The number of people adding corals to their tanks is higher than ever with more and more people in the fish keeping hobby adding corals to their marine tanks and reef tanks.
With the popularity of keeping corals surging right now, there has been an increase in the number of people asking about keeping a coral only tank and in many cases, this is much easier than the other coral keeping options.
It removes the risk of your tank mates eating your corals as well as allows you to focus on the needs of your corals rather than having to play a balancing act between your corals and your fish.
If you are new to keeping corals, a coral only tank really can be an excellent option and we would highly recommend it to beginners!
There are a number of different ways that you can keep a coral only tank too with some people sticking to a single type of coral like a zoa only tank and other sticking to a color specific tank like a yellow coral tank.
How To Keep A Coral Only Tank!
Here is our short list of the main things that you have to factor in when you are wanting to keep a coral only tank and we will cover each point in more detail later in the article:-
- Plan Your Tank Setup!
- Maintain Water Parameters!
- Offer Optimal Lighting!
- Provide Nutrition!
- Use Suitable Water Flow!
- Avoid Large Water Changes!
- Plan The Placement Of Your Coral!
- Check pH Levels!
- Remember Corals Poop!
- Monitor Water Temperature!
- Use A Suitable Glue!
Provided you do your best to stick to these points and factor in what we mention about each of them below, you should be able to prevent your corals from bleaching, melting, and not opening up.
This alone will be able to help improve your results as a beginner and help you avoid some of the more common problems that we see people making with corals time and time again.
Plan Your Tank Setup!
An hour of planning can prevent a large amount of hurt in the future when it comes to keeping a coral only tank but so few people fail to plan their tanks prior to setting everything up.
This ends up causing a wide range of problems later that could have easily been avoided for such a small time investment.
Thankfully, if you are reading this article then you are planning your coral only tank so you should be able to avoid some of the more common mistakes.
The main thing that you should plan is the actual corals that you want to keep in your tank.
Requirement crossover is common with corals and there are plenty of different corals that have very similar lighting, water flow, and water parameter requirements making your coral only tank much easier to keep.
So many beginners just go with random corals that look pretty and often cost a large amount of money only to find that their corals have totally different requirements and that it is almost impossible to keep them all in the same tank.
We will be touching on a number of the other things that you should be looking at panning throughout the article too so we won’t be touching on them in this section.
Maintain Water Parameters!
There really are a wide range of things that can be important to track when it comes to a coral only tank due to how sensitive most types of coral area to their environment.
You have the basic ammonia cycle of tracking your ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels in your tank but you should also be monitoring the copper and chlorine levels too if possible.
There are also other things that you may need to track depending on the coral you are keeping in your tank like phosphate and magnesium levels but this is usually for more advanced tanks.
In most cases, you will not be able to do all of this with a regular aquarium water test kit so you will need to spend a little more money for a reef tank test kit that will test for specialist parameters.
This is another very common mistake that we see people make time and time again as they try to avoid spending an extra $20-$50 on a reef tank test kit only to end up ruining their full tank so factor in that losing your full tank due to a water parameter issue is far more expensive.
Offer Optimal Lighting!
Corals have optimal lighting requirements and some of the better corals for a beginners coral only tank will usually be hardy corals that need a moderate lighting intensity, some corals need very specific lighting settings.
This alone can add an additional $100 to your initial setup costs for your coral tank as you may need to purchase a decent entry-level lighting unit due to so many of the lighting units that come with aquariums being low quality.
You need a lighting unit that will be able to provide consistent and stable lighting intensity that ideally can be programmed for the day cycle if possible.
We usually recommend that you try to go with corals that need a moderate lighting intensity if possible as it allows you to stick with a single lighting intensity for your tank with minimal issues.
As an absolute basic level, there is the low, moderate, and high lighting intensities but this is often confusing for beginners as there is a wide range within this where corals may not overlap with each other.
For example, you may have two low lighting intensity corals that actually need different low lighting intensities to each other.
If possible, you should be going by the PAR requirement for your coral’s lighting when planning your corals to make sure there is plenty of crossover for your tank rather than the low, moderate, and high settings.
High lighting corals are very popular right now though and depending on your setup, they can work for beginners and our article on the best 16 high light corals may be worth reading.
So many beginners fail to realize that you actually need to provide nutrition to your corals be it a powdered supplement, actual foods, or a freeze dried coral mix.
Different corals do better with slightly different food types too adding to the confusion but you will usually get better results if you stick to real foods rather than synthesized foods for your corals.
