But what exactly are coral reef ecosystems and why should you check them out?
Coral reefs are large underwater ecosystems that have been formed over hundreds of years by invertebrates called coral polyps! These coral polyps come in all shapes, colors, and sizes but they join in colonies to form the iconic reefs you might recognize; they are living animals but when they pass away their exoskeletons form stony limestone support for the coral formation which is how they grow over centuries!
They are often called the ‘rainforests of the sea’ because although they only occupy 1% of the ocean floor, they are a crucial habitat for about 25% of all ocean species! Coral reefs are home to thousands of different plants and animal species! To learn more about our coral reefs, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s informational page!
The Florida Reef Tract is the only coral reef ecosystem in the continental United States and is divided into the Inner Reef, which is 20-30 feet deep, the Middle Reef, which is 40-60 feet deep, and the Outer Reef, which is 50-100 feet deep! When diving our reefs you can expect to see colorful parrot fish, angelfish, barracuda, nurse sharks, stingrays, delicate corals, turtles, and more!