Coral Reefs

The living reef

Coral is built by coral polyps living atop the skeletons of previous polyps. As generation after generation of these creatures die, their protective limestone skeletons form the reef. The reef grows, but only its outer edge is alive.

Algae live in a symbiotic relationship with the coral, providing food and consuming waste as the coral grows. Coral grows in shallow, warm salt water, ranging from 6 to 90 feet (2 to 30m) deep, and hovering at 70ºF (23ºC).

Barrier reefs of coral running parallel to the shore protect the Islands from wave action and stabilize the islands’ plateau edges. Inshore of the barrier reefs, patch reefs range from a few hundred square feet to several acres.

museum reef display|191

Some 60 species of coral live in the waters off the Turks & Caicos. Hard coral varieties include staghorn, elkhorn, pillar, star, and brain. Sea fans, sea whips, and sea plumes number among the soft varieties.

In celebration of this natural wonder in our Islands, the Museum replicated a section of the reef “wall” (right) allowing our non-diving visitors to experience the reef and giving our diving visitors another perspective.