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A white wave shape.


Colorful, beautiful, (mostly) colonial coral

An individual coral organism is called a polyp. Most corals are colonial, which means they live in groups called colonies. So what looks like a single coral may actually be composed of hundreds of individual polyps! There are over 6,000 species of this incredible animal. And yes, corals are animals! Unlike plants, corals can’t make their own food.

At the Aquarium

Warm-and cold-water dwellers

Most people associate corals with tropical waters—like the vibrant corals found in the Indo-Pacific. But you may be surprised to find that a stunning variety of corals live in the chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest. Cold-water corals eat plankton and other small organisms and can be found up to 6,000 feet below the surface. Warm-water corals live close to the surface and rely on symbiotic algae for sustenance. You can see both warm- and cold-water corals at the Seattle Aquarium.

Critically important—and in critical condition

Coral reefs take up less than 1% of the seafloor but support approximately 25% of all known marine species. Today, the world’s coral reefs are in danger. Some of the biggest threats to coral reefs are rising ocean temperatures linked to climate change, unsustainable fishing practices and pollution. Rising ocean temperatures can lead to coral bleaching, which occurs when stressed corals release the algae that usually helps provide them with food and nutrients. Coral bleaching weakens corals and can be fatal.

Taking steps to protect coral reefs

Establishing and maintaining marine protected areas—where human activity is restricted—may be the best way to protect coral reefs from further destruction. Some areas have already been established, but more are needed. On an individual level, there are many actions you can take that will help coral reefs, including saving water; reducing pollution by walking, biking or riding the bus; choosing environmentally friendly home and garden products; disposing of waste properly; and reducing your carbon footprint.

Quick facts

Coral reefs support approximately 25% of all known marine species!

Corals are animals, not plants, since they don’t make their own food.

The Seattle Aquarium raises corals and helps them reproduce.

Explore More Invertebrates

Opening August 29

Ocean Pavilion

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Website maintenance

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Support the Seattle Aquarium

Two sea otters at the Seattle Aquarium floating on the water in their habitat, holding onto each other demonstrating a rafting behavior.

With your help, the Seattle Aquarium builds connections with our community to inspire conservation and curiosity for marine life. When you make an end-of-year gift by December 31, you'll be joining us in protecting our shared marine environment—now and for generations to come. Thank you!

An adult sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium looking upwards with its front paws resting on its front.

Giving Tuesday

Make a tax-deductible donation to the non-profit Seattle Aquarium

Your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000 thanks to a very generous anonymous donor!

Sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium laying on its back, raising its head and front paws.

Cyber weekend

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