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Monday, October 7, 1996

Handy cards offer details on
Hawaii's coral species

I hate coral. Oh sure, it's pretty. And yes, I know it's the backbone of inshore marine life. But I can't for the life of me remember its common names, pronounce its scientific names or explain its life history without looking it up.

Now I have some help for my poor memory. I recently received in the mail several lovely laminated coral cards, similar to the fish and bird cards we see in local shops.

The coral card is produced by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary with sponsorship from the Pacific Whale Foundation, the Sierra Club, Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the state of Hawaii and NOAA.

On one side of the waterproof card are pictures of Hawaii's common coral species, common and scientific names included, with a triggerfish in each to show scale.

The flip side spells out coral etiquette in six languages: Hawaiian, English, German, Samoan, Japanese and Ilocano.

EACH translation explains that corals are living creatures, easily harmed by careless people. Touching or standing on coral can damage the delicate animals. Also, kicking up sand near coral heads smothers them.

Most residents know these facts. But how much else do you know about Hawaii's coral?

Test yourself:

1. Which one of the following is NOT a common name for one of  Hawaii's coral species?

    a) pineapple coral,

    b) mushroom coral,

    c)  finger coral,

    d) rice coral.

2. What is a common Hawaiian name for several types of coral?

    a) pua,

    b) mahu,

    c) koa,

    d) kipuka.

3. It is illegal in Hawaii to take:

    a) any kind of coral, living or dead, from anywhere,

    b) live stony corals from the water,

    c) invertebrates living inside coral heads,

    d) pictures of coral reproducing.

4. Which type of common Hawaii coral is named after the animal part it resembles?

    a) hoofed coral,

    b) quill coral,

    c) winged coral,

    d) antler coral.

5. Corals get their colors from tiny plants growing in their tissues. These plants are called:

    a) Gambierdiscus toxicus

    b) zooxanthellae,

    c) zygotes,

    d) petunias.

6. Which coral is soft and grows in dark places from shady tide pools to deep caves?

    a) false brain coral,

    b) orange cup coral,

    c) pink saucer coral,

    d) cauliflower coral.

Here are the answers:

1. a. pineapple coral does not exist. b. mushroom coral is Fungia scuteria, c. finger coral is Porites compressa, and d. rice coral is Montipora capitata.

2. Koa is the general Hawaiian name for coral. Antler, cauliflower and rice corals are called koa; others have specific names.

3. b. It is illegal to take live, stony corals from the water. In a bill recently signed by Gov. Ben Cayeteno, it is now legal to dig up pieces of ancient coral from the land to put in shoreside fish ponds and salt water aquariums.

After a few months, marine invertebrates set up housekeeping in the dead coral, thus creating a living rock. This new law requires licensing.

As for c., corals reproduce by spewing out sperm and eggs at certain times of the year. If you get a picture of this, treasure it.

4. d. Antler coral is common on Hawaii reefs. Its flat blades resemble deer antlers.

5. b. Zooxanthellae (zo-zan-THELL-ee) are the algae that stony corals harbor in their tissues. These algae feed the coral and the corals in turn provide carbon dioxide and nitrogen for the algae.

(a. Gambierdiscus toxicus is the dinoflgellate that causes ciguatera.)

6. b. Orange cup coral is a common, beautiful soft coral. This new coral card shows that the whale sanctuary is promoting conservation through education, as promised.

You can get your card by calling 541-3184 on Oahu or 1-800-831-4888 for neighbor islands.



Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, "Ocean Watch",
for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,