Mixed reef tanks are well-loved because you can keep a diverse collection of corals in one tank. Many hobbyists like mixed reef tanks because they can experience several kinds of corals simultaneously without keeping multiple aquariums. On the other hand, you may sacrifice the health of all the corals by accommodating corals with opposite care requirements.
In this article, we’ll discover why you should consider designing your aquarium to keep specific types of corals. There is nothing wrong with having a mixed reef. The point of this article is to give you some other options to consider, not to tell you the way you are doing it is wrong. Reefing is a hobby for creating an aquarium that you enjoy. You may enjoy an aquarium for specific families or genera of coral better. Let’s find out why.
Why should you keep specific corals in the reef tank?
Before we discuss the obvious benefits of keeping a specific group of corals, let’s discuss more subtle benefits. With the popularity of mixed reefs, it is prevalent to see a mixed reef. Most people only have one aquarium, so it makes sense why they would want to keep as many kinds of corals as possible in one tank. However, this tends to lead to a sort of sameness in the hobby.
Mixed reefs can be less noteworthy because they are more common. Again, keeping a reef is about what you like, but having a reef tank distinct from others can be more satisfying and enjoyable. For example, it is far less common to see a reef tank filled with just Goniopora or Lobophyllia. These kinds of aquariums are more distinct. Should you be aiming for more distinction? That’s up to you to decide.
A collection of corals with similar care requirements can result in a group of super healthy and happy corals. If you create a tank that caters to specific needs instead of a broad range of needs, those particular corals will grow faster and display better coloration. This method can also make maintenance more manageable because you specialize in providing specific conditions and parameters. Not only can you have healthier corals, but you may enjoy working on the aquarium more.
In the past, keeping a specific family of corals would be boring because there were fewer color variants or options. Now, there is so much variety within a particular genus, let alone a family of corals. A tank full of just Micromussa lords can have many colors. It is easy to fill a tank with a specific group of corals and have a diverse array of colors. We should take advantage of and be grateful for having access to such a wide coral selection.
High light vs. low light
Generally, two conditions separate corals the most: lighting and flow. First, we’ll talk about lighting. Providing high enough lighting for Acropora at the top of the tank and low enough for Micromussa at the bottom of the tank can be tricky. You may have to sacrifice your aquascape to have high-light corals closer to the top of the tank. You may have to barely provide enough light for your Acropora and Montipora so that the lower light corals aren’t melting away from overexposure. In larger aquariums, this is generally easier to do. However, choosing between a high or low-light system can be highly beneficial.
Choosing a low-light system can save money for those on a budget. You don’t need to spend $500 to provide lighting for low to medium-light corals. There is also less risk of overexposing your low-light corals when the tank has low to moderate light.
Choosing a lighting type benefits those looking to keep lots of high-light corals by allowing you to have a broader range of “high” lighting. Some Acropora do better in 600 micromoles of PAR, while others do better in 300 micromoles of PAR. It is only possible to have this range if you aren’t capping your PAR at 200 micromoles. With an intense light set up, you may reach more desirable colors for your Acropora or Montipora.
Also, don’t assume that high light always means SPS and low light always means LPS and softies. Many soft corals prefer high light, such as leather corals. Many SPS corals prefer low to moderate light, such as Cyphastrea and Leptoseris. Some birdsnest varieties also thrive under low to medium light. So, you can have SPS corals with low light.
Categorizing reef tanks by lighting requirement can be beneficial, but there are other ways.
High flow vs. low flow
Another way to categorize coral types is by the flow requirement. For example, you could have either a high-flow aquarium or a low to moderate-flow aquarium.
In a low-flow aquarium, you would keep corals like Echinophyllia (chalice coral), Micromussa, Blastomussa, Euphyllia, Discosoma, etc. In this aquarium, it makes more sense to use a sand bed because you don’t have to worry about it blowing around the tank. That’s not to say you should use a sand bed, but it makes more sense.
In a high-flow aquarium, a sand bed is likely to cause problems. Corals like Acropora and Montipora require a lot of flow, so much that sand would pile up in one corner or make the water cloudy.
You could, hypothetically, keep an aquarium with high and low-flow areas. However, if you have a tank designed to be a high-flow tank, there is less concern if your Acropora are getting enough flow. It works the other way too. With a low to moderate-flow tank, you don’t have to worry if your LPS corals are receding from too much flow.
More than just LPS, SPS, and softies
It is easy to categorize care requirements for corals using LPS, SPS, and softies, but it is more complex. An SPS aquarium can easily mean low or high light, while a soft coral tank can have low or intense light and high or low flow. Some LPS corals do better in higher light and higher flow. For this reason, you shouldn’t categorize the corals you keep using LPS, SPS, and softies. If you want to see the benefits of owning one group of corals, you should use the care requirements to categorize the corals, not a title the hobby gave the coral.
A final, potentially less important thing to consider is your budget. Keeping delicate corals like Acropora is more expensive than maintaining leather corals.
Suppose you don’t have the budget to keep a particular group of corals. In that case, you may be more satisfied specializing in a more manageable group of corals, such as hammer corals and frogspawn.
Let’s go over some examples of tanks prioritizing the care of a specific group of corals rather than meeting the bare minimum of a broad range of corals.
You could keep a reef tank that prioritizes SPS corals needing low to moderate light and flow. Stocking options could include corals like Cyphastrea, Leptoseris, Leptastrea, Seriatopora, Stylophora, Pocillopora, and even some deep water Acropora. You could even throw in a peaceful LPS coral that does well with strong flow, such as Duncan corals. There are plenty of soft corals that do well under these conditions as well.
Another example is a moderate flow and moderate light LPS reef tank. You could specialize in keeping a specific species of chalice corals in this tank. For example, you could try to fill the tank with mostly Mycedium or Echinophyllia. Then, you could throw in a couple of Micromussa lords for variety.
Of course, you could always do an Acropora-dominant aquarium if you have the skill and money. Collect your favorite varieties of Acropora and encourage them to display the best coloration possible. It would make sense to throw in some Montipora too.
These are only a few options of many. Keeping a tank curated for specific corals doesn’t mean you can only have one specific coral. Instead, the idea is to create a collection of corals that have similar care requirements and look well together. This idea is similar to what people in the freshwater hobby do with their fish selection.
This hobby is about creating an aquarium that is appealing to you. If you want a mixed reef, don’t let anyone stop you. However, creating an aquarium for a specific range of corals can be just as satisfying, if not more. There is that unique quality to it as well.