Coral watching – a closer look at the plant-like animals adorning the ocean

Diverse coral species can be found in Seychelles. They come in a variety of shapes, colours, and sizes. Some resemble trees with leafless branches, others look like mushrooms, while some showcase a labyrinth of ridges resembling the human brain. Others are delicate like fans swaying with the currents.

Pocillopora are commonly called cauliflower corals

Pocillopora are commonly called cauliflower corals

This kaleidoscope of colours and patterns is fascinating, and some real gems can be spotted if you observe the reef closely, like Reef Rescuers do. We’ll share some species the Reef Rescuers have photographed recently, but first a basic primer.

What exactly are corals? You might think corals are underwater plants, but they are not. Corals are made up of tiny animals called polyps. These are typically cylindrical with tentacles surrounding a central opening.

Most corals live in symbiotic relationships with zooxanthella algae. These algae provide them with nutrients and are responsible for the stunning colours.

Corals are generally classified as hard or soft corals. Hard corals have a rigid exoskeleton that protects the polyps’ body, and six tentacles. They are reef-building corals. Soft corals are bendable and look like plants. They have eight tentacles. They do not have stony skeletons, but instead grow wood-like cores for support and fleshy rinds for protection.

Platygyra coral or Maze brain coral has meandering ridges

Platygyra coral or Maze brain coral has meandering ridges

Coral species can be difficult to identify, even for experts. In general, they can be grouped by shape and growth form, such as branching, digitate, encrusting, table, foliose, and massive. Growth patterns are specific to species, but the same coral can appear differently depending on the environment, changing its shape, colour, and size.

That said, here are some coral species you may spot in the Seychelles.

Acropora species are among the main reef builders. Over 149 species are described, giving scientists a run for their money. Acropora species may grow as plates, slender branches, or broad branches. They are used in coral gardening. They grow well in rope nurseries and help establish a habitat for other reef organisms once outplanted.⁠

Pocillopora are stony corals in the Pocilloporidae family. They are commonly called 'cauliflower' corals and are also a main reef-building species used in coral gardening projects.⁠ Cauliflower corals are widespread and have wart-like growths on their surface known as verrucae. Depending on the species and the environment, colonies can be dome-shaped or branching, and colour and shape can vary greatly.

⁠Platygyra or Maze brain coral is named for its obvious meandering ridges. It grows by encrusting and may grow in a domed shape or flat plate shape.⁠

The surface of Gardinoseris has a honeycomb appearance

The surface of Gardinoseris has a honeycomb appearance

Echinopora lamellosa⁠ is a thin plating coral covered in dome-shaped corallites. It can form single plates or tiers of flat plates. The plates' edges can be smooth, or undulating like a wave.
Acanthastrea corals are a genus of large polyp stony corals and one of the most colourful coral species. They are easily recognisable from their spikes, resembling tall teeth.

Hydnophora rigida is called the Lemon squeezer coral because its corallites are prominent and mound-like reminiscent of a juicer, while Gardinoseris is called the Honeycomb coral because its corallites give the surface a honeycomb appearance.

Sadly, coral reefs worldwide are threatened by a variety of factors, including climate change-induced bleaching, pollution, and overfishing. To preserve these underwater wonders, conservation and restoration are crucial.

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Since 1998.

Seychelles Nature, Green HealthClimate Change, Biodiversity Conservation & Sustainability Organisation

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