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The few exceptions have tectonic origins where plate movements have lifted the deep ocean floor on the surface.

In 1842 in his first monograph, The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, Charles Darwin set out his theory of the formation of atoll reefs, an idea he conceived during the voyage of the Beagle.

He theorized uplift and subsidence of the Earth's crust under the oceans formed the atolls.

Darwin’s theory sets out a sequence of three stages in atoll formation.

Most reefs grow best in warm, shallow, clear, sunny and agitated water.

Often called "rainforests of the sea", shallow coral reefs form some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth.

Like sea level rise, a rapidly subsiding bottom can overwhelm coral growth, killing the coral polyps and the reef, due to what is called coral drowning.

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By 13,000 years ago, sea level had risen to 60 m (200 ft) lower than at present, and many hills of the coastal plains had become continental islands.Coral reefs deliver ecosystem services to tourism, fisheries and shoreline protection.The annual global economic value of coral reefs is estimated between US–375 billion.The polyps belong to a group of animals known as Cnidaria, which also includes sea anemones and jellyfish.Unlike sea anemones, corals secrete hard carbonate exoskeletons which support and protect the coral polyps.

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