ecosystems coral reef

diverse underwater ecosystems held together by calcium carbonate structures secreted by corals. Coral reefs are built by colonies of tiny animals found in marine waters that contain few nutrients. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, which in turn consist of polyps that cluster in groups. The polyps belong to a group of animals known as Cnidaria, which also includes sea anemones and jellyfish.

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Ray swimming above coral reef, Maldives

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Blacktip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus)

Photos taken by Connor Butler - Tioman Island, Malaysia. 

This open coral reef diorama in ¡Cuba! represents a string of jewel-like keys to the south of the main island of Cuba called the Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina). Here, silvery fish zip past banks of coral studded with colorful starfish, sea fans, and sponges. To protect this vital diversity, Cuba has created the largest marine reserve in the Caribbean. Coral reefs are some of the richest ecosystems on Earth, and on many Caribbean coastlines, they are in danger of disappearing. But in this protected area in Cuba, the reef is wonderfully alive. The diorama includes models of a hawksbill turtle, tiger shark, and spotted eagle ray. ©AMNH/M. Shanley

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Clownfish swimming on healthy coral reef, Indonesia. Look how vibrant this whole setting is.

Excuse me, I’m swimming here! 

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary visitor Daryl Duda spotted this balloonfish at Pickles Reef. At night, balloonfish hunt the reef for mollusks and crustaceans. When threatened, a balloonfish can inflate its body by taking in water, making its spikes stand out defensively! 

(Photo: Daryl Duda)

Gather round the Christmas tree…worms? 

Far from the North Pole and only a few inches in height, Christmas tree worms are small worms that can be found on reefs in a number of your national marine sanctuaries. Brightly colored and shaped much like your favorite seasonal evergreens, these little worms use their bristle-like appendages to catch meals of phytoplankton and to breathe. While the body of the worm buries inside its host coral structure, each worm projects two tiny “trees” above the coral surface. These two little trees were spotted on the reef at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, creating their own miniature winter wonderland. 

(Photo: Steve Miller)

I don’t buy new fish very often, my reef only has 7 fish total. I’m one of those who believe less is better when it comes to fish in a reef tank…
I saw this little guy yesterday and couldn’t resist, he’s a Ruby Red Dragonet and he’s a stunner!
I took this pic while he was being acclimated because I wasn’t sure how often I’d see him once he’s in the reef!