The beauties of the sea.
Scientifically known as Anthozoa, corals are one of the most beautiful structures in the ocean. Polyps, or coral organisms, can be smaller than an inch and grow up to twelve inches and usually live from 2 years to hundreds of years when they live individually. As parts of colonies, these creatures can live for several centuries. Reefs are created when one of these polyps attaches to a rock on the ocean floor and reproduces, essentially creating a colony. Colonies grow and develop with other colonies in order to create reefs as we know them.
In the Wild
Coral and the reefs they create are necessary to the tropical ocean ecosystems of many fish and other sea creatures. Primarily located in sunny shallow waters, these invertebrates, which are related to anemones and jellyfish, are carnivorous and prey on fish and other organisms in similar ways to their relatives. Polyps have venomous tentacles that can catch small fish and zooplankton.
Corals also, despite appearances, are translucent, and their distinct colors actually come from algae that they host. This algae, which relies on photosynthesis, gives additional nutrients to corals.
In the Tank
In aquariums, coral polyps are important parts of reef habitats for saltwater tanks. Good water quality, appropriate food sources, water circulation, and enough light are all necessary to ensure the livelihood of tank corals. Corals need water that has minerals such as calcium and magnesium as well as water that is low in ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. The water should be around 80-84 degrees Fahrenheit with a pH of around 8.
As corals get much of their nutrients from algae, tanks need a lot of light, depending on the species. In general, soft corals will need less light, and hard-bodied corals need more intense light for the algae to feed on. Corals also need a varied diet of diced fish, plankton, or small crustaceans.
Because coral polyps and colonies rely so heavily on their algae tenants, their survival also relies on algae health and presence. If algae becomes unhealthy or if the coral becomes stressed due to pollution or water temperature changes, algae can be expelled, which makes corals vulnerable to light. When there is no protection from algae, polyps can burn, bleach, and die.
Though beautiful additions to reef tanks, it’s necessary to understand how vulnerable corals can be and that they play an important role in overall ocean health.
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