FAQ #33: How do nitrates effect coral coloration in the reef aquarium?

January 18th, 2017
Today on BRStv, we have another episode of BRS 52 FAQ where we answer all of your frequently asked reefing questions from our popular 52 Weeks of Reefing series.

Today we're answering Aquaticnut86’s question “How and or why do higher levels of nitrate turn your corals brown?"

It’s very commonly believed that one of the major contributors to SPS corals losing their brilliant coloration and browning out is high nutrients in the reef tank. High nutrients most commonly refers to high nitrates and phosphates. The belief is the high nutrient levels encourage rapid growth of the symbiotic algae within the corals tissue known as zooxanthellae

The zooxanthellae is brownish in color and the more of it contained within the corals tissue the more brown the coral will appear. In extreme cases the zooxanthellae population will be so high that the coral completely browns out and overtakes all of the corals natural coloration pigments.

I think it is pretty well established that tanks with an abundance of phosphate and nitrate will brown out corals and tanks with very low nutrients will tend to have more colorful corals. However this is one of those cases where this is very far from universally true. There are certainly plenty of low nutrient tanks which have brown corals and lowering nutrients after the fact doesn't bring the coloration back for many reefers. If you are one of these reefers I think it is worth while to take a more holistic approach to coloration.

So follow along as we answer today's question, provide some helpful insight, and help make reefing just bit more fun and easy for you and your tank.

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