Black coral

Antipatharians, also known as Black corals or thorn corals, are an order of soft deep-water corals. Black corals are easily recognized by their shiny, jet-black skeletons, surrounded by the living coral polyps. Black Corals are a cosmopolitan species. They also exist at nearly every depth location. However, they are most common on continental slopes at roughly 30 meters (100 ft) depth.[1] Similar to other corals, it reproduces both sexually and asexually throughout its lifetime. It also provides a miniature ecosystem for other animals to live in.

Black corals were originally classified in the taxon Ceriantipatharia along with the ceriantharians,[2] but were later reclassified under Hexacorallia.[3] Though it has historically been used in rituals, its only current use is making jewelry.

Black coral
Blackcoral colony 600
Black coral colony
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Anthozoa
Subclass: Hexacorallia
Order: Antipatharia
Milne-Edwards & Haime, 1857


Black corals have historically been difficult to classify, due to poor-quality specimens and a lack of clear classification for different genera and species. Also, like many other colonial organisms, they have few morphological characteristics, and the few that there are variable across species. For a time, all species of black coral were placed in the Antipathes family. That, however, changed in 2015, when the current taxonomic system was implemented.[4]

Black corals are a group of 280 species of corals. Those 280 species are divided into seven known families, which are further divided into 45 known genera.[3] The seven distinct families of antipatharians are: Antipathidae, Aphanipathidae, Cladopathidae, Leiopathidae, Myriopathidae, Schizopathidae, and Stylopathidae.[1] These seven families are separated both by their bathypelagic distribution and their morphological characteristics. The families are distinguished by physical characteristics, the most prominent of which are the shape and size of the polyps, the structure of the chitin skeleton, and morphology of the coral's spines.[4] Within the families, the individual genera and species are separated by the growth patterns of the skeleton, the size and shape of the polyps, and the morphology of the spines. In recent years, genetic data has also been used.[4]

The root of the word antipatharia, antipathes, is the greek word for "against disease". In the Hawaiian language, black coral is called ‘ēkaha kū moana and is the official state gem of Hawaii.[5]

Wirecoral goby
Close-up of black coral polyps.


Despite its name, black coral is rarely black, and depending on the species it can be white, red, green, yellow, or brown. Black corals get their name instead from their black skeletons, which are made of protein and chitin.[1] The corals grow in many unique, tree-like patterns, some of which are fan, feather, and whip shapes ranging in height from 10 centimeters to 3 meters, though polyps can be as small as 1 millimeter in size.[6][4] The name 'thorn coral' comes from the tiny spikes that are visible on the chitin skeletons of most antipatharians.[4] These spikes are usually .5 mm in size, with a widely varied triangular shape.

A layer of "bark" will have formed around the coral skeleton. The polyps that live inside of this bark are small and gelatinous, have six tentacles (unlike most other corals which have eight). These polyps will sting any small animals that float by.[4] The polyps of cnidarians have an oral disk in their center surrounded by six tentacles.[4] Black corals are carnivorous, with the coral polyps allowing it to feed mostly on meiofauna.[7]

Their skeletons are firmly attached to the seafloor. They will frequently grow where currents flow, which allows them to feed on the plankton that is swept by. The reason that they are fan-shaped is to catch this plankton. Many corals also have an adaptation where they have polyps only on the downstream side of the coral,[7] allowing them to feed on more animals without wasting energy on unnecessary polyps.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Due to the slow life cycle and deep-water habitats of black coral, little is known about its life cycle and reproduction.[1] Similar to other cnidarians, the life cycle of these corals involves asexual as well as sexual reproduction. Asexual reproduction (also known as budding), is the first method of reproduction used by a black coral during its lifespan.[7] It builds a colony by directly creating more skeleton, growing new branches and making it thicker, similar to the growth of a tree. This method of growing creates "growth rings" which can be used to estimate the age of a colony. Asexual reproduction will also occur if a branch breaks off, and a replacement is needed.[7]

