Would You Rather Have a Dead Coral Tank?

We don't think so!

Bleached For some, a "fish only" aquarium means a number of large colorful tropical reef fish living in a sterile environment of bleached coral skeletons, plastic plants, and white sand. It looks really nice just after it has been serviced - the tank walls scrubbed, some water changed, the sand vacuumed, the coral washed. There is a lot of color and movement, but the entire system is an artificial arrangement, totally foreign to the nature of the fish. The only living organisms visible in the tank are the fish!

If you look closely, you can see that the fish are constantly swimming - with no place to hide, no place to call their own, no place to claim as territory and defend.

If you look even closer, you can see that many of the fish are clearly distressed - bodies scarred and thin, fins torn, colors faded or spots on the skin, evidence of attacks by tank mates and disease conditions that are caused or are worsened by the stress in this bleak environment.

Very soon after the tank is serviced the aquarium walls get cloudy - not surprising since the strong light and warm, nutrient-rich water promote the growth of algae in the tank. An algae scrub once or twice a week improves the appearance of the tank, but in a week or two the beautiful white coral skeletons are covered with an ugly film of brown and green algae. Brushing the coral removes some of this scum, but within a month the decorations must be removed and cleaned by soaking in a strong bleach solution.

The bleach oxidizes the algae, but it also gets rid of any beneficial microorganisms that might be gobbling up some of the waste products of the fish and uneaten food. If the bleach is not completely removed by rinsing and evaporation or chemical neutralization, there is a risk of poisoning some of the fish in the tank! A safer alternative is to have a second set of clean decorations to replace the set being bleached. This allows the bleached set to air out for days, so none of the bleach remains.

This practice means that the fish habitat is totally changed every few weeks since the two sets of coral are never the same and neither is the arrangement of pieces. During this cleaning, switching process, the aquarium community is disturbed, the normal routine and relationships disrupted. Even scrubbing algae affects the fish who have no secure place to hide. Any serious aquarist can see major behavioral changes in their fish.

Eventually, with repeated handling, the beautiful shapes and forms of coral skeletons are chipped and broken and become less attractive. As this damage reduces the size of the pieces there is less cover for the fish in the tank.

Regular large water changes are required to reduce the nitrates, phosphates, and silicates that promote the growth of algae and cyanobacteria ("blue-green algae") that consume the oxygen needed by the fish and produce elements that are toxic to the fish.

Since the aquarium produces nothing for the fish to eat, they are more likely to prey on smaller fish, shrimp, crabs, etc., so you can forget about keeping small fish or invertebrates - they just don't have a chance. If the fish are fed well, they are less likely to eliminate the smaller forms, but more food means more uneaten food which means more waste products to contaminate the water. (A fact of life in the aquarium - if you feed fish, you must overfeed them, because they NEVER eat everything you put in the tank. What is not eaten enters the decomposer cycle).

The main reason to have a dead coral tank is initial lower cost, but there are many reasons to not have a tank like this. In fact, we stopped installing and servicing dead coral aquariums years ago.

If a prospective client can't afford a reef and wants a dead coral tank, we try to convince them to set up a freshwater tank instead!

This beautiful custom aquarium was a real disappointment to its owners when it was originally installed (by another aquarium service) and stocked with dead corals.
OakWallAquarium DeadCoralTank

When Aquarium Arts installed live rock, it looked like it looks like this!

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