The Caribbean is a 1,063,000-square-mile sea that abuts the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. It is home to Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and numerous other islands, and touches the coasts of Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, among others. The sea is home to countless species of animals, many of which--coral, sponges, sea cucumbers--are often confused for plants. The plants of the Caribbean are mostly very small, even microscopic.
Calcareous algae is a common plant native to the Caribbean Sea. Calcareous grows straight from coral, and produces calcium carbonate, or limestone, used by coral to build reefs. Once calcareous algae dies, the remaining limestone not consumed by the coral turns to sand. According to the Marine Education Department of the University of Southern Mississippi, a prevalent species of calcareous algae known as halimeda is responsible for producing 50 per cent of the sand found on some Caribbean beaches.
Zooxanthellae is a single-cell photosynthetic algae that has a symbiotic relationship with coral in the Caribbean Sea. Coral protects zooxanthellae and provides the algae with compounds and nutrients required for photosynthesis. Zooxanthellae in turn produces oxygen, glucose, glycerol, and amino acids through photosynthesis. The coral uses these photosynthetic materials produced to generate proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and calcium, all of which are used to build reef. Zooxanthellae also consumes the carbon dioxide produced by coral.
Thalassia testudinum, or turtle grass, is one of the seven species of sea grass native to the Caribbean Sea. Turtle grass is capable of independent growth and dominance, though often grows interwoven with syringodium filiforme, or manatee grass, another sea grass common in the Caribbean. Turtle grass grows in shallow waters in hard-packed or muddy sand, silt and clay-sized sediment, and loose calcium carbonate. Halophila engelmanni is a smaller species of sea grass that often grows within turtle grass and is protected by the larger plant.
Symbiodinium trenchi is a rare species of micro algae that was discovered to have proliferated in the Caribbean Sea. As online science journal Physorg reports, scientists from the Penn State published a study in September 2009 asserting that global warming is responsible for outbreak of symbiodinium trenchi along the coral reefs of the Caribbean. Scientists believe that in the short term, the algae will be beneficial as it protects the reef from the warmer waters. However, the long-term ramifications of a rare and invasive species proliferating in the Caribbean are difficult to predict.
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- All the Sea: Caribbean Sea
- University of Southern Mississippi: Plants of the Caribbean Sea
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ocean Service Education: Zooxanthellae... What's That?
- Seagrass Watch: Caribbean Seagrass
- Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Piece: Thalassia testudinum
- Physorg: Global warming causes outbreak of rare algae associated with corals, study finds