The aquatic biome entails habitats dominated by water and is the largest of all the world’s biomes, occupying approximately three-quarters of the earth’s surface area. Usually, this biome is subdivided into two categories, namely freshwater and marine. This paper explores the marine biome, which is characterized by the presence of saltwater and comprises all the world’s oceans. Specifically, under the marine biome, the paper will focus on the coral reef ecosystem. Occupying less than 1% of the ocean floor, the coral reef ecosystem is home to more than 25% of the marine life (Brandl et al., 2019). The high biodiversity allows the coral reef to be relatively more resilient to changing conditions and, as such, can withstand significant disturbances.
In the coral reef ecosystem of the marine biome, corals are the keystone species. Each year corals grow few millimeters to several centimeters, depending on the species. Consequently, their calcium carbonate skeleton allows them to create intricate structures that serve as home to numerous fish and invertebrate species (Wilson et al., 2019). Besides providing shelter, corals also protect these organisms from predators; thus, keeping them from being smothered. The complexity of coral structures acts as mediators between predation and competition of the reef inhabitants. Corals are also the source of nitrogen and other essential nutrients for marine inhabitants (Brandl et al., 2019). Moreover, they help with carbon fixing, whereby the photosynthetic process of corals transforms inorganic carbon into organic carbon. Notably, corals release organic carbon into the surrounding water as dissolved organic matter, which acts as a food source for many reef organisms (Wilson et al., 2019). Thus, corals are essential to nutrients recycling in the coral reef ecosystem. All these functions render corals keystone to the health of coral reefs and the marine biome in general.
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An invasive species in the coral reef ecosystem is the lionfish. The lionfish is native to the Indo-Pacific waters but has a fast-growing population in the Atlantic Ocean in recent years. The large numbers of lionfish in the coral reef significantly threaten the ecosystem’s stability due to increased consumption and competition of native coral reef organisms (“Corals and Coral Reefs”, 2018). As the lionfish population grows increasingly, it puts considerable stress on the coral reef ecosystem by upsetting the ecological balance. Lionfish eat herbivores, which feed algae from coral reefs. The decline of herbivores in the coral reefs allows algal growth to go unchecked.
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This can be detrimental to the health of the coral reefs since some algae produce toxins that make aquatic organisms sick, while others can die off in large numbers and reduce the oxygen level in the water when they decompose. Governments across the Atlantic Ocean are taking various measures to address the lionfish invasion, including amending laws to make an exception for professional divers to hunt lionfish. Another initiative is the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROV) to electrocute the lionfish population (“Impacts of Invasive Lionfish”, 2020). Robots’ use seems like the most viable solution to mitigate the impact, considering that lionfish spread and reproduce at a rapid rate.
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An endangered species in the coral reef ecosystem is staghorn. This coral species is alarmingly declining due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, which has caused an increase in the water temperature. Greenhouse gas emissions have also resulted in ocean acidification; thus, presenting unfavorable conditions for staghorn to thrive. In 2015, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a recovery plan for staghorn coral, which incorporates several measures including increased monitoring of the ocean, reducing local impacts of temperatures by pumping cooler water and shading the reefs. NMFS is also researching the viability of land-based rearing of resilient strains of staghorn corals and wild restocking (“Listing of Coral Reef Species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act | CAKE: Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange”, 2020). If successful, the initiative will introduce staghorn strains that can thrive even under harsh conditions.