Tag: natural wonders

The Life and Death of a Majestic Old Coral

In July, I introduced via The Nature Conservancy’s photo of the month what may then have been the world’s largest living table coral (pictured above).

I found it on a reef in Nusa Laut, Indonesia. I also indicated that the coral felt like an old friend to me and that I would develop a knot in my stomach on visiting the reef in anticipation of finding my “old friend” dead or damaged.

Table corals are not as long lived as some of their massive boulder forming community members.

The reason is that table corals grow by dividing horizontally away from the center after reaching a certain thickness.

The central polyps stop dividing vertically and eventually get old and die from natural senescence. The center of any very large table coral colony usually is dead.

Massive corals on the other hand, like some we’ve seen in our Indo-Pacific seas, may be hundreds to over a thousand years old.

These corals grow by dividing vertically and thus are constantly renewing themselves as they grow upwards and outwards.

Table corals are also vulnerable to toppling by storm surges and breakage of their narrow pedestals when shaken by earthquakes and tremors in seismically active areas like those in the West Pacific and Coral Triangle.

How these corals respond to the stress of being shaken and toppled is a great indicator of their resilience. Some simply give up and die. Other more resilient ones seem to shrug off the stress and reorient their plane of growth, contributing dramatic new architecture to the reef community.

I exhorted friends who visited the Nusa Laut reef in November last year to measure the majestic table coral precisely and report on its well-being.

The news wasn’t good.

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