This marine animal (not a plant!) is from the class of Anthozoa of Phylum Cnidaria, primarily living in compact colonies of many individual coral 'polyps'. The latter are an integral component of corals, and act as reef builders typically inhabiting tropical oceans. Coral Polyps are spineless animals, only a few millimeters in length, with tentacles surrounding its mouth opening. Polyps secrete Calcium Carbonate 'exoskeleton', which creates the hard skeleton appearance characteristic of mature coral growth.
Coral Polyps grow by asexual reproduction but also breed by spawning once a year. Coral spawning is the spontaneous release of 'gametes', which happens over the course of one night around the time of a full moon.
Inside a Coral’s tissue lives the unicellular algae Zooxanthellae. This Photosynthetic organism uses the sun’s energy to obtain the majority of its nutrients. In order for photosynthesis to occur, the Polyp’s Zooxanthellae need regular sunlight; thus corals usually grow in clear, shallow water no more than 60 meters in depth. Various coral species are found in much deeper, darker waters because they do not possess the associated algae which photosynthesizes the sun’s energy.
Corals can combine to form huge reef structures and contribute to massive coral reef ecosystems like Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef. This is the planet’s largest reef system, and is even visible from space!
In every ocean on earth coral reefs are endangered. Various human activities threaten the delicate balance these organisms require to thrive. Agricultural run-off, urban run-off, pollution, over-fishing, dynamite fishing, disease and Ocean Acidification are the main culprits destroying corals worldwide.
With an increased production of greenhouse gas emissions from industry, cars, deforestation, etc., ocean temperatures are on the rise, leaving many coral reefs dead. A mere increase in temperature of 1-2 degrees Celsius can have devastating effects on corals. The environmental stress causes corals to expel their Zooxanthellae, leaving tissues exposed and showing the white of their skeleton. This phenomenon is known as coral bleaching. Over a decade ago, an estimated 16% of the planet’s coral reefs had died from a rise in ocean temperature.
The effects of human activities in and around our oceans have left over 60% of our coral reefs are at risk of being destroyed. Areas like South East Asia have increasingly damaged their coral reefs, and today nearly 80% of the corals in danger of dying off.
Corals are some of the oldest living structures on earth, and are elemental components of ocean ecosystems. Corals offer shelter for fish and attract a vast array of sea life around their structures. Conserving the ocean’s coral reefs is crucial and can be accomplished by establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPA's), marine parks, World Heritage status and habitat protection. Areas where corals and reef systems are healthy and human impacts are mitigated results in thriving ecosystems full of color and life.
Communities near major coral reefs can benefit economically by conserving their marine environment. With the abundance of fish life and marine wildlife living among healthy reef systems, ocean enthusiasts are attracted to such areas and activities like scuba diving and snorkeling can help local economies thrive. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef attracts millions of tourists from all over the world each year, and the economical profit is a major boost for the nation’s economy. However, corals are delicate organisms and can be easily destroyed with over-use and poor management of human interactions.
Corals are some of the most fascinating creatures that inhabit our oceans. They produce growth bands as they mature, much like those created by trees, and these bands carry valuable information on the effects of Ocean Acidification over time. Chemical compounds within corals have been researched and are now used in the medical field to help in the treatment of human ailments such as Cancers, AIDS, pain, and bone grafting.
The unique shapes and colors of coral make them attractive items in the Jewelry trade. Popular red corals have become very rare as a result of intense poaching, and the last of these living organisms have been turned into necklaces and earrings found in multiple markets and stores around the world.
Coral Aquaculture is the cultivation of corals for commercial or conservation purposes. This trend is now widespread, with some farming coral to contribute to the Aquarium trade and others nurturing new coral structures to be re-introduced in marine regions where coral reefs have been destroyed.
Citation: Wikipedia online Encyclopedia. "Coral". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coral
Originating on earth over a hundred million years ago, sea turtles are ancient air breathing reptiles, varying in species and preferred habitat, taking part in lifelong ocean journeys across the globe.
Leatherback (Dermochelyidae), Kemp's Ridley, Hawksbill, Olive Ridley, Green Sea turtle, and Loggerhead.
