Things You Should Know About Elkhorn Coral:

  • Elkhorn coral was listed as threatened in 2006 and proposed as endangered in 2012.
  • Elkhorn coral can be found in shallow-water throughout the Caribbean and in the United States in the Florida Keys and along the east coast of Florida north to Broward County.
  • Currently elkhorn coral is at about 3% of its historic abundance.
  • Elkhorn coral can form dense groups called “thickets.”  These provide important habitat for other reef animals, especially fish.
  • Elkhorn coral is a foundation coral that helped build the Caribbean reefs over the last 5,000 years. It now contributes little to reef building due to its low abundance.
  • Elkhorn coral reproduce both sexually and asexually by fragmentation (fragmentation occurs when a part of the coral colony breaks off and forms a new colony).  
  • There are coral nurseries growing elkhorn coral to provide outplants for species recovery. Click here to watch a video of NOAA scientists creating an elkhorn coral restoration site.
  • Elkhorn coral reaches reproductive maturity at about 2 square feet.
  • Elkhorn coral is a simultaneous hermaphrodite, meaning each colony produces both eggs and sperm but usually does not self-fertilize.
  • Elkhorn coral sexually reproduces once per year after the full moon in late summer by "broadcast spawning" eggs and sperm into the water column.
  • Fertilized eggs develop into larvae that settle on hard surfaces and form new colonies.
  • Elkhorn coral can form new colonies when broken pieces, called fragments, reattach to hard surfaces.
  • Elkhorn coral is one of the fasted growing corals - when healthy, it can grow up to 4 inches in branch length per year.

Diagram of the life cycle of elkhorn coral, showing both modes of reproduction: sexual broadcast spawning and asexual fragmentation. 

  • Elkhorn coral obtain nutrition from photosynthetic algae that live inside the coral's cells and from feeding on plankton.
  • Coral bleaching is the loss of symbiotic algae that live in coral tissue. This loss can lead to coral death through starvation or increased vulnerability to diseases.
Elkhorn coral is negatively affected by many threats including ocean warming, diseases, and hurricanes. Read more about all the threats to corals and their habitats.
Elkhorn coral fragments created when a large storm broke a colony.  Elkhorn coral colony infected with white pox disease.  Sediment plume from rivers washing over elkhorn coral reef.