Week 35: SOFT CORALS! Selection, care, and placement | 52 Weeks of Reefing

Week 35: SOFT CORALS! Selection, care, and placement | 52 Weeks of Reefing

September 16, 2019 100 By Ewald Bahringer


Today on BRSTV it time to start talking corals Hey guys my name is Ryan, welcome to another
week of the BRS 160 where every week we do our best to help you guys, members of the
reefing community enjoy your tanks and find new ways to explore the hobby. We do that
by following the set up and progression of this one hundred and sixty gallon reef tank. This week we are going talk about soft corals
and polyps starting with what makes them different than other corals, typical care standards
, where the brs team gets their corals from, as well as some details specific corals like
placement, compatibility, growth, flow, lighting and nutritional requirements. Soft corals fit into a few main groups, leathers,
gorgonians, xenia, mushrooms like rhodactis, ricordea, discosoma, polyps like zoanthids,
palythoa clove and star polyps. Soft corals differ from other types of corals
in our tanks by one major factor rather than building a skeletal structure made of calcium
carbonate they are primarily composed soft tissue and of tiny calcium based spicules,
called sclerites. The sclerites are needle shaped, less than a millimeter long and help
give the coral structure as well as potentially make the coral less attractive to hungry predators. That lack of skeletal structure is what gives
many soft corals that characteristic ability to sway back and forth and gives the tank
a feeling of movement. Many soft corals and polyps also have some of the widest range
and brightest colors available in the hobby. Even though they can be some of the most impressive
displays. Dedicated soft coral tanks are somewhat rare these days, probably because this is
a hobby so reefers are often dedicated to progressing the hobby by finding new ways
to keep once very difficult corals such as SPS or even NPS. The nature of any hobby is
to evolve and explore. It’s kind of a shame because in general
soft corals are amongst the fastest growing, most forgiving and easiest to maintain with
moderate flow and lighting requirements, very little calcium and alkalinity demand, much
more tolerant of higher nutrient levels and less stringent maintenance habits. Generally
just a lot easier to care for. That means they are not only awesome choices
for newer hobbyists but also those of us that are looking for a low maintenance awesome
display or one that grows into a complete display with mature sized corals quickly. This is particularly true for those reefers
who after a couple years find that the maintenance with more advanced tanks was not a realistic
match with their personal, work or family lives. Evolving the tank into super easy to
maintain softy tank is a perfect option verses shutting the tank down. While there are exceptions for the most part
the flow requirements for softies are pretty low meaning you can get away with some inexpensive
powerheads like a few koralias, in fact many of them do best in rather low flow because
of their flexible nature doesn’t do well in high flow tanks. If you have the budget
for it wave makers, variable flow DC pumps or wave boxes are really cool additions to
softy tanks because the larger leathers and gorgonians will sway back and forth. Lighting requirements vary but most do well
under almost any standard reef lighting. meaning they will do well under lower lighting conditions
with lower cost LED’s or a few T5 bulbs but can be acclimated to higher intensity
lighting conditions as well. More intense lighting often results in brighter more intense
coloration. Unlike some other more demanding coral type’s
soft corals not only tolerate higher nutrient environments but most reefers agree that they
actually do better in tanks with measurable nutrient levels. Nutrients are a pretty vague
term however and while some might appreciate measurable levels of elements like nitrate
others are benefiting more directly from suspended food particles from more frequent feeding
or elements the foods break down into like amino acids. One thing I would like to dispel is people
often say soft corals do best in dirty water. Dirty water is just that, dirty. While soft
corals may tolerate a dirty tank that gets fed a ton and never gets water changes that
is just a recipe for disaster in the long run. Eventually a dirty tank is going to run
into major algae or livestock issues. There is a big difference between dirty and
nutrient rich environment. Nutrients are big category and include all kinds of things like
meaty foods, suspended food particles, elements the foods break down into like amino acids
as well as the end result with nitrates and phosphate. There is a lot of mystery behind
how corals of different species utilize nutrients in the water. Nutrient rich water means it
is rich in the nutrients the coral can actually utilize. So that’s a lot different than
dirty water. While soft corals can consume small amounts
of calcium and alkalinity production of their sclerites, In most cases water changes alone
or small occasional adjustments are enough for calcium and alkalinity and it’s not
super common to dose many trace elements other than Iodine which is fairly popular in softy
tanks. One thing to note is soft corals are much
more likely to contain and emit toxins which can irritate other corals so running a small
bag of carbon in the tank that you change every couple weeks is likely wise. In relation
to that this can also make soft corals a great option for reef tanks with more aggressive
fish that would otherwise eat or bother other corals. Ok so let’s drive a bit more into the corals
that we have in the tank here staring with when it is time to get corals where does the
team at BRS go? If you have a local fish store in your area that stocks what you are looking
for that’s always the best bet but because you know exactly what you are getting, you
can inspect for pests and general health of the coral, all things you can’t do on line. However if the shops in your area don’t have
what you are looking for when they don’t there are some pretty awesome online shops.
