Do Corals Need a Cycled Tank to Survive?

Most tanks need to be cycled before you add in live animals and other organisms. Usually, the practice of cycling is done to protect fish and generate good bacteria growth. However, you might be wondering if it is necessary to cycle your tank for your corals?

It is not necessary to cycle your reef tank before adding corals. Corals have a low bioload and do not produce a lot of ammonia. However, it is better to cycle your tank first because the water parameters will be more stable. Stable water conditions are essential to grow corals.

Not cycling a fish tank before adding living organisms is a bit controversial so I do understand if you still have questions. I’ll clearly explain all that you should know to make up your own mind. After reading this article you will understand all the ins and outs.

Is Tank Cycling Necessary For Corals in Reef Tanks?

To get to the point quickly, you don’t have to cycle your reef tank before you put your coral in the water. Currently, no research supports cycling for live corals. This might seem odd to you, especially if you have a freshwater tank.

However, saltwater reef tanks and freshwater tanks just operate differently. In a normal freshwater tank, cycling helps transform dangerous substances like ammonia into less harmful nitrate.

Fish and tank plants naturally produce a lot of waste in their tank. This can create a toxic environment for freshwater fish and pets. This is why they need cycling to reduce the toxicity of their waste and generate good bacteria.

Corals, on the other hand, are alive, but they don’t have the same biological makeup as fish and other freshwater organisms. This is what makes cycling unnecessary for them.

Why Don’t Corals Need A Cycled Tank to Survive?

So why exactly do corals not need a cycled tank to survive? Well, the truth is that corals don’t produce that much waste to begin with. Unlike fish and other aquatic pets and plants, coral has a relatively low bio load. They won’t be surrounded by ammonia or their own waste in an uncycled tank.

Even with high levels of ammonia, coral can still survive. This is due to its unique composition. Corals don’t have blood cells or blood. Usually, ammonia deteriorates blood cells which prevent oxygen from getting delivered.

This is why cycling is so necessary for other types of tanks with fish and pets. If your pets can’t get oxygen, and are surrounded by high levels of ammonia, they will die. In general being surrounded by high loads of ammonia is not good.

But since coral has a low bio load this is not usually an issue. Tanks with many corals, live rocks, and fish will need to be cycled, of course. But if you want to start putting a few of your coral in the tank this should not be an issue. Instead of waiting months for cycling to complete, you can slowly add coral to your tank. Just make sure salinity and other water conditions are stable and correct for your corals!

And, if you have a reef tank entirely dedicated to corals, then you shouldn’t have an issue putting corals in without cycling.

Can You Still Cycle Your Tank Before Putting Your Coral In?

You don’t necessarily have to cycle your tank before putting your coral in. Again, coral can survive in an uncycled tank. This does not mean it is a bad idea to cycle your tank before your corals are placed in the water.

Cycling your water has many benefits for coral and other reef tank inhabitants. In particular, this practice can help stabilize the water conditions of your reef tank. Stabilized and consistent tank conditions are extremely important for reef tanks. Especially when a coral is first introduced to a tank.

If the conditions in your tank water waver and don’t stay constant, your coral can die much more easily. In short, while cycling is not strictly necessary, it can help improve the survival rate and growth of your coral if it is done correctly.

The Benefits of a Cycled Tank For Coral

The nitrogen cycle actually helps your tank replicate the conditions of your coral’s natural environment. The ocean is full of beneficial bacteria that help stabilize the water chemistry found in nature.

So, while you don’t absolutely have to cycle a tank before putting your coral in, I would suggest doing this if you have the time to. Your corals will be better off in a cycled tank, and it will be much easier to add in fish and other live critters to your reef tank!

How Do You Cycle a Saltwater Reef Tank For Coral?

Cycling a reef tank, or any tank in general, basically boils down to introducing beneficial bacteria into your water. This way the nitrogen cycle can be completed and keep your water toxin-free.

But, how exactly is this done in a saltwater reef tank? In this final section of the post, I’ll talk about how you can properly cycle your reef tank for your coral. There are a few differences between freshwater aquariums and saltwater tanks when it comes to cycling!

Also, cycling saltwater tanks can take anywhere from six to eight weeks. So prepare to watch over your tank for this prolonged amount of time.

Step by Step Guide For Cycling Reef Tanks:

To begin, you want to have your tank ready and cleaned. Also, have any necessary material prepared so you can begin cycling right away. This will include any tank devices like heaters, filters, thermometers, and lights. You can also put in plants and decorations before you start cycling your tank.

Fill Your Tank With Water

Once everything is in place, you can begin filling your tank with water. You want to have your tank devices turned on once the water is in. This way you can begin stabilizing your tank conditions for your coral and fish.

Put In Your Seeding Source or Source of Ammonia

Cycling, as I said before, is a little bit different in a reef tank. There are a lot of different options for reef tanks. One popular way you can cycle your tank is with live rock. Live rock has a lot of natural bacteria that grow on it.

But you want to make sure that you are buying a healthy live rock. So get this item from a trusted store or even a friend’s reef tank and keep your rock wet. This way the bacteria stay alive.

You can also get rid of any obvious dirt or dead matter. But do not scrub your rock or you will kill the bacteria. You can lightly rinse off your rock, though.

After you are done doing this, you may introduce your live rock to the water and grow beneficial bacteria. Your bacteria will consume any decaying matter from your live rock. This will help establish your colony of good bacteria over the course of thirty to forty-five days.

Try Using Bacteria Products or Pure Ammonia

Alternatively, many people with reef tanks like to use bacteria products. It’s a newer way to cycle your tank. But, bacteria products are highly convenient and actually reduce the time it takes to cycle your aquarium. I wouldn’t say that there is a single product you should absolutely use.

However, you want to stick with high-quality bacteria products. This way your tank is fully and correctly cycled. Reefer brands like red sea are one place to start looking. They offer some of the best mixtures of beneficial bacteria.

But, if you want to go with a more traditional approach to cycling and add just ammonia into your tank, you can do this, as well.

Pure ammonia could be added to your tank, to start the cycling process. This may take a while, as you will be growing bacteria from scratch in your tank. But if you are worried about disease or contaminated live rocks, then this is a good option.

Test Your Reef Tank

You will have to test your water often, with any of these options. Your test kit should be able to detect ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates. You want to be diligent with this step and make sure that you are monitoring your water. This way you can make adjustments to your tank.

Once ammonia and nitrite have been reduced to zero, and you have some nitrates left, this means that beneficial bacteria have successfully entered your tank. And, the nitrogen cycle is complete!

Do Some Final Checks on Your Tank Then Add in Your Coral and Fish

After the nitrogen cycle is complete, you can start the process of putting in your reef and fish. Before this, though, check all your other tank conditions, such as temperature, salinity, and alkalinity.

Then, start putting your corals and other pets into your reef tank. Do this slowly, and don’t overload your tank system all at once. For instance, if you have a lot of fish, you won’t want to put them all in. This could change the chemistry of the water with the suddenly increased bio load.

Bart Sprenkels

I have been keeping multiple aquariums since I was 18 years old. Just like many of you, I started with two goldfish but quickly learned they were not suitable for aquariums. Later, I switched to a tropical community tank and I also have two pet musk-turtles in a bigger aquarium. You can read more about me here.

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