Coral, it’s time to explain yourself…
Corals are among the most fascinating animals in the world, and they are deeply mysterious to most of us. Until recently, people largely viewed corals as magnificent ocean plants and coral reefs as underwater jungles. However, looks can be are deceiving and to get to the identity of who and what corals are, the marine world had to look a little closer, at the corals’ cell structure.
The cell structure showed that when it comes to the “animal, vegetable, mineral” game, corals are very much in the animal category.
An animal that can live thousands of years, barely move and yet still supports 25% of life in the ocean. Yes, that’s coral.
It may sound like something from a movie but corals are ocean treasures that support a huge part of the oceanic ecosystem, which in turn supports our entire planet.
In essence, we know very little about an animal that plays a major role in sustaining the planet for us all.
Maybe it is time to get to know coral a little better.
Now we have clarified what coral is, at the cell structure level – we will take you to the next revelation, when looking at a coral, you are actually viewing an entire society of living, growing, eating, and communicating beings grouped into a cooperative community.
Each coral is in fact, a community of polyps - small, simple animals anchored to the substrate. When a single polyp dies, the community keeps going and the coral stays alive.
Polyp communities strive to expand, which means corals are constantly compete for space. Interestingly, they develop different relationships between them; some are hostile and fight each other, others are cooperative and come to mutual agreements.
Typically, a coral is either male or female. In other words, all the little polyps that make up the coral have the same gender.
About 75% of all zooxanthellate corals are hermaphrodite; the remainder are gonochoric, having separate male and female colonies, including species of Porites, or (in solitary species) separately sexed individuals, as in Fungia.
The sexuality of corals — whether they are hermaphrodite or separately sexed — tends to be generally consistent within species and categories, although there are exceptions.
There is sometimes also geographic variation within species.
Some corals are partly female and partly male and don’t need another coral to reproduce. Here’s a fun fact: there have been few observations of a coral partially changing its sex to enable reproduction if there’s no opposite gender coral nearby.
There are two basic types of corals, soft corals and hard corals. The latter have skeletons and are known as reef builders, as they make up the structure of the coral reefs around the world. We use some descriptive terms like branching coral, brain coral, and plated coral to categorize them. Here are some photos of these types
The Coral Reef
Hundreds of species of fish depend on the ingenious architecture and construction skills of the corals, which form a coral reef.
The reef is a treasure trove of marine biodiversity, providing excellent living conditions such as hiding space, breeding grounds, and sources of food for many.
As much as reef fish benefit from the coral society, so corals benefit from the fish that live among them. There are many symbiotic relationships in a coral reef. It means two different species and organisms depend on each other to exist.
Keeping clean is critical because when covered, algae inside the coral tissue starts to become deprived of sunlight. Without light, they cannot perform photosynthesis, and the coral does not receive nutrition and energy. The fish that take shelter among the coral’s branches or plates cause water currents to sweep sand and dirt off the coral’s surface simply by swimming.