I’m not the world’s greatest soft coral expert, especially when it comes to the nephtheid-type corals. They tend to be classified quite simply in my mind as Dendronephthya, Scleronephthya, and an amorphous group known as ‘other’. For a photographer, that’s fine. I’m more interested in capturing color and form than learning how arrangements of sclerites identify an animal to species level. I might not know all the species, but I can usually recognize something with a form and structure I’ve never seen before.
On a recent dive on the shaded side of a Red Sea reef, I came across this interesting looking coral. The reef was a wee rock in the middle of the ocean, just a hundred meters long or so, but its steep sides were clothed in soft corals, especially on the shaded side, and at a depth where light was limited. This was very much the realm of the azooxanthellate.
I’d dropped down past some amazing hard corals and all the colorful surface life to explore the wall and the various small overhangs when I came across a coral I later found belonged to the Chironephthya genus. My guide book suggests that this species is C. variabilis, which is uncommon in the region, though it is often found on shaded cave ceilings.
I did a quick bit of internet searching to try to find out how many species there are in the genus, the highest number I could find was one estimate of about twenty. I suspect that there’s still much to learn about this genus. If anyone has any information, I’d be interested in hearing more.