This is the only species of the genus Leophelia, a form of deep-sea, cold water coral. Like all corals, it is a “colonial organism,” meaning it consists of numerous animals called polyps which work cooperatively. These animals are closely related to jellies. Because corals do not move once attached to the ocean bottom, they gather zooplankton as it floats by on the current.
Lophelia Pertusa can reproduce in two ways. It may form new polyps through a process known as “budding;” or it will release larvae into the water which will swim away and later attach themselves to the ocean substrate. Given enough time, reefs made of this coral can reach mammoth proportions. The largest known lies off the coast of Norway and is 25 miles long and nearly two miles wide (40 km by 3 km).
This stony coral species is one of only a handful that constructs reefs or mounds in the deep sea. Some of these reefs reach over a mile across and hundreds of feet high, at depths ranging from 660 to 3,280 feet (200 to 1,000 m). It is most commonly found in the Northeast and Northwest Atlantic Ocean and off the west coast of Africa.
This coral is considered common, but they are extremely vulnerable to human activities including fishing practices such as bottom trawling, oil and gas exploration, and cable-laying operations. Additionally, warming ocean temperatures, sea level rise and ocean acidification caused by climate change may adversely impact these animals.
Photo credit: NOAA.