From a distance, it looks like mossy rock or bone. Up close it appears to be covered in tiny flowers. But each of those flowers is actually an animal: a coral polyp. A coral is a round body, topped with a mouth, surrounded by a ring of tentacles. Inside there is a simple gut, lined with long threads of tissue that help digest the coral’s food. Reef building corals lay down a skeleton of calcium carbonate – essentially rock. Corals are colonial – budding off new polyps, each one connected to the one next to it, and genetically identical, forming a living veneer.
Corals are hunters. Their tentacles are lined with millions of stinging cells that kill what they catch. They are super weapons on a micro scale. But in the clear, warm water where corals live, there is not much to catch. So how do corals find food? The secret to their success is in their relationship with a plant. Living right inside their cells are tiny algae, plant cells known as symbionts. Like all plants, they photosynthesise . Using energy from the sun, they produce sugars, enough food for themselves and for their coral host. Its extraordinary biology where the algae get a home and the coral gets up to 90% of its food. And together they build the reef.
The best places to enjoy superb, bustling and colorful coral gardens are: