Hard Coral V Soft Coral What's the difference

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are like underwater rainbows, bursting with vibrant colors and teeming with our favorite ocean creatures. They are magnificent ecosystems created by the intricate dance between hard and soft corals. Today, we’re going to dive into the exhilarating world of coral and explore the unique characteristics that set hard and soft corals apart. Get ready to be amazed as we unravel the secrets of these remarkable organisms!

Let’s start with the basics. Coral is a living wonder found in various parts of the world, particularly in the warm waters around the equator. With over 6000 diverse species, corals come in an awe-inspiring array of shapes, colors, and structures. They rely on a fascinating symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae, which reside within their tissues. These incredible algae remove the coral’s waste and produce sugars through photosynthesis, providing over 90% of the coral’s nutrition. It’s no wonder corals thrive in tropical waters with clear, warm, and sun-drenched environments.

Hard Coral V Soft Coral What's the difference

Master Freemasons

Did you know that corals are master architects? They grow at a slow pace, with the fastest species adding only 8-15 millimeters to their structure each year. A healthy reef is a testament to thousands of years of coral growth, boasting layer upon layer of coral skeletons. In fact, the Great Barrier Reef, stretching over 2300 kilometers or 1430 miles along Australia’s east coast, is the world’s only living structure visible from space! It’s truly one of the natural wonders of our planet.

Hard Coral V Soft Coral What's the difference
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Hard Coral V Soft Coral What’s the difference

But corals aren’t just beautiful to behold; they play a vital role in the underwater world. Nearly a quarter of all fish species rely on coral reefs at some point in their life cycle, making these reefs essential not only for fish but also for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the ocean for sustenance. From commercially important species like snapper, grouper, and tunas to the astonishing diversity of marine life, healthy coral reefs are a treasure trove of wonders. And let’s not forget the enormous economic benefits these reefs bring to countries with thriving marine ecosystems. The Great Barrier Reef alone injects over $5.5 billion dollars into the Australian economy each year!

If you’re passionate about coral and want to make a difference, check out the Coral Mission Foundation.

They’re doing incredible work to protect and preserve these invaluable ecosystems. Join the mission and be part of something truly extraordinary!

Now, let’s dive deeper into the differences between hard corals and soft corals. Brace yourself for a thrilling scientific adventure!


floating around

Hard Corals

Hard corals are the architects of the coral world. They build sturdy calcium carbonate skeletons that anchor themselves to the reef, resulting in rigid structures that mesmerize us underwater. Just imagine the intricate shapes and formations created by corals like Acropora, with their eye-catching branches and table-like structures. In the Andaman Sea, species from the Mussidae family exhibit mesmerizing swirling patterns, earning them the nickname “brain corals.” While some hard corals may have less elaborate shapes, they play a crucial role in forming the foundation of the reef itself. The Porites genus, for example, is renowned for creating enormous mushroom-shaped coral bommies that add excitement to any dive. From branching shapes to tables and massive coral heads with hidden caves and overhangs, hard corals are the true builders, providing vital habitat for fish of all species and ages.

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As you explore the underwater realm, take a moment to peek into the nooks and crannies created by branching corals. You may spot damselfish and butterflyfish seeking refuge within. Larger coral heads often host groupers, snappers, sweetlips, as well as shade-loving species like soldierfish and squirrelfish.

If luck is on your side, you might even encounter majestic turtles, awe-inspiring sharks, and an abundance of captivating invertebrates such as lobsters, crabs, and octopuses that call the reef made by hard corals their home. It’s a breathtaking spectacle that reminds us of the wonders of the natural world.

While hard corals thrive in shallower waters, typically less than 40 meters or 130 feet deep, some species can survive at greater depths. The availability of light becomes a limiting factor for hard corals in deeper waters. In fact, some corals reside in such shallow reef flats that they are exposed at high tide, leaving them not only out of the water but also exposed to the scorching tropical sun. Remarkably, they respond by producing excessive mucus, which prevents them from drying out and acts as a natural sunscreen, protecting them from excessive UV damage. Isn’t nature ingenious?

To make a positive impact on the ocean you adore, follow our ten top tips for sustainable diving. Together, we can protect and preserve these stunning coral reefs for generations to come!

Soft Corals

Now, let’s turn our attention to soft corals, which possess their own enchanting qualities. Soft corals are easily distinguished from their hard counterparts by their appearance and graceful movements in the water. They come in a wide range of forms and shapes, from pliable and fleshy structures to delicate fans and whips that sway with the currents.

What’s fascinating is that soft corals are more tolerant of depth compared to their sturdier relatives. Some soft corals have large, eight-tentacled polyps that voraciously feed in deep water currents. This adaptability allows soft corals to thrive in temperate or even polar waters, where they are less dependent on algae for food production.

In the Andaman sea, you’ll encounter mesmerizing soft coral fans that form vast, colorful fields, gently swaying with the ebb and flow of the water. Another gem found in this region is the Gorgonian sea whip, with its pencil-thin structure extending up to 16-20 feet or 5-6 meters, boasting a stunning spiral shape. Deep divers are treated to the sight of colossal Gorgonian fans in tropical regions around the world, especially on steep drop-offs where they secure themselves at the most exposed points of the reef. This strategic positioning allows them to capture abundant planktonic food from the passing currents. Divers also revel in the beauty of Dendronephthya species, found from the Red Sea to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. These soft corals feature fleshy, pale trunks adorned with brightly colored polyps, providing a haven for sought-after macro life like the pygmy seahorse.

diver andd corral

But soft corals offer more than just visual splendor. Certain species of Gorgonians produce chemicals called diterpenes, which possess antimicrobial properties. These chemicals are being studied for potential advancements in human medicine. Fascinatingly, bottlenose dolphins have been observed swimming through Gorgonian fans and other soft corals, seemingly to benefit from the antimicrobial effects on their skin and abrasions. It’s a mesmerizing example of nature’s interconnectedness.

The plight of coral reefs is urgent, with rising sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification, and increasing human pressures posing significant threats. Coral reefs rank second only to rainforests in terms of biodiversity and the number of species they support. These breathtaking ecosystems deserve our utmost care and protection, ensuring they thrive for future generations to appreciate and cherish.

While diving, it is vital to maintain excellent buoyancy and avoid any contact with delicate corals. Engaging in further dive training, such as the SSI Perfect Buoyancy course, and ensuring you are correctly weighted are simple yet effective ways and other soft corals

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To prevent unintentional damage to the reef you’ve traveled so far to witness. Remember, never stand on the reef, as it not only protects the corals from harm but also prevents you from getting cuts that could easily become infected.

Using reef-safe sunscreen when you enter the ocean is another impactful step you can take to help coral reefs. Research has shown that reefs respond remarkably well to conservation measures like banning destructive fishing practices, such as fishing with dynamite, and introducing the outplanting of faster-growing coral species like Acropora. These restoration efforts have proven successful in rejuvenating reefs worldwide. With more projects like these taking place globally, there is hope for a future where coral reefs thrive once again.

Let’s show our admiration and respect for reefs by taking actions that promote their well-being. Together, we can make a difference and ensure that these extraordinary ecosystems continue to dazzle us with their unparalleled beauty. Let’s embrace a reef-spectful approach and let corals thrive in all their splendor!

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