Credit: Blane Perun

How Fast Does Living Coral Grow

How Fast Does Living Coral Grow and What Are the Main Influencing Factors?

Whether you just have a casual interest in marine biology, or you’re very interested to know more about the underwater world to do your part to help the environment, you may be wondering: how fast does living coral grow? Coral growth can determine how fast bleached and damaged coral populations may be able to return to their former glory. Also, it helps scientists learn more about the fastest growing corals in the sea and what makes them so well-equipped to grow at a faster pace than other coral species.

Defining Living Corals

Before going any further, it’s important to define what “living corals” are. The term refers to corals that are actually alive and thriving, as well as building the calcium carbonate reef structures we know as the coral reef habitat. Living coral is made up of numerous tiny animals known as coral polyps, and the colonies these animals form are typically referred to as “corals.” There is also another classification of coral species that doesn’t form stony reef structures. These are what is known as “soft corals.” The growth of both soft corals and coral polyp populations depend on a variety of factors that can lead to a thriving underwater environment, as long as they’re kept in balance.

Influencing Factors and Coral Growth

The easiest way to estimate how long living coral might grow is to take a look at the conditions it lives in. Water quality and pH may affect some corals to grow at an altered rate, while others do well even without unhindered access to good sunlight. Nevertheless, adequate sunlight, water clarity and the presence of enough nutrients such as plankton and other microscopic food particles can cause corals to grow faster. Disease, bleaching, pollution and overfishing are just some of the issues that can severely reduce the rate at which some corals grow.

Typical Growth Rate for Living Corals

When they first settle onto a rock or coral reef formation, young coral polyps can be extremely small – typically less than 1 mm. As they grow, they can reach a size of one to several centimeters until they start dividing or reproducing. Depending on the species of coral in question, the living polyps grow up in just a few years, but then they maintain their size until their deaths – which, in some species, might never come. The growth rate of soft coral species can be much faster, often doubling in size in a very short amount of time, in some cases in a matter of months, as long as the water conditions are favorable. Even scientists aren’t quite clear on the question “how fast does living coral grow?” and even with hard data collected about different species of soft and hard coral, the information obtained cannot be generalized to apply to all populations of corals living in any condition.

Blane Perun

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