Saltwater Aquarium Coral

What is Saltwater Aquarium Coral?

Saltwater aquarium coral is any breed of marine coral small enough to survive within the confines of an artificially constructed ecosystem, usually denoted as reef aquariums. Coral come from the phylum Cnidaria (Nigh-dare-ee-ya) and are classified as members of the more than 6,000 species of anthozoans living in the earths oceans. Coral possess very simple yet fascinating anatomies, and can be divided into roughly three kinds, stony, soft and short polyped corals. For aquarists interested in this area of marine biology, lighting is a very important concept as the survival of a coral bed relies on conditions that reflect not only the natural habitat for food, but also air, and light to survive. This delicate balance between night and day, contrasted to depth, is directly related to the symbiotic foundation of the coral’s relationship with vital algae.

Anemones, sea pansies, and especially sea fans also fall into the category of anthozoans and can be wonderful additions to any reef aquarium, but have slightly different anatomies compared to coral. Coral make their distinction in the undersea community first and foremost as some of the oldest animals in the world dating as far back as 400 million years. In this time they have come to evolve over the last 25 million years, rivaling the longevity of even the oldest shelf of the Brazilian Amazon rain forest.

Stony coral have been responsible for some of the largest and most beautiful biologically conceived structures in the world. Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) or limestone is their secreting product responsible for fringing, barrier and atoll reefs in nature. Soft coral have no hard skeletal structure such as this and can exist in far deeper regions of the sea where light is scarce. Short polyped corals produce far less calcium carbonate than true stony corals, but still work on around the basic principle, their main difference is appearance.

Living coral itself is the polyp, a kind of aquatic flower, with an opening or mouth for food [planktonic larvae (planulae)], tentacles (or no), epidermis and gastrodermis. The varieties of coral, and in depth description of all the different variations of anatomy, make this explanation quite simpleton, but necessary, and in turn shows the coral reef aquarium study for what it truly is; an incredibly enigmatic and philosophical area of marine biology that brings us ever closer to understanding our very selves.

Lighting is essential to the process of this symbiotic relationship between zooxanthellae and coral. What makes aquarium coral so complex for saltwater hobbyists is usually trying to figure out what lighting is best for which kind of coral. The answer to this is really quite simple; DEPTH. The spectrum of light arriving, to achieve photosynthesis among the beneficial algae will depend on how much light and at what depth, what spectrum is being reached, and this changes the deeper one goes. Of coarse the color coral have is transmitted from their algae, and thus if no algae is present, these coral become bleach white (hence the term “bleaching coral”). On a basic rule of thumb, light gets darker and thinner the farther a coral is found, however the more light, the more algae seem to prosper.

Zooxanthellae (zo-ox-an-thel-ee) are algae that depend on coral for survival as much as the opposite is true. Coral don’t do everything alone, zooxanthellae breath carbon dioxide, which coral exhale, and inorganic nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates, thereby producing glycerol, amino acids and glucose utilized as the basics for proteins, carbohydrates, fats and the synthesis of calcium carbonate (CaCO3).

The cultivation of coral in the saltwater aquarium is a journey into earths past. It is a way of discovering who we are and where we come from. With the ancient world of coral we have evolved into far more complex yet no less interesting forms of life. When looking down into the cascading rhythm limestone and algae, the very skeleton of natures plan to harvest the first tide pools becomes as clear as tropical reefs on equatorial summer afternoons. The relaxing effect from the natural coral reef aquarium brings the saltwater hobbyist into a deeper and more intrinsic state of mental consciousness, as if sunlight had penetrated into different spectrum through the layers of grey matter. The chemistry involved in delicate saltwater aquarium coral keeping is a balance that must be given special attentions and study. Life becomes more incredible once understanding of how life in the deepest fathoms of the sea to the reaching edges of a tide pool can be so fragile, yet like the Greek sailors of old, beautiful and poetic.

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Posted in Articles on August 25, 2005.

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