Center for Tropical and Subtropical Aquaculture Publication Number 140August 1999Farming Soft Corals for the Marine Aquarium TradePage 2
.Figure 1. Schematic diagram of a soft coral polyp.
embedded together as a colony in a mass of tissue called thecoenenchyme which is fed and maintained from the gut of the polyps and covered by a protective skin. The colony growsthrough asexual budding and consequent formation of coenenchyme around the new polyp. Special organs, calledamebocytes, secrete calcium carbonate
in thecoenenchyme which give rigidity and support to the colony.Spicules differ in shape and size with each genus and areused to identify different soft coral species.Many soft corals are well-suited for aquaculture be-cause they derive a large portion of their nutrition from a
relationship with millions of
al-gae called zooxanthelle (
) thatlive in their body. While zooxanthelle produce mainly com-plex sugars, they can also produce
, a portion of which are released through the algal cellwall directly into the body of the soft coral. The direct ben-efit of this symbiotic relationship to coral farmers is that softcorals can be grown through their entire life cycle with cleanseawater and sunlight as the only sources of input.
Some commercially valuablesoft corals
Listed below are brief descriptions of some soft coralsregularly found in marine aquariums. More comprehensivedetails of these and other cultured soft corals can be found inthe manual titled “The culture of soft corals (Order:Alcyonacea) for the marine aquarium trade” which is listedin the resource section of this publication.
or mushroom corals (Figure 2) are thehardiest and easiest soft corals to grow. They are extremelyabundant in the tropical Pacific Ocean, often occurring inhigh energy areas such as surge zones and tide pools but arealso found in deeper water. Like nearly all cultured soft cor-als,
possess zooxanthelle and generally have abeige, olive, brown, green or light yellow color. They have asmooth base containing no polyps which is covered by acrown which houses the zooxanthelle and polyps, giving thecolony the shape of a large mushroom. The crown may belobate or undulating to increase surface area, especially inlarger specimens. Polyp size, shape and color can vary quitedramatically between species making them attractive addi-tions to home aquaria.
(Figure 3) are like
because theyhave a nearly polyp-free column which differentiates into apolyp-bearing area. However,
have a more branch-like (arborescent) or bushy appearance. They are one of themost morphologically diverse groups of leather corals andcan easily be confused with other soft coral genera. They arefound mainly on rocky substrates and hard gravel of lagoonsand reef fringes throughout the tropical Pacific. All
studied have zooxanthelle and are therefore relatively easyto keep in the marine aquarium.
(Figure 4) and
(Figure 5) arequite similar and are often called tree corals. All these ani-mals have a similar, arborescent appearance with spiculose