5 Funtastic Coral facts

5 Funtastic Coral facts

The Wonders of Coral Reefs: Unveiling 5 Fascinating Facts

Coral reefs, often considered the vibrant metropolises of the ocean, are teeming with life and captivating beauty. Beyond their picturesque appearance lies a world of fascinating facts that make these underwater ecosystems truly exceptional. In this article, we will delve into five funtastic facts about coral reefs, shedding light on their crucial roles, incredible biodiversity, and the captivating dynamics of these marine wonderlands.

Coral in Costa rica

Fact 1: Coral Reefs - Not Just Pretty Faces

Contrary to popular belief, coral reefs are not static structures; they are dynamic, living organisms. Unlike plants, these underwater wonders don’t whip up their own meals through photosynthesis. Instead, they are composed of colonies of tiny organisms known as polyps. These polyps, akin to microscopic powerhouses, collaborate to build the intricate structures that we recognize as coral reefs.

Imagine a bustling neighborhood, where a quarter of all marine species convene for the ultimate underwater block party. Coral reefs serve as the epicenter of this marine fiesta, providing a habitat for an astonishing array of fish, invertebrates, and other marine creatures. Every nook and cranny of the reef becomes a hotspot for oceanic diversity, creating an underwater realm that rivals any terrestrial ecosystem in its complexity and interdependence.

Fact 2: Aquatic Custodians of Cleanliness

Beyond their role as marine meeting grounds, coral reefs play a crucial role as nature’s underwater janitors. These aquatic custodians filter and purify their watery homes with an efficiency that surpasses any oceanic mop and bucket. Through a process known as nutrient cycling, coral reefs remove excess nutrients from the water, preventing algal overgrowth and maintaining a delicate balance in the ecosystem.

Picture the reefs as diligent cleaners, tirelessly working to ensure the health and vitality of their surroundings. As they filter the water, coral reefs contribute to maintaining the pristine conditions that support the incredible biodiversity thriving within their structures. Let’s take a moment to applaud these unsung heroes of the ocean – the coral reefs, the true custodians of cleanliness beneath the waves.

Pavona gigantea - Corals of Costa Rica

Fact 3: Sun-Seeking Beach Bums of the Sea

Coral reefs, much like sunbathers on a tropical beach, require sunlight to grow and thrive. These marine ecosystems depend on sunlight for a process called photosynthesis, which takes place within the symbiotic relationship between the coral polyps and microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. The coral provides a safe haven for the algae, and in return, the algae supply the coral with essential nutrients.

However, just like humans, coral reefs can suffer from too much heat. Excessive heat, often caused by rising sea temperatures due to climate change, can lead to a phenomenon known as coral bleaching. This is analogous to the ocean’s version of a sunburn, where the coral expels the algae, resulting in a loss of color and vitality. To ensure the well-being of these underwater ecosystems, it is crucial to keep coral reefs within the optimal temperature zone, allowing them to continue groovin’ and thriving in their watery abode.

Fact 4: Shore Defenders and Wave Tamers

Coral reefs hold the prestigious title of VIPs (Very Important Protectors) along coastlines, as they play a vital role in reducing coastal wave energy. Studies have shown that coral reefs can slash coastal wave energy by an impressive 97%. Acting as nature’s breakwaters, these underwater structures provide a formidable defense against the erosive forces of waves and storms.

The intricate architecture of coral reefs acts as a natural barrier, dissipating the energy of incoming waves and protecting coastal areas from erosion and damage. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, coral reefs serve as the ultimate shore defenders, making waves and keeping it cool along the coastlines they inhabit.

coral in Costa Rica

Fact 5: Vulnerability and Conservation

Despite their resilience, coral reefs face numerous threats that jeopardize their existence. Human activities such as overfishing, pollution, and climate change pose significant risks to these delicate ecosystems. Rising sea temperatures, in particular, contribute to coral bleaching and the deterioration of reef health.

