LIFE IN THE OCEAN: CORAL REEF
" Do not the disbelievers
see that the heavens and the earth were joined together then we split
them asunder, and we created from water every living thing, do they not
" Out of them come pearls and coral. Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?" <Qur'an-Rahman 55:22-23>
"It is He who created from
water a human...."
The world of the coral reef is one of the most diverse ecosystems on our planet. The sheer number of life forms in this environment rivals even that of the tropical rain forests. Built over thousands of years by tiny calcium-producing organisms, the reefs are a haven for countless thousands of life forms, some of which seem totally alien in form. It is a fairy tale world of bright colors and ever changing patterns. Only on the reef can one find living examples from nearly every group of organisms representing a billion years of evolution. Some of the oldest reefs today began growing over 25 million years ago. We have spent less time and money exploring the worlds oceans than we have the surface of the moon. It is a world of never ending wonders. But it is also an extremely fragile environment, and it is in very real danger of disappearing forever. Mankind's ignorance and carelessness is beginning to have a noticeable impact on the world's reefs. From the Florida Keys to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the damage is becoming apparent. If we wish to share this wonderful sea with our children, we must take steps to conserve it, and the first step to saving our reefs is education.
Miles below the ocean surface life exists in some of the most fascinating habitats on Earth. Here, where sunlight never reaches, whole ecosystems flourish around deep-sea hydrothermal vents, in a bizarre environment of superheated water and minerals.
In the deepest reaches of the ocean floor mountain ranges are constantly being created by hot magma forcing its way through the Earth's crust. Sometimes hydrothermal vents, known as "black smokers," occur along the underwater mountain ridges. Cold ocean water seeps down through cracks in the seafloor to hot spots underground. The water is superheated to several hundred degrees C and is spit back up through the hydrothermal vent in a mineral-rich broth of scalding fluid.
Until a little over 20 years ago no one knew that deep-sea hydrothermal vents even existed. The first one was discovered in 1977 east of the Galapagos Islands. Since then, dozens of vents have been discovered and explored along ridges in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Explorers were amazed to discover that active vents host both microbial organisms and more complex animal life, including tube worms, shrimp, clams, mussels and crabs.
There are no plants in the deep ocean, because sunlight cannot reach them. Without sunlight there is no photosynthesis, which the plants need to survive. And without plants to feed on, there can generally be no microbial or animal life. So the existence of life at these deep, dark vents was totally unexpected.
Scientists believe that most vent organisms can exist in their adult
form only near an active vent site. Individual vents stay active for anywhere
from a few decades to a few thousand years. When a vent shuts off, the
adult animals living there die. Yet as soon as a new vent emerges, it
is rapidly colonized. How the organisms move the long distances between
vents is a mystery that scientists are working to solve.