Keeping small polyp stony corals is a polarising topic among reef hobbyists. Reefers find keeping them to be very rewarding or very frustrating. This is because keeping healthy and beautifully coloured 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 favoured 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 colour 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.
For more guidance on becoming a fragging expert click here.