Soft corals are great! Not only are they the easiest corals to take care of, but they have some truly fascinating forms and amazing colours that will add interest and beauty to any saltwater aquarium.
Soft corals have highly interesting forms and shapes and are among the most tolerant corals to imperfect water quality that exist in our oceans. Not only this; they require sub-intense lighting are cheap and are much easier to care for than either LPS or SPS corals, which makes them the perfect beginners coral.
Things to know about soft corals:
They are usually found in nutrient rich tropical waters at a depth of 5 – 30 metres (shallow) predominantly in the Indo-Pacific and Red sea. Soft corals mostly are populated by zooxanthellae, the symbiotic algae living in their tentacle tissues that convert sunlight to food.
Soft corals can be harvested very gently unlike hard corals that need to be very destructively hacked off the reef. Soft corals are very good at regenerating from small sections and fragments in your system and will asexually reproduce by budding and fragmentation, they will also grow much quicker than stony corals that have to absorb a lot of calcium out of the water to build their hard skeletons.
You would think that a lack of a hard, stony skeleton would make the polyps of soft corals much more vulnerable to predation but soft corals come well armed with both internal spiny sclerites (the structure of these is used for species identification) which deters any potential predators and chemical warfare that deters any living thing from growing on their tissue and keeps their close neighbors at bay… So dont put them too close to other sessile (non-moving) invertebrates or chemical warfare could result! Activated carbon can help filter this out of the water.
My personal favourite soft corals are of the genus; Lobophytum (Finger leather), Alcyonium (dead mans fingers, hand corals), Cladiella (Cauliflower, Tree leather), Sarcophyton (Mushroom, Leather, Cup leather), and Sinularia. These are all very interesting looking rubbery growths coming out of the rockwork. I also love pulsing Xenias because of their delicately waving colonies of feathery polyps.
My top soft coral tips
- Vigorous water movement is very important to remove waste and bring oxygen and plankton food to soft corals.
- Using activated carbon to soak up any chemicals released is really a must with soft corals, some species are capable of releasing some pretty nasty chemicals when threatened or stressed. A good protein skimmer will also help with this and also is highly recommended.
- Removing any shed mucus as soon as you notice it is important, as this is quite toxic to you other marine life and water quality.
- Just because these coral tolerate sub-optimal water quality doesn’t mean that your water shouldn’t be pristine and nutrient free, after all do you want your corals to just survive or thrive?
- Soft corals don’t exclusively need intensive lighting but most species will welcome it in your tank, for those who shy away from bright lighting you can place them near the bottom or in the shade of the rockwork.
- Soft corals unlike stony corals are not very fussy about their placement, for example they will do happily in lower light areas as long as they get adequate supplementary feeding and have high water movement, many soft corals can also be placed in high light conditions.
- When placing soft corals be very careful to leave enough space between them (8 inches is a safe bet) and other sessile organisms, if the soft corals end up touching another organism some nasty chemical warfare (Alleopathy) can follow which can easily kill the unlucky touching organism and foul up your tank water. Protein skimming and activated carbon can help to mop up these toxins as they are produced.
- Most soft corals eat plankton and will do very well with a twice weekly supplementary feeding of either zooplankton or phytoplankton depending on the coral species.
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