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Selecting your first corals can be an overwhelming experience since there are so many different types out there, so today I'm going to help you narrow it down with five corals that are perfect for beginners starting out in the reef aquarium hobby.
Zoanthids are one of the most popular soft corals in the hobby today. And it’s not surprising because they come in a wide variety of colors and sizes, so they can really accommodate any type of buyer. Some have designer names that will sell for like up to a hundred dollars per polyp. But for all you beginners out there, don't worry! There are tons of color variations that are really, really beautiful that you can pick up for only a few bucks. Zoanthids don't need to be directly fed because they depend primarily on their zooxanthellae (symbiotic photosynthetic algae), but they tend to do best in moderate to high intensity lighting and low water movement. They’re also great corals for beginners because they reproduce very quickly and can be easily propagated.
I've gotten so many emails and messages on my Instagram (@CoralFish12g) from people who are scared of Zoanthids because of my videos on the dangers of palytoxins. Apparently, I’ve scared many people into either not getting zoanthids or getting rid of their zoanthids altogether, which is a shame! Zoanthids are such a great coral, and there's really nothing to be scared about when it comes to palytoxins. (Zoanthids are not that dangerous!) The chances of you getting palytoxin poisoning are low; the only way you can get it is if you accidentally boil your zoanthids, (which happens when people boil their rocks — please don't do that), or if you're fragging them and completely chopping them up and getting mucus everywhere, or if you get them too close to your mouth or your eyes when handling them. Just be careful with them and you will be fine!
People always want corals with lots of movement, especially beginners. And one question I get a lot is what's a great soft coral for beginners that has a lot of movement and isn't a potentially invasive species. And the answer to this question is a leather coral called a toadstool! I personally love the green ones, but the brown, pink and yellow ones can also be very pretty and make awesome show pieces for new tanks. Toadstools are very hardy, but you just have to be aware that this coral sheds every once in a while. When that happens, you either have to turn up your flow quite a bit or go in there and help remove the excess coat yourself.
These are easy to care for because they require low flow and very low light, which means that they can be grown in a beginner's reef tank that doesn't necessarily have an expensive high output light fixture. One reason that LPS corals are easier to care for than SPS corals is because they have much larger, visible mouths, so corals like this are a lot easier to feed. They're extremely peaceful corals and can be found in some really amazing colors.
I actually have an elegance coral as one of my main show pieces in my favorite tank. There are tons of other great LPS corals out there for beginners, but the elegance coral makes the list is because so many beginners want anemones for their coloration and movement. This coral is the most similar in appearance to an anemone, and it'll easily convince your guests that it is one. (When I have friends come over that are checking out my tank for the first time, they'll always ask if it’s an anemone, and I just say yes.) Now for those of you that don't know, anemones can actually move around on their own. And one advantage that this coral has is that it won't move around. Since they're stony corals, they're attached to a base that you can place in the substrate wherever you want. Elegance corals are amazingly tough corals. And one of the heartiest LPS corals that you can get.
If you're really set on getting some SPS corals and you've successfully kept LPS and soft corals before, then you're ready to try some Montis, which are generally considered to be one of the least demanding SPS corals. Montis come in a lot of different colors and growth patterns, and they’re easily adaptable to different lighting and current conditions. This makes them a great candidate for learning about stony coral propagation. Once established, they're very hardy and fast growing. After you've mastered this SPS, you should definitely feel more comfortable moving forward in the SPS world.
I genuinely want you guys to learn from my mistakes and experiences. I've been in the hobby now for almost 10 years, and one of the biggest tips I can give you is to not impulse buy coral. Trust me, I know how hard it is to see a coral and instantly fall in love with it! But what's the point of buying it if you're just going to take it home and watch it slowly die? In my opinion, that's more painful than walking out of the store without it. Please start out with some corals that are more forgiving while you learn the ins and outs of maintaining a reef tank!