Buying livestock, be it a fish, shrimp, coral or whatever is exciting. This is after all what the hobby is all about, keeping aquarium livestock. The excitement is understandable and desirable.
There are generally two groups of aquarists, those that have experience and those that are beginners. The need to be sure of what is being purchased is of high importance to both groups if the item is to thrive.
The above comment leads on to research, a word that could conjure up thoughts of tedious reading and/or searching for information. This is not so – there are many good books about and of course search engines on the internet will soon find an item. As said, checking is really worth the time to save livestock and an aquarist’s disappointment should failure occur. The aquarist must be sure of what is required, as arriving at the retailers he/she will no doubt face a mass of choices, some very tempting. The aquarium is a reef and a coral is desired, so it is important to ensure that there is room for the coral in the location required within the aquarium (intense lighting or a lower intensity, high seawater movement or a calm area). Also corals will expand and grow. It is important also to ensure the type of coral is suitable to the system. If it is a soft coral then it will probably be fine under metal halides (maybe lower down on the reef?) or a bank of fluorescents. If it is an SPS coral, then it will need intense lighting such as metal halides or perhaps be placed high on the reef close to a bank of fluorescents, and in addition more seawater movement will be needed.
The wanted coral may not be available at the shop and in this case the aquarist must resist the temptation to get ‘something else’. What ‘something else’? Has it been researched? Is the aquarist sure that the purchase will be equally suitable to their aquarium as the original? It is best to go and check in a book or on the internet, the safest way. The retailer may suggest an item as a replacement, but nevertheless check. Most retailers are fine and will not sell unsuitable livestock, but unfortunately there are those who do.
Buying a coral that is known to be suitable is quite straightforward. The aquarist will have seen a photograph of a specimen, or seen one in an aquarium, which is why the interest in it has arisen. Having seen what it should look like, does it look like that? This is where the difficulty often arises.
If a soft coral it may have just arrived at the retailers and be closed up, and likewise a hard coral may not be showing any polyps. How long has the coral been in the shop? The seawater in the retailers is often of quite high quality nowadays, but not always so, which may be affecting the coral, as may inadequate seawater movement. The lighting may not be adequate either. This is not cruelty by the retailer, as corals usually move in and out of the display tanks quickly.
The coral could however be displaying well, showing reasonable extension. Are there any obvious signs of trouble, such as discolourations and/or disfigurements? If so the coral is not suitable for purchase. Soft corals show problem areas fairly obviously, such as discolourations that might be rot or dead areas, and bent or partly missing ‘branches’. If a soft coral does have a small area missing but is otherwise apparently fine, it could well be. Hard corals of the ‘bird’s nest’ type should not have broken ‘branches’ ideally, though a little breakage is not usually disastrous in an otherwise healthy specimen. There should not be any white areas where the coral is dead, or any sign of jelly-like substances on the surfaces.
It is a matter of careful judgement with a coral. A coral, soft or hard that is healthy apart from a small amount of damage, when placed in a high quality suitable habitat should repair itself with re-growth.
It is easier, though not always easy, for an experienced aquarist to make a ‘should I buy’ judgement, for any faults will stand out more clearly. Experience will also assist in resisting ‘something else’. The beginner faces the biggest challenge as the combination of excitement and potential purchase can equal ‘it should be ok’.
If there is doubt, don’t! Sounds simple, but it isn’t always that easy. However, not buying where there is doubt will achieve one thing; there will not be ‘Oh, I wish I hadn’t.’ There will not be a potential danger to other healthy occupants of the aquarium. Also, of course there’s always tomorrow and the retailers will still be there.