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Red Sea Life
Breathing Life into Corals
Complex and fragile ecosytems, coral reefs are essential to the health and life of the world’s
oceans. Save Our Seas cameraman Owen Bruce explores the life of coral and what each of
us can do to help keep it healthy. photos by tuula metcalf and abbie Hime.
Coral reefs are an essential part of the world’s oceans, particularly so red sea provide shelter for a vast number of associated species from
in the red sea. they support an entire ecosystem of related fish and turtles to minute invertebrates such as the colourful nudibranchs and
invertebrate species and are an essential source shrimps. larger pelagic species such as manta rays
of economic wealth for the countries that border and hammerhead sharks make use of the reefs
the red sea’s clear, warm waters. this flourishing where they come to be cleaned by the resident
marine environment with its teeming abundance cleaner fish. although extremely rare, even giant
of life is what makes the red sea so attractive to humpback whales have been known to enter the
tourists from all over the world. red sea’s clear blue waters. the key to this great
diversity is a single minute animal: the coral polyp.
the red sea’s natural wealth has been the subject
of scientific exploration and research for 4,000 Coral is alive – not rocks or plants as some people
years. ‘modern’ scientific studies began in 1772 may think but in fact minute animals. they have
with the ill-fated arabia-Felix expedition – six a mouth for feeding and small tentacles that
scientists embarked on a voyage of discovery catch their planktonic prey: they are voracious
through the red sea, however, the hardships predators. Corals breed both asexually and
of the terrain and extreme temperatures killed sexually. sexual reproduction occurs when an
all but one of them. peter Forsskål was at the exact combination of current, temperature and
time a renowned young swedish biologist, and lunar cycle trigger the releasing of eggs and
after succumbing to malaria on the remote sperm from the corals which mix and fertilise
yemeni coast, he left a legacy of pioneering early in the water column. the fertilised coral larvae
marine science. He is remembered today in the then drift on the current until they reach a solid
latin name for the common red sea goatfish substrate and it’s here that the miracle of coral reef
Parupeneus forsskali. construction begins.
red sea coral reefs are vibrant marine ecosystems the minute larva settles on a solid substrate
that seem to pulse with a constant beat of action where it immediately starts to replicate. the coral
and intensity. Clear water and bright sunlight replicates in a similar way to cell division and
make the inhabitants of the reef dazzle with in doing so a colony of identical coral polyps is
colour and every single crack and crevice seems formed. as these polyps grow they absorb calcium
to house a different weird or wonderful critter. all from the surrounding seawater and secrete a
of this life depends on the existence of the coral limestone rock protective skeleton. the energy for
animals and although at first glance coral may this miraculous process comes from minute plant-
look dull and lifeless, it is anything but. Coral is a like algae called Zooxanthellae that grow within
complicated and dynamic organism that shows the coral’s flesh. the algae use photosynthesis
much unique and fascinating behaviour while to convert sunlight into sugars which is part of
keeping time to a slower beat than the faster the corals’ food. each structure, be it tabulate,
paced inhabitants of the reef. branching, massive (smooth rock-like) or any of
the numerous other structures common on the
the red sea is not only home to some of the most reef originates from one single coral polyp.
spectacular reefs, but also the most northerly
reefs in the world. they in turn support other this rock formation by the coral polyps is what
essential ecosystems such as sea grass beds and builds the reefs we see today. each colony
mangroves, which are essential as nursery areas lays down a layer of rock onto the previous
for the fish that live on the reefs. the reefs of the generations handiwork and this constant
issue 2 august / september 2009
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