Acropora – The Queen of the Reef

If we can identify one thing that allows us to run our unusual and crazy business of growing life coral in the ocean it is what we call the “Queen of the Ocean” commonly known as Acropora. We are referring to Acropora known as a genus of stony coral that can take different shapes. Some grow in form of flat so called “tables”, other form elkhorn or staghorn coral. Some look like chunky trees and can form something of an underwater forest. There are roughly a 150 species commonly acknowledged but the real number is a mystery. Too many variations are known and it is disputed if some of those are true separate species or cross breeding of different varieties. Science has much to discover and learn about these fascinating creatures. Yes, you read right. Coral is not a plant, but a colony of individual animals (polyps) that share a common tissue and nerve net. They live in a stony calcium structure they built and grow. Think of it as a little underwater skyscraper with little individual homeowners. While coral have no Homeowner association they have the ability to act and reacting in unison to avoid predators by withdrawing their polyps all at once when danger is near. What is fascinating is that coral has a symbiotic relationship with algae. Different forms of algae lives within the corals cells to produce nutrients from sunlight through the process of photosynthesis. So the coral feast on plankton and other biological matter it filters from the water and it uses the sunlight with the help of the algae to gain nutrients. Depending on the type of algae the coral harbors, it has different colors. It is often brownish green but can take on bright colors of pink, red, blue, yellow or purple. But the most amazing feature of the acropora genom is the ability to grow. It can grow its calcium structure relatively quickly. Given the right circumstances a colony can grow from a small fragment to a football size in the matter of a year. Off course the conditions have to be just right for it to grow at all. The coral is sensitive to temperature, light, salinity, oxygen and requires the right mix of nutrients in order to thrive. It is fragile and susceptible to a variety of human influences like pollution, global warming and overfishing. Acropora builds that calcium structure that gives the base for so many coral reefs. Even islands have raised its head above the waterline with the help of millions of years of acropora growth. We find this group of species absolutely mesmerizing and fascinating, even though we deal with it on a professional basis. We use small fragments of a coral and place it in ideal conditions under water in a shallow lagoon in the ocean and tend to it like a farmer to his crop. Every time that little piece has grown into a beautiful shape we marvel at this natural wonder. Coral is so integral to all our well being. The health of our oceans depend on the state of our coral reefs. A large majority of fish species relies direct or indirectly on the reef for raising the next generation and survival of the species. Everything on this planet is interconnected and complex. Acropora is a good symbol of that fragile balance. It lives and dies and forms a reef that provides shelter to other species which in turn give another different group of species the environment to thrive and survive. The larvae of the coral is traveling the oceans as part of the plankton that feeds whales and populate new coral colonies in far destinations. One polyp is a small part of a greater order. In that respect the coral symbolizes much of what this world is made of. It is a fascinating place with a sheer endless number of inter-dependencies and varieties. While we try to harness and cultivate some of its beauty by raising coral in the ocean, we still are in awe of all its mysteries.