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Guarding Coral Reefs

A Rewarding Experience

By N. Michelle Rodríguez Amadeo

Issue: August 2017

Tropical and crystalline waters with warm temperature, lots of oxygen and good circulation may be home of one of the most attractive underwater ecotreasures: coral reefs. In order to recognize the importance of protecting these reefs, we first need to know what they are and their benefits beyond creating beautiful scenery.

Corals are marine animals rather than rocks or plants. Reefs are formed as the skeletons of corals and other marine organisms combine together over thousands of years. The hard corals that build reefs are known as hermatypic corals. Some genuses of this type of corals are Acropora, Montastraea, Diploria, Porites and Agaricia.

The skeleton of a hermatypic coral is on its exterior; and therefore, it forms part of the coral reef’s surface. Such skeleton is made from aragonite, a mineral consisting of calcium carbonate in crystal form. While the skeletons of living hard corals mainly create the outer part of reefs, the base and interior part of reefs are made of dead coral skeletons. As corals die, over time new corals grow on the remains of calcium carbonate skeletons.

Coral reefs are beneficial to other marine life and natural resources as well as to people and the tourism industry. Some of their benefits are listed as follows:

(1) Coral reefs may serve as barriers that protect the shore from strong and large waves. As coral reefs absorb a portion of the waves’ energy, the beaches, mangroves and other coastal areas benefit from reef barriers. Strong and massive corals, such as "Acropora palmata" (Elkhorn coral) and "Montastraea annularis" (Boulder Star coral), may tolerate the strength of big waves.

(2) Coral reefs are habitats of diverse red, green and brownish grey algae as well as many marine animals such as crabs, octopus, lobsters, mollusks and fish.

(3) Coral reefs and other marine life in and nearby reefs create astonishing underwater sceneries that people may admire while snorkeling or diving around reefs. As coral reefs attract locals and travelers to engage in these water sports, the travel and tourism industry is fostered. Notwithstanding, those who swim around coral reefs need to apply practices that support reef protection.

Several practices that help protect coral reefs are the following:

1) Admire the coral reefs, but do not touch these. Do not take any corals. The best gift you can give anyone is to enlighten about the marine life seen and share any pictures taken during your diving or snorkeling experience.

2) Pick up the trash on or nearby a coral reef when you are swimming nearby a reef. Volunteer to participate in beach or coral reefs cleanups.

Waste may harm corals and other organisms living in the reef. For instance, disposable diapers may cover the corals and deprive these of their supply of oxygen and light.

3) Do not throw away trash in the beach.

4) Control your body movements while swimming nearby coral reefs to prevent touching or kicking these.

5) Anchor in sandy-bottom areas away from corals.

6) Learn about coral reefs and how they benefit the environment and public. Your knowledge will help you to promote better the conservation of reefs.

7) When selecting fish or shellfish for consumption, choose sustainable seafood. Support fishing practices that consider the long term vitality of marine life and help conserve its ecosystem.

As long as people assist in the conservation of coral reefs, these gems will keep benefiting nature and humankind.

References: (a) Ortiz Sotomayor, Alida (2011), Los Arrecifes de Coral; (b) Coral Facts, Retrieved from, and (c) What can I do to protect coral reefs?, Retrieved from

Photograph by: Efra Figueroa

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