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Marine Habitats: Coral Reef Ecosystem

Biomes exhibit large areas with a specific climate, vegetation, and wildlife. The aquatic biome falls into the two categories of freshwater and marine biomes. Marine habitats cover almost three-quarters of the Earth’s surface and include oceans, estuaries, and coral reefs. The coral reefs’ biodiversity presents a specific interest as one of the most stressed world’s ecosystems with an intricate relationship between the keystone, invasive and endangered species.

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Marine ecosystems as a community of living and nonliving organisms have distinct characteristics because of the unique combination of physical factors like salinity and light availability, and the organism distribution. The creatures inhabiting the area must adapt to these conditions and become very diverse. A coral reef is an ecosystem predominating in shallow warm water found along continents or fringing islands (Glasl et al., 2019). It is considered one of the most socioeconomically valuable and biologically diverse ecosystems and the most stressed at the same time. It is a complex of host-associated and free-living microbial communities (Ellis et al., 2019). The reefs’ fauna is rich with several species of invertebrates, microorganisms, fish, sea stars, and octopuses. However, today coral reefs are increasingly declining with an estimated 30% severely damaged, and 60% predicted to be lost by 2030, mainly because of overfishing and pollution (Ellis et al., 2019). The impact of global climate change also affects the coral reef and the dominance of particular species.

The dominant keystone organisms in coral reefs may be considered corals consisting of algae and polyp that are essential organisms for the reef’s existence. Corals acquire nutrients through algae by photosynthesis and extending tentacles to obtain plankton from waters because of the nutritionally deficient reef waters (Glasl et al., 2019). However, sharks can also be considered a keystone species in coral reefs as dominant predators in the ecosystem. Their removal decreases the overall diversity and allows for the prey population to grow exponentially. Thus, sharks are the keystone species that control top-down regulation decreasing the fish they eat and increasing algae.

An invasive species is an alien species to the ecosystem that harms it environmentally, economically, or socially. They invade and dominate the ecosystem due to the lack of competition or predators. Lionfish is commonly considered the invasive species of the coral reefs in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean because of its great appetite and lack of predators in the area (Risch & Parks, 2017). They have the potential to destroy the ecosystem because they feed on native herbivores. The grazers are essential for the coral reef ecosystem since it becomes vulnerable to overwhelming algal blooms without them (Ellis et al., 2019). Uncontrollable algae distress the coral reef by preventing the nutrients and sunlight from getting to the coral, and the symbiotic relationships from getting destroyed (Risch & Parks, 2017). The lionfish management measures are often considered futile, but several population control efforts are suggested. The possible options are maintaining a more considerable amount of predators that feed on the lionfish, limiting its trade, or encouraging fishing.

The coral reef also houses endangered species that are important to be protected. The four different turtles species at the Great Barrier Reef are classified as endangered, and two are close to it. They are nearing extinction mainly because of plastic emissions and hunting. Turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, eat them, and die painfully (Ellis et al., 2019). The value of turtles’ shells, meat, and eggs also remain high, so they are often hunted for it. The other species that are going extinct because of hunting at the reefs are whales and saltwater crocodiles. The fishing and hunting regulations are imposed to prevent it.

Coral reefs present a unique ecosystem in the marine biome that is, unfortunately, rapidly degrading due to climate change and human activity. The biodiversity is threatened to be destroyed, requiring active management action for reef restoration. The relationship between the keystone, invasive, and endangered species needs to be carefully weighted to counteract reef destruction. Effective management measures are essential for saving the presence of endangered issues and preserving the ecosystem.

References

Ellis, J. I., Jamil, T., Anlauf, H., Coker, D. J., Curdia, J., Hewitt, J., Jones, B.H., Krokos ,G., Kürten, B., Hariprasad, D., Carvalho, S., Hoteit, I., & Roth, F. (2019). Multiple stressor effects on coral reef ecosystems. Global Change Biology, 25(12), 4131-4146. Web.

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Glasl, B., Bourne, D. G., Frade, P. R., Thomas, T., Schaffelke, B., & Webster, N. S. (2019). Microbial indicators of environmental perturbations in coral reef ecosystems. Microbiome, 7(1), 1-13. Web.

Risch, D., & Parks, S. E. (2017). Ecoacoustics: The ecological role of sounds. Wiley.

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