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White sand beaches come from where?

Last week I talked about huge underwater structures that are alive, known as coral. Parts of the coral are very hard because they are made out of the same stuff that makes the shells of clams and eggs — calcium carbonate.

There is a fish that lives in the coral structures called a parrotfish. It gets its name from an almost beak-like mouth, kind of like a parrot’s beak.

Out of the 80 species of parrotfish the biggest can grow up to 4 feet long. Giant bumphead parrotfish — they have a big bump on their head — can live for 40 years and weigh up to 100 pounds. As they grow older, some parrotfish will change colors and their shape. Others will even change from a boy to a girl, or a girl to a boy.

The big fish live near coral because that’s one of their main meals. They use their sharp beak-like mouths to break off pieces of coral. In their throat there are teeth that grind the hard coral up to get to the tastier live coral, called polyps, inside.

After eating all of that hard coral, parrotfish poop out the small crushed pieces. Guess what? All of that poo over many, many years creates some beautiful white sand beaches. Yep, some of those fancy Hawaiian resort vacation places that brag about their white sand beaches are actually talking about a whole lot of parrotfish poo! Funny, huh?

One big bumphead parrotfish may make as much as several hundred pounds of white sand a year.

Not all sand comes from parrotfish. Most of it is made by rocks being broken down into smaller bits by sand, wind, heat, cold and water. But parrotfish may have one of the most unusual ways to make sand.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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