When an aquarist makes the decision to either move towards a marine reef aquarium from some other type of aquarium or start straight away with a reef tank the aquarist at some type or other is most likely going to want to keep corals.
When the aquarium is first set up everything is very new and not settled. The substrate, if used is new, the live rock needs time to settle, the nitrogen cycle will probably have only just completed etc.
Basically the aquarium needs to age.
There is also a second area as well and this is the actual aquarist. The aquarist, quite rightly will be very excited and maybe nervous at the same time. The aquarist needs to gain some experience as well as gain some confidence.
This does not mean that I am saying you should not keep anything for a while – far from it. I believe that it is important to get life into the aquarium as soon as the filtration is ready. You just need to choose something which is right for your knowledge level, confidence level without detriment to the animal.
Look at it this way – at the beginning there is no requirement to understand everything and trust me you will never know everything – you will learn new things each and every day. At the beginning I firmly believe that you need to understand the basics as to how to keep marine animals and then learn from there. There is no point in understanding all the advanced techniques – sure perhaps know what they mean or what they do in general but there is no requirement to understand it inside out.
A lot of aquarists, both new and advanced spend a lot of time researching equipment, techniques etc however when it comes to corals quite often they are chosen because the look nice. Perhaps this is due to the larger investment that equipment requires however I think that corals, fish etc should all be thoroughly research prior to purchase.
Therefore at this stage the aquarium is not ready for the more advanced corals however all is not lost as there are a lot of corals which can be kept by an aquarist who is either new to the aquarium hobby or has only just moved to marine.
For the newcomer to this hobby I would not recommend SPS corals, I would instead recommend soft corals. Soft corals require lower light levels as well as putting less demand on areas like calcium. This therefore makes it cheaper for the aquarist initially and gives the aquarists some excellent corals to learn from and gain confidence.
There are a lot of people who believe that soft corals are not attractive and that they only come in various shades of brown. This is not true – there are some fantastic colour soft corals to be obtained however in my opinion the brown ones are just as beautiful. Johns aquarium is a soft coral aquarium and out of all the aquariums I have seen over the years I have to say that I believe Johns to be one of the best looking.
Below is a list of what I believe to be some good corals for beginners to get going with.
Leather Corals (Sacrophyton, Sinularia etc)
One of the most popular types of soft corals must be leather corals. They are very hardy and are not that demanding when it comes to water quality. They will survive and quite often thrive in water quality which is not as good as it could be.
There are various different types of leather corals – finger leathers, toadstools, cabbage corals etc.
These corals acclimatise very well to the aquarium conditions in which they are place as long as the aquarium is not neglected and the water quality is allowed to suffer.
Even though these corals do well in below optimum water conditions they do fantastic in an aquarium which does have optimum water conditions.
It does need to be noted that leather corals do retract their polyp in from time to time and deflate themselves. When this occurs quite often the corals takes on a shiny appearance. At this point a lot of aquarists panic thinking that there is something wrong with the coral. This is normal is a leather coral – it is believed that this is the corals way of cleaning itself however I have never actually read any literature which proves this. Some time after deflation the coral will push out its polyps and inflate. This may be the next day, two days later or even weeks.
Mushroom Anemones (Ricordia, Discosoma, Rhodactis etc)
Mushroom anemones are able to thrive in conditions similar to that of leather corals.
They are often very brightly coloured and spread at a fast rate once settled in the aquarium. To look at a mushroom anemone looks like a disk with a small bulb protruding from the center. This bulb is actually the mushroom anemomes mouth.
As said you are able to obtain these in a multitude of colours – brown, blue, green, red and purple to name just a few. Some are actually a mixture of colours and look fantastic especially when they viewed under actinic lighting.
Mushroom anemones look better in my opinion when placed or allowed to grow in a group. They reproduce readily simply by a piece of the coral dripping off to a nearby rock where it attaches and turns into another mushroom.
They are amazingly hardy however there are some fish which will take a nibble at them.
In the aquarium trade these are quite often know as ‘zoos’ which comes from their latin name which is zooanthus.
They come in a range of colours from the more subdued browns to the very bright pinks and oranges. They do very well in the home aquarium especially once settled and will quickly start to spread.
Polyps when they are young are joined at the base however as they mature they separate from the colony and ‘go their own way’. They are very resilient corals and do well in the majority of conditions.
It does need to be noted that these can at time grow so fast that at times they may even overgrow a coral and kill it therefore you do need to keep your eye on them.
Another thing that needs to be noted is that button polyps secrete a substance which is harmful to humans. It is believed that this is for defense purposes therefore it is imperative that you always wash your hands after dealing with button polyps.
Star Polyps / Xenia
These are another type of coral which do well in a new aquarium. They settle in very well to the aquarium and once settled rapidly spread.
Star polyps are a colonial species and all grow from an encrusting mat. This mat spreads over the surface of hard substances. I saw a picture a while ago of an aquarium where the mat had covered the entire rear glass of the aquarium.
In the aquarium they open and retract as one therefore it is believed that somehow the polyps are connected to each other in some way – perhaps via the mat. This may be a defense mechanism but I honestly do not know the reason.
They come in various colours however the most attractive in my opinion is the green variant. This type grows very rapidly once settled and looks fantastic in the aquarium especially under actinic lighting.
They are not fussy corals and do well under practically any type of lighting as well as water conditions. Quite surprisingly for a coral they are also not that fussy about water movement. They are one of the few corals which will thrive in strong water currents as well as very low water currents.
Another one which is a personal favourite of mine is the pulsing xenia. This coral as the name states pulses. It is believed that this is for the movement of water over the coral. In the aquarium these are very attractive and are a pleasure to watch.