True soft corals are among the most beautiful gems of the reef, yet they’re difficult to get a handle on etymologically. People insist on calling other stuff, like sea fans and mushroom corals, “soft corals.” Species in Family Nephtheidae deserve to be appreciated and understood by themselves. TRUE SOFT CORALS ARE BEAUTEOUS TO BEHOLD AND DIFFICULT TO DEFINE. They’re beautiful in their delicate multi-branched structures, feathery clusters of polyps and striking pastel reds, yellows, blues,Read more
Who’s Who among corals and gorgonians, how they grow and how they differ.
With grape-sized, sac-like membranes, bubble corals look soft, squishy and egg-like from the outside. But underneath, Plerogyra sinuosa and its like are hard, stony corals. Although they’re popular with home aquarium enthusiasts, it’s somewhat of a find to spot bubble coral on the reef. WHEN YOU COME ACROSS CLUSTERS OF BUBBLE CORAL, at first glance you might take them for large fish eggs, or perhaps errant egg clutches of some animal, say a cephalopod. OnceRead more
BLACK CORALS ARE PROBABLY BEST KNOWN AS SHINY, JET BLACK JEWELRY. As living coral in their underwater habitats, they’re actually unlikely to be black. So what does black coral look like, actually? They’re most likely to be found in shades of soft reds, greens, yellows and other colors. They’re not stony corals – they grow in complex linear structures resembling trees, bushes or sea fans. The “black” part is the protein-based chitin that comprises theRead more
WHEN PEOPLE SEE THE WORD “CORAL,” it very likely brings to mind the great mounds of star and brain corals that stand out on the reefs. In fact, “corals” include many organisms beyond the familiar stony formations, all built on similar, tiny, coral polyps. “Coral” itself is a flexible word. It applies to the coral exoskeletons that we see as the visible shells of hard corals, to the polyp animals that live within those exoskeletonsRead more
NOBODY GOES TO THE TROPICS TO SEE GORGONIANS. The sea fans, sea plumes, sea rods and sea whips that make up Order Gorgonacea are just there, incidental bystanders on the “real” reefs of beautiful, stony corals. Sometimes, they’re in the way. While none of the 500 or so species of fans, plumes, rods or whips can compare to the exquisite beauty that hard corals achieve (although some sea fans make a good effort), they’re partRead more
ORANGE CUP CORAL (TUBASTRAEA COCCINEA) HAS ALWAYS BEEN ONE OF MY FAVORITES. I’ve always liked its style – big, bold and dramatic. It’s what it is despite (or because of) the fact that doesn’t have the photosynthetic boost that helps reef-building corals thrive. That still holds. Not mentioned in the I.D. guides is an additional aspect – in the Atlantic/Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico basin, it’s an invasive species from the Pacific. The staff at Flower GardenRead more
WE’VE ALL HAD IT INSTILLED FIRMLY IN OUR CONSCIOUSNESS that coral reefs are living organisms. But, faced with the colorful, solid structures that we see when we go underwater, what does that actually mean? Those rock-like surfaces aren’t living substances themselves, but hard facades of calcium carbonate – essentially, limestone. The living animals – tiny soft coral polyps with slender tentacles – are ensconced underneath, protected by the cup-shaped calcium-based corallites they’ve manufactured. TINY, THINRead more