Coral reefs are warm, clear, shallow ocean habitats that are rich in life. The reef's massive structure is formed from coral polyps, tiny animals that live in colonies; when coral polyps die, they leave behind a hard, stony, branching structure made of limestone.
The coral community is really a system that includes a collection of biological communities, representing one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. The coral reef provides an environment for a wide variety of marine plants and animals. The spaces, sinks and cracks in the hard coral mass make suitable shelter and feeding grounds for many marine animals such as fish, sponges, seafans, shrimp, crabs, mollusks, urchins, worms and sea anemones.
For some fish the coral itself provides a source of food; others live off the reef's inhabitants and visitors. In all, coral reefs are an important nursery and feeding ground for the many and diverse creatures of the sea as well as a protection against erosion of the shores.
Fringing reefs are the most common reef type around St. Maarten. Different species of crustaceans, echinoderms and the endangered Hawksbill and Green sea turtle live and feed on the reefs. Local reef fish include: grunt, red snapper, stoplight parrotfish, queen angelfish, yellow goatfish, porcupine fish, barracuda, green moray eel, spotted scorpion fish and nurse shark.