The Living Reef

In February 2019, the Waikiki Aquarium opened its Living Reef exhibit, providing visitors and residents an opportunity to view abundant coral life from one of the most diverse areas on the planet – the Pacific Ocean.

Coral communities can be found in shallow and deep-water habitats. Shallow corals occupy less than one percent of the Earth’s sea floor. In the Indian and Pacific Oceans, these reefs are the world’s most abundant and diverse coral habitats, with over 600 species found to date. The Indo-Pacific region north of Australia, referred to as the “coral triangle,” is a hotspot for both stony and soft coral species; however, there are many current threats to these ecosystems.

This gallery exhibits both soft and stony corals of the Pacific Ocean. Exhibits include:

Alcyonacea, or soft corals, are an order of corals that do not produce a rigid calcium carbonate skeleton and do not form the reefs they live among. Also known as octocorals, soft corals have anatomical structures, such as tentacles in sets of eight.

Scleractinia, also known as stony corals or hard corals, are marine animals in the phylum Cnidaria that produce a rigid skeleton made of calcium carbonate. Unlike soft corals, stony corals have tentacles in multiples of six. As reef builders, stony corals provide the structure for coral reef ecosystems.

This gallery also highlights research conducted by the following University of Hawaiʻi faculty and staff:

  • Dr. Ruth Gates (1962-2018)
  • Dr. Zac H. Forsman
  • Dr. Kuulei Rodgers
  • Dr. Celia M. Smith
  • Dr. Robert Toonen
  • Dr. Timothy Tricas
  • Dr. Les Watling

The Living Reef gallery is dedicated to Dr. Ruth Gates, coral biologist, ocean advocate and inspiration to all who knew her.

Waikiki Aquarium – University of Hawaiʻi