Soft CoralPhotos, Pictures, Prints

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Alcyonacea, or soft corals, is an order of corals which do not produce calcium carbonate skeletons. Because of this, they are soft.

These corals contain minute, spiny skeletal elements called sclerites, which are useful in species identification. Sclerites give these corals some degree of support and give their flesh a spiky, grainy texture that deters predators.

In the past, soft corals were thought to be unable to lay new foundations for future corals. However,m recent findings suggest that colonies of the leather-coral genus Sinularia are able to cement sclerites and consolidate them at their base into alcyonarian spiculite, thus making them reef builders.

Unlike stony corals, most soft corals thrive in nutrient-rich waters with less intense light. Almost all use symbiotic photosynthesizing zooxanthella as a major energy source. However, most will readily eat any free floating food, such as zooplankton, out of the water column. These corals are integral members of the reef ecosystem and provide habitat for fish, snails, algae and a diversity of other marine species.

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