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Maldives Marine Life

Corals

There are several kinds of corals of which the stony coral (Order Madreporaria or Scleractinia), numbering around a thousand species, is the most widely distributed. Living either solitarily or in colonies, stony corals occur in all tropical oceans, growing best up to 30 meters. These corals are also sometimes seen at an incredible depth of 20,000 feet. Stony corals make up vast coral reefs and Atolls, some of them as old as 70 million years. When one polyp dies another takes its place and continues to grow until the reef is created.

However by nature they are slow in growth (averaging about 5 to 28 mm a year), a damaged or destroyed reef requires a long time to rebuild. The most common and most popular types of stony corals include the mushroom, the brain, the staghorn, and the star corals, all named so for their distinctive shapes. The 1,200-odd species of horny corals (Gorgonacea) thrive in shallow tropical waters. Their branches, sometimes ribbon-like, can grow to lengths of occasionally up to 10 feet. The rose coral belonging to this class is used in making interesting pieces of jewelry. The one living species of blue coral (Coenothecalia) occurs on the reefs of stony corals. Colonial oceans where they form large lumps, some of them spanning two meters in diameter.

Other kinds of corals include the black and thorny corals (Antipatharia), numbering a hundred species; and soft corals, a widely distributed group. Soft corals are not true corals. One important distinguishing factor is their tentacles which, instead a being simple as in true corals, are fringed and each polyp has 8 tentacles instead of the usual 6 or a multiple of 6. A close relative of soft corals is the beautiful organ-pipe coral, which when it expands resembles a delicate flower. The organ-pipe consists of a mass of vertical tubes, joined at intervals throughout their length by thin horizontal plates. The purplish skeleton contains a pale lilac-coloured polyp.

Though almost all corals are sedentary, ie; animals permanently fixed to the substratum, there is a species of walking coral. Though dubbed so, it actually does not move on its own, but represents a fine example of symbiosis. The Heteropsammia Michelinii has a marine worm living in its limy skeleton and as this worm moves around, foraging for food, it drags the small one-inch-long coral with it.

The reef islands of the Maldives are the result of a process of coral formation known as "accretion". Rubbles of reef rock broken off from the reef by heavy cyclonic storms and waves create reef-top shoals. Due to the normal action of waves and ocean currents other materials begin to gradually accumulate. Beaches develop around these shallows with the wind heaping up the lighter materials into dunes. The material being almost entirely made of Calcium Carbonate readily dissolves in rainwater and the dissolved lime is then redeposited around the loose materials, cementing it together. Soon such newly-formed islands are inhabited and colonised by plants and animals.

Corals exemplify some of the richest known ecological communities supporting countless other living organisms, intertwined in the complex web of food and resource competition. Seaweeds grow on the skeletons of dead coral together with sponges and other animals. Molluscs graze on algae while predators such as Reef Sharks, Groupers, Rock Cod, Lionfish, Scorpion fish, Stonefish, and Eels lurk amongst the coral jungles which provides them with a perfect hunting ground. At times corals themselves end up in the beak-like jaws of parrotfish or other predators like butterfly fish, commonly found denizens of this spectacular microcosm.

Reefs prevent soil erosion. And with their brilliant hues and sculpted shapes corals and beauty, enticing people to dive underwater to appreciate some of nature's most magnificent of creations. Corals constitute a very delicate ecosystem which requires our tender care and nurturing.

Visitors are advised not to pickup corals from the sea or attempt to export them.

Sharks

For centuries man's fear of the wild has been attributed to the lack of knowledge and little understanding of the beast. The Shark is no exception to this, and even in this modern age, people continue to believe that all sharks are dangerous and are man-eaters. Like the lion in the jungle, the shark is seen as the lord of the oceans.

Long before man appeared on earth, sharks roamed the oceans. Fossil studies indicate sharks to have appeared in the Paleozoic era at least 400 million years ago, and their comparatively low degree of evolutionary adaptation proves their age-old superiority over their environment and competitors. Today there are 344 known species of shark. Even there are many tragic stories, recent research reveals that most sharks do not attack humans.

Among the sharks that inhabit the Maldivian waters are the Grey Reef Shark, Nurse Shark, Silver-tip Shark, White-tip Shark and the Black-tip Shark. The "Grey Reef shark" belong to the category of active predators and therefore they have elaborate ears and a lateralis system which can alert and locate the source of sound quickly and accurately. They also have a very strong sense of smell.

They are known to have attacked humans in other seas but not in the Maldivian waters. Maldivian divers believe that this is because these waters around the archipelago are abundant in food. They also agree that sharks have far more reason to fear humans than humans have to fear sharks.

Eels

Eels live in holes and crevices in the corals. They have a serpentine motion. Eels are strong animals with sharp teeth. They feed on fish and crustaceans, mostly at night. Unless provoked they do not attack divers. Moray eels are common in the Maldivian waters. They are curious of human beings.

Turtle

Turtles differ from all the other species discussed in this web site. They are reptiles. Sea reptiles are the most threatened of all the animal groups. The hawksbill turtle has been hunted by man to make jewelry and ornaments and is in danger of extinction. Females deposit a clutch of eggs on the sandy coasts of the Maldives . When hatched, the young turtles swim away, but only a few will survive to reach adulthood. The Maldivian waters are one of the richest in hawksbill turtles.

Ray

Rays are formidable creatures of the ocean, Manta Rays, Sting Rays and Eagle Rays are the commonest rays in the Maldivian waters. The Manta Ray which grow up to 5 meter, is the largest ray in the World. Manta rays are also known as "horned rays" because of the two small fins on their head. They take in small fish and plankton while swimming and drain out the water. Manta rays are not aggressive.

Fish

Fish are found in an extraordinary range of habitats, from mountain streams to hot springs and at depths below 7,000 meters. There are some 20,000 species of fish and the Maldivian reefs and seas boast of over 2,000 species.

Fish show amazing diversity and are unique in their variety of breeding and development patterns. They possess specialized sensory organs, nostrils, eyes, nerve endings or other senses to gather information. Fish can also monitor temperature, light, colour, dilution, gases, pressure or depth, water currents, vibrations, etc. External fertilization is common where the male fertilizes the eggs laid by the female and left to develop. The fish also has the ability to live with an array of other species forming symbiotic or other relationships.

No fish is immune from attack. However, through the ages fish have devised their own systems of defense. One is schooling, a behavior where the fish gather together when a predator appears. This confuses the predator as to which fish is to be singled out and attacked. When pursued, a fish can suddenly go into sedentary existence on the bottom of the sea. But the fish can then become a potential prey of the bottom dwelling predators. Camouflage, where a fish can blend with the background or mimicry where the fish can mimic the appearance of another animal is another way of surviving. Some fishes can erect their modified barbed spines in case of danger or the sharp spines of the dorsal fin can appear as a mode of defense. The waters around the Maldives are abundant in rare species of biological and commercial value.

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