October Habitat Highlight: Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are beautiful underwater habitats that are home to a wide range of species and are extremely biodiverse areas. Many scientists have estimated that up to 25% of all marine species live either in or around coral reefs, and they are often referred to as the ‘rainforests of the sea’. Coral reefs provide shelter, food and breeding space for many species of aquatic invertebrates, fish and even marine mammals.

Although usually associated with tropical warm waters, coral reefs can also be found in deep and cold areas of the ocean such as around the coast of the UK. Warm water corals do not photosynthesize themselves but instead have a symbiotic relationship with a species of algae called zooxanthellae. These zooxanthellae live within the tissues of the coral polyps and as they photosynthesize, they provide the coral with the food and nutrients it requires to grow. In return the polyp offers the zooxanthellae a place of shelter. Cold water corals do not have symbiotic relationships with zooxanthellae and therefore grow much slower than tropical corals, as they have to feed on prey, they can stun with their nematocytes.

{Written by Marta Mazurkiewicz}