Animal, mineral or vegetable? When it comes to corals, that’s a difficult question to answer and you’d be forgiven for responding with any of the three. Coral is, actually, an animal – but the calcium carbonate skeleton of hard corals makes it look like rock; and it has a symbiotic relationship with plant-like cells called zooxanthellae.
You might not have given these creatures much thought before, but corals are so often the reason for choosing a holiday destination – particularly for those who’re into diving and snorkelling. Not only are corals absolutely exquisite, they are essential to 25% of marine life, providing an intricate ecosystem in which the species thrive… and that makes for beautiful underwater viewing for us humans.
But what, exactly, is coral?
Coral is a marine invertebrate that begins life as free-floating larvae. It attaches itself to a hard surface and becomes a polyp, and the corals we see are actually colonies of polyps that have multiplied over generations, creating the limestone skeletons (the polyps secrete layer upon layer of calcium carbonate underneath its body) that become a coral reef. Polyps can be as small than the dot on this “i” or larger than a saucer, so you can appreciate that they usually take a long, long time to develop.
Indonesia is a country rich in corals, and is part of the Coral Triangle, which is home to more than 600 species of coral. Absolute heaven for diving holidays!