Coral reefs are fragile ecosystems and are very sensitive to any changes. Coral reefs and other coral systems are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. They are home to about 25% of all marine life! The type of animals that live in reefs include sponges, sea slugs, oysters, clams, crabs, shrimp, sea worms, starfish, sea urchins, jellyfish, sea anemones, sea turtles, and many species of fish.
When you visit the reef:
Do’s and Don’ts When Enjoying the Beauty of Coral Reefs
The only way to guarantee that our coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves continue to offer the valuable and unique environmental functions, for which we rely on them is to develop a new attitude in our relationship with these resources. We must follow a very strict code of conduct to protect our marine habitats from the possible impacts of recreational activities.
DO NOT TOUCH CORALS! The coral skeleton, even though it looks hard, is really very fragile. Even though the hard stony portion of the coral feels like a rock because it contains calcium carbonate, it is still a living organism and the health of the polyps is essential for coral growth and reef building. Divers and snorkelers who are not cautious around the reef may also damage the corals. Elkhorn coral branches are very fragile and may be easily broken by a flipper, or by accidental hand strokes. Branching species like elkhorn and staghorn coral break very easily. When you dive or snorkel, learn to balance your body. Never hang onto a coral branch or stop to rest holding onto a living “rock.”
DO NOT WALK ON CORALS! Walking on the shallow reef platform destroys small corals, such as finger coral. Also, there are other animals, such as worms and snails, that live among the coral rubble which also get crushed by your walking.
DO NOT TAKE LIVE ANIMALS FROM THE REEF! When a piece of “live rock” is removed from the reef, it can affect many organisms, not just the piece of coral. If a piece of dead coral is turned over, it should be placed back in the same position in which it was originally found. Some animals live under the rocks and are adapted to a different light level. It is illegal to remove both live and dead coral and many reef species in the U.S. Caribbean.
AVOID DISTURBING THE REEF HABITAT! The coral reef is like a huge, complex building with many different floors, walls, and frames. The big difference being that it is all alive! Any movement or action that changes the habitat like removing predators causes trouble. Boat usage in shallows also damages seagrass. Clearing of mangroves to allow boat access or provide shade for bathers has a larger scale effects on the marine ecosystem. Removing areas of mangrove forest and seagrass beds destroys important habitat for the young of many reef organisms such as lobster and mutton snappers.
DO NOT ANCHOR IN REEF AREAS! Tie your boat to a mooring buoy away from the reef or anchor in areas of sandy bottom. Anchors and groundings can cause heavy damage to seagrass beds and corals in the reef. Every time that an anchor is thrown overboard and lands on top of a coral head, breakage of the coral exposes it to the growth of filamentous algae, bacteria, and other organisms that can kill the polyps.
Broken corals and dead grasses are irreplaceable.
THE OCEAN IS NOT A TRASH CAN! Do not dispose of garbage or chemicals in the water. Dumping of trash, oil and wastewater in the ocean is prohibited in the U.S. Caribbean.
Caribbean Marine Etiquette – Public Service Announcement
Visit our marine environment, enjoy it and protect it!
Here are links than can be used for more info on this subject:
The following is a set of puzzles that will help you learn about the different types of coral and the species that live in coral systems:
Color your favorite undersea creatures and their habitats:
The following short stories were written Mr. Israel Rodríguez. The opinions expressed in the stories are not meant to represent the views of the NOAA Fisheries Service. The stories are acts of fiction and the representations of species may not be entirely factual: