The Science Behind: Corals (part 1)

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to go on a long trip to the blissful beachy paradise known as Hawaii. From all the vacation catalogs I read when I was bored in Costco, to all the pictures that my friends showed off to me from their trip, Hawaii seemed like heaven on earth, and I wanted to experience it.


The beach, the sea, the culture, the food, these were all things I was interested in... But what I really wanted to do was to snorkel way into the depths of the sea and look at all the beautiful coral.


Unfortunately because of COVID-19, this trip got canceled, but I want to make the most of what I can do. So in honor of the number one activity on my bucket list, this article is going to be all about coral!


What is it? How does it grow? And how does it contribute to the ecosystem? In part 1, I’m going to be answering the first two questions. I will uncover the rest in part 2, so stay tuned for that!


Anyway, let’s get started with this and SEA what we can find (Aryana’s articles inspired me)!


First of all, what is it?


Coral consists of two parts, the base (which is limestone and non-living) and the outer shell, made of small living creatures called polyps.


The base is the skeleton of the coral and gives structure to the polyps living on top. It’s usually made out of limestone, but can also be made of rock or even wood.


On top of this skeleton is the flesh or the polyps. Polyps are the living parts of the coral. They might seem inanimate because of their rough-textured skin, but don’t let this fool you! If you look deeper inside the polyp, you will find it has a whole functioning body, just like us. Here’s a picture you can follow along with:


On the very top of the polyp, we see its tentacles. These tentacles act like little tongues, moving around in the water and trying to ward in any zooplankton or small fish swimming nearby into their mouths. The food then travels to the mouth and into the stomach, where it is digested and used as energy.


Polyps don't reproduce, instead, they multiply. Once attached to a hard surface, polyps can multiply in hundreds, even thousands, and when they do, they all become connected through tissues called “Coenosarcs”. These thin tissues run from polyp to polyp, transmitting and sharing their energy, food, and more.


Coenosarcs also help all these separate polyps connect into one and “create a colony that acts as one organism”, according to the National Geographic. In simpler words, all the polyps act like one, even though they’re each different organism!


This might be confusing but think of it this way: We each have different body parts, such as hands, legs, and fingers. But since they’re all coordinated together, humans are each considered one organism. The Coral is the same. That’s why reefs of coral are often referred to as one organism and not just polyps! Isn’t that cool?




And that is what a coral is! I hope you all had fun reading this article because I SHORE did enjoy writing it! Check back later for Part 2 to learn more about this phenomenon, and in the meantime…


Happy Learning!


Ishita Baghel



Cover: https://static.nationalgeographic.co.uk/files/styles/image_3200/public/coral-reefs-2728211.jpg?w=1600&h=900


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