The Fragile Beauty of Coral Reefs
Few natural spectacles can quite match the beauty of a healthy coral reef. The senses are overcome with an explosion of colours and activity. Brightly coloured and strangely shaped corals and sponges teem with exotic marine life from the tiny gobies and damsel fish to the rainbow painted parrot fish, cruising barracuda, sedentary stars, and graceful sea turtles. Anyone lucky enough to spend a few hours snorkelling around a tropical reef is unlikely to forget the wonderful experience of gliding silently in this undersea world, eye to eye with countless dazzling creatures. Yet, this fragile web of life just below the surface of the sea is under threat.
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Swarms of anthias shelter near coral outcroppings and feed in the passing current. Fiji.
Tropical reefs form on the seafloor in shallow waters if there is enough light for the growth of coral. These animals are made up of a hard rocklike skeleton covered by a fleshy exterior, or polyp. The skeleton is made up of calcium carbonate which is secreted by the polyp. Each new generation of coral grows on top of the exoskeletons of the previous generation so that over time a reef is formed. Reefs can grow upwards at rates of 1 to 100 cm per year forming huge structures over incredibly long periods of time making them the largest and oldest living systems on earth. For example, the 1,250 mile Great Barrier Reef was formed over five million years ago.