Animals of the Reef

-In Memory of Seferino Paz Sr.-
As much as we don't like to think about it, as humans, our bodies naturally harbor hundreds of bacteria and viruses, but we generally show no signs of disease or illness. A similar situation exists in the sea. An abundance of life existing in the coral reef environment has evolved to work with each other to increase chances of survival. Symbiosis, or relationships between species, can be categorized as either:1) parasitism, in which one organism benefits and the other is harmed; 2) commensalism, in which one organism benefits and the other is neutral; or 3) mutualism, in which both organisms benefit. In the sea, these relationships are exhibited in the most fascinating ways.

Almost every animal of the coral reef ecosystem contains one or more parasite on or in its body. Of Caribbean fish, the most common parasites are arthropods called isopods. They attach almost anywhere on their hosts, most notably to the skin, gills, and fins. Isopods tend to pierce into their hosts and feed on blood and tissue fluids, causing lesions. Fortunately, there exist species such as the cleaner wrasse, which swims over the entire body of the host fish, picking parasites from the scales. Distinguished with a bright blue and yellow band, the cleaner wrasse is the best known of cleaner fishes and is even known to have "cleaning stations" where fish line up to be cleaned. When it is necessary for the wrasse to enter the mouth and gills of the host fish to remove additional debris, the wrasse vibrates its fins while cleaning as a reminder of its presence. In this way, a working relationship exists.

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun
An example of mutualism exists in the relationship between the pistol shrimp and the banded gobie. The shrimp lacks good eyesight, but is skilled at digging holes in the sand surrounding corals. The banded gobie, on the other hand, has good eyesight, but has no shelter from predators. Working together to increase their survival, the shrimp digs while the gobie watches out for predators. Another example of a symbiotic relationship in which both organisms benefit is that between hermit crabs and sea anemones. It is very common to find an anemone attached to the shell of a hermit crab. When crabs partner with anemones, they are attacked less frequently by predators, such as octopus. Likewise, when anemones attach themselves to crabs they are transported to food sources they would normally not have access to.

These are just a few examples of the infinite number of working relationships of organisms in the sea. Due to the relatively small area these organisms often live in, they have evolved in ways to effectively coexist with each other.

Green Reef is holding their 3rd Annual Reef Festival on Sunday, April 25th, a day of games, marine life touch tanks, glass bottom trips to the reef, music, food, and more. Stop in and enjoy the fun!

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