Today we are going to discuss caring for SPS corals in a reef aquarium and provide you with some useful advice that will help you tackle what most hobbyists consider the pinnacle of reef keeping.
Keeping small polyp stony corals is a polarizing topic among reef hobbyists. Reefers find keeping them to be very rewarding or very frustrating. This is because keeping healthy and beautifully colored SPS corals requires careful attention to every aspect of coral husband. Once you have experienced the satisfaction of turning an average looking fuzzy stick into a beautiful flourishing colony, the SPS bug bites and is likely to never go away.
Among all the different types of SPS corals, there are a few species that are easier to keep and recommended for those of you attempting to keep SPS for the first time. Seriotopora, Montipora, Stylophora and Pocillopora corals are all excellent for beginners. The harder to keep and more sensitive SPS corals, such as Acropora, should be reserved for SPS gurus who can meet the needs of these persnickety corals.
What makes SPS corals so hard to keep? Why do hobbyists put them on a pedestal above all other types of coral?
In reality, the basic needs of SPS corals are not really all that different from other corals—they are simply more sensitive and will quickly deteriorate if any one aspect is overlooked.
Providing a stable environment is crucial to keeping healthy SPS corals. This is often the difference between success and failure. Automation equipment, like dosers and auto top-off (ATO) systems, along with aquarium controllers can make it much easier to maintain and monitor a stable aquatic environment that supports the growth of SPS corals.
Water quality is key. Many SPS keepers find that clean water with low nitrate and phosphate levels in conjunction with consistent calcium, alkalinity and magnesium will keep your stony corals happy and healthy.
Proper filtration, including a quality protein skimmer and keeping a regular maintenance schedule, is imperative for keeping water clean. Calcium reactors are the favored method of keeping the major elements in line. But supplements like 2-part solution or kalkwasser are perfectly suitable if administered properly. Using a high quality aquarium salt mix that has consistent levels of calcium, alkalinity and magnesium are well worth it when keeping SPS corals because it will help you avoid large swings in water chemistry during water changes.
Water flow is extremely important to coral health. It helps with photosynthesis, respiration, gas exchange, allows corals to catch food, expel waste and also spreads offspring to other areas of the reef. When keeping SPS, strong, random water flow inside your tank is crucial. Wavemakers and controllable pumps like the VorTech or Gyre can help you create natural water movement just like Mother Nature herself.
Poor water movement can lead to slow tissue necrosis (STN) which means the flesh of the coral will slowly die off. This is the opposite of RTN or rapid tissue necrosis which means the flesh of the coral rapidly dies, often times within a matter of hours.
It is widely accepted that strong aquarium lighting is important to growing small polyp stony corals. It is equally important to properly acclimate corals to the level of light in your tank. Many fish stores do not keep corals under the same lighting intensity commonly used over a reef aquarium. A common practice with new SPS corals is to place the coral on the sand bed or on a frag rack for the first few weeks and then move the coral to an area with more intense lighting as time progresses. Just be sure the coral receives ample water movement and if you notice any signs of distress, such as loss of color or minimal polyp extension, try moving the coral to another area of the tank.
Feeding corals is becoming more and more popular because it accelerates growth, improves coloration and raises a coral’s ability to tolerate stress. Just like LPS and many soft corals, SPS corals exert a significant amount of energy collecting food. They simply require a smaller food particle since they have smaller mouths. We have an excellent video all about feeding corals you can watch if you’d like to learn more.
Once you get down the basics of SPS care, you can start experimenting to take your SPS keeping to the next level using supplements and other methods that allow hobbyists to grow stunning SPS colonies.
Amino acid supplements, such as the Two Little Fishies AcroPower, are among the most popular additives for SPS keepers and offer proven results. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and dosing them into your aquarium helps SPS corals build flesh and display vibrant color.
Certain minor and trace elements are known to promote different colors within SPS corals. Potassium is known to help bring out blue colors; Boron is used for red and Iron for green. By tinkering and experimenting with different ratios, you will find that corals can change color and display a variety of different hues that truly make them POP!
The ZEOvit system is another way to alter the colors of your corals. This system involves keeping a very low-nutrient level in your aquarium using a ZEOvit reactor and dosing several specific supplements each day. This approach is challenging but can produce some of the most amazing SPS coloration observed in captivity.
If you are ready to take on the challenge of SPS corals, the Marine Depot team is here to help! We can provide everything you’ll need to grow a jaw-dropping utopia of corals.
If you found this blog and the accompanying video helpful, please like and share it to help us spread the word. Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date on all the latest MD videos and until next time… take care and happy reef keeping.
4Learn more by reading SPS for Beginners Part 1 and Part 2.
4Check out calcium reactors and dosing pumps at Marine Depot.
4Shop reef tank supplements to optimize your coral growth.