Just what is Coral ?
Coral reefs are one of the most complex and colorful tropical ecosystems, rivaling rainforests in their richness of life. Coral reef organisms build massive & intricate physical structures that are home to some of the most fascinating plants and animals in the world.
Coral reefs are massive structures made of limestone that is deposited by living things. Although thousands of species inhabit coral reefs, only a fraction produce the limestone that builds the reef.
The most important reef-building organisms are corals.
Coral reefs support over twenty-five percent of all known marine species. As one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet, coral reefs are home to over 4,000 different species of fish, 700 species of coral and thousands of other plants and animals. A good way to imagine a coral reef is to think of it as a bustling city or community, with the buildings made of coral, and thousands of inhabitants coming and going, carrying out their business. In this sense, a coral reef is like a metropolis under the sea.
What is coral?
Although coral is often mistaken for a rock or a plant, it is actually composed of tiny, fragile animals called coral polyps. When I say "coral", I am actually referring to these animals and the skeletons they leave behind after they die. Although there are hundreds of different species of corals, they are generally classified as either "hard coral" or "soft coral".
Hard corals grow in colonies and are the architects of coral reefs. They include such species as brain coral and elkhorn coral. Their skeletons are made out of calcium carbonate (also known as limestone) which is hard and eventually becomes rock. Hard corals are hermatypes or reef-building corals and need tiny algae called zooxanthellae (pronounced zo-zan-THEL-ee) to survive.
Soft corals such as sea fingers and sea whips, are soft and bendable and often resemble plants or trees. These corals do not have stony skeletons, but instead grow wood-like cores for support and fleshy rinds for protection. They are referred to as ahermatypes or non-reef building corals and they do not always have zooxanthellae. Soft corals are found in both tropical seas and in cool, dark regions.
You have to love coral and understand it is a colony of living creatures to respect it.
Believe me, when you see it in it's natural environment, you'll love it.