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The Ecosystem of the Coral Reef

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The Ecosystem of the Coral Reef

Coral reefs are among the most diverse and productive communities on Earth. They are found in the warm, clear, shallow waters of tropical oceans worldwide. Reefs have functions ranging from providing food and shelter to fish and invertebrates, to protecting the shore from erosion.

Although many corals resemble plants, they are actually members of the animal phylum Cnidaria. Most corals are colonial, which means that each coral is made up of many individual polyps connected by living tissue (the coenosarc). Each polyp has a cup-like shape with a ring of tentacles around a central opening (pharynx) that functions as both mouth and anus. The tentacles are tipped with stinging cells called nematocysts. Corals use the nematocysts to defend themselves and to capture prey. The body wall consists of three cell layers: the outer or ectoderm, the middle or mesoderm, and the inner or endoderm. There is no skeleton inside the polyp itself. Instead, the polyps sit on top of an external skeleton that is made from the polyp's secretions.

One of the mo...
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