Natural coral reefs are composed of thin, stacked layers of limestone, built up over time from the secretions of hundreds of tiny, aquatic animals called coral polyps. When man-made materials are left on a shallow ocean floor, a colony of coral may settle in and begin depositing calcium carbonate secretions around the existing structure. As the secretions crystallize into limestone, a new artificial reef is formed.
The rocky ridges of every reef, both natural and artificial, create a unique aquatic ecosystem that is home to a wide variety of fish, invertebrates and plants.
Elements of an Ecosystem
Within every ecosystem there are both living and nonliving components. The word biotic, made up of the prefix “bio-” meaning “life” and the suffix “-ic” meaning “like,” describes the living elements within an ecosystem. Abiotic, with the added prefix “a-,” meaning “not,” describes the nonliving elements within an ecosystem.
Biotic and Abiotic Characteristics
The abiotic characteristics of a reef might include the following: temperature of the water, pH of the water, sunlight reaching the coral, salinity of the water, minerals dissolved in the water, wave action, wind and weather.
The biotic characteristics of a reef would include all life forms living on or near the reef. This would include: the coral polyps that create the reef; populations of echinoderms such as starfish, sea urchins and sand dollars; populations of benthic crustaceans like shrimp, mussels and barnacles; bacteria; plankton; fish; plants and algae such as seaweed.
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