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


You could call corals living rocks. These tiny, soft-bodied animals build calcium castles around themselves. This home base offers protection as they hunt, snagging planktonic animals that float by; farm their own food with help from photosynthesizing algae in their tissues; and defend themselves, lashing out with stinging cells to ward off predators and competitors. Coral reefs create habitats that provide food and shelter to thousands of species, from clownfishes to octopuses to sharks.

Coral is grown from "plugs", small plastic vials containing the sediment the coral needs to anchor itself, then transplanted into the wild.

Why protect coral reefs?

We are committed to coral conservation, from propagating endangered species in-house to assisting the U.S. Navy in relocating 1,500 coral colonies in the Florida Keys threatened by a construction project. (The boulder star corals and several other species in the Seahorses and Pipefishes exhibit were too small for the move and found a home at the aquarium.) Here’s why reefs are worth saving.

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Diving by moonlight to help endangered corals

For more than 10 years, Shedd has been part of an international effort to boost the reproductive success of endangered Caribbean corals. During the annual mass spawning event, which closely coincides with the August full moon, divers collect the corals’ eggs and sperm, gently swirl them together to fertilize the eggs and provide the resulting larvae with a protected environment to grow in.

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“Tiny coral polyps grow into coral heads which can grow into reefs that can be seen from space. Pretty impressive animals.”

Mark Schick, director, fishes exhibit development

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