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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

Coral Reefs—Diving for Answers
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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Coral reefs are often described as one of the oldest types of living systems on the Earth today. Nestled in warm shallow beds of the sea, these living organisms support a breathtaking array of colored fishes and organisms. But what do these living reefs tell us about the history of the Earth, and do they indicate, as many evolutionists believe, that the Earth has been around for millions of years? Evolutionists often use “slow” coral growth rates as a “clock,” demonstrating an old age for the earth, implying that massive accumulations of coral, such as those found at the Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, must have required hundreds of thousands of years. However, recent data indicate that not only can coral grow at various rates, but also, they indicate that the oldest of coral reefs is only about 6000 years old.

Coral reefs are produced by a variety of organisms that precipitate carbonates (lime) from seawater and thus, growth rates are dependent on many factors. Molluscs, foraminifera, and bryozoa can provide substantial amounts of carbonate for reef growth; however, coral and coralline algae are considered to be the most important contributors. In determining the age and growth rates of corals, divers first collect cores of skeletal material, which are cut into slabs. Using x-ray analysis, the density bands inside the slabs can then be measured (similar to counting growth rings on a tree). Interestingly, band measurements indicate that during some years, the coral colonies grew rapidly, while other years’ growth rates were extremely slow—probably due to environmental stresses. An example of this can be seen in the growth rates of sixteen coral colonies investigated at the Flower Gardens. Harold Hudson and colleagues reported that the growth rate was 7.9 millimeters per year from 1888 to 1907, it then increased to 8.9 millimeters per year from 1907 to 1957 and then declined to 7.2 millimeters per year from 1957 to 1979. In 1989 the growth rate shot back up to 9.0 millimeters per year (see Slowey and Crowley, 1995).

While evolutionists argue that coral only grows at a rate of 1 millimeter per year, Areil Roth, of the Geoscience Research Institute has documented, that in fact, reef growth can vary from 0.8 millimeters per year to 80 millimeters per year (Roth, 1979). Other investigators have estimated reef growth at 0.1 to 5 centimeters per year (Kuenen, 1950, p. 421). Additionally, a study was recently conducted on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, in which the effects of nutrient enrichment on coral was analyzed (Koop et al., 2001). The findings from this study indicate that by adding nutrients (i.e. nitrogen or phosphorous) to the reefs over long periods of time, there was a significant response from the reef environment, and growth rates within the reef system changed.

So just how long does it take to build a coral reef? According to the information scientists are gathering on existing coral reef systems it appears that things like temperature, water level, nutrient content of the water, and proper timing all play major roles in coral growth. For example, a new reef was established in Krakatau after a volcanic eruption in 1883. Within 5 years this reef had grown to a thickness of 20 centimeters (4 centimeters per year). Growth rates as much as 4.14 centimeters per year have been reported in the Celebs (Verstelle, 1932). Other environmental factors can also play key roles as well. In 1972 a cyclone named “Bebe” constructed a fortification of coral rubble 3.5 meters high, 37 meters wide, and 18 kilometers long in just a matter of a few hours (Maragos et al., 1973). With that in mind, it is no wonder that scientists eagerly are creating new artificial reefs, to promote the growth of corals in areas around the world. Ask yourself this question: If coral takes hundreds of thousands of years to grow, as evolutionists claim, why then are marine biologists spending millions of dollars setting up these artificial environments? Not even our grandchildren’s grandchild would live to see the majestic coral reefs from these experiments if their dating schemes were correct. But they are not. Less than two months ago Nature reported that marine scientists in Scotland are poised to dump one and a quarter million concrete blocks onto the seabed to construct an artificial reef (Adam, 2001). Scientists are finally realizing that it doesn’t take millions, hundreds of thousands, or even thousands of years to grow coral.

Additionally the age for corals also support a young Earth. Unlike fossil dating in the dirt, coral cannot be assigned an ancient age by arbitrarily determining what strata it lies in. Using their own dating schemes, evolutionists have been unable to date coral fossils beyond about 5000 years old. The National Institute for Global Environmental Change published in its 1997/98 Annual Progress Report the ages of nine coral pieces (see NIGEC). Using conventional carbon-14 dating schemes, these old pieces were shown to be from 333 to 5958 years before present. High resolution sampling was conducted on four of the pieces, with radiocarbon corrected-calendar ages of AD 230, AD 1660, AD 1665, and 3960 BC.—all times that are quite consistent with the Biblical record. The accumulation of corals around great reefs did not, as many evolutionists will tell you, take millions or thousands of years. Evidence demonstrates that coral reefs are quite capable of growing at a fairly rapid rate.


Adam, David (2001), “Reef Gets Off the Starting Blocks,” Nature, 410:1012, April 26.

Koop, K.D. Booth, A. Broadbent, J. Brodie, D. Bucher, D. Capone, J. Coll, W. Dennison, M. Erdmann, P. Harrison O. Hoegh-Guldberg, P Hutchings, G.B. Jones, A.W. Larkum, J. O’Neil, A. Steven, E. Tentori, S. Ward, J. Williamson, and D. Yellowlees (2001), “ENCORE: The Effect of Nutrient Enrichment on Coral Reefs. Synthesis of Results and Conclusions,” Marine Pollution Bulletin, 42[2]:91-120, February.

Kuenen, H. (1950), Marine Geology (New York: Wiley and Sons).

NIGEC (1998), “Millennia Scale Coral Records of Sea-Surface Temperature and an Evaluation of Sclerochronologic Techniques,” [On-line], URL:

Roth, Ariel A. (1979), “Coral Reef Growth,” Origins, 6[2]:88-95.

Slowey, Niall C. and Thomas J. Crowley (1995), “Coral Cores From the Flower Gardens: A New Tool for Studying Climate,” [On-line], URL:

Verstelle, J. (1932), “The Growth Rate at Various Depths of Coral Reefs in the Dutch East-Indian Archipelago,” Treubia 14:117-126.

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