Conservation efforts are critical to preserving the biodiversity and ecological functions of coral reefs. Initiatives like marine protected areas, sustainable fishing practices, and global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions play pivotal roles in safeguarding these underwater marvels. As stewards of the planet, it is our responsibility to take proactive measures to protect and conserve coral reefs for future generations.

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About the Author

Vera Mkhsian is an 18 year old Intern from Los Angeles, California. She is currently a Anthropology student studying to be an Archeologist with a focus in Marine development. A future archaeologist set on diving deep into the ocean’s secrets, Vera dreams of merging the worlds of archaeology and marine biology. Vera actively looks for opportunities to work with scientists to untangle the intertwined tales of human history and ocean life, as she is eager to bridge the gap between archaeology and marine biology.

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My Experience as a Marine Conservation Intern

My Experience as a Marine Conservation Intern

My Experience as a Marine Conservation Intern

social media intern

Hi I’m Mary, I’m 24 years old and I came over from South Australia after finishing a bachelor of science degree majoring in ecotourism.

I joined the coral reef restoration internship for four weeks because I was interested to learn more about restoration ecology and particularly how volunteer tourism can be employed to enhance restoration and conservation of the marine environment.

I also wanted to gain experience scuba diving and decided this internship would be a perfect fit for me given my previous experience and time availability as it provided good balance between learning more about diving and learning about the ecology of the reef and science behind restoration. 

What I did...

During my time with MCCR I learned about coral reef ecology and survey techniques, reef restoration, octopus awareness, nudibranch ecology, sponge ecology and fish identification, completing 4 PADI specialty courses.

From the first day Kat was incredibly welcoming and reassured me they could be flexible in adjusting to my schedule and interests to ensure I was getting the most out of my experience. The academics of the internship were taught by herself and Clem, both of whom have a lot of knowledge and experience in the field and the classes were delivered as more of an open discussion than a standard lecture.

Final Thoughts

Generally on the weekdays I would spend half a day diving and working through skills taught in class, the other half of the day was either spent working through the academics or I had free to explore the area or attend Spanish classes in Quepos.

I am very grateful for the time I spent with MCCR, I achieved the goals I set out with and now feel much more confident with my skills as a diver than I did before coming here.

I look forward to seeing their future projects and ongoing efforts to promote marine conservation!

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Investigation of Rusty Guard Crabs on Pocillopora in Costa Rica

Investigation of Rusty Guard Crabs on Pocillopora in Costa Rica

Rusty Guard Crabs sheltered in a Pocillopora Coral

One of our recent interns, Andre Wax, completed and presented a research study on a topic of his choosing! Read about Andre’s work below.

Trapezia Bidentata, also known as the Rusty Guard Crab, are the local species of guard crabs found on Pocillopora corals near Quepos – Manuel Antonio region of the Eastern Tropical Pacific in Costa Rica. They are a species of smaller guard crab, maxing out at around 2.5 cm in length, and provide protection against smaller corallivores. The Pocillopora corals that they inhabit are species of branching corals, which provide shelter for the guard crabs. T. Bidentata will also stimulate the coral to release mucus by massaging the coral with their legs and collect the mucus the coral excretes and will consume this as their food source.

 This study aims to discover if there is a relationship between the health of Pocillopora corals in the Quepos – Manuel Antonio area and the number of Trapezia Bidentata crabs found living in the coral. A null and alternative hypothesis were generated, where the null stated that there would be no relationship found while the alternative hypothesis stated that the number of T. Bidentata crabs found on the corals would depend on the health of the coral. If the alternative was true, it could be found that on healthier corals there are more guard crabs. Furthermore, larger corals likely have more crabs due to there being more space available.  

Initial findings

The depth, length, number of T. Bidentata present, and coral health were recorded. Coral health was recorded using a scale from zero to four, representing dead and healthy respectively. Initially, depth was compared with the number of crabs and the length of the coral, and no correlation was found (Figure 1.1 and 1.2).

