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Diving Deeper Shorts: Value of Coral Reefs

Episode 23 (February 28, 2013)

HOST: Today's Diving Deeper Shorts is all about corals! Did you know that even though coral reefs only cover about one-tenth of one percent of the ocean floor, they provide habitat for more than 25 percent of marine species. For more fun facts on corals, let's revisit a past episode where we talked about the importance of coral reefs with the former director of NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Let's listen in.

HOST: Kacky, first can you give us a little more background on coral reefs. Can you tell us where coral reefs are found?

KACKY ANDREWS: So coral reefs are primarily found in tropical waters, they're found throughout the United States and the Atlantic and the Caribbean. The biodiversity hotspot for coral reefs is in Southeast Asia near Indonesia and the Philippines.

HOST: Are corals plants or animals?

KACKY ANDREWS: If I had to choose one, I would say animals, even though they might sometimes resemble plants and are often mistaken for rocks. Many of the reef-building corals that people are most familiar with from the tropical vacations or the photographs are colonial organisms which means they're made up of hundreds to thousands of individual animals called polyps.

Like other animals, polyps need to eat and each polyp has a stomach that opens at one end and is surrounded by tentacles to help catch the food. The food enters the stomach through the mouth and after eating, waste products are expelled through the same opening.

These coral animals are heavily dependent on a symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae that actually live in the corals and help them feed and get nutrients. So even though corals are animals, there's also kind of a component of plants that help them maintain their health.

HOST: Kacky, are there actions that our listeners can take to preserve and protect coral reefs?

KACKY ANDREWS: Yes, there are many actions that we can all take to help protect coral reefs in our own way. Whether you live along the coast or not, we all benefit from coral reefs and we all stand a chance to interact with corals either during vacation or other travel. It is important that we all play a hand in their protection. Let me just give a few specific examples so the listeners know how they may be able to help.

One is get educated, learn about coral reefs. These are amazing resources.

Two, support organizations that protect coral reefs. There are many really wonderful organizations both at a national scale and in the international arena that work to help protect these resources.

Three, you can volunteer for a reef cleanup. As you know there's a lot of marine debris out on reefs and there's many organizations that ask folks to come out and help clean up the reefs.

Four, if you dive, don't touch the reefs as these are really remarkable resources and sometimes people like to break off a branch to take home as a souvenir, but if everyone out there diving and snorkeling did that, which number in the millions, that has a really big impact.

And lastly, is everyone can do their bit to reduce their carbon footprint. Climate change is the greatest threat to reefs and so anything you can do to help reduce the climate change will hopefully improve coral reef condition over the long term.

HOST: That's all for today's Diving Deeper Shorts. Want to learn more? Go to and click on the February 2010 podcast archive to listen to the full episode or visit