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Our Coral Reef Ecosystems

Coral reefs are a precious resource in the ocean because of their beauty and biodiversity.

Coral reefs also provide shelter for a wide variety of marine life, humans with recreation, a valuable resource of organisms for potential medicines, create sands for beaches, and serve as buffers for shorelines.

Coral reefs develop when by millions of coral polyps, small colonial animals resembling overturned jellyfish that use excess carbon dioxide in the water from the atmosphere and turn it into limestone at a satisfactory location.

Corals are animals that are relatives of jellyfish and anemones. Corals can exist as individuals or in colonies and communities.

Corals live in two groups: hard coral and soft coral. Hard corals, or stony corals, produce a rigid skeleton made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in crystal form called aragonite, with reef-building capabilities. Soft corals do not produce a rigid calcium carbonate skeleton and do not form reefs, though they may be present and provide beauty to a reef ecosystem.

Soft Coral

The soft corals are an order of corals that do not produce calcium carbonate skeletons and are not reef-building corals, so they do not lay new foundations for future corals. Soft corals contain minute, spine-like skeletal elements called sclerites. Sclerites give corals some support and produce a texture that deters predators.

Hard Coral

Scleractinia, or stony corals, are exclusively marine animals. Hard Corals are very similar to sea anemones but generate a hard skeleton. They are part of the framework of coral reefs formed by Scleractinia’s. Colonial corals are found in clear, shallow tropical waters and are the primary reef-builders. Solitary corals are found in all regions of the oceans and do not build reefs.

The Valuable and Threatened

Healthy coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse, culturally significant, and economically valuable ecosystems on Earth. They provide billions of dollars in food, jobs, recreational opportunities, coastal protection, and other important goods and services to people around the world.

Coral reefs face an increasing number of threats, including pollution, unsustainable fishing practices, and global climate change. According to the Word Resource Institute, more than 60 percent of the world’s reefs are under threat from local stressors, like fishing and land-based pollution. That number jumps to 75 percent when local threats to reefs are combined with the threat of thermal stress from a changing climate. As a result, in the U.S. 22 species of coral are now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“Planet Earth has five great oceans and 113 seas. They represent 72 percent of the surface of the globe, and together they've been an endless source of inspiration for humankind.”

The Imagination Reef project provides location opportunities for
In-situ management approaches in the development of whole ecosystems.
The reef is also in a Marine Protected Area.

The Imagination Reef Project, located in the Key Biscayne Special Management Zone, is under the control of the Department of Environmental Resources Management. Here, fishing gear is restricted, which evades potential impacts of unrestrained fishing pressure, while keeping most recreational uses of the site. The reef deployment location is 40 feet below the surface on a sandy bottom that is at the moment with no measurable seagrasses or fish habitats. This location represents favorable conditions to support our reef, as coral colonies usually only grow in shallow water, often no deeper than 150 feet. This occurs due to the algae that live in most coral polyps and are vital to corals life. Algae need sunlight to survive, so the corals do not grow in water deeper than sunlight can penetrate. The reef contains elevated structures for transplantation of hard or soft corals, which may enhance a faster coral growth. This is because coral recruitment increases significantly when in stable structures that are high enough to minimize burial or abrasion.

The size of the reef has an area footprint of 440.000 square feet of the ocean floor. Time has demonstrated that the permitted construction site can make a tremendous contribution to marine life development. 


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