Turtles live a very adventurous existence. From the time a hatchling (e.g. newborn turtle) crawls out of a buried egg nest, this turtle heads out to sea, follows currents and streams, and flows along the ocean's highways until one day it returns to its birthplace to lay eggs in its very own beach nest.
Most turtle species will travel thousands of miles of ocean terrain before reaching sexual maturity. Some turtles will only reach adulthood at 25-35 years, around the time they are the size of a dinner plate! Turtles can live up to 100 years and grow to be gentle giants.
Species like the Loggerhead turtle can even acquire Barnacles in their old age!
Barnacles are tiny organisms related to crabs and lobsters. They are part of the Crustacean family, but rather than living independently, barnacles are suspension feeders who prefer to attach themselves to hard surfaces and other animals. Large mammals such as whales often have barnacles displayed on their bodies, and much like mature turtles, they will carry the barnacles along with them throughout their ocean adventures!
Most species of turtles eat varying types of sea grass and algae, but some also like to indulge in species of Jellyfish and bottom dwelling invertebrates (e.g. animal without a backbone). So, the majority of turtles ore Omnivorous, meaning they feed on both plants and animals.
The Green sea turtle feeds almost exclusively on sea grass, helping to maintain the health of sea grass beds by 'grazing' the grass and keeping short so it may stay healthy.
All species of turtles need to breathe air to survive. Unlike fish, they do not possess gills (e.g. organ allowing fish to use dissolved oxygen in water to breathe). Turtle rise to the surface of the water every 15-30 minutes in order to take a big gulp of air!
Sea turtles have lungs especially adapted to perform quick exhalations and inhalations upon reaching the surface of the water, and in extreme cases may use Anaerobic respiration (breathing without oxygen) to avoid having to break the ocean's surface to reach air.
When turtles are resting or sleeping on the ocean floor, they are able to slow their heart rates down in order to stay underwater much longer. Some turtles can wait nearly 4 hours before they need to catch a breath on the surface!
Sea turtles are very special reptiles that have been inhabiting our planet for millions of years. They are an important part of the ocean's ecosystems, and display some fascinating behaviors throughout their life's journeys.
Turtles are intelligent and wise beings with one of the most impressive wills to survive.
Unfortunately, they have been targeted for their shells and flesh for thousands of years, and still today remain threatened by human impact. There are still a multitude of cultures that hunt and eat turtles (Philippines, India, and Indonesia), sacrifice them for religious beliefs, and use their shells to make jewelry, shoes, bags, etc.
On a larger scale, turtles are often victims of invasive fishing methods like bottom trawling, net fishing, and long-lining. They have also suffered because of intense habitat destruction (e.g. development on important nesting beaches).
Critically Endangered species include the Leatherback turtle, as well as Kemp's Ridley and the Hawksbill turtle.
Endangered species are the Green sea turtle and Olive Ridley turtle, while the Loggerhead turtle is viewed as Threatened.
For more information on sea turtles, as well as ways in which you can participate in volunteering adventures you can write us here at Eco-Odyssey or click to the turtle conservation site SEA TURTLE CONSERVANCY:http://www.conserveturtles.org/turtletides.php
*Sources: Information for this article was compiled from Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_turtles http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loggerhead_sea_turtle, and personal knowledge and experience from ocean/conservation work.
Commonly known as the "Unicorn of the Sea", the Narwhal is a fascinating and unique resident of the Arctic waters around Canada and Greenland.
The Narwhal's unique appearance is due to a huge tusk, a second tooth, that grows out of the animal's top jaw. Reaching lengths of 2.5 meters and weighing up to 10 Kilograms, this 'unicorn' has no formal use and has never been seen as a fighting tools in males.
Perfectly adapted for life in the Arctic, Narwhals use echolocation to map our holes in the ice so they can reach the surface for a breath. Staying close to loose pack ice, Narwhals must be very precise in order to find enough breathing holes to survive.
Narwhals are still hunted by the Inuit people of Canada for their tusks and meat, and are especially vulnerable to the impacts of Climate Change on the Arctic environment.