Care and Propagation of Goniopora
Until recently, I have, in good conscience,
offered the same advice heard from reefkeepers across the
country when referring to Goniopora: "Yes, they're
very pretty, but don't buy them. They won't make it past a
year." Personally, I took this statement as a challenge,
and set out to change the way we looked at the care of this
"impossible" coral. Currently, I am keeping nine
species of this coral alive in my systems at Fin and Feather
Pets, and have used the knowledge gained from my successes
to assist several local customers with Goniopora in
their own home aquariums. I can now tell customers that it
is possible to keep Goniopora alive, as long as you
provide the proper care and feeding for the species in question.
Since starting at Fin and Feather almost five years ago,
I have seen our reef department expand from a 90-gallon coral
system to thousands of gallons of reef displays and cultivation
systems. We have seen our collective knowledge of captive
coral husbandry blossom over these years, and this has allowed
us to do what we might not have thought possible several years
At our operations at Fin and Feather I have been in a unique
position, regularly importing many new and exciting corals
and growing captive strains. Coming across thousands of corals,
I am still astounded everyday by the diversity (and similarity)
of these animals. Some of these exceptional corals were Goniopora.
The unusual ones piqued my interest, so I placed them in our
"for display only" system. After a few years I realized
they were still alive, and were a likely candidate for successful
aquaculture; I just needed to determine why I was successful
and how my success could be repeated.
In much of the writing about Goniopora these corals
are described as being hard to keep (Toonen, 1997, 1999; Borneman,
1997, 2001). These concerns reflect the accounts of many reefkeepers
who have been unsuccessful with the most commonly imported
species Goniopora stokesi and Goniopora lobata.
More recently, Julian Sprung has written about how the different
species seem to have varying degrees of success in captive
systems (Sprung, 2002). These experiences match my own as
I have collected many species, each with its own unique requirements.
Goniopora belong to the family Poritidae which includes
the genus Porites, a well-known small-polyped stony
coral that many hobbyists have successfully grown and even
propagated. Despite its taxonomic affinity with the small-polyped
Porites, many Goniopora species have large polyps that
can greatly extend themselves, forming long swaying tubes
with flower-like tentacles at their tips. Most Goniopora
that aquarists are familiar with are the large, long polyped
G. stokesi and G. lobata, since these are by
far the most commonly imported species. But many species share
a more similar appearance and connection with Porites.
The several small-polyped varieties we keep at Fin and Feather
have shapes that are often mounding and encrusting, reminiscent
of common Porites growth forms. Generally, these types
of Goniopora are found on the reef attached to substrate
rather than being free-living colonies in deep and often turbid
waters like Goniopora stokesi.
All of the Goniopora species colonies I have maintained
over the long-term have been encrusting, branching, or massive
types attached to substrate. Compared to most other corals,
their growth rate has been slow. The systems in which these
corals are maintained have a mix of many types of corals including
small- and large-polyped scleractinians, soft corals, mushrooms
and zoanthids. They all have very deep sand beds (6-12 inches),
refugiums, use little or no skimming, and have 250 to 400-watt
metal halide lighting. Currently, I keep Goniopora
fragments for sale under VHO and power compact combinations,
and they show the same color and polyp extension as under
metal halide lights. There is no mechanical filtration on
any of the systems. For the first two and a half years, I
did no direct feeding of the colonies except for occasional
additions of phytoplankton. Calcium was kept between 350ppm
and 450ppm, alkalinity was 6dKH to 11 dKH, nitrate 0-20 ppm
and phosphate undetectable. I also make regular additions
of trace element supplements such as Seachem Reef Plus, EcoSystem's
Reef Solution, and Kent Coral-Vite as per the directions on
the bottle. Feeding for the resident fishes typically consists
of a staple of Mysis shrimp, brine shrimp and very
sparing portions of flake food, all of which is usually consumed
entirely after three to five minutes. About a year and a half
ago Cyclop-eeze was added to the feeding regime. Over the
last year I have begun target-feeding many colonies directly
and have noticed an obvious increase in the growth of many
specimens. Over the last nine months I have begun adding Kent
Iron supplement weekly as per directions on the bottle. This
addition seems to enhance growth and polyp extension most
noticeably on the larger polyp varieties, Goniopora norfolkensis
and Goniopora planulata. It is interesting to note
that the red Goniopora stutchburyi kept in one system
with no iron supplementation bleached after only two months.
Care of Individual Varieties of Goniopora
This is my oldest colony, having been
kept for three and a half years in captivity. The original
specimen was massive, with polyps 1-3 inches long when fully
extended. It has grown slowly, but with consistent direct
feedings of DT's oyster eggs over the past nine months, I
have noticed an increase in its growth rate. I fragmented
the original colony into six pieces in September of 2004.
