There is no way to simply describe the complexity of the coral reef. It is composed of organisms who’s body plans, life histories, and associations with other organisms are alien to most people. I have found that many of those visiting the reef enjoy the colors, shapes and motion but have no idea what they are looking at. This will be a series of posts that will help you identify four types of organisms you might have overlooked or misunderstood while snorkeling or SCUBA diving and also help you understand a little about how they are organized. Pictures will be from various places in the Bahamas that I have taken over the past 5 years.
So let’s start with the basics. These organisms make up the large-scale structure of the reef: Gorgonians, hard corals, sponges, which are animals, and macroalgae, which are plants. The first 3 are primarily found as colonial animals, meaning that they originated from a microscopic larva that once settled onto the substrate, attached and started to reproduce by division. Macroalgae are generally more organized than the scum that you may be familiar with in your aquarium or on your boat bottom, but still do not have true roots, stems, leaves or vascular structures to transport water and nutrients within the plant as land plants and sea grasses do.
We can find them all in the photo posted on the heading of the website. The numbers refer to 1-Gorgonians 2-hard coral 3-sponge 4-algae. You will typically see them all mixed together in varying proportions. Sometimes one organism or another will be dominant or absent. They are in a never-ending competition for growth space since they live their lives attached to the substrate.
There is a lot in that picture, isn’t there. Don’t be overwhelmed! Future posts will explain more about these four members of the reef community.