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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.

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News & Insights

Lab shutdowns enable speedier investigation of coral disease

Despite labs shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WHOI microbiologists are working fast to solve a different kind of outbreak—one travelling below the ocean’s surface and ravaging coral reefs from Florida to the Caribbean.

Shedding light on the deep, dark canyons of the Mid-Atlantic

WHOI biologist Tim Shank discusses the exploration of deep-sea canyons throughout the Mid-Atlantic Ocean and how ecosystems there can be managed sustainably in the face of climate change and increased human pressures.

Virgin Island Corals in Crisis

A coral disease outbreak that wiped out nearly 80% of stony corals between Florida’s Key Biscayne and Key West during the past two years appears to have spread to the U.S. Virgin Islands (U.S.V.I.), where reefs that were once vibrant and teeming with life are now left skeleton white in the disease’s wake.

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News Releases

Surviving extreme heat

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WHOI in the News

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From Oceanus Magazine

Five marine living fossils you should know about

After living for millions of years, these species may have mastered evolution in our ocean

For Cynthia Becker, solutions to coral health are in the smallest details

MIT-WHOI Joint Program student Cynthia Becker sits down with Oceanus Magazine to explain why marine microbes may be the key to diagnosing reef health

A DISCO in the Ocean

To investigate coral bleaching, WHOI scientists figure out a novel way to take direct measurements in the ocean of superoxide, a key molecule that vanishes almost as soon as it is made.

How Do Corals Build Their Skeletons?

WHOI scientists discovered precisely how ocean acidification affects coral skeletons’ a factor that will help scientists predict how corals throughout the world will fare as the oceans become more acidic.

Searching for ‘Super Reefs’

Some corals are less vulnerable to ocean acidification. Can the offspring from these more resilient corals travel to other reefs to help sustain more vulnerable coral populations there?