There are a lot of things you can look for in an awesome online supplier like the images
look accurate, decent prices, shipping practices and whatnot. Just like there are good, bad
and great fish stores there are terrible and truly awesome online shops. Personally as a rule I try and avoid the giant
livestock outlets owned by huge conglomerates simply because the corals the team here has
ordered from them are rarely healthy and almost never look like the images. While I have been
happy with fish I have ordered from these larger vendors I don’t think there has been
a single instance where I have been happy with the health or coloration of the corals
I have purchased from giant livestock suppliers. I have personally found that the mid-sized
operations owned and operated by reefers who are really passionate about what they do are
able to source the highest quality corals from around the world, keep them healthy,
use the most accurate photography and I am just more likely to be happy with my coral
purchase. Finding the right online supplier is done
best by simply asking around because you can’t tell a whole lot just from viewing their website.
Look for some recommendations from a few reefers you trust on a forum, club or even locally.
If they are happy with their purchases the chances of you being happy sky rocket. For the brs160 we are working with three online
suppliers the team at BRS uses a lot and trusts. Starting with Charlie’s favorite place to
get cans, Austin aquafarms. Matt started Austin aquafarms in 2007 and
been serving reefers for 9 years. They specialize in rare LPS and like most of the better online
shops they pride themselves in accurate pictures where you get what you paid for, the reason
they are Charlie’s go to acan shop. Something if you can confirm for yourself at their store
if you live in the Austin area. We also included Two of RT turner’s favorites
with unuiquecorals.com one of the most well developed online livestock business in our
industry and run by Toni and Joe Caparatta. Like most of the best online shops uniquecorals.com
was started as a component of retail shop, Manhattan aquariums in New York. They have
since expended in to the LA market with the online presence and a 6,000 foot warehouse
with 14,000 gallons of holding tanks and a collective 90 years of reefing within their
staff. I think it’s that last knowledge and passion component which differentiates
any company in any industry. Another one BRS go to online shops is Worldwidecorals.
RT’s direct quote “I’ve been to their retail shop in Orlando and they are the real
deal. Easily one of the most impressive shops I’ve seen, and they have a huge online presence” Worldwide corals are located in Orlando Florida
with a 7,000 square foot facility and over 8,000 gallons of saltwater and has a pretty
huge nationwide presence. Mostly because they are just one of the best online livestock
options but it doesn’t hurt that they also run one of the most popular events in reefing
with reefapalooza Florida and new York. These events are one of the coolest things
a dedicated hobbyist can attend, Lue and his staff is obviously pretty engaged in the hobby
with Chris, victor, Josh running coral husbandry, acquisition, farming and sales. I have to
agree with RT, they are one of the real deals. So these are the three shops we ordered from
to help show you some various corals. We are somewhat dependent on what’s in stock at
the moment so we can’t cover every last soft coral out there but you can get a general
idea. A few of them will stay in the BRS160 but most will probably be moved to our Vertex
frag system or various other tanks in the office. We are going to start with the first coral
we received from Austin aquafarms and the lighting, flow, placement, compatibility,
growth, and nutritional requirements for zoanthids. This is an example of wild zoanthid colony.
