This coiling wire coral is a colony of hundreds of thousands of animals – coral polyps, each a clone of the original polyp that years earlier attached to a rare spot of bare reef. The polyps are protected by a rock-like skeleton. The colour is algae that grows inside each polyp’s body. So coral is an enigma – animal (polyp), vegetable (algae) and mineral (skeleton).
The colony has no hierarchy or leader – it is self-regulating. The skeleton is porous so the polyps can communicate and share food – a networked peer-to-peer community. It stretches out several metres from the reef wall into strong currents. There a polyp has two sources of food. It filters plankton out of the passing currents. The embedded algae uses the sun’s energy to photosynthesise sugars directly into the body of the polyp. So coral permanently capturers green-house gas (CO2) turning it into their skeletons – building up the unburnable rock that makes up a coral reef (unlike trees that become tomorrow’s fossil fuels)