Rescuing Dying Corals: Failure

Failure to rescue a dying coral is bound to happen.  It’s as simple as that.  Rather than focusing on what went wrong, focus on what could go better next time.  Doctors lose patients, so it’s expected that a reefkeeping hobbyist will lose a few corals along the way.  Below are a few of my failures.
Black Sun Coral
Fossa and Nielson, authors of The Modern Coral Reef Aquarium, Volume 2, state, “We are of the opinion that it is not possible to maintain this species successfully in reef aquaria.”  Over the years in the hobby I’ve heard many corals on the no-go list, such as the flower pot coral (Goniopora), elegance coral (Catalaphyllia), and many others.  Maybe there will be a break-through in black sun coral care, but mine was not one of those. 

However, the coral did spawn while in my possession, which was quite amazing to watch!

This scolymia was free due to its condition.  Most of the coral was a brown jelly goo, and I was at a loss on how to treat it.  The only thing I could think of was Vitamin C and an anti-fungal.  Obviously, Vitamin C couldn’t put the scolymia back together again.  There is an overall lack of knowledge about brown jelly on corals, but it seems few recover (and I’m interested to hear about your experience with it.) 

I have to admit I’m not sure exactly what this coral was.  I believe it would’ve survived if hermit crabs hadn’t literally ripped it to shreds trying to get out the food I gave it.  Lesson to me:  keep crabs out of hospital tanks.

I have tried three different Acanthophyllia in various stages of death with no luck so far.  All three refused to eat, and it almost appeared as though the mesenterial filaments (a coral’s digestive organs that can be used externally) were absent.  While I’ve read about this type of anomaly in SPS corals, I have little experience with it.  I tried to place food in the coral’s mouth, knowing the coral was lacking a digestive system (the brown dots are pellet food).  Not surprisingly, the food rotted and accelerated the coral’s demise.

So even though you may lose a couple along the way, know that you’re doing a great thing and keep trying.  To end on a positive note, here’s a success story:


  1. Achilles

    Hello, I’m really glad I discovered I was not the only one bargaining dying corals on LFS because I knew I could save them. I reply because you’d like to hear about experiences with brown jelly. I also lost several LPS with Brown Jelly in the past and I had great success with coral placement change to a lower flow and shaded area + KZ coral snow. Try to act as fast as possible, remove the brown jelly you can see putting the coral closer to a powerhead, then move the coral to the new area, turn off circulation and apply coral snow directly on the damaged area with a pipette, leave the animal as is for 5 minutes and turn on the normal water circulation. Repeat the coral snow bath daily until the infection passes. The 2 first days are the most critical. Water changes also help because maybe poor water conditions initiated the bacterial infection.

    My conclusion is that by changing placement you reduce the speed of the bacterial infection, apparently it requires light, the strong flow helps bacteria moving to other polyps. The coral snow helps suffocating remaining bacteria and I believe neutralizing compounds.

    I saved a beautiful green acan few weeks ago using this method, it never failed to me when I was able to identify the infection on the first days.

    Good luck, keep up the beautiful work.

    1. admin

      Thanks for the kind words, and I love to hear from a fellow rescuer!

      From the few studies on brown jelly that I’ve found, it seems like the consensus is that brown jelly is a dinoflagellate infestation rather than a bacterial infection. Many of the corals I’ve received that appeared to have brown jelly disease probably just had decayed zooxanthallae (I didn’t have a microscope until recently to confirm the presence of dinoflagellates). Do you dip the corals you obtain? If not, I would start, as that can significantly help with infections (if the right dip is used). Do you use a QT? True cases of brown jelly can spread across an aquarium, so I would caution you if you do not have a QT.

      I would love to see pictures of your work.

      This is a link to my thread on Reef Central where tons of people have posted pictures of their rescues:

      Here’s a link to a short writeup on a coral I rescued that I am pretty sure had brown jelly:

      Again, thanks for the kind words, and I wish you all the best in your rescuing efforts!

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