Succeed with marine corals

Final complete marine aquarium set up

How to succeed with marine corals in your reef aquarium

Final complete marine aquarium set up
Final complete marine aquarium set up

If you have already set up a successful marine aquarium with a host of saltwater fish, live rock, and perhaps even a few invertebrates, you might be entertaining the possibility of keeping marine corals in your tank as well. While you may have heard that keeping corals in your reef aquarium is a difficult task, it can be a vastly rewarding experience if it is approached correctly. And may not be too big a step up from the set up you already have if your marine aquarium has been running for quite a while.

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

Saltwater fish for beginners

Live rock and live sand

Consider what your set up offers

As always, a larger tank will provide you with a sufficient volume to reduce eventual problems with water quality management. If you are fortunate enough to be the owner of a large tank, you will find that the health of your fish will be easier to manage during the period when you introduce corals to your tank. The larger your tank is, the better you will be able to adapt it to the presence of coral colonies.

If you already have high quality filtration and an adequate lighting set up, you are well on your way to enjoying a successful reef tank. In terms of filtration, you will need a greater amount of water flow throughout your tank than you may currently have, since corals are immobile and will need to draw their nutrients from the water itself as it passes through them.

Your aquarium’s lighting set up will have to closely replicate natural sunlight: a spectrum of blue UV light for 12 hours a day and a full spectrum white light for 8–10 hours a day would be the minimum for ensuring a healthy coral population in your reef aquarium.

Water quality and management

The ideal temperature at which most marine corals will thrive is between 23–25° C, with 25°C representing an optimum temperature for coral tanks. Temperature is very important due to the effect that warm water will have on the level of dissolved oxygen present: Oxygen level will decrease with higher temperatures, causing respiratory problems for your corals.

The most dependable way of keeping your water temperature constant is through the use of a refrigerating chiller with a temperature gauge. While it is possible to maintain the appropriate temperature without a chiller in many circumstances, you may want to use one in order to give your marine corals the best opportunity to thrive.

If you have a quality filtration system in place in an already cycled tank, you will not have to worry too much about ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels, but organic compounds could become a problem if they are allowed to break down into harmful waste products. The use of a protein skimmer can be a great help when keeping a coral reef aquarium.

Corals tend to do their best with a pH level between 8.0–8.3. You will want to test your water regularly to ensure that the levels do not change after you introduce corals to your tank, since they can upset this delicate balance of water acidity and harm your entire tank population in the process.

One of the key indicators that aquarists use to determine whether their tank is ready for the introduction of live corals can be seen in the live rock already present: When your live rock begins developing spots of purple, this indicates the presence of coralline algae, which grows as a result of the same conditions necessary for the growth of marine corals.

Choosing and introducing live corals to your tank

Once you have the appropriate conditions ready, you can introduce your corals to the tank. Proper coral choice is important here, since dissimilar species of coral can be very difficult to maintain. Two basic types of corals commonly found in reef aquariums are as follows:

  1. corals, which feature a hard exoskeleton and are also often called hard corals, and;
  2. Soft corals, which do not have an exoskeleton and often inhabit different waters then their stony counterparts.

You may be tempted to mix these two types of corals, but you are recommended to stick with one or the other for your first coral experience. You should thoroughly research the species you would like to incorporate in your tank to make sure they are compatible—coral competition and aggression is not uncommon in reef tanks.

Soft corals are generally easier to care for then stony ones, although not always: preferred choices include any of the following species:

  • Finger leather coral
  • Pulse coral
  • Jasmine polyps
  • Star polyps,
  • Clove polyps
  • Cabbage leather coral

If you would prefer stony varieties, peaceful stony corals such as the popular candy cane coral can make an excellent choice for your first foray into keeping a coral aquarium. Also, whisker coral, also known as Duncan coral, can make a fine addition. Bubble coral is easy to care for but can be aggressive in temperament.

Once you have your tank prepared and have purchased your desired coral fragments, you are ready to attach them to the interior of your tank. Specialized aquarium glue exists for exactly this purpose, and can help make the process much easier than attempting to secure the coral with toothpicks and hoping it sticks.

