Once upon a time there were so few of us reefers that there was an unspoken code that corals were to be given away, shared, traded, but never sold. Well that is ancient history now, mostly, and the American reef aquarium hobby is defined by a cottage industry of coral farmers and frag slingers that specialize in selling pieces of all kinds of different corals in sometimes ludicrously small sizes.
On one hand it’s understandable for ‘old salts’ to cultivate a disdain for new coral farmers who use hype to sell tiny slivers of corals so small it is barely recognizable as the colony it will one day become. On the other hand, it is precisely the coral hype machine that has imparted a real or perceived value onto certain strains of soft corals, stony corals, and zoanthids, and has made them the targets of intensive aquarium culture.
At first it sucks that a newly ‘discovered’ coral strain will be unaffordable for all but a few collectors with very deep pockets. But coral farmers invest in corals too, and if a coral is in high demand, whether it is quite actually rare or not, you can bet your last polyp of purple people eater that that coral will be cared for, nurtured and fragged into numerous, valuable little slivers of coral tissue and skeleton.
However, over several years that period of time spent incubating in coral farmers’ nurseries creates more and more of that once very expensive coral. One day you may find yourself perusing the website of a local coral slinger and find that a coral like green-eyed Jack-O-Lantern Leptoseris is going for nearly the same price as its regularly colored, all-orange counterpart.
Such is the case when yesterday, while browsing the website of Mind Blowing Corals we saw that a nice size frag of Jack-O-Lantern Leptoseris is selling for $49 while an ever slightly larger piece of regular orange Leptoseris is being offered for $45. Five years ago we saw a “mother frag” of the Jack-O Lepto being offered up for $500 and up until two years ago you would have been hard pressed to find any piece of it going for less than $100. The Jack-O Lepto is still valuable but now it is commonplace to see it for sale at most frag swaps, for reasonable sizes and prices.
On the extreme end, intensive culture can actually lead to LE coral strains becoming so common that nobody even wants them anymore. Anybody here remember the super hype about montis with colored polyps like rainbows, supermans and the sunset montipora? These corals have been grown out so much that it is not unusual to see a huge rock of this coral brought back into the fish store and being offered up for pennies on the polyp. The sunset monti is our favorite example because once upon a time a sliver of this coral would set you back hundreds of dollars, now we don’t even know anyone off the top of our heads that even has this strain in their aquarium.
This is the cycle of “Limited Edition” corals, and at this rate we wouldn’t be surprised if the Jack-O-Lantern Leptoseris actually becomes more common than its all orange counterpart. This scenario has played itself out countless times over the years and strains like Space Invader Pectinia, innumerable zoanthids, and every color form of Montipora has been through this wash, rinse, repeat cycle. It might be a little unsavory when corals are commoditized, but in time this process of intensive coral culture has resulted in reef aquarists having access to an incredible diversity of coral strains that otherwise would not have been.