Getting them wild generally means they don’t have specific names but you get a lot more
on the rock and some of the specialized branded versions. Zoanthids come in some of the widest
ranges of colors in our hobby, easiest to care for and probably one of the most popular
types of corals in any tank because of that. Zoanthids can thrive in a pretty wide range
of lighting spectrums but most do really well in low to moderate but can even tolerate fairly
intense lighting if they are acclimated to it properly. Meaning anywhere from a few T5’s
to halides or a wide range of LED options. Lighting really just should be a preventive
factor to caring for zoanthids, just start in a lower light area of the tank and gradually
move it into its final position. One note is in very low light they will often
stretch themselves out and become much more puffy in an attempt to capture more light.
I have seen them thrive and grow for years like this so just because it is stretching
for light doesn’t mean it is necessarily a bad thing. Zoanthids will also tolerate almost any level
of flow in the tank from just your basic return to fairly intense power heads like vortechs
or a gyre. Like any coral however make an attempt to make sure it isn’t getting a direct
blast. Generally speaking it’s pretty easy to visually see when zoanthids are getting
too much flow. They simply look like they don’t like it. You can place them basically anywhere in the
tank however most reefers will put them on islands in the sand. This is because some
types will spread like wildfire and isolating them in the sand is your best bet at keeping
them contained. You might think watching them spread will be cool and it will be until they
start to cover and kill other prized corals. Nutritionally you can feed them and they do
have a mouth but the feeding response is somewhat limited. I guess I personally wouldn’t bother
polluting the tank trying to feed them. Zoanthids seem to do just fine with lighting and the
general nutrients in the water. Most reefers will say they seem to do better in higher
nutrient environments so outside of directly feeding them they are likely to benefit from
the broken down fish foods added to the tank and likely additives like amino acids. Next up is a custom clamshell zoanthid palythoa
garden from unuqiecorals.com we will get into the differences between zoanthids and paylathoa
in just a minute. Gardens like this are a super popular way to introduce a variety color
into the tank and pretty stunning as they grow out. It’s also a pretty inexpensive
way to get a wide variety of zoanthid colors you can grow out for a limited investment. One thing I will note is in most cases one
of the zoanthid colors always seems to win out and out complete the others for space
so if you have some on there that you really want to keep and protect we suggest that you
break them off and grow them out separately. Our first coral from worldwidecorals is a
named zoanthid called Salted Agave . Zoathids have some of the craziest names
out there and a lot of the cooler or more rare colorations can go for a pretty penny
honestly with all of these colorations out there is hard not to want to become a collector.
