Growth and Longevity

The growth of the coral skeleton of Lophelia pertusa colonies has been estimated to range between 4-25 millimetres per year, corroborated by reports of colonies growing on man-made structures (5-26 mm per year). Some species of tropical corals grow at rates upwards of 100 to 200 mm per year, but most massive framework forming tropical corals grow at rates similar to Lophelia.

Some Lophelia reefs are estimated to be over 8,000 years old, some settling in iceberg plough marks made during the last ice age. Lophelia reefs develop in two distinct phases, the living zone is only very young compared to the dead coral framework which supports the cap of living corals. Some scientists have recorded the living zone of Lophelia colonies within the northeast Atlantic to rarely exceed 20 living polyp generations which can attain a height ranging from 20 to 35 centimetres.

Gorgonian corals such as Paragorgia do not form reefs, instead they form a single large colony which can live for 100 to 200 years. It is clear that the low growth rates and long-life of corals may have severe conservation issues if any damage is incurred. Some scientists have remarked that damage caused now may not recover within our life-time.