The yellow cup black coral is a bush-forming species of black coral that lives on deep coral and rocky reefs in the eastern Pacific Ocean. This species was described from a specimen collected in the Galapagos Islands, but it is known to have a broader distribution to as far north as the Gulf of California, Mexico.
Though it has “yellow” in its name, some yellow cup black corals can be a beautiful lime green color. The general name “black coral” refers to the color of the naked skeleton, not to the color of the live animal.
Black corals are closely related to stony corals and anemones. Unlike shallow-water corals, most black corals (including the yellow cup black coral) do not develop symbiotic relationships with algae that provide them energy through photosynthesis – the process by which some organisms convert carbon dioxide to food using the sun’s energy. Instead, black corals are filter feeders that capture zooplankton from the water column. Therefore, they can live in deeper and darker waters than other corals but require some regular water movement (i.e., slow currents) to bring them their preferred food. Yellow cup black coral bushes are actually colonies of several genetically identical animals living together. These colonies exhibit a wide variety of shapes and sizes based on the specific environment in which they live. Though they are often found deeper, this species occasionally forms dense forests in waters shallow enough to study via SCUBA diving. The yellow cup black coral is home to a tiny shrimp of the same color that is apparently found nowhere else.
Black coral skeletons are a beautiful, shiny black and resemble a gemstone in many aspects. For centuries, they have been the raw material for making jewelry and other trinkets. Unfortunately, this practice has threatened several species in some areas. Black corals grow extremely slowly, so any excessive harvest can quickly drive populations down. For that reason, all black corals are offered some level of legal protection wherever they live.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.