Are Soft Corals GOOD for Beginners?
What makes any pet a good beginner pet? That would likely revolve around the ease of care and hardiness of said animal. When it comes to photosynthetic marine invertebrates, the answer really is no different. While there are a few exceptions, soft corals really are the easiest to care for in an aquarium making them the best choice for beginners.
What is a Soft Coral?
Soft coral is a term used by both scientists and reef hobbyists to include corals in the taxonomic order Alcyonacea. While this is a strict boundary for scientists, reef hobbyists often also include corallimorpharia and Zoantharia in the soft coral group which by scientific terms are part of a separate taxonomic class.
Nonetheless, all soft corals lack a rigid skeletal structure. Hobbyists refer to corallimorphs and zoanthids as soft corals because they too, share this characteristic of no skeletal structure but also have similar care requirements in the aquarium. They are all relatively forgiving in terms of care compared to their stony coral counterparts, LPS and SPS corals. Of course, there are always exceptions, but this includes 90% of the soft corals available in the reef aquarium hobby.
Types of Soft Corals According to the Reef Hobbyist
- Zoanthids and Palythoa
- Clove and Button Polyps
- Sea Fans and Whips
Why Do I Want Soft Corals?
They come in pretty much any color you can imagine across a variety of different growth patterns. Consider a Bounce Mushroom and a Toadstool leather, both are beautiful in their own way, both are soft corals, and together they can create an inspiring reefscape that rivals any mixed or stony coral dominant reef. It is possible to create the same level of contrast and visual diversity you get in a mixed reef tank using only soft corals.
Like any coral, the price range can vary drastically among soft corals but as a group, these are the most affordable corals. Many softies are fast growing too which means frags are always available, super affordable, and easy to create frags of your own for trading with friends. This also makes it much easier to fill in the entire aquarium with different corals that will ultimately mature into a lush reef much quicker than your typical mixed reef.
Softies don't require as much light as stony corals either so you can usually start with a basic reef tank light. A thriving community of soft corals will actually help uptake nutrients from the aquarium water and you can sometimes forego filtration equipment like a protein skimmer, media reactor, refugium, etc. as long as you maintain suitable water quality via water changes. As a beginner, this means your initial investment in equipment won't be as demanding as a reef tank built for stony corals.
Soft corals lack a rigid skeleton which means they do not uptake calcium and alkalinity as stony corals do. That means your not going to be dealing with such volatile water chemistry. While it is still important to maintain the proper ionic balance and maintain your minor and trace elements, soft corals won't demand the same kind of day-to-day water chemistry maintenance as stony corals. You probably won't have to buy as many additives or have to invest in expensive dosing pumps. Just stick to a regular water exchange schedule and softies will thrive.
We all make mistakes, especially when just learning how to maintain a stable reef tank and soft corals can handle those learning curves. For the most part, soft corals are far more tolerant of both water chemistry swings and changes to water quality. They also bounce back from a downfall much quicker so should you mess up, the corals are far more likely to turn around and recover.