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Stop before buying coral. Read this.

Posted 09/10/2016 at 11:59 AM by Sk8r

Do NOT buy coral while your tank is still having problems like massive algae, excessive cyano (most tanks get a little now and again).

Do not buy corals until you have 1) proper lighting 2) test kits to be sure your water is ok. And supplements to KEEP your water ok. 3) dips and in the case of softies (and stonies you don't trust) an observation tank with proper lighting.

First, the lighting. If you do not have light it hurts your eyes to look toward, no sps (colored stick) corals. Add to that, very strong flow.
If you have that light and a moderate, makes things move constantly but a little more gently, kind of flow, you are good for lps (fluffy stony) corals.
If you have weaker but coral-capable lighting, softie coral will probably be ok.

Second, the tests.
A) A must for all tanks, reef or not, is alkalinity: this should be somewhere between 7.9 and 9 on the DKH scale, and 8.3 is a nice middle ground with wiggle room. To keep it there, you need a buffer, a powder you add to your sump, or mix with tank water and drip somewhat slowly if you have to add to tank directly. This lets you keep the water from becoming acid which nothing likes to be in. But don't push it too high, either. This is what you really watch---it's related to ph, but in a marine tank, THIS is what everybody has to track, and keep steady. Salifert makes a test which will return you specific numbers, not color-match. It's much easier to be right.
B) nitrate test: stony corals want a nitrate level of 5. That's not 50. 5. F-i-v-e. SPS wants it a fraction of ONE. Water changes and a better skimmer can help you; so can a treatment called NoPoX in some instances. This is one of the most basic reasons why some people can't grow corals. Fix it before you get any coral.
C)for stony coral and clams, you need (with matching supplements), and again, numerical tests: test for magnesium (keep it at 1350) and calcium (keep it at 420). TO correct imbalance: you can't add these supplements, particularly buffer and calcium, at the same time. Test before adding, then add, then wait 8 hours to test again. Add more if needed, wait 8 hours, etc. Correct magnesium first, then alkalinity, THEN calcium. Always that order.
There's a cheat for dosing once you get your levels perfect: add kalk to your topoff water (2 teaspoons a gallon), stir it once, lid it (prevents crust forming) and those levels won't have to be adjusted until your magnesium gets used up or your ato reservoir runs out of water. If you don't let it run dry, you can keep this going for more than a month---yes, you CAN take vacations, even if you keep a reef.

Now that your water, light and flow are spot-on, you can buy a coral.
Do not mix stony and softie types. Yes, there are mixed reefs, but they're an added pain, because softies spit chemicals to stunt and kill neighbors, and stonies often have tentacles that come out at night (give them 6" in all directions including 'up') to stunt and kill neighbors. If you have softies, run carbon to stop the chemical warfare. But stonies really don't like it, so don't give yourself added problems. Do one or the other.

Many softies grow like weeds, especially if given stony conditions. Beware of letting mushrooms, green star polyp (gsp), or xenia onto your structural rocks, because getting them off a rock that can't be moved is nearly impossible---they reproduce from bits of tissue. It is also a rule that if it's cheap, it grows like mad, and if it cost a lot, it will die. Or grow very slowly.

Those basic conditions at the top, and stability, are the key to success with corals.

DIP your stony corals---I use Revive. And look them over carefully. SPS has a pest called 'red bug' that is near microscopic and once in your tank, a disaster. Your softies need dip (I don't keep stony, so I'm not up on the brand) and they need a small observation tank, because its primary pest is slugs, pretty slugs, but nasty---and while the dip may kill the adults, eggs may hatch a few days later (anyone who knows the time limit, chime in) and get loose in your tank.

Coral doesn't 'get' ich. Encysted ich could travel on it, and would also be missed by the dip. Getting corals from tanks which don't have fish coming and going is much safer. (By coming and going, I mean that many stores keep pest-eating fish in those tanks, but don't sell those fish, the way they do the ones in the other tanks.) Use your judgement, and err on the side of caution. If you ever do get ich in your tank, however, don't worry about your corals: they're immune; and a 72 day 'fallow' period will starve the pest out of your DT.

Starting a coral low in your tank prevents 'burn' damage from light intensity. Raise it every 5 days until it seems not-happy. Then lower it to the position it just came from.

Can a coral be exposed to air? Yes. Just don't let it dry out or lose its watery film. So it's not a screaming emergency to get them sited.

Corals are really pretty tolerant of ammonia---which you never want to happen, but if it does...meh, at least for the corals. What they CAN'T stand is nitrate. So if you have a tank disaster, protect your fish from the ammonia (they tolerate nitrate) but protect your corals from any nitrate spike.

Got it? Reefkeeping in a fairly small nutshell. Corals are not at all hard, in the sense that they don't carpet surf or cross the tank to pick a fight; but you have to give them the life-conditions they need. Once you do, you will see your little frag become a colony, and the colony become multiple colonies.

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