Coral reefs occupy less than 0.1% of the ocean floor and yet they provide a home to 25% of all known marine species. Corals support an incredible diversity of marine species and form the foundation for complex food webs. Aside from their ecological importance, coral reefs capture the imagination in a way many environments don’t. With their range of colours and forms, reefs often feel like an alien environment. Here, we’ve collected 9 of the most beautiful species you can find here.
1. Giant Clams
Giant Clams are creatures out of legend. There are tales from the South Pacific of these mollusks lying in wait to snap up unsuspecting divers. In reality they live off passing plankton and food gifted to them. They form symbiotic relationships with algae, which produce the sugar and protein to feed the clam. In return, they provide a home for the algae. The huge creatures can grow to over a meter in length and weight up to 200kg.
The name ‘slug’ doesn’t make anything sound beautiful. However, the sea slug is something of real beauty. There are more than 2,000 known species of sea slug and they come in a fantastic variety of colours and patterns. Their scientific name, Nudibranchia, means ‘naked gills’. This is for the feathery or horny gills along their back that make them so beautiful and unique.
3. Bubble Coral
It’s clear where Bubble Coral got it’s name from. These ethereal globes are filled with water and protect the coral’s hard skeleton. However, they are not all they seem: at night the bubbles retract and feeding tentacles emerge.
There are more than 80 species of marine angelfish. They are known for their intricate patterns and bright colours. The marine species, unlike their freshwater cousins, are omnivorous and live primarily on sponges. Queen Angelfish, like the one pictured here, are shy and often seen alone. They are named for their ‘crown’: the blue ring across their forehead. The most amazing adaptation found in this species might be its ability to change colour when under stress. Like chameleons, they can blend into their environment to help them hide from predators.
5. Pygmy Seahorse
Seahorses are amazing creatures, but we thought this little fellow was particularly delightful. The pygmy seahorse grows to only 1.4-2.7 cm in length. There are seven recognised species of pygmy seahorse, six of which were found in the first decade of this century. There may well be many more waiting for discovery. Larger seahorses are rarely found on coral reefs but the species of pygmy seahorse have evolved perfectly for this habitat.
6. Loggerhead Turtle
Despite the name, these creatures seem to define elegance and grace. They are found all over the world in temperate and tropical regions. They spend most of their lives in open water but the Great Barrier Reef is a vital nesting area for them.
7. Fan Coral
This intricate coral comes from the biological order Gorgonacea, names for the snake-haired Gorgons from Ancient Greek Mythology. As with other corals, a sea fan is not a single organism, but a colony of polyps. This coral appears in many colours dependent on the algae living symbiotically with the polyp.
8. Flamingo’s Tongue Snail
From Sea Slugs to Sea Snails. The Flamingo’s Tongue Sea Snail. Though they do have shells, their vibrant pattern comes from the living tissue surrounding the shell. The shell itself is pale white. The snails feed on corals and only grow to around 30 mm long.
Cuttlefish are related to squid and octopus. Like squid, cuttlefish has ink to help them evade predators, but perhaps their most spectacular adaptation is their ability to shimmer different colours and patterns.