Spotlight on Coral – Pocillopora damicornis

Spotlight on Coral – Pocillopora damicornis

We are back with our spotlight on coral. Pocillopra damicornis is the third principal hard coral that we work with in Costa Rica. Our coral intern Sebastian has created this great article all about it.

Here are some cool coral facts about Pocillopora damicornis!

What is Pocillopora damicornis?

coral restoration costa rica

Pocillopora damicornis is a species of branching stony coral, commonly known as Cauliflower coral. The species is distinguished from other species by having thinner branches and less regular verrucae. While small, regular verrucae exist, most of the protuberances are irregular and are often not true verrucae at all but are more like incipient branches. As a result, Pocillopora damicornis exhibits greater branching than does P. verrucosa. Colonies are usually less than 30 cm tall. Reported growth rates of Pocillopora damicornis vary substantially between locations in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, from 1.27 cm per year in Colombia to 3.96 cm per year in Panama.

Pocillopora damicornis occurs at all depths between the surface and 40 m deep or more, and is particularly abundant between 5 to 20 m. It is equally abundant in lagoonal areas and clear water reef slopes. Commonly forms monospecific, densely packed stands many tens of metres across in water 5 -10 m deep.

Restoration Success with Pocillopora damicornis

coral restoration project

We started our coral restoration project with Pocillopora damicornis and Pavona gigantea. Pocillopora is a great candidate for reef restoration, as a branching coral it is easy to harvest from wild coral colonies and it is also relatively easy to micro fragment. Pocillopora has responded well in our coral nurseries with good growth rates in both table nurseries and line nurseries. This coral species has a faster growth rate than the two massive coral species, which means shorter time in the nurseries, and therefore less maintenance and costs.

Geographic Range of Pocillopora damicornis

Pocillopora damicornis has a broad range which extends from the pacific coast of the americas america all the way to East Africa and the Red Sea. in the tropical pacific and through to oceania and southeast asia. The range of this coral in panama is it even considered as one of the major reef building species.

coral restoration in costa rica

Feeding methods of Pocillopora damicornis

Cauliflower corals are a filter feeding species that catch plankton and other small organisms from the water column using their hair-like tentacles. 

Sexual Reproduction of Pocillopora damicornis

Pocillopora damicornis is a broadcast spawner with the capacity to function as a simultaneous hermaphrodite. Pocillopora damicornis, like other Pocilloporid species in the eastern Pacific, has low rates of recruitment.

Histological evidence indicates that spawning is likely to occur during a few days around the new moon. The reproductive activity in the eastern Pacific is related to local thermal regimes. This then results in a generally higher incidence of coral recruits at sites with stable, warm water conditions. Also during warming periods in areas that experience significant seasonal variation. Pocillopora damicornis is also able to spread asexual due to natural fragmentation, making this coral a good candidate for restoration efforts.

Specific Living Conditions for Pocillopora damicornis

  • temperature: 20 °C -30 °C (optimal is 26 °C )
  • salinity: 34- 38 ‰ 
  • Depth: 0-40 meter
  • Ph: 8,1- 8,4
  • DKH: 8-12
  • Habitat: occurs in all shallow water habitats from exposed reef fronts to mangrove swamps and wharf piles
  • sedimentation, Pocillopora is relatively tolerant as long as there is adequate water motion


We hope you enjoyed the article, thank you to our intern Sebastian Moesbergen for writing it.

If you are interested in joining our team at Marine Conservation Costa Rica you can contact us. We run internships, volunteer programs and research opportunities, please contact us here.

Spotlight on Coral – Pavona gigantea

Spotlight on Coral – Pavona gigantea

We are continuing our Spotlight on Coral Series of Blog. This week we look at another or our 3 types of hard coral that we are fragmenting in our coral restoration project at Marine Conservation Costa Rica. So here’s an indepth look at Pavona gigantea…..

What is Pavona gigantea?

Pavona gigantea is known as plate coral or leaf coral. It is a common coral that grows in relatively shallow and protected areas. Pavona has a naturally occurring growth rate of between 9 and 12 mm each year and also grows large plate colonies. They have visible coralites with a width of between 3 and 6 mm. The colonies tend to have a furry appearance due to the extension of their tentacles during the day.

Restoration Success with Pavona gigantea

Fragment of Pavona
restoration of Pavona Gigantea

Pavona gigantea can be relatively easy to harvest and fragment, as it often grows in plate formation. The younger growth to the edge of a plate is often thin and can be easily harvested. The older growth is thicker and extremely dense. The Pavona has responded well to micro fragmentation in our restoration project. Pavona gigantea seems to be reasonably resilient to stress and we have had a low mortality rate.

Geographic Range of Pavona gigantea

Pavona gigantea is found in the pacific ocean, growing along the coast of middle america from Mexico to Ecuador and in the Galapagos and Cocos Islands. In the Mid- Western Pacific, it is found in reefs located in the middle of the ocean. This is around the body of water between Japan and Papua New Guinea.

Feeding methods of Pavona Gigantea

Pavona Gigantea in Costa Rica

Corals consume particulate organic matter and absorb dissolved organic matter. However, their consumption of plankton is limited to zooplankton that is in the 200- 400​ ​μm size range. They use their tentacles to obtain this food. The same as other hard corals, Pavona gigantea depends on receiving most of its energy from it’s symbiotic relationship with the Zooxanthellae. These use photosynthesis to harness energy..

