Coral Reef Ecology

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Information about Coral Reef Ecology

Published on March 10, 2008

Author: Valeria


My Coral Reef Adventure, 2002:  My Coral Reef Adventure, 2002 By Martin Anderson Queen Angel Fish The Cayman Trench:  The Cayman Trench My group decided to dive the Cayman Trench to explore the deep sea environment of the Bathyal Zone. We had to wear special dive suits as we were planning to dive below 200’ deep. Cayman Trench:  Cayman Trench The Cayman Trench is a trench that is over 2 miles deep formed by the Caribbean plate subducting under the North American Plate. It is located just south of the Cayman Islands. There is a huge coral barrier reef and sea wall that drops from 3 feet to 300 feet deep. It is a popular place for divers to see lots of different types of plants and marine animals. Owen Island:  Owen Island There are hundreds of creatures that live in the lagoon, and in the patch reef. The surrounding fringing reef protects most of the island from strong ocean waves is seen in the bottom of the picture. Owen Island is just off shore of Little Cayman Island. It is a nice isolated place for baby marine animals to grow. The Reefs:  The Reefs This picture was taken from the airplane bringing us to Little Cayman Island. A patch reef and areas of sea grass can be seen in the lagoon between the land and the fringing reef. Mangroves:  Mangroves The mangrove trees are the first thing I noticed growing in the water. They are plants that are salt tolerant and send out aerial roots in shallow water. They are nurseries for tiny fish and other organisms, protecting them from predators that lurk in deeper waters. Conch in Sea Grass:  Conch in Sea Grass Sea grasses grow in just a few inches of water. Sea grasses need a lot of light to photosynthesize, so they only grow to depths to 3 - 4’. Baby animals such as snails, worms, lobsters, sea horses and sea cucumbers live in the grass, feeding and hiding from predators. Green sea turtles and conch also feed on sea grass. Sting Ray:  Sting Ray This sting ray is a predator eating small squid, shrimp and other animals that it finds in the grass. They look scary, but they are really friendly and don’t bite. They eat by sucking up their prey as they have no teeth. Spotted Ray:  Spotted Ray Spotted rays are only found around the Cayman Isles. Rays fly through the water much like birds fly through the air. Their mouth is under the body, and the eyes are on top of their head. Green Sea Turtles:  Green Sea Turtles This turtle swims above the sea grass in the lagoon. Sea grass is a favorite food of green sea turtles. Dugongs & Manatees:  Dugongs & Manatees Manatees are herbivores that also live off of the sea grass. They are found mostly in Florida waters and in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. They are slow swimmers and prefer grazing in quiet, shallow areas. Patch Reef / Jelly Fish:  Patch Reef / Jelly Fish Corals are found growing just after the sea grass zone. Floating above the coral is a jelly fish. Jelly fish eat tiny marine plants and animals such as plankton and diatoms. Patch Reef:  Patch Reef Patch reefs are little patches or boulders of coral that are separated from each other. They are primarily found in lagoon areas closer to shore. Finger Coral:  Finger Coral This is Finger coral. It is the most common coral in the Cayman region. It is the most resistant to global changes & human impacts. In the background is an orange sponge. The fish are jacks. These small fish like to hide in-between the coral when the bigger fish come around. Coral spawning:  Coral spawning Corals reproduce by spawning. Thousands of baby corals are expelled at once by adult coral polyps. This coral suffers from yellow band disease. Butterfly fish:  Butterfly fish Butterfly fish flock around the coral during the seasonal spawning. They eat the gametes as they are released. This limits the number of new corals that can grow. Damsel Fish:  Damsel Fish Damsel fish inhabit every type of reef from shallow patch reef to deep fringing reefs. They take numerous bites on coral heads which kills the coral. Algae will then grow on the coral, which is what these fish eat. These fish protect their gardens of algae from intruders. Parrot Fish:  Parrot Fish Parrot Fish sometimes injure coral while trying to eat the algae that grows on and around it. Their sharp beaks leave grazing scars on the coral. Trigger fish :  Trigger fish This is a trigger fish. He is really neat to watch while he is swimming. He doesn’t swim like normal fish. They prefer to live in deeper water, about 50’ deep or more, but sometimes they visit more shallow reefs to feed. Soft Pink Sea Coral:  Soft Pink Sea Coral These are soft corals. The pink fingers to the left are dead. The fuzzy ones to the right are alive. There are other small corals growing on the dead fingers. There is another species of encrusting coral growing on a rock, in the background. Elkhorn coral:  Elkhorn coral Elkhorn coral grows very slowly but