Symbiosis! Why ocean creatures take advantage of each other, work together or just aren’t bothered

Green Sea turtle has parasites removed by Ramora & Ramora receive a feed

I hope everybody had a lovely May! Back home in Melbourne it’s cooling down and just hit winter, but here on the rocky island of Koh Tao things are only getting hotter and more humid- with the occasional downpour of rain (I guess that’s the price we pay for paradise, right?).

I thought symbiosis would be an awesome topic of discussion this month. It’s been mentioned in previous blog posts briefly but today let’s delve into it a little further. 

Firstly; what does symbiosis mean? Well, we can think of it as a relationship between two different organisms where at least one of them will be benefiting from it, often as a result of many years of living and evolving together.  There are a few different types of symbiotic relationships; you might already have guessed this since I’ve already mentioned that it is a kind of relationship where at least one of the organisms will benefit.

The three types of symbiosis:

Mutualism: Where there are two organisms both benefiting from the relationship.

Commensalism: Where there is one organism benefiting, and the other is neither benefiting or being harmed by it.

Parasitism: Where one organism is benefiting at the expense of the other, the other either having inhibited health or eventually dying.

These relationships are what make marine ecosystems go round, most have taken many millions of years to form and happen on everything from microscopic, to huge scales. A nice example of a microscopic relationship and one which we have briefly mentioned in the past is that between coral and zooxanthellae (a small algae-like organism) which lives within its tissue (endosymbiosis: a symbiotic relationship where one party lives within the tissues of the other) and shares the energy it creates via photosynthesis with the coral host. It’s a win-win, as the zooxanthellae is provided with shelter from the big bad world, and the coral receives a whole lot of energy in return. If we take away one, the other will suffer. In this case if the two were to separate, the coral would bleach and if the state were continued, it was eventually starve!

Anemone have a relationship with zooxanthellae, and can bleach in heat like coral

Ramoras feed on parasites, from a beautiful Whale Shark

An example of symbiosis on a much bigger scale would be between a shark and remora fish. Again, in this case it is a mutually beneficial relationship as the remora sucks to the belly of the shark and will consume any parasites harming the shark (Oh sweet! Another symbiotic relationship right there- a parasitic one), as well as receiving a free feed from any prey that the shark may drop or miss. The shark of course benefits as it’s actively having parasites removed.

The examples are endless. Have a Google to see what other kind of relationships exist, and if you’ve spent much time in the water I am sure you’d probably be able to think back where you have seen two animals interacting and might be able to work out what kind of relationship it is. Symbiosis is a truly important part or marine life, and draws attention to the fact that when we actively remove animals out of the water, that it’s not just the individual being affected. This is another reason why activities such as industrialized fishing need to be re-examined.

I hope everyone had a wonderful World Oceans Day and got the opportunity to spend some time with our big blue friend this month and put some serious thought towards how important it is for us to put real effort into protecting, there isn’t any other real option for us humans anyhow. Let’s continue to motivate and support each other to do good!

Hope you all have a lovely month!

Elle Haskin xx

Coral & zooxanthellae symbiotic relationship

Clown fish create protection and cleaning for the Anemone

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