Zoanthids in their Natural Environment

By Marcin Smok 6 years ago2 Comments
Zoanthids in Maui

Zoanthids in Maui

Every reefkeeper’s desire is to someday see the corals that we love and care for at home out in their natural environment. Sometimes, these ecosystems are drastically different from the conditions we recreate in our home aquariums. I had the opportunity to learn just that when I encountered one my favorite marine invertebrates- zoanthids, while snorkeling and diving off the beach in Maui, Hawaii. My findings were quite shocking… 

In the summer of 2013, my other half Kamila and I, had an unforgettable experience while exploring the beautiful island of Maui in the Hawaiian archipelago. We are both certified SCUBA divers, and Maui truly is a diver’s paradise. Dozens of dive spots, with coral reefs a few hundred feet from shore and easy access from the beach, makes this place a favorite for “bubble chasers”.

One spot we both especially enjoyed was just steps from our rental condo, in the village of Kihei. The beach is called Kamaole Beach Park II and the coral reef is literally steps from the shore; it’s an amazing reef, with hundreds of fish and a healthy coral cover.  One day, after a long hike in Haleakala National Park, we decided to spend what was left of the day at Kamaole Beach, boulder hopping and looking into crevices to find hidden marine life. It was low tide and the surf was up, waves crashing on the exposed lava rocks with brutal force. I spotted a slimy rock a few feet away, and when I approached it and looked closer, I couldn’t believe my eyes! The rock, the size of a shopping cart and jet black in color, was covered entirely in Zoanthids!

Zoanthids colony the author encounter on a beach in Maui, HI

Zoanthids colony the author encounter on a beach in Maui, HI

The colony must have had at least 2000 polyps, and that wasn’t even the most astonishing fact about the scene before my eyes – the pounding that the colony was taking from the constant wave action must have been equivalent to 100 vortech MP60’s set to wave mode and turned on simultaneously (and that may be an underestimation!). The entire rock was exposed, with the low tide barely covering its base, and most of the polyps were either fully open or half-closed. As I stood there I thought to myself, “Hey, I’ve learned something today. Zoanthids are extremely resilient animals!”


I returned later, armed with a compact underwater camera to document this astonishing sight.

zoas out of water

zoas out of water

Zoanthids covered with protective slime

Zoanthids covered with protective slime

I came back again a few days later, when tide was up and my subject underwater. Typical to any Hawaiian Island, the Pacific Ocean had metamorphosed from its brutal, violent phase to its calm, gentle one. The sea was flat and I could snorkel to the spot with ease. What I found was nothing short of amazing- the colony of zoanthids that I’d seen few days earlier being tormented with extreme waves, was fully open, enjoying calm seas and cloudless sky. They were gorgeous, painted in a palette of greens, pinks and yellows. What a view that was!

Teal colored zoanthids on beach in Maui

Teal-colored zoanthids in Maui

Pink colored zoanthids on a reef in Maui, HI

Pink-colored zoanthids on a reef in Maui, HI

yellow zoas-2

yellow zoas

It’s amazing to see the animals that we love to keep in their place of origins. It makes you appreciate the fact that the ocean gives us so much and requires nothing but a little respect. And it shows how, despite all the collective knowledge we have obtained during our years of reefkeeping and from generations of hobbyists, we still know very little about the ocean, the coral reefs, and the conditions they thrive in. What keeps me and others in the hobby fascinated in keeping reef aquariums is that mystery, and the fact that there is still so much to learn and experience. Thanks, Earth!

green zoanthidsblenniespink zoanthids2pink zoanthids

  Conservation, Corals, Eye Candy, Photography

 Marcin Smok

  (281 articles)

Marcin Smok is a reefer, photographer, traveler, SCUBA diver and avid DIY-er. He has been keeping freshwater fish tanks since he was 9 years old and saltwater tanks for the past 10 years. Check his photography site at www.travelibn.com and follow his Facebook profile https://www.facebook.com/photoreef/


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