Deemed the best year-round diving destination in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is on the bucket list of many. The ocean currents breathe life into the reefs of the Maldives, one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems and are responsible for fantastic diving in this unique part of the world.
How did the coral reefs of the Maldives form?
It is believed that atolls begin as fringing reefs surrounding a volcanic island. Through the process of global warming, glacial melting and island subsidence, the level of sea gradually rises and because reef-building coral can’t grow at greater depths with insufficient sunlight, they will begin constructing their protective calcium carbonate skeletons on top of one another, at a rate fast enough to keep up with with the rising sea level. The corals will continue to push upward and outward well after the volcanic island is completely submerged.
The Maldives is part of a massive underwater mountain range with vivid corals around the rims of these ancient volcanoes. Their growth has also been influenced by the monsoonal currents that flow across the archipelago. The atolls act as a barrier to these currents and cause currents to create upwelling, bringing nutrient rich water to the surface, triggering productivity bloom and feeding frenzy.
What is coral?
Coral polyps are are invertebrates, tiny soft-bodied organisms, related to anemones and jellyfish. At their base is a hard, protective limestone skeleton which forms the structure of the coral reef. Polyps are in fact translucent animals, so you’d ask yourself where reefs get their wild hues from. Corals live in symbiosis with an algae which gives off oxygen and other nutrients in return for carbon dioxide and other substances. Because the algae needs sunlight for photosynthesis, corals need shallow clear water, and they feel best at warm temperatures with constant water movement that brings sufficient plankton which corals can capture with their tentacles.
How are coral reefs made?
Hard corals use calcium from seawater to create a protective skeleton. As most corals live in colonies, millions of tiny polyps forming large carbonate structures, are what makes a coral reef. This, together with millions of other species, is the only living structure visible from space.
Why are coral reefs important?
Coral reefs cover less than one tenth of a percent of the sea bottom, yet are vital because they are nursery ground to 25 percent of all known marine species. They act as barriers, protecting islands and coastal communities from storms, wave damage and erosion, they also attract tourists which boosts local economies (global manta ray tourism alone is estimated to be worth $140 million each year, according to a recent study by Mary O’Malley and Katie Lee-Brooks of Manta Trust).