The deep-water environment found off the west coast of Florida proved to be a good habitat for diverse deep-water coral communities. Black corals (or Antipatharians) are a group of branching corals often associated with deep reef habitats. Although their exterior flesh is usually red, white, or orange, their internal skeleton is black. Black corals can live to for thousands of years. In fact, a colony from the Gulf of Mexico was aged at more than 2,000 years old.
These corals are a valuable tool for scientists because their skeleton composition provides a snap-shot of the environmental conditions of the past. Like trees, rings are formed in the skeleton of these corals as they grow. These rings capture the chemical signature of the environment, which allows scientists to learn about past oceanic environments. Black corals have also been harvested for jewelry, a destructive practice that is not sustainable. Check the storyboard to learn more about black corals from the Gulf of Mexico.