Often scuba divers focus on tiny critters, schools of fish, or jumbo-sized creatures like whales, dolphins, and sharks. This leaves corals to get lumped together under a single term ‘coral reef’ which is far too general to describe the hundreds of individual coral species waiting to be discovered.
Corals are the foundation of the marine environment and it’s a rewarding experience to scuba dive with the intention of looking for corals. We’ve put together this list of 20 corals which you can start looking for while diving in Indonesia. You will also find these corals throughout the entire Indo-Pacific.
Scuba Diving Indonesia
Indonesia is one of the world top scuba diving destinations because of the abundance and diversity of marine life. At first, scuba diving in Indonesia can be overwhelming with so much new to look at, but after a few dives once you’ve adjusted to the underwater world, take a moment and turn your eyes to the reef, and start searching for corals.
Corals are a diverse group of animals with hundreds of individual species. The reason I love searching for corals is that each coral can look vastly different than corals of the same species so even if you’ve seen a coral once, you never know where a biggest brighter colony is hiding.
Coral growth is influenced by the location and conditions it is found growing on the reef. So corals living in a high light or high flow area will look different than corals found below 20 meters.
For example a branching coral found living in high-flow or surge area will focus energy on creating a solid encrusting base before it begins to forms branches. The same coral found living in a shallow lagoon with very little current would have a smaller base with more branches.
Coral Genus Identification
This shape-shifting ability can be confusing for some who are just learning to identify corals species. If this is your first time trying to identify corals, it is best to start at the genus level before trying to identify coral species.
For example, Montipora is a common genus of coral from Indonesia. Montipora corals can be recognized from having tiny corallites which are embedded in the surface of the coral. Small flowering polyps are usually always visible and often a different color from the coral’s tissue. The surface of the coral is covered in short smooth ridges or bumps which are loosely connected or completely disconnected from one another.
When you have the visual image in your head of Montipora it is easy to spot this abundant genus regardless of the individual species. For Montipora, there are over fifty individual species, which are encrusting, platting, or branching. To identify this coral to the species level you will need to take wide-angle pictures of the colony and close-ups of the corallites, you may also need to measure the corallite size to get a perfect match.
*Montipora can be confused with Porites which also has small corallites that look like pores in the surface of the coral. However, Porites, for the most part, lacks the smooth bumpy ridges characteristic of Montipora.
Coral Identification Basics
The corals listed below are a general representation of each genus. Many of these coral types have dozens of species which can look different than my photos. This list is meant to be a starting place for your coral exploration.
If you are just starting out the best thing to do is look for common traits shared amongst a certain genus of corals. Start with memorizing a few corals to recognize underwater and scuba diving becomes a never-ending treasure hunt! If you want to learn more about basic coral biology and helpful term for coral identification check out my article on Scuba Diver Life Coral Biology I & Coral Biology II
If you are interested in learning more about a particular species let me know in the comment below, or check out some of the online resources for species identification. Coral Identification Resources – Coral Hub, Coral Finder, AIMS Coral Fact Sheets, Corals of the World