You may have heard the phrase “coral reef” or seen underwater images or videos that take your breath away. But what are coral reefs and why should you really care? Corals are colonial animals that are made up of numerous tiny animals called polyps. Polyps are related to anemones and jellyfish and have a sac-like body and an opening, or mouth, encircled by stinging tentacles. These polyps deposit a hard stony skeleton made from calcium carbonate (like limestone) which builds up over millions of years and creates the 3-D structure that we call coral reefs. Coral reefs are only found in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world, such as the Caribbean, and are often described as "the rainforest of the sea" because they support a vast diversity of plants and animal species, including 400 species of fish. Although coral reefs only occupy 1% of the Earth's surface, they contain 25% of the marine fish species found in the ocean.
A healthy coral reef ecosystem
The coral reef employs individuals in a wide variety of economic activities, mainly in the tourism and fishing industry. The tourism industry provides jobs for persons in hotels, water sports, boating, sport fishing, diving, and other coastal attractions and contributes significantly to the economies of many countries such as Jamaica. Fishing is also an important economic activity for many people living along the coast.