Top Reefkeeping Myths: Coral Care

Top Reefkeeping Myths: Coral Care

In the third part of our Top Reefkeeping Myths series, we’ll cover some commonly held misconceptions about coral care. Reef tanks are all about the coral, and almost everything we do, from maintaining the proper water chemistry to ensuring our corals are free of pests, helps keep our coral happy and healthy.

Myth #1: Water chemistry must be highly stable to keep all types of coral

It is a commonly held belief that having very stable water parameters is needed to keep most corals. And while that is true for most SPS corals, most soft corals, and LPS corals will tolerate fluctuations in calcium, alkalinity, and other key elements as long as the salinity, temperature, and pH remain consistent. For folks keeping a nano reef tank, maintaining stable water parameters is challenging due to the small volume of water. As such, these tanks are generally better suited for LPS and soft corals. With that said, large swings in any critical component are not good for any coral.

As a general rule, we do not recommend targeting a specific value for each key parameter as you will likely do more harm than good chasing that value. Instead, we recommend targeting a range in conjunction with performing consistent maintenance to keep your system stable. For calcium, target 400 ppm – 420 ppm instead of 420 ppm on the dot.

Aquarium Refractometer
Aquarium Refractometer

Myth #2: Nitrate & phosphate should be zero

While testing your reef aquarium parameters is essential for coral care and to keep a successful system, the levels you are searching for can be somewhat controversial. Some individuals believe nitrate and phosphate levels should be as close to zero as possible; however, in reality, your corals need trace amounts of each of these nutrients. All living organisms need nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon for survival, so many hobbyists now dose small amounts of nitrate and phosphate back into their system using dosing programs, like ATI Nutrition.

The amount of phosphate and nitrate your corals prefer depends on the variety, but generally, you will want to shoot for a phosphate level between 0.01 – 0.05 ppm and a nitrate level between 1 – 10 ppm. Below is a chart of the recommended levels for these and other essential parameters in a reef aquarium.

Recommended Levels
Temperature75-78° F
Salinity1.024-1.026 sg (specific gravity)
Nitrate0.025-5 ppm
Phosphate0.02-0.05 ppm
Calcium400-450 ppm
Magnesium1250-1350 ppm
Alkalinity8-12 dKH
pH8.0-8.4
Desired water chemistry for mixed reef aquariums

Aquarium testing reagent
Aquarium Testing Reagent

Myth #3: I don’t need to dip my coral if I purchase them from a reliable dealer or friend

Another common misnomer within reefkeeping is that you will not need to dip your corals if you purchase them from a reliable source. And while you may not see any pests on a particular coral, this does not mean that they aren’t there. Not dipping could be a costly mistake that could kill off all of the corals in your tank. We recommend carefully dipping any new coral additions regardless of where you purchased them. Not only will this give you peace of mind, but it will also add an extra layer of protection to your, system keeping it safe from a variety of harmful pests. As an additional layer of protection against pests and disease, you may also want to place any coral in a quarantine system before adding it to the display tank. Therefore, practicing proper dipping techniques is crucial for coral care regardless of where you source your corals.

Aiptasia pest anemone
Aiptasia Anemone

The Next Steps for Coral Care & Healthy Reefkeeping

We hope this article has put to rest some of the most common myths associated with reef aquarium coral care. Keep your eyes out for our analysis of more common reefkeeping myths, where we hope to help hobbyists decipher fact from fiction when learning to keep a reef aquarium.

To browse reefkeeping products specifically designed for coral care, please visit ATINorthAmerica.com.

If you encounter any pressing questions or you need a recommendation, please contact our support team.

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