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Sea cucumbers: nature’s calcium reactor?

Posted by on February 14, 2012

Sea cucumbers and calcium carbonate deposition

Have you ever wondered what those weird-looking sea cucumbers actually do on the bottom of the sea? Research shows that sea cucumbers account for a remarkable half of total nighttime calcium carbonate dissolution for coral reefs. In other words, as cukes sift and process sand through its digestive system, they dissolve a lot of CaCO3 and recycle calcium and carbonate back into the water as nutrients for new coral growth.

Sea Cucumber by gmliii

Coral reef at risk

Coral reefs are extremely diverse ecosystems that support enormous biodiversity. But they are at risk. Carbon dioxide emissions are acidifying the ocean, threatening reefs and other marine organisms. New research analyzed the role of sea cucumbers in portions of the Great Barrier Reef and determined that their dietary process of dissolving calcium carbonate (CaCO3) from the surrounding reef accounts for about half of at the total nighttime dissolution for the reef.

Deposition of calcium carbonate

Reefs are formed through the biological deposition of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Many of the marine organisms living on and around a reef contribute to either its destruction or construction. Therefore it is crucial that the amount of calcium carbonate remain in balance. When this delicate balance is disrupted, the reef ceases to grow and its foundations can be weakened.

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