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Boat in a Coral Reef
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Coral reefs are large underwater structures composed of the skeletons of colonial marine invertebrates called coral. The coral species that build reefs are known as hermatypic, or “hard,” corals because they extract calcium carbonate from seawater to create a hard, durable exoskeleton that protects their soft, sac-like bodies. Other species of corals that are not involved in reef-building are known as “soft” corals. These types of corals are flexible organisms often resembling plants and trees and include species such as sea fans and sea whips, according to the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), a nonprofit environmental organization. Each individual coral is referred to as a polyp. Coral polyps live on the calcium carbonate exoskeletons of their ancestors, adding their own exoskeleton to the existing coral structure. As the centuries pass, the coral reef gradually grows, one tiny exoskeleton at a time, until they become massive features of the marine environment.