It’s official: 2019 is the year of living coral. Or, well, the color anyway.
Turns out, though, that corals come in a variety of colors. The vibrant orangey-pink the Pantone Color Institute decided to call “living coral”—which I am currently wearing on my nails, on my back, and sometimes around my neck—is a beautiful ode to the complex organisms that thrive in Earth’s oceans. But this color of coral is actually pretty rare in the wild, said Greg McFall, the diving program manager at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
McFall would know: He has swum in the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and the Atlantic looking at and photographing at these animals through his work training scientists on how to conduct research underwater. While he doesn’t have a favorite, McFall is always fascinated by soft corals, which lack that calcium carbonate skeleton that gives many of them that hard structure. While hard corals tend to come in browns, greens, and golden-yellows, soft corals come in colors across the spectrum.
“I embrace the fact that this is a year of living coral color,” McFall told Earther. “I think it’s a great opportunity for all of those who love the ocean, love the seas, to be able to better protect these fragile coral reef resources. The more attention we pay to organisms like living corals, I think the better off we’ll be.”
McFall is right that corals need more attention. They’re suffering across the board—no matter the color. Climate change is warming the waters they live in, forcing some to expel the algae that live inside the corals. When that happens, the corals turn white. They bleach, and, eventually, they may die.
For now, as we enter the year of living coral, let’s celebrate those that are alive and well. And behold the many varieties of corals hiding in our seas.
All photos courtesy of Greg McFall with NOAA.