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Coral reef ecosystems

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Coral reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Coral polyps, the animals primarily responsible for building reefs, can take many forms: large reef building colonies, graceful flowing fans, and even small, solitary organisms. Thousands of species of corals have been discovered; some live in warm, shallow, tropical seas and others in the cold, dark depths of the ocean.

Coral reef diversity

Because of the diversity of life found in the habitats created by corals, reefs are often called the “rainforests of the sea.” About 25% of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs. Fishes and other organisms shelter, find food, reproduce, and rear their young in the many nooks and crannies formed by corals. The Northwest Hawaiian Island coral reefs, which are part of the Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Monument, provide an example of the diversity of life associated with shallow-water reef ecosystems. This area supports more than 7,000 species of fishes, invertebrates, plants, sea turtles, birds, and marine mammals. Deep water reefs or mounds are less well known, but also support a wide array of sea life in a comparatively barren world.