Nowadays, due to globalization and the rise that has suffered this hobby, we have access to all kinds of corals. We are surrounded by colorful and evocative-shaped temptations within a wide price range. Buying corals is very easy, the difficult part is to do it well and at a good price. So I would like to share with you the following tips.
Plan your next purchase
Before you buy a coral, you must be sure about the type of aquarium you have or want to have. Not all kind of corals require the same chemical parameters, nor the same lighting or current.
Many soft corals release certain substances in what is called chemical warfare in order to inhibit the growth of their neighbours, as is the case of discosomas and palythoas; other corals known as leather corals release large amounts of skin and irritating mucus and may even get to smother other corals. Sometimes we let ourselves be seduced by the charm of colorful anemones regardless that most likely will roam the aquarium damaging many of the corals they rub on their way.
On the other hand we must keep in mind that some corals as acropora require very low levels of nutrients to show off all their splendor, which is difficult to reconcile with the requirements of other corals that prefer dirtier waters, such as xenias, cespitularias and clavularias. This doesn't mean that you can't keep mixed aquariums, but we have to bear in mind that it is not always easy to find the point of balance and successful adaptation for species with such a different requirements can be happy.
Choose the right time
Do not buy any new coral if your aquarium is not ready. Make sure that it is mature before introduction, especially if it is a delicate coral.
Buying corals for a non mature aquarium does not make any sense; although they may survive they will never be healthy and beautiful.
We must remember that this is a hobby for people who have no hurry in which not only matters the final result, but also the way it takes us there. In fact I know more than one hobbyist who after achieving a beautiful aquarium has decided to dismantle it and start another project.
Choose a reputable shop
Which carry out good practices. Unfortunately, there are few; in the last years I have seen dozens of businesses proliferate engaged in the trade of fish and corals in the same way that if they just dedicate to sell pears or oranges.
You just have to look back to realize that there are fewer honest and competent professionals:
I'm tired of watching how shops share equipment and instruments among different aquariums in such a way that any possible disease or pest from one will be present in all of them.
Nobody makes quarantines; Now the big deal is to import some corals and the same day they arrive at the store they are hyped and offered for sale . Forums and social networks are teeming with examples: “new Aussie acroporas arrived”, “top corals arrival”, “ultra-color acroporas just arrived”. The trader buys them, sets a profit of 30 or 40% and after one or two weeks they are all sold out; great deal with almost no risk for the businessman. The hobbyist sometimes gets surprised when he notices that beautiful acropora from Australia is no longer blue or pink just to become a decorative brown turd if it survives. Sometimes he is unlucky and flatworms, nudibranchs, aiptasias, dinoflagellates, bryopsis, falkembergia or any other pest gets in our aquarium…because, let's face it, we usually do not quarantine.
Mainly on the internet. One thing is swapping fish and invertebrates (that has always existed and I have always defended) and a different thing is the proliferation of illegal business that are not registered, nor declare their sales and therefore do not pay any taxes. Traditional stores can not compete against this and in the end it results in a loss of quality and service for the hobbyist. These illegal businesses are sometimes run by ignorant people that are not even capable of packaging and sending a coral correctly. Forums are teeming with examples and people who complain about it, but they continue proliferating what leads me to believe that many people buy from them.
Find out the source of what you buy
As it is not the same a refined olive oil and an extra virgin one, neither is it the same thing acropora from mariculture and an acropora from aquaculture. Yes, it is the same olive and is also the same species of coral, but the result may be completely different.
Basically, there are three possible sources for coral:
They are those obtained directly from coral reefs; It is regulated by CITES agreement and by the country itself that set up a maximum of extractions. Normally acroporas and some LPSs are extracted according to international demand. They use to be large pieces, colorful and free of parasites, but its high price and difficulty of adaptation often make them be reserved for a very specific sector of hobbyists.
Those that are grown on grids submerged in the sea. Common in countries, like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. There are hardly any restrictions for export and they represent approximately 80% corals that reach the shops. These are corals of all kinds and each company uses to embed the coral on a small concrete base with a shape and geometry of their own (the most common are the disks, hemispheres and prisms). This is a method that provides economical and readily adaptable corals so their survival rate is usually high and with no significant changes in colour, something that has made them very popular. The main drawback is that usually come with parasites like crabs, vermetids and sometimes flatworms and nudibranchs. Nuisance algae are not uncommon dictyota, bryopsis and neomeris, while won't be a problem for the “farm” and its waters with barely any nutrients, they can become a nightmare when entering an aquarium.
The control and selection at its best. Aquaculture corals are previously selected and grown in aquariums with similar equipments as those we have in our domestic facilities (skimmers, reactors, artificial lighting…), which help them adapt very quickly with hardly any colour shift. Being grown in closed facilities for months or years virtually guarantees cleanliness and absence of parasites or undesirable algae. This type of culture is usually reserved for very selected and beautiful pieces, usually acroporas and quite exclusive SPS's so they tend to be pricey.
In the last years farming of small colonies of coral has become very popular, also known as frags. Pieces that are usually selected over several generations, highlighting some aspects as their intense color, polyp extension or growing pattern.
In the United States they have become very popular and some exclusive pieces reach very high prices despite their small size.
Dip your corals.
Trust me, it is not worthwhile risking the health of your aquarium. Buying corals in a safe way is easy and inexpensive to reduce the risks considerably.
Every time I buy a coral I follow this procedure:
- I check it thoroughly and remove any visible algae or parasite (for example non-symbiotic crabs)
- I acclimatize it with a slow drip. Depending on the type of coral I will drip it faster or slower and if I see any symbiotic crab trapezia or tetralia I do it slowlier.
- I prepare a disinfectant dip with water from the aquarium and submerge the coral following the manufacturer's instructions (if it contains a symbiotic crab, snail or beneficial invertebrate I withdraw it with my tweezers)
- Rinse the coral and introduce it in the quarantine tank, usually in a location with low light and moderate current
It is amazing how many invertebrates use to leave the coral (and especially from its base) every time I do a disinfectant dip. I pay special attention when it comes from mariculturing facilities and always look for the presence of flatworms or nudibranchs on the bottom of the container. If I find AEFW (amakusaplana acroporae), I discard the piece or speak with the person who sold it to me to take it back . These little bastards usually lay eggs at the base of the coral and the dip is not effective.
Not everyone has the possibility to set up a small tank and equip it to be a quarantine system, but the effort is really worthwhile . Many corals, especially those from mariculture come with flatworms and nudibranchs and there is no effective dip. These pieces behave like a time bomb and after a few days, when the eggs hatch, the parasite propagates and it's too late. I've seen some beautiful aquariums have had to be dismantled and I've lost some pieces because I didn't quarantine.
Buying corals can be a serious threat for our aquarium, We should remember this when we see certain offers from some stores, especially those which immediately sell everything that has just come.