coral reefs important?

  • High Biodiversity: 

    What does it mean when we say coral reefs are ‘the rainforest of the sea’? Coral reefs, like rainforests, are home to some of the most diverse and unique forms of flora and fauna that the world has to offer. Over 250,000 marine species inhabit the phenomenal structure. With such various forms of life co-existing in a single geographical location, this allows for multiple unique processes such as water filtration, consumption of dangerous organisms (for example prolific algae) and the natural management of species. The earth benefits tremendously from having such high biodiversity as it provides livestock for consumption, resources for agriculture and building, climate stability, amongst numerous other advantages. 

  • Protection of Shorelines:

    Coral reefs help to break apart large waves and weaken storms, serving as the  ‘first line of defense’ for the shoreline. They operate as a barrier that interacts with these powerful bodies of water before they reach the shore, lessening their impact. This diminished impact allows for decreased (if any) casualties towards life past the shoreline. 

  • Economic value:

    Coral reef-based activities are a pillar for regional economies. Coral reef centric activities such as scuba diving and snorkeling are large scale tourist attractions which generate substantial income. According to Brumbaugh (2017), on a global, annual basis, coral reefs generate around $36 billion in revenue. This revenue is monumental for the countries that utilize the coral reefs for tourism as it can be invested into the country’s economy to further its development.  

  • Carbon Sequestration and Climate Change Mitigation:

    Coral reefs have a symbiotic relationship with a miniscule, photosynthetic form of algae called zooxanthellae; which live inside the coral polyps. These polyps produce calcium carbonate, a building block of seawater, when they feed. The zooxanthellae, which reside on the coral, feed off nitrogen waste and carry out photosynthesis, using the carbon dioxide produced by the coral. This photosynthetic process aids in carbon fixation of the ocean as it converts inorganic carbon into organic carbon. This organic carbon is released into the ocean in the form of coral mucus. This mucus is crucial, not only for the aforementioned benefit, but also because it serves as a food source for many organisms surrounding the reef. 

  • Medical purposes:

    As previously mentioned, coral reefs are the habitat to many forms of marine life. Due to this, coral reefs are used to foster the growth and development of various organisms that can be utilized in various ways, one of them being medicine. Organisms such as sponges and snails, to name a few, all which inhabit coral reefs, produce certain chemical compounds that are used to aid in the creation of ground breaking medicines for life threatening illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases. 

Coral reefs are one of the world’s greatest treasures. In spite of their low abundance, their impact is so significant that it cannot be ignored. Thus, their preservation and protection is imperative for the maintenance of life as we know it.


Why Are Coral Reefs Important? – WorldAtlas

17 Importance of Ocean Biodiversity –

How Coral Reefs Support Local Communities – Sustainable Travel International

15 Importance of Coral Reefs in Shoreline Protection –

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