The Shark-Reef CORALation
By Tamra Werner MS, MM
Children's Marine Life Author
Coral Reefs have hundreds to thousands of living organisms and live in symbiosis. The life cycle of the coral is a complex food web of nutrients recycled in symbiotic relationships. Coral grow their food with organisms like fungi, algae, and bacteria in the coral body. The algae produce sugar that the corals eat, causing the release of CO2 necessary to harvest more sugar. The growing coral then supports other reef organisms and is eaten by larger organisms.
Healthy coral produces an overabundance of sugar that turns into a slimy mucus covering the coral protecting it from diseases and drying out at low tide. Small critters like crabs, shrimp, and worms eat the extra bacteria. Numerous fish, octopi, eels, and rays make their home in the coral giving the top of the food chain their healthy diet.
Coral reefs are in danger of bleaching and extinction. Bleaching occurs when corals get stressed and expel algae, leaving a white skeleton. Global warming, heat, pollution, and toxic sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone kill the coral. Another primary culprit of the dying reefs is the decrease in the shark population. Reef sharks are at risk of distinction due to commercial and artisanal fishing for the fins and meat in international markets. Sharks are vital in the marine food webs by balancing the diverse herbivorous fish (populations that graze macro-algae, providing corals to grow.) Without diverse herbivorous fish populations, reefs become homogeneous creating algae-dominated vulnerable reefs that stifle coral growth.
Healthy reefs require: Shark-Mesopredator-Herbivore-Algae
Without sharks, the mesopredator fish eat too many herbivore fish, causing an increase in algae. The increase in algae kills the reefs.
For the past 17 years, The Ocean Project has celebrated World Oceans Day on June 8 to promote healthy oceans and reefs. We can help by pledging to celebrate our oceans, clean up the beaches, and promote awareness. For more information on how you can make a difference go to www.WorldOceanDay.org .
Tamra Werner is the children’s author of KOLI THE GREAT WHITE SHARK books, who entertains and educates children about marine life and the ecosystem through Koli’s adventures, friendships, and science.