Coral placement depends on the strength of your tank’s lighting and your corals’ specific needs. Marine corals may need to be gradually acclimated to your tank lights, which can be done by placing them at the bottom of the tank at first and then gradually moving their foundation upwards over the course of a week.

Once you attach the corals to the interior of your tank, you will have to carefully monitor the water conditions in order to make sure that no abrupt changes take place. This, along with regular maintenance, will ensure a long and healthy life for your corals.

Coral maintenance and care

Once your marine corals begin getting accustomed to their new lives inside your reef aquarium, you will need to take care of them in order to ensure lasting success with your reef aquarium. You should be testing your water weekly for pH changes as well as ammonia and nitrite levels, and have a cleaning routine ready that includes both your filtration system and your lights as well.

Some species of corals have more specific feeding and maintenance needs than others, but if you choose to keep varieties of coral that require the weekly addition of coral food, the trace elements you should generally add include calcium, strontium, iron, and magnesium. Other than this, your monthly partial water change schedule should run normally.

Responsible coral harvesting

As a last word on keeping a successful coral aquarium, you should be aware that there are two types of coral suppliers in the aquarium trade: those that are licensed by the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and those that are not. Licensed providers cannot exceed an annual quota of coral sales, and are compelled to source fragments from sustainable areas.

Licensed suppliers also contribute to marine conservation, and you should always purchase your coral fragments (or whole live corals, if your budget permits) from these vendors. Unlicensed coral sellers can do enormous damage to already endangered natural habitats.

If you follow this guide and choose your marine corals carefully, you should be well one your way to enjoying a beautiful and colourful coral display in the comfort of your own home. Remember that some species such as the clown fish live between the fronds of coral. And so will make a lively display. Sit back relax and enjoy the show!

Clean and clear aquarium water

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Clean and clear aquarium water: A guide to water quality and management

Also see: Cure and prevent cloudy or green water

and Why does my aquarium get dirty

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal
Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Water may appear clean and clear but, actually, be absolutely toxic to your fish. You need to be able to create water that is clean and healthy for your fish. Below I will explain how to create clean and clear water and how to maintain this indefinitely by establishing a balanced ecosystem. It can be said that you are not taking care of your fish but rather you are taking care of the water the fish live eat and breathe in.
 
A fully-functioning aquarium is a balanced ecosystem that needs to remain balanced in order to let your fish thrive. Setting up and maintaining this ecosytem is the first and most important step towards taking good care of your fish.

Water composition

In order to understand how to successfully manage your aquarium water, you need to become familiar with the various attributes of water that aquarists generally deal with. The water in your tank will have more in it than simple H20, and frequent testing is the best way to keep all of those additional elements in check. Some of the attributes and chemicals worth paying attention to follow:

  • Temperature – your water needs to have a controlled temperature for your fish to survive. Tropical aquariums are typically heated to a temperature between 23–28° C (74–82° F).
  • pH level – This is the measure of your waters acidity, and is affected by its hardness. Certain fish have pH requirements determined by their natural habitat, but a range somewhere between 6.5–8.2 is the norm.
  • Hardness – The amount of dissolved minerals in your water contribute to its hardness. Soft water generally carries a lower pH level. Most fish are tolerant of moderate hardness between 100–250 mg/l.
  • Chlorine and chloramine – These chemicals are added to municipal reservoirs to keep your tap water clean and safe to drink. They are toxic to fish, however, so you will need to remove them from your water. Chlorine will evaporate on its own if left to sit for a few days, but chloramine requires the use of a water conditioning product to successfully remove.
  • Phosphate and other minerals – These are substances that are usually ignored by most aquarists. But there are times when it is necessary to test for other substances. Such as when algae becomes a persistent problem or plants are not growing.
  • Ammonia – Ammonia is toxic to fish and is caused by decomposing waste, and the point of your aquarium filtration system is to remove harmful ammonia by converting it into nitrite and then nitrate. That takes place during the nitrogen cycle, which will be covered in more detail below. The optimal level of ammonia in your water is zero. Anything above .25 mg/l of ammonia means you need to perform a water change.
  • Nitrite – A secondary element of the nitrogen cycle, nitrite is not as toxic as ammonia, but it reduces the ability of your fish to oxygenate their bloodstream. A normal tank should not have more than .5 mg/l of nitrite. If it does, it is time for a water change.
  • Nitrate – The end product of the nitrogen cycle’s chemical conversion. Not as harmful as nitrite or ammonia but still harmful in high doses. Nitrate can be tolerated at levels up to 40 mg/l.

