Acclimating Corals

What to do when you get a box of corals ....

Ideally all corals, just as all fish, would be put in a quarantine tank for an observation period prior to placing in a permanent "show tank" display. We realize this is rarely done here in America, and in fact, is quite the exception because we want it all now!  

Anything can come in on any coral or any fish. They are from the wild. There are probably bugs on them that have not been identified or named for science. There can be a microscopic spore of a mantis shrimp egg in a coral rock base. You must accept and know this. For the most seasoned experienced hobbyists, it is exactly these "unknowns" that you can't even order that are often the best part of a piece of coral. Some black or yellow ooze goo that lives great and no one can guess even what phyla it is from. Now THAT is exciting!!

So your corals are coming in, and what to do?

We'll start at picking them up at the airport. If it is hot out, put them in the passenger area with air conditioning, if at all possible. If it is cold out, do the same, but use the heater to keep them warm. Sit on them if you have to. (Just kidding about that one.)

Don't be alarmed if your box is wet. That's normal. Take a towel or something for the box to sit on so it doesn't get your seat wet. When the corals left the West Coast, they were in water and any punctured bag happened on the way and it hasn't been long enough to be a problem. When you get them home, you should have a few items ready and waiting so you can go to work immediately. A bucket for the bags, a bucket for the water, and a bucket for dipping are essential. You'll need a single-edged razor blade or paring knife for cutting open the bags or rubber bands. Do not use your good pocket knife, for salt will get in it. Have a separate "bag knife." Rubber gloves are good, but the tight latex ones so you have dexterity, like painter's gloves or lab gloves.

Your dipping bucket should be prepared with tank water, and kept aerated with an airstone. Some type of dip should be put in it when you get back with the corals and start dipping. What you are doing is a sanitization as well as an adrenilin shot by dipping. The SPS dips are generally strong iodine solutions which we know is a great sterilizer. Lugol's solution, or any similar such "SPS" dip is acceptable and will work. The iodine really seems to be a shot in the arm to them after shipping. It is critical you dip them. In 30 years of keeping and shipping corals to stores, I cannot under-estimate the value and importance of this. It will make the difference for a couple of your animals, and you will not be able to tell which in the majority of cases.

Open the box and if hot or cold there will usually be heat packs or gel ice packs on top, in paper plates, or newspaper (save if it is gel ice, you can use them sometime probably.) If heat packs, check and see if they are burnt (hard single "rock") or burning (warm and still granular). Pick up a coral bag and feel the temperature. Is it hot or cold compared to the room and tank? If there is a significant difference, I use a rubbermaid tub and pull out some of the corals (still in their bags) and make room around them to allow them to adjust to workable temps. Indonesia coral boxes will have two layers of bags so this is important to get the top layer spread out so the bottom layer can adjust. Usually, 10 or 20 minutes is enough. Just don't shock them with temperature, as they've been through a lot at this point.  

Put those bags down, you're not supposed to be looking at them all yet!  

The general procedure is this ...

If it's a rubber-banded bag, pull the top tail of the bag hard and it will pop the band off. Or, you can cut the rubber band. Or, you can just cut the top of the bag, which you have to if the bag is metal clipped. Although, cutting the bag is messier, as water gets stuck at both ends, and so ends up more places, and the bags don't stack well, which makes throwing them away easier.

For hard corals, hold the bag from the bottom, squeezing in until you are holding the coral by the base underside only through the bag. Turn the bag upside down and pour the water into the "inbound water" bucket. Never put any inbound water into your tanks. Inbound water is outbound to the sewer, but must be thoroughly checked for critters first. That is done later.

Anyway, now you have a coral in a waterless bag, so reach in with (your latex gloved hand) and gently pull the coral out ( hey quit gawkin'! ) and place it in the dipping bucket. Some may have a loose plastic bag around them which you can discard. Throw the empty coral bag into your bag bucket. Remember to check the bags for critters later before throwing the bags out.

You can put a few corals in the dipping bucket together IF they are LIKE types, and IF they DO NOT touch each other. Most dips are used for 5-10 minutes ... be sure to follow the instructions on your dip of choice.

