Underseascapes - Coral Reefs of Mexico, November 2009

by Steve Dramstad, AKA  Xcalaksteve

One of the biggest reasons people travel to the Riviera Maya is to dive or snorkel on the beautiful reefs. Coral reefs have the largest diversity and quantity of life then any other environment on earth.

When you swim along the reef you will see more life then anywhere on earth. But what is a coral reef? What is coral?

There are many different types of coral on the reef. Some are hard and boulder like. Others are flexible and move back and forth with the waves. What they do have in common is that each coral head is made up of thousands of individual animals called coral polyps. The coral polyps deposit calcium on the reef as they grow and over many generations build immense reefs. To put this in perspective, the entire Yucatan peninsula was once a coral reef. It was built by animals that in many cases are no more then half an inch wide.

These are individual coral polyps on the end of a soft coral branch. They eat plankton that they filter out of the water with the little arms that you see above. Now most corals only feed at night so the next time you do a night dive or snorkel take a close look at the coral heads.

These are the coral polyps of a large boulder coral with their arms pulled in. The small green spots in the centers are their mouths. Now while these animals are capable of building continents they are also very delicate. There is a thin coating over them that protects them from infection. If you touch them with your hands or scrape them with your fins you tear off that coating and the polyps die. Never touch, hit or stand on the coral. You will be killing a beautiful and wonderful part of the world.

Next time you hit the water, donít just swim by them, take a close look at the coral and discover these fascinating creatures yourself.

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