Did you know?…Caribbean Coral off the coast of Playa del Carmen SEAWHIP

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A gorgonian, also known as sea whip or sea fan, is found throughout the oceans of the world, especially in the tropics and subtropics.  Gorgonians are similar to the sea pen, another soft coral where individual tiny polyps form colonies that are erect, flattened, branching, and reminiscent of a fan. The colonies are whiplike and bushy.  A colony can be several feet high and across but only a few inches thick. They may be brightly coloured, often purple, red, or yellow.

They anchor themselves in mud or sand which is different from most corals that anchor themselves to hard objects such as stones or other hard substances in the ocean floor.  Research has shown that measurements of the skeletal growth rate and composition of these species is highly correlated with seasonal and climatic variation.  Which is very cool!

Next facts, though it is full of scientific terms that turn my mind upside down is really interesting!

Each gorgonian polyp has eight tentacles which catch plankton and particulate matter that is consumed. This process, called filter feeding, is facilitated when the “fan” is oriented across the prevailing current to maximise water throughout and hence food supply.

Some gorgonians contain algae, or zooxanthellae. This symbiotic relationship assists in giving the gorgonian nutrition via photosynthesis. Gorgonians possessing zooxanthellae are usually characterized by brownish polyps. Those without zooxanthellae usually have more brightly colored polyps. Lacking this additional nutrition, they are more dependent on the nutrition they derive from filter feeding.

Gorgonians are found primarily in shallow waters, though some have been found at depths of several thousand feet. The size, shape, and appearance of the gorgonians are highly correlated with their location. The more fan-shaped and flexible gorgonians tend to populate shallower areas with strong currents, while the taller, thinner, and stiffer gorgonians can be found in deeper, calmer waters.
Other fauna, such as hydrozoa, bryozoa, and brittle stars, are known to dwell within the branches of gorgonian colonies. The Pygmy seahorse not only makes certain species of gorgonians its home, but closely resembles its host and is thus well camoflauged.



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