Over the last couple of years we’ve had the distinct great privilege of visiting exotic coral reefs, many of which have never been seen by divers, or at least visitors with such a strong focus on the corals that actually build the reefs. On our last excursion thousands of miles from the comfort of an armchair, well beyond the safety of civilization, we had the chance to go well off the beaten path and while we never know what we are going to find, if anything, we couldn’t have been prepared for a wonderful new “strain” of plating Astreopora.
Of all the large groups of popular stony corals, it’s safe to say that Astreopora still hasn’t broken through to the mainstream, with hardly a domesticated strain being offered at the usual frag swaps and coral reef conferences. Perhaps this is because most species are encrusting or submassive, all except for the widely distributed Astreopora randalli. This species of Asteopora has the smallest polyps and corallite in the genus, and hence it tends to grow more like more familiar aquarium corals, especially plating montipora and turbinaria.
While diving a particularly turbid reef in an inlet of the Florida Islands group of the Solomon Islands, we were stunned to come across not one, but multiple colonies of Astreopora randalli with a unique green-splattered color pattern. Regular readers will immediately think of similar color patterns we’ve seen in many other corals which in some cases is due to a kind of “infection” of green fluorescent protein.
Not to be confused with corals like the green splash sandal coral, the ‘GFP infected’ astreopora’s color ranged quite widely from colony to colony, with some showing a near complete presence of green coloration across the colony, others showing just a very little bit of green spreading across their tissue, and a small number of Astreopora randalli colonies being all brown with no discernible green color visible.
It’s really impossible to determine exactly how these colonies of Atreopora are endowed with the unusual and erratic green splash of colors across their tissues. But one thing is for sure, next time we visit this particular reef and others like it, we’ll be on the lookout for more examples of corals that appear to exhibit what we’ve come to call the GFP infection.