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Rescuing Dying Corals: Where to Start?

What is a “Rescue Coral”?
Let’s start with the obvious first question.  A “rescue coral” is a coral that will not live in most cases without some type of human intervention, even if human “intervention” was the cause of the coral’s distress.  These corals could be starved, bleached, parasite-infected, or suffering from necrosis due to poor water conditions.  With a bit of good husbandry, knowledge, and TLC, these corals can come back to full glory within a few weeks to months.

How do you find a “Rescue Coral”?
Keep in touch with your local fish store, and let them know that you’re interested in saving corals.  Adverse weather conditions delay shipments that commonly results in dying coral.  You can probably sort through the live rock bin and find a few rescues as well.  Find a local club and let them know as well.  Newbies often purchase creatures on an impulse without knowing the proper care procedures.  Near your local frag swap time, let others know that you’re interested in those tiny 1/2 polyp “oops” pieces. 

How far gone is “too far”?
Ideally, only take in corals that have 3/4 or more of the polyp (especially the mouth) remaining.  Anything less is possible, but the chance of a successful recovery drops dramatically.  Losing the majority of a polyp is usually too stressful for the coral to recover.  Homemade fragments (“frags”) are an obvious exception.  Those corals were usually healthy before fragging and do not have new water to acclimate to.

Avoid large-polyp stony corals that have a brown jelly-like substance.  These corals are typically too far gone and may infect healthy corals if introduced to a new tank.

Scolymia with brown jelly-like substance

You should also avoid corals with obvious pests that you are not equipped to handle.  For instance, if you see an Acropora with red bugs, and you do not have Interceptor on hand to treat it or know how to treat it, do not buy it!  Be prepared and know what you’re doing before you do it.

Always check for pests, including algae.  Try to assess what caused the coral harm before purchase.  Bleaching and coral stings are easily treated, but brown jelly and hollow mouths are not.

More gratuitous photos!

Before:

After:

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