Reef Brief - Animals of the Reef

The coral reef, the "rainforest of the sea," is a rich environment that is home to hundreds of different species. In particular, countless species of invertebrates live and feed on the coral or the nutrients it generates. Nearly every phylum of invertebrate animal has a member living on the coral reef. At the 3rd Annual Reef Festival on Sunday, April 25th, Green Reef will have a touch tank set up so that more can be learned about the fascinating creatures that inhabit the reef. In the touch tank you will find many peculiar looking animals, some of which may or may not be familiar to you. One thing is certain, all of these creatures are important in one way or another to the marine ecosystem in which they live. The following are descriptions of a few of the animals that will be featured in the touch tank.

One animal you might be familiar with is the sea star. Like all members of the Phylum Echinodermata, the sea star has tiny tube feet located on the underside of its arms. Although slow and seemingly harmless, the sea star is actually a fierce predator, using its tube feet to clamp tightly onto the shells of bivalves, and pull them slightly open. The sea star then everts its stomach (it comes out of its body) and digests the mussel right in its own shell. Unlike the sea star, another member of the Phylum Echinodermata, the sea cucumber, does not feed upon large shelled prey but upon plankton, using one of two food-gathering strategies; either filter-feeding or using their tube feet to move plankton into their mouth. Sea cucumbers are found in nearly every environment and occur in a variety of shapes. When it needs to defend itself, the sea cucumber is capable of expelling its internal organs. Fortunately, these organs eventually grow back. Another member of the Phylum Echinodermata is the sea urchin, which is protected by a series of spines and moves about slowly feeding on algae and small invertebrates. The sea urchin uses its tube feet to attach to rock surfaces in tide pools and sometimes it scrapes out a space in the rock in which it lives, allowing food to come in with the tide.

In the Phylum Mollusca, is the sea hare, a large invertebrate that moves through tide pools grazing on algae. To reproduce, a sea hare mates with another member of its species. As a hermaphrodite, the sea hare carries both male and female organs, and both animals will mate to exchange sperm and then both will lay eggs. When frightened by predators, the sea hare will release a rose colored fluid and mucus to discourage offenders.

As members of the Phylum Cnidaria, anemones and jellyfish, are characterized by the presence of stinging cells known as nematocysts. The translated name of this phylum means "flowers of the sea," which makes sense considering the colorful and diverse life of the coral reef. Some animals of this phylum, such as corals, are responsible for building the backbone of the reef. As you can tell, the touch tank will contain a variety of fascinating creatures. Nothing compares to the real thing of seeing and touching these animals, so we encourage you to check it out for yourself. In addition to the touch tank, there will be opportunities to learn more about the reef through educational displays and glass-bottom boat trips to the reef. The Reef Festival will also include games (greasy pole, tombola and canoe race), contests, music, and food. We look forward to seeing everyone this Sunday, April 25th, at Central Park to celebrate the amazing coral reef that graces this country!

Reef Brief - Animals of the Reef

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