Goniopora Coral Care
Goniopora are an enigmatic coral that has captured the fancy of many a reef hobbyist. It has quickly become one of my favorite corals to collect. They are a beautiful large polyp stony coral that come in a wide variety of colors and have that namesake flower-like appearance that adds a flowing aesthetic to the reef tank.
It has not always been roses for this coral. For a long time Goniopora were considered an impossible coral to keep. There were even discussions online about it being unethical to keep importing them because of their poor survivability. The problem with their mortality rate was that it was deceptive. Gonioporas would not immediately die.
A Goniopora fresh from the wild would show up at the local fish store looking absolutely glorious. It’s got intense coloration, the polyps are nicely extended, and maybe it’s even hosting a clownfish making it an irresistible purchase for an unsuspecting hobbyist. The coral will remain healthy until about the 3 to 6 month mark. At that point things take a turn for the worse and the colony suddenly refuses to open up. From there what looks like an infection takes hold and practically overnight the coral dies leaving behind a white skeleton.
The reef keeping hobby has progressed significantly since that time and now more and more hobbyists are having success with these corals. In this article we will take a look at some of these developments in hopes that your next Goniopora will flourish.
Part of the reason for the recent success is sourcing the coral. There are around 20 different species of Goniopora and some are more hardy than others. We have had the best success with Goniopora that originated in Australia. They tend to have better coloration and smaller polyps than the ones I’ve seen come from other geographies like Indonesia.
Species specific challenges aside, let’s talk a little more about the general care requirements for Goniopora. We will start with Lighting then move on to water flow and then feeding and water chemistry.
Goniopora are a photosynthetic coral so they derive some of their nutritional requirements from light. This is done through a symbiotic relationship with dinoflagellates called zooxanthellae that live in the flesh of the coral. The dinoflagellates are actually the photosynthetic organism and the Goniopora colony derives nutrients off of the byproducts of the dinoflagellates’ photosynthetic process. Zooxanthellae is usually brown in color and the coral tightly regulates the population living in its flesh. Too little light will cause the coral to turn brown in color. As it seeks more nutrition, the coral allows more zooxanthellae to build up in its flesh. Usually a coral will prefer a specific range of lighting intensity but that is less of the case with Goniopora.
Goniopora can thrive in a wide range of lighting. We have kept Goniopora in different lighting intensities here at Tidal Gardens ranging from very dimly lit 50 PAR tanks all the way to bright aquariums receiving over 200 PAR. I would recommend placing them under moderate lighting intensities, between 75-125 PAR. Goniopora are consistent in their appearance under different lighting. That is to say that a red colored Goniopora won’t suddenly turn green when moved to another aquarium with slightly different lights above it. Sounds strange, but there are plenty of corals out there that can shift their color palate like that.
Having said that, the type of lighting system chosen will have a dramatic effect on how they are displayed. There are some incredibly fluorescent varieties of Goniopora that glow like safety cones under the right blend of actinic lights which would not be apparent at all under daylight lighting.Low Light
Low light translates to about 30-50 PAR
Medium Light is between 50-150 PAR
High Light is anything over 150 PAR
Lighting is a loaded topic, so for a more in-depth discussion of lighting, please see our Deep Dive article.
As a warning, I would not recommend blasting Goniopora with a lot of light. I don’t think there are a lot of advantages to doing so. If you start to see the coral starting to turn lighter and bleach out, it is likely the result of high lighting intensity. When in doubt, favor lower lighting intensities until it is clear that the coral is demanding more. The lowest lighting we have grown this coral in was around 40 PAR so there do not worry about them not getting enough light.
As far as lighting spectrum, my favorite blend is roughly a 12,000K light so if you can imagine a blend of ATI blue plus and coral plus T5 bulbs that is what I shoot for. As previously stated, Goniopora’s amazing fluorescence is one of the major selling points so I also like to give it plenty of time under just actinic lighting for viewing purposes.
One of my favorite things about Goniopora is how the tentacles sway in the current. It is one of the most dramatic and aesthetically pleasing large polyp stony corals as far as motion is concerned. It’s movement is almost hypnotic and is one of the things that makes Goniopora such a great focal point in the aquarium.
One mistake I think some reef keepers make is providing them too much flow. If you have a powerhead blowing right at Goniopora from short range, it may kill off some of the tissue at that point of contact and cause a chain reaction to the rest of the colony.
Goniopora appreciate low to medium flow, but preferably with some randomness to it. That way you will get that gentle waving motion which helps keep the coral clean and brings food past the colony. If you see the tentacles violently thrashing about, that is probably too much flow and it would benefit from being relocated to a more calm section of the tank.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the time when aquarists struggled keeping Goniopora to now is the change in mentality regarding coral feeding. For decades the majority of hobbyists believed that feeding was not necessary. Fast forward to today and well… the majority probably still don’t BUT at least now there are more resources available demonstrating the positive benefits of feeding as well as a variety of coral foods in both powder and liquid form on the market.
I am absolutely convinced that Goniopora have to be fed and fed a lot. I’ve kept a lot of different types of Goniopora and just a personal anecdote, the times I’ve struggled with them had to do with neglect and lack of feeding. When I diligently provided them with a high quality food source, they almost always thrived.
What to feed Goniopora is a good question. Goniopora do not put on dramatic feeding displays like some large polyp stony corals. In fact, they seem to shy away from contact rather than aggressively trying to capture food. They have this “pogo hopper” motion to their polyps when food is introduced. Some believe that the coral takes in a lot of their nutrients through their skin more so than consuming it with their mouth, so even if you don’t see it actively feeding trust that something positive is still happening.
