A mound or ridge of living coral, coral skeletons, and calcium carbonate deposits from other organisms such as calcareous algae, mollusks, and protozoans. Most coral reefs form in warm, shallow sea waters and rise to or near the surface, generally in the form of a barrier reef , fringing reef , or atoll . Coral reefs grow upward from the sea floor as the polyps of new corals cement themselves to the skeletons of those below and in turn provide support for algae and other organisms whose secretions serve to bind the skeletons together. The resulting structure provides a critical habitat for a wide variety of fish and marine invertebrates. Coral reefs also protect shores against erosion by causing large waves to break and lose some of their force before reaching land. The Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Australia extends for some 2,000 km (1,240 mi), making it the world's largest coral reef.