Symbiosis Underwater-Corals

Symbiosis describes where two species live in close contact with one another, often resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship. The ocean is home to a huge array of fascinating symbiotic relationships and here on Koh Tao we can observe many examples when we go scuba diving. This is the first installment in a series exhibiting some of our favourite examples of symbiosis.

Part 1 will start at the very bottom and consider perhaps the most ubiquitous example of symbiosis in the ocean: the coral reef structure itself.

koh tao scuba diving

Anenome fish, koh tao diving

Corals

Coral is one of the oceans most fantastic wonders and is therefore one of the main reasons that many people decide to take up scuba diving and enroll in an Open Water Course. The optimal temperature for coral growth is between 23 and 29 °C.  Which makes the conditions here on Koh Tao perfect for scuba diving as the water is warm all year round. Many people widely believe that coral is just a rocky structure but actually it is an elaborate exoskeletal structure made by tiny animals called polyps. These animals are stationary in nature and although they can capture passing plankton to eat.  They mostly rely on the food produced for them by photosynthesizing algae called zooxanthellae growing in their tissues.

Just having a great time while scuba diving

Just seen that turtle during a try scuba dive?

This is often what gives the coral the vibrant colours displayed and it is the sickness of the polyps and subsequent loss of these algae that results in the detrimental effect known as ‘coral bleaching’. In return, the coral polyps provide the algae with a protected environment and the compounds that they need for photosynthesis.  The corals are turning carbon dioxide in the ocean into the oxygen that we need to breathe.  They are responsible for generating more than 50% of the oxygen in the world’s atmosphere.  Making this mutualistic symbiotic relationship one of the most important in the world!

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