Sexual reproduction happens later in life, after the coral colony is established. A colony will produce both eggs and sperm, which meet in the water to create larvae that use currents to disperse and settle in new areas.[7] The larval stage of the coral, called a planula, will drift along until it finds a surface on which it can grow. Once it settles, it metamorphoses into its polyp form and creates skeletal material that attaches it to the seafloor. The coral will then begin to bud, which will create new polyps, which will eventually form a colony.[7] In some black corals that have been closely examined, colonies will grow roughly 6.4 centimeters (2.5 in.) every year. Sexual reproduction will first occur after some 10 to 12 years; the colony will then reproduce annually for the rest of its life. A large 1.8 meter (6 ft) tall coral tree is somewhere between 30 and 40 years old. The estimated natural lifespan of a black coral colony in the epipelagic zone is 70 years. However,[1] in March 2009, scientists released the results of their research on deep-sea (depths of ~300 to 3,000 m) corals throughout the world. They discovered specimens of Leiopathes glaberrima to be among the oldest living organisms on the planet: around 4,265 years old. They show that the "radial growth rates are as low as 4 to 35 micrometers per year and that individual colony longevities are on the order of thousands of years".[8][9]

Black corals around the world provide a unique environment for crustaceans, bivalves, and fish. Whip coral (Cirrhipathes species), for example, host as many as six other species. Whip coral gobies and barnacles will permanently inhabit the skeleton. The goby and shrimp can quickly hide on the skeleton's opposite side when a threat approaches. Other fishes, such as gobies and damselfishes, lay their eggs on the skeleton. The damselfish will then bites off the polyps to expose the nesting site.[10]

Human use and Harvesting

Image of black coral bracelet
Black coral bracelet

Black corals have historically been associated with mystical powers and medicinal properties,[11] though more recent harvesting has been for use as jewellery.[11][12] Many Indo-Pacific people believe that black coral has curative and anti-evil powers.[4] Black coral, however, is not the best substance for jewelry because it is a soft coral as opposed to a stony coral.[4] This causes jewelry made with it to dry out and break.[4]

The best studied and regulated black coral fisheries are in Hawaii, where harvesting has been conducted since the 1960s.[11][13] In the Caribbean harvesting is typically conducted to produce jewellery for sale to tourists, and has followed a boom-and-bust cycle, where new black coral populations are discovered and overexploited leading to rapid declines.[11] For example, Cozumel, Mexico, was famed for dense black coral beds that have been harvested since the 1960s[14] leading to widespread black coral population declines.[15] Despite better black coral management in Cozumel, including no harvesting permits issued since the mid-1990s, the black coral population had failed to recover when assessed in 2016.[16] Though it is still possible to buy it, black coral is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with the survival of the species in the wild.


List of families according to the World Register of Marine Species:

  • Family Antipathidae Ehrenberg, 1834
    • Allopathes Opresko & Cairns, 1994
    • Antipathes Pallas, 1766
    • Cirrhipathes de Blainville, 1830
    • Hillopathes van Pesch, 1914
    • Pseudocirrhipathes Bo & al., 2009
    • Pteropathes Brook, 1889
    • Stichopathes Brook, 1889
  • Family Aphanipathidae Opresko, 2004
    • sub-family Acanthopathinae Opresko, 2004
      • Acanthopathes Opresko, 2004
      • Distichopathes Opresko, 2004
      • Elatopathes Opresko, 2004
      • Rhipidipathes Milne Edwards & Haime, 1857
    • sub-family Aphanipathinae Opresko, 2004
      • Aphanipathes Brook, 1889
      • Asteriopathes Opresko, 2004
      • Phanopathes Opresko, 2004
      • Pteridopathes Opresko, 2004
      • Tetrapathes Opresko, 2004
  • Family Cladopathidae Kinoshita, 1910
    • sub-family Cladopathinae Kinoshita, 1910
      • Chrysopathes Opresko, 2003
      • Cladopathes Brook, 1889
      • Trissopathes Opresko, 2003
    • sub-family Hexapathinae Opresko, 2003
      • Heteropathes Opresko, 2011
      • Hexapathes Kinoshita, 1910
    • sub-family Sibopathinae Opresko, 2003
      • Sibopathes Van Pesch, 1914
  • Family Leiopathidae Haeckel, 1896
  • Family Myriopathidae Opresko, 2001
    • Antipathella Brook, 1889
    • Cupressopathes
    • Hydradendrium
    • Myriopathes
    • Plumapathes
    • Tanacetipathes
  • Family Schizopathidae Brook, 1889
    • Abyssopathes Opresko, 2002
    • Bathypathes Brook, 1889
    • Dendrobathypathes Opresko, 2002
    • Dendropathes Opresko, 2005
    • Lillipathes Opresko, 2002
    • Parantipathes Brook, 1889
    • Saropathes Opresko, 2002
    • Schizopathes Brook, 1889
    • Stauropathes Opresko, 2002
    • Taxipathes Brook, 1889
    • Telopathes MacIsaac & Best, 2013
    • Umbellapathes Opresko, 2005
  • Family Stylopathidae Opresko, 2006
    • Stylopathes Opresko, 2006
    • Triadopathes Opresko, 2006
    • Tylopathes Brook, 1889
Trissopathes by NOAA

