Ahh, The Wonderful Coral Reef

By Dr. John Turner

A coral reef is a team effort, but the players don’t know that. Each does their own thing, but together they form a silent web. The web has to be intact for the reef to flourish. So, as with any team, injury or loss of even one player-group (e.g. one fish species) can lead to a loss for the whole team. While sports teams play out their game on a minutes-to-hours scale, coral reefs do so on a scale of years, and final score can take decades. Because the time is so spread out, the team work is not obvious, but it is there.

Let’s look at the basic parts of a coral reef system. It starts with tiny young corals that attach to the sea bed, often in rocky areas. The corals grow and spread to cover the area. There are all kinds and shapes of coral, so they make lots of nooks and crannies for other creatures to live in. The coral that most people are familiar with is called stony coral, but there are also soft-coral species that look like plants . Examples of common stony coral shapes that make up the hard reef include boulder coral (brain, star), branch coral (staghorn, elkhorn, cauliflower), disk coral (plate, mushroom) and pillarcoral. The living part of the coral is almost microscopic, and what you see are the calcified secretions of these tiny organisms. Because they use sunlight for their energy, most corals need to live in water less than 60 feet deep. The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is 134,000 square miles in area and is by far the largest structure on the planet made up of living organisms.

While corals are the reef builders, many other species live there. Coral reefs occupy less than 0.1% of the world’s ocean surface, but 25% of all marine species call reefs home. All phyla are present in the coral reef ecosystems, from microscopic plankton to fish that can weigh hundreds of pounds. There are numerous invertebrate species (sponges, cnidarians, worms, mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, fishes and reptiles). Some reefs have more than 500 species of fish.

There is a complex interrelationship among the various reef inhabitants, and part of this is known as the Food Web. This web consists of hierarchies of predators and prey, including species that do particular jobs like reef cleaning, scavenging, photosynthesis and water filtration. Each species contributes to the functioning of the reef system. Loss or long-term compromise of a given species can result in dysfunction in the system and eventual reef decline. While the reef system does have duplication in many cases (more than one species performing a given role), chronic disruption of reef function and the food web will lead to decreased diversity in reef species and less resilience in the system.

This website and blog is about the celebration of one of nature’s grandest, most beautiful and most complex creations. Many human activities are directly and indirectly compromising reef inhabitants and reef ecosystem health. Recognition of the unique and precious character of coral reefs provides motivation for protecting them, while education and knowledge about coral reefs and the forces impacting them provide power for positive change to help them.

Regrowing Corals by Microfragmentation – The Atlantic magazine

David Vaughan heads a team that is growing and planting corals back in the ocean, in the Florida Reef Tract, the third largest coral reef in the world. His team discovered a means of inducing the corals to grow much faster than normal by breaking or cutting the coral, a process called microfragmentation.  Mr. Vaughan believes that this way we can regrow and restore our world’s Elkhorn coral population. The coral reef is the “underwater forested jungle – if we lose the jungle we lose all the organisms in it.”  Vaughan is the executive director of the Mote Tropical Research Laboratory in Summerland Key, Florida.

Lockheed Martin partners with fish-farming innovator Kampachi Farms

Lockheed Martin recently launched a series of new initiatives in an effort to go green at a time when defense spending is shrinking after more than 14 years of sustained warfare.

One such initiative is a partnership with, Neil Sim’s, Kampachi Farms.

Kampachi Farms has been developing a fish-farming cage with Lockheed Martin that can “grow fish with literally no footprint on the oceans.”

Click here for the Washington Post article

More about Neil Sim’s fish farming, The Velella Mariculture Research Project.

YouTube / VelellaProject – via Iframely

Saving Grand Cayman’s Coral Reefs From New Pier Project

Saving Grand Cayman’s Coral Reefs From New Pier Project

This CNN article discuses a proposed huge pier development plan that would invariably harm a considerable amount of the coral reef off Grand Cayman, an island in the Caribbean off the coast of Cuba.  Supporters of the Pier project say the coral reef can be relocated, but the article states that a whole coral reef cannot be relocated, while “[w]hat can be attempted, in other circumstances, is to transplant or relocate individual coral fragments or even entire colonies.”

Supporters of the Cayman Island pier project point to a coral relocation project in Jamaica, where, in 2009, in Falmouth, as part of a pier construction mitigation plan, more than 140,000 individual corals were relocated. The authors of this article state that few of the corals survived or thrived at their new location.

Click to go to the CNN article.

Why Monitor Coral Reef Systems

The reason we chose to monitor coral reef systems is that these fragile organisms are among the first to be affected by environmental changes.  By gathering the data and documenting the results, we maintain a database of the conditions on the reefs at specific years and dates.

In this video Dr. John Turner, Jr. explains “Why We Are Here”…

YouTube / ReefMonitor – via Iframely

Education Goals

Our Educational Goals:

  • To provide selected references and updates of research in this field at this website and with links to other relevant websites.
  • To provide a coral reef field education/training opportunity for high school and college students, local and otherwise, as field research assistants – the help they provide and the knowledge they gain can be invaluable. Their involvement will contribute to the development of a firm foundation for this cortisol-based stress indicator for fishes and possibly for coral reef well-being in general.
  • To provide student exposure to the complex and beautiful realm of coral reef ecosystems, we can commit future generations to the protection and sustenance of this amazing resource.