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Rescuing Dying Corals: Feeding

I apologize for the late post, but I had a full box of corals to rescue today!  I had nine corals total, but several of them were rather large and ended up as several smaller pieces.  While I was getting them dipped and into the aquarium, I realized I grossly understated the importance of coral feeding in my “How-to Guide”.   

In basic terms, there are corals that have a symbiotic algae, called zooxanthallae, inside them, and then there are nonphotosynthetic corals.  Nonphotosynthetic corals derive all their energy from capturing food, and they will not be the discussion here.  Photosynthetic corals derive the vast majority of their energy from the zooxanthallae’s photosynthesis.  They do derive some energy from captured food from the water column, and that will be my focus here.

Typically corals feed at night by extending their tentacles with nematocysts (remember, these are the stinging cells) ready to fire out into the water column to catch whatever drifts by.  When the tentacles catch a food morsel, they draw the food toward the mouth and digest the food in the gut.  Waste is expelled back through the same opening.  Corals can also use their mesenterial filaments (remember, these are the external digestive organs) to catch smaller-particle prey.

Rescue Coral with Tentacles Extended to Catch Food

Bleached corals are often lacking enough zooxanthallae to provide their daily energy needs.  Therefore, they rely on captured food.  Unfortunately, bleached corals are in a vicious cycle:  they bleach, don’t have energy from photosynthesis, so they don’t have enough energy to extend polyps to capture food.  Other rescue corals typically lack energy due to illness, stress, or other damaging effects. 

Bleached Rescue Coral

By target-feeding these corals, the coral has to expend less energy for more gain.  I am often astonished at the results from one single feeding.

I often drop pellets directly into the mouths of each coral since the pellets stay put and the coral usually responds.  However, I’ve started noticing that most corals don’t digest a whole lot of the pellets…if any.  Today, I followed the pellets immediately with my homemade frozen blend, and not terribly surprisingly, the corals engulfed the frozen food, and took the pellets with it.  While pellets are easy, an extra bit of care is well worth it. 

Rescue Cynarina Coral Eating

My homemade food differs from store-bought pellet food in that my recipe is much closer to what a coral would eat in the wild, in my opinion.  Pellets usually contain terrestrial foods, such as peas, broccoli, and lettuce.  I am not convinced fish or corals should eat these things, so I stick more to the basics.  However, I do use garlic as I believe it helps entice corals and fish to eat.  I also use white sugar to feed bacteria.  My recipe is based off the Pappone, Italian Coral Food recipe from the BLU Coral Method.  I also add in whatever else I have lying around.

My recipe:

5 large raw shrimp

5 raw mussels
5 raw oysters/clams


5 raw scallops


1/4 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic
10g red dried algae
10g green dried algae
10g brown dried algae

RO/DI water to thin
Whatever else I have lying around (free fish food from raffles, etc.)

I cut a few pieces up into large chunks for the very large, aggressive fish (skip this if you do not have large, aggressive fish.)

I place the large food into a mould for freezing.


The rest of the food I blend for several minutes on…several minutes off…several times…in a food processor. 

I then freeze in flattened freezer bags, but you can also freeze in egg-crate for nice blocks. 

When I feed, I dose amino acids before the lights go off for the night.  When the lights are out, I turn off all flow and thaw the frozen food mixed with saltwater.  I’ll target feed each coral mouth with a pipette until the polyps will not accept more food. 

Even if your coral is perfectly healthy, it will probably at least grow faster with target feeding.  Never force a coral to eat, and never allow food to stay on the coral longer than 30 minutes.

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  1. Rescuing Dying Corals: Cladocora, A Non-Photosynthetic Coral » Reef'd Up Aquatics

    […] I fed the coral every day, for about the first two weeks (more info on feeding here).  Once the coral started regularly extending tentacles, I reduced feedings to about three times […]

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