Coral is one of the coolest forms of life on earth & is home to millions of species. These facts about coral will really take your breath away!
You have likely seen a coral reef. Maybe you have even gone snorkeling or scuba diving around one of these unique ecosystems, but how many facts about coral do you actually know?
For example, most people think corals are plants. In fact, they are actually animals! This is surprising because coral reefs look like underwater forests, don’t they? But these animals actually feed on micronutrients floating in the water.
Most coral likes the sun and thrives in shallow water, yes. But there are a few types of coral that really, really like deep and cold water. These are the ones we’ll never see (unless you’re a marine expert in a submersible…)
Coral isn’t necessarily known for being strong, it’s hard to imagine this animal with strength considering it sits around all day. However, it is one of the strongest species in the world and helps humans by protecting the shores and fighting erosion. Just wait until you read fact no. 7 – this is what coral is all about.
Next time you’re snorkeling in the ocean or walking along the beach and see these colorful reefs, you might think back to these coral facts and smile. Then, take a picture so you can remember how cool this species truly is!
20 Fun Facts About Coral
1. Corals are VERY busy
Coral reefs are happening places. Even though they only take up a little less than 1% of the ocean, around 25% of all marine life calls them home. More than 4,000 different kinds of fish depend on coral reefs!
2. People depend on coral
While thousands of fish rely on coral for food, millions of people depend on those fish for their next meal. Scientists estimate that over 500 million people eat fish caught from coral reefs. That’s a lot of fish and a lot of people!
3. An individual coral is called a polyp
There might be thousands of individual creatures on a coral reef. Each individual coral is known as a polyp. To feed, usually at night, polyps extend a tentacle to catch plankton and other floating particles.
4. Coral LIKES the sun
There’s a reason that coral reefs are almost always in shallow, clear waters. Coral needs sunlight to grow. It is rare to see coral reefs deeper than 75 yards. These ecosystems are usually in water that is warm and not deep.
5. But coral doesn’t LOVE the sun
While coral needs sunlight to grow, too much sun is dangerous. In warm ocean conditions, corals expel the algae present in the reef, which is essential to survival.
When algae are expelled, the coral turns white, known as bleaching. When the coral reef is completely bleached, it dies. The Glowing campaign is a worldwide effort to save these precious ecosystems.
One of the most shocking coral bleaching facts is that there have been four major coral bleaching events in just the last 20 years leaving some reefs devastated.
6. Coral is technically an animal
While you might look at a coral reef and assume they are plants, they are in fact animals. This is a common confusion, as they do look like little forests. Coral reefs are made up of hard and soft varieties. Coral lives in large groups called colonies.
7. They’re really, really old
While corals are animals, they have been around for a LONG time. And they have extremely long life spans.
There is evidence of coral reefs being in existence for more than 240 million years! And if you visit a coral reef today, it may be up to 10,000 years old. This is definitely one of our favorite facts about corals!
8. Some coral prefers the cold
While most reefs are in shallow, warm water, there are a few species that live a bit differently. Shallow coral reefs rely on photosynthesis, so they need the sun.
There are deep-sea reefs that don’t utilize photosynthesis but rather solely eat particles in the water. Scientists have found reefs up to 13,000 feet deep in waters as cold as 39℉.
9. They have some recognizable cousins
While it may not look like it, coral is related to both jellyfish and anemones. Each of these animals is cnidarians, an ancient group of ocean-dwelling creatures with arms or tentacles that sting.
10. Coral reefs are basically maids
If you have spent any time in or near coral reefs, you have likely noticed the water is clean and very rarely murky, save a current or boat stirring up something.
This fact is because corals and animals they host, like sponges, rely on particles floating in the ocean for food. As a result, the water around reefs is clear!
11. They can get really, really big
This might be the biggest coral fact we have, pun intended. Most people have heard about the Great Barrier Reef. Located in Australia, this reef is the largest in the world and is home to more than 2,900 species of coral.
In fact, more than two million people visit this incredible reef each year! It is one of the natural wonders of the world. The Great Barrier Reef is about the size of Texas and can be seen from space.
12. There is lots of coral in Florida
If you have a hankering to see a coral reef in America, head to the Sunshine State. In the Keys, there are many different types of coral and animals.
Along with about one hundred different types of coral, there are also five different kinds of sea turtles, over 500 species of fish, and thousands of types of mollusks.
13. Coral might be the answer to cancer
Over half of cancer drug research today relies on coral reefs. These marine species are highly intricate and scientists believe there is a wealth of medical knowledge hiding in these reefs.
14. Coral reefs protect our coasts
Besides being home to thousands of fish, coral reefs also protect coastal communities during dangerous ocean storms. These reefs act as a buffer when wind and waves crash into the coast. Healthy reefs also aid in keeping coasts from eroding.
15. There are several different kinds of reefs
Coral reefs look different, and that is because they are made up of a variety of corals. There are four main types:
- Fringing reefs grow near the shore. They are not very wide but are often miles long.
- Barrier reefs are heavily populated near where the sea floor drops sharply.
- Platform reefs are wider at their tops and are often found farther from the coast.
- Atolls are circular reefs with a lagoon in the center.
16. Coral reefs confused Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin theorized that all species choose to live near their food. However, coral thrives in areas with currents, which makes the water devoid of nutrients. So how can this be?
This phenomenon is known as Darwin’s Paradox. It is thought that coral reefs are expert recyclers, meaning they take basic food, like phytoplankton and zooplankton, and turn them into the base of the reef.
17. They’re related to rainforests?
Well, not exactly. But they are basically the rainforests of the ocean. Coral reefs are the basis of an elaborate ecosystem that millions of species rely on. Everything from plants to fish to birds to sharks to turtles depends on coral reefs for shelter and food.
18. They grow really, really slow
Coral is one of the slowest growing species on the planet. This is likely one of the reasons they live so long. In fact, coral might only grow .25 inches a year!
So this means a reef that is around one square mile could have taken over a million years to form. The location of the reef along with the water determines the growth rate. This fun fact about coral has been millions of years in the making!
19. Reefs fascinate people
In recent years, tourists flock to coral reefs in huge numbers. Before 2020, over 70 million people visited locations with reefs each year. A driving factor in these vacations was snorkeling or scuba diving among the fish.
This tourism brings in essential income to communities around the world. Tropical places like Panama are incredible vacation destinations thanks to the ocean
20. Their color comes from algae
People love coral reefs, and one of the reasons is their beautiful colors. One of the ways they get this color is from a particular algae called zooxanthellae.
This algae lives on coral and requires the sun for photosynthesis to produce chlorophyll, which can result in vibrant colors depending on the environment. The closer to the surface the coral lives, the brighter the colors because there is a higher concentration of UV rays.
Who wants more fun facts?
If you’re looking for some recommendations, these are a few of our favorite fact books to buy. We use these when planning fun trivia nights with family and friends!
Have you ever seen a coral reef in person? If not, add it to your bucket list! We think you’ll love getting to experience this unique phenomenon in person. And now that you know so many facts about coral, you’ll enjoy the experience more.
Which coral fact was your favorite? If we’ve missed any, let us know in the comments below and we’ll add it to our list!