Sea Strawberry | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Sea Strawberry

Gersemia rubiformes

Also known as

Soft red coral

Distribution

Polar to temperate Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans

Écosystèmes/habitats

Soft and hard substrates

Feeding Habits

Filter feeder

Conservation Status

Not listed

Taxonomie

Class Anthozoa (corals, anemones & relatives), Order Alcyonacea (soft corals)

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Sea strawberries are a type of colonial coral comprised of many individual animals, called polyps. Sea strawberries are a type of soft coral, which means they do not produce stony calcium carbonate skeletons like many of the larger, more iconic tropical corals. Instead, their skeletons are made up of small, stiff, spiny elements called sclerites, which help to give the coral structure and provides a substrate for the polyps to grow, feed and reproduce on. Sea strawberries can be found in polar to temperate regions in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans on soft and hard substrates. Large clusters of sea strawberries are collectively known as strawberry grounds, and are recognized as being important nursery and feeding habitats for lobsters, basket stars, and more.

As their name suggests, sea strawberries are similar in colour and appearance to clusters of strawberries. Sea strawberries can range in colour from pale pink-orange to bright pinks and reds. They have soft but firm fleshy lobes in tight clusters, covered in polyps. The polyps themselves are one of the 3,000 known species of octocorals, meaning that each animal has 8 tentacles that are feather-like in shape and have a perfect 8-fold symmetry. Colonies can grow to heights of 30cm, although 15cm is more common.

Most sea strawberry colonies are either male or female; however, instances where a single colony is hermaphroditic and contains both male and female reproductive organs have been recorded. Under normal circumstances, sea strawberries will synchronize the release of sperm and eggs into the water column to be fertilized, where they develop into free-swimming plankton during their larva stage. The larvae typically don’t disperse far from the parental colonies before settling onto the seafloor to undergo metamorphosis, changing into their sessile adult forms.

Sea strawberries are not directly targeted by fisheries; however, they can be damaged or destroyed by destructive bottom-contact fishing gears, such as bottom trawls, traps, bottom gillnets and bottom longlines.

Sea strawberries have not been assessed or designated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Although they are believed to be fairly widespread in muddy and rocky areas alike, there are concerns that populations are declining due to destructive fishing practices and changing environmental conditions as a result of climate change.