What does coral eat? Many people mistakenly think that coral is simply plants. In fact, corals are animals, just like us, that consume food. In this article, we’ll explain what coral eats and what it does in the wild.
Coral Feeding Benefits
Healthy coral reefs are the most economically and ecologically valuable ecosystems in the world, providing essential and valuable ecosystem services in a very environmentally-friendly manner. Healthy coral reefs are a primary source of food for over millions; support coastlines against storms and erosion; offer shelter, nesting and feeding grounds for many economically vital fish species; produce shells and other materials for underwater habitats; and provide jobs, income and recreational opportunities to local populations in the form of fishing, tourism and rehabilitation. Without such reef-based ecosystems, the global economy would cease to function. The ocean’s ecosystems provide food, cover, protection, and other living needs for over two billion human beings, and provide a home to countless migratory birds as well.
What does coral food provide? In a natural reef environment, there are two basic sources of nutrients: plant matter and animal matter. The types of organisms that compose these two nutrient sources are different in natural settings than they are in a home aquarium.
For example, whereas most home aquariums contain mostly fish, most coral-feeding reefs contain mostly invertebrates (eukaryotic). It is interesting to note that these two different types of organisms are typically found together, in nature. Most marine invertebrates are plant-eating, while most reef corals are animal-eating. If you decide to include marine organisms or animals in your tank, then the food your corals eat should be made of a similar nutritional content as the corals you are trying to support.
The types of nutrients found in coral reefs vary widely. While the biggest source of nutrients for marine corals is plankton, microscopic creatures such as zooplankton also provide a valuable source of nutrition. Fish waste, organic detritus and coral poop make up a small but useful part of what coral reefs provide. Plants are not prolific growers, but they do make up a good part of the diet of many reef corals. The plants that do make good food include cnidaria, alcids, frondosea and sponges.
What does coral-eating coral reefs do? Most live in a temperate to tropical climate, but some do inhabit waters as cold as zero degrees Fahrenheit. Under normal circumstances, they obtain most of their nourishment from the water around them. They actively take in organic matter and filter out waste. As a result, coral reefs may appear quite boring, but they are actually very diverse places to live.
In nature, coral reefs tend to swim and feed in groups called colonies. In the home aquarium, you can help promote the survival of these naturally occurring communities by providing your corals with suitable objects such as coral reefs, sand and rocks. If you do not have these items, then you can buy or collect more coral materials, including bits of coral and rock. You can build up your own coral reefs or add just the right items to an existing reef colony.
Many people are concerned about the chemicals that are added to commercial coral supplements. These chemicals, while sometimes necessary, are an unnecessary expense. On the other hand, it is not possible to feed the natural world with something that we would term “natural”. Coral reefs will always exist; they are not dying for our convenience. With some careful research and by using your interest in knowing what coral feeding does, you can be an active participant in taking care of this fascinating environment.