Coral Morphologic Talks Asexual Cloning and the Gulf Oil Spill

We bet you didn't know that Miami is the only place in the continental United States with coral reefs just off shore. Well, it's true. So why don't these sea creatures get any attention? Colin Foord and Jared McKay are trying to change that through their artist collective/research and aquaculture lab, Coral Morphologic. For their current exhibit, "Flower Animal," at the Biscayne Nature Center, they photographed and filmed soft corals called zoanthids. If Mars had flowers, we think they'd look like zoanthids.

Foord tells us, "To our knowledge, we are the only such multi-media coral studio in the world." The duo is in the midst of moving to a 3,000 sq. ft. warehouse on the Seybold Canal on the edge of Overtown. We hope to get a tour of the new space in the comings weeks, but until then, we asked Foord about their current muse zoanthid and whether they're worried the Gulf oil spill will defile their inspiration.

In addition to their current show at the Biscayne Nature Center, Foord and McKay's

coral-informed designs show up in some unlikely places. Their

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videos were projected at this year's Sweatstock, and the duo's aquatic

aesthetic can be found on a recent Surfer Blood poster. (Look closely

and you'll see a crab trying to camouflage itself with a zoanthid. Nice try, buddy. We can see you.)

They also run Discosoma Records, a label of singles from South Florida

bands such as Plains, Guy Harvey, ANR, and Beings.

New Times: "Flower Animal" centers on zoanthids. What's unique about them?

Colin Foord: We are featuring 20 different Floridian color morphs that

we are aquaculturing in our lab. Like corals, they have symbiotic

photosynthetic algae that live in their tissue that provide the polyp

with the majority of their nutritional needs. Despite their widespread

colonization, they are frequently overlooked by divers. Their primary

mode of reproduction is through asexual cloning. Each round disc that

you see is one individual polyp. Like corals and anemones they have a

ring of tentacles that help to capture food, but they gain most of what

they need simply from the sun.

Are zoanthids vulnerable to oil spill?

We're hopeful that the oil spill will pose little direct danger to

these animals. Considering the length of time that it has taken for any

oil to reach South Florida, we don't anticipate any heavy slicks;

weathered tar balls should pose a minimal danger to coral reef health.

Zoanthus are actually quite a bit better adapted to coastal and

nutrient laden water than most stony reef building corals. Based on our

research and observations we anticipate that zoanthids and

corallimorphs will be able adapt well to changing global climate

conditions and rising sea levels.

Neon golden zoanthids. Flowers from Mars, see?
Neon golden zoanthids. Flowers from Mars, see?

How do you achieve the amazing colors in the photos?

Zoanthids are in fact naturally fluorescent, but their colors are

highlighted with 470nm wavelength blue light. We use a special

photographic filter that absorbs most of the blue light and captures

the reflected fluorescence. The colors coming out of the camera are

genuinely near total saturation.

Colin and Jared are in there somewhere.
Colin and Jared are in there somewhere.

You see can see "Flower Animal" until September 26 at the Biscayne Nature Center (6767 Crandon Blvd.,

Key Biscayne). The center opens daily at 10 a.m. and there's no admission fee. Call

305-361-6767 or visit

We leave you with Coral Morphologic's Surfer Blood video:

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