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Soft Coral

November 06, 2012
Group owner Richard Martine


Soft Coral

By: Richard Martine   Post Date : November 06, 2012
While most people probably think corals are plants, they are actually animals. They need air, food, sun, and water just like humans. There are two basic kinds of corals, hard corals (often called stony corals) and soft corals (often called octocorals). Octocorals can have a wide variety of sizes, colors, and forms, including whip-like, feather-like, branching, and fleshy. They are usually found on inner reefs where there is gentle water, and most do not have dense skeletons, so they are not reef builders.

Although octocorals are softer than stony corals and do not have large skeletal masses, there is calcium, or argonite, in them which produces tiny skeletal pieces called spicules or sclerites. The spicules can be used to build internal support or anchor the animal to the substrate.

The small coral organism is called a polyp. It is an invertebrate being with a mouth and rudimentary muscles and nerves. The mouth is surrounded by eight poisonous stinging tentacles that catch small fish and plankton and then feed them into the mouth. Many octocorals also gain energy from symbiotic algae, called Zooxanthellae, which live inside their tissue and use photosynthesis to produce the energy.

Most hard and soft corals live in warm, shallow waters in seas throughout the world. Coral reefs are formed from millions of coral polyp colonies and grow at about one inch per year. The largest coral reef in the world is the Great Barrier Reef (over 1,257 miles [about 2000 kilometers] long) along Australia's northeast coast.

Coral reefs are fragile ecosystems and are in grave danger. Climate change and human activities pose the greatest threats. Already 20% of the entire world's coral reefs have been destroyed and the remaining ones are also at risk. Some estimates predict that 30% more of coral reefs will die in the next 30 years due to pollution, global warming, and sedimentation.

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