A full SPS Reef can be a mesmerizing thing of beauty that many hobbyists thrive for.
Hobbyists from around the world challenge their reefkeeping abilities in building an aquarium that is packed full of sps.
Many people want to cultivate beautiful, colorful corals. However, you should know that doing so requires a commitment of time, energy, and expenditures.
SPS corals are one of the more challenging kinds of organisms you can keep in your reef aquarium.
The tank parameters are stricter than most in order for sps to thrive and prosper.
Although there are some hardy members of this group, as mentioned above, your tank environment will need the correct nutrition, lighting, flow, and water chemistry.
Keeping an SPS Reef
You must be vigilant and diligent to develop a successful sps reef tank. You need to test your tank frequently and observe what is going on with the corals in your tank. Thankfully, the reef tank hobbyist is already usually obsessed with looking at her tank anyways.
The usual signs of great health are well-colored, fleshy branches and polyp extension. Your corals may be healthy without polyp extension. However, that is usually only the case if there are fish that regularly nip at the coral or it is a species that does not extend their polyps.
There are reef keepers who swear that they can tell what the health of their corals is by observation alone. However, you can only tell what the water is like by testing it. The best advice is to regularly observe your tank and test the tank parameters once or twice a week. You need to be careful because things can go downhill very rapidly in an sps reef.
Ideal SPS Reef Tank Parameters
Salinity: 1.026 or 35 ppt.
Temperature: 77-80 F.
Alkalinity: (8.2 dKh) vs. growth (12 dKh)
Calcium: color (430 ppm), Growth (465 ppm)
Magnesium: color (1310 ppm), Growth (1390 ppm)
Nitrates: Less than 5 ppm*
Phosphates: Less than 0.03 ppm*
Salinity measurement comes from the total dissolved salt in the water. It is typically measured by specific gravity or parts per thousand. Higher readings will come from more salt present in the water. Most hobbyists keep saltwater aquariums between 1.020-1.028sg.
An SPS reef in the wild is 79-84 degrees. We want to mimic their temp conditions in nature as close as possible.
Nitrates and Phosphates
Nitrates and Phosphates need to be checked on a regular basis in an sps reef tank.
SPS have recommended nitrate levels to be less than 5 ppm and phosphates less than 0.03 ppm.
Feeding your SPS Reef
Corals need nutrition. The best coral food is any good fish food that your fish enjoy. There are many products available as well as custom home blends.
It is important to note that the main source of nitrates and phosphates in your tank is fish food. Old rock can be a good source of phosphates too.
Whenever you put fish food in the tank, you are putting nitrates and phosphates in there. Your fish only absorb a small part of these in their food and excrete most of it in their waste. If you overfeed your fish, you may mess up the nitrate to phosphate ratio in your tank. Too much fish food will give too much in the way of nutrients in an sps reef.
How much Flow does an SPS Reef need?
Adequate flow is a real necessity for SPS coral health. Water movement around your coral crucially affects their absorption of nutrients and their excretion.
A good metaphor that will let you know what kind of flow is necessary is that you will enjoy a light breeze, but you will object to a forceful wind. The polyps should be gently moving. However, the exact amount of movement is not really known. You definitely need a certain amount of movement, but too much movement will strip away tissue from the coral.
How to Pick Colorful SPS
Of course, the way that you can ensure that you will grow a colorful tank is to select frags from the most colorful tank grown colonies. What this means is that you should select frags from a colony that you have live access to or that you can see a picture of.
It is always best to select frags that have been around for a while in a tank. This way, you can be assured that they have a track record of thriving.
Corals that are named “limited editions” are colonies that have proven themselves to be successful at thriving.
The Best Lighting for an SPS Reef
SPS need abundant light. There are many lighting options that you can choose from.
LEDs are the most popular choice for new reef keepers. There are a variety of brands that make the LEDs. There is some controversy as to whether LEDs are the best choice or not. An advantage of them is that different lighting spectra can be dialed in.
As there are various advantages and disadvantages of each type of lighting system, there are many reef keepers who select a combination of different lighting types. Most likely, there will be some controversy about the best lighting system option for a while now.
Metal Halides can be a great way to light up your tank. They give a shimmer effect to the water that is very attractive for viewing. However, the bulbs need to be replaced annually, and they give off heat. You can use a chiller to keep your tank from getting too warm.
T5 lighting is also an excellent choice. However, you will also need to change the bulbs from time to time.
Best Salt for a SPS Reef Tank
There are many different salt manufacturers. There are also debates about which is the best kind of salt. The best suggestion is to compare the boxes with each other to find what you would most like to target.
