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Sunday, September 7, 2008
~ Sunday, September 07, 2008 ~
Coral reefs support an extraordinary biodiversity; although they are located in nutrient-poor tropical waters. The process of nutrient cycling between corals, zooxanthellae, and other reef organisms provides an explanation for why coral reefs flourish in these waters: recycling ensures that fewer nutrients are needed overall to support the community.

Cyanobacteria also provide soluble nitrates for the coral reef through the process of nitrogen fixation. Corals absorb nutrients, including inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus, directly from the water, and they feed upon zooplankton that are carried past the polyps by water motion.[7] Thus, primary productivity on a coral reef is very high, which results in the highest values per square meter, at 5-10g C m-2 day-1.[8] Producers in coral reef communities include the symbiotic zooxanthellae, coralline algae, and various seaweeds, especially small types called turf algae, although scientists disagree about the importance of these particular organisms.[7]

Coral reefs are home to a variety of tropical or reef fish, such as the colorful parrotfish, angelfish, damselfish and butterflyfish. Other fish groups found on coral reefs include groupers, snappers, grunts and wrasses. Over 4,000 species of fish inhabit coral reefs.[5] It has been suggested that the high number of fish species that inhabit coral reefs are able to coexist in such high numbers because any free living space is rapidly inhabited by the first planktonic fish larvae that occupy it. These fish then inhabit the space for the rest of their life. The species that inhabit the free space is random and has therefore been termed 'a lottery for living space'.[9]
A healthy reef in East Timor on the southern edge of the Banda Sea
A healthy reef in East Timor on the southern edge of the Banda Sea

Reefs are also home to a large variety of other organisms, including sponges, Cnidarians (which includes some types of corals and jellyfish), worms, crustaceans (including shrimp, spiny lobsters and crabs), molluscs (including cephalopods), echinoderms (including starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers), sea squirts, sea turtles and sea snakes. Aside from humans, mammals are rare on coral reefs, with visiting cetaceans such as dolphins being the main group. A few of these varied species feed directly on corals, while others graze on algae on the reef and participate in complex food webs.[7][5]

A number of invertebrates, collectively called cryptofauna, inhabit the coral skeletal substrate itself, either boring into the skeletons (through the process of bioerosion) or living in pre-existing voids and crevices. Those animals boring into the rock include sponges, bivalve molluscs, and sipunculans. Those settling on the reef include many other species, particularly crustaceans and polychaete worms.[6]

Due to their vast biodiversity, many governments world-wide take measures to protect their coral reefs. In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and is the subject of much legislation, including a Biodiversity Action Plan.

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