Depth in feet against the Number of Crabs found at each depth
Depth against the Length of Coral found at each depth

 When coral length and number of crabs were compared with each other a strong correlation was found. The trendline generated from this data allowed for the data to be analyzed for the corals that had more crabs than expected (data points above the trendline) and corals that had less crabs than expected (data points below the trendline).  Samples that had more crabs than expected had health ratings of 3.5 or 4 most frequently, with a few data points with a health rating of 3 and only one data point that was below a health rating of 3 (see figure 1.3). 

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Number of crabs against the length of the coral in centimetres

 When coral length and number of crabs were compared with each other a strong correlation was found. The trendline generated from this data allowed for the data to be analyzed for the corals that had more crabs than expected (data points above the trendline) and corals that had less crabs than expected (data points below the trendline).  Samples that had more crabs than expected had health ratings of 3.5 or 4 most frequently, with a few data points with a health rating of 3 and only one data point that was below a health rating of 3 (see figure 1.3). Corals with less crabs than expected were generally corals that we unhealthy.  When the frequency of finding different numbers of crabs on the corals was compared, it was revealed that as the corals get healthier, crabs would be found in higher numbers more often than compared to the corals that are unhealthy, and high numbers of crabs are only found on corals that are the healthiest (see figure 2.1).

Frequency of number of crabs with a health rating between 0 and 0.5

Finally, based analysis of the data, the corals were separated into two categories, healthy corals (3-4 health rating), and unhealthy corals (0-2.5). Box and whisker plots were utilized to remove outliers and ensure normal distribution before conducting a two-variable t-test assuming unequal variances (see figure 3.1 and 3.2). This test was selected due to the possibility of unequal standard deviation among data sets and due to the large sample size. Using α = 0.05, the two hypotheses were H0 (T. Bidentata number is different when comparing health of Pocillopora corals): p ≥ 0.05 and HA (T. Bidentata number is different when comparing health of Pocillopora corals): p<0.05. When conducted, a p-value of  4.175*10-8 was obtained. 4.175*10-8 < α = 0.05 so the null hypothesis is rejected.  



Distribution of the number of T.Bidentata Crabs
Distribution of the number of T.Bidentata crabs excluding outliers

Analysis of the data reveals that T. Bidentata were found in larger quantities on the healthier corals. The coral length vs. crab number data reveals that very few unhealthy corals can have more crabs than expected, and this is supported by the t-test which resulted in an incredibly low p-value, suggesting a very strong significant difference between the number of T. Bidentata on healthy vs. unhealthy corals.

One possible reason for this could be that unhealthy corals are unable to sustain higher numbers of T. Bidentata. Since dead coral could not be able to produce mucus for the guard crabs to feed on, it would not be possible for guard crabs to survive on the coral. 

 

The feeding strategy of crabs could also better prepare the immune system of the corals for future stressors. When corals release mucus, it is part of their immune response to stressors in their environment.

Rusty Guard Crabs on Outplanted Coral

There are several reasons that this could be occurring. Since guard crabs feed on the mucus from the corals, unhealthy corals would supply guard crabs with less food so a lower number of guard crabs would be found. Another possibility is that a higher number of crabs would allow the coral to be more resistant to stressors in the environment. Corals with higher numbers of crabs would have more crabs to protect against corallivores. This would keep the corals healthier because predator attacks would be less successful in consuming the coral. The feeding strategy of Trapezia crabs could also keep corals healthier. When they feed, they stimulate the immune response of corals causing them to release mucus. Keeping the immune response stimulated could keep the coral more prepared for stressors that would cause this immune response. 

Guard crabs such as T. Bidentata can be used in the future as an effective indicator species. Due to the strong relationship the number of guard crabs found on Pocillopora corals can be used to quantify the health of the corals. The benefits that this can provide is another way to determine coral health besides visual examination. 

When fragmenting corals, it is important to ensure that guard crabs can remain on the corals. Guard crabs need to be on corals to survive, so if they are removed from corals during the fragmenting process, it is essential to reattach them to a fragment and attempt to keep the crabs on the fragments through the out-planting process. When fragmenting, cutting slowly allows the crabs time to move out of the way of the blade.



