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The beautiful story of coral reefs in the Bahamas

Posted by: Nassau Paradise Island on August 27, 2010

DSC7203If you’ve already taken a plunge underwater – perhaps during a snorkeling or diving expedition – you’ve probably uncovered the other reason visitors flock to Nassau Paradise Island. Coral reefs. These tiny animals are structurally complex, biologically diverse and described as “an oasis in the desert of the ocean” by Darwin. The third largest barrier reef in the world is found between Andros and Nassau, aptly named the Andros, Bahamas Barrier Reef. So, are coral reefs all that they are cracked up to be? Or are they simply another “thing to look out for” while diving or snorkeling…

Coral Reef Biology 101

Before bringing attention to the importance of coral reefs, let’s first take a look at their biological aspect. Many think of coral reefs as colorful plants or rocks, when in fact, they are small live animals embedded in calcium carbonate. Corals consist of many individuals called polyps and each polyp feeds at night by reaching out with tentacles and trapping small fish and planktonic animals. Another source of nutrient stems from an interesting relationship with single-celled algae called zooxanthellae. The coral provides the algae with protection and access to sunlight. In return, the algae produce food (through photosynthesis) that is shared with the coral. Because of a strong dependence on photosynthesis for energy, reefs are often found in clear, shallow and tropical waters.

Beauty with a purpose

Don’t be fooled. Though quite beautiful, there is more to coral reefs than meets the eye. They protect the shorelines; provide a natural habitat for a variety of tropical and reef fish, including cnidarians, crustaceans and mollusks; and help scientists in new discoveries, particularly medicine. Imagine the impact if coral reefs did not exist. Coincidentally, reefs can tolerate only a narrow range of environmental conditions and they don’t respond too well to environmental changes – especially those at the hands of humans… Is there something you can do to ensure our reefs stay strong and healthy? Of course! Here are a few examples:

  • Take time to learn about the marine environments in general
  • Experience the underwater marine environment – snorkeling or diving
  • Support marine water conservation measures
  • Don’t pollute the air
  • Wage a war against litter
  • Become a ‘green consumer’
  • Get involved with local conservation organizations like BREEF and The Bahamas National Trust

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