The Abiotic Environment
Coral reefs are largely restricted to shallow tropical seas, where water is warm, nutrient poor, well illuminated for photosynthesis, and where sufficient calcium carbonate (aragonite) exists in seawater for the precipitation of coral skeletons. Extreme temperatures and salinities cause thermal and osmotic stress, while large amounts of sediment smother corals and block light. High concentrations of nutrients encourage algal growth at the expense of corals, while low seawater aragonite concentrations prevent net accretion of the reef framework. At local scales, the hydrodynamic regime influences reef growth, as corals are damaged by storms and wave surge. The typical abiotic environment in which reefs are found is defined. The chapter also discusses coral reefs that live at the margins of their survival, such as the warm, salty seas of the Persian Gulf and the relatively cold waters of Australia's Lord Howe Island.
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