Acropora: The Largest Reef-Building Coral Family
The Acropora is one of the six families of corals that dominate today’s reefs, both in terms of diversity – being in fact the most diverse family of corals in the ocean – and in terms of numbers. This species has been around for over 60 million years, but in the past decades their numbers have suffered a massive losses due to diseases, bleaching and storms of all kind.
All shapes and sizes
The Acroporidae come in all manner of shapes and sizes, from plates to bushes of slender growths, to massive contructs of thick branches over 2 meters long. The Acropora are considered among of the most important reef building corals, often responsible of huge calcium carbonate structures that support and entire reef.
There are over 140 different species of this coral, including: Acropora Cervicornis, Acropora Echinata, Acropora Efforescens, and Acropora Palmata (which can grow to over 3 and a half meters in diameter). Most Acropora species are shades of either green or brown, although several are brightly colored, ranging from bright blue and yellow to deep purple and orange.
The Acroporidae inhabit the fore and back reef areas, preferring locations with strong currents of water, hugh oxygen content and access to plenty of food. Their favorite depth range appears to be between 0 and 12 meters, although several subtypes of Acropora can be found as far as 30 meters down. This coral can also be found to lesser extents in specific habitats like sandy lagoon floors, deep reef slopes and deepwater Halimeda banks.
From a global perspective, colonies can be found starting from the Florida coastline all the way to Venezuela and Curaçao, as well as in most Indo-Pacific reefs. Most of the species of Acropora inhabit the Carribean Sea, the Bahamas and Florida Keys, and the Gulf of Mexico. They favor waters with very low termperature variations of only a few degrees, usually in the range of 25 to 35 °C.
The continued survival of such a wide range of colonies of diverse species require very specific circumstances, relying upon a complex interplay of water quality and biological, chemical and physical conditions. Because of this, corals of the Acropora family are very succeptible to certain threats such as bleaching and and sedimentation, as well as diseases, even leading to some species being listed as endangered – meaning that our oceans may very well one day be robbed of these amazing corals.