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Quarantine of Corals and Invertebrates


By: Scott Fellman  algaeguy01@hotmail.com


After three months of searching, you have finally located that beautiful colony of bright pink Pocillopora damicornis that you've been drooling over! Wow! It's gonna look great on that spot on top your reef…. You rush the coral home, slowly acclimate it to your aquarium's water temperature, open up the bag, and place the coral onto the spot on your reef that you have reserved for it. Not only have you introduced a beautiful coral to your tank, you have (also) introduced (unwanted) flatworms, box snails, and planarians. Yikes! Could this have been prevented? Yep! How? Quarantine!

Quarantine: It's Not Just For Fishes Anymore!

Everyone knows the value of quarantining newly acquired fishes by now, right? Well, let's hope that you do! By properly quarantining corals and invertebrates, you can (just as easily) avoid introducing a whole host of nasties into your reef system, from box snails to nudibranchs. Protecting your reef from these unwanted guests isn't just the right thing to do for your reef; it's also good for your reputation at the next club frag swap. Imagine what it will do for your popularity when someone refers to you as "the guy whose Xenia put (replace with brought) RTN into my system!" Not good.

Quarantine practices for corals and invertebrates are absolutely standard procedure at all public aquariums, and they should be in your fish room, as well. Why risk the health of your entire reef on one coral or invertebrate, when very simple procedures, requiring minimal, inexpensive equipment, can virtually assure that your system will remain disease free?

What Do You Need?

You need a glass or acrylic aquarium of suitable size for the number of corals and invertebrates that you will be quarantining. Typical sizes would be 10-20 gallons. A heater of correct wattage is required, as is an outside power filter, sponge filter, or canister filter. A protein skimmer would be a nice addition, but is optional, particularly if you perform frequent regular water changes. No substrate of any type is required. That's all the equipment that you need. Easy!

Quarantine of Corals

Quarantine of corals requires a bit more "strategy" if you will, because you need to address the chemical warfare (allelopathy) that takes places between different coral species. You must make the effort to physically separate your specimens during the quarantine process.

Use common sense placing your corals in the quarantine tank. Corals that are legendary for deploying huge "sweeper" tentacles, such as Euphyllia, should be placed well away form other corals, which may not be equipped to defend themselves.

Mobile corals, such as Heliofungia, should be confined in an area of the tank to avoid encountering and possibly injuring other corals, or kept in separate quarantine tanks.

You need to have a means to deal with the compounds (waste materials, mucous, and allelopathic chemicals) emitted by corals as part of their daily existence.

For this reason, I recommend using filters (inside box, power, or canister) that allow you to utilize chemical filtration media, such as carbon, ChemiPure™, or Poly Filter™. Use of these products, coupled with frequent water changes will help you effectively reduce and/or remove many impurities from the quarantine tank water.

Did I just mention water changes? Yep, I sure did! It is very important that you maintain high water quality throughout the quarantine process, and this is easily accomplished through small, frequent water changes. Small water changes, done twice weekly, or more often, will go a long way towards (sustaining) the health of your animals during their stay in your quarantine system.

The quarantine period should last a minimum of 21 days, although many hobbyists employ a 30-day quarantine with great results. Regardless of how long a quarantine period you utilize, be sure to perform regular water changes and maintenance during this time. Use water from your main system. I favor small (5%), twice-weekly changes, which serve to dilute the potential build up of waste and toxins, and put the hobbyist in the habit of regularly observing the animals. If you are really on the ball, smaller daily water changes would be outstanding.

As with quarantine tanks for fishes, the coral or invertebrate quarantine tank should not have any substrate material on the bottom. The reason for this is two fold: First, a bare bottom aids in maintaining a clean aquarium; you can easily see and siphon out any detritus or waste material that accumulates. Second, a bare bottom enables you to determine if any unwanted "hitchhikers" dropped off of your corals, and facilitates their easy removal. However, some corals, such as Trachyphyllia (open brain coral) are found in substrates, and require placement in sand bottoms in order to inflate properly. The absence of sand could cause damage to these specimens through abrasion, etc. Place these corals in a small plastic container, such as a margarine tub, filled with clean sand during their quarantine period.

