Corals, among the oldest living animals, are related to jellyfish and sea anemones. The actual coral, or “polyp”, is soft-bodied with tentacles like a sea anemone. The main difference is that corals secrete an external calcium carbonate skeleton, while sea anemones do not. The tiny coral polyps occupy little cups, or corallites, in the hard skeleton, which forms the framework of coral reefs.
Of the several hundred coral species, some are large and branching, growing rapidly at up to four inches a year. Others are mound-shaped, growing slowly at only half an inch a year. In addition to hard corals, mainly brain corals, there are soft ones, like the common sea fan. They are flexible, allowing them to move with the wave action. Rarely in the Caribbean will you find soft corals in such profusion as in La Cordillera Nature Reserve. Fans and other forms, such as plumes, whips and rods, sway beautifully in the underwater swells.
Corals are the cradle of life for the oceans. Their seafloor structures, which take hundreds of years to develop, shelter marine life from predators and strong currents, create rich habitats and support the highest biodiversity.
Source: Adapted from Oceana.