There are thousands of species of marine animals that inhabit a coral reef. The actual reef is made up of millions of colonies of animals called polyps. Scientists estimate that the reefs only grow an inch a year, which indicates some reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, has been around for millions of years.
A reef is a popular home for many animals because of the three communities that make up the ecosystem of a reef. The reef its self is used for protection for many small animals seeking shelter and protection from larger predators as well as a food source as stated above the reef is actually made up of living breathing animals called polyps.
The second part of the reef is made up of seagrass beds, which provide yet another hiding spot and a safe place for new marine life to enter the world without to much treat of becoming a meal before the animals are old enough to forge out of the nest on their own.
The third part of the reef is known as the mangroves, which is a collection of shrubs, trees and other plant life that help filter out the trash that often finds its way into the ocean that can destroy a coral reef and the marine life that lives in the reefs. It also provides a food source for the herbivore marine life that lives near the reefs.
~ Reef Polyps ~
The coral reef, which is actually made up of two types of animals called polyps; soft body and hard body they, come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors, which is what makes the reef so beautiful.
The soft body polyp grows to one quarter of an inch to half an inch long. It has eight tentacles, which it uses to catch its food.
The hard body polyp grows to an estimated size of half an inch to an inch in length its body is made of calcium carbonate. It has six poisonous tentacles it uses to catch the same zoo-plankton it feeds on. When the hard body polyp dies is sheds its shell and a new polyp grown on top of it.
~ Small Marine Inhabitants ~
A few thousand different species of smaller marine animals inhabit the reefs as well. Crustaceans such as lobster shrimp and crabs. 58,000 different specifies of mollusks such as snails, sea slugs, calms and chitons. Jellyfish, puffer fish, clown fish, starfish, sea anemones and seahorse are just a few of the beautiful and unique smaller marine life that call the reef home.
~ Large Marine Inhabitants ~
The coral reefs are home to many large marine animals. The sand tiger shark, lemon shark and nurse shark all inhabit the reefs as well as bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles Leatherback, Loggerhead and the Green (common) turtle, which are all on the endangered species list. Sea Snakes such as the Olive sea snake also live in the reefs. Eels, octopuses and squid are also a resident of the reef. These are just a few of the larger marine animals that inhabit the reefs.
~ Visitors ~
The reefs also have a large number of visitors. With humans being at the top of the visitors list. Whales of all sizes, sharks including the Great White will pass by looking for a quick and easy meal. Numerous species of birds are attracted to the reefs bright colors. While it is not uncommon to come across an animal that is not known to frequent the reef almost all-marine life has visited the coral reefs at one time or another.
Some of the oceans reefs are millions of years old and the animals that inhabitant them are numerous, even if they are just passing by. The reefs play an essential role to maintaining the well-being and sustaining the life force of thousands of marine dwelling animals.