How to Handle Corals in Your Reef Tank

One of the first questions I had when I started to research corals and reef tank was if you could touch them. It soon became apparent that the answer was considered “obvious” but I still needed to know. I found out how to handle corals and now would like to share the answer with you!

Most corals are safe to handle and won’t cause harm to humans. However, some corals can be dangerous because of potential poison. Zoanthids are popular corals that can excrete poison that can be lethal. Always be careful when handling and placing corals.

There’s more to this matter than just this brief answer! I’ll go over everything you need to know here in this article. This way you can safely and effectively handle your new coral in its reef tank!

What is the Best Way to Handle Corals in Your Reef Tank?

There are some common practices that you should learn and keep in mind when handling corals in your reef tank.

Toxic and dangerous Zoanthid corals

So, what is the best way to handle corals in your reef tank? The answer to this question will depend on the type of coral you have and their care requirements. Size is another important factor as well.

Depending on the size of your coral, you can use your hands to put your coral in its tank and handle it.  Alternatively, if your coral is small enough tools like tweezers and even tongs can be used gently on a coral.

Regardless of what you end up using to hold and put your coral into a tank, make sure that your hands and implements are clean. Wash your hands off with water and run any tools through water, as well. You do not want to contaminate your tank.

Wear Gloves to Protect Yourself Against Coral

If you want to be extra safe, I would recommend using gloves to handle a coral. Really, this is the best option for any coral handling. Gloves keep a nice barrier between you and your coral. You don’t necessarily know what is on your coral.

And, especially if you have any cuts or open wounds, you want to protect yourself. Most corals are safe to handle. But if you have an opening in your skin bacteria and other contaminants could enter your body and cause swelling and even hives.

So, always practice caution and try to use gloves. You don’t want to end up going to the hospital or the doctors.

Be Gentle With Your Coral

Finally, with any reef tank coral, you want to be careful when you put them in their new tank. Some tank owners might be tempted to plop their coral into the water without much care. I don’t suggest doing this. Your coral might look like a rock, but it is a living organism that needs to be handled with care.

So, gently place your coral into the water with your gloved hands or tools. This will yield the best results in your tank!

How to Handle Zoanthid Corals and other Poisonous Corals in Your Tank?

Most corals are safe to handle but Zoanthids are part of the exception. People all over the world grow corals right in the comfort of their home without incident or issues. However, there are a select few corals that can cause you bodily harm if you don’t handle them correctly.

This is what a Zoanthid coral looks like. They come in many color varieties

In this part of the post, I’ll be talking about zoanthid corals and how you should handle them. This type of coral can be potentially poisonous and lethal to tank owners. In addition, this advice can be used for the handling of other poisonous reef tank corals.

What to Know About Zoanthid Corals

Zoanthid corals will be talked about in particular due to their potential for possible poisoning. Zoanthid corals are a type of soft coral. They are highly popular among aquarium enthusiasts, but they can release a poison known as palytoxin.

Palytoxin is extremely dangerous and lethal to humans and can be released by zoanthids and other marine creatures. In fact, scientists still aren’t sure which marine animals specifically have this type of toxin as it is still being studied.

The most dangerous part about this is that Zoanthid corals are often recommended to beginners.

The most dangerous part about this is that Zoanthid corals are often recommended to beginners. This is because they are easy to care for. Unfortunately, most people don’t know the risks associated with this coral and don’t know how to properly handle their coral.

More zoanthid pictures to warn you

In some cases, a tank owner might not even know that they have a zoanthid coral. This further complicated matters. Knowing this, you want to be able to handle any coral you have properly. I’ll talk about this more later on though.

When Might a Coral Release Poison?

Usually corals, even zoanthid corals, are safe to handle. In some instances though, they can lash out at their owners. If you are not safe you could end up getting poisoned, as the zoanthid coral is known to release deadly poison when it feels threatened.

Other corals could potentially release toxins and poisons, but this hasn’t been fully studied. Experts say that most reef tank owners don’t have to fear these types of poisonings, as they are rare. Still, you want to stay on the safe side.

One important thing to do is wear gloves. I talked about this in the previous section, but this is extremely important when handling zoanthid corals and other potentially dangerous corals.

How to Safely Handle Your Zoanthid Coral and Other Dangerous Corals?

Let’s talk about the most important thing: safely handling corals. It’s super important to keep your skin covered.

Don’t Expose Your Skin

You are most likely to be exposed to palytoxins when your skin is directly exposed to your coral and when you have an open cut or wound on your hand.

So, like I talked about before, I would recommend using gloves when you handle this type of coral. It’s harder to get poisoned if you have something like a glove to protect your skin.

In some very rare cases, you can be exposed to toxins through water droplets.   When your coral is overgrown, it can cause water condensation and excess water droplets. If you are exposed to droplets with your bare hands you can get poisoned.

However, this is unlikely to occur in a home setting. And if you cover your hands with gloves and don’t put wounded skin in your tank water you are less likely to be harmed.

Keep Contact to a Minimum

Another thing you can do is to keep contact with your coral to a minimum. Handle your coral when you need to. But don’t constantly handle and move around your coral. The less you touch your zoanthid coral the less likely you are to be poisoned.

Handle Your Coral Underwater

It’s best to handle coral when they are submerged fully in water. Corals are more likely to lash out or release palytoxins when they warm up and are in shallow water. If you bag your coral and put it completely in the water you will be safer.

This is important when you put corals in and out of a tank. Also, keep corals away from your lighting fixture.

You don’t want them to get too close as extra warmth can be dangerous. Try to dim the lights a little or point it away from your coral if you are taking it out of the water!

Don’t Let Water Levels Drop

Related to the last tip, you don’t want water levels to drop, especially before you handle your coral. So check the conditions of your water before you touch your coral. Again, make sure the water isn’t too warm or shallow.

Be Careful When You Are Near Your Tank Water

Also, when you are near tank water that houses your coral, don’t let it splash onto your face. You can even wear protective equipment. If there are palytoxins present when you are handling your coral and changing the water, things could get worse for you.

Palytoxins can burn the skin, so you want to protect yourself. Don’t make big sudden movements in the water that can cause splashing.

Prevent Droplet (Aerosol) Release

Droplet release can also lead to poisoning. So, you want to avoid handling your coral in ways that could cause an aerosol release.

This includes breaking up your coral into pieces, so they can propagate. Or attempting to get rid of a portion of your coral colony with heat, scrubbing, or chemicals.

You especially don’t want to use hot water to get rid of colonies on your coral. The heat is bad enough already and can cause toxin release, but you will also create droplets that can harm you.

Final Tips and Recommendations For Handling Corals

Corals are great to have in your home and your home aquarium. As long as you have a proper environment for your coral and handle them with care, you should have no issues handling your corals.

However, keep the tips I went over in mind. In particular, you want to be aware of the potential dangers of handling corals. This caution will keep you safe.

For the most part, you are unlikely to harm yourself or your coral if you are careful. But you want to be mindful of potential toxins that some coral can produce. And you want to keep yourself and your coral safe from contaminants. So, wear gloves and be gentle with your reef tank coral!

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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