Trissopathes sp., a cladopathid

Leiopathes NOAA, Hawái

Leiopathes sp., a leiopathid

Plumapathes pennacea

Plumapathes pennacea, a myriopathid

Bathypathes NOAA

Bathypathes sp., a schizopathid


  1. ^ a b c d e NOAA. "Black Corals of Hawaii".
  2. ^ Appeltans, Ward (2010). "Ceriantipatharia". WoRMS. World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved 2017-12-21.
  3. ^ a b Opresko, Dennis. "Spotlight on Antipatharians (Black Corals)".
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Spotlight on antipatharians". 18 April 2016. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  5. ^ Grigg, Richard W. (1993). "Precious Coral Fisheries of Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Islands" (PDF). Marine Fisheries Review. 55 (2): 54. Retrieved 29 September 2010.
  6. ^ "Black Coral: Hawaii State Gem". State Symbols USA. Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Black Coral". Waikiki Aquarium. 2013-11-21.
  8. ^ Roark EB, Guilderson TP, Dunbar RB, Fallon SJ, Mucciarone DA (2009-02-10). "Extreme longevity in proteinaceous deep-sea corals". Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 106 (13): 5204–8. doi:10.1073/pnas.0810875106. PMC 2663997. PMID 19307564.
  9. ^ Graczyk, Michael (2009-03-25). "Scientists ID living coral as 4,265 years old". The Associated Press.
  10. ^ Murphy, Richard C. (2002). Coral Reefs: Cities Under The Seas. The Darwin Press, Inc. ISBN 978-0-87850-138-0.
  11. ^ a b c d Bruckner, Andrew W. (2016), "Advances in Management of Precious Corals to Address Unsustainable and Destructive Harvest Techniques", The Cnidaria, Past, Present and Future, Springer International Publishing, pp. 747–786, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-31305-4_46, ISBN 9783319313030
  12. ^ Wagner, Daniel; Luck, Daniel G.; Toonen, Robert J. (2012-01-01). The Biology and Ecology of Black Corals (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Hexacorallia: Antipatharia). Advances in Marine Biology. 63. pp. 67–132. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-394282-1.00002-8. ISBN 9780123942821. ISSN 0065-2881. PMID 22877611.
  13. ^ Grigg, Richard W. (2001-07-01). "Black Coral: History of a Sustainable Fishery in Hawai'i" (PDF). Pacific Science. 55 (3): 291–299. doi:10.1353/psc.2001.0022. hdl:10125/2453. ISSN 1534-6188.
  14. ^ Kenyon, J (1984). "Black coral off Cozumel". Sea Frontiers. 30: 267–272.
  15. ^ Padilla, C., & Lara, M. (2003). Banco Chinchorro: the last shelter for black coral in the Mexican Caribbean. Bulletin of Marine Science, 73(1), 197-202.
  16. ^ Gress, Erika; Andradi-Brown, Dominic A. (2018-07-04). "Assessing population changes of historically overexploited black corals (Order: Antipatharia) in Cozumel, Mexico". PeerJ. 6: e5129. doi:10.7717/peerj.5129. ISSN 2167-8359. PMC 6035717. PMID 30013832.

External links

Alex Templeton-Ward

Alex Templeton-Ward is an English artist and musician. He is a founding member of The Beat Maras and Black Coral Groove and a one time member of Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences; where he provided vocals, bass, sampling, synthesizers and has writing credits. His art work relies heavily on digital software and includes animation, 3D and digital painting. The artist originally comes from Cumbria in Northern England.


