Reefs and Wrecks
ancient, slow-growing, and also very fragile.
They are alive with colonies of multi-celled organisms
and contain microscopic symbiotic algae that need light to
reproduce. Over the
course of thousands of years, the remains of these creatures
build up into layers, fused together into the massive stone-like
structures that we call reefs.
The coral organisms that build the reef are a relative of
the sea anemone and jellyfish.
When a ship runs aground on the reef, it breaks coral
heads and delicate branching corals, killing coral polyps and
whole colonies. Older
wooden vessels did less damage because of their small size,
lighter construction, and slower speeds.
Modern steel vessels can destroy hundreds of yards of
reef when they strike and more corals get damaged when the ships
traveled at the mercy of winds and currents.
The underwater living structures of coral were a peril
and danger to sea trade then as they are now.
The corals grow randomly in near-shore waters and form
boundaries in parts of the Keys and Caribbean.
They are often invisible to sailors, even in daylight,
and a terrible hazard at night.
Even with modern guidance systems, ships still run
aground on the reefs of the Florida Keys.
Americans skimmed safely over the reefs in their shallow-drafted
canoes; the first ships to come to grief were the European
wooden vessels driven by sail.
Many of these were torn apart, if not on first impact
then later, after days of high seas and wave action.
Modern steel ships fare much better but even some of
those, driven onto the reef with enough force, will tear open
their hulls and spill their cargoes.
Where Ecological and Social Systems Merge
and Playing on the Water