Guard Crabs found during the fragmenting process

Trapezia Bidentata crabs play an important role in the reefs in the Quepos – Manuel Antonio area. With invasive species such as the Crown of Thorns seastar entering Costa Rica, the protection guard crabs provide is going to be essential in ensuring the survival of the reefs. Further research on this subject could include examining the coral health and guard crabs in a controlled setting, examining the size and number of crabs found depending on the shape and structure of corals, and comparing the health of corals and the number of guard crabs in coral nurseries. 



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Behind the Scenes with our Marine Biology Interns

Behind the Scenes with our Marine Biology Interns

Here at Marine Conservation Costa Rica, we have a number of opportunities available for those looking to make a difference to Marine wildlife. Hear about the experiences of two of our previous interns, Andre and Mary-Grace below.

What is the sea life like?

Andre

It’s a lot of fish. The visibility is not that good, so it is hard to see other animals. A lot of damsels farm and eat algae and surgeonfish. Occasionally you’ll see octopus, sharks and turtles but it is much rarer than the other common reef fish.

Mary-Grace

At Quepos it is very interesting. The diving is amazing and there are more surges, which makes it harder to dive. I feel like this makes you a more experienced diver because it is a challenge. In Caño the water is much more still and calm.

How would you describe the variety of sea life? Do they seem healthy and diverse?

Andre

The sea life is very diverse with a lot of different types of fish!

Mary-Grace

The animals here are quite diverse, we have seen a bunch of different fish like the butterfly fish and sergeant majors, sea slugs, and some crabs on the nursery corals.

How would you describe the Coral you see?

Andre

There is not a lot of reef building coral so generally, it’s pretty sparse. We see some of the branching coral and some of the bouldering coral which are big and look like boulders.

Mary-Grace

We have two types of corals: the branching and boulder corals. The branching coral grows like a tree, and the boulder coral grows on the ground.

Do you encounter Coral bleaching more than healthy reefs?

Andre

You definitely see a lot of both. At Caño Island there is definitely a lot of bleached coral but here in Quepos there is less bleached coral. A lot of the coral is fairly young, but you see a fair share of both.

Mary-Grace

Here in Quepos, we have some coral bleaching and coral disease, but we can’t tell which it is without doing research on it. We definitely do see coral bleaching, more at Caño Island than here in Quepos.

As a diver do you practice a marine conservation lifestyle? If so, what does this look like for you?

Andre

Yes, mostly using reusable plastics and bottles. I would also say making conscious choices of where you are throwing things away, so pollutants don’t end up in the ocean.

Mary-Grace

Personally, I try to be conservative about what I use such as avoiding single-use plastics. If I do I try to reuse them as much as possible. I will keep my trash collected until I am near a trash can to avoid it getting to the ocean.

Describe the process of new Coral colonies being planted.

Andre

I haven’t done much with the coral because I am with the marine conservation side but most of the coral are very small.

Mary-Grace

In the restoration program we find coral of opportunity which is coral floating around, and not breaking off coral from a healthy reef. From there we pull it out and fragment it (cut it a little) to help the growth accelerate. We let them grow in the nursery for a few months before planting them back onto the larger coral structure.

Describe the process of new Coral colonies being planted.

Andre

I haven’t done much with the coral because I am with the marine conservation side but most of the coral are very small.

Mary-Grace

In the restoration program we find coral of opportunity which is coral floating around, and not breaking off coral from a healthy reef. From there we pull it out and fragment it (cut it a little) to help the growth accelerate. We let them grow in the nursery for a few months before planting them back onto the larger coral structure.

What inspired you to be a diver?

Andre

I have always really liked the ocean since I was a kid so it is my plan to enter marine biology. Diving is very helpful for researching the ocean and its’ biology and is a big interest of mine.

Mary-Grace

For me, I have wanted to dive since I was young. I did a discovery course and realized I was too scared. With it being on my mind this past year, I finally decided to face my fears and did it. I quickly realized there was nothing to be scared of at all.