Antipathes is a genus of coral in the order Antipatharia, composed of black coral (so named for its black skeleton). Distinct features vary greatly within this genus: it contains symmetrically aligned as well as irregularly shaped corals, a range of different colors, and colonies that can be either sparsely branched or closely packed. polyps for these corals have six tentacles that are each lined with stinging cells. Unlike their reef-building cousins, these coral lack photosynthesizing algae and are not restricted to the lighter surface regions. They prefer to live in deeper waters near currents so they can catch and eat passing zooplankton.

Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park

The Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park is off the coast of the island of Cozumel in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. The Cozumel reef system is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest coral reef system in the world. Even though almost the entire island of Cozumel is surrounded by coral reefs, the park only encompasses the reefs on the south side of the island. It begins just south of the International Pier and continues down and around Punta Sur and up just a small portion of the east side of the island. The park contains both shallow and mesophotic coral reefs and extends to the 100 m depth isobar.

Astrobrachion constrictum

Astrobrachion constrictum is a basket star in the family Euryalidae. It is mostly found at depths of between 50 and 180 m (160 and 590 ft), but around the coast of New Zealand it occurs in shallow waters, in association with the black coral Antipathella fiordensis.

Bernard K. Passman

Bernard K. Passman (22 January 1916 - 10 February 2007) was a sculptor and jeweller, founder of a black coral jewelry company and brand, Passman (currently produced by Glyptica, Inc. under license).Passman founded his company in 1975 on Grand Cayman. He created black coral and gold sculptures for the White House, the British Royal Family, and various museums. Examples of his work include the Cayman Islands's gift of a 97-piece set of sterling silver and black coral tableware for Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding in 1981; a black coral horse and corgi dogs for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, and commissions for the Pope and various celebrities. Other well-known works are his Can Can Girls and his statues of Charlie Chaplin.Passman died in 2007 aged 91. His company was acquired the same year by Cayman Islands-based Active Capital Ltd. This is a private equity firm belonging to the family that founded Dart Container. There were Bernard K. Passman galleries and retail outlets in Charlotte Amalie, United States Virgin Islands, George Town, Cayman Islands, Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, etc. In May 2013 the galleries and business faced closure after the CEO of the past owner of Passman, GEM Manufacturing LLC pleaded guilty to illegally importing a batch of black coral.In 2014 the production of the Passman collection was renewed using sustainably harvested black coral when Glyptica, Inc. under Tchavdar Tchouchev (previously Passman's Director of Design Development), has acquired the license.

Blanquilla Island

Blanquilla is an island, one of the federal dependencies of Venezuela, located in the southeastern Caribbean Sea about 293 km (182 miles) northeast of Caracas. It is a popular location for divers, as well as famous for its white sand beaches, for which it is named. The island's wildlife include local cacti and iguanas, as well as wild donkeys and goats. Its reefs are notable for their black coral, which is used for jewelry and other crafts. The island is formed by the Aves Ridge, a seafloor feature which protrudes above water to the north, forming several other islands. Has an area of 64.53 km²In 2014, assertions made by the Hong Kong media that Venezuela was considering transferring ownership of Blanquilla island to China in exchange for the forgiveness of its $50 billion in debt were denied by the Chinese government.


Bryaninops (commonly known as sea whip gobies) is a tropical Indo-Pacific genus of gobies. The genus takes its common name from the fact that it is commensal on gorgonians (commonly known as sea whips) and black coral. The genus is further characterised by cryptic colouration.

Calliophis nigrescens

Calliophis nigriscens, commonly known as the black coral snake or striped coral snake, is a species of venomous elapid snake endemic to the Western Ghats, India.

Cayo Levisa

Cayo Levisa is a cay in Pinar del Río Province, Cuba. Accessible only through boats from Palma Rubia, the white sand beaches on its north coast attract tourism. It has several snorkeling and diving sites. It is part of the Colorados Archipelago coral reef and well known for its black coral.There is a hotel facility on the island made up of roughly 20 cottages.


Cirrhipathes is a genus of black coral from the family Antipathidae. Coral species in this genus are commonly known as whip or wire corals because they often exhibit a twisted or coiled morphology. In addition to their colorful appearance, with colors ranging from yellow to red passing through blue and green, these species possess a dark skeleton that is characteristic to every black coral.

Kennedia nigricans

Kennedia nigricans (Black Kennedia or Black Coral Pea) is a species of flowering plant in the family Fabaceae, endemic to the south-west of Western Australia.

