The Nature of SPS Coral for Home Fish Tank and Ecosystem

Have you ever thought about growing SPS coral at home? If you are into aquarium or you just start out your journey as an aquarist, there are actually several marine creatures that you can put into the tank. Besides fish, you can also include corals. But there are different types of corals out there, and soft corals are one of them. Before choosing which coral to place inside the tank, it would be best to understand their basic nature first. Getting to know the corals will ensure a successful path of growing them in your fish tank.

Understanding SPS Coral Better

So, SPS coral refers to coral species group having stony (calcium) carbonate skeleton along with tiny coral polyps. A lot of people refer to it as the ‘bendy’ coral, which means that you can bend them. These corals look like trees or plants. Many aquarists call this true corals because they are the one responsible for building reef backbone. You probably think of it the first whenever the topic reef tank comes to mind. In reality, though, this is the last type of coral that you may want to master.

Many have referred this type of coral as the “pora’s” and there are some of the most popular ones, such as:

  • Porites
  • Seriatopora
  • Pocilopora
  • Montipora
  • Acropora

Proper Care and Maintenance

It’s not advisable to provide generalization of a group and unscientific subject like the SPS coral. It’s because they aren’t the same. Not all of each species from their genus would fit into the common generalization usually made by people. And whereas people usually believe that there is a connection or relation between coral living spot and polyp size, it’s not the case. There is no relation or whatsoever. Soft coral requires personal observation, monitoring, and care. It means that you need to be determined enough (and to be dedicated enough) to grow the soft corals. That’s why the best thing that you can do is to start somewhere and see where it leads you, carefully and thoroughly.

sps coral

The small polyp of stony corals have the so-called calcified external skeleton, which means that it would be crucial to control, monitor, and observe the dissolved calcium, alkalinity, and also magnesium level. If there isn’t enough calcium level inside the tank, it will lead to skeleton erosion, which leads to death of the organism. Low magnesium will also be responsible for calcium low level too. If you want to successfully maintain and grow the soft corals, you need to add extra calcium supplement (within the water changes) along with the premium reef salt mix. The salt mix itself already has high concentration of magnesium and calcium, but it is always a good idea to add it up.

Don’t forget that water flow plays a crucial part in soft corals growing. Here’s the rule of a thumb: the sturdier and thicker the coral branches are, the more flow they need in order to survive and grow. It means that you need to make sure that you can keep and maintain powerful (and strong) turbulent flow so your corals will remain healthy and happy.

sps coral

Again, not all corals are the same. There are some exceptions here and there, especially when it comes to ideal water parameter. However, if you want to grow the SPS coral, start from the pristine water parameter. It means that nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia should be zero, while magnesium should start from 1300 ppm, and calcium should go more than 400 ppm.

How do you measure the calcium level? Do the measurement in a regular and routine manner. It should be done within the same time every day. And do this for several days continuously between the water changes period. Within several days, the calcium level (of the tank) should have dropped because the corals are pulling the calcium out of the tank’s water to make skeletons. When you track this, you will learn about the calcium depletion rate. It is helpful to provide you with information of how much calcium you exactly need to your tank. If you are able to find out, you are a great observer!

Lighting Consideration SPS Coral

In general, soft corals do need quite strong light. Most aquarists would use T5 lights, metal halide, or (high power) reef LED to grow the corals. They won’t do well with low or moderate intensity. Many expert aquarists would recommend having 12 hours on and then 12 hours off setting for the corals.

sps coral beginner

Considering that most soft corals are photosynthetic, in general, they share similar trait of algae and plants: they should be able to convert the light energy to food matter. However, corals are different from plants or algae. They are basically animals, which mean that they need to eat. They would generally catch tiny prey (by using their polyps) and eat them. The size of their food can be determined from the size of their polyps. If the polyps are small, then the food should also be small. If the polyps are bigger, then the food would be bigger as well. It doesn’t hurt to target-feed the corals too. Use marine snow, Cyclops, or other small and tiny zooplankton to help you achieve successful feeding.

