Coral-Vault's long term goal is to protect the ocean and move importing to growing

What is it??

Have you ever heard the term Aquaculture or Aquacultured coral and wondered what it meant? Maybe you’ve wondered about the cost difference in aquacultured corals versus wild corals? No matter what question brought you here, hopefully this article will teach you a little bit about what aquaculture is, the processes that go into it, and all the benefits of it. 

What is aquaculture? Aquaculture is the process of farming aquatic organisms. The term aquaculture can be applied to many different groups from corals and fish to crustaceans, algae, and shellfish. This process can take place in different environments including both freshwater and saltwater, in enclosures that are in the natural spaces or in controlled spaces like aquariums. Another term that can be used to describe coral aquaculture is Mariculture, which specifically refers to aquaculture in saltwater environments, likewise, coral aquaculture refers to coral farming. Coral aquaculture can be done in two different ways- through fragging or by growing them from seed.

The process of coral fragging is where a piece of the coral is broken or cut from the parent colony and then attached to a frag plug and placed back in the tank. The process of growing coral from seed is a bit more complex and difficult, and takes place on wild coral reefs. When it is time for coral to spawn, a mesh tent-like cover is placed over top of them and the eggs and sperm are collected. The collected materials are then taken back and cultured in the lab. Once they settle out and begin to grow, reaching a healthy size they can either be sold or transplanted back out on the reefs from where they came. Because the aquacultured corals can be sold or transplanted this method benefits both the environment and the aquarium industry. Another benefit of this method is that it helps to ensure the genetic diversity of the coral species.

Wild coral reefs have thousands of different species of corals. Because there is such a vast number of them, only a small percentage of them have found their way into aquacultured species found in the hobby. Hobbyists and local fish stores (LFS’s) have been aquaculturing corals for a while. Frags purchased from friends are considered aquacultured specimens. However, thanks to reefers and LFS’s there is a good amount of diversity of aquacultured coral species for sale in the aquarium trade. Beginner species like mushrooms, zoas, leathers, and acans are all commonly found. As their popularity has grown things like torches, brain coral, and Acros are now becoming easier to find.

The process of growing aquacultured fish species is a complex one that takes years of planning and care. With corals however, it is not as much of an issue of complexity as it is time. Corals are fairly slow growers and even under the best of conditions they may only grow a few inches per year. For corals to grow large enough to sell, aquarists have to keep and maintain them for several years.

Aquacultured specimens are typically going to cost more than wild specimens and there are many reasons. Once the original colony is imported it will often be fragged and some of those pieces sold, while others will be placed in a grow out system. It is here that a lot of effort is put into caring for them. From the water, to the salt that is needed to mix in it, and from the food, light, vitamins, and supplements, to the time it takes for employees to carry out all the maintenance, the costs can add up rather quickly. But the extra cost is worth it.

There are numerous benefits when it comes to purchasing aquacultured corals. The fact that the coral was aquacultured means that stress was taken off the wild reefs, which are already under a lot of stress from things like ocean acidification and ocean warming. In addition to being a better option for coral reefs, aquacultured corals tend to be healthier. In the care of professionals they have been rid of pests and parasites. They have been acclimated from the open oceans to the closed systems of our home aquariums. Over time they will have been exposed to some of the ups and downs that can occur in home aquariums from salinity and temperature swings to various light intensities, different flow patterns, nutrient levels, and food types.

By the time a coral makes it into a home display tank, it is conditioned to eating and utilizing the nutrients in commercial coral and fish food which is another factor that will help to ease the transition. Since the corals are hardier they are great options for advanced aquarists as well as for beginners still learning their way in the reefing world. Additionally, hardy aquacultured corals ship much better than wild corals giving hobbyists the confidence to buy directly from vendors even if they aren’t local.

Growing and selling aquacultured corals is impressive and says several things about the store or individual selling them. First off the fact that a store offers aquacultured coral speaks volumes to their commitment to the environment and to coral reefs around the world. The fewer colonies taken from wild reefs the better chance they have of surviving. Knowing that participation in a hobby is not going to come at the cost of the native habitats is a comforting fact. Wild coral reefs are under a huge amount of stress that is only increasing. In places like Florida, the Florida Reef Tract is facing the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, but by aquaculturing corals, aquarium hobbyists and scientists are protecting and preventing the loss of the species. Much like seed banks, aquacultured corals can act as an unofficial repository for a variety of coral diversity.

Over the past several years the aquarium hobby has seen the shut down of fish and coral exports from different major regions. With these closures, corals and fish are often hard to come by and when they are found, they typically are associated with a high price tag. By increasing the number of aquacultured coral species we can help to reduce the negative impact the closures have on the hobby.

The next time you are thinking about purchasing a new coral for your tank, consider purchasing an aquacultured species over a wild one. Not only is it better for the environment, but the aquacultured coral will be healthier, heartier, more resilient, and you will have a better chance of success in keeping and caring for it.


Hilary Jaffe