coral reef ecology

Snowing eggs and plankton falling from the water column; (Fungia sp) this coral uses a layer of mucous located on the surface of its tissue, as a sort of ‘conveyor belt’ to transport trapped food directly into it’s stomach.

SKETCHY SUNDAY: Symbiodinium spp.

Corals have developed an important symbiotic relationship with photoautotrophic dinoflagellates, i.e. zooxanthellae, which live inside coral tissue for protection and inorganic nutrients. In return, the algae produce a photosynthate that provides the coral with energy to complete growth, reproduction, and calcification processes.

This is a drawing of an individual Symbiodinium, which populate a coral along the lines of hundreds of thousands per square centimeter.

Drawing by Stacy Peltier, 2013



Aerial checks of more than 900 individual reefs showed the spread varies dramatically along its 2,300 kilometres, from 90 per cent north of Port Douglas to less than 10 per cent south of Mackay.  

Coral bleaching is when abnormal environmental conditions cause coral to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae. Loss of colourful algae causes coral to turn white and “bleach” -Bleached coral can recover if the temperature drops and zooxanthellae are able to recolonise them, otherwise it may die.

The Great Barrier Reef has been threatened with mass bleaching due to weather conditions El Niño and the rapid climate change. 

The southern third of the Great Barrier Reef fortunately cooled down late in summer due to ex-cyclone Winston. Researchers expect the central and southern corals to regain their colour and recover over the next few months

SPONGES (Porifera spp.)

Sponges are incredibly important for nutrient cycling in coral reef communities. These guys are filter feeders, pulling plankton from the ocean and converting it into inorganic nutrients that help facilitate the growth of nearby marine life. They’re so efficient, in fact, that a single “pocket” of seawater will be plankton-free within 5 minutes!

Image Credit: Stacy Peltier, 2013


Sabah Parks knows what’s up. 

Please resist all temptation to feed fish by any means (bread, rice etc) when you’re on holiday. Not only does it make them aggressive, but fish that keep the algae vs coral balance in check don’t need your carb-loaded distractions from their ecological niche.
These scientists studying coral reefs were brought to tears -- but in a good way
As ocean warming continues to trigger widespread destruction of coral reefs, a decade-long study of remote islands in the Central Pacific suggests these biodiversity hot spots may thrive despite the threats posed by an increasingly hotter planet...
By Los Angeles Times

In a massive project spanning 56 islands, researchers examined 450 coral reef locations from Hawaii to American Samoa, with stops in the remote Line and Phoenix islands as well as the Mariana Archipelago. Their results — published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B — show that coral reefs surrounding remote islands were dramatically healthier than those in populated areas that were subject to a variety of human influences…


Tonight (July 29) on LIFE ON THE REEF, witness the explosion of life on the Great Barrier Reef as the wet season approaches: corals spawn, sea birds nest and thousands of turtle hatchlings erupt over the beaches. Soon torrential rain and storms will bring change and upheaval to the delicate ecosystem. At 7pm CT, 6 MT. 


FLAME BOX CRAB (Calappa flammea)

This guy is my favorite lab pet! In addition to lots of dancing, he likes to hide by burying himself in the sand until nothing but his eyes are peeking out. The giant front claws close over his mouth as a defense, similar to a turtle retreating into its shell. He looks like a little striped box when crouched perfectly still… thus, I assume, the reason for the name “box crab.”

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Crown Jewel of Cuba’s Coral Reefs:

Jardines de la Reina, a vibrant marine preserve, is thriving even as other ocean habitats decline.


The six-foot Caribbean reef shark came out of the water thrashing, and Fabián Pina Amargós and his crew quickly pulled it into the research boat.

A team set to work, immobilizing the shark’s mouth and tail, pouring water over it to keep it breathing and inserting a yellow plastic tag into a small hole punched in its dorsal fin.

“What is its condition?” Dr. Pina’s wife, Tamara Figueredo Martín, asked.

“Excellent, the condition is excellent,” Dr. Pina said, before the team pulled out the hook, carefully lifted the shark up and tossed it back into the ocean.

A marine biologist and director of Cuba’s Center for Coastal Ecosystem Research, Dr. Pina has spent much of his career studying the abundance of fish and other wildlife in this archipelago 50 miles off the country’s south coast, a region so fecund it has been called the Galápagos of the Caribbean…

(read more: NY Times)

photographs by Todd Heisler/NY Times

FOUREYE BUTTERFLYFISH (Chaetodon capistratus)

These guys are one of the few fish that mate for life, thus can often be seen swimming in pairs. Their coloring evolved brilliantly - the back spot looks like a giant eye, while a dark band slices through their actual eye in order to camouflage how small it is. It must be so confusing for a predator when a “big” fish appears to be swimming away backwards.

Image Credit: Stacy Peltier, 2013

SKETCHY SUNDAY: Phytoplankton

The word plankton is Greek for “wanderer” or “drifter,” which is exactly how these microscopic algae pass their days in the upper layer of the ocean. Just like terrestrial plants, they utilize sunlight to undergo photosynthesis and provide the base of the marine food web. Although you can’t normally see them without the help of a microscope, there are actually such a vast amount of tiny plants that 2/3 of all photosynthesis on Earth takes place in the oceans!

Drawing by Stacy Peltier, 2013