Thursday, March 27, 2008

Know Your Environment

Know Your Environment
Before entering the water, especially in the tropical waters, it is important to know how the underwater environment works and how should one behave in it. This article will perform a brief examination the ecological system present in the Coral seas.

What we see as a coral is an assemblage of many individual, yet genetically identical, polyps. The polyps are multicellular organisms that feed on a variety of small organisms, from the microscopic zooplankton to small fish. Polyps are usually a few millimeters in diameter, and are formed by a layer of outer epithelium and inner jellylike tissue known as the mesoglea. They are radially symmetrical with tentacles surrounding a central mouth, the only opening to the stomach, or coelentron, through which both food is ingested and waste expelled. The polyp grows by vertical extension of its basal plate forming vertical calices which occasionally form a new, higher, basal plate. Over many generations this extension forms the large calciferous structures of corals and ultimately coral reefs. Corals grow at an average rate of one centimeter per year.

Behavior Near Coral Reefs
Since polyps are so small, sand grains can easily clog the polyps only bodily opening, causing the polyp to suffocate to death. A freediver must be extra careful not to lift any sand when close to corals. Since polyps are such small and delicate creatures, merely touching the corals may lead to the death of the polyps or to breaking a piece of coral - which takes an entire year to grow by one centimeter. Some corals release chemical agents on contact which my burn the skin causing extremely painful chemical burns. A freediver must never ever touch a living coral.

In the vicinity of coral reefs, a great diversity of fish can be found, most of which are absolutely harmless - if not disturbed. Remember, when freediving, you are the visitor in the marine creature's home. A freediver should never harass any marine creatures. Specifically a freediver should be careful not to disturb Moray eels - as they tend to bite if they feel cornered, their bite is extremely painful as most moray eel species are equipped with very long sharp needle like teeth - or Puffer fish - when a puffer fish feels in danger, it sucks water inside its body which causes it to grow to about 300% of its original size - amusing for the diver but an equivalent of a human heart attack for the fish, a puffer fish can perform this trick about three times in its entire lifetime.
Some fish have a protective mucous covering their body from infections caused by bacteria in the water, merely touching such a fish creates a hole in its defensive layer - leading to the a probable infection and the death of the fish. A Freediver must cherish and respect the underwater life.

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