The Successful Aquarium Culture of Goniopora Species

Fin and Feather, Groton, CT

Everyone knows that
Goniopora are impossible to keep. They always die after
a year or so. That’s the word on the street–but it’s not
the whole truth. In fact, there have been dozens of reported
successes. What has allowed a few aquarists to successfully grow
Goniopora?

Over the years, we have “cracked the code” on many
kinds of corals and other marine organisms. Many can remember
when Acropora were considered impossible to grow in
captivity. Today, there are numerous captive-grown strains firmly
established in the hobby.

Goniopora is just the latest group of corals with the
“keep away” label–but I have no doubt it will soon be
put on the “been there, done that” list. I feel we are
already on the way to establishing domesticated strains of
Goniopora as we have with so many coral and other reef
aquarium invertebrates. Captive-grown coral grow faster and are
hardier than wild-collected colonies. Not only has the coral
itself adapted to captivity but the bacteria, zooaxanthellae, and
other symbiotic organisms also have adapted.

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That being said, you must do what is necessary to keep these
corals alive and thriving. As with Acropora, Goniopora are not
the best beginner coral.

An Unplanned Introduction to Goniopora

At Fin and Feather in Groton I would often come across
Goniopora in our coral shipments. I put many aside so I
wouldn’t have to tell people not to buy them. When the
Goniopora were still alive after more than two years in our
display tank, I asked myself, Why are they still alive? Why
are some growing?
Like many coral farmers, I then asked
myself, Can I cut them? Over the past year, I have been
determined to find the answers to these questions.

Our display system has many things in common with people who
have had success in the past. They often had no mechanical
filtration, little or no skimming, deep sand beds, and refugiums.
The use of some or all of these methods in system design
encourage the growth of a variety of small zooplankton and
plankton-producing organisms (by spawning, larvae in water
column). All of the systems I keep Goniopora in also support
Acropora, Montipora, Porites, and other SPS.

Goniopora Is Not Goniopora Is Not Goniopora

Goniopora is a genus of coral. When most people think
of Goniopora, they think of Goniopora stokesi.
No wonder everyone thinks you can’t keep Goniopora
successfully; those things are hard! Goniopora stokesi
comes from turbid, nutrient-laden water on a soft substrate. They
eat a lot. When I do not feed them five times a week, they
shrink.

The range of desired flow, food, and light needs differs among
the many species of Goniopora. Some grow quite large,
and a mature colony may look like a colony of Porites from a
distance. Others have short polyps and are encrusting. Still
others are free living on soft substrates.

The genus Goniopora is in the family Poritidae. It
seems one can connect the dots between the different species of
Goniopora all the way to Porites. Goniopora
stutchburyi
, with its small polyps and encrusting growth
forms, can be mistaken for Porites. In fact, its care is
very similar to several forms of Porites we often have
success with in aquaria. Identification down to the species level
will greatly increase your odds of success.

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The growth form and color of Goniopora changes over
time in the systems at Fin and Feather. The following picture
shows two Goniopora norfolkensis, fragged from the same
colony at the same time and placed in separate systems. In this
picture, they had been in the same system for two months after
over a year of separation. The frag on the right was in the
system first.

Photo

This picture shows the frags a month and
half later.

Photo

You can see the light green color, smaller
polyps, and shorter tentacles of the frag on the left. Over
time, the frag on the left is developing characteristics of the
frag on the right.

Another example of change in form and color is the
Goniopora planulata I’ve had in my care for over
three years. When it first arrived at the store it was bright
pink with purple mouths and polyps approximately 5-7mm long. It
is now a maroon color with purple mouths and 2.5cm long
polyps.

Successful Fragging

Dozens of people around the country and the world have been
successful with these corals for many years, some as long as nine
years and longer. The ability to share with fellow aquarists
frags from these long-term colonies will help ensure the
establishment of captive strains of Goniopora. Many
people have successfully grown daughter colonies dropped by the
parent colony.

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At Fin and Feather, we have received many G. stokesi
with daughter colonies attached. I have yet to see this on any
other species, but it is a good possibility that other species
have this behavior.

One aquarist said he does a water change with a different salt
than he usually uses and his Goniopora will develop
these buds. Having control over the asexual methods of
reproduction greatly increases the ability of the coral farmer to
produce more frags on demand. I have had great success fragging
with a Dremel power tool with a diamond wheel attachment.

