Although coral reefs occupy less than 0.1 percent of the planet’s oceans, they support up to 25 percent of the world’s marine species. They have rightfully earned their nickname, ‘Rainforests of the Sea.’ Coral is not a plant, but part animal and part mineral, a marine invertebrate that secretes calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton. They grow in colonies, usually in warm, shallow waters, and form vast colonies that we see as reefs, providing the basic platform for marine life to flourish around them. They even provide benefits to land, protecting shorelines from the forces of the ocean.
Unfortunately, coral reefs are under immense environmental pressure due to pollution, overfishing, and particularly from changing ocean temperatures. A warming ocean and acidification due to increased carbon dioxide have resulted in coral bleaching—when under stress, corals lose their colour. The yellow whip and red gorgonian you see here are what healthy coral look like, but vibrant, hearty coral are swiftly becoming the exception rather than the rule. Recently, even the previously robust and thriving Marovo Lagoon began showing signs of bleaching, a sobering reminder that the beauty we see here is fragile and becoming more precious.