What does coral smell like? Read on for your answer...

What does coral smell like? Read on for your answer...

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to have snorkelled over the reef on holiday, you probably weren’t thinking ‘what does coral smell like’?

But it’s an interesting thought – so that’s why I’m sharing some more details around this to answer this important question.

Did you know that recent research has confirmed that coral has a special smell of its own? ⁠

Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney have discovered that the smell of coral on the Great Barrier Reef is made up of 87 volatile gasses.⁠ Isn’t that amazing!

According to some researchers, coral smells mild and briny, with a light hint of oyster scent. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

And when you hear this, it's probably close to what you might expect.

But there’s more to it than that. The researchers also found that the smell of a coral reef can indicate its health! The gasses the corals release affect the entire ecosystem of the reef, because many other fish, animals and plants rely on those released gasses to survive.

An Australian study was the first to explore the overall "smell" of healthy and stressed corals, finding a distinct chemical diversity between these states.

The researchers studied the coral species on Heron Island, in the southern Great Barrier Reef, to discover and identify what made up the smell of corals.


 What does coral smell like. The smell of healthy and unhealthy coral reef. Australian Great Barrier Reef coral.


Are you aware that, when corals are stressed, they may smell different to healthy ones?

When studying the ‘smell’ of healthy and stressed corals, it became clear that there was a distinct chemical change when coral was heat stressed.

Although there is, of course, much more research to be done. It’s important to discover more about what triggers this stress in the corals. This includes studying the effects of an increase of heat in the oceans from recent climate change - to observe what stressful effects it will have on reef coral as the world's temperature rises.

⁠So what did the researchers find out about the smell of dead coral, brought in for research previously? Well, it had a very a strong, smelly and rather nasty odour!

No wonder the fish and coral larvae have been observed moving away from stressed and degraded reefs – and going towards healthy ecosystems!


This is a photo of a dying reef. Does global warming affect our coral reefs. What does healthy coral smell like.


What happens when corals are heat stressed?

It has also been revealed that heat stress dramatically lowers the diversity of these important coral gasses being released by the corals.

Which, in turn, could make it harder for corals to cope with increasing temperatures. Ouch!

Studies have shown that corals are fussy about the temperature of the water around them. Some cool water corals are happy with water temperatures of around 18°C, while many of the tropical corals (like in Australia) live in waters with temperatures between 23 and 30°C.

Reef corals, in particular, have a very narrow range of temperature tolerance, and this can vary according to geography, temperature levels and the duration of exposure.

Although most corals can cope with higher temperatures for short periods of time, they don’t like it if temperatures stay high for long periods. For example, a coral that lives in 27°C water may cope with the water being 29°C for a day or two, but would find it hard to cope with 31°C for a week.

Aren’t our oceans just fascinating!? 🐟

So next time your snorkelling (!) keep in mind that coral smells pleasant in a salty, mild, way - with a touch of oyster scent…

and enjoy your day!


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