Northern Star Coral is set to become the official state coral of Rhode Island

The humble Northern Star Coral is about to be elevated to an ocean state icon.

The House of Representatives today passed legislation (2021-H 5415) sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) to make North Star Coral – it’s Astrangia poculata, to marine biologists – the official state coral of Rhode Island.

While the ocean state is known for its many coastal offerings – squid, beautiful beaches, picture-perfect lighthouses – coral isn’t high on the list of things most people associate with our shores at 41st parallel to the north of the equator. In fact, the hardy northern star coral is the only coral found in Rhode Island waters.

But it’s special.

It is found in the shallow waters of the Caribbean, the west coast of Africa, and the western Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico to Buzzards Bay. It can live in both cold and hot water. And it’s being studied by a group of New England-based marine biologists for what it can tell us about the impacts of climate change and pollution.

It was Roger Williams University marine biologist Koty Sharp, who is part of this group, who proposed the idea of ​​an official state designation to Rep. Cortvriend and Senator James A. Seney, who sponsors the Senate version of the bill (2021-S 0067).

Rep. Cortvriend said she was happy to promote the bill because raising the North Star’s status could also draw attention to ongoing research into it at Roger Williams University and in other institutions, in turn stressing the critical importance of tackling climate change now.

“Species like northern star coral can be an indicator that shows us where we are headed if we continue to abuse and pollute the earth. We should pay attention to it. While the bill is somewhat lighthearted and fun, I really hope it sparks more conversations about why we’re eager to tackle the climate change crisis. These tiny polyps have a lot to tell us about what we are doing to our planet, and naming them as our state coral can amplify that message,” Rep. Cortvriend said in a statement.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which approved its own version of the bill on April 6. Now, each chamber must approve the other’s bill in order to send it to the governor for signature. If the bill is signed into law, Rhode Island will be the first and only state to designate an official state coral.