Corals in a strange place

Marine Biologist, Karina, snorkeling in the mangroves. Photo by John Finnerty.

The activities are as follows:

When you imagine a coral, you likely picture it living on a coral reef, bathed in sunlight, surrounded by crystal clear waters teeming with colorful fishes. But corals can actually live in a range of habitats, even habitats that are sometimes murky and much darker!

As marine biologists, Karina and John often snorkel around the mangroves in Belize, where they do their research. Mangroves are trees that have roots able to grow in saltwater. By capturing mud and sediment, these underwater roots build habitat for marine life. While Karina and John were documenting the different marine life that can grow on underwater roots, they noticed something shocking. The same corals that live on coral reefs were growing in the mangrove forests too! This surprised Karina and John because coral reefs and mangrove forests are very different habitats. Coral reefs have clear water and bright light, while mangrove forests are darker with murky water that has a lot of nutrients. How can corals live in such different places?

Karina and John started to wonder if the corals that live in the mangroves look different than the corals on the reefs. Sometimes animals can look different based on where they live. These differences may be adaptations that help them live in different environments. Karina and John measured differences between two different coral species that were found in both habitat types. The two species they used are the mounding mustard hill coral and the branching thin finger coral.   

Featured scientists: Karina Scavo Lord and John Finnerty from Boston University

Flesch–Kincaid Reading Grade Level = 8.9

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