Black coral (Antipathes dichotoma)

GenusAntipathes (1)

Antipathes dichotoma is listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).

Antipathes, meaning "against suffering", are corals that have been harvested for centuries to create charms and medicines, believed to have the power to ward off evil and injury (2). Antipathes species belong to the order Antipatharia, the black corals, which are named for their black or brownish flexible skeleton (2) (3). They possess distinctive tiny spines on the surface of the skeleton, and thus are sometimes also referred to as “little thorn corals” (2). Antipathes corals exhibit very diverse morphology; colonies can be sparsely or densely branched or bushy, with branches of varying length, arranged irregularly or with bilateral symmetry (4). Species also differ in their colour; the living tissue may be black, red, orange, brown, green, yellow, or white (2). Each polyp possess six, non-retractable tentacles that are armed with stinging cells (2).

The range of Antipathes corals is not clear.

Antipathes corals generally prefer deeper water with current (3).

Unlike reef-building corals, many black corals do not possess the symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, within their tissues. They are therefore not restricted to shallow, sunlit waters where the zooxanthellae can photosynthesise, and instead are able to inhabit great depths and the dark waters of caves or under ledges (2). However, lacking zooxanthellae means that the coral must obtain nutrients by another method; black corals are carnivores and capture zooplankton in their tentacles as ocean currents move over the polyps (2).

Relatively little is known about the life cycle and reproduction of black corals. This is partly due to the depths which they inhabit, making it difficult to undertake research. An Antipathes colony may live for over 70 years (2) (5).

Black coral has been harvested for centuries, as a charm and a medicine, by people of many cultures who believe that black coral has the power to ward off evil and injury (2) (6). Today, black coral is still valued in jewellery and collection of these long-lived corals may threaten their survival (2). Antipathes corals also face the same threats that are impacting coral reefs globally. It is estimated that 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs have already been effectively destroyed and show no immediate prospects of recovery, and 24 percent of the world’s reefs are under imminent risk of collapse due to human pressures. These human impacts include poor land management practices that are releasing more sediment, nutrients and pollutants into the oceans and stressing the fragile reef ecosystem. Over-fishing has ‘knock-on’ effects that results in the increase of macro-algae that can out-compete and smother corals, and fishing using destructive methods physically devastates the reef (7).

Antipathes corals are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that trade in this species should be carefully regulated (1). Antipathes corals will form part of the marine community in many marine protected areas (MPAs), which offer coral reefs a degree of protection, and there are many calls from non-governmental organisations for larger MPAs to ensure the persistence of these unique and fascinating ecosystems (7).

For further information on the conservation of coral reefs see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. CITES (September, 2009)
  2. Waikiki Aquarium Education Department (August, 2007)
  3. Hawaii’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Black Corals Fact Sheet (August, 2007)
  4. Opresko, D.M. (2005) A new species of antipatharian coral (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Antipatharia) from the southern California Bight. Zootaxa, 852: 1 - 10.
  5. Parker, N.R., Mladenov, P.V. and Grange, K.R. (1997) Reproductive biology of the antipatherian black coral Antipathes fiordensis in Doubtful Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand. Marine Biology, 130: 11 - 22.
  6. Kimrua, T., Dai, C.F., Pae, S., Hui, H., Ang, P.O., Je, J.G. and Choyce, C. (2004) Status of coral reefs in east and north Asia: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan. In: Wilkinson, C. (Ed) Status of Coral Reefs of the World. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Australia.
  7. Wilkinson, C. (2004) Status of Coral Reefs of the World. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Australia.