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Coral reefs are warm, clear, shallow ocean habitats
that are rich in life. The reef's massive structure is formed from coral polyps,
tiny animals that live in colonies; when coral polyps die, they leave behind a
hard, stony, branching structure made of limestone.
The coral provides shelter for many animals in this complex habitat,
sponges, nudibranchs, fish (like Blacktip Reef Sharks, groupers, clown fish,
eels, parrotfish, snapper, and scorpion fish), jellyfish, anemones, sea stars
(including the destructive Crown of Thorns), crustaceans (like crabs, shrimp,
and lobsters), turtles, sea snakes, snails, and mollusks (like octopuses,
nautilus, and clams). Birds also feast on coral reef animals.
Types of Corals: There are two
types of coral, hard coral and soft coral. Hard corals (like brain coral and
elkhorn coral) have hard, limestone skeletons which form the basis of coral
reefs. Soft corals (like sea fingers and sea whips) do not build reefs.
Types of Reefs: The different
types of reefs include:
Barrier reefs are reefs that
are separated from land by a lagoon. These reefs grow parallel to the coast and
are large and continuous. Barrier reefs also include regions of coral formation
that include the zones found in fringing reefs along with patch reefs (small
reefs), back reefs (the shoreward side of the reef), as well as bank reefs
- Fringing reefs are reefs that form
along a coastline. They grow on the continental shelf in shallow water.
- Barrier reefs grow parallel to
shorelines, but farther out, usually separated from the land by a deep lagoon.
They are called barrier reefs because they form a barrier between the lagoon
and the seas, impeding navigation.
- Coral Atolls are rings of coral that
grow on top of old, sunken volcanoes in the ocean. They begin as fringe reefs
surrounding a volcanic island; then, as the volcano sinks, the reef continues
to grow, and eventually only the reef remains.