Animals and plants that live in the ocean form skeletons and other hard parts by combining calcium ions and carbonate ions to create calcium carbonate. This process is called calcification. In tropical and subtropical oceans, the calcification of corals and other organisms creates reefs that protect islands, produce beautiful white-sand beaches, and create habitat for thousands of species that live on coral reefs.
Many reefs around the globe are declining in health. Live, reef-building corals are becoming scarcer, often being replaced by fleshy algae (seaweeds) that do not build reefs. Many factors contribute to reef decline, but scientific consensus is that coral bleaching, coral disease, overfishing, and coastal development are largely to blame. It is the role of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to provide science that informs the decision-making process of those who are tasked with managing reef resources under U.S. jurisdiction.
One of the goals of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST) project is to examine how calcification rates in reef-building corals and encrusting coralline algae are changing in response to changes in the ocean environment.