Volume 5 Number 2
Elkhorn Coral near San Salvador
This picture shows a huge colony of Elkhorn Coral. Like other corals, Elkhorn Corals are colonies of thousands of animals that build a huge skeleton together and then live on the surface of that skeleton.
What should we call these corals? The common name for these corals is Elkhorn Corals. But scientists call these corals Acropora palmata (say, "ACK-row-POUR-uh palm-AH-tuh"). Acropora Palmata is the scientific name for this coral. Acropora is the genus name, meaning Elkhorn Corals belong to a group of animals called Acropora that grow in tall, branching colonies. Other kinds of Acropora corals include the Staghorn Corals. Palmata is the species name, which distinguishes Elkhorn corals from the other types of Acropora corals.
No matter what you call them, Elkhorn Corals are tall and lumpy branches.
I took this picture near Acropora Palmata Reef near the north shore of San Salvador in the Bahamas. Obviously, this reef was named for these corals. The corals made branches that were long and tall, sometimes over 6 feet long. The corals grew to within a few inches of the surface of the ocean. At low tide, sometimes the tops of these corals stuck out of the water. The spaces between the branches allowed water to flow through, bringing food to all of the coral animals.
It was exciting to try to swim between these branches. You'd have to look carefully to find a space that was big enough to swim through, usually only at the surface. Then you'd start to swim into the space and hope that it wasn't a blind alley. You had to be very careful not to bump into the corals, as the branches were brittle and could break easily.
Notice how murky the water was near Acropora Palmata Reef. The ocean was thick with plankton, which is the food for the Elkhorn Corals. It is no wonder these corals were so tall and healthy. You can see little white dots that look like falling snow in this picture. This is the light from the camera's strobe reflecting from the plankton that floated in the water.
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