Fragging and Reproduction SPS Coral

Fragging the corals is pretty straightforward and direct. Based on their names, they have small and stony polyps, which are different from the large polyp corals type. Small polyps mean that the polyps would be…well, not big. It isn’t fleshy and prone to injury. Don’t forget that the skeleton is stony too. That’s why you want to use the bone cutters to do the fragging. Implement Snapping method to snip a piece. If you have thinly branch corals, such as Montipora Plate or Birdnest corals, this method would work just well enough. What if you don’t have a nice pair of cutters? You can always use the Sawing method to cut a piece off. Just make sure that you do it fast enough.

The combination of bone cutter and the Snapping method is just perfect because it feels easy – like pruning a regular tree. A lot of people prefer rotary tool, which is claimed to create a very well cut. But again, it depends on personal preference.

No need to worry about any attachment techniques. After all, stony corals have a rather simple way. You only need a frag rock or plug that is combined with Cyanoacrylate glue for firmer and more solid attachment. If you want to learn the details, explore the net and watch the videos for clearer ideas.

Common Problems and the Causes

Your corals don’t seem to grow well. It looks sick and you are wondering why it can happen anyway. Well, corals are creatures which mean that they can get sick and they can also die. Here are some of the main reasons why they are dying:

  • Shipping stress. Corals are basically tough, but when there is too much to handle, they can be stressed. Continuous and fast temperature changes or the water that is too hot or cold can agitate them. Not to mention if they are being transported without enough water.
  • Quarantine time. Corals need to be acclimated properly and correctly. Unfortunately, many aquarists tend to skip this method, placing the corals right into the tank. Without the chance of adjusting themselves to the new lighting, temperature, and water flow, the corals would be stressed out and die. Quarantine time would also mean to cleanse out the corals from parasite and disease, so you should do it.
  • Temperature swings. Corals can tolerate a difference of 1 to 2 degrees, but if it is more than 3 degrees, then it would be too much for them. If it is too hot or too cold, they won’t make it.
  • Alkalinity. Drastic changes in the alkalinity level would also affect the corals
  • Salinity. A lot of aquarists neglect this fact: testing for salinity. As it was mentioned before, salinity level is also important to keep the corals healthy and happy. You should get yourself a refractometer to know the exact safe level for the corals
  • Toxins. You should check whether there is any metal (coated or not) in the tank. Metal can dissolve in saltwater.
  • Aggressive mates. When you mix your soft corals with aggressive tank mates, it can be a problem for the corals. It’s possible that you place two different corals close-by that they are fighting for a territory. Or it’s also possible that the fish is nipping on the corals, which cause damages and injuries to them.

Challenges and Issues

One of the biggest challenges to SPS coral is about parasites. It is quite a challenge to keep the parasites and disease out of the water tank. Basically, once they are able to get into the tank, it would be extremely difficult to get rid of them. Parasitic copepods, black bugs, and red bugs are the common issues that can create damages, which is affecting the soft coral’s growth. You can probably add fish that would eat on those parasites, but then again, you need to make careful observation whether this method is successful or not.

A Word of Advice

SPS coral should be later learned or grown if you are a new beginner. You should try growing other types of corals, such as the ones that aren’t fussy or complicated. There are some corals that are just perfect for beginners, such as:

  • Montipora Plate Coral
  • Bird’s Nest Coral – Seriatopora
  • Pocillopora
  • Pavona

You should also buy the local captive-grown. Don’t buy corals from faraway places to minimize transportation stress. After all, when you buy locally, you can see them thrive well within the aquarium. When you place the coral first time at home, it’s advisable to start it out with less intensity lighting. Yes, the corals love their high intensity lighting, but to make the adjustment process easier, you want to make them comfortable first before gradually setting the lights as the natural setting. You don’t want your corals to bleach, stress out, and then die, do you?

Soft corals do have their own charms and appeal, but there are so many challenges with keeping them. It would be better if you try other species first and then grow SPS coral only when you are completely ready for the challenges.

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