To compare the crystalline microstructure of exsert septa, polyps of the scleractinian coral Galaxea fascicularis were sampled from shallow reef flat colonies, from colonies living at a depth of 9 m, and from colonies kept in a closed-circuit aquarium. Septal crystal structure and orientation was markedly different between corals in the field and in aquaria. In samples collected from deep water, acicular crystals were composed of conglomerates of finer crystals, and skeletal filling was considerably reduced when compared with samples collected from shallow water. Comparisons were also made between septa prepared in sodium hypochlorite (commercial bleach), sodium hydroxide (NaOH), hydrogen peroxide (H(2)O(2)), and distilled water (dH(2)O). Commercial bleach was the most effective solvent for tissue dissolution in investigations of skeletal structure. Samples prepared in NaOH commonly displayed crystalline artefacts, while the use of dH(2)O and H(2)O(2) was labor intensive and often resulted in unclean preparations. Fusiform crystals were seen only on G. fascicularis septa prepared in bleach and on Acropora formosa axial corallites prepared in either bleach or dH(2)O. We suggest that the mechanical agitation and additional washing necessary for samples prepared in dH(2)O, NaOH, or H(2)O(2) resulted in the loss of fusiform crystals from these preparations.