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An Overview of Coral Reef Biomes

Coral reefs: the most diverse and perhaps most beautiful biome there is. This article explains the concept of biomes, and goes on to teach readers about why location matters to coral reefs, the biodiversity found in them, and the threats to their existence. A short piece that doesn’t assume advanced prior knowledge, this is perfect for kids or curious adults.

It’s a mystical, oddly peaceful world: fish circle, soft corals gently wave in the currents, and the occasional scuba diver can be but a visitor to this constant magnificence. The underwater world of coral reefs is truly fascinating and diverse.

A biome is a geographic area with similar plants, animal, climate and geography, and examples of biomes range from rainforests to the Atlantic Ocean. More diverse than perhaps any other biome, however, is the coral reef.

What structures were built by species other than humans that can be seen from space? The only answer is the Great Barrier Reef, a reef built by coral that stretches over 2,000 miles long.

Location

Due to the patterns of water currents, coral reefs tend to be located on the east coast of continents. For example, in the Americas, coral reefs are concentrated around Brazil in South America, the Caribbean in Central America, and Florida in North America.

This is because water flows in a clockwise pattern in the northern hemisphere and a counterclockwise pattern in the southern hemisphere. The water rushing along the western edges of continents is cold, and coral reefs need warm water to survive, because coral cannot survive temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius.

Biodiversity

Many people think of corals as being brightly colored. In fact, the corals are colorless! The only reason they have such bright colors is thanks to algae called zooxanthellae. Corals provide the zooxanthellae with a place to live, and the algae allow corals to use solar energy.

Not only are there billions of unicellular zooxanthellae in a coral reef, but the reefs provide fish, sponges, sharks, jellyfish, octopi, turtles, and all manner of other creatures with a habitat.

Threats

Like many biomes today, coral reefs are in significant danger. Coral mining, over-fishing, and marine development are just a few of the threats to these pristine environments. Aquarium fish harvesting targets reefs, and pollution severely impacts the corals that form the reef. Climate change also threatens to upset the delicate temperature balance that must exist for coral reefs to survive and flourish.

Coral reefs are a perfect example of a biome that is extremely diverse, yet not adaptive to new conditions. The casual human observer can admire this environment, but can never really fit into the delicate balance of life underwater.

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