(MOUN­TAIN­OUS STAR CO­RAL) Sharpen your ID skills for the most in­trigu­ing co­ral species

Scuba Diving - - Ascend - BY NI­COLE HELGASON

Orbicella faveolata is an im­por­tant reef-build­ing co­ral that forms large, moun­tain­ous colonies. Ju­ve­nile corals are rather mun­dane, while adult colonies can grow to an im­pres­sive size.

Orbicella grows by en­crust­ing. A new colony can start from a sin­gle polyp, which grows out­ward from the base. You can see a slightly lighter color on the grow­ing edge of the colony where new polyps are emerg­ing.

Orbicella grows into thick, hearty colonies, which make the ideal can­di­date for frag­men­ta­tion and co­ral restora­tion. Small 15 mm to 20 mm frag­ments can be cut from adult colonies us­ing a di­a­mond band saw. These frag­ments can be glued onto ce­ramic frag plugs and grown in salt wa­ter un­til they dou­ble or triple in size.

At this point, tiny Orbicella colonies can be trans­planted back to the reef. As they grow, their skele­tons add a con­sid­er­able mass to the reef, and over time they can help sta­bi­lize loose rocks or de­cay­ing reef struc­ture.

The com­mon name for this co­ral is moun­tain­ous star co­ral be­cause of its size and char­ac­ter­is­tic peaks and ridges. Polyps are small at about a half-inch across. When polyps are re­tracted, Orbicella coral­lites have tiny grooves that give it a star­like ap­pear­ance.

Orbicella is co­ral that could be over­looked. From a few me­ters away, you might think this co­ral is just a rock or sim­ply con­sider it as part of the reef. Divers are of­ten more fo­cused on look­ing for fish, tur­tles, rays and eels than try­ing to de­scribe co­ral. But Orbicella is an im­por­tant co­ral to the over­all health and growth of the reef.

To re­ally see the beauty in this co­ral, look for large colonies or colonies of con­trast­ing colors grow­ing next to each other.

Un­til re­cently, Orbicella was clas­si­fied as part of the Mon­tas­trea fam­ily. You can still find this co­ral listed as Mon­tas­trea faveolata, how­ever, the cur­rent de­scrip­tion is Orbicella.

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