Reef-building corals create habitats for many other organisms. The coral reefs of the Red Sea are highly diverse and unique in the world, providing shelter and sustenance for abundant fishes and other marine life. A research partnership with KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) in Saudi Arabia is providing WHOI scientists a rare opportunity to study the Red Sea, including an assessment of pristine coral reef ecosystems near the Saudi Arabia coast. (Photo by Jessie Kneeland, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Many people think of coral as hard, rock-like formations that attract abundant, diverse marine life. In fact, corals are themselves tiny marine animals called polyps that live together in large colonies.
Coral polyps are relatives of jellyfish and anemones. Some live in shallow water, some in deep; some form hard outer skeletons made of calcium carbonate, others have a soft body encasing hard internal structures known as sclerites. Hundreds of thousands of hard corals with their skeletons glued together form the iconic reef structures that do, indeed, serve as the foundation for important marine ecosystems around the world.