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Coral Reef

The world's most delicate habitat

     Coral reefs get their name because they are composed of a living animal called coral. Coral is closely related to jellyfish, they even are shaped just like jellyfish and have a mouth surrounded by tentacles. The main difference is that coral builds structures to live on, just like a home, whereas jellyfish float around the ocean and look for food. Coral reefs are communities that contain hundreds of species of corals, all building their homes together to form a structure on the seafloor. This structure provides homes for fish, crustaceans, worms, plants, and more. It is estimated that 75% of all marine life is dependent on coral reefs for some point in their life cycle. Due to warming oceans and excessive atmospheric carbon, coral reefs are in danger of going extinct, risking the livelihoods of billions of people on earth. 

     Organizations such as the California Academy of Sciences are conducting research on these important ecosystems to learn about how they are being impacted by climate change and how to protect them. As a part of that research, there is a specific project called Hope for Reefs that promotes the study of the mesophotic reef system. These reefs are special because they exist in deeper parts of the reef, parts where there is little light. Historically, these parts of the reef were thought to be more resilient to climate change, but as a result of Cal Academy's research, it is becoming evident that the mesophytic reef is just as vulnerable as it's shallow reef counterpart. To conduct research, the team of Hope for Reefs travels the world to deep dive the last remaining coral reefs to catalog new species and to learn how to protect this valuable ecosystem. 

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     Coral reefs grow along islands and continental shelves as they "grow" or "sink" into the ocean. This aerial photograph taken by Alex Goetz in the Marshall Islands shows large sections of coral reef growing right next to the shore. Despite being one of the most biodiverse and important reefs in the world, the United States chose to detonate multiple nuclear bombs. Not only did those tests devastate the reef ecosystem, but the thousands of people that have lived on these islands for thousands of years. 

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     Scientists at the California Academy collecting fish samples to better understand coral reef habitats and what it takes to save them in this modern world. To learn more, read about this work in the Oceanocographic Magazine by Justin Grubb.  

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