can grow to be one of the largest corals in a coral reef. It is very rare on shallow reefs and is more common deeper in the ocean. It is very susceptible to disease & breakage during storms & climate change. Christmas tree worms:  Christmas tree worms These are Christmas tree worms. They are living on star coral. Slide23:  This is a trigger fish swimming above a barrier reef. A barrier reef grows around an island or other body of land and provides protection for the island from storms and large sea waves. Barrier Reef OOPS! My suit has a leak!:  OOPS! My suit has a leak! As I was about to go down the reef wall, I noticed my suit was loosing pressure and my lungs and ears were hurting. The regulator was broken. I knew it would be unsafe to dive any deeper. My buddies went ahead and I decided to explore the coral reefs some more. Purple sponge:  Purple sponge This is a bicolor damsel fish swimming above a purple sponge. Sponges generally compete for space on a coral reef. They colonize in spaces between the living tissues on coral. Patch Reef / Angel Fish:  Patch Reef / Angel Fish Angel fish are one of the only fish known to eat sea sponges. There were a lot of sea sponges growing among the coral in the patch reef for the fish to feed on. Sponges increase while Corals decrease:  Sponges increase while Corals decrease Sponges have increased in numbers recently because of pollution and nutrient runoff coming from the surrounding islands. Corals are very sensitive to environmental changes and will die from pollution, too many nutrients and sea surface temperature changes. Slide28:  This little fish is hiding amongst the finger and soft coral. Sea Fan:  Sea Fan This is a sea fan growing on a coral boulder. A sea fan is a type of soft coral. By watching the movement of the fan, you can tell the direction of the sea currents. Sick Coral:  Sick Coral This is a lot of coral that died from disease. It is being overgrown by colorful sponges and algae. Bicolor basslet:  Bicolor basslet Bicolor basslets are very small and live in coral reefs. They hide in the coral when predators come around. People like to use them in salt water fish tanks. Flute fish:  Flute fish Flute fish look like sea snakes. They are found in all types of coral reefs. They are night feeders and float near the surface of the water sucking in plankton. Camouflage:  Camouflage This tiny fish takes advantage of the camouflage of this pink flower coral. Crabs:  Crabs This Arrow crab, along with many other crustaceans live in the inter-tidal zone feeding off of creatures smaller than themselves. Their hard exoskeleton gives them some protection from predators. Spiny Lobster:  Spiny Lobster Spiny and slipper lobsters are common in the Caribbean. They do not have large claws like the Northern Atlantic lobster. They dig out spaces in the sand under coral, or find crevices to hide in during the day. They come out to eat at night and feed on both live and dead prey. Jewfish:  Jewfish Jewfish are common in coral reefs. They are really big and ugly. They are carnivores. Grouper:  Grouper Groupers are also really big and fat and ugly. They are carnivores and eat smaller fish. They are near the top of the coral reef food chain. Bull Shark:  Bull Shark Bull sharks are uncommon in shallow water. This one must be lost or very hungry. They are normally found in very deep ocean waters. They are at the top of the ocean food chain and are very dangerous if provoked or hungry. Nurse Shark:  Nurse Shark Nurse shark are common in shallow coral reefs. They look scary, but they are not very dangerous because they have no teeth. Nurse sharks feed on small fish in the coral reef by sucking them up. Green Sea Turtles:  Green Sea Turtles Sea turtles spend their juvenile years eating and growing in near-shore habitats. Once they reach adulthood it is believed that they migrate to different feeding grounds. Sea Turtle :  Sea Turtle Some turtles migrate over thousands of miles while others migrate only a few hundred miles between feeding and nesting grounds. Green Sea Turtles:  Green Sea Turtles After several years of floating around the Atlantic, young turtles are big enough to venture back into near-shore waters where they are in danger of being killed by their worst enemy, man. Sea turtles are protected because they have tasty meat that is used in soups, stews and steaks. Humans almost hunted them to extinction. Baby Turtles:  Baby Turtles Sea turtles spend their entire lives in the water except for nesting by the females and the emergence of the hatchlings from their nest and their run down the beach to the water. During its first 48 hours, a hatchling must travel from the beach to a place in the ocean where it is relatively safe from predators and where it can find food. As I left the water I found baby turtles scurrying into the water. Sea Turtles:  Sea Turtles When I got all the way onto the beach I found this mom turtle resting on the sandy beach after laying her eggs. I was tired too.

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