For Beginners: Intro to Saltwater Aquarium Corals

Intro to Saltwater Aquarium Corals

Some saltwater aquarium corals are more demanding than others, so it’s crucial to know the differences between each type and how to care for them. Otherwise, you risk harming or damaging your coral and other tank inhabitants if you’re not familiar with the basics. So if you’re unsure how to choose which coral is right for you, you’ve come to the right place!

Soft Corals

Soft Coral
Soft Coral

Soft corals grow wood-like cores for support and flesh-like outer skins for protection. Unlike hard corals, soft corals do not have a rigid, calcium-based skeleton. Due to the lack of a calcium-based skeleton, soft corals do not contribute to the building of natural reefs.

Some soft corals, called non-photosynthetic (NPS) corals, obtain their energy entirely from food. Unlike most other types of corals, NPS corals do not host zooxanthellae.

Please note: the following pros and cons do not apply to non-photosynthetic (NPS) corals…

Pros of Soft Corals

  • More tolerant to changes in water parameters.
  • Regular dosing of calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium is not required.
  • Provides movement and texture to a reef tank.
  • Less expensive than most other types of saltwater aquarium corals.
  • Fast growth and simple to frag*.

* Many species of soft coral will self-frag, splitting and multiplying all by themselves.

Cons of Soft Corals

  • High growth rates and self fragging can result in soft corals crowding out other corals.
  • Potential for chemical warfare. Since most soft corals don’t sting, they protect themselves by releasing irritating chemicals into the water when agitated.

Hard Corals

Hard corals have rigid, calcium-based skeletons. Hard corals typically require more light and minerals in water to grow, like calcium and alkalinity for instance. The skeletons that hard corals leave behind after they die are the foundation of most coral reefs existing today.

LPS Coral
LPS Coral

There are two primary classifications of hard corals: (1) Large Polyp Stony (LPS) corals and (2) Small Polyp Stony (SPS) corals. LPS corals have large fleshy polyps whereas SPS corals have small flowery-looking polyps. Generally, LPS corals are easier to care for than SPS corals.

SPS Coral
SPS Coral

Pros of Hard Corals

  • Available in a wide variety of colors.
  • Easily secured to the live rock.
  • More tolerant of high light and high water flow conditions.
  • Target feeding with coral food improves color or growth.

Cons of Hard Corals

  • More demanding care; requires better water quality and more light.
  • Slower growth rates.
  • Less tolerate of changes in water parameters.
  • Generally more expensive than soft corals.

As a general rule of thumb, soft corals have lower care requirements. This makes them an ideal candidate for beginners. For hobbyists interested in pursuing a hard coral for the first time, an LPS coral is probably the best option to start with since they are typically easier to care for than an SPS coral.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth look into each of the three major coral groups of soft corals, LPS corals and SPS corals! Have a question or recommendation for us? Feel free to drop us a line here. If you are in the need for saltwater aquarium supplies, Simplicity Aquatics offers a variety of products including protein skimmerspumpsdosing containers and filter media.

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