Taking Inventory: Coral

Are you a fan?

“Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me.” The immortal words of Horatio Thelonious Ignacious Crustaceous Sebastian, the true hero of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, ring out across the ages. And never have they been more true than in this week’s Taking Inventory, in which we focus our lens of enquiry on coral.

Coral is a relatively new addition to Minecraft, but its history goes back a long way. The devs expressed interest in adding it to the game way back in 2009, very early in development. Then it was teased in 2012 in a fake snapshot, alongside “fish blocks”. But it took until the Update Aquatic, released in July 2018, before coral finally began populating Minecraft’s deep, dark oceans.

Coral comes in five types – tube, fire, horn, bubble and brain. Which are the names I will be giving the next five dogs I adopt. There are also fan-shaped variants of all five, which grow on the sides of blocks as well as the tops.

All corals generate naturally in parts of warm ocean biomes called coral reefs, but they need water to survive! Otherwise they turn into dead coral, and no-one wants dead coral. Except maybe skeletons? I don’t think anyone’s ever asked a skeleton what it wants, but I would guess it might want dead coral.

To collect coral, you’ll need a tool enchanted with silk touch – but the good news is that it mines instantly, so you won’t need to hang around waiting like you do with obsidian. You can’t craft coral into anything – its sole purpose in life is to look pretty and act as a home for lil fishies. What a life!

Real-world coral is also mostly found in coral reefs within warm oceans, but it comes in far, far more than five variants. In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef alone, there are estimated to be more than 600 different species of both hard and soft corals, and marine biologists are discovering new ones all the time.

Coral might look a bit like a plant, but it’s actually an animal and distantly related to the jellyfish. They live in little colonies made up of identical clones called “polyps”, which are a few centimeters long with a mouth at one end surrounded by tentacles, and a hard exoskeleton at the bottom. Over many centuries, these exoskeletons build up into the hard structures we know as “reefs”.

Unfortunately, coral can’t really move once they’re anchored to the ground, and so they don’t cope well with disturbances. Mining, fishing, oil drilling, pollution, disease, and ocean warming and acidification are all making life harder for corals around the world. On particularly hot years, the coral simply dies – causing the reef around it to lose all its colour, turning white. In 1998, about 16% of the world’s reefs died. In just ten years, it’s expected that about half of the world’s coral reefs will be dead.

But there’s some good news. More and more of the world’s coral reefs are coming under legal protection, and some that were on the brink of extinction are returning to life. Plus, there appear to be species that can cope better than others with warmer temperatures and higher acidities. 

Still, if you want to see a coral reef, do it now. In ten years, there might not be many left.

Written By
Duncan Geere