Totems: Coral, Part 2 of 2

by Cie Simurro- Thunderbird Starwoman

Coral comes in so many beautiful colors. Here, we will examine the red-orange spectrum: first, there is the color Coral, which is a blend of red and orange. Red signifies the root chakra energy that connects us securely with the earth. It is the color of our blood, and either indicates strong blood ties, or cautions us to make sure our blood is clean and healthy and is vigorously circulating. When humans look at the color red, studies show metabolism and respiration rate enhance. Red signifies passion, with or without sexuality. In China, red represents good fortune, which is why it is frequently used in Feng shui arrangements.

Orange denotes vitality and sexual expression. The 2nd chakra rules the sexual organs. Peach, which is a lighter form of orange represents immortality, stability and security. Designers use peach to lift spirits, and brighten moods. Pink can express romantic love or divine. The expression “in the pink” clearly tells us that sweet, innocent love is present; personal or universal. While the heart chakra is usually represented by green, pink also is a color the heart resonates to.

Have you noticed that Native American and Tibetan turquoise jewelry is often paired with coral? It’s a good combo because Turquoise carries Earth energy, and also represents the Sky Nation because of its color. Coral comes from the sea (water energy), representing the blood of the Earth Mother, and red Fire energy. Turquoise is the male element; it gives the wearer protection. Coral is the female, nurturing element. The two are perfectly balanced with their elements.

Talking about coral without mentioning Italy, is like talking about lasagna without mentioning cheese or pasta. Coral has been used as an amulet for thousands of years in Italy, especially for infants. Romans hung coral necklaces around their children’s necks as a talisman. In paintings of the 1500’s, you can see children with a small horn or a coral branch. Famous, in this regard, is Madonna and Child with Two Angels, one of the most famous paintings by Piero della Francesca. Jesus is wearing the cornicello, a red coral necklace with horns! Italians wear this amulet for protection against malocchio, the evil eye. The red or bright orange coral historically also promotes virility and fertility. These are part of coral Medicine. In Roman mythology, coral is sacred to Venus, goddess of love, fertility, sex, and prosperity. Women who wanted to get pregnant wore coral necklaces.

Though each polyp of the millions that make up Mushroom coral are individuals, all the polyps in a head of coral are genetically identical. The polyps are called Octocorals because they have eight tentacles. The Medicine here is that even in the most calcified situations, we can find life waving at us to get our attention.

Hard corals, consisting of many tiny individuals called polyps, are colonizing organisms. They keep building onto their reefs with limestone skeletons. Elkhorn coral is named for the antler-like shape of its colonies. It is a fast-growing species, and is one of the most important reef-building species in the Caribbean. It was formerly one of the most common corals on reefs throughout its range. Today, it is very rare, and is considered critically endangered.

An exception to reef-building coral is the Orange tube coral (Tubastrea) which still grows in colonies, but does not build reefs. This coral has an interesting defense mechanism. During the day, it retracts its long, orange polyps inside its hard skeleton, so that it is safe from day-active fish, which would eat it. At night, the polyp’s tentacles stretch out to feed on plankton.

Even though they are not mobile, different types of coral face extreme competition from each other. How does that work? Well, for example, Mushroom coral grows relatively quickly, and therefore, shades some slower growing corals, depriving them and their algae of food and light. Some species attack by squeezing out filaments that digest their neighbor’s tissues, exposing the delicate skeleton.

Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? It’s taken some 9 million years, but the Colorado River has cut a narrow gorge. This mile-deep canyon reveals about 350 million years of natural history, including the first traces of plant life, shellfish, corals, and sponges. Coral reefs provide food and shelter to many species, like fish and crabs, and are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth. Even though they make up a comparatively small amount of marine environments, coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and thousands of other plants and animals. Scientists estimate that more than one million species of plants and animals are associated with coral reef ecosystems.

You might say that coral reefs are the rainforests of the sea. Coral’s community Medicine warns us that you can’t destroy one ecosystem without affecting the whole. It should be clear to everyone after this worldwide Coronavirus pandemic that all life on this planet is connected and that each species’ survival is connected to that of all other species. It is my hope and prayer that the one good thing that might come of this tragedy is that we humans will start to relate to each other and all life forms with love, realizing that each has consciousness and is part of the Oneness.

There are many factors contributing to the collapse of marine ecosystems, and specifically, the death of coral reefs, but a major culprit is overfishing of large and medium-sized fish from the ocean. In food chains, each species is predator of many others, as well as being prey for predators and parasites. When this balance is thrown off-kilter, the repercussions are catastrophic. Extinctions occur, and folks … ya can’t come back from extinction.

The world’s largest reef system is the Great Barrier Reef, which is 1,240 miles in length. It is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is composed of about 3,000 individual reefs, and 900 islands. In March 2017, the journal, Nature, published a paper showing that huge sections of a 500 mile stretch in the northern part of the reef died in 2016 due to high water temperatures, an event that the authors attributed to the effects of global climate change.

A large part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which helps to limit the impact of human use, such as tourism and fishing. Two more things affecting the health of the reef are the dumping of dredged sludge, and also cyclic population outbreaks of the Crown-of-thorns starfish. Other environmental pressures on the reef and its ecosystem include runoff; also climate change accompanied by mass coral bleaching. On the heels of the 2016 and 2017 bleaching events that left half the coral dead, the Great Barrier Reef has just experienced its most widespread bleaching event on record. This reef and all the others around the world might not come back from such devastation. If we do not deal with climate change immediately, it’s clear that reefs will not survive.

Indigenous people all over the world have relied on the sea as a food source for thousands of years. The Great Barrier Reef has been intimately known and used by the Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander peoples for many centuries, and is an important part of local groups’ cultures and spirituality. It’s encouraging to see Australian scientists are working together with indigenous traditional owner groups to save the reef. Here are some excerpts from an Australian radio program which took place in December, 2008:

One of the most important groups for us to work with are Indigenous people and in particular, traditional owners of the sea country of the Great Barrier Reef. These people have a spiritual and cultural association with the reef that goes back tens of thousands of years, and that’s a really important point, because more than 10,000 years ago, the Great Barrier Reef was actually above water. Sea level was about 150 meters lower than now, and what we currently call the Great Barrier Reef, was actually a series of limestone hills, with koalas, wallabies, and Aboriginal people living in those areas, so they have associations with it, not only as a marine environment, but even as a land environment as well.
   Coral reefs are being called “canaries in the mine” for climate change. We found that many of our coral species are at risk. This makes corals the most threatened group of animals on this earth, second only to frogs and related amphibians for risk of extinction.

Western-style reef management often has a balance-sheet approach, historically putting a dollar value on natural resources, and then seeking to balance that against the cost of conservation. This approach can leave people who live on or near reefs feeling excluded, even though they have the most personal interest in a reef’s survival, with their livelihoods and cultures at stake.

One man trying to bridge the gap is Isoa Korovulavula, from the Institute of Applied Science at the University of the South Pacific in Suva. He runs workshops in Fiji which blend conservation economics with a Fijian concept known as “vanua” in which community values, and human relationships with land and sea are intertwined. The outcome of Dr. Korovulavula’s workshops are community action plans in which every clan or village has a say. So, we’re making videos to show what traditional coral management plans are doing. If youth especially, can see videos showing traditional practices, maybe it will revive some of them, or at least get them connected to the Earth and their culture again.

Would that all countries would look to the wisdom of their indigenous people, and partner with those environmental practices to save coral reefs – and the Earth.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for 45 years; author of this column for 19 years. For Healing for you or your animal, or her Book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: