You might be surprised to learn that corals are not plants, they’re animals. While often mistaken for rocks, coral reefs are made up of tiny animals that are related to jellyfish and anemones.
According to NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration), there are more than 800 known species of reef-building coral worldwide with new discoveries revealed regularly. For instance, in March 2009, seven new species of bamboo coral were discovered in deep water off the coast of Hawaii.
Based on current estimates, shallow water coral reefs occupy approximately 110,000 square miles of the sea floor. According to NOAA, if all of the world's shallow water coral reefs were placed side-by-side, they would occupy an area a bit larger than the state of Texas.
Home to more than 25% of all marine life, coral reefs are among the oldest, most beautiful and fragile ecosystems in the world. Today, they are in jeopardy of being depleted or destroyed. Various threats to the coral include: climate change; land-based sources of pollution; touching or walking on it when snorkeling or diving; dropping anchors when boating; poisoning reefs to collect fish for aquariums; or seaweed that invades coral growth.
On their Web site, Malama Na `Apana (a non-profit organization committed to preserving, sustaining and restoring Kauai's coral reefs) reports that up to 32% of coral reefs may be destroyed by human activities in the next 30 years if action is not taken now.
Malama Na `Apana offers these 5 tips to keep in mind so you can help protect and conserve coral reefs on Kaua`i and around the world:
1. When diving or snorkeling near coral reefs, do NOT touch, stand or walk on, kick, or collect coral. Make sure none of your equipment bumps into the coral.
2. If you operate a boat, navigate carefully to avoid contact with coral reefs, never drop anchor onto a reef, and never dump trash or sewage into the water.
3. Don't purchase items made from coral or other threatened marine life. Avoid coral jewelry or other marine souvenirs unless you are certain that they were farmed or produced in aquaculture operations.
4. If you own a tropical aquarium, request that your aquarium store purchase only fish that have been certified "cyanide free." Don't purchase coral pieces or "live rock" for your tank unless there is proof they were not removed from the wild.
5. Volunteer to clean up beaches and, if possible, coral reefs. Join a Coral Reef Preservation and Restoration Club like Kauai's Malama Na 'Apapa. You can find them online at http://kauaicoral.com.