Coral reefs around the world are great tourist attractions. Nature provides some of its greatest lessons in some of its unlikeliest places.
The coral reefs are filled with immense bio-diversity with millions of distinct species of tiny organisms all living in harmony and teaching us the virtues of being altruistic, helping each other in difficult circumstances, to adapt and collaborate for mutual benefit and sustenance.
Back in the 1980’s a very popular television video series called ‘The undersea world of Jacques Cousteau’ was aired on television. The series was telecasted every Sunday. Some of us would know it. The legendary Jacques Cousteau, a filmmaker, explorer, and researcher, hosted it. Jacques had received several awards including the National Geographic special gold medal.
As a middle-schooler, I was biding time for my parents’ nod just to watch the television series. Watching an underwater film with explorers venturing the depths of the ocean was rare and a treat during that time. The videos presented an incredible view of the marine biodiversity of our planet and the content was excellent. It was educational, informative and at the same time awe-inspiring.
At that age, the term ‘Bio-diversity’ seemed alien to me and I hardly knew what it was. However, the pictures and memories are still vivid.
Now with knowledge, advancement and the internet, our awareness has only expanded. It was not just for the educational content, such videos at a very fundamental level helps us understand how the marine diversity of our planet influences it. It is intricately connected to the natural cycles of the earth and helps regulate our climatic conditions.
We all know that 2/3rds of the earth’s surface is covered with water. A vast number of marine organisms live in the ocean. Researchers are still not able to come to terms with their numbers. It is so complex that there are unexplored depths of the ocean. Some are obvious like the ‘fish’ and still there are others hidden at the edges of the ocean that perform marvelous jobs.
These marine organisms actually help in building new land and some even extend the shorelines (Like the Atoll) by just recycling waste.
We are talking about the humble Stony coral, which creates new land on the ocean through its own excretion. Although its use comes after its death, the tiny marine animal grows in vast colonies at the edge of the ocean.
A theoretical state called the ‘edge of chaos’ prevails at the edge of the ocean . A state neither too rigid nor too loose, enabling molecules to collaborate for new life to evolve. That is exactly what happened to the vast colonies of the Stony coral. They collaborated with other species and evolved.
During its course of life, the Stony coral builds a calcium-based exo-skeleton. This exo-skeleton is so strong and stable that it can remain pristine for hundreds of years even after its host organism; the Stony coral is long dead.
In effect, the Coral reef is a stable ground – building new lands at the edges of the ocean. Thus, millions of these calcium-based exo-skeletons joined to form a Coral reef.
We just need to take a step back and look at it from an inter-disciplinary point of view. These tiny organisms were actually building a scalable network, a dense structure for millions of other organisms to thrive and evolve. This remarkable structure happens at the edge of chaos and that too in ocean waters that are not rich in nutrients.
There are millions of distinct species, which live in these coral reefs around the world. The ‘Great barrier reef’ in Australia is the greatest and biggest organic bio-structure in the world.
‘The tiny organisms and plants that live on the Coral reefs actually recycle the nutrients’ says Steven Johnson in his book “where good ideas come from’. You can find the book here. Scientists have actually studied this seamless flow of energy within the Coral reefs Eco-system.
A symbiotic relationship exists between the Stony coral and the algae that thrive in these waters.