Last Updated 21 Dec 2022

Fundamental Role in Coral Reef Habitat

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When you think of a sponge you may think of the sponge you clean your dishes with or a bath sponge. And that may be a ‘sponge’, but they’re not the type of sponge that are important for us on the planet. Their bodies consist of numerous pores to ingest water, and play a fundamental role in the coral reef habitats. Nonetheless are also known for their medicinal benefits. Sponges live attached to rocks on the sea bed. Their bodies consist of skeletons made of a material called spongin, and a leathery skin broken by many pores. The sponges in the ocean are completely different than the kitchen cleaning sponges we know. Sponges are important in nutrient cycles in the coral reef cycles, their process lowers excess nitrogen levels in coral reefs, also preventing harmful ecosystem changes.

Scientists believe that the conversion of nitrogen gas into useful nitrogen is also beneficial to the survival of other organisms in the coral reef area. They are hoping to have discovered a pathway for the removal of excess nitrogen from coral reefs (tolweb.org). According to Ed Yong in The New Yorker, he says that there are around eighty five hundred known species of sponges living in both freshwater and oceans. He also states that off the coast of Canada reefs of glass sponges can clean up to 500 vertical feet of overlying water. The University of Rhode Island has an article as to why sponges are important, they state that sponges are the most prolific source of marine natural products with human health applications.

Researchers at Victoria University and the Malaghan Institute found that parts from the sponge were active against some cancer cells in lab tests. Start1.org wrote an article titled “A Sea Sponge Could Save Your Life”, and from this article it stated that a big shallow water sponge found in the Caribbean has been found to generate compounds used in AZT, which is used to fight against AIDS. A soft coral, the Caribbean gorgonian, has been found to produce a group of compounds with anti-inflammatory properties that could be used for treating asthma and arthritis. Exploring the ocean more could help scientist to develop many more new pharmaceuticals.

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Sponges are not the easiest of organisms to understand because they have no brain and no nerve cells but their distribution and important functional roles means their contribution to ecosystem functioning must not be overlooked. Therefore, care must be taken when including sponges in functional assessments of marine communities due to the fact that sponges are considered the oldest living thing in the animal phylum. Sponges are among the most simplest of animals because they are the only multicellular animals without a nervous system and they do not have any nerve cells or sensory cells. Us humans have increased the carbon dioxide in the air, and as a result we are acidifying the ocean from pollution. By making the ocean more acidic, it is easier for certain types of sponges to overrun coral that now have a weaker exoskeleton that has been broken down by the acid.

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