1. Don't Overlight Your Reef Tank

With modern LED lights, it's easy to create zones of too much PAR.  Follow the guidelines and use a PAR meter to ensure your creating the right conditions for the corals you have. You don't need to run your LED light at full power and it's equally important to create an effective spread throughout the entire tank as it is to achieve sufficient output. 

    • Soft Corals and LPS: 75 - 150 PAR
    • SPS Corals: 200 - 300 PAR

2. Don't Strip The Tank of Phosphate and Nitrate - Avoid the 0/0

Corals need nutrients (nitrate and phosphate) to survive and starving your tank of these vital nutrients often leads to poor results. Nitrate and phosphate is a game of balance where the tank is always testing with some level of nutrients without allowing the levels to bottom out or rise too quickly. Tanks with consistent and balanced levels of nutrients achieve the best growth and coloration among corals.  

Frag Tank

3. Don't Change Multiple Things at Once

It is difficult to know what is working when you change more than one aspect of your reef.  Take pictures of your tank, write down the changes, record test results... document everything so you have a point of reference.  So long as you only change one thing at a time, you can hone the techniques, equipment, additives, and foods that work best for your particular tank. 

4. Be Proactive and Knowledgeable About Parasites

Coral parasites are common and 99.9% of reef tank owners will experience pests at some point another. If you know what to look for when it comes to parasites, it's much easier to identify and eliminate them from your reef. At the very least, you can avoid buying corals (and fish) that are already infected with parasites.  At best, you can find ways to manage parasites while also keeping a thriving reef because you understand the threat and how to manage it. Lean on natural parasite predators from the get-go to help you create an environment that doesn't allow for pests to proliferate. 

5. Understand the Difference Between Wild and Aquacultured Corals

There are three distinct sources or types of corals you can buy as a hobbyist. While it's easy to comprehend the fact that an aquacultured or mariculture coral may help reduce collection pressure on wild reefs, there is much more to consider when it comes to sourcing your corals.

Wild Corals: Collected from the ocean off of wild coral reefs. In many cases, these corals are fragged and left to heal for 2-4 weeks before being sold to hobbyists or sold as larger colonies. While the relatively low price point can be attractive, a wild coral is challenging on a number of fronts. The rate of survivability is much lower because you often just don't know what the most ideal conditions for that particular coral might be. You also don't know what that coral will end up looking like; a coral's color and growth patterns can change dramatically when transitioned into an aquarium. Right out of the ocean the coral might look great only to turn brown and slowly diminish over the next 6-12 months in your aquarium because of the less-than-ideal conditions or disease. Being from the ocean, there is a good chance the coral may be carrying parasites or disease, putting your entire reef at risk.  

Mariculture Corals: Corals that are farmed in the ocean on racks or man-made structures for the sole purpose of being sold in the aquarium trade. Often sold as mini-colonies and are very affordable relative to their size but again, the survivability and appearance are hit or miss. Even though mariculture corals are not collected from a wild reef, they are still forced to transition from the ocean into your aquarium. While we might have a little better idea of the conditions the coral prefers, the appearance can and often does change dramatically.  More importantly, mariculture farms are hotbeds for coral pests and parasites because they lack the natural predators that would otherwise be found on naturally occurring reefs which ultimately poses a threat to your existing fish and corals. 

Aquaculture Corals: A coral that has been fragged and grown in captivity for many generations. The World Wide Corals team specializes in aquacultured corals and prides themselves in successful captive coral propagation techniques. These corals are generally sold as healthy, growing frags but also carry the cost of being 100% grown in captivity. Aquacultured corals are hands down the best candidates for your reef aquarium because they have proven their suitability for aquarium life over many generations. We know the conditions they need to thrive and we can develop a general expectation for the appearance and growth rate based on generations past. The risk of carrying pests and parasites is also much lower which ultimately means a much higher rate of long-term survivability in your tank. 

