Sunset cup coral
Most people think a coral is a plant. However, it is actually made up of tiny, fragile animals called coral polyps. The word coral refers to the coral polyps and the skeletons the animals leave behind after they die.
Latin name: Leptopsammia pruvoti
Notable feature: Slow-growing and long lived. Its skeleton is about the size of a thimble and the polyps are bright yellow in colour.
Rarity in the UK: Rare / Common
What is a coral?
Coral polyps are invertebrates (this means they do not have a backbone) and are related to anemones and jellyfish. They vary in size from the size of a pinhead to a foot in diameter. One coral branch is covered by thousands of coral polyps, which when grouped together is called a coral colony. For more information on corals visit the Coral Reef Alliance website.
The Sunset cup coral
The Sunset cup coral (Leptopsammia pruvoti) is slow-growing and long lived. Its skeleton is about the size of a thimble and the polyps are bright yellow in colour.
It was first recorded in the UK in Lundy (12 miles north of the Devon coast in the Bristol Channel) in 1969. It distribution is currently restricted to a small number of locations in south-west England.
This restricted population is through to be due to a number of different factors. It is believed that the coral is at its most northern limit in the UK. This means it probably exists here at the limit of the environmental extremes it can tolerate. It may therefore, be susceptible to small changes in its environment. Therefore, slight changes in temperature may effect reproduction.
Adult populations could be in decline due to the lack of young being produced. The young (larvae) might not be surviving in Lundy because of the high current that might be washing the young larva away. Other causes of decline include weakening of the skeleton by boring organisms and physical detachment by divers.
A number of studies have been conducted at Lundy Marine Nature Reserve to safeguard the sunset coral cup and its allies. Populations of the sunset coral cup have been monitored at Lundy for twelve years. In that time there has been no visible new generations and the population has declined by 22% between 1993 and 1997.
The sunset coral is not protected under any UK statues or listed in Directives and Conventions. However, it has been targeted as a priority species by UK Biodiversity Action Plan. This means research will be undertaken into the life history, range and population.