Many people think we are plants, but we are animals! Each mass of coral that you see is actually hundreds of tiny animals living together. Each tiny animal is called a polyp. Hundreds of coral polyps living together are called a colony.
We make our own skeletons and wear them on the outside of our body. It's like our armor. We add to our armor every year, and that's how we grow bigger and bigger. We only live in the top most layer of our skeleton. The parts underneath are just old skeleton. It's this old skeleton that makes reef, so that also means that we are important reef builders!
Folks call us "Staghorn coral" because sometimes we look like deer antlers and because can grow as big as real antlers (up to 6 feet (2m) tall)! We take many different forms though, because there are hundreds of species of us. Sometimes we look like plates or tables that can be over 9 feet (3m) across. We can also look like bushes with branches that almost look like a human hand. Of all the coral on the reef we grow the quickest and so are very important for building reefs.
We are animals so we need to eat food. We use our tentacles to catch food floating in the water and then bring it to our mouths to eat. We catch zooplankton, tiny animals that live in the sea.
But we only get some of our food this way. The main way we get food is from these cool little plants that live inside our cells. Sounds crazy, but we love the little plants, called Zooxanthellae (zoos-zan-thelly). Zooxanthellae use photosynthesis to make food from the sun. They share this food with us and it helps us to grow. In return we give the Zooxanthellae a safe place to live. We both benefit from this relationship!
We are in a lot of trouble because reefs are in great danger. 20% of the reefs in the world have been destroyed. This is because humans dump waste and poisons in the oceans that make us sick. The oceans are also getting warmer, due to climate change, and that is also making us sick. We put the "coral" in coral reef...without us there would be no reef!