Collecting coral is most certainly an aspect of keeping a reef aquarium that is unique. There really is an incredible variety of corals out there but choosing the right coral for your tank must not be taken lightly. Just like choosing fish, different corals have different requirements, and some corals are simply better choices for first-time tank owners than others. 

As a beginner, you want to avoid getting drawn into the high-end frag collecting game because you may find that the cost, sensitivity, and level of care required to maintain some of those high-end corals is just not right for you. Setting yourself up for success by choosing easier to keep corals while you learn the ropes is going to help you achieve your long-term goal of maintaining a healthy tank past the first 12 months.

What is a coral?

A coral is a sessile (immobile) marine invertebrate that lives in colonies containing identical polyps. Although most corals are photosynthetic, they are not plants, corals are actually animals. Hobbyists have broken down corals into three major categories.  

  • Soft Coral: These corals do not create rigid calcareous skeletons. They are made entirely of soft tissue and polyps.
  • LPS Coral (Large Polyp Stony Corals): These corals create a rigid calcareous skeleton and contain large fleshy polyps.
  • SPS Coral (Small Polyp Stony Corals): These corals create a rigid calcareous skeleton and contain numerous small polyps.

This is a good time to touch on the difference between a saltwater reef tank and FOWLR - fish only with live rock tank.  A reef tank is an aquarium that contains live rock, marine fish, and both sessile and motile marine invertebrates. A FOWLR tank is exactly as it sounds, a saltwater tank that only contains fish.

Marine invertebrates are typically much more sensitive to water quality and chemistry compared to fish and have a particular set of care requirements. Exactly why most hobbyists start out just keeping a few saltwater fish, then gradually convert their tank into a reef by adding corals and other invertebrates over time as they become more experienced. 

Characteristics Of A Beginner Coral

1) Beginner corals are hardy and will survive some of the common mistakes new hobbyists make.  

2) Choose common corals and avoid rare corals. Rare corals are expensive and often time much more sensitive in an aquarium.

3) Similar to #1, you want to choose tolerant corals. Corals that are less sensitive to changes in water quality and chemistry.  

4) Inexpensive corals are your friend. While they may not be as brightly colored, they often grow faster and are much more tolerant. Corals sometimes die for seemingly no reason at all so it's best to avoid the fall out of losing an expensive coral right out of the gate. 

5) Choose easy to feed corals meaning, photosynthetic corals because they essentially feed themselves. While all corals benefit from manual feeding, photosynthetic corals get a majority of their energy from photosynthesis. Avoid NPS: non-photosynthetic corals that require heavy feeding.  

6) Some corals are more peaceful than others. Choose corals that are not known to reach out and kill neighboring corals with a powerful sting.  

7) Beginner corals acclimate easily into your aquarium.

8) Fast-growing corals are often a better choice because they are less expensive and most often easier to keep. They will also fill in your aquascape much quicker.

9) Some corals are less prone to pests than others. Choose corals that are not known to fall victim to disease or carry pests.  Example: Soft corals tend to be less threatened by disease and pests compared to LPS and SPS corals.

10) Choose Soft Corals and LPS corals, they are primarily the best choices for new tank owners. While there are some exceptions to this, it's just a good rule to follow when buying coral for your very first tank. SPS corals, in general, are more sensitive, more expensive, and grow the slowest.