Why Not Set Up Your Own Coral Propagation Unit

A lot of visitors to Aquarists Online may not yet be in a position to even consider what they would like to do in the future with relation to their aquarium. Aquarists Online is primarily aimed at beginners to this hobby (although we do get a lot of experienced aquarists visiting) however coral propagation and coral conservation is an area which I personally believe we all should be interested in.

There are lots of reasons as to why people consider starting a home marine aquarium. Mine was due to my fascination of marine life which stems back from my time as a child living around my father’s aquariums.

Anyway, coral propagation – there are lots of ways to become involved in this area when you feel ready to do so.

  • When purchasing corals you could either purchase propagated corals from retailers or from other people in the hobby.
  • Purchase aqua-cultured corals from your local retailer or online.
  • Consider purchasing tank raised fish when stocking your aquarium.
  • When the corals in your aquarium have grown and you feel comfortable doing so you can propagate your own corals and make them available for other aquarists.

All of these lessen to a small degree the impact on the natural coral reefs.

Purchasing propagated corals allows you to purchase more corals for your money. Although the size of the corals are smaller than if you purchased one from your local retailer as long as the correct parameters are maintained and the correct care and maintenance is performed then they will quickly grow. You will have more diversity in the aquarium and once they all get bigger you will be able propagate them yourself.

Of course you do not need to sell them (although some people do) – you could either give them away or exchange them for other propagated corals.

Propagated corals are also known to be hardier than wild corals.

Tank raised fish are another great option. There are many more species which can now be purchased. Again this lessens then impact on the natural reef and who knows in time you may have your own little fishies to care for!

The reason for writing this article is primarily based upon the last entry in the bulleted list.

Propagating your own corals

In this article I am not going to cover coral propagation techniques. In future articles I will be covering this for various types of corals. If there is demand for it then I may also go into more detail as to how to actually setup your own propagation unit.

There are many ways in which you can care for your propagated corals. A lot of people start off by doing this in their display aquarium. The propagated corals are either placed at the bottom of the aquarium or a shelf is made to elevate the corals nearer to the light source.

A nice, easy way to get started with coral propagation.

Other people choose to start an aquarium (or some other type of reef safe container) attached to the display aquarium. This can either be fed from an overflow from the display aquarium or from a pump/powerhead from the sump.

This type of setup has both its advantages and its disadvantages. The main advantage is that with the ‘frag tank’ being connected to the display aquarium you have just the one volume of water to care for. This disadvantage is that if anything happens to the water quality in the display aquarium then this will affect the propagation aquarium as well.

What most people normally do with this option is to purchase or make an aquarium which is shallow in depth. This allows for maximum penetration of light which does not have to be as powerful as it would be for an aquarium which is deep. What you are propagating will determine the water movement which is required.

Some people decide to place the aquarium directly on the aquarium bottom. Others, like me utilise shelves to elevate the corals in the aquarium dependant upon their lighting requirements, coral growth, age of propagation etc. I made my own out of egg-crate and whilst it is very simple in design it is very effective.

In my propagation aquarium I place soft corals etc on the bottom (I have no substrate at all). There are three shelves and I place newly propagated hard corals (SPS) on the bottom shelf. When the corals have attached onto the plug I then move them up onto the middle shelf. This then leaves me space to propagate more corals on to the bottom shelf. When the corals on the middle shelf have grown out enough I move them onto the top shelf for them to grow some more and colour up. When I am happy that they are ready I make them available for other aquarists.

I do not do that many corals – I only propagate them when the display aquarium requires ‘thinning out’ a bit.

Personally I find that this scenario works very well for, however there are numerous other setups which could be used.

The final method which is used is very similar to that of the propagation unit above however it is not attached to the display aquarium. It is self contained and has its own filtration. Corals, unlike fish produce very little bio load for the filtration to deal with therefore not as much filtration is required as in the display aquarium. Some live rock would suffice, a deep sand bed or even a canister filter.

The main thing to remember is that you have newly cut corals in this propagation unit and/or corals which you are trying to grow out. Grow out is a term which is used for when the corals have been cut and temporarily attached to a coral plug. The grow out is a term used for when the coral attaches itself down onto the plug and then starts to grow upwards and outwards dependant upon the coral.

For them to grow out you need to ensure that the propagation unit is full of water which is of optimum water quality. Corals which have been cut can get infected and this could be lethal to the coral. Although minimal bio load is being put onto the filtration you will need to ensure that all parameters are excellent.

This is the trouble with a separate coral propagation unit. If you have both a separate propagation unit and a display aquarium then you are effectively caring for both. You will need to do water changes in both systems, apply additives to both systems and ensure that the correct care and maintenance is applied to both systems.

Not hard to accomplish but you are doubling your efforts.

There are quite a few people who do not have a display aquarium and choose to have one or many coral propagation units. In this instance they could be setup as one big coral farm or as individual units.

A great website to check out in relation to coral propagation units is GARF (Geothermal Aquaculture Research Foundation). There slogan is ‘Save a reef by growing your own’. The website is an exceptionally informative website and they have a couple of sections which are suitable for this topic.


Another website is http://www.frags.org/ – This website has been designed for aquarists who would like to buy, sell or trade propagated corals. There is a huge amount of propagated corals available via this site.

There are many other places where this can be done. A lot of local fish shops will now take in propagated corals in exchange for store credit, a purchase or some will even buy them from you.

Personally I find it very pleasing to see how many aquarists are actually propagating corals now.

I can understand why a lot of people prefer to purchase mother colonies as they have an immediate impact when placed into the aquarium. As previously said though you do get more corals for your money if you purchase propagated corals. They do not have the immediate impact of a mother colony but you get the joy of watching them grow and colour up. Over time you will have many large colonies which you can either admire or propagate yourself and trade for more corals.

The more people that propagate corals – the less corals that will be removed from the natural reef.

Now that has got to make it worthwhile. In my opinion it does anyway.