What is coral?

 Many snorkelers and divers on Bonaire may already know the answer to this question but not everyone is aware of what coral actually is.
This article will teach you all the basics about the coral reefs around Bonaire.

Corals are a marine invertebrate in the phylum Cnidaria. They typically live in colonies of many individual polyps. There are over 2,500 species of coral split into two major groups: hard corals and soft corals. Most coral species can be found on the largest coral reef in the world, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In the Caribbean, there are only about 60 different species, all of which can be found on Bonaire!

Hard corals make up about half of the total number of species with approximately 1000 different types of hard corals. They secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton, which ultimately makes up the foundational structure of coral reefs. Soft corals, or gorgonians, have skeletons that are flexible and can bend with the water movements. One of the most recognizable examples are the sea fans.

Below you will find a guide to some of the hard corals found at most of your favourite Bonaire dive sites. It’s always a great dive when you see large huge mega-fauna like whale sharks, turtles and eagle rays but the corals are homes to many different species of fish, shrimp and eel. They also house the cutest fish on Bonaire, juveniles! The next time that you head out for a dive, see if you can identify these types of hard corals. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll see them in the shallows during your safety stop.

Scientific name: Madracis auretentra     Common name: Yellow Pencil Coral

Key features:

Colonies form densely packed assemblages of small pencil size branches with blunt ends (“finger-like”)

Colouration: Cream to yellow

Funny fact to remember: looks like McDonalds French fries on the reef

Scientific name: Montastrea cvernosa
Common name: Great Star Coral

Large round polyps (“outies”)

Can form either large mounds/columns or flattened massive plates/crust

Colouration: Brown, yellow-brown, green to grey

Funny fact to remember: the colonies resemble doughnuts! Everyone loves doughnuts

Scientific name: Meandrina meandrites      Common name: Maze Coral

Can form hemispherical dome, flatten plates, columns and/or crusts with deep narrow valleys

Colouration: pale yellow to dark orange or dark brown

Funny fact to remember: Looks like a maze


In July 2017, Netflix released an original documentary Chasing Coral. It was filmed at three different locations on the Great Barrier Reef and documents the effects of rising sea temperatures on the corals. The film is a sober wake-up call for everyone; especially for those who live and work in the ocean environment. Coral reefs are threatened not only by human activities but also by Mother Nature herself.


What can you do? How are you able to help? How can you slow the process down? Bonaire is very fortunate that our reefs have been protected since 1979 and are therefore some of the healthiest in the Caribbean. All the waters around Bonaire, from the high-tide line to 100 m from shore and 60 m deep, are protected under the Bonaire National Marine Park managed by STINAPA. Within the marine park, you may not touch, tease, or take anything with you. Furthermore, Dive Friends Bonaire sponsors free quarterly clean up dives around the island of Bonaire to help keep the reefs clean and healthy. We also have the Debris Free Bonaire program: Going for a casual walk on the beach? We can provide you with a mesh bag to fill with plastic debris and you will be rewarded with a free drink! A little bit goes a long way.


By Zara