I think all of us have considered a zoanthid dominant tank at one point or another because
of this. Once these salted agave’s fill in they will be pretty stunning. Next up is Austin’s Ricordea yuma. Ricordea
comes in two main types, Florida and Yuma. Yuma’s tend to have some of the more rare
colors and much more expensive. Beyond color you can often tell the difference by looking
at the tentacles. Yumas tend to have tentacles in high density around the mouth and a more
random pattern of tentacles. Florida’s mouths have fewer tentacles in the direct vicinity
of the mouth and more uniform dispersion pattern. The ricordia from Austin is a Yuma. because
of their awesome coloration Yuma are generally much more desirable however while I am sure
this is going to stir up some debate a lot of reefers believe Yuma are much harder to
get into a healthy state where they not only survive but thrive and reproduce. I have heard
many reefers even suggest them as harder than SPS corals because it isn’t as clear what
exactly it is they like and the community hasn’t really settled on why they thrive or
wither and die in seemingly identical environments. The collective experience of the BRS team
is they do best in low light areas of the tank, sometimes even as low as indirect light
that is bouncing off other surfaces. I would absolutely keep it out of the most intensely
lit areas of the tank. They also seem to enjoy lower flow areas of
the tank where there is water movement that causes subtle gentle movement of the corals
tissue. Most people won’t have an issue with Yuma spreading like wild fire but they
are a type of coral that once it settles in can reproduce somewhat quickly so be aware
of what you are putting it next to. I will say most reefers would say rapid growth with
yumas would be closer to a dream come true than common issue. Most reefers believe it is a coral that does
well with higher nutrients but in this case my personal belief is that is more likely
to mean a tank that gets a decent amount of nutrients or food added to it combined with
proper maintain. Again high nutrients doesn’t mean sky high nitrates. If you don’t have
many fish and corispondingly feed the tank very little you may want to try small amounts
of various coral foods or ammino acid additives. They can take on meaty foods directly but
most reefers don’t feed them this way. If yours has a rapid feeding response indicating
they are welcoming solid foods like pellets, mysis or plankton I would certainly do that
on occasion. If for no other reason than it is cool to watch but it isn’t a requirement. Next up from unique is the ORA pom pom xenia.
I think almost all of us have maintained some form of xenia at some point. It is probably
one of the easiest corals to maintain, most forgiving or lighting, flow and nutrient requirements.
once it has settled in it can also be one of the fastest growing corals in the tank. The pulsing types are mesmerizing and absolutely
one of the corals your friends and family will be drawn to. The pulsing is believed
to be tied somehow to feeding but that has never been confirmed and for some unknown
reason the pulsing can stop completely which may be an indicator that it is unhappy but
it could very easily be related to something completely different. They seem to do best in moderate lighting
conditions but can be acclimated to fairly bright lighting. For the most part they like
lower to decent flow but I would avoid blasting them directly. just enough that the colony
can flow back and forth naturally. I would absolutely place them on an island
of some sort, on the glass or somewhere else you can remove them. xenia can grow really
fast and take over a tank if you let it. Also note that it can let go of the rock and populate
new areas of the tank. Newer reefers will think this is great but eventually you will
be looking for ways to remove a lot of it. xenia is probably an example of a coral that
I am willing to say actually thrives in what I would call a dirty tank meaning. I have
seen it grow rapidly in some tanks that get feed enormous amounts of food, never get water
changes and presumably sky high nutrient levels of all kinds. So much that some reefers even
use xenia to in refugiums to soak up nutrients and then sell or trade the frags to local
fish stores. I know I personally had a tank that I neglected
pretty badly early in my reefing career that thrived and I think I owe it almost completely
to the enormous xenia colony that was in the tank. other than fish food I don’t think you
need to add any additional nutrients for xenia unless you have a ultra low nutrient tank
inwhich case you might want to dose some type of food like HW biotip or KZ amino acids or
coral vitalizer. The next world wide coral is the WWC Funny
D’’s zoa’s. We received quite a few zoanthid colonies from world wide all of which
are pretty awesome and the types that the average collector is going to appreciate.
all of the ones labeled WWC are likely propagated in their own systems because propagating the
most attractive coral species is a big part of what they do there. Next coral from austin aquafarms is a silver
xenia, xenia comes in all kinds of colors and some reefers can become connoisseurs.
Really just a personal preference but the silver types can be more appealing to some
reefers. Unuqie provided two pretty cool examples of
Reefgen Eunicia Gorgonians with a blue teal and purple version both with golden polyps.
Gorgonian’s are particularly cool because they tend to sway in the water which gives
that incredible sense of movement softy tanks can have. They also have awesome polyps extenuation.