They grew new tissue over the cut skeleton at a rate of approximately
1mm every two to three weeks. Tissue eventually reached the
concrete plug or shell onto which they were glued and it continued
to grow, encrusting the plug. This species prefers moderate
current and bright light. I have not directly observed it
eating rotifers or Cyclop-eeze. It does, however, show a feeding
response to Cyclop-eeze "juice" from the frozen
product and to the oyster eggs. I believe this species requires
very small food particles such as oyster eggs, plankton and
bacteria present in the system. Because of the extremely small
size of the remaining colony, I have decided to grow it out
before I take a skeletal sample for identification.
Green Goniopora norfolkensis
This colony was originally set aside
because it was the first non-free-living, green, Goniopora
I had ever received in an order. In the wild it probably was
a massive colony cleaved from a substrate. Although it appears
to thrive in a moderate to low water flow regime, it will
tolerate higher flows. It is one of my slower growing colonies.
However, I have recently started feeding it Liquid Life with
Cyclop-eeze and the colony could clearly be seen ingesting
the particles. It also shows a positive feeding response to
rotifers. Additionally, I target-feed oyster eggs, Cyclop-eeze
juice and phytoplankton to the colony at least three to five
times per week. It also shows a strong feeding response to
peppermint shrimp eggs and striped bass blood.
Pink with Purple Center: Goniopora planulata
This colony was set aside because
of its unusual color. About a year ago, after two years in
captivity, it stopped extending its tentacles and showed a
few areas of tissue recession. I fragmented it into ten pieces
and placed them into various systems. Half of them died. Upon
the addition of Kent Iron supplement (at dosages per the instructions
on the bottle), the surviving colonies darkened to a muddy
purple color, probably due the increase of zooxanthellae in
their tissue. Two specimens that recovered were in a different
system with lower light conditions and water flow and received
no additional iron supplementation. These two colonies stayed
bright pink and extended their tentacles much farther than
the others that were receiving the iron supplement. If colonies
from each system are placed side by side, they appear to be
two entirely different types after only three months apart
in the different systems. I have since sold the pink colonies
but still have several of the darker colored colonies. Their
growth in the last six months has been terrific; fully expanded
they are more than twice the size they were before, and their
skeletal mass is about 150% larger. They now have polyps that
are wider and slightly longer than the original colony had.
This type shows the most extreme example of morphological
change in captivity of any of our Goniopora. I currently
feed this species Liquid Life Plankton with Cyclop-eeze, rotifers,
DT's oyster eggs, Cyclop-eeze juice and phytoplankton at least
three to five times per week. Again, this species has responded
well to feeding very small particulate foods.
"Carpet of Love," Red and Green Goniopora
I set this colony aside because of
its smaller and shorter polyps. This type is more like Porites
than is any other colony I have at present, with corallites
1-2 mm wide and short polyps, usually one-inch long or less.
It occasionally develops elongated sweeper polyps 3-4 inches
long, with bright swollen acrospheres on its tentacle tips.
This is my fastest growing Goniopora. Tissue spreads
quickly over freshly cut skeleton and then onto the mounting
plug. It prefers moderate to high water flow, with moderate
to high lighting conditions. I feed this species DT's oyster
eggs, Cyclop-eeze juice and phytoplankton three to five times
per week. In my opinion, this coral does not need direct feeding
to thrive, although such feedings do seem to enhance its growth.
Five months ago I received two green specimens of what I
believed to be the same variety, and a comparison of coral
skeletons confirmed this assumption. They have very thick
branches but are the same in every other way to the red variety.
Perhaps the red colony I received was just a portion of a
larger branching variety or an encrusting form of the same
species. When bleached, their corallites were the same size,
and had similar septal patterns, with a wide porous columella.
I have fragmented these colonies multiple times, and their
growth is similar to that of the red variety. I keep a few
in my fragmentation tank that houses small-polyped species,
and the growth has been approximately 1mm every two to three
weeks. It shows a strong feeding response to peppermint shrimp
eggs and striped bass blood.
I have had this Goniopora for
about five months. It was clearly taken from a larger colony,
perhaps a mounding form. The corallites have thin walls and
the septa fuse to form deltas, which leads me to believe that
it is a G. palmensis instead of a G. tenidius
which has similar septal patterns but more circular corallites.
It has one-inch long polyps with corallites 4-5 mm in diameter.