Here are some of the more popular coral food options on the market:-
- Diced Fish.
- Thawed Frozen Plankton.
- Chopped Squid.
As we mentioned, different types of coral tend to prefer different types of food so this is something that you should quickly check when planning the types of coral that you want in your coral tank.
Use Suitable Water Flow!
Just like lighting intensity, corals require different water flow levels and this is another area where beginners to keeping a coral tank commonly make mistakes.
We have seen tanks full of moderate and/or high water flow corals in a tank with zero water flow causing the tank to fail and the corals to perish.
Thankfully, local coral stores and most online coral dealers offer excellent information on the requirements for your corals so this can easily be avoided these days.
Still, you really should be planning the corals that you want to keep in your coral only tank as different water flow requirements may not work in the same tank.
That said, depending on your setup, you can usually keep corals with two water flow requirements in the same tank provided you block the water flow off to one area with rocks but this is usually not recommended for beginners.
Avoid Large Water Changes!
So many people who keep corals in their tank have accidentally caused their corals to perish due to changing too much of their aquarium’s water too quickly.
Thankfully, in a coral only tank, the chances of needing to do a full or large water change are lower than in tanks with fish in them but you should still try to avoid these larger changes if possible.
Most issue can be treat with a 15% to 25% partial water change and this will leave as much of the water in the tank with the existing water parameters as possible.
Changing anything over 50% of your coral tank’s water supply at once can pose a risk to your corals by adding too much change at the same time.
Not only can it cause direct issues with your coral but it can also cause issues with the zooxanthellae that your corals have a symbiotic relationship with and need to survive.
In our opinion, you really should be trying to change a maximum of 25% of your coral tank’s water supply at once and even then, this may be too much depending on the sensitivity of your corals.
This is just another reason to try and stick with the hardy corals if you are a beginner as they are more beginner friendly but still tend not to do well with large water changes.
Plan The Placement Of Your Coral!
Taking a couple of minutes to actually plan the placement of your coral in your aquarium can be the difference between your new coral thriving or your new coral perishing.
Things to consider for your coral placement is how deep you place it in your tank, how close it is to the light source, what the direct water flow is like, and the surface the coral will be on.
As we touched on earlier, the vast majority of local coral stores and online coral dealers will usually provide a leaflet to offer guidance on the placement of your coral.
In many cases, you will be able to just match the coral up with a location in your coral only tank where its lighting intensity and water flow requirements are met and the coral will be fine.
Check pH Levels!
pH levels in a coral only tank are more important than most people new to coral keeping usually realize due to how sensitive most corals are to the pH level of their water.
Even a slight change in pH levels can sometimes be enough to cause serious problems with your coral so trying to plan the corals that you will keep in your tank to make sure they have cross over in pH is highly recommended.
Thankfully, crushed coral is an easy way to adjust the pH levels in your tank for most setups but you really should be monitoring your pH levels in a coral tank on a regular basis and correcting fluctuation.
Even the hardy, robust, beginner friendly corals can still end up having problems with being able to thrive in a tank with unsuitable pH levels so don’t overlook this point!
Remember Corals Poop!
As we covered in our article going over torch coral pooping, corals do in fact poop and many people don’t actually realize this when they start keeping corals.
It does not mean that there is a problem with your coral and is totally natural and expected.
In addition to making people worry about their corals the first time they poop, many beginners fail to realize that the poop needs to be removed from the tank.
Thankfully, a turkey baister is usually a quick, easy, and cheap way to remove coral poop from your tank but there are some specialist tools from the job.
We would recommend that you spot clean your aquarium at least once per day to deal with coral poop, especially in a heavily stocked coral tank due to how much poop can be produced.
Monitor Water Temperature!
Although many of the hardy corals do have a wide temperature range that they can thrive in, you should still monitor your water temperature in your coral tank.
There are some modern thermometers on the market that will send a notification to your phone each day or if the temperature drops outside of a range you set but a traditional thermometer can work just as well.
It only takes a couple of seconds to check the water temperature of your coral tank and allows you to adjust your heater if required so we would highly recommend it.
Use A Suitable Glue!
Depending on your coral tank setup, you may be looking to use a glue product for your coral frags.
So many people use an unsuitable glue that then causes issues with water parameters and can result in serious issues with your corals.
We have a dedicated article going over what we feel is the best glue for coral frags but there are a number of suitable glues on the market these days.