I asked a few friends if they thought there was coral growing in the Salish Sea and got some resounding laughs and some jokes about Climate Change. Rocky areas of the Salish Sea can be interesting and colorful places just brimming with sea life, but one of the most colorful creatures here is the orange cup coral. Yes, a coral, but these are unlike tropical corals that create vast colonies of calcium carbonate platforms. Remember, most tropical corals are actually symbiotic unions of two living things, a plant (algae) and an animal (a small polyp). Both work together to exist, and one can’t live without the other. Our northern corals aren’t like this, and we have a large variety of hard, soft, plastic, fan-shaped, cup shaped corals right here, right under your keel.
Orange cup corals are not colony-builders, but are solitary – unlike their tropical reef-creating relatives. Most of our local coral species are like this as well, and most grow on rocks. They don’t rely on an algae connection for food, but instead unfold their half-inch cups lined with tentacles to catch tiny, almost microscopic morsels drifting by. They are animals, after all, and this is just their way of fishing for dinner. Tropical coral needs to live close to the surface so its algae can have sunlight to produce food, but our corals often live in deeper and darker water – no algae, no need for light. You may see cup corals under docks or on rocks during very low tides, but most are deeper than that. They’re part of this amazing and diverse place many of us call home.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.