What inspired you to take action with Marine conservation?

Andre

I care about conservation in general, but diving is a part of it. Being out in nature and the environment is important because we as humans are a part of nature. It’s important because without it we would die too.

Mary-Grace

When I was little, my sister showed me the movie Blue Ocean and it showed me that our oceans need help with restoration. Corals are extremely important for the health of our oceans and that is why I want to take action and help build a healthy ocean.

Has anything surprised you?

Andre

The visibility was a little surprising at first. I’m always surprised when I see a lot of garbage at the dive sites. A lot of plastics are seen.

Mary-Grace

Yes, when diving in Quepos I was expecting a coral reef with lots of animals and abundant life. Instead, I saw a lot of emptiness which I wasn’t expecting. I was expecting more Great Barrier Reef style but that just isn’t the reality for most coral reefs.

During your time here, what was your most memorable experience?

Andre

Last week we saw a turtle that was swimming around us and as I swam back to my group it started chasing me out of its territory, so that was pretty cool.

Mary-Grace

My most memorable experience was last week when I found my first nudibranch. They’re barely an inch big and very hard to find. I was super excited to find my first one.

Like what you hear and Interested in taking part yourself? Just click the button below to read more about the Internships available to you!

My Experience as an Environmental Education Intern

My Experience as an Environmental Education Intern

My Environmental Education Experience 

 

social media intern

One of our recent interns, Joe came and joined us for a month, assisting with our environmental education program. This is about his experience with us. 

In my time working with Marine Conservation Costa Rica (MCCR) I have experienced growth and bonding, and learned exceedingly. Working in the Environmental Education internship, I have helped to organize lessons, learn new teaching skills, and about the importance and intricacies of conservation. Not to mention, I have hugely improved on my Spanish.

 I had the unique opportunity to go into a primary school and teach in Spanish about marine conservation. While this sounded daunting to me at first, the experience was invaluable. Teaching gave me confidence and a better understanding of how to help people learn in a productive and educational way. It was great because not only was I teaching others, but I was also learning too. I went from knowing limited Spanish to far more competent very quickly and felt comfortable speaking, answering and understanding Spanish. I was also helped every step of the way by the fantastic team at MCCR who allowed me to feel optimistic in the face of a big task. 

First things first…

First, my teaching at the school consisted of prep work. I created a powerpoint in English then in Spanish about my chosen topic for the children. After creating the powerpoint and speaker notes, I went over them a few times with the team to make sure I felt comfortable with the pronunciation and was ready to speak it to the kids. Jointly, I worked to prepare an activity for the children, to create a more fun and interactive setting. Finally, I was ready.

I went in and was greeted by the staff and set up my presentation. Once I was up there, all of my nerves suddenly vanished and my head cleared, I was prepared and excited now. I thoroughly enjoyed doing my presentation and was able to answer and understand the kids’ questions, which was neat. I proceeded smoothly to the activity in which we helped the kids paint their own sharks and then play a game using the sharks they had made. 

An enjoyable experience

The children seemed to really enjoy the whole day which made it even more of a fulfilling experience. I also had the fantastic opportunity to help teach about coral conservation and fragmentation to an older group of teenagers at the event. This involved speaking to multiple different groups about the complexities of coral reefs and helping with hands-on activities on fragmenting coral to help replant the reefs. This not only granted further confidence but really helped to teach me about the work people do for conservation, the importance of it and the intricacies of the marine fauna we are trying to protect. On top of all of this, there are other activities all interns and supporters can participate in.

MCCR often organizes group activities that provide unforgettable experiences, such as a trip to the mangroves to see crocodiles. The fantastic team, other interns and general positive and friendly people around it all means super fun group trips to beautiful waterfalls, beaches or other fun activities such as football are a commonplace to why I always felt involved and like my time was being spent well, making the most, of the beautiful country of Costa Rica and Quepos. 

Want to get involved ?

With all of the projects we work hard on throughout the year, we are always looking for help. You can get involved with one of our internship or volunteer programs.

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