Here's a great tip on placing corals in your quarantine tank, suggested by my good friend Anthony Calfo, author of the must-have "Book of Coral Propagation:" Place your new colonies and frags on an elevated "platform" within the tank. This will permit the unwanted worms, snails, and other bad guys to "fall off" of your corals. Anthony suggests using PVC pipe and egg crate to fashion simple platforms, or you can utilize (and this is my favorite) the little plastic stands that come with take out pizza. These are great for elevating small pieces or colonies off of the bottom of the tank.

The quarantine procedure itself is extremely straightforward and simple. After acclimating your specimens to your quarantine tank's water, gently release them into the aquarium. Sessile invertebrates and corals should be placed on small "platforms," as outlined above. Use small amounts of meaty seafood to bait potential predators out of your corals. The rationale here is that any animal which can be lured with such items is also a potential threat to the corals.

Some hobbyists employ prophylactic freshwater dips, or use specially formulated commercial "disinfectants" before placing the coral in the quarantine tank. Please follow the manufacturer's instructions when using these products, and DO NOT PERFORM FRESHWATER DIPS ON INVERTEBRATES! They simply cannot make the osmotic "stretch," and will die in most cases.

Lighting Animals During Quarantine

Perhaps no other topic in reef keeping is as controversial as lighting. There are as many different theories on lighting as there are types of lighting systems-maybe more. How, then, does one go about meeting the light requirements of demanding photosynthetic corals during quarantine? Do you have to invest hundreds of dollars in an attempt to match the intensity and spectrum of your reef tank's lighting? Nope!

There is an easy solution to this dilemma for quarantine tanks. You can use inexpensive regular output fluorescent light to match the approximate intensity of the light at the level on your reef where the new coral will ultimately reside. Because you're probably using a small, shallow tank for quarantine, you will easily be able to achieve this with fluorescent light!

The second solution for quarantining corals accustomed to high levels of light is to feed them well. Food can help provide nutrition for the corals that will compensate for the decreased lighting they will receive while in the quarantine tank. Of course, increased feeding means you need to increase water changes to keep pace with the metabolite production.

When the quarantine period has elapsed, you can then carefully add you new specimens to your reef, with an added sense of confidence. You'll know that you've done the best thing possible for all of your animals by utilizing a quarantine procedure.

So remember, it is pointless to gamble with the lives of your precious reef animals. Be a responsible aquarist and quarantine all new animals before placing them in your tanks. You will find that following these simple procedures will help you enjoy your hobby more than you ever dreamed possible!


Quarantine tank for corals   3/10/11
Hi All,
<Hello Arthur>
I have a 34 gal Solana with 150 watt MH lighting. I want to buy corals from online retailers but I am worried about parasites hitchhiking on my new corals.
I have only QT¹s my fish before and I have a 55gal tank all set up for that purpose. How long to I quarantine corals for in a tank with a single blue light bulb (T12 or something)?
<6-8 weeks if you are going to do it at all. For most corals I would up the lighting though>
It doesn¹t seem like it would make a whole ton of difference as any critters living off of the coral would not want to leave (unless it was for another bigger tastier coral) in any reasonable period of time (less than a few weeks).
<Might need to periodically add some foodstuff>
My current practice for fish has been at least a month of QT but they don¹t need light to live. So what do I do with the coral?
<Observe closely for 6-8 weeks. This should give enough time for any/ most fish parasites to die off, and gives you time to remove any pests such as flatworms, Nudibranch, Aiptasia et. Al>
Any advice (other than advice to buy a new fixture lol) would be appreciated,
<I would purchase some better lighting for this, CP or T5 in the white spectrum>
P.s. I apologize if this is a rehash of another post I looked through what was on the site and couldn¹t find any with the same concerns I had.
<No problem>

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