Corals are diverse groups of invertebrate animals. Coral polyps are tiny, soft-bodied organisms that are related to jellyfish and sea anemones.

Different species of coral are found in different habitats and different locations around the world. Hard corals like lobed star coral and pillar coral are reef-building corals. Colonial hard corals, consisting of hundreds to hundreds of thousands of individual polyps, are cemented together by the calcium carbonate “skeletons” they secrete. As colonies grow over hundreds and thousands of years, they join with other colonies and become reefs. Some of the coral reefs on the planet today began growing over 50 million years ago.

Soft corals do not produce a rigid calcium carbonate skeleton and do not form reefs, although they are often found in reef ecosystems. Soft corals are also colonial animals. Often, what appears to be a single large organismresembling trees, bushes, fans, and whipsis actually a colony of individual polyps combined to form a larger structure. 

Coral reefs teem with life. Although they cover less than one percent of the ocean floor, they support about 25 percent of all marine creatures. Corals are particularly vulnerable to the effects of human activities including pollution, climate change, sedimentation, and fishing. Under the Endangered Species Act, more than 25 coral species are listed as threatened or endangered. 

NOAA Fisheries works to better understand and conserve coral species and coral reef habitats both domestically and internationally.

Species News

A woman in a yellow t-shirt with short, curly hair sits in front of a laptop and smiles at the camera. Dr. Martha Nizinski on board NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow in 2017. Image courtesy of Dr. Martha Nizinski.
Red long-legged crabs on a rocky ledge edged with pink branching bubblegum corals Large bubblegum corals and California king crabs on Santa Lucia Bank, part of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Deep-sea coral and sponge data collected with Program support informed proposed sanctuary boundaries. Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust.
Several vibrantly colored animals, including a pink mushroom coral (center), precious pink coral (right), a green-hues bamboo coral (left), and feather stars (center) on a dark rocky outcrop Several vibrantly colored animals, including a mushroom coral (center), precious pink coral (right), bamboo coral (left), and feather stars (center) near Jarvis Island in the U.S. Pacific Islands. Credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration


Peer-Reviewed Research

Oceanic Productivity and High-Frequency Temperature Variability—Not Human Habitation—Supports Calcifier Abundance on Central Pacific Coral Reefs

Our results reveal that human habitation is no longer a primary correlate of calcifier cover on…

Peer-Reviewed Research

Coral Taxonomy and Local Stressors Drive Bleaching Prevalence Across the Hawaiian Archipelago in 2019

The Hawai‘i Coral Bleaching Collaborative conducts 2,177 coral bleaching surveys across the…

Peer-Reviewed Research

Spatial Distribution and Sources of Nutrients at Two Coastal Developments in South Kohala, Hawai’i

A study documenting how nutrients are distributed within coral reef developments for better…

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