International Year of the Reef: Corsola the.. Coral

Seem’s like 2018 is the International Year of the Reef, which basically means it’s the best time to raise awareness about coral reef communities. And as a science communicator wannabe, when I see a bandwagon I jump on it! Here goes.

Corsola is a… Branching coral (Acropora sp)? Well obviously you can’t have a coral reef without corals so first up.

Corsola

If you’re a reef fish and you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, there’s a pretty high chance the hard place is actually an animal. Yes, corals are not rocks or plants, but really weird colonial animals that build hard, corallite (calcium carbonate) skeletons and host colourful photosynthetic thingums (zooxanthelae). So uh, yeah i guess they’re kinda all three. This kinda explains Corsola’s rock/water typing, and well if you catch a Corsola you’ve technically caught a whole buncha living things at once. The coral animal individuals are actually tiny little polyps that live together in a large, hard structure. To give you a sense of relation, corals are cnidarians, being related to jellyfish and sea anemones, united under one big stinging phyla (that’s literally the diagnostic for the whole group, that they have “stinging cells”).

 

Cnidaria
It’s a whole phyla of sting-y bois! Image by the Marine Education Society of Australasia.

So like, corals are animals, and most animals reproduce by having sex right? So, you ask, how do corals do it if they’re stuck to the ground? And have no visible dongs? Welp, synchronised orgy of course! Coral mass spawning events occur at pretty predictable times of the year, where corals release their sperm and eggs into the water and the ocean becomes a soup of gonads and everyone is grossed out by this except the coral scientists who get all excited and decide that diving in this soup is the best thing to do.

Coral spawn Karenne Tun
Coral spawning in Singapore, 2015. Photo by Karenne Tun.

For more information on coral spawning (with hot, steamy HD videos!), check out Wild Shores of Singapore Coral Spawning 2017.

 

Despite Corsola’s cute and innocent facade, corals are actually vicious CARNIVORES, feeding on teeny weeny plankton by capturing them with… mucus. Some polyps also have tentacles and large individuals may even be capable of capturing fish. Yay, the ocean is full of wonderful and horrifying things.

On their own, corals are actually a pretty plain-looking white, but many of them home microscopic algae known as zooxanthellae that come in all sorts of crazy colours. The polyp provides the zooxanthellae with shelter and minerals, while the zooxanthellae photosynthesise inside the polyp and share additional vital nutrients with the polyp. So yay everybody wins! You scratch my back i scratch yours, if only all office relationships were the same lol.

However, small little annoying things like, y’know, global warming, are screwing up ocean temperatures, and coupled with all the crazy things we do to our water like reclamation (go Team Magma), this heavily stresses our poor little corals out, and causes them to evict the poor little zooxanthellae. Throwing their sorry asses out in this concious uncoupling means that the zooxenthallae have custody over the coral’s bright colours, which leave with them, leaving the coral polyps and skeletons looking white and very, uh, skeletal. This process is known as coral bleaching, and it is a sign of deteriorating marine ecosystem health, that warrants our attention but really doesn’t get enough of it. Corsola looks like it’s bleaching from the bottom up, which is kinda unusual i think?

coral bleaching
A bleaching reef looks like a marine boneyard. Mass coral bleaching on Singapore’s Terumbu Pempang Tengah, Jul 2010. Image by Ria Tan.

Corals, despite being rock (insert Dwayne Johnson badassery here), are surprisingly fragile and there are many ways to kill them apart from global warming. Careless divers may step on them, breaking them or breaching their protective mucus membrane, fishing lines may snag them by accident, or they may be collected and sold as decorations.

MOMO-Coral-Branch.png_350x350
The closest photo I could find most resembling Corsola from a cursory google search is ironically some kind of decoration being sold on an online shopping site.

 

 

Anyway, natural coral reefs really do exist in urban, destroy-our-shores Singapore. The photos in the picture were taken at low tide at Sentosa, but on the mainland corals also exist on many shores, even urban ones such as East Coast and Tanah Merah where the corals are recovering. The reefs in the southern islands are also pretty significant, and it is actually possible to dive there and see cool things. The marine biodiversity there is diverse enough to warrant attention and some form of protection, as evidenced by the recent establishment of the Sister’s Island Marine Park. Nature in Singapore is pretty resilient, but in the end there’s only so much they can do on their own without the will of humans, so it’s really up to us whether or not we want to protect our marine (and terrestrial) biodiversity.

WildSingapore factsheet on hard corals: http://www.wildsingapore.com/wildfacts/cnidaria/coralhard/coralhard.htm

Personal Pokedex: Seen em

Corsola © The Pokemon Company
Image credits:
– Me, with permission to enter site from Sentosa thanks to Ria Tan

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