Coral reefs are living structures with a fascinating life-cycle. They are also stunningly beautiful in their own right. When they die, their skeletons build up to form the very islands that we call the maldives. Without corals there would be no water villas!
There are many types of coral that you can encounter on the Maldives reefs, so we have prepared a little guide to get you aquanted with these wonders of the ocean.
Coral Reefs in Maldives
A coral which looks to the naked eye to be a single ‘plant’, is actually a vast colony of millions of identical polyps. Each polyp measures just a few millimeters across. Together they form ‘heads’ which look, and act together as if they were a single organism.
They feed in a strange way too. They have a symbiotic relationship with single-celled algae. The algae (called zooxanthellae) photosynthesise light and the coral extracts some energy in return for providing protection, shelter and nutrients to the zooxanthellae.
You may be warned away from certain corals which sting. This is because these guys suppliment their diet with small fish caught by stinging cells.
Corals are not plants, but animals, but they are easily mistaken. It takes a microscope to see the defining characteristics that differentiate them from underwater plant life.
Some of the more obvious to spot corals are:
- Brain Coral
The brain coral can grow up to 6 feet across and can live for up to 900 years. During the day they generally look solid and unmoving, while at night their tentacles emerge for feeding.
- Cup Coral
These range in size from a few centimetres to 10 inches across and as the name implies, look similar to cups or goblets.
- Staghorn Coral
Staghorns grow quickly and can be found close to the surface or as deep as 30metres. They suffer from stormy weather more than the tighter types such as brain corals, but were quicker to reestablish themselves following the el nino bleaching event of 1998.
- Whip Coral
Looking just like a piece of thin rope attached to the coral bed, the whips are actually stiff. Mostly found a bit deeper, they are a favourite haunt of tiny gobys, shrimps and the Xeno crab, although all three are masters of disguise, so keep a sharp eye out if you want to spot them.
- Star Coral
Boulders covered in stars best describes these beautiful creatures. A vast range of colours and shapes mean that in the Maldives you will sometimes wonder at whether this actually is a star coral or not.
- Sea fans
Fan corals or Gorgonias stand up and spread wide but remain flat, just like a lady’s fan. You can get close and see the amazing detail, but do mind your fins as they are easily damaged.
- Carnation Coral
Little orange and pink corals that look like a highly pleated spanish lady’s dress are a delight.
- Tree Corals. They look fabulous, like underwater bonsai trees that have been painted by Salvador Dali.
- Bubble Corals
Perhaps strangest of the lot, I mistook these for fish eggs until I was put right by our dive master.
- Sea Pens
You have to go deeper than 12 metres to find these, but it is worth it. They look like old quill feathers and grow upright as if an author has finished a chapter and rammed his quill into the rock.