It is a vigorous climber which can spread up to 6 metres in diameter or 4 metres in height and has dark green leaflets that are about 15 cm long. Distinctive black and yellow pea flowers are produced

between July and November in its native range.The species was first formally described as Kennedya nigricans by John Lindley in 1835 in Edward's Botanical Register, where it was also labelled as Dingy Flowered Kennedya.A cultivar known as Kennedia nigricans 'Minstrel' was registered with the Australian Cultivar Registration Authority by Goldup Nursery of Mount Evelyn, Victoria in September 1985. This cultivar was selected from a batch of seedlings in 1983 and has a pale colouration instead of the yellow, which appears almost white.

Leiopathes glaberrima

Leiopathes glaberrima is a species of black coral of the order Antipatharia found in the northern Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Seas deep water habitats. A very slow-growing species, it is among the oldest living animals on the planet.


Netsuke (根付) [netsɯke] are miniature sculptures that were invented in 17th-century Japan to serve a practical function.

Oxynaspis gracilis

Oxynaspis gracilis is a species of goose barnacle in the family Oxynaspididae, commonly known as the black coral barnacle because it is normally found attached to black coral. The type specimen was found in Réunion in the East Indies.


Passman (aka Passman Jewelry) is a line of black coral jewelry currently produced by Brindle & Fig under license.

The brand was created in 1975 by Bernard Passman, sculptor and jeweler, on Grand Cayman. Examples of the company's work include gold and black coral sculptures for the White House, a gold and black coral crucifix sculpture for the Pope, the Cayman Islands's gift of a 97-piece set of sterling silver and black coral tableware for Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding in 1981, a miniature set for the birth of Prince William, and a black coral horse and corgi dogs for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.After Bernard Passman's death in 2007, the company was acquired by Cayman Islands-based Active Capital Ltd. In 2013 the company closed and the production temporarily stopped. Prior to that the company had galleries and retail outlets in Charlotte Amalie, United States Virgin Islands, George Town, Cayman Islands, Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, and at other locations.

Plumapathes pennacea

Plumapathes pennacea is a species of black coral in the order Antipatharia. It is found in the tropical Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans in deep reef habitats where it forms part of a biologically diverse community.

Toll the Hounds

Toll the Hounds is the eighth novel in Canadian author Steven Erikson's epic fantasy series, the Malazan Book of the Fallen. It was first published on June 30, 2008 in the UK and Canada, and on September 16, 2008 in the USA.

Toll the Hounds centers around the legacy of Anomander Rake, Lord of the Tiste Andii, and the convergence of various powers in the city of Darujhistan.

Tortugas Banks

The Tortugas Banks are coral reefs that developed on a foundation of Pleistocene karst limestone at depths of 20 to 40 m. The banks are extensive with low coral diversity, but high coral cover. The most conspicuous coral is Montastraea cavernosa, and black coral (Antipatharia) are common on the outer bank edges. The banks are also used by groupers and snappers that support a major fishery. The banks lie within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Tortugas Bank is the westernmost feature of the Florida Keys, but it is a submarine feature, wholly submerged, without any islands or above-water rocks. The least known depth is 11 meters. A depth of less than 18 meters is found in a circle of 4 km diameter around the center of the bank. Tortugas Bank is about 14 km west of Loggerhead Key, the westernmost islet of the Dry Tortugas and the closest piece of land.

8 Fathom Bank, about 6.5 km northeast of the center of Tortugas Bank

Little Bank, about 11 km northeast of the center of Tortugas Bank


Triacanthidae, commonly known as triplespines or tripodfishes, is a family of Indo-Pacific fishes. It is classified in the order Tetraodontiformes, along with the pufferfishes and the ocean sunfish. The family consists of seven species in four genera, in addition to one extinct genus that only is known from fossils.

Much like their relatives the triggerfish and the filefish, the triplespines's first ray of the dorsal fin is formed to a spine. Further, they have two spines in place of their ventral fins. They have sharp and heavy teeth, which they use to eat hard-shelled molluscs and crustaceans. They also have the unique ability to see ultraviolet light. Their ability to see ultraviolet light is similar to the vision of Goldfish.Not much is known about how the fish live. They are essentially offshore fish that only come close to land occasionally. They range from 15 to 30 centimetres (5.9 to 11.8 in) in length.

Stony corals
Soft corals
Coral reefs
Coral regions
Coral diseases


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