The 10 Best Corals for Beginners


The 10 Best Corals for Beginners

One look at a mature reef tank is enough to get people dreaming about having a saltwater aquarium of their own. But corals are some of the more intimidating animals to keep.

Besides their alien appearance they have care requirements that involve a bit of chemistry. Tracking calcium, strontium, magnesium, and other compounds may seem like too much work.

But what if there were some corals that forgive your initial efforts? This list is a collection of the 10 best corals for beginners to try when starting a saltwater aquarium!

What Are the Qualities of Good Beginner Corals?

Marine fishes are straightforward to care for. But choosing the right corals can be a little more difficult. What are some of the qualities of my favorite corals for beginners?

Resistant to Poor Water Quality

Reef tank keepers need to be continually aware of the buildup and cycling of waste products. Especially ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate as part of the nitrogen cycle.

Most corals need some nitrogenous waste to feed their algae symbiotes (see below) – but not too much. Hardy coral species will thrive even when nitrates and other parameters start to rise, however.

Some easy coral types, such as the Pulsing Xenia coral, need high nitrate levels to thrive. When kept in ultra-pure reef tanks they tend to grow very slowly or not at all.

Stability is important to all corals. Sudden shifts in parameters stress out these slow-growing animals. The ocean is a highly stable environment, for the most part. So corals have little ability to adapt to sudden changes.

A new aquarium may show shifts in water conditions, however. Especially when you’re trying to make adjustments to lighting, water flow, and chemistry. But the best beginner corals are more forgiving of your efforts.

Tolerates Moderate Light

When setting up new saltwater reef tanks, bright lighting is one of the most important considerations. Corals are photosynthetic organisms thanks to the single-celled dinoflagellates living in their tissues. Their partners offer them sugar – and in exchange the coral provides safety and fertilizer.

Most beginner corals don’t need too much light. Moderate lighting is not only less expensive to buy. They are also less expensive to operate since the bulbs consume less power.

Less Aggressive Corals

Aggression between coral species is not often discussed in the aquarium hobby. First time reef tank keepers might think coral species all get along with each other in saltwater aquariums.

But corals fight fiercely for living space. They use sweeper tentacles, chemical agents, and even spew their digestive organs onto their neighbors. All to ensure no other corals can grow too close.

Some reef tank species on this list are aggressive – but have too little reach to hurt their neighbors. Acan Lords are one example. Others may have mild stings or a slow growth rate.

So make sure any other species you keep with these beginner corals are spaced properly. And well matched in temperament.

The 5 Best Hard Corals for Beginners

Bubble Coral


Bubble corals are great beginner corals for several reasons. For one, they are a good choice for saltwater reef tanks with moderate lighting.

Bubble coral depends more on feeding than light, unlike photosynthetic corals. So even if your lighting is not very intense you can feed bubble coral brine shrimp and other bits of food.

Moderate to high current is important for a bubble coral. Good water flow removes debris and excess mucus from their folds of flesh.

Unfortunately they are a more aggressive stony coral species. The reach of a bubble coral is deceptive since they inflate at night. They also extend long sweeper tentacles that reach up to 6 inches past the coral, possibly stinging any neighbors that are too close.

  • Scientific Name: Plerogyra sp.
  • Origin: IndoPacific
  • Temperament: Aggressive

Lobed Brain Coral

Lobed Brain Coral are ideal for sections of a reef tank where the water flow is gentle. Unlike bubble coral, too much current disturbs them, causing the coral to retract into its skeleton.

Moderate lighting is best for these stony corals. Much more than 100 PAR (photosynthetically active radiation) can cause burns or retracting.

While they are photosynthetic, Lobed Brain Coral also enjoy eating whole foods like chopped mysis shrimp. Sometimes it is best to feed at night when keeping corals with fish. Otherwise saltwater aquarium fish may pick the food right out of their mouths.

  • Scientific Name: Lobophyllia sp.
  • Origin: IndoPacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Candy Cane Corals


Candy Cane Corals, also known as Trumpet Coral, are another stony coral variety that are great for beginners. They will sting neighbors that are touching them. But their sweeper tentacles barely reach an inch past their flesh at night.

They are often considered to be one of the more bulletproof corals. Compared to other stony coral varieties Trumpet and Candy Cane Corals are not too sensitive when it comes to changes in water parameters.

These species also fluoresce a beautiful neon green when placed under actinic lighting. Trumpet Corals are also one of the faster growing large polyp stony corals, making it easier to fill in a new reef tank.

  • Scientific Name: Caulastrea sp.
  • Origin: Pacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Bali Green Slimer


Acropora are a group of unique corals with stony skeletons and small polyps (SPS corals). Most SPS corals are on the difficult side of care as they need intense lighting, strong water flow, and perfect water conditions.

But the Bali Green Slimer is a rare exception. They were one of the first Acropora to enter the trade. Until technology improved over the years every other species was considered impossible to keep in a reef tank.

They are called “Green Slimers” because of their main defense: if disturbed they secrete a thick layer of mucus to entangle their attacker. It can also gum up saltwater aquarium equipment and tank mates. So leave these corals undisturbed once you’ve found a place for your new SPS coral.

Bali Green Slimers also grow fairly quickly. But like other Acropora corals they do need medium to high light and good water flow.