All frags from healthy colonies have survived at Fin and
Feather. The frags and mother colonies often have their polyps
extended after a few hours. Growth over fresh wounds is quick,
usually showing tissue over bare skeleton within two weeks. I
believe this fast initial growth is tissue embedded in the
skeleton growing to the surface and developing polyps. I like to
mount my frags with tissue as close to the mounting surface as
possible. Once the tissue reaches the plug or rock encrusting
growth can be as quick as 1 mm a month.

Photo

The next series of photos shows a colony of
Goniopora palmensis at various intervals after
fragging.

Photo

The arrows point to that fast initial growth with two rows
of full polyps. On the right side of the colony you can see the
area freshly cut.

Photo

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After one month, the area on the right
is completely healed with new polyps. In the middle of the
picture you can see tissue and skeleton growing out and away
from the old skeleton.

Photo

Six weeks after fragging, new polyps are
easily seen

Photo

Seven-and-one-half weeks later, even more
polyps have developed as well as encrusting growth.

The next step in Goniopora propagation (and for all
corals for that matter) is sexual reproduction in captivity. The
ability to reliably spawn corals, settle and grow them will have
many benefits, including larger numbers of offspring and genetic
diversity. Methods are now being developed and I expect that soon
you will be reading about how to spawn your coral.

Identifying Goniopora Species

When I receive a list of available Goniopora from a
wholesaler, I see, “Red Goniopora, Blue Jewel
Goniopora, Green Flowerpot.” Wow, thanks for the
clarification. I must be fair though; for wholesalers to
correctly identify most Goniopora to species level would be time
consuming and not conducive to a higher profit margin. A few
species may be identified by external characteristics rather
accurately, but most need a detailed inspection of the corallites
with magnification.

Corallites are the skeletal features associated with each
polyp in the coral colony. For my identification, I cut sections
of the coral and bleach them to expose the skeleton. Some
imported colonies already have areas that have died back and
skeleton is exposed. If these corallites are not eroded or grown
over with organisms, you may be able to use them for
identification. This may be a little less painful than the idea
of cutting healthy tissue, then bleaching it.

I then use the coral identification key in JEN Veron’s
Corals of the World and the associated CD-ROM. Taking
into account growth form, polyp morphology, and corallite
details, I am able to determine the species of the
Goniopora I am working with. On several specimens, I
have had to get a second opinion due to variability within
species.

Thankfully, compared to other coral genuses, one can rather
accurately come up with a species identification with
Goniopora. Some other corals are hard to even pin down
to genus.

One interesting example of this is found in two types of
Goniopora polyformis at Fin and Feather. The first one
we received and have had for more than two-and-a-half years. It
is encrusting with short brown polyps. More recently, we’ve
received several bright green Goniopora with long polyps
and a massive growth form with an encrusting base. By casual
observation, it is easy to see how these two corals might be
mistaken for two different species. These differences could be
due to geographical or environmental reasons. Coral species often
display different characteristics at different points along their
range. Many species also show changes in growth form in different
environments.

Photo
Photo

Knowing which species you have in your care
allows you to provide a care and feeding regimen that will be
more suited to that specimen and that will increase your
chances for success.

Feeding your Goniopora

In just the past two years we have seen the introduction into
the hobby of several very exciting new small-particle-sized foods
with good nutrient profiles. These include Cyclop-eeze, Hikari
Frozen Rotifers, and DT’s Oyster Eggs. The design of
plankton-friendly systems, proper coral husbandry in terms of
water conditions, and the direct feeding of these quality foods
will help insure long term success.

Even if you cannot positively identify the species of
Goniopora in your care, you can figure out what it may
eat. When trying foods, it is important to note the difference
between a stress reaction and a feeding
reaction.
If you target-feed with a syringe and are too
forceful with the flow, the coral will quickly retract its polyps
in defense. A polyp retraction in response to stress is quick and
fluid, and often spreads across the whole colony. However, polyp
retraction for feeding is slower and jerky. Some polyps will bend
toward the food, retracting one side of the polyp in rhythmic
pulses. The polyp will then sit there with its mouth on the food
and eventually fully retract. There is often active pronounced
tentacle curling as they capture food particles. Goniopora
burgosi
has the most active tentacle curling of all the
Goniopora at Fin and Feather.

