The Saltwater Series: Keeping Healthy Corals

One of the most fascinating aspects of a marine reef aquarium is the ability to keep live corals, which are live marine creatures and require their own proper care and unique considerations in order to thrive. Corals aren’t as easily kept as saltwater fish, so if you decide to add these animals to your underwater world, you’ll need to do some legwork to learn their nutritional needs, light requirements, temperature requirements, and more. Also be aware that corals are an investment, both from a financial standpoint and from a time and energy perspective. However, if you have your heart set on keeping a reef aquarium, you’ll be well on your way to success following these tips:

1. Keep your levels balanced. Corals require specific water conditions to thrive. Those specific water conditions are below.

Temperature 76 to 82°F (24.5 to 27.8°C)
Carbonate Hardness (KH/alkalinity) Above 120 ppm (8°dKH)
Calcium 400 – 500 ppm (mg/L)
Magnesium 1,250 – 1,450 ppm (mg/L)
Ammonia 0 ppm (mg/L)
Nitrite 0 ppm (mg/L)
Nitrate Below 40 ppm (mg/L)

Maintaining these conditions means testing parameters frequently, as well as performing regular water changes when they fall short. You can view our line of API Marine products here and our API Marine testing products here.

2. Ensure proper aquarium lighting. Aquarium lighting for your corals will depend on the coral species you keep. Most corals need lots of light and proper spectrums to grow and flourish. Today with the advances of LED lighting the selection is much easier than ever. Hard/stony corals need higher intensity lighting. Many soft corals can be kept with slightly lower light conditions. Mushroom anemones can be kept in even lower light conditions. Proper lighting is one of the most important factors for keeping corals. But before purchasing any coral be sure you have the conditions needed to maintain it properly.

3. Water flow is important. In the oceans, waves keep the reef free from sediment and brings food particles. Keeping detritus and sediment from settling on the reef inhabitants in the aquarium is important too. Water flow in your aquarium should be designed to simulate a wave action. Water flow can ensure no detritus builds up on or around your corals. Your fish will enjoy the water flow and swim through it providing exercise, keeping them fit. The water flow will also distribute the food throughout the aquarium where your corals can catch the food, keeping them active and healthy.

4. Consider nutritional requirements. Many corals have a symbiotic relationship with algae that are maintained within them. The biggest requirement for the algae within corals to grow is light. Corals also do best with additional supplement target feeding to survive. Remember, corals are animals and not plants. Target feeding is when you place the desired food source directly in the polyps of the coral. As an animal, each species of coral has unique food sources that are readily available in the aquarium industry. Consult with your local aquatic store on what types of food are best for which types of corals you are selecting. It’s important to feed them to keep them healthy and have them grow. Avoid overfeeding, as you don’t want to pollute your tank. Some coral species will need more food than others, so be sure to research the nutritional needs for your specific corals.

5. Water parameters are important. A reef aquarium should mimic the ocean conditions as close as possible. Corals utilize certain materials from the water to build their biomass. As corals grow, they utilize calcium, magnesium and carbonate for their metabolism to maintain and grow and to keep their vibrant colors. From time to time you will want to test the parameters to assure the proper levels are being maintained and based on testing results add back any nutrients that are below the desired levels. To help maintain the elemental balance of your saltwater it is highly recommend to perform partial (20 to 25%) water changes at least monthly.

6. Research coral aggression. Although this is less commonly considered, aggression does occur in some reef tanks – usually over territory – and can be extremely harmful to the health of your corals. Some have sweeper tentacles that can reach out several inches and burn nearby corals, so it is important that each of your reefs are spaced appropriately. Mushroom anemones can overgrow hard corals and block the coral from light and food. Research your specific species to determine compatibility and space requirements needed in your tank.

These are just a few beginner steps that will assist in the success of your reef aquarium, so you can enjoy the beautiful aesthetics of a realistic aquascape! Enjoy!

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