Since I have had it, I have provided it with direct feeding
of DT's oyster eggs three to five times per week. Encrusting
growth over the old skeleton is quick, and the colony produces
more than a dozen new polyps a month over an area an inch
and a half wide. It seems to be a good specimen for captive
culture. It also seems to thrive in moderate to high water
flow and prefers moderate to high lighting conditions.
Bright Green Branching: Goniopora pandoraensis
I have had this colony for a year
and a half. Its mother colony has branches 3-4" long
and 1.5 - 2" wide. Growth with no direct feeding has
been slow to nonexistent. I have recently fragmented this
coral and begun direct feeding. Since then, its polyp extension
has increased. New encrusting growth is slow. I currently
feed it Liquid Life, rotifers, DT's oyster eggs, Cyclop-eeze
juice and phytoplankton three to five times per week. Like
many of the other species, it shows a strong feeding response
to peppermint shrimp eggs and striped bass blood.
I received the first colony about
two and a half years ago. It had an encrusting type growth
that I had not seen at the time so I placed it in our display
It seemed to do fairly well for about two years, yet its
overall growth was slow. Six months ago the water flow regimen
was altered and it began receiving moderate to high flow (a
particle in the water travels 3-4 inches a second), up from
a flow that barely moved its tentacles. I received a very
similar specimen five months ago and it has been in low flow
the whole time and tissue expansion increases weekly. After
moving the original colony to a low flow area, it has improved
its polyp extension by up to 25% in two weeks; it also feeds
more easily now. These corals eat Cyclop-eeze in the liquid
life form and I feed it a mix of rotifers and oyster eggs
three to five times per week.
Red Encrusting Goniopora burgosi
The first colony of this species I
received shipped poorly and immediately lost more than half
its tissue. After two months it recovered, and six months
later shows about a 25% increase in tissue. This coral has
a very active feeding response, curling up its tentacles rapidly
when given food such as oyster eggs. This colony will eat
Cyclop-eeze, and is fed this and a mixture of rotifers, Cyclop-eeze
juice, and oyster eggs three to five times per week. I feel
this coral is a terrific candidate for captive culture given
its striking color, willingness to feed and its impressive
Nuclear Goniopora polyformis
When this coral first arrived it had
shipped poorly. A brown jelly infection had begun killing
off tissue, so I divided the colony and dipped each fragment
in Kent Tech as per the directions on the bottle. After a
sketchy two months the colony showed improvement in polyp
expansion. I had placed fragments in different lighting and
water flow regimens. Fragments in lower flow had longer polyps
than those in high flow. Additionally, feeding the polyps
was easier in low flow. Fragments in high light, high flow
areas showed a brighter coloration than low light, low flow
specimens, which showed faint brown shading, possibly due
to zooxanthellae in its tissue. It feeds readily on pieces
of food as large as Cyclop-eeze. I feed them Cyclop-eeze,
rotifers and oyster eggs three to five times per week. I have
not had this species long term, but its growth and willingness
to feed may make it a good candidate for aquaculture.
I have had several colonies of branching
Alveopora for several years. So far, they have approximately
doubled in size every year. One fragment grew from 20 to 40
polyps in nine months, with twice weekly direct feedings of
oyster eggs. With recent heavier feedings of DT's oyster eggs,
their growth has increased. I also think this has something
to do with the colony becoming acclimated to captivity, as
with other species. I have one specimen in moderate to heavy
water flow, 20" below a 400-watt metal halide light.
The other specimens I have seem to prefer a much gentler flow,
and they are tolerant of lighting from low to high irradiance.
Alveopora have been reported to be hardier in captivity
than Goniopora by many aquarists. I directly feed most
of my Alveopora with DT's oyster eggs three to five
times per week.
Gut contents of some Goniopora
have been a roughly even mix of phytoplankton and zooplankton
(Toonen, 1999; Borneman, 2001). This might explain why systems
with refugiums, deep sand beds and little skimming seem to
reportedly allow higher survival rates of these corals. Refugiums
and sand beds produce many kinds of zooplankton, larvae and
eggs, and skimming removes them.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in my success with Goniopora
has been food. Until very recently, the choices of food for
Goniopora have been limited. Lately, two great foods
have become available, frozen rotifers and DT's oyster eggs.
Cyclop-eeze has been on the market for a few years. These
foods are apparently closer to the fare that Goniopora
ingest in the wild. I was successful with some Goniopora
species for years without direct feeding; however, the systems
were already geared towards high plankton growth. I also added
some liquid foods including phytoplankton and juices from
thawed strained frozen foods, most noticeably Cyclop-eeze.