I did not directly feed my Goniopora for over two
years–but as soon as I began direct feedings, I noticed an
increase in the speed of growth. I now feed all my
Goniopora generously with a variety of the foods they
have shown feeding reactions too.

At Fin and Feather, I have used a variety of foods for my
Goniopora. I have determined what kinds of food some
Goniopora have shown a definite feeding reaction to.
This list of foods is growing and is not exclusive. There are
many foods out there waiting to be tried, and many more to be
developed.

Many people have supplemented by feeding with phytoplankton.
In my studies of Goniopora, only one variety showed a
feeding reaction to phytoplankton alone. However, many kinds of
zooplankton eat phytoplankton, which are in turn eaten by the
Goniopora.

In the profile list that follows you will see food mix and
light food mix. A goopy food mix I use for larger-polyped
Goniopora is 1 part crushed brine shrimp cube to 2 parts
crushed Cyclop-eeze flake,1-2 parts frozen rotifers, and 5-6
parts phytoplankton/ Cyclop-eeze juice/ DT’s oyster eggs.
Light food mix has twice as much liquid food for a lighter
consistency, a better food for smaller-polyped species, but also
accepted by larger-polyped species.

When feeding your Goniopora, you will quickly find
many other aquarium inhabitants find the food mighty tasty too.
You may have to beat back an onslaught of fish and invertebrate
food raids. Nassarius snails will be there in seconds. Fish and
serpent stars may gleefully steal your Goniopora’s
food. Shrimp will take the food and some of your
Goniopora too, ripping right through the tissue, causing
much damage at times. Some people have built feeding
traps-high-tech devices such as one- and two-liter bottles placed
over the coral so it may be fed in peace.

In my opinion, smaller-sized food particles are better than
larger ones. I will be conducting a thorough food study to
determine which foods are more conducive to growth. Until then, I
can only tell you what I have observed. During the six-week
period when I fed DT’s Oyster eggs exclusively to all my
Goniopora in three different systems, I noticed faster
encrusting growth and longer polyp extension.

Until we get some definitive data, I would suggest using foods
with a good nutrient profile and smaller particle size. The
systems that people have successfully kept Goniopora in
can produce much plankton, eggs, and larvae. These prey items can
be quite small. A Goniopora stokesi can ingest a full
grown brine shrimp, but is that the best for them?

Several new foods are in pre-market production and may prove
to be very beneficial to the aquaculture of Goniopora,
and other still difficult- or impossible-to-maintain corals and
invertebrates. I have had many opportunities to try some unusual
potential foods. I had newly imported urchins spawn, so I grabbed
a syringe, sucked up the eggs, and fed away. All the
Goniopora I fed them to showed feeding reactions, some
stronger than others. Peppermint shrimp eggs were taken by many
kinds of Goniopora, as was Striped Bass Blood. Cleaner
shrimp eggs and emerald crab eggs were only ingested by some.
Dead cleaner shrimp eggs were not ingested at all.

This difference in feeding reactions shows some potential new
foods are more suited for growing Goniopora. I believe
invertebrate eggs and larvae would be excellent foods for
development in the hobby. Many have great nutrient profiles, and
some, such as urchin eggs, are ingested by many corals.

I believe the availability of proper food is the main factor
in many Goniopora successes. Whether it’s the higher
amount of dissolved organics, higher plankton levels in systems
with refugiums, and little or no skimming or direct feeding, with
forethought in system design and husbandry techniques we can be
successful with many species of Goniopora.

Goniopora Species Requirements

I have created a small profile of each species under my care,
each with a table of methods of husbandry that has worked
successfully. This chart may prove useful for providing proper
care for your Goniopora. You may find your specimen may
have different requirements than those listed here, due to
natural variability.

