It is probably safe to say that when most people think of colorful things in the sea, tropical reef fishes come to mind first, followed perhaps by nudibranchs or sea stars. While most reef fishes, nudibranchs and sea stars are not only colorful but beautifully patterned, as a photographer, my favorites among colorful things in the sea are soft corals of the family Nephtheidae — especially those of the genus Dendronephthya. They come in an incredible array of hues and color combinations, ranging from soft pastels to brilliant reds and golds.
Nephtheids are plentiful on tropical reefs in most of the Indo-Pacific region. On some reefs, particularly in the Red Sea, they seem to be everywhere. I love to see them and photograph them, and I especially like to create macro images of these visually striking corals. Today I will present a handful of photos that I hope will give readers of Photo Synthesis an appreciation for the beauty of Nephtheid soft corals.
Let’s begin with a wide angle shot that shows a mass of Dendronephthya spp. colonies on a reef in the Red Sea, followed by some close-up and macro images of assorted color varieties.
The photo below is a close-up image that shows the branching, tree-like structure of these kinds of corals. At the base of the colony, the stalk is attached to some solid substrate, often on a bank or a reef wall, and sometimes — like this one — on the underside of a ledge. The stalk, or stem, has many branches and branchlets; the coral polyps are arranged in bundles at the ends of the branchlets. This one also was photographed in the Red Sea.
This third photo is a macro image of clusters of open polyps. Nephtheids are Octocorals: each polyp has eight pinnate tentacles. When not feeding, the tentacles are retracted inward and they look like tiny fists. In this image, the tentacles are extended to capture microscopic bits of food. This photo was taken in the Celebes Sea, near Manado, Indonesia.
Finally (at least for today), here is a macro photo of a section of the stem of a pale color variant, also from the Red Sea. As you can see it is translucent. Just as the polyps retract when not feeding, the stems of these corals contract somewhat as well. The calcareous structures on the stem may help them retain their shape when they are ‘inflated’.
I probably have taken more photos of Nephtheid soft corals than of any other single family of marine life. I can’t seem to get enough of them. I have posted quite a few photos of Nephtheids on my blog, The Right Blue, where I once wrote:
I have hundreds of images of these soft corals, and I must have promised myself dozens of times to stop taking pictures of them. How many photos of soft corals does one person need to take?! But I always end up relenting when I see still another color shade that I haven’t photographed before. I can’t seem to resist them.