  • Scientific Name: Acropora yongei
  • Origin: IndoPacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Acan Lord Coral


Large polyp stony coral have a reputation for being difficult to care for. But the Acan Coral is a good species to start out with.

Acans are brightly colored, usually having two bands of color at the same time. How bright the light is as well as the type of lighting strongly affects their colors. They also do well in low to moderate lighting conditions.

Acan Lords are an aggressive species. But fortunately they have a limited ability to reach other corals. Acans will spit out their digestive organs to dissolve neighbors that touch them. They also have sweeper tentacles but will only sting neighbors that are within an inch of the coral.

  • Scientific Name: Micromussa (Acanthastrea) lordhowensis
  • Origin: IndoPacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Aggressive

The 5 Best Soft Corals for Beginners

Soft corals are often recommended as better for reef tank beginners. Many grow explosively in a saltwater fish tank rich in nitrates (tanks where water changes are lax). A few are even as colorful as stony corals.

Green Star PolypsGreen-Star-Polyps-Pachyclavularia-scaled

Green Star Polyps are one of the more exotic looking soft coral species. An established colony can look like a softly waving field of grass covering your live rock.

Green Star Polyps will even grow to cover the substrate and aquarium glass. Sooner or later you will need to trim back these soft corals. Since they don’t have a hard skeleton doing so is effortless and gives you sections you can share with your reef aquarist friends.

Green Star Polyps aren’t aggressive in the usual sense. They don’t sting or release toxins. But they can grow fast enough to grow right on top of their neighbors, smothering other corals.

  • Scientific Name: Pachyclavularia sp.
  • Origin: IndoPacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Peaceful (but aggressive growth rate)

Toadstool Leather Coral

It is easy to see how Toadstool Leather Coral gets its name. The large, fleshy polyp looks much like a thick mushroom cap. While they aren’t very colorful corals they are one of the easiest species to keep.

Leather Corals are so hardy they don’t even need feeding. They passively filter out organic molecules from the water over time. Leather Corals make good tank mates for fish which provide a steady source of food through their leftovers and waste.

Be careful when keeping Toadstool Leather Coral with other corals. They release a blend of toxic chemicals into the water that inhibits the growth of their neighbors.

If your power filter or canister filter has activated carbon inside, it will remove these terpene compounds. Make sure you don’t slack on maintaining it, however.

  • Scientific Name: Sarcophyton glaucum
  • Origin: Indian Ocean
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Mushroom Coral

Mushroom Corals (or corallimorphs) are excellent choices for beginners because they actively seek out disturbed areas in the wild. After a disaster they are often the first corals to colonize the new area.

One way Mushroom Coral do so is to move! They are speedy corals and will wander around the tank, seeking the best water flow and access to food.

As rugged survivors, they tolerate swings in salinity, nutrients, and minerals that would stress or kill more sensitive species. Any beginner still learning how to balance the water parameters of their saltwater aquarium should start with corallimorphs!

Some species of Mushroom Coral will sting their neighbors, making their wandering a little annoying. But most are peaceful and keep to themselves. Their stubby tentacles also make it hard for them to act aggressively.

  • Scientific Name: family Corallimorpharia
  • Origin: Worldwide
  • Temperament: Peaceful to Semi-Aggressive

Pulsing Xenia


Pulsing Xenia Coral is a favorite for saltwater aquarium setups around the world. Even for corals they have an alien appearance.

Each soft stalk ends in a head with several feathery protrusions. The “feathers” waft slowly, directing water flow around and through the colony.

Pulsing Xenias are another soft coral that does not eat. They filter tiny particles of matter and dissolved organic molecules from the water. Therefore they do poorly in very clean tanks but will explode in growth if kept in organic-rich water.

They don’t sting but like the Green Star Polyp, Pulsing Xenia may end up overwhelming everything else in your saltwater aquarium. So keep trimming it back if it ends up becoming a menace. Or use a protein skimmer on top of your filter to cut back on suspended coral foods.

  • Scientific Name: Xenia sp.
  • Origin: IndoPacific Ocean
  • Temperament: Aggressive

Kenya Tree Coral


The last beginner soft coral on our list is a little more difficult to add to a coral community. The Kenya Tree Coral is very aggressive type that will sting rivals and also release toxins into the water. But is an excellent species to try if you keep it alone.

Kenya Tree Corals will grow very fast, especially if kept in a tank with fish to provide a steady stream of organic matter. Clownfish will also host this particular species if there are no sea anemones around to live in.

They don’t have bright colors or elegant stony skeletons like LPS corals. But the rapid growth, love of poor water quality, and branching growth make Kenya Tree Corals ideal for beginners.

  • Scientific Name: Capnella sp.
  • Origin: Indian Ocean
  • Temperament: Aggressive


Live coral are in many ways the epitome of the saltwater aquarium hobby. They take dedication to maintaining proper water conditions. Any sudden shifts in temperature or chemistry can cause many corals stress.

But each of the species on this list is much hardier than the average reef coral. They accept a wide range of coral foods. And they are tolerant of the shifting water parameters that beginner setups often struggle with. Just make sure that you’re aware of which species can coexist and you’ll have no trouble!

Only have a freshwater tank? Make sure to read our guide on the Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants for Beginners!


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