Sarcophyton elegans is a common symbiotic (zooxanthellate) octocoral species in the shallow waters of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Study of a population at Lizard Island (14A degrees 40'S, 145A degrees 28'E) on the GBR from October 1991 to January 1994 revealed that, as is typical of tropical alcyonarian corals, S. elegans is a gonochoric broadcast spawner with a 1:1 sex ratio. Sexual reproduction was closely correlated with colony size, with first reproduction at 13-cm basal stalk circumference for females and 12 cm for males. Oogenesis took 19-24 months, with a new cycle commencing every year, and spermatogenesis took 10-12 months. The majority of gametes were released during the annual austral mass coral spawning event after the full moon in November, but gametes were also released after the full moon in each month between August and February. All autozooid polyps participated in reproduction, but those at the outer edge of a colony released their gametes first. During subsequent months, the polyps closer to the center of the colony released their gametes. This is a novel strategy of gamete release, reported here for the first time, which accommodates the demands of feeding and reproduction in a different way than other corals where individual polyps have separate feeding or reproductive roles. Colonies upstream in the prevailing current spawned up to 1 month earlier than those downstream and ceased 1 month earlier. The mechanism controlling this spatial differentiation in spawning time, repeatedly observed over three seasons, is unknown. Sarcophyton elegans appears to have a dual strategy of providing protection for its gametes by releasing most of them concurrently with the single, annual mass spawning of a large number of cnidarians, while also hedging its bets by individual colonies spawning a fraction of their gametes over an extended period of 6 months.