Gorgonian’s come in both photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic varieties . The photosynthetic
vairites do find with light as the primary source of nutrition. the non photosynthetic
versions will require frequent feedings to maintain and I would call a fairly advanced
coral. Most of the photosynthetic versions come from
shallow waters with fairly intense light and water flow. So they are likely to do best
with more intense lighting and placements in the aquarium. However the strong varied
flow from tidal areas is somewhat hard to recreate and have it still be attractive in
the aquarium. This is best done with variable flow pumps like the vortects, gyre, tunze
and sicce powerheads. If you cant do that its ok, we have seen them thrive in a variety
of environments, maybe try a wave maker or test out different placements in the tank You don’t need to feed photosynthetic versions
but they will likely benefit from small particle foods like reef chili or reef roids the non
photosynthetic versions will absolutely require foods like these, each species likely requiring
a slightly different size food type. Reef chili is a good choice because it covers a
pretty wide range of particle sizes. next up is the red rainbow flordia ricordia
from world wide. This is an awesome example of the fact that flordias can be just as cool
if not cooler than many yumas and Florida’s are way easier to maintain. Florida’s seem
to tolerate a much wider range of light and placement positions. To the point that in
the right environment they can spread somewhat rapidly after they settle in. I would go as
far as to say they should be isolated on an island but I would place them in an area where
they are not likely to bother other corals as they grow out. In the same family of corals is Austin’s
rhodactus mushroom. These mushrooms can be more puffy and textured than other mushrooms
and really easy to care for. They do well in in low to medium lighting and flow rates
as well as tolerant of a wide range of water conditions. like most mushrooms its a common
belief that they actually thrive in high nutrient environments. These mushrooms have the potential to spread
rapidly once they are comfortable in the tank so I would strongly consider isolating them
on islands or other easy to maintain areas where they are unlikely to bother other corals. BREAK Id also like to note that the rhodactus mushrooms
come in all kinds of color variations. Unique sent us a bright green version and world wides
yellow canary shroom. Unique corals ultra paly is up next. Im promised
earlier help you ID the difference between zoanthids and paylathoa which honesty is pretty
difficult to do. More or less you need to chop it up and look at it under a microscope
to tell the difference. it is very likly that most of what we has hobbists are listing as
zoanthids and paylathoa is often confused and not accurate. There are a few general excepted loose guidlines.
palythoa often builds sand and other substrate particles into its base tissue, Zoathids generally
have shorter tentacles on their polypes. palythoa are also much more likely to use these particles
as an active feeding response World wides Blue Cespitularia is up next.
This is very similar to xenia so much so that is is often called blue xenia. however it
doesn’t pulse like some varieties of xenia. Care requirements all pretty much the same
with moderate light and flow and make sure you place it somewhere you don’t mind it spreading
too because it will grow as rapidly as xenia next we have a mushroom from Auston they refer
to as a metallic Andalas. I feel kind of silly saying this but the team here isn’t very
familiar with this species . More or less it is a larger mushroom and has an awesome
metallic blue center and a fairly complex tentacle structure. We are fairly certain
it is going to fall into the same category as some of the other Rhodactis mushrooms we
have discussed. Time to get into a couple leathers from unique
corals. starting with the Jake Adams Weeping Willow Sarcophyton leather often referred
to as a toadstool because when they are smaller and closed they often look like a toad stool
mushroom but opened up they have very long tentacle like polyps. This really has to be
on of the more visually stunning soft corals simply because of the length of the extended
polyps and the awesome movement they add to the tank. These are pretty hardy corals tolerant of
a lot of environments but will show you they are unhappy by retracting their polyps for
prolonged periods of time. it is however very common for them to retract them for up to
a week as it builds up a waxy coating on its surface and sheds it which is totally normal
process presumed to be part of natural growth or to remove elements from its its surface. Toadstools do best with moderate to higher
intensity lighting as well as moderate or higher non direct flow which gently waves
their polyps back and forth. As far as placement goes know tat eventually this might be one
of the largest corals in your tank so give it some room to sway and grow. I have never witnessed the polyps capture
pray or food particles and I wouldn’t be concerned about feeding it anything directly. It will
do fine with appropriate light and natural nutrients in the water. Along those same lines we have the neon green
Neon Green sinularia finger leather. sinularia will also grow rather large with branching
fingers covered in small frilly polyps . sinularia has the potential to be one the brightest
colored corals in your tank with that same awesome movement that can bring a display
tank to life. Similar to the toad stool they do well in
moderate to high intensity light. In fact they tend to be get brighter and even cooler
with higher intensity light. I would also use as much flow as they visually tolerate.
