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UPSC-specific facts about Coral Reefs!

What are Corals?

  • Corals are invertebrate animals such as polyps. Each individual coral animal is called a polyp and most live in groups of hundreds to thousands of genetically identical polyps that form a ‘colony’. Each polyp resides in a tiny up of coral.

  • These animals (Polyp) secrete calcium carbonate within their tiny cells. Coral reefs are therefore created by millions of tiny polyps forming large carbonate structures and are the basis of a framework and home for hundreds of thousands.

  • Inside the tissue of each polyp lives these microscopic, single-celled algae zooxanthellae. So in simple terms inside the coral cup resides Polyp and within tissues of polyp resides the algae. The color of corals is due to this algae. When these Algae die due to changes in temperature or any other reason the corals become white and die, this is called coral bleaching.

  • The brilliant colors of coral are due to the symbiosis relationship between plants & animals (Coral and Algae). Algae provide food and nutrients to the polyp and in return, poly provides the space for algae to live.

Coral are generally classified as either “hard coral” or “soft coral”. Soft corals are found in oceans from the equator to the north and south poles, generally in caves or ledges

What are the conditions for building coral reefs?

  • Water Temperature: The temperature should be ≧ 20°C or 68°F. Hence they are limited to Tropical & Sub-tropical Zones. Warm currents are suitable for their formation and hence they do not form where there are cold currents ( Western margins of continents).

  • Water Depth: They grow in shallow waters where the depth is ≦30 fathoms or 180 feet, this is because beyond this sunlight is too faint for photosynthesis to take place which is essential for microscopic algae, on which coral polyps depend. There should be plenty of water for corals to thrive.

  • Water should be saltish & free from sediment: They survive best in the moving ocean water well away from the silty coasts or muddy mouths of streams. They develop best on the seaward side of the reef, where the waves are constantly moving and tides & currents maintain an abundant supply of clear, oxygenated water.

Coral reefs are the largest living structure on the planet, and the only living structure to be visible from space.


Where are they found?

Coral reefs are found throughout the oceans, from deep, cold waters to shallow, tropical waters. Temperate and tropical reefs however are formed only in a zone extending at most from 30°N to 30°S of the equator; the reef-building corals prefer to grow at depths shallower than 30 m (100 ft), or where the temperature range is between 16-32oc, and light levels are high.

Make use of the videos in the blog to understand how are they actually formed.

For better understanding watch this lecture

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