Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?

by Handy Mag
Published: Last Updated on

by Duncan Lister, Yorkshire Reefs

One of the most common questions we get asked here at Yorkshire Reefs is what exactly are corals? Corals are actually a combination of animal, vegetable and mineral. Many of you will know that corals have built the Great Barrier Reef, but do you know what they actually are?

Corals are made up of colonies of tiny animals, called polyps, which are closely related to jellyfish and sea anemones. These polyps extract minerals from the water column to build a limestone skeleton, which gives them structure and support. Corals are capable of growing to be several meters across in the wild!

The polyps are capable of catching microscopic plankton from their surroundings, which they use as food. However, they get the vast majority of their nutrition from a relationship with zooxanthellae, a tiny, single-celled algae that lives within the polyp. This algae photosynthesizes in the intense, tropical sunlight, and provides the coral with vital sugars and amino acids, while the coral provides the algae with a safe home.

Coral polyps can reproduce by themselves, creating thousands of tiny clones as the coral grows, or with others, where corals synchronise the release of sperm and egg bundles with the full moon in a mass spawning event across the whole coral reef. Yorkshire Reefs is working closely with Project Coral, at the Horniman Museum in London, to unlock the secrets on how to recreate coral spawning and rearing in captivity.

Corals are fascinating organisms which are vital to the ecological balance of the world. Luckily for us, you don’t have to quite understand exactly what corals are to keep them, just what they want – which is intense light, a food source, and the minerals to keep their skeletons growing. If you’d like to grow your own corals in captivity, pop in for a chat at Yorkshire Reefs.

Yorkshire Reefs, Unit 3 (Red Zone), 9 Cherry Farm Close, Malton Enterprise Park, Malton, YO17 6AH. Tel: 01653 531166
Facebook/Instagram @YorkshireReefs.
Opening Times: Tuesday – Friday 9.30 – 5, Saturday 10 – 5, Sunday 10.30 – 4

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