Upon starting a regular regimen of direct feeding, however,
I have noticed a marked increase in growth of all species
maintained. Larger polyped varieties, including the commonly
imported G. stokesi, require heavy regular feeding
to support their colonies. I have recently experimented with
peppermint shrimp eggs and blood from a bag of fresh striped
bass. Many of the hard-to-keep Goniopora had a strong
feeding response to these foods. The development of new foods
could possibly be directed towards invertebrate egg and larvae
production. We can now get many kinds of shrimp to spawn.
Their eggs, and I think their larvae, could be harvested as
food for Goniopora and other corals.
When feeding Goniopora in a system with other animals
there is bound to be competition for the food. When present
in a system, Nassarius snails, shrimps, serpent stars
and fish will help themselves to the food, sometimes before
the Goniopora can fully ingest it. Shrimp are perhaps
the worst offenders, often causing tissue damage as they pick
pieces of food from the coral. It often is necessary to take
steps to mitigate this opportunistic "food snatching"
by the system's other inhabitants. Pre-feeding the other animals
seems to help, or you can chase away fish and shrimp and move
serpent stars and snails to the other side of the tank, allowing
time for Goniopora to feed.
Another question exists as to which foods are best and which
combinations are best. Perhaps feeding a coral a stew
of 10 different kinds of food might impact its ability to
digest the food, or maybe it makes no difference. Carefully
testing foods and various combinations would answer this question.
It is apparent that my success has been due to the use of
smaller sized foods. Cyclop-eeze seems to be the upper size
limit for the large-polyped varieties and may be too large
for the smaller-polyped species. I supplement all my systems
with phytoplankton, usually a refrigerated form (DT's Phytoplankton).
Although I dose at about one-third the recommended amounts,
I target feed my Goniopora.
I would recommend a few Goniopora species as being
excellent candidates for captive propagation. Goniopora
stutchburyi is one I would recommend to those who have
systems geared more towards "SPS" corals. This species
thrives in high light and low nutrient environments, and unlike
some of its larger-polyped cousins, doesn't seem to need as
much food and does quite well without direct feeding. Goniopora
norfolkensis would be a great substitute for the commonly
imported G. stokesi, which has extremely high captive
mortality rates. At first glance it may be hard to tell the
two apart. Goniopora norfolkensis, however, is mounding
or massive, and is attached to a substrate unlike the free
living G. stokesi. The Goniopora planulata growing
at Fin and Feather looks like a purple G. stokesi at
As we discover the requirements for
captive growth of these and other corals, we can establish
captive strains like many kinds of Acropora that were
once considered hard, if not impossible, to keep alive in
captivity. Part of what I am doing at Fin and Feather is finding
and growing strains of Goniopora that are appropriate
for aquarium culture and establishing these strains in captivity.
Corals adapt and change when maintained in captivity. For
example, many kinds of Acropora, when grown in captivity,
change and eventually may look nothing like the original colony,
often-changing both their color and branch shape as they adapt
to different conditions. For me, the purple Goniopora planulata
best shows this adaptability, having not only changed colors
several times, but the size and appearance of its polyps have
changed considerably, almost to the point of looking like
an entirely new variety.
Goniopora are a much-admired coral in the hobby, and
for good reason. They have very interesting shapes and many
have bright colors. Some species of Goniopora are definitely
in the realm of corals suitable for the dedicated hobbyist,
and I hope that my success and the information provided in
this article will encourage others to have similar success.
As more people are successful and build on each other's knowledge
of this genus, we may find ourselves looking back years from
now and thinking with amusement about how everyone once thought
they were impossible to keep alive in captivity. The hobby
is growing by leaps and bounds, from the days when keeping
Aiptasia alive was a cause for celebration, to mini-reef
systems, and now to the understanding of husbandry of new
If you have any questions about this article, please visit
my author forum
on Reef Central.
Borneman, E. H. 2001. Aquarium Corals: Selection, Husbandry,
and Natural History. Microcosm/TFH, Neptune City. 464pp.
Borneman, E.H. 1997. A Death In the Family? The Mystery of
Goniopora, Aquarium Net magazine. http://www.reefs.org/library/aquarium_net/1197/1197_3.htm
Toonen, Rob. 1999. Goniopora
success?! Reefkeepers email list, December 1999.
Toonen, Rob (2001) Goniopora: Why do success rates
with this coral remain so low? Freshwater and Marine Aquarium
(FAMA) Magazine, Vol. 24, No. 6, pp. 142-158.
Sprung, Julian. 2002. Captive
husbandry of Goniopora spp. with remarks about the
similar genus Alveopora, Advanced Aquarist's Online
Magazine, December 2002.
Veron, J.E.N. 2000. Corals of the World. Australian
Institute for Marine Science, Townsville. 3 Volumes.