Discover the beauty of coral reef ecosystems.

Coral Displays

Coral reefs are fascinating and valuable ocean ecosystems, prized for their beauty and diversity. Although scientists are just beginning to understand their complex biology and ecology, coral reefs are being destroyed at an alarming rate. About 16% of the world's reefs have been lost in the last five years alone, and another 25% are severely degraded. To help reverse centuries of damage, scientists are racing to understand how coral reefs work, and what's troubling them.

With its colorful displays of live coral and beloved reef residents such as lionfish, chambered nautilus, and giant clams, the aquarium's Tropical Seas Gallery has long been a visitor favorite. This fall, thanks to a generous grant from The Favrot Fund, the gallery was outfitted with new interactive displays showcasing the latest Scripps research on coral reefs around the world. These new displays allow visitors to:

  • explore the potential of coral reefs as treasure troves of novel chemicals that could one day help cure infections, arthritis, and cancer;
  • discover how living corals record the climate in their skeleton, and what centuries-old coral colonies reveal about Earth's climate history;
  • learn about coral bleaching, and see how DNA analyses have led to a brand new understanding of this vexing problem;
  • view Caribbean coral reefs through the eyes of pirates and early colonists for a new perspective on the effects of human activities on reef ecosystems.

Additional exhibits highlight synchronous coral spawning--an annual spectacle of nature in which corals spawn in unison--as well as the Birch Aquarium's contribution to coral reef conservation through its highly successful coral propagation program. Much like propagating plants from cuttings, fragments from many kinds of corals can grow into new colonies, creating live corals for aquarium displays without harming natural coral reefs. The stony corals in the Pacific and Caribbean reef tanks are the fruits of our aquarists' propagation efforts.  

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