When I first started reading about coral I never thought I’d want to study them. While they looked really cool and fascinating, they didn’t hold a candle to dolphins or sharks to my 8-year-old self. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that there was more to them than appearances suggested.
Do you believe coral to be rocks, plants, or animals? Some of them appear to be very dull in color; this is especially true for some of the coral found in the Atlantic Ocean, which have various shades of brown or drab green. While some may look like rocks, I’m talking about you Boulder Coral, coral are most definitely not rocks because they feed and grow over time.
If they’re not rocks, then that makes them either plants or animals. Well, coral don’t really have legs, and we’ve never seen them move from point A to point B. In fact, they’re very much rooted to their spots and only move by swaying with the waves. So by this logic, they’re plants, right? They have no noticeable organs and they don’t have any independent movement. Until the early 1750s, they were classified as plants. It wasn’t until a French biologist, J.A. de Peysonell, determined that they were animals when he was completing a study of the Western Atlantic in 1753.
Coral are animals that belong to the Phylum Cnidaria, along with jellyfish and anemones. Like their cousins, coral have tentacles that they use to capture food. Coral also reproduce asexually, which allows them to expand and colonize an area.
All coral need is a good surface to attach to because once they land they can’t move locations, so real estate is very important to coral polyps. Good places for them are large rocks or other hard surfaces, like sunken ships, stone statues, or other man-made things, that won’t be easily moved during a storm or rough water action. If the coral’s substrate tips over or shifts, it can disrupt and hurt the coral, possibly leading to death.
They are very sensitive to their surroundings, requiring specific conditions for them to grow optimally. Those factors vary between the groups of coral, but if the conditions aren’t met then the coral may not grow. Worse yet, it can die.
Now, I can ramble on for hours about coral and everything about them that I find fascinating. However, I don’t want this to be like those long academic research papers that put insomniacs to sleep. So I’ll share the information with you in little bursts as I blog.
Source: Humann P, DeLoach N. 2013. Reef coral identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas. 3rd ed. Jacksonville, Florida: New World Publications.