Biology of Caribbean Coral Reefs
Go on a Virtual Dive!


The BIOLOGY OF CARIBBEAN CORAL REEFS is presented as a VIRTUAL DIVE, with text, photographs, and videos. All topics in BCCR  (orange text designates an explanatory NOTE below) are "stand-alone", but there is a kind of order as presented in the drop-down menu above left.

NOTE  BCCR is an ongoing project, so don't hesitate to give me suggestions/corrections at

The ORDER is as follows. First comes a description of types of Caribbean reefs, including how they form and threats to their survival. Next comes an overview of their biodiversity including a small section on mangroves. There is also an account of potentially dangerous reef organisms. Later sections tell how organisms recruit to the reef, the hazards they face as larvae and juveniles, the role of asexual reproduction in recruitment, how as adults they compete for space and other vital resources, and the ways in which they live together. In other sections you will learn about nutrition of coral-reef organisms, including photosynthesis, herbivory, carnivory, detritivory, and bacterivory.  The VIRTUAL DIVE concludes with a description of the many and varied defenses of reef organisms, and the role that colours play in behaviour and survival.

There are about 300 videos and 3300 illustrations, including photographs, drawings, graphs, and cartoons.  A comprehensive search device is included for species, but only for scientific names, not common names

NOTE the reason for using only  scientific names for searching in BCCR is that common names are imprecise.  For example, the scientific name Condylactis gigantea refers to a specific species of sea anemone.  However, common names for this species include pink-striped anemone, condy anemone, Haitian anemone, giant Caribbean sea anemone, purple-tipped anemone, Caribbean anemone, giant sea anemone, and purple Haitian anemone, depending mostly on where you happen to be in the Caribbean.  So you see the problem in trying to search for information in BCCR using a common name.  The way to search, then, is using in this case the complete scientific name Condylactis gigantea.  If you happen not to know this (!?), you can find it online or in guide books to Caribbean marine animals such as Paul Humann's excellent series of Reef Identification publications. The complete binomial (genus & species) name is best; if you use just the genus name (such as Sparisoma for the stoplight parrotfish Sparisoma viride) you will  bring up references to other species of parrotfishes in the same genus.  If you were to use just the species name in your search in BCCR (e.g., viride) you will get not only all references to stoplight parrotfishes, but also to all other organisms with the same species name (probably few or none in this case)

Finally, secondary or tertiary sortings of search results can be made in BCCR by including other search items such as author or topic. Thus, using the example above, all Condylactis entries could be further sorted to ones relating to topics of diet, reproduction, defense, or what-have-you. How the index can be used should be obvious once you get started.


You can access topics via the drop-down menu at the top of each page, or via the various links shown in blue throughout the text. All my own photographs and videos in BCCR are free for the taking. If, however, there is a "courtesy of..." descriptor, it means they belong to someone else and you must contact the person named for permission to use them. If you do use any resource item an acknowledgement and link to BCCR would be appreciated.


The idea for BCCR was really motivated by the publication of several wonderfully illustrated books on Caribbean flora and fauna including Paul Humann’s series of  descriptive guides (1989 - 1993), Ned Deloach’s fascinating account of reef-fish behaviour (1999), and the Littler et al.'s comprehensive guide to marine plants (1989).  By opening the scientific literature for specific references to the reef and its inhabitants, these books were invaluable in creating the BCCR.

I started BCCR out of interest, but then reasoned that it could be a useful resource for university and other teachers of coral-reef biology at Caribbean marine stations.  Unfortunately, over the past several decades many of these stations have closed, and I gradually moved my focus to SCUBA divers who might wish to learn more about reef biology.  I have striven for accuracy throughout the work, but I know that there may be mistakes and omissions.  Input from you on any aspect of the production is welcome.  You can reach me at

Special contributions of video and photographs from friends and colleagues are acknowledged elsewhere (see Thanks accessible from the menu above).

Throughout I have used information from many scientific publications.  For obvious reasons preference is given to research work done in the field, rather than in the laboratory.  However, where laboratory studies are too interesting to omit, their results are included.

Schooling fishes -Turks & Caicos

Throughout the VIRTUAL DIVE your seahorse dive-leader will explain what you are seeing. Whenever the dive leader appears, a video accompanies it. Simply CLICK ON the video in the usual way to see it. A description accompanies each video, usually in both voice and written forms. If you wish to view in silence, you will have to turn off your computer's sound. 

This first video is included here as an example (from a section in BCCR dealing with schooling).


Cindy Young, a website guru of MOUSETRAP MULTIMEDIA was the motivating force in producing the BCCR.  Its design and format are her inspiration.  When a spoken description of a video appears, as in the above video, Cindy's voice is the one you will hear.

If you would like to contribute photographs or video from your Caribbean dives, then please don't hesitate. When you think about it, photographing- and filming-SCUBA-divers are the ones on the spot, with first-hand knowledge of what is going on, and there are thousands of you. Such contributions would be interesting and provocative, and could lead researchers along new and different lines of exploration. It would make the BCCR participatory and certainly more topical. Contributions will of course be acknowledged where they appear and can include a link to your favourite dive-Club or personal website.