When we get corals through the regular distribution channels, we are at the mercy of the coral collectors in Indonesia and the Pacific Ocean as to what corals they collect, and most often these will be known species that are sold by the hundreds every week. But when you’re diving in the heart of the Coral Triangle as we were during the Fluval Sea Flores Expedition, we get to use our own coral-scanning eyes to seek out the weirdo corals that don’t usually make the front page of exciting coral stories.
Of course it’s great to go to super photogenic, sprawling coral reefs with crystal clear waters and never ending fields of healthy corals. But if you really want to see something new, the kinds of corals that are “underground” per-se, you gotta go to turbid waters, in strange habitats where silt falls down like rain and where nary another diver will ever be seen.
It’s in these sort of fringe coral reef habitats that we came across a slew of unheralded awesomely bizarre stony corals. You can see that nearly all of these corals pictured here are not surrounded by sand or other corals, but silt-covered reef structure. In these kind of habitats the corals are the most dominant and best adapted benthic marine life to be found and they even seem to thrive in this higher nutrient, rich environment.
The first coral pictured above is a species of Leptoseris, perhaps L. tubulifera, a species which often has delicate wavy margins and tubules erupting from the surface. While this colony doesn’t have the namesake tubules, it does have an incredibly unique bright white growing margin which made this coral stand out like a bullseye even in dim, turbid water.
Chalice corals may be all the rage, and have been for a few years now, but despite all the fanfare there’s still a whole slew of chalice coral species that are completely unknown in the aquarium hobby. Pictured above is a super neat colony of Oxypora crassispinosa, it’s not winning any awards in the color department but its super neat colony growth form and texture make it remarkable nonetheless.
Pictured below is a colony of Echinomorpha nishihirai, surrounded by silt like that, situated under a ledge this coral species could be the poster child of cryptic LPS Corals. This colony isn’t exactly oozing with color either, but in recent years there’s been a much bigger supply of Echinomorpha in some pretty amazing shades and patterns. We accidentally bleached one colony we picked up at MACNA in Miami but with sheltered conditions, moderate lighting and target feeding it is now back in action and actually starting to grow like a real coral.
The other two cryptic corals we want to share with you today are more of the branching kind. Paraclavarina is an interesting, thin branching species of horn coral that is closely related to Hydnophora. Besides having much thinner branches, Paraclavarina is distinguished by having a triangular cross-section where branches are broken. You might think the coral pictured is the blandest shade of grey but inder aquarium lighting this species can actually be baby blue-grey in color and we’ve even seen it in horn coral’s defining highlighter green color.
The final coral featured today is Palauastrea – while this species may not be so common in the cryptic zones as the corals above, it does tend to live on teh edge of these habitats, or at the fringes of more typical reef environments. We don’t knwo that much abotu this coral since it is almost never exported for aquariums. However, being related to Stylophora it has those tell-tale sort of metallic polyp ends which give it a shimmery appearance when the tentacles react to water flow.
This is just a sampling of the super neat corals one can find in reef environments that are off the beaten path and the next time you go diving yourself, be sure to keep an eye out for the less commonly encountered corals of the sea.