Sexual Reproduction of Pavona Gigantea

Typically Pavona gigantea colonies are gonochoristic, broadcast spawners. This is that there are both male and female colonies releasing eggs into the water column. Spawning takes place at the beginning of the rainy season, normally between May and July. Interestingly, in a few studies of Pavona gigantea, hermaphroditic colonies have also been discovered! This is likely to be an example of sequential cosexuality. It is when corals can begin their reproductive life as males and then become hermaphroditic. It has been suggested that sequential cosexuality is an adaption to guarantee sexual reproduction and increase connectivity among populations.

Specific Living Conditions for Pavona gigantea

Temperature: 18 °C -29 °C
Salinity: 34- 37 parts per thousand
Depth: abundant between:0,5 -20 meters Ph: 8,1
Dissolved oxygen concentration: 4.55 mL/L

Nitrate concentration: 0.831 ​μmol/L Phosphate concentration: 0.357 μmol/L Silicate concentration: 1.776 μmol/L

We hope you learnt something. Thank you Sebastian for the great info and help with this. If you want to learn more about our project you can contact us here or apply to become a volunteer or intern here in Costa rica.

Spotlight on Coral – Porites lobata

Spotlight on Coral – Porites lobata

Intern life in Lockdown

The life of a marine conservation intern is a busy one. With current times our interns are safely back home and helping us from afar. As part of this one of our interns, Sebastian Moesbergen has been researching our coral species here in Costa Rica. Our first one here is Porites lobata.It is one of our 3 types of hard coral that we, at Marine Conservation Costa Rica, are fragmenting in our coral restoration project on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. We thought you would be interested in a more in depth look at this interesting coral…so here goes for some cool coral facts!

What is Porites lobata?

Porites Lobata Costa Rica

Porites Lobata is a common reef-building coral that can grow into very large colonies, building large coral reefs throughout its range. This species forms large hemispherical or helmet-shaped structures that can reach several meters across. For this reason, Porites lobata is also known as “Lobe Coral”. Though they appear to be very large, only the outer few millimeters represent living tissue, while the rest is a calcium carbonate skeleton. Porites Lobata structures only grow a few centimeters each year and may be hundreds of years old. Each structure is actually a colony of several genetically identical animals living together. In some areas, several colonies grow together to form a nearly continuous stretch of Porites Lobatas that may be tens of meters (or more) long.

Restoration Success with Porites Lobata

Coral restoration in Costa Rica

We were initially uncertain about using Porites lobata in our restoration project, as it is a notoriously slow growing coral. However, after success with 2 other species of hard coral, we decided that Porites was the obvious choice to expand our project. It is one of the dominant massive corals in our region, along with Pavona gigantea. We initially tested fragmenting Porites lobata on a small scale. Only micro fragmenting 40 new fragments that went into 2 nurseries as 2 different locations. Initially, there was little growth in either nursery, but after 2 months we had significant growth. After 3 months most fragments were at least doubled if not tripled in size. In the last 6 months we have expanded our Porites lobata nurseries and look forward to outplanting Porties lobata back onto our reefs in Costa Rica.


Geographic Range of Porites lobata 

Porites lobata has a huge geographic range throughout tropical and subtropical regions. Porites Lobata can be found from East Africa, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. They can be found all the way through Indonesia and Australian waters to the Pacific coasts of California and Central America.


Feeding methods of Porites lobata

Many corals can function as carnivores, using their tentacles to capture small planktonic animals drifting over the reef. Special stinging cells that line the surfaces of the polyps’ tentacles entangle and paralyze their prey. Other corals are suspension feeders. They use hair-like structures called cilia to collect particles of organic matter that drift down from above. The polyps of Porites lobata  are so small that researchers question if they are actually capable of capturing prey.

Luckily, corals also act as primary producers. Single-celled algae called zooxanthellae live within the tissues of reef-building corals in a symbiotic relationship. Using sunlight and nutrients from the water and their coral hosts, zooxanthellae generate energy-rich compounds through photosynthesis. These carbon-rich products may be particularly important in the energy budget of Porites lobata.

Sexual Reproduction of Porites lobata.

Coral restoration project costa rica

Unlike many species of corals, Porites lobata colonies are gonochoristic. This means they are either male or female, not both. They reproduce via broadcast spawning. This is where several individuals release their eggs or sperm into the water column at the same time. This method increases the likelihood that eggs become fertilized and reduces the danger from egg predators near the reef surface. Within a few days after the eggs hatch, larvae settle onto the reef surface and begin to form new colonies.


Specific Living Conditions for Porite lobata some scientific data for you…

Temperature range that the corals like is between 18 °C and 30 °C , for example, if the water temperature is higher than 30°C the coral starts bleaching). The Salinity ideal is between: 34 and 38 % and depth range between 0 and 30 meters. Ideal Ph is between 8,4 -7,7. They have an oxygen demand of 0,21 (μmol L−1 h−1) and a bacterial cell yield of  0,06 – 0,10( cells × 105 mL−1 h−1).


Want to become part of our team?

Want to join our team at Marine Conservation Costa Rica in the future to do a coral internship? Please contact us at info@marineconservationcostarica.org

Written by Sebastian Moesbergen