Ideally, you have ANOTHER small bucket (gadzooks ... good thing! ...we're out of bucket space!) with tank water that you rinse the dipped coral in, just a slow twist or two of the wrist before it can be placed in your tank. You may want to have a plastic bowl to hold under the coral for drips as you move it to the tank. Don't worry about where to put them in the tank at this point, just get them in there and get a new set dipping ASAP. You'll have plenty of time to find the right place later. Don't let any corals touch each other.

Work your way through the box ... incoming water all into one bucket; used bags in another; dip; little rinse bucket for after the dip; put the coral in the tank. If your incoming water bucket gets full, pour some off the top, but remember to go through the bottom for rubble, grunge, and critters or bugs if you are lucky.

I've heard some folks say that there may be or will be problems if certain corals hit the air. I do not believe this to be all of the only truth. For 30 years on the wholesale level, almost all corals were routinely air-exposed briefly, less than if a tsunami hit, and lived fine. Stores received these pieces and I personally kept them myself throughout this period ... air being a problem was the exception was probably something else for all but the most sensitive specialty corals and sponges that I probably wouldn't advise you to buy.  

Some would say skip the dip on the soft corals, just rinse them well in tank water to get the old inbound shipping water off of them, before putting them in the tank. Others would say to give them a one or two minute quick dip. I'd probably go with the quick dip if I were putting them directly into my display tank.

Zoanthids and other polyps should be rinsed thoroughly (as they excrete much ammonia), especially for the ones that are shipped "dry." That means usually wrapped in wet saltwater newspaper inside a plastic bag, the common method of choice for shipping most polyps. They also have to be inspected for zoanthid snails (usually checkered pinwheel snails), which they may have. Anemones are also usually shipped dry, and should be placed in a bowl of water for rinsing, as there is often much insides in their goo, and after rinsing, placed in the tank. They usually open up very quickly. Zoanthids may take days to open, and for star polyps, a week is not unheard of.

Shrimp should be acclimated like the most delicate fish you have. But other inverts can simply be placed into the tank after rinsing. The same goes for snails or crabs. They just wonder why it was dark for so long and are off and running.

Rinse everything, dip all the corals, check the incoming shipping water, bags, and the dip water carefully for critters before you throw it out.

There now ... it's all in the tank and looks like a million dollars, though you only spent five hun (today) !! Make sure your partner, or family and friends know how much you saved !  

Keep in mind that this stuff just spent the longest period of its life in the dark, bouncing, if not getting slammed, all over the world, and is wondering if there is a future. Most people who are used to only seeing open corals in a local store think they are not that impressive right out of the bag. Of course not ... they're all closed up. But, in 12 hours, 24 and 48 hours, these same folks are blown away. Don't expect them to be open, rather they will be in full contraction. Never put more than blue light on them the first day or night.

Afterward -

If you have some receeding tissue on something, you can either re-dip, long and strong, or go thermonuclear and freshwater dip it. This will not hurt most corals, and, as most of you know, this method is used on saltwater fish regularly. It's the ol' osmotic explosion trick, and for some things may work well. I have had success with it with zoanthid fungus sometimes, but not always. If there is a "bad head" on a branched piece of coral, break it off as low as you can, and paint the open break with Lugol's or some iodine.

If something starts to go south, breaking and cutting, may salvage something sometimes. Depends on the situation, but always worth considering. You can slice a leather with a single-edged razor blade and take out a bad part. Always paint with a dip.

Read books about the biology of the corals if at all possible. Whilst many can I.D. things, it is important for us to know HOW THEY LIVE and how to create a proper environment for them.

If something isn't doing well where it is for a couple days, consider if it needs more or less light, or current, and move it ... then watch for reaction. It will often be quick. Mushrooms won't fully open in direct super high light. Most things can be acclimated to different lighting over time. We can never tell if any given specimen we receive was from 2' deep or 10' deep, or the sun or shade. So watch for stuff not acting normally the first couple days and move it if so.

I once had a wild Acropora with a Tubastrea growing next to it on the same rock. Almost went crazy trying to decide where THAT should go!     Remember this stuff doesn't read the books.

happy polyps !
~ birdfish

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