Sex in the Sea
Corals have interesting sex lives. In a nutshell, most of them act as both male and female, producing both sperm and eggs. But they are attached to the seafloor. Without the ability to move, how can they find a mate in the vast ocean?
Most corals release small bundles of eggs and sperm into the open water, and let the currents carry them away, eventually to meet bundles from other corals on the way. The timing of this event is critical, and the release of reproductive material has to be well orchestrated at a certain hour of the night, on a certain night of the month, in a certain month of the year.
Within seconds and in perfect synchrony, thousands of corals along hundreds of kilometers of a coral reef release their reproductive material simultaneously into the water. Sometimes, all of this happens in a time window of only few minutes. A colorful, upside-down snowstorm sweeps the water. Then slowly, all of those eggs and sperm float to the sea surface, breaking apart with the waves. Within a few moments the sea is filled with billions of eggs and sperm that are being carried away by the currents, mixing in the water, until they finally encounter a match – a sperm fertilizes an egg and new life is created.
This series of photos is part of an ongoing project documenting the unique reproductive phenomena of corals and other coral reef dwellers in the Red Sea. In the last few years, during the major reproduction season of many marine animals I am diving and snorkeling several hours every night in an effort to document their rare reproductive behavior.