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Coral reefs are one of the oldest types of living systems on earth and certainly one of the most spectacular They are massive underwater structures formed by the limestone skeletons of tiny invertebrate animals Reefs house a greater diversity of body forms chemistry and animal phyla thirty-two compared to the eight that inhabit the most biodiverse ecosystems on land Phyla comprise the second largest category of living things after kingdoms Coral animals begin life as free-floating larvae but settle on the sea floor in sedentary colonies The term coral applies both to these animals and to their skeletons particularly the skeletons of stone-like corals Many different organisms including molluscs sponges and worms help shape reefs but hard corals and various algae are the major architects In effect the corals build limestone because their skeletons are made of Calcium Carbonate The skeletons deposited by these corals and other organisms accumulate along with sand and other debris to form the backbone of the reef Over tens of thousands of years chemical and mechanical changes turn the reef into true rock The body of a coral animal consists of a polyp which is the living portion of the coral A polyp is a hollow cylindrical structure attached at one end to a surface the other end is a mouth surrounded by tentacles which gather food and can sting prey to paralyse it Polyps live in colonies which grow from 1 to 7 inches depending on the species Coral polyps are classified as animals Microscopic algae live within the animal tissues in a symbiotic relationship The algae turn sunlight into carbon and sugars which are then available to the polyp In turn the polyp filters particles out of the water and excretes waste nitrogen and phosphorus that becomes available to the symbiotic algae Its this very tight nutrient recycling within the coral itself that allows these corals to live in very low-nutrient waters There are three
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