Coral reefs are complex, multi-level structures consisting of limestone deposits left by living organisms. According to Coral Reef Alliance, coral reefs cover approximately 110,000 square miles worldwide. A coral reef biome is one of the most complex ecosystems in the world, consisting of thousands of different plant and animal species living on or around a coral reef. Plants in the coral reef biome are uniquely adapted for living in this delicate ecosystem.
Sea grasses are angiosperms or flowering plants that live in coastal marine waters. Types of sea grasses include turtle grass and manatee grass. Sea grasses are usually found in shallow water, although some exist at greater depths if the water is very clear. Sea grasses are very important in the coral reef biome. They provide habitats for many small fish and invertebrates and are the main source of food for sea turtles. Sea grasses grow in meadows or beds on the ocean floor and help keep water clear by stabilizing sediment. They bear seeds and fruit and have roots and stems. According to CRC Reef Research Centre (CRC), the largest diversity of sea grasses in the world exists in the waters surrounding Australia. CRC reports that more than two thirds of the approximate 60 species of sea grasses known worldwide are found in the waters surrounding the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland.
Marine algae are primitive plant forms found in salt waters around the world. On the coral reef, micro algae are present on the hard coral surfaces where other plant life cannot grow. Micro algae are tiny, single-cell species that form the basis of the food chain for many animals in the coral reef biome. Sometimes called seaweed, macro algae are large, multi-cellular plants that make up a smaller portion of the coral reef algae population.
Mangroves are shrub-like trees that are specially adapted for growing in salt waters where many plants cannot survive. While mangrove forests do not grow on the coral reef, they are often found in the shallow waters surrounding the shoreline near the coral reef. In addition to long roots that stabilize the plant in the mud, mangroves also grow aerial or air-breathing roots that extend above the surface of the water. In addition, the leaves of the mangrove are adapted to excrete salt. Mangrove forests help to build and stabilize tropical shorelines, while providing food and shelter for many species of fish and animals found in the coral reef biome.
Is Coral a Plant?
Coral is sometimes mistaken for a plant or rock. However, coral is actually composed of the skeletons of tiny marine invertebrates called coral polyps. While other animals and plants, such as red algae, contribute to the construction of a coral reef, coral polyps are the main coral reef builders.