Branching Coral

Rigid coral branches present the illusion of fluid movement in a turquoise sea near the Turks and Caicos Islands.

ea Fan Close-Up

Similar to all corals, sea fans, such as this one in the Turks and Caicos Islands, are made up of tiny animals called polyps. When stressed by such things as temperature change or pollution, coral polyps will evict their colorful algae boarders, which can lead to coral bleaching and death.
Patterns in Nature: Coral


A majid crab (Xenocarcinus depressus) disappears among the vivid red of gorgonian coral in Palau.

Coral Topography

A close-up reveals the subtle valleys and ridges of a single coral off of the coast of Mexico.

Mushroom Coral

Reminiscent of the underside of a mushroom cap, this coral is common in the western Pacific Ocean. Mushroom coral (Fungia scutaria) is formed from a single polyp, instead of a colony of polyps.

Coral Tentacles

Though corals get most of their food from the byproducts of zooxanthellae algae's photosynthesis, they also have barbed, venomous tentacles they can stick out, usually at night, to grab zooplankton and even small fish.

Rainbow of Soft Corals

A palette of soft corals grows along a reef near Fiji. Unlike hard corals, soft corals have no rigid outer skeletons—the building blocks of coral reefs.

Star Coral

Star coral (Montastrea cavernosa) polyps open in search of food near Little Cayman Island.

Coral Close View

Coral reefs teem with life, covering less than one percent of the ocean floor, but supporting about 25 percent of all marine creatures. Indonesia is home to the highest marine diversity on Earth, including this coral photographed near the Tukangbesi archipelago in Indonesia.

Soft Coral

Orange pulpy soft coral vacillates in the western Pacific Ocean. Both hard and soft corals have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae algae, which live in coral and give it its