Hawaii Division Aquatic Resources

Coral and Live Rock Laws of Hawaii

Photo of young Pocillopora meandrina coral colony.

Stony Corals
Stony corals are those which help to build coral reefs. The animals which form stony corals belong to the same major group as jellyfish and anemones. Most of them are coIonial, and all secrete a hard skeleton made of calcium carbonate. The animals themselves, called polyps, form the outer living layer of a coral colony. Each polyp sits in a cup-like depression called a calyx (pl. calices).

The characteristic color of many living corals is due to the presence of single-celled algae, called zooxanthellae,which live inside the coral polyp. The coral and algae have a mutualistic symbiotic relationship in which each benefits from the other. Most stony corals produce colonial forms that are attached to the substrate, but a few are solitary and unattached.

Coral reefs are an important resource for Hawaii. Corals and coral reefs provide food and habitat for many fish and invertebrates. Most stony corals grow very slowly, so damaged reefs may take hundreds of years to recover. Please help us to protect our coral resources. Taking or damaging coral, live rocks and coral rubble

It is unlawful to take, break or damage, with any implement, any stony coral from the waters of Hawaii, including any reef or mushroom coral. HAR 13-95-70

Sale of corals
It is unlawful to sell or offer for sale any stony coral. HAR 13-95-70

Some examples of native Hawaiian corals are shown below. This list does not include all native species.

Photo of live Rose Coral, Pocillopora meandrina, with 2 longnose butterfly fishes.

Rose Coral or Cauliflower Coral
Pocillopora meandrina

The most common Pocillopora in Hawaii, this coral prefers wave-agitated environments, and is found at depths down to about 150 feet. Commonly called "rose coral" or "cauliflower coral," the colonies form cauliflower shaped heads about 10 to 20 inches in diameter. Branches are heavy and leaf-like, and fork bluntly near the ends. All branches have wart-like projections called verrucae that are covered with calices. Color of living colonies ranges from brown to pink.

Photo of live and dead Lace Coral, Pocillopora damicornis.

Lace Coral
Pocillopora damicornis

This delicate and fragile coral forms small bushy clumps up to about 6 inches in diameter. Colonies consist of fine branches covered with calices. These branches range from long and slender in calm waters to more robust forms in areas of wave action. Sometimes the skeleton will create pocket formations around a crab that lives among the branches. Usually found in protected areas and inner portions of large reef flats, this species appears to strongly depend on sunlight, as it is rarely found below about 30 feet. Colonies range in color from light brown in shallow waters to dark brown in deeper waters.

2 photos of live Antler Coral, Pocillopora eydouxi.

Antler Coral
Pocillopora eydouxi

Colonies consist of thick pipe-like branches that resemble moose antlers. This species also possesses verrucae and is usually found in depths of 35 to 150 feet. Live colonies are brown in color and usually darker than other Pocilloporid corals.

Photo of live and dead Lobe coral, Porites lobata.

Lobe Coral
Porites lobata

This coral produces many encrusting or massive forms on the reef from the intertidal zone to depths of over 180 feet. Long narrow cracks found on the coral heads are produced by a type of alpheid shrimp. Calices have a snowflake-like appearance and are shallow and flush to the surface. Living colonies range in color from yellowish-green to brown and sometimes blue.

Photo of live Finger Coral, Porites compressa.

Finger Coral
Porites compressa

Distinguishing features are the finger-like branching and shallow snowflake-shaped calices. This species is most common in wave protected areas like bays or deeper reef slopes to depths of about 150 feet. It has many growth forms, but all of them show some sort of fingerlike branching. Color of live colonies ranges from light brown to light yellowish-green.

Photo of live and dead Rice Coral, Montipora capitata.

Rice Coral
Montipora capitata

The most obvious characteristic of this coral is the nipplelike projections (papillae) that cover the surface. These papillae are smooth with no calices on them. Calices are found on the upper surface of the coral between the papillae. The image of the calices and papillae create a "rice & pepper" appearance. This species is found at depths up to about 150 feet. It has a number of growth forms ranging from platelike to branchlike and encrusting types. Color of living colonies is usually brown. If the colony is growing in a plate form, the edges may be white.

Photo of live and dead Mushroom coral, Fungia scutaria.

Mushroom Coral or Razor Coral
Fungia scutaria

This solitary (single polyp), free-living (unattached) coral is most commonly found on reef flats, frequently between cracks and crevices. It has also been found at depths of over 75 feet. Its disk-like, elliptical shape resembles a mushroom cap and ranges from 1 1/2 to 7 inches in diameter. Some adults may form a high arch in the middle. Immature forms are attached to the substrate or an adult mushroom coral by a stalk. It grows into a disk and, when large enough, breaks off the stalk and becomes free-living. The color of live specimens ranges from pale brown in bright sunlight to dark brown in shady areas or deeper water.

Photo of live and dead Orange coral, Tubastraea coccinea.

Orange or Cup Coral
Tubastraea coccinea

This is a common non-reef building coral found in shallow Hawaiian waters. This species forms large calices and occurs in clumps that are 2 to 4 inches in diameter. Living tissue is usually bright orange in color, but may also appear pink or even black. The bright coloration is not produced by zooxanthellae. This coral is usually found on steep ledges, in caves and in shady tidepools.

Photos: S. Arthur Reed; James Watt; Division of Aquatic Resources
Revised September 2013