What is Coral?

Many people do not realize that coral is actually a creature. Most are under the impression that corals are rock or plant formations, but in fact Coral polyps are tiny animals that build protective calcium carbonate skeletons and form colonies that create the basic structure of reefs around the world.

Coral reefs can be seen from space, yet individual coral polyps are some of the world’s simplest and smallest animals – some no bigger than the head of a pin. Every coral, from small free-living individuals to those in huge colonies, has the same basic body plan. This is basically a sack with a stomach and a mouth surrounded by retractable, stinging tentacles used to catch food. Protecting this polyp sack is Corallite, the hard calcium carbonate shell. This Corallite is what is left when the polyp dies and it is what you see washed up in bits on the shore. As Corallites erode they are broken down and wash in towards land where what is left of them become beaches.

It is important that people realize that coral is indeed a living creature. Around the world reefs are in danger because among many other things, humans touch, stand on and collect bits of the reef. Unfortunately the oils in our skin can be deadly to the delicate balance of the reef and touching even the tiniest bit can destroy years or growth. Some coral formations take centuries to develop yet can be destroyed in an instant.

Make sure that on your next vacation you tread carefully and snorkel thoughtfully!

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