It might be necessary to actually trim and separate specimens that have grown on top of one another. This is especially the case if aggressive behavior ensues.
Brown coral are many times an indicator of an abrupt alteration in parameters or less than ideal conditions.
Brown sps can come from low light or the presence of excess nutrients in the aquarium.
Some common causes of SPS bleaching
- Ammonia Spike
- Excess Phosphates
- Sudden rise/fall in temperature
- Large Water Changes (causing a shift in water parameters)
- Not properly acclimating the sps coral
- Stress associated with Shipping
Types of SPS Corals
Family: Acroporidae – Acropora Corals
The Antler Coral is one of the common branching Acroporas. It is a member of a group of Acroporas known as the horrida group. This group of corals all are alike in form. They possess branches that have a rough surface. Since this is so, they have been called such names as Antler Coral, Staghorn Acropora, Staghorn Coral, and Branching Acropora.
The A. millepora are known for their beauty. Many times, they occur in green with orange tips. However, they come in other colors as well. The Cluster Coral would be a fine coral to put in your Acro community. They can be more difficult to care for, so they are not meant for the beginner reef keeper.
The Cluster Coral is nicknamed “Milli.” They have a cluster shaped grouping. Their corallites have no upper wall. Instead, they have a noticeable lower wall with rounded or flared lips.
Finger Staghorn Coral
The Finger Staghorn Coral is cluster shaped. It comes in red colors and purples. Every aquarium will have a slightly different growth shape. This is due to differences in water flow. There are various names that they are called. These include Purple Acropora, Pink Acropora, and Vivid Evergreen Acropora. Other names are Cluster Acropora, Branching Acropora, and Staghorn Coral.
Acropora humilis is a Cluster Acropora. Its branches are thick and taper to a dome shape. They typically have larger branches combined with smaller ones.
Green Fiji Acropora
This coral is also called the Bushy Acropora. It receives this name from the bushy looking polyps that extend from the corallites. They grow in a ball shape with projections that emanate from the center.
In the aquarium, they come in intense greens and yellows. In the wild, they come in cream to light brown.
Purple Tipped Acropora
The Purple Tipped Acropora is also known as the Table Top Coral. It is typically cream colored with purple tips. They come in other colors as well. Their corallites at the tips have a rosette pattern.
This coral is easy to identify, but there is some variation dependent upon their location. The corals in the western Indian Ocean and the Red Sea have narrow and rounded corallite walls. When you put them in your aquarium, they can grow very rapidly. Therefore, you should use a large tank.
The Staghorn Acropora is great for beginners. They readily flourish when you introduce them into your sps reef. There are variations from tank to tank in their growing pattern. This results from different water flow and lighting.
This coral is a branching Acropora. When they occur in shallow water, they have short and compact branches. In deep water, they have more open branches.
The Acropora genus has around 400 species. However, only three of these occur in the Atlantic Ocean. The Staghorn Coral is one of them.
The Staghorn Coral has a unique shape and structure. Their branches are more loosely spaced. This is of benefit to them because they require water flow between their branches. This makes it easier to care for them because less debris builds up.
Family Acroporidae – Montipora Corals
The Cabbage Coral is a plate Montipora. It generally occurs in colonies of thin plates without upright branches appearing on the surface. It has rows of ridges that are perpendicular to the edge of the coral.
It comes in many colors, including pink, green, and brown. The polyps usually are different in color from the main part of the coral. Some have a different edge or margin color. In aquariums, there is even more variation in color. People enjoy this coral for its beautiful appearance.
Idaho Grape Montipora
This type of coral is very attractive in color. Although it comes in purple shades, it also can come in other colors as well. The polyps contrast in color. You might see even more color variation in your tank at home.
This coral usually comes in branching form. Colonies have horizontal or vertical plates or tubes. Variations in growth are more common in mature colonies.
Montipora Plate Coral
This coral is also called the Whorl Bowl Coral. It is a favorite among reef keepers. It comes in a variety of colors.
This coral can be flat when young. Then it transforms into a cup shape as it grows. It is good to use this coral in places in your tank where there is not good water flow. Its attractive appearance makes it a great centerpiece.
Plating Montipora Coral
This coral is a pretty plate Montipora. It usually grows in colonies of thin plates or scrolling shapes. It attaches to rock formations. Instead of upright branches, it has upright nodules on its surface. This gives it a bumpy look. As a result of this, one of its names is Rice Coral. It grows rapidly.