6. Understand Fish Behavior

The temperament and compatibility of the fish you choose are fundamental for having success when stocking your aquarium.  You also must consider the order in which the fish are added to the aquarium and it's usually advised to add the most aggressive and/or largest fish last.  Let the small, less aggressive fish establish first before adding the more aggressive fish that will need a larger territory. In many cases, the simple use of an isolation box can help you introduce new fish without causing stress on your entire population of fish.  

When thinking about compatibility, consider what the fish eats and where it lives. If you have two different species that fill the same niche, they will be in direct competition for a limited resource in your aquarium which often poses a problem, especially in smaller aquariums.

Fish Feeding

7. How to Feed Your Reef

Nutrition is paramount for the prevention of disease and the overall health of your fish and corals. In fact, most professionals agree that diet is the #1 most important factor for the long-term survival of fish in captivity.  While pellet food is convenient, most fish cannot thrive on a single type of pellet food for their entire life. Mix things up, closely match the diet they acquire naturally, and look for ingredients that provide the nutrition your fish need. While it might sound fundamental, this is one of the biggest mistakes hobbyists make.

Herbivores need algae and plant-based food every single day, carnivores need a high-fat and high-protein diet. That means your going to need to source different types of food, accommodate the feeding habits of ALL your fish, and ensure they are actually getting the food you offer. Frequency of feeding is also something to consider where high-energy fish like Anthias and Chromis need to be fed at minimum x3 times per day.  Split your food offerings into multiple smaller feedings throughout the day which helps prevent waste but also delivers more nutrition to each fish because of the increased opportunity to feed. Feeding is also an exercise that keeps the fish occupied meaning they are less likely to pick on each other. 

8. Water Testing and Monitoring are Extremely Important

Knowing the water chemistry and quality inside your aquarium is the only way to be certain things are going well.  While visual cues are often an indicator of environmental conditions, the only way to know for sure is to test your water. Don't forget the basics either because salinity, pH, and temperature are the most critical parameters in that any shift outside the acceptable range will cause harm to your tank inhabitants in a relatively short period of time. 

Any reef aquarist who has had some level of success knows that water testing is a necessary evil and it goes beyond checking your salinity during water changes and glancing at your thermometer when you walk by the tank.  Keep a regular routine and record your water test results.  Do everything in your power to maintain the most consistent level of major elements and don't let your nutrients rise too fast or bottom out.

Be mindful of trace and minor elements too; while these aspects of water chemistry are not as volatile as something like alkalinity, the corals need these minor and trace elements because they are very important for a variety of biological functions including depositing skeletal material, digestive processes, and maintaining tissue coloration and health. 

9. Appropriately Sizing Your Tank

Always choose a tank that can fulfill your tank desires and don't get caught up in the hype. Choose a tank that is within your budget and can accommodate the animals your most desire. Big fish need a big tank but you can also grow corals in a relatively small aquarium. A handful of 6" corals looks pretty impressive in a 10-gallon nano tank while that same amount and size coral in a 210-gallon aquarium is dwarfed.

Consider the amount of time and attention you can dedicate to the tank because even with a fairly sizable budget, the tank needs your attention no matter what and the bigger the tank, the more time it requires. While choosing the biggest tank within your budget is pretty common advice for beginners, don't get carried away and choose something that is unrealistic in terms of requiring your attention. 

10. Sand Can Be Complicated

Sand is a double-edged sword in some aspects. Most would agree it looks nice in the aquarium, it creates contrast and rounds out the natural reef-like appearance. It also provides vital habitat for a variety of critters including bacteria, beneficial copepods, snails, worms, invertebrates, and even some fish. The sand grains themselves create an incredible amount of surface area for beneficial bacteria to colonize which ultimately helps you achieve stability.  

On the flip side, sand is a real pain to keep clean and limits the amount of flow you can spread throughout the tank. It provides yet another substrate for algae and other pests to grow while also creating a settling ground for waste and detritus to collect. A reef tank can be successful and look great without sand, you just have to go into the situation with a different set of expectations.