Simply spectacular, macroscopically and microscopically, and a place to just wander, as I did – for some time. And what’s going on under the waves I described – with movies – in an earlier post.
The sand, when dry, has a light pinkish tan colour, but the dramatic hues are on display when it’s wet. The colour comes from tiny fragments of bright red coral which, when mixed with grains of quartz, shell fragments, our old friends foraminifera, and other biogenic detritus, create this glorious overall pink sand. Beachcomb a little, and there are the coarser fragments of coral, and, in the storm zone at the top of the beach, genuine chunks:
Unlike most corals, it is not colourful polyps that make organ pipe corals attractive, but instead, their dark red coloured skeleton. The skeleton is composed of thin tubes, or pipes, (hence its common name), which are two millimetres in diameter and cemented together by horizontal plates at intervals of several centimetres. Unless the colony has been damaged, a mass of greenish-brown or grey polyps, each with eight tentacles, obscures the skeleton. These colonies can form mounds up to 50 centimetres in diameter and may dominate large patches of reef. There are at least two species, only one of which is named; Tubipora musica. The structure of the tentacles of different colonies of T. musica varies greatly; some have broad feather-like pinnae (tiny projections) down the sides of the tentacles, whilst others have no pinnae at all.
I must have seen some of these on my snorkelling excursions, but, being no expert, failed to make the correlation with the beach; my excuse is, as the description above mentions, in the living corals the tentacles completely obscure the skeleton:
The organ pipe corals are much-prized, particularly for making jewellery and ornaments and by owners of salt water aquaria – for both the easily maintained living corals and for the decorative qualities of the bright red skeletons. As a result, the colonies are routinely harvested and dynamited and Tubipora musica is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and listed on Appendix II of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. So, a slightly sobering thought – does the dramatic debris of Komodo’s pink beaches originate entirely from natural mortality or does the activity of illegal trade make a contribution?
[Living coral picture credit]