TEL AVIV, Israel, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- An Israeli researcher says soft corals, long thought to be only minor contributors to reef growth, actually comprise massive parts of the world's reefs.
Reefs were thought to predominantly consist of cemented stony corals made of calcium carbonate, while the tissues of soft corals contain sclerites, which look like tiny pins or porcupine needles.
Soft corals were once considered a mere veneer of reefs, creating thin overlaying deposits, says Professor Yehuda Benayahu of Tel Aviv University, but research conducted by TAU and the National Taiwan University has revealed that soft corals, like stony corals, are one of the central building blocks of a reef, a TAU release said Tuesday.
Soft corals, especially widespread throughout the Indo-Pacific reefs, are extremely rich in biodiversity with about 70 species worldwide involved in reef building.
In fact, soft corals are integral throughout the reef ecosystem and provide a home for creatures such as fish, snails, algae and many others, Benayahu says.
Soft corals also work to protect our human habitat, he says, as boulders and reef structures made of cemented soft coral sclerites that form near shores act as natural wave breakers, protecting land against erosion by the sea during storms.