Glide into the colorful world of coral reefs, which cover less than 1% of the ocean floor but are home to 25% of all ocean species!
Dive into the serene seascape of a Caribbean coral reef—without getting wet!
Coral Reef at Walt Disney World Resort
Coral reefs are so rich in life that scientists call them the “rainforests of the sea.” Guests can see our artificial Caribbean coral reef at The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot.
Coral Reefs in the Wild
Most coral is found in warm, shallow oceans located between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn near the equator, or in areas like Florida and southern Japan that are fed by warm ocean currents from the tropics. The largest coral reefs grow in Australia, the Caribbean, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific—including the Hawaiian Islands!
Threats to Coral Reefs
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently listed 20 coral species as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act—10 times the number listed in 2006. Coral reefs worldwide have declined significantly, with some individual species declining by 90% or more. A recent report estimates that 75% of remaining coral reefs are now threatened, and many have already been lost.
Disney Conservation Efforts
The Walt Disney Company is passionately committed to the protection of coral reefs. Find out what Disney is doing for coral—and how you can help, too!
“Conservation isn’t just the business of a few people, it’s a matter that concerns all of us…If we will use our riches wisely, if we will protect our wildlife, and preserve our lakes and streams, these things will last us for generations to come.” – Walt Disney
The main threats to coral are directly or indirectly caused by greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has identified 19 threats to corals, including rise in ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, disease, pollution and the ecological effects of fishing and poor land-use practices. The 3 major threats—rising temperatures, acidification, and disease—are directly or indirectly linked to greenhouse gas emissions and a changing climate, and are expected to increase over time.
Ocean acidification happens when carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are absorbed into the ocean, creating carbonic acid. The introduction of massive amounts of CO2 over the last century has altered sea water chemistry and disrupted the calcification process of shell-producing organisms like coral, oysters and sea urchins. Meanwhile ocean warming can cause coral bleaching—an entire reef may turn white as the corals expel the symbiotic algae that live inside them.
Disney Is Helping Restore Coral Reefs
Living coral reefs are diverse ecosystems built by large colonies of tiny animals called coral polyps. Coral reefs not only support a vast array of marine organisms, but also help provide natural protective barriers that guard against coastal erosion. However, these stony natural wonders are undergoing numerous threats, including bleaching, disease and invasive predators. Reduced growth and death of coral reefs are often the result of coastal development, changing climate, and acidification of the ocean’s delicate chemistry. In an effort to reverse the decline of shrinking Bahamian reefs, Disney is collaborating with experts in the Caribbean and investing in comprehensive study and training, as well as taking action to create coral nurseries, limit harmful human contact around existing reefs and promote reef rehabilitation and ecosystem resilience.
An Urchin Request
Marine creatures need each other to survive! The near-extinction of the long-spined sea urchin in the northern Bahamas has caused local coral reefs to be greatly diminished. These important urchins feed on a certain type of algae that—without their aid—would cover the corals and block out the sunlight that corals need to grow. To restore the reefs, scientists at Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment (ASE) team are translocating these crucial sea urchin grazers—and transplanting living coral fragments, too—from coral reef nurseries. Disney is also creating education programs, summer camps and teacher training workshops to help local residents understand the importance of coral reefs and how to protect them.
A living coral reef looks like a beautiful rock garden covered with unusual, brightly colored plants. But what is it exactly?
Animal, Plant or Mineral?
Coral is actually made up of tiny animals called polyps that are related to sea anemones and jellyfish. The polyp uses minerals in the water to create a hard exoskeleton to support and protect its body. Corals feed on tiny floating animals called zooplankton—though some species can catch small fish! Food is captured by stinging cells (nematocysts) and digested inside the body. Coral is very much “alive”—some species live 2 years, and some can live 100 years!
Mountains from Molehills
Corals start small, ranging from less than a half-inch (1 cm) to 12 inches long (30 cm). They come in a variety of shapes and colors, and together, with exoskeletons stacked on top of each other, they can form a reef that stretches for thousands of miles. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest in the world—and the biggest single structure made by living organisms on the entire planet. It can even be seen from outer space!
Corals are divided into 2 types—hard corals and soft corals. Hard corals are the reef builders. As colonies grow over hundreds and thousands of years, they join with other colonies and become reefs. The Great Barrier Reef is not a single reef, but thousands of small reefs and coral islands that follow the northeastern coast of Australia for 1,616 miles (2,600 k). Some coral reefs have been growing for over 50 million years!
Dinner for Two
Meanwhile, even smaller animals—microscopic algae called zooxanthellae—are living inside the coral polyp. These algae use photosynthesis to convert energy from the sun into food and oxygen, which is then shared with its host. In return, the polyp provides the algae with a sturdy home. It’s a match made in heaven—polyps and algae can’t live without each other!
How Does your Garden Grow?
When a coral polyp dies, its skeleton becomes a growing surface for new polyps. Coral grows very slowly and at different rates depending on water temperature, salinity, turbulence and the availability of food. Some corals, like branching and staghorn corals, can grow as much as 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) a year. Massive corals such as star corals and brain corals grow more slowly, usually less than 1 inch (2 cm) per year.
Home Sweet Home
Corals are tremendously important to the biodiversity of the world's oceans. Despite covering less than 1% of the ocean floor, reefs provide food and shelter to over 25% of fish in the ocean—up to 2 million marine species! And they have a measurable economic value for communities around the world from tourism and recreation.
What can land-dwelling humans do to help sea corals—more than you might think. Wherever you live, you can help coral reefs!
To protect coral reefs, ride your bike—or carpool—to reduce the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline that destroys corals by causing oceans to become acidic.
Be Drain Smart
Remember that all coastal drains lead to the ocean. Keep paint, motor oil, grease, cooking oil, cleaning supplies and trash away from drains. Instead, recycle or dispose of it properly.
Protect the Coral Reefs
Corals are fragile and take a long time to grow! When snorkeling or diving, protect nature and take care not to touch, stand on or damage corals.
Put Pollution in Its Place
Pick up trash to keep aquatic habitats like beaches, rivers, lakes or streams in your neighborhood healthy. Contact Ocean Conservancy to learn about beach clean-ups in your area.
Released balloons can travel thousands of miles before landing in the ocean. Reduce waste by flying a kite or blowing bubbles, instead of releasing balloons, to commemorate an occasion in a wildlife-friendly way.
Visit the Websites Below
See how Disney is making the world a better place for marine wildlife and habitats—and the creative ways you can make a difference, too!
“I have learned from the animal world, and what everyone will learn who studies it, is a renewed sense of kinship with the Earth and all its inhabitants.” – Walt Disney