Skip to Content

How To Pick Corals for Your Reef Tank in 4 Easy Steps

get 5 secrets to thriving plants

Corals are among the most popular options for ways to bring variety and beauty to your aquarium. However, you may be leery about getting them for your reef tank, especially if you’re a novice aquarist. Many beginners don’t know the steps of choosing the right corals for an aquarium and where to start.

Here are four easy steps to choosing the right corals:

  1. Start with easy corals.
  2. Make sure they’re healthy.
  3. Check the tank conditions.
  4. Start small.

In this article, I’ll explain each of these steps in detail. I’ll also go over some tips that help you decide which corals are better for your tank.

1. Start With Easy Corals

So, you’ve watched other reef tanks and searched online and have a general idea of what you want. You prefer one color and texture over others, which is perfectly ok as your corals are meant to help your tank match your aesthetic preferences. 

However, looks are only one of the many factors that go into choosing the right type of coral for your reef tank. Corals require lots of care and attention to grow and stay healthy. In fact, they can be more demanding than your fish, and you should be completely prepared to introduce them into your tank.

If you’re a beginner, have lots of other fish in your tank, or don’t have enough time to take regular care of your corals, you’re better off starting with easy corals. You can use this list to find some easy soft corals that are all suitable for beginners and can survive some beginner mistakes we all make.

Here are the basic features of beginner-friendly corals:

Tough and Tolerant

Beginner-friendly corals are hardy and grow no matter what you throw at them. As a beginner, you may not manage to consider everything required for the well-being and growth of the coral.

A hardy coral can stand these unwanted – and hopefully small! – mistreatments until you learn the ropes. They’re also tolerant of constant changes in the water parameters, especially salinity. That’s because an aquarium can’t precisely copy the same parameters as the ocean’s water. So, a tough coral can tolerate these changes and differences.  


Easy corals aren’t picky eaters and can get what they need from the water column. Choose photosynthetic corals that have symbiotic relationships with Zooxanthellae. They can go unfed and live off the food the zooxanthellae give them, although they appreciate regular feeding. They grow fast no matter what you feed them.  

Low-maintenance corals also acclimate well, and captive-bred corals are a particularly great option for beginner aquarists. 

2. Make Sure They’re Healthy

After you decide on which corals to buy, it’s time to visit your local fish store and actually get them. When you go there, inspect the corals carefully to ensure they’re healthy. This step is vital since unhealthy corals can infect your entire tank, including any existing corals you may have.

If it’s the first time you go to the fish store, ask them about their acclimation processes, if they quarantine and dip their new arrivals, and if their corals are pest-free.

Then, inspect the corals you’ve chosen individually for signs of illness. Here’s what to look for:

  • Discoloration. You should already know what color a healthy coral should be. Discoloration and bleaching can indicate that the coral has expelled its zooxanthellae, which may be a sign of distress.
  • Brown Slime. Some coral species get brown slime infections. This is a brown, jelly-like substance that forms at the base of the coral’s polyps.
  • Withered Polyps. The polyps on a healthy coral are healthy-looking and fully extended. This means that they are allowing the zooxanthellae to absorb light and produce food. If the polyps aren’t healthy-looking, there may be something wrong.
  • Open Mouth. You may not be able to detect the mouth of some coral polyps because they’re too small. But if you can see the mouth, it should be firmly closed.
  • Scars and Tissue Loss. These problems may not indicate illnesses as they may be signs of distress or made by neighbors. Still, it’s better to steer clear of anything that doesn’t seem normal and healthy.

3. Check the Tank Conditions

After making sure your chosen coral is healthy, inspect the tank and see its conditions. These physical conditions are what you’re going to have if you want to keep the coral healthy. Here’s what you should check:


One of the most important living requirements for corals is light, so much so that inappropriate lighting can even kill the coral. If there’s too much light, the coral will bleach, and too little light can give it a brown or muted color. Ask your local fish store or search online to get the right light conditions. Then, make sure you can create these conditions in your fish tank.

Current and Circulation

Corals are highly sensitive to water movements, and each coral has specific requirements in terms of its placement in the tank. For example, if a coral’s natural habitat is the ocean’s depth, you can’t keep it in high-current areas. So, see where they have put the coral in the store’s fish tank and remember to do the same at home.


Although most fish love to live with corals, not every tank inhabitant can be a good neighbor. Check the tank in the fish store to see what fish are in the tank, and ask the store owner to make sure your fish are compatible with your intended coral. Some fish may eat corals or even sting them with their tentacles. If they aren’t compatible, you may need to remove the fish or the coral or even choose a different species of coral.

4. Start Small

If you don’t have lots of rocks and plants in your tank, you may be tempted to fill it with any coral that you can get your hands on. However, you should take things slowly, start with a small number of corals, and learn to take care of them correctly.

Make a list of appropriate candidates, starting with easy and beginner-friendly corals, and expand your list as you get more experienced at working with coral.

Remember to keep your tank conditions stable to ensure your coral stays healthy and thrives. Regular cleaning and keeping your tank well-maintained are other essential factors to help your corals thrive.

Make sure to start with corals found in every fish store and steer clear of exotic ones. Rare corals can be difficult to take care of, and some may die no matter how much you take care of them. They’re less known and probably not acclimated well.

Here are some of the best corals you can start with:

  • Zoanthids
  • Discosomma (Mushrooms)
  • Leptoseris
  • Seriatopora (Birdsnest)
  • Favites (War Corals)
  • Pulsing Xenia
  • Toadstool
  • Sinularia (leather corals)

Final Thoughts

Corals are a great way to beautify your aquarium. However, if you’ve never worked with them before, it’s essential to choose the right species for your experience level and the other fish in your tank. 

Make sure to start with easy, low-maintenance species, and make sure the corals you buy from your fish store are healthy. Additionally, check what tank conditions the store has placed them in so you will know how to place them in your own aquarium. If you’re not sure whether the species you’ve chosen pair well with your fish, ask the store owner for advice. 


get 5 secrets to thriving plants