Toadstool leather coral
NOT ON EXHIBIT
At the Aquarium
What do corals eat on exhibit? Many are photosynthetic, so they get their nutrition from light—up to 6,000 watts worth! Other corals take advantage of drifting plankton, which means our exhibits need good water flow. Besides that, says Curator Paul Clarkson, “We don’t really feed them much.”
How do you keep a coral reef exhibit clean? Our aquarists try to mimic relationships that exist in the wild, keeping everything in balance. Snails and hermit crabs are introduced to help scour exhibit surfaces. Tangs and surgeonfishes pick, tear and rasp away at the rocks to keep algae in check. There’s even a fish nicknamed the lawnmower blenny that scrapes away at brown algae film on the rocks. “All these animals have jobs to do,” says Paul, “consuming things we don’t want in the exhibit, and helping keep the coral healthy.”
Corals can take many forms. Small-polyp “stony” corals deposit a hard skeleton, forming the “old growth” of the reef. Large-polyp stony corals have a hard skeleton beneath and soft tissue above. Still other corals—like this toadstool leather coral—are entirely soft and don’t deposit any calcium carbonate. All three types can be found in a single coral reef.
An individual toadstool leather colony looks like a big mushroom. However, colonies live close together and may seem to extend for a great distance.
While the bright colors of coral reefs are a sign that they’re healthy, warmer ocean waters are killing some corals, leaving only bleached-white skeletons. Corals build rocky skeletons from calcium and carbonate, chemicals found naturally in the ocean. But oceans are absorbing enormous amounts of carbon pollution, making them more acidic, which soaks up loose carbonate. Without that critical building block, it's much harder for corals to form a reef.
The coral itself isn’t the only thing affected. A coral reef is a living oasis—spectacular sea life thrives in its cracks and bends. This beauty and bounty provides food and shelter for those who live nearby. Bleached reefs are more vulnerable to other ocean changes. If we slow down ocean changes now, we can give the whole community a chance to survive.
Learn more about our “Hot Pink Flamingos” special exhibition.
The toadstool leather coral is capable of movement, although slow.
Reproduction occurs when eggs and sperm are released and meet in mid-water.