I was examining the collection this morning, hoping to get inspiration for today's blog post, when I found myself gazing moonily at our corals. How about a quick Friday coral lesson? These are such beautiful animals, and unfortunately some are in a bit of trouble.
First of all, have a look at some of the ones in our collection. These corals look completely different when they're in the ocean. When a coral is alive, it is made up of millions of tiny animals, called polyps. In other words, a live coral is actually a whole colony of these polyps. These polyps secrete calcium carbonate to form the hard white coral that you can see in our collection. In a way, you could think of it as the polyps building their own house. This "house" is left behind after the polyps have died.
You've probably seen live corals on nature shows, or if you've ever done any snorkeling or scuba diving. They've probably looked something like this:
Here is a close-up photo of the polyps themselves. They can catch food in their tiny tentacles, and many of these polyps also have a mutually beneficial relationship with a kind of algae called zooxanthellae. (How do you say that, you ask? It's pronounced zo-zan-thelly.) Zooxanthellae help polyps by providing them with nutrients and consumes the polyps' waste. In return, zooxanthellae get a safe place to live. Often, if the zooxanthellae dies, it will mean that the coral colony will die, too.
Corals are an important part of the ecosystems in the ocean, because they attract many species of fish and invertebrates. Without them, the ocean's diversity would begin to suffer. Unfortunately, these corals are quite sensitive to the stress we are putting on our planet, and they are beginning to die off. Problems such as water pollution and over-fishing as well as changes in the oceans' acidification and temperature all hurt the corals, and many of them are endangered. Conservation methods are underway to help corals, but unfortunately the damage is still being done. If you see any coral during your next beach trip, treat it as you would a painting in a museum - look, but don't touch.
Have a great weekend, everyone!