How S.E.A. Aquarium aquarists care for corals in Rainbow Reef

When S.E.A. Aquarium first opened its doors, only two habitats featured live corals. Today, our curatorial team propagates over 100 species of live corals which are showcased in more than 20 habitats around the aquarium.

Ian from our conservation team recently spoke to the team of aquarists in charge of growing and caring for these corals. Here’s what he discovered.

Boon Ping leads a team of 10 aquarists who take care of corals in S.E.A. Aquarium. His interest in corals started 4 years back when he was put in charge of the coral exhibits.

Based on his experience, corals are in some ways similar to humans. Not only do they have different preferences, sometimes, even corals of the same species may react differently under the same conditions.

Over the years, he has taught his team how to identify corals that are having issues, those that require rehabilitation or relocation.

One way to identify if a coral is doing well is to check its polyps. Fully extended polyps (like