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Gorgonian Coral Care Guide
Gorgonian Coral Care Guide
Gorgonian coral care can vary greatly. Gorgonian coral are both the easiest, and possibly hardest coral to keep in the home aquarium. Some species of gorgonian coral are photosynthetic, like most other coral such as acropora, montipora, acans, zoanthids, etc. These photosynthetic gorgonian coral are very easy to care for and make amazing beginner coral!
Unlike many other coral types, some gorgonian coral are non-photosynthetic. At first thought, many think this would make them easier as a beginner soft coral. With no reliance on light, the newbie home reef tank sounds like a great fit. The problem is that they need food for energy. Feeding excessive amounts of coral food is one of the leading causes of elevated nitrates and phosphates. Meaning you will likely have high nutrients, or the coral may not survive. There are ways to keep non-photosynthetic gorgonian coral happy without crashing your tank. Let's be clear though, the non-photosynthetic gorgonian coral is not for beginners.
What are Gorgonian Coral?
If you have ever seen photos or videos of the coral reef, it is almost a guarantee that you have seen a gorgonian coral! Gorgonian coral, often refered to as sea fan coral, have a variety of different types, colors, and dificulties. Gorgonians are a type of branching, soft coral. These branches have a leathery texture covered with fluffy polyps to catch passing food. This is one of the many ways the ocean is able to filter out waste and convert it in to something beautiful.
Two Types of Gorgonian Coral
There are two types of sea fan, or gorgonian coral; photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic. Nearly all coral are photosynthetic, gathering the majority of their energy from light. Some species of gorgonian coral however, do not. Some species of gorgonian coral require direct feeding and gather the majority of their energy from coral foods.
Photosynthetic Gorgonian Coral Care
With proper flow and moderate lighting, photosynthetic gorgonian coral make great beginner coral. They bring a special "coral reef" look to the home aquarium and can even be mounted to the side of a rock or overhang where other coral may not be able to grow.
NON-Photosynthetic Gorgonian Coral Care
Non-Photosynthetic Gorgonian Coral are considered "Expert Only" coral as they require frequent spot feeding. This feeding can lead to an increase in Nitrates and Phosphates in the reef tank and require a great amount of biological filtration.
If you are able to maintain this gorgonian coral however, you will get all of the benefits of the photosynthetic variants with even more vibrant colors and puffier polyps. They are absolutly georgious to look at but you have to work for it.
Gorgonian Coral Care - Temperature
When it comes to Gorgonian Coral Care, temperature is a very easy answer. The commonly agreed upon temperature is the same as most corals, averaging at 78 degrees F. Gorgonian Coral can survive in a wide range of temperatures, all of the resources used for this guide agree that keeping the reef tank's temperature close to 78 degrees F is ideal for Gorgonian Coral Care.
Alkalinity, Calcium, and Magnesium
For Gorgonian Coral Care, there is very little that needs to be done in regards to special alkalinity, calcium, or magnesium levels. Maintaining a stable alkalinity, within about 0.5dKh will be one of the greatest maintenance routines you can do for nearly all corals. After alkalinity stability, calcium stability within about 25ppm is also valuable for optimal growth. Gorgonian Coral prefer the standard calcium levels between 400-450 ppm. This level is optimal for most corals and should come as no surprise.
Nitrates and Phosphates
Though you don't want to be absolutely zero on Nitrates or Phosphates, you also don't want to be too high either. The ideal levels for Nitrates is between 1 and 10 ppm. Phosphate levels should relate closely with nitrates. You will want to target approximately 0.01 ppm of phosphate for every ppm of nitrate. The easy way to think of it is that phosphates should be roughly Nitrates/100.
Gorgonian Coral Care - Flow
Gorgonian Coral Coral prefer a medium to high, surging flow. Too much flow can cause the polyps of the Gorgonian Coral Coral either stay retracted, or even wear away at the flesh of the coral. The ideal flow is enough to let the gorgonian branches sway, and carry food to the polyps. This is generally achieved with a surging or turbulent water flow. If the polyps are frequently retracted, try to change the flow and see if that helps. Higher flow will also help gorgonian coral shed, removing any toxins from them.