They do best when they are swaying back and forth but not getting blown around aggressively. There really are a lot of leathers with very
similar care standards including nepthea which can often be indistinguishable from sinularia
, devils hand or Lobophytum, and Kenya tree or Capnella. The aquacultred frags from ORA
are pretty popular and available in most of the better fish stores and online shops. http://www.orafarm.com/products/softcoral/ora-soft-coral/ We of coarse cant cover polyps without mentioning
everyones favorite green star polyps. love them or hate them they are one of the brightest
most intensely colored corals in the tank. There is just an awesome contrast between
the purple mat or base and bright neon green polyps that wave in tanks flow. This is another one of this ver harder corals
that seem to not only survive any environment but actually do better in higher nutrient
environments. Most reefers don’t have a problem getting them to grow it is normal the exact
opposite where the issue is getting them to slow down. They will grow over basically anything
including the glass and it is fairly popular to try and get them to grow on the back of
the tank. This is absolutely one of the corals I would
suggest keeping on an island or isolated area because it will out compete other corals for
space and grow over them. if you do keep it on the main aquascape one of the easiest ways
to keep it at bay is by mixing up a paste of kalkwasser and water and injecting it on
to the edges you would like to prune back.>Be mindfull of how much you use because
the kalkwill raise the PH of the tank. I am not going to both with flow, lighting
or nutritional requirements for green star polypes because they seem to survive and even
thrive in basically every environment I have ever put them in. Like all corals they do come in a variety
of colors. The frag from unique corals came with a nice with center which provides some
contrast between the green and purple. World wides frag came with neon yellow centers which
I know a lot of reefers would like as well. One more mushroom to cover with discosoma
. These tend to be thinner than the other mushrooms we covered today A cool little coral,
which can provide rock cover very quickly and some of them have nice coloration . The
Blue dot discosoma mushroom from unique is nice as well as the red shortcake from world
wide. however just like green star polyps if you
are not careful they can take over your entire tank or start to out compete other more desirable
corals. Fast growth always has its advantages first and disadvantages later. discosoma does seem to do better in lower
to moderate light and tolerant of low to medium flow tanks but you will likely find it to
be tolerant of a wide range of tank environments. This is a really awesome coral for newer reefers
or those looking for a easy to care for office tank. Sadly there are a ton of other soft corals
and polyps, we couldn’t cover them all today but I think we covered the lions share. We
are going to close out our coverage with some pretty awesome zoa and pally frags just to
give you an idea what a collection can start to look like. with the UC digital , some bam
bams, UC nuclear sunset pally , WWC Twizzlers , UC clown face pally, WWC blood suckers,
indigo death paly, La lakers zoa a fine wine shroom and zoa combo. I would like to thank austin aquafarms , unique
corals and world wide corals for being so generous and sending us these corals so all
of you can get a better idea of what we are looking at. If you are in the market for a
new coral or two do yourself a favor and check them out. Next week we are going to dive in
to LPS corals and I personally cant wait that should be an awesome episode. Last week we asked all of you how often you
test calcium and alkalinity and I have to say I am super impressed and over 70 percent
of the BRSTV community is testing weekly. This week we are going to ask you something
pretty relevant . Where do you shop for your corals. So hit that I in the upper right hand
corner, vote, give us a quick thumbs up and subscribe to see next week’s episode Week
36 LPS corals.