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Flora and Fauna

The Coral Reef

Scuba diving and snorkeling are two of the most popular activities on a trip to the Dominican Republic. However before putting on your flippers or water tank, bear in mind a few general rules which are all part and parcel of being a responsible tourist: do not stand on the reef, touch it, remove pieces from it, or otherwise interfere with what you see.

Types of coral

One of the discoveries made by Charles Darwin during his voyages on the Beagle was that there are three kinds of reef. The first is known as the fringing reef, which is what you see if you go snorkelling just off the shore. The fringing reef is always connected to the mainland, but can extend quite far out to sea. It has a variety of coral types and species, and for the uninitiated it is a great place to see some underwater life. Beyond the fringing reef across the lagoon - an area of shallow water with a floor of coral sand and debris - you will come to the barrier reef or, as is more common in Caribbean and tropical Atlantic waters, the bank/barrier reef. The difference between the two is their size: the barrier reef, found mainly in the Pacific, is larger than the bank/barrier reef and is separated by lagoons thousands of meters wide, as opposed to the hundreds which separate the bank/barrier reef from the mainland. This type of reef is home to more species than the fringing reef, but you will need a boat to get out to it. The third type of reef is the atoll, an incomplete ring of sandy islands built up on coral reefs surrounding a submerged volcano. They are usually found far from any continent or large island and are rare in the Caribbean. The closest atoll to the Dominican Republic lies off the coast of Belize.

Species of the coral reef

There are hundreds of species in both the fringing reef and the bank/barrier reef. These include corals, sponges, worms, mollusks, crabs, lobsters and fish. There are basically two types of coral. Both photosynthesize the energy of the sun and excrete limestone from the calcium carbonate in the water. In the case of hard corals, this limestone creates a skeleton which encloses the animal altogether and eventually builds up to form the reef itself. Soft corals, meanwhile, have no such skeleton and resemble plants. However, the creation and maintenance of the reef depends on more than just the hard coral; instead, it is a team effort. Several types of algae also help to bind and solidify the reef's frame, while mollusks, crustaceans, sea urchins, starfish and sponges all anchor to the reef, thereby helping to line and protect it. At the same time other species dependent on the reef for their survival, such as the fireworm, the coral snail, the green reef crab and, most notoriously, the parrotfish, are ironically doing their best to destroy it by living off the coral tissue. It is estimated that for every acre of reef, one ton of solid coral skeleton is converted into fine sand every year. The major culprit is the parrotfish.

Other flora-fauna Files:
Amphibians and Reptiles
Land mammals
Marine mammals

Iguana Mama

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