One of the best powerheads to allow you to change the power and the flow patterns is the Ecotech Marine MP40wQD. This will let you easily modify your reef tank's flow to match the needs of your coral.
Gorgonian Coral Care - Lighting
Proper Gorgonian Coral Care generally requires medium light. Nearly any lighting reef lighting options will suffice.
When you find the location where the Gorgonian Coral has full polyp extension, it's best to let that be its home. It is said that aclimating photosynthetic gorgonians to higher light may allow it to grow faster.
For more about the different types of lighting, see the Reef Stable Saltwater Aquarium Lighting Guide.
Gorgonian Coral Care - Placement and Aggression
Gorgonian coral care dictates very little about placement. Gorgonians do not sting other coral, however other coral will sting gorgonian coral. Ensuring there is space between gorgonian coral and other, stinging coral, is crucial to the survival of the sea fan. It is also important to note that sea fans will "whip" around in the flow if it is strong. This can cause the gorgonian coral to be rather close to other coral. Keep this in mind when finding a home for your new coral.
Gorgonian Coral Care - Feeding
Photosynthetic Gorgonian Coral Feeding
Some photosynthetic Gorgonian Coral will eat coral food such as Reef Roids, much like feeding Acan corals. Much like other photosynthetic coral however, the Gorgonian will absorb light in order to grow.
Non-Photosynthetic Gorgonian Coral Feeding
Non-Photosynthetic Gorgonian Coral Care requires at least weekly feeding. This species of gorgonian will need detritus, brine shrimp, cyclops, or some other prepared coral food such as Reef Roids.
Gorgonian Coral Care - Stress
Though many hard coral don't tell you when they're stressed, Gorgonian Coral do. You will notice the polyps retract. This lets you know that something is wrong. The first items to look in to are flow and coral, fish, or invertabrates that may be attacking the coral.
Gorgonian Coral Care - Toxin
Like many other soft coral, Gorgonians can produce a toxin to try and compete for space to grow. Using a protein skimmer and activated carbon will greatly reduce or even remove this toxin before it irritates other coral.
Pests and Common Problems
Fish and Inverts
Being a soft coral, watch for nipping from invertabrates and fish that are not "reef-safe".
Gorgonian Coral Care Guide - Cheet Sheet
- Gorgonian Coral prefer stable temperature (~0.5 F) around 72-78 degrees F.
- Focus on stability, maintaining within 0.5 dKh
- Most success between 7-8 dKh
- Focus on stability, within 25ppm.
- 400-450ppm is the ideal range.
- Between 1200-1400ppm. Targeting 1300ppm.
Nitrates and Phosphates
- The below numbers are ideal, but Gorgonian Coral can tolerate a range of nutrient levels.
- Nitrates: 1-10ppm
- Phosphates: Nitrate Level / 100
- Low - Medium Lighting
- Blue and Actinic spectrum are best for color and growth.
Additional Coral Care Reading:
- Reef Stable - Acropora Care Guide
- Reef Stable - Montipora Care Guide
- Reef Stable - Euphillia Care Guide
- Reef Stable - Acan Coral Care Guide
- Reef Stable - Zoanthid Care Guide
This guide will be continuously updated as I learn more about Gorgonian Coral Care and coral care in general. If there is any information you would like to see that is not present, please reach out to email@example.com and let me know! Happy Reefing!
About the Author
John is a Software Engineer with a passion for saltwater aquariums, as well as the founder and president of Reef Stable. He started in the aquarium hobby as a child with a 20 gallon freshwater aquarium. His interest in aquarium life grew and in 2008, John set up his first saltwater aquarium.
Today, John maintains a 120 gallon mixed reef aquarium as well as a 210 gallon aggressive species aquarium. These large tanks are contained within the same system, sharing a sump as a means to reduce total maintenance and increase total water volume.
John writes articles for the blog as a means to learn about more reef aquarium topics. These articles act as a reference for the readers as well as himself. John updates these articles frequently to provide additional information or make corrections as new information becomes available.