The Great Barrier Reef is an amazing reef that has over 400 species of coral, each with its own unique shape, size, and colour. Coral in the Great Barrier Reef are home to various marine life, including fish, shrimp, crabs, and sea turtles. They also play an important role in protecting coastlines from storms and erosion.
Some of the most common types of coral on the Great Barrier Reef include:
- Hard corals: These stony corals produce a calcium carbonate skeleton, which helps to build and protect the reef. Some common hard corals include staghorn coral, brain coral, and table coral.
- Soft corals: These corals do not have a hard skeleton but are instead supported by tiny spicules. Soft corals are often brightly coloured and have a variety of shapes, including fans, trees, and feathers.
The Great Barrier Reef: A Coral Wonderland
The Great Barrier Reef, located off the northeastern coast of Australia, is the world’s largest coral reef structure or system. Stretching over 1,400 miles, it’s so enormous that it can be seen from outer space. To put it into perspective, this coral wonder is larger than the United Kingdom, Holland, and Switzerland combined!
The Great Barrier Reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. It’s about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from Sydney and 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) from Brisbane. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a complex ecosystem comprising thousands of individual reefs, islands, and cays. It’s like a bustling metropolis, but underwater, and it’s home to a staggering variety of marine life.
Beyond its sheer size, The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most important ecosystems on Earth. The coral reef ecosystem provides food and shelter for a wide variety of marine life, including species of fish, shrimp, crabs, and sea turtles. This biodiversity hotspot houses an incredible array of species, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
The Different Types of Coral in the Great Barrier Reef
We already know that there are two types of coral reef species but before we dive in to get to know them, we must also know a bit about the marine aquarium terms people use and other coral species.
- Small-polyped scleractinian (SPS) corals have small polyps, typically less than 2 centimetres in diameter. SPS corals are often brightly coloured and have a variety of shapes, including branching, plating, and encrusting. SPS corals are found in both shallow and deep tropical waters.
- Soft polyp scleractinian (SPP) corals have larger polyps, typically more than 2 centimetres in diameter. SPP corals are often fleshy and have a variety of shapes, including fans, trees, and feathers. SPP corals are also found in both shallow and deep waters.
Hard Corals (Scleractinia)
- Staghorn Coral (Acropora spp.)
Staghorn corals are like the skyscrapers of the reef. They have slender branches that reach for the sun. Their vibrant colours and intricate structures provide homes for a multitude of marine creatures.
- Brain Coral (Faviidae)
These corals look like, you guessed it, brains! They come in various colours and patterns, and their nooks and crannies offer shelter to many reef inhabitants.
- Plate Coral (Porites spp.)
Plate corals are like the cosy neighbourhoods of the reef. They’re flat and plate-like, providing shelter and hiding spots for smaller marine organisms.
- Elkhorn Coral (Acropora palmata)
Elkhorn corals resemble elk horns! Their branching structures are essential for fish and other marine life.
- Table Coral (Acropora hyacinthus)
Table corals act as underwater shade. They grow in flat, tabletop shapes and provide resting places for reef inhabitants.
Soft Corals (Alcyonacea)
- Tree Coral (Dendronephthya spp.)
Tree corals look like delicate, swaying trees. They’re known for their mesmerising colours and graceful movements with the help of water currents.
- Leather Coral (Sarcophyton spp.)
These corals have a leathery texture and come in various shapes. They’re often adorned with soft, finger-like structures.
- Sea Fan Coral (Gorgonia spp.)
Sea fans are like underwater fans, swaying gently in the currents. They provide both shelter and a mesmerising sight for divers.
- Weeping Willow Coral (Capnella spp.)
With their drooping, willow-like appearance, these corals add a touch of elegance to the reef.
Mushroom Corals (Fungiidae spp)
Mushroom corals are like colourful, underwater mushrooms. They come in various hues and shapes and often appear on the sandy ocean floor.
Gorgonian Corals (Gorgonacea)
- Sea Whips (Leptogorgia spp.)
Sea whips look like underwater whips, with tall, slender branches. They offer both beauty and refuge.
- Sea Plumes (Pseudopterogorgia spp.)
Resembling feathery plumes, these corals sway gracefully in the ocean’s currents.
- Sea Rods (Eunicea spp.)
Sea rods are long, cylindrical corals that add a striking vertical dimension to the reef.
Brain Corals (Mussidae)
- Closed Brain Coral (Favia spp.)
Closed-brain corals have a distinct bumpy appearance that’s reminiscent of the human brain.
- Honeycomb Coral (Diploastrea heliopora)
Honeycomb corals have a honeycomb-like structure, adding a unique texture to the reef.
Fire Corals (Milleporidae spp)
Despite their name, fire corals are not corals at all but hydrozoans. They pack a stinging punch, so it’s best to admire them from a safe distance.
Organ Pipe Corals (Tubipora musica spp.)
These corals look like the pipes of an organ, forming cylindrical structures that stand out on the reef.
Boulder Corals (Merulinidae)
- Lobed Star Coral (Orbicella spp.)
Lobed star corals are large and boulder-like, forming the backbone of many reef ecosystems.
Bubble Corals (Euphyllidae)
- Bubble Coral (Plerogyra spp.)
Bubble corals, as the name suggests, are covered in tiny bubbles, giving them a unique and captivating appearance.
Factors Influencing Coral Diversity
Coral diversity isn’t just about looking pretty; it’s about survival and thriving. But several factors come into play.
- Water Temperature
Corals are sensitive creatures, and they have their temperature preferences. Warmer coastal water can stress them out, leading to coral bleaching, which is a concerning phenomenon.
Different coral colonies thrive at different depths. Some prefer shallow waters with lots of sunlight, while others are deep-sea enthusiasts.
- Nutrient Levels
Corals need just the right amount of nutrients. Too much or too little can disrupt the delicate balance of the reef.
Conservation and Preservation Efforts
Coral reefs are facing a number of threats, including climate change, pollution, and overfishing. It is important to protect coral reefs for future generations.
And the Great Barrier Reef is no exception that faces these numerous challenges. However, dedicated efforts are underway to protect and preserve this natural wonder.
What You Can Do to Help
- Reduce your carbon footprint to help mitigate climate change.
- Support sustainable tourism practices.
- Donate to organisations that are working to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
- Educate yourself and others about the importance of coral reefs and the threats they face.
- Encourage your elected officials to support policies that protect coral reefs.
Let’s remember that it is our responsibility to ensure that it will still thrive for generations to come. Whether you’re an avid diver or an ocean enthusiast, the Great Barrier Reef has something to offer everyone.