Cycling your aquarium water

See cycling for more info

Since substances like ammonia and nitrite are toxic for your fish, you need to remove them from your water on a continually. Fortunately, once matured, your filter will automatically remove them for you. Your aquarium’s filtration system is designed to host a range of beneficial bacteria that convert ammonia into nitrite, and nitrite into nitrate; a process called the nitrogen cycle. In order for that to happen, however, you need to set up your aquarium for cycling.

Since fish produce ammonia, they are typically used as the beginning point of the nitrogen cycle. After being added to a tank, very frequent water changes are needed to keep the fish healthy until the bacterial colony which feeds off the ammonia has developed sufficiently. Fishless tank cycling can be achieved using pure ammonia, as well.

Once ammonia is in the tank, bacteria will naturally show up to begin consuming it and converting it into nitrite. This can be speeded up by introducing a working filter from another aquarium, since a colony of bacteria should already be present established there. If this is not an option, then they will develop, on a new filter, slowly over 30-60 days. A secondary layer of bacteria will also appear that will convert the newly created nitrite into nitrate.

The end result of growing these bacterial colonies in your aquarium filter is that your water will essentially be recycling its own waste. However, nitrate still needs to be reduced through partial water changes. Luckily, that is only a weekly task. If you are keeping fish in your tank while cycling, you will need to perform large daily water changes until the ammonia levels fall to near zero.

Setting up a water management routine

Once your tank is properly cycled, you will still need to monitor your tank’s water. Since the nitrogen cycle is taking care of your immediate concerns over waste matter recycling, you can keep your water quality high with minimal effort. The only daily task that is necessary at this point is checking the water temperature.

Weekly tasks include performing a small water change, between 10–25%, as needed according to the nitrate level of the tank. You should also be testing your water every week in order to gauge the nitrate level as well as detect and prevent any possible ammonia, nitrite, or pH problems that may spring up, before they get serious.

Your monthly tasks should include a vacuuming of the tank gravel, a squeezing out of the excess dirt from your filter sponge and a scrubbing to remove any algae present in the tank. Never use tap water on your filter sponge. Squeeze out the sponge using some water from the aquarium. This avoids harming the beneficial bacterial colony growing on it.

Common water quality problems

One of the most evident signs that your aquarium water has a problem is if the smell changes. Aquariums generally have a pleasant lakeside scent to them once they are properly cycled, but excess ammonia and other elements can change that, giving you a warning to test the water and change it quickly.

Most often, bad-smelling water is a sign that there is too much waste in the tank as a result of overfeeding. Your fish should generally eat all of their food in two minutes or less and not leave any to rot. Excess food will rot which releases excess ammonia that will poison your fish. Occasionally your fish will go off their food. Feeding at this time will just result in food being left uneaten and rotting. Remove any uneaten food using a siphon.

A fish that dies in the tank should be removed immediately. A rotting fish will release a lot of ammonia which your filter will not be able to cope with.

Algae is another common result of poor-quality aquarium water. Again, excess nutrients (especially nitrate and phosphate) can allow algae to bloom, turning your water green and presenting problems for your fish. If you are not overfeeding your fish, then algae may bloom because of an excess of yellow light. Also, be sure to keep your aquarium out of direct sunlight.

If you pay attention to your water and follow the guidelines mentioned above, you should have a tank full of clean and clear aquarium water for your fish to enjoy.