This coral is typically gold or green with purple or blue polyps. In the wild, this coral grows differently depending upon the depth of its location.
Velvet Finger Montipora
This coral appears smooth and fuzzy on its outside. The polyps are very small and uniform.
The coral is an encrusting formation that can come in many colors. Its surface is smooth in appearance, and the polyps are small and fuzzy. The polyps have a velvety appearance.
Velvet Stone Coral
The outside of this coral looks smooth and fuzzy like velvet. It is an encrusting coral with plate-like bases. It joins in colonies having upward plate growth with ridges that become columns. Its polyps are tiny and uniform. This coral is often used as a refuge for small fish.
Elephant Skin Coral
This coral gets its name from the appearance of its surface. It looks like an elephant’s skin. It has an uneven skeletal surface that appears as if it is ruffled with deep grooves and valleys. There is a paper-thin tissue that covers its skeleton.
In the wild, it grows in large colonies that become mounds. What is unique about this coral is that it has no discernible polyps. They absorb nutrients from the water that surrounds them as well as substances inside their body. They also use a mucous net to catch small particles.
This coral has a pretty ruffled or frilly look to it. It develops flat, upright fronds that make it look like a cactus. Its surface is spiky from spindly pointed tentacles. It comes in a variety of colors.
This coral makes a great species for beginners. They are rather hardy. They like high light and a strong current. However, they go well with most kinds of reefs. They are very resistant to disease because of corralites that protect their polyps.
These are very good starter corals. They are hardy. They flourish in most reef habitats and are fairly disease resistant. They have corallites that aid in protecting their polyps.
This is a very attractive coral. Its growth form appears like stubby fingers. However, it can also form horizontal plates. It comes in a variety of colors.
This coral is valued for its appearance. It is naturally green or brown. It grows in a branching colony without an encrusting base. However, it is known to sometimes encrust in a reef tank.
The members of this genus have several different growth forms. They have a furry sort of appearance.
Most of the Merulina corals are frilly. This genus has several different growth forms. Most grow in colonies that have a ruffled plate or fanlike formation. They can also grow tall columns that look like a forest from above.
This colorful coral is one of the easiest to keep in its family. In nature, they occur in several different habitats. Their adaptability is what makes them so easy to care for. They have the capability of encrusting onto almost any kind of surface.
The shape of this coral is low with cups and folds. It also has warty bumps in the middle of the coral. It comes in endless varieties of color. The oral disc has a different color than the fleshy body.
Green Eyed Cup Coral
This coral is very hardy and easy to keep. It has a truly unique look to it. It has bumps on its surface that look like down turned noses. It grows in a plate form and is usually vertically oriented. The corallites on its face angle outwards towards the perimeter.
This coral is very colorful and comes in several color types.
Bird’s Nest Coral
This pretty coral serves as the habitat for small crabs in the wild. These crabs deeply influence the way that this coral develops.
This genus is found in several different kinds of habitats. They are the second most typical reef-building corals. They have a number of growth forms, even in the same kind of habitat. Two different species can appear alike in deeper waters, yet look very different in the shallows.
The Cauliflower Coral is the species of the genus that is most available to reef keepers. They come in a variety of shapes and colors. This coral will adapt well to any way that you maintain the water movement in your tank.
Club Finger Coral
This coral is known as being one of the ‘tramp’ species of corals. It is found in different locales throughout the globe. It reproduces through sexual reproduction.
The Stylophora genus is one of the types of coral that is well-studied. It forms attractive branching colonies. They are very adaptable. The branches are flat and thick, with round blunt tips. The polyps are small, though you can still see them. They come in cream, pink, blue, and greens.
The Porites genus has some of the longest-lived species on earth. They can be very large as well. It is thought that some of the large colonies are close to 1,000 years old. However, they are a very slow growing coral in your home tank.
Jeweled Finger Coral
These corals will stand out in your aquarium. They have corallites that have septa on them that look like little jewels. They come in a variety of colors.
In nature, the members of the Porites genus form some of the largest coral colonies. They can also grow to be very tall. They are some of the oldest species on earth. Some colonies may be up to 1,000 years of age. They are a very slow growing kind of coral in your home tank.
Green Stony Pillar Coral
When this sps reef coral is kept in captivity, it is typically green. Its beauty is one of the reasons that you will want to make it a centerpiece in your tank.
It grows in a combination of forms. Its surface appears very smooth. When their polyps are retracted, the corallites on the surface create a star-like pattern. They come in pale to dark grayish brown and green.