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Corals look like plants with their repeating "branches", but are in fact made up of many smaller animals living symbiotically.


These tiny, soft-bodied animals are the building blocks of coral reefs, colorful structures which support 25% of ocean life.

A colorful logo reading SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction. The letters have been manipulated to look like animal parts.

Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE)

Corals are a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Saving Animals from Extinction (AZA SAFE) program.

Zoos and aquariums across the country are partnering to raise awareness for the conservation of threatened and endangered corals and the challenges they face in the wild like climate change.

Corals look like plants with their repeating "branches", but are in fact made up of many smaller animals living symbiotically.

A closeup of toadstool coral reveals that every upward facing surface is covered in fine, hair-like fleshy polyps that move with the movement of the water.

Coral polyps are visible on rigid red stalks of scarlet sea whip coral.

Bright yellow sun corals crowd among each other on a rock.

Hammer corals grow in round clusters.

Coral polyps are viewed close up.

All About Corals

Despite their plant-like appearance, corals are animals related to sea jellies and sea anemones, each with a mouth and a stomach. Large colonies of these tiny coral polyps build exoskeletons over hundreds or thousands of years to create coral reefs, which are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

Corals can catch their food, such as plankton and small fishes, with stinging cells in their tentacles much like their jelly relatives. They also gain nutrition from tiny symbiotic algae inside them that use photosynthesis. When stressed, often as a response to rising ocean temperatures, corals expel these algae in a process called coral bleaching. The bone-white bleached corals are susceptible to starvation and disease, threatening the health of the reef ecosystem.


Two Shedd researchers work on a device for coral research.

Why Protect Coral Reefs?

Climate change is the biggest threat to already-vulnerable corals worldwide. Shedd scientists are conducting pioneering research to boost coral thermal tolerance. Through genetic analysis of corals in the Caribbean, the team is identifying key genetic traits that allow naturally robust corals to survive warming waters.

Explore Coral Research

Corals on the Move

Though adult corals are attached to the ocean floor, some can move to catch prey. Watch as this single polyp plate coral uses its flexible appendages to move a piece of food toward its mouth.

Hammer coral

Leather coral

Boulder star coral

Finger leather coral

Kenya tree coral

Cup coral

Starburst coral

Soft finger coral

Massive starlet coral

Toadstool leather coral

Cabbage coral

Mushroom coral