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TROPICAL CORAL REEFS

SUBSTRATE:  Limestone base created by skeletal deposits of dead corals and coralline algae.

TOPOGRAPHY:   Bank-reefsthree-dimensional, forest-like structures on continental margin seaward of larger islands of the Florida Keys; patch reefssmaller, roughly circular structures in waters less than 10 meters deep.

VEGETATION / ALGAE:  Microscopic algae live symbiotically in outer parts of coral polyps (i.e., coral bodies); calcareous algae also live among the corals and secrete thin layers of limestone; reefs are often closely associated with adjacent sea grass beds.

FAUNA:  Over 60 species and subspecies of corals and algae; hundreds of fish and invertebrate species; numerous species of commercial  and recreational value, including spiny lobster, grouper, snapper, parrotfish, and butterfly fish.  Many reef species have specialized food requirements, narrow niches, and complex life cycles.

PROCESSES / DYNAMICS / ABIOTIC FACTORS:  Highly transparent, warm, relatively nutrient-poor waters are favorable; terrestrial vegetation, including mangroves along shoreline, filters sediments, organic debris, and nutrients.

HUMAN IMPACTS:  Nutrient pollution is a serious problem, as are impacts from hurricanes, ship groundings, certain fishing practices, and excessive recreational use; as long as nutrient levels remain favorable, communities may have the potential to recover.

ANIMALS AND PLANTS NATIVE TO ECOSYSTEM: List of selectable animals and plants native to the Coral Reefs ecosystem, with detailed descriptions and pictures on each.