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Living coral (3/3)

Life among Living Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are more than just habitats. They are like underwater cities, with a variety of animal and plant residents. In Hanauma Bay, hundreds of different life forms make their homes among the coral. Each animal carves out its own niche among the eco-system. Small crustaceans dig holes in the coral. Tropical fish hide between the crevices between the coral formations and rocks. A form of life occupies every part of the reef, and each depends on the other.

Coral reefs are balanced ecosystems with each creature doing a job. The coral provides the vital nutrient cycling process to support life in the tropical water. This allows algae to grow in what would otherwise be barren waters. Fish live off of the algae that grow in the water. This prevents the algae and other plant life from overrunning the coral. The turtles and other sea creatures in the bay also help keep the algae and coral in balance.

Threats to coral reefs

Living coral faces many threats from nature and from the human population. Storms can destroy large areas of the reef in a matter of minutes. There are also threats from predators like fish, snails, worms and starfish who bore into the coral and eat the polyps. Corals also compete with other creatures in the ecosystem for space and light. In order to combat these natural threats, corals have evolved defense mechanisms. Corals produce in large numbers in order to increase their changes of survival. They also have chemical defenses to prevent other animals from eating them.

However, coral are subject to other threats that they cannot so easily overcome. Humans can impact the reef with pollution, sedimentation from nearby developments, coral harvesting and reef trampling. The Hawaiian government has taken many steps toward preserving the living coral in Hanauma Bay. There are restrictions against building in the area, and pollutants are strictly monitored. Visits to the bay are also limited in order to reduce the human impact on the area.

Precautions for snorkeling in the Coral Reef

Since coral is a living creature, there are special safety measures you should take when you are snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. Make a special effort not to touch to coral or stand on it while in the water. The pressure from your body can crush the tiny polyps and destroy the next growth cycle for the reef. Hawaiian state law also prohibits removing any live coral from the waters. Offenders face fees of up to $500.

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