Photo

Goniopora stutchburyi

Light: Moderate to High

Flow: Moderate to High

Food: DT’s Oyster Eggs, Cyclop-eeze juice (left over
liquid from thawing frozen Cyclop-eeze), Liquid Life Plankton
(may be too large), light food mix

Experimental foods: Peppermint Shrimp eggs, Urchin Eggs,
Striped Bass Blood

Photo

Goniopora burgosi

Light: Moderate to High

Flow: Low to Moderate

Food: Hikari Frozen rotifers, Liquid Life Plankton w/
Cyclop-eeze, DT’s Oyster eggs, Cyclop-eeze juice, Light Food
mix

Experimental foods: Peppermint Shrimp eggs, Urchin Eggs,
Striped Bass Blood, Emerald Crab Eggs, Cleaner Shrimp Eggs

Photo

Goniopora palmensis

Light: Moderate to High

Flow: Moderate to High

Food: no noted feeding reactions. Continues to grow well.
Perhaps just absorbs dissolved organics and ingests minute
plankton and bacteria from the system

Experimental foods: Peppermint Shrimp eggs, Urchin Eggs,
Striped Bass Blood

Photo

Goniopora somaliensis

Light: Moderate to High

Flow: Low to High

Food: DT’s Oyster eggs, Cyclop-eeze juice

Photo

Goniopora norfolkensis

Light: Low to High

Flow: Low to Moderate

Food: Hikari Frozen Rotifers, Liquid Life Plankton w/
Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze juice, Food mixtures,
DT’s Oyster eggs

Experimental foods: Peppermint Shrimp eggs, Urchin Eggs,
Striped Bass Blood

Photo

Goniopora planulata

Light: Low to High

Flow: Low to Moderate

Food: Hikari Frozen Rotifers, Liquid Life Plankton w/
Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze juice, Food mixtures,
DT’s Oyster eggs

Experimental foods: Peppermint Shrimp eggs, Urchin Eggs,
Striped Bass Blood

Photo

Goniopora polyformis

Light: Low to High

Flow: Low to Moderate

Food: Hikari Frozen Rotifers, Liquid Life Plankton w/
Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze juice, Food mixtures,
DT’s Oyster eggs

Experimental foods: Peppermint Shrimp eggs, Urchin Eggs,
Striped Bass Blood

Photo
Photo

Goniopora djiboutiensis

Light: Low to High

Flow: Moderate to High

Food: Hikari Frozen Rotifers, Liquid Life Plankton w/
Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze juice, Food mixtures,
DT’s Oyster eggs, crushed brine shrimp cubes

Photo
Photo

Goniopora eclipsensis

Light: Med to High

Flow: Moderate

Food: DT’s Oyster eggs, Cyclop-eeze, Liquid Life Plankton
w/ Cyclop-eeze, food mix

Photo

Goniopora pandoraensis

Light: Med to High

Flow: Low to High

Food: Hikari Frozen Rotifers, Liquid Life Plankton w/
Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze juice, Food mixtures,
DT’s Oyster eggs

Photo

Goniopora tenuidens

Light: Moderate to High

Flow: Low

Food: DT’s Oyster eggs, Cyclop-eeze, Liquid Life Plankton
w/ Cyclop-eeze, food mix

Photo

Goniopora stokesi

Light: Moderate to High

Flow: Low

Food: Hikari Frozen Rotifers, Liquid Life Plankton w/
Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze, Cyclop-eeze juice, Food mixtures,
DT’s Oyster eggs

Experimental foods: Peppermint Shrimp eggs, Urchin Eggs,
Striped Bass Blood

Conclusion

Goniopora are no longer impossible. With knowledge of
the species you are working with, proper system design, and
appropriate foods, your chances of success are greatly increased.
Goniopora are for the aquarist dedicated to providing
the proper care for these challenging yet possible to keep coral.
As our knowledge of this genus grows we all can play a part in
sharing the methods of our success. Careful observation and
accurate notes will do much to help the hobby advance its goal of
successfully keeping these and the many other beautiful ocean
creatures in our aquariums.

Bio:

Justin Credabel has had a lifelong passion for nature, keeping
many kinds of pets, gardening with land and aquatic plants, and
keeping just about every type of aquarium. He has been in the pet
industry for more than 10 years. During the last five years, he
has been at Fin and Feather in Groton, Conn., overseeing a
tenfold expansion in the reef and coral department. Justin is
married with two beautiful daughters and lives in a house with a
picket fence in New London, CT. When Justin isn’t feeding
corals he’s singing about them with his band Incognito Sofa
Love. Goniopora sofalove can be heard at
http://www.myspace.com/isl

References

Category:
  Advanced Aquarist
Justin Credabel
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