By Michael King(auth.)

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13. 7 Types of coral reefs There are three basic types of coral reefs – fringing reefs, barrier reefs and atolls. The subsidence theory proposed by Charles Darwin after his voyage on the Beagle describes the formation of atolls by the gradual sinking of a newly-formed volcanic island. As long as the newly-formed island is in tropical waters and accessible to drifting coral larvae, it would soon acquire a fringing reef of coral. As the island slowly sinks, the reef front of the fringing reef around the island will grow upwards to form a barrier reef with a lagoon between the reef 25 and the island.

The hard or stony corals of the order Sceleractinia with their skeletons of calcium carbonate are the main contributors to the building of a coral reef, but other organisms including hydrozoan corals and calcareous algae also contribute to the reef mass. Coral reefs are among the world’s largest natural structures, and are built by the collective efforts of polyps that are generally less than 3 mm in diameter (Fig. 10). Each polyp has a cylindrical body with an upper opening that functions as both mouth and anus.

There is controversy over what causes the destructive plagues of crownof-thorns which have destroyed reefs at rates of 5 km a month. Perhaps there are natural fluctuations in population sizes, or perhaps surges in their numbers have been caused by pollution 27 from nearby coastal areas. The overcollecting of some of their molluscan predators, such as the large trumpet triton, Charonia tritonis, has also been blamed (see Fig. 5 in Chapter 2). Corals in many areas have been affected by bleaching, a condition in which the corals’ zooxanthellae are lost due to stress.

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