The reef aquarium hobby as a whole has become very good at growing all kinds of reef corals, especially the shallow water species that grow the reef. Over the decades we’ve learned to grow, frag, and micro-propagate coral strains to the point where we can turn a single coral into 10,000 colonies in just a few short years.
With all of our advancements at growing and coloring corals in our tanks, there’s still one area where nature wins out. When it comes to growing large, mature and well shaped corals, no reef tank can touch the perfect colonies one can see on a wild coral reef.
Since our tanks are on the small side, and we tend to handle our corals and move them around relatively often, captive grown coral colonies are nowhere near as large or perfect as naturally grown corals. Other factors like uneven lighting and water flow, and inconsistent water quality and chemistry, often stimulates aquarium corals to grow somewhat unevenly.
Not to mention, the lack of space in the average aquariums means that many different species of corals can never reach their true glory at large mature colony sizes. We’re not taking away from the beautiful bonsai reef tanks that many of you are enjoying at home, but if you want to see a true coral forest, you’ve got to give it up to the work mother nature does with wild corals.
Increasingly, our focus on fragging and collecting every kind of corals into a little nurseries and menageries of micro corals has completely blinded us to how corals can look. Sure those tiny little colored sticks can be quite colorful and there’s a great sense of satisfaction when they are colored up, polyped out with good colored tips and encrusting bases.
But if we just gave these same corals a little more space and time, that same coral can grow into a fully developed living crystal with a completely different appearance. Of course some thick staghorns and plating table Acros require multiple feet of space to reach this level of maturity, but many of our favorite coral species and strains can grow into impressive colonies at even just six to 12 inches across.
While perusing some dive photos from Amed in Bali, Indonesia, a number of colony shots really brought home this point that reef aquarists are missing something with our miniature corals. Seeing all these corals in their natural habitat, with fully matured colony size and shape is a reminder that there’s a lot more to these corals than their color, texture and branch shapes.
Each species of coral, and Acropora in particular, is programmed to develop into unique shapes and appearance that isn’t readily apparent until the coral reaches a certain size. Hopefully in the future the enthusiasm for growing corals will swing back towards wanting to grow corals larger and longer, because when the emphasis is only on coral frags, we’re missing out on much of the potential beauty that our favorite corals are capable of.