talking points for nature guides
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Phylum Cnidaria > Class Anthozoa > Subclass Alcyonaria/Octocorallia > Order Alcyonacea
index to talking points for nature guides
For nature guides: introducing soft corals
updated Dec 2019

What are soft corals?

  • Can you guess? Are they animal or vegetable?
    • Yes they are animals: each soft coral is a colony of many tiny animals called polyps. Can you see the tiny polyps?

    • Yes, they can be sort of considered vegetables too! Many soft corals contain tiny algae inside their bodies. The microscopic, single-celled algae (called symbiotic zooxanthallae, pronounced 'zoo-zan-tell-ay') undergo photosynthesis to produce food from sunlight. The food produced is shared with the polyp, which in return provides the algae with shelter and minerals.

Soft corals are important to the ecosystem

  • Soft corals provide a structure for small animals to shelter and hide. These small animals in turn are eaten by larger animals.

  • Let's see if we can find small animals living in this soft coral! Some animals you might find:
  • Soft corals NEED a good ecosystem in order to thrive. They need clear water so that sunlight can allow their symbiotic algae to photosynthesise. Sediments not only cloud the water, but also smother the tiny polyps.
Handling tips

Don't touch soft corals: They are easily bruised!

Don't remove soft corals from their attachment. They will die.

Don't bend leathery corals They are not flexible and are instead quite stiff and hard. You may break them, and some contain toxins.

Don't remove animals found in soft corals They are usually small and delicate and may be hurt. Away from the soft coral, they will die.
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