There are two types of food that I like to provide Goniopora. The first is liquid amino acids. In short, they are simple organic compounds that play a major role in building proteins as well as other biological functions at the cellular level. Corals regularly take in available amino acids from the water column so it is easy to provide them with adequate quantities by broadcast feeding an amino acid solution. If you want to know more about amino acids, I made a video going into great detail about them so check that out below:
The second type of food I like are dry powdered plankton. There are several different types on the market and I take the three or four I have on hand at any given time, mix them all up and when it is feeding time, make a cloudy solution with them to broadcast feed over the Goniopora colonies.
The best technique I have found is to completely turn off the pumps so that nothing blows away in the current and then spray a cloud of food over each colony with a turkey baster. The particles should be fine enough that the fish won’t come and harass the coral, but even if they do, you can apply another dusting after a few minutes. After about 15-20 min I then start the pumps back up. Some hobbyists leave the pumps off for longer than that, so you may want to experiment a little bit to see what works best in your tank.
Although coral nutrition is important, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. If you are going to experiment with broadcast feeding or target feeding, start slowly with it and don’t expect explosive changes overnight. Having some phosphate and nitrate in the water is beneficial but overfeeding can cause these parameters to rise to dangerous levels that can be hard to remedy.
That brings us to Chemistry. There are three things to consider with this topic. First I’ll quickly cover the pollution parameters, phosphate and nitrate. Next, I will talk about the stony coral building parameters Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium. Lastly, I will touch on some of the trace elements that might play a part in the health of Goniopora specifically.
Starting first with the de facto measurements of water quality, let’s talk about two parameters; Phosphate and Nitrate. The general consensus with these is to keep Phosphate levels around .05 ppm and Nitrate levels between 10-20 ppm. This is a safe zone that not too many people will dispute. If you need a recommendation there you go.
However, I have seen them do well in the two extremes. In our systems the phosphate is probably around 1-2 ppm and nitrates have gone over 50 ppm. On the other end of the spectrum you have Goniopora from Will’s tank running an ultra low nutrient method. In that tank the phosphate is undetectable and his nitrate sits at 1ppm. If you haven’t seen his tank on this channel yet, there are several documenting it from the initial install all the way to today. Here is a recent example of his tank and the show-stopping Goniopora in there:
It appears that Goniopora are adaptable to a very wide range of tank cleanliness. The consistent thing between both of our systems is we do provide amino acids as a coral food source.
Moving on, let’s talk about the the holy trinity of skeletal growth. Because Goniopora are stony corals, there are three major chemical parameters that are needed to power that skeletal growth. These parameters are Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium. I’ve made a video about each one of these so if you must know more, I encourage you to check those out. I will give you the quick hitter now.
Starting first with Calcium, it is one of the major ions in saltwater. In the ocean, its level hovers around 425 parts per million (ppm). As a coral grows calcium is absorbed from the water and used to forms its calcium carbonate skeleton.
Alkalinity is probably the most important parameter to pay attention to. It is not a particular ion, but rather a general figure of carbonate availability in the water. Technically it is the amount of acid required to lower the pH of saltwater to the point bicarbonate turns into carbonic acid. If you have more alkalinity, it can soak up more acid. Less alkalinity and you have less buffering capacity making the tank more susceptible to chemical changes.
In practice alkalinity tends to be the parameter that fluctuates the most, so if you cannot manage to test all three, Calcium, alkalinity, AND magnesium and had to choose just one test to perform, test for alkalinity. In the ocean, the alkalinity of the water is around 8-9 dkh.
Raising both calcium and alkalinity together can be tricky because of how they interact. Calcium ions and carbonate want to react with one another. Sometimes aquarists struggle with adjusting one of these two parameters because adding one will drop the other in a see saw like effect.
If you are experiencing this in your systems, it is normal, but wild swings are not. If you are experiencing wild swings of calcium and alkalinity every time you use an additive, you may want to look at your Magnesium levels.
So why Magnesium? Magnesium behaves chemically similar to calcium. It can bind up carbonate ions thus increasing the overall bioavailability of alkalinity compounds in the water. If you are tweaking calcium and alkalinity and getting strange results, you may want to make sure it is not your magnesium level that is low. In the ocean, Magnesium sits at about 1350 ppm.
Lastly, let’s talk about trace elements. What are trace elements? They are a catch-all descriptor of all the non-major elements in salt water. Trace elements all together make up less than 1% of the ions that make up salt water. The organisms in the ocean utilize these trace elements for various biological functions.
I typically do not think much about them and assume that relatively frequent water changes serves to replenish them. So why am I bringing this up here? There is a trace element in particular that come up in discussion when talking about Goniopora. Manganese.
There was a study done looking at the function of Manganese and it appears to have something to do with the coral’s ability to resist stress. In particular it looked at whether corals bleached when stress was introduced such as heat. The study showed that the corals provided with manganese resisted bleaching and the reason is thought to be Manganese helps break down the formation of oxide radicals in the body. It is literally an anti-oxidant.
That should give you a little bit of background on the chemical parameters to keep an eye on.
Ok, that about does it for Goniopora. Hopefully this video is helpful for those looking to try them for the first time. As we stated right at the beginning, there have been a lot of developments since the time this coral was considered an impossible coral to keep.
Check back periodically to see what varieties of Goniopora we are growing here at Tidal Gardens. We are always on the lookout for new and interesting color morphs of this coral to add to our collection. Take care guys, and I hope these corals are doing well for you!