The Maldives is not only home to luxury resorts nestled amongst swaying palms and sitting atop sugar-soft, white sandy beaches, it’s also a world-renowned a snorkellers and scuba divers’ paradise due to the extensive coral reefs which surround the land and form countless underwater islands to explore.
Corals are plants or animals?
Although coral reefs look like colourful gardens full of plants, they are in fact made up of a multitude of tiny animals. The individual coral animals are the building blocks of the reef. Microscopic, unicellular plants called zooxanthellae live within the coral’s tissue and provide most of the coral’s food. This nutrition leads to growth, and secretion of the calcium carbonate skeleton that builds the reef structure.
Rain forest of the ocean
The coral reef ecosystems are home to a huge diversity of marine life in abundance that have to be seen to be believed. One of the most important ecosystems on the planet, they support more species per unit area than any other marine habitat.
The coral is scraped and swallowed by parrotfish as they graze on the polys and algae on the reef. The coral itself cannot be digested by the fish and is pooped out – watch a parrotfish next time you go snorkelling or diving and you’re likely to see a trail of white powdery poop being excreted behind it!
Reefs at risk
Coral reefs are very fragile and susceptible to any changes in the ocean including pollution, harmful fishing methods and natural cyclical changes in ocean temperatures during El Niño events. A rise in water temperature can cause stress to the resident zooxanthellae and they are expelled from the coral causing the corals to turn white and die. An unhealthy reef results in loss of habitat and a negative chain of events felt throughout the complex food web. Beaches and even islands are at risk of erosion if the physical barrier of the reef breaks down.
Take action to help
We have a responsibility to look after our oceans, especially the vulnerable and ecologically important coral reefs. Simple actions will help such as using only reef-safe sunscreen, saying ‘NO’ to single use plastics and being conscious of energy use and thereby helping the global community to reduce energy consumption. An immediate action that can be taken is mastering excellent buoyancy control which will help you to position yourself effortlessly in the water without touching or crashing into the reef and damaging years of growth. Diving and snorkelling sustainably and adhering to the ‘no touch’ policy is paramount to the longevity of the reefs.
Coral reefs are fascinating environments to explore, we hope you enjoy them as much as we do.