Is it a Washout for Coral Reefs?

Australia is probably best known for its whirling Tasmanian devils and cuddly koala bears, but it’s also home to the Great Barrier Reef. This coral maze is the only living thing on earth that can be seen from space! But did you know that corals aren’t actually plants? In fact, they’re animals, like jellyfish and anemones.

Corals have limestone skeletons filled with thousands of small animals called POLYPS. Each Polyp has:turtle washed out coral reefs

  • a Skeleton Cup
  • Tentacles
  • a Mouth
  • a Stomach
Plant-like cells actually live INSIDE coral polyps. The plants (algae called ZOO-XAN-THAL-LEA) eat nitrogen waste produced by the corals and turn it into sugar using photosynthesis. The corals then eat the sugar made by the algae. Talk about win-win!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work so smoothly.

When the oceans are too warm, the algae inside the corals can’t perform photosynthesis or make sugar to eat. Nitrogen ends up building up and poisoning the algae. To save itself, the coral spits out the algae. But without the algae to make sugar for them, the coral starves to death and loses all its colour.

This process is called coral bleaching and scientists are seeing way more of it than they used to. In fact, coral reefs are disappearing at a rate of about 1-2% every year!

At this pace they could be gone in 50-100 years! This would be a disaster for the oceans because corals help protect shorelines, AND they also give lots of other ocean-faring organisms a home and a tasty nitrogen meal.

But why are oceans getting warmer in the first place? Yep, you guessed it, climate change and other stresses including:

  • Nitrates and other excessive nutrients from fertilizers on farm fields and gardens, which can cause algae blooms that smother parts of the coral reefs.
  • Overfishing
  • Pollution
  • Damage from swimmers, boaters and tourists who aren’t careful around the reefs
There may not be any coral reefs in Canada (they’re mostly found around the equator), but the health of our own oceans and waterways definitely has an impact on the rest of the world. Currently, we’ve protected less than 1% of Canada’s marine waters!

There are lots of things you can do above water to help out:

  • Clean up after your dogs so their poop doesn’t drain nitrates into the water/rivers/oceans.
  • Learn more about marine protected areas and proposed marine areas in Canada.
  • Before you accidentally eat an endangered ocean dweller, check the Canada Seafood Guide to make sure your fishy meal’s got the stamp of approval.

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  1. AwesomeAnnie says:

    Those polyps sounds kind creepy…


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  2. Gabjas says:

    I once went to Barbados in the Carribean and when we went snorkeling the coral was dead because people touched it! It’s because hujmans have an oil on their skin called Sebacious which kills coral when you touch it!


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Earth Rangers is a registered Canadian charity (#892200528RR0001) whose mission is to educate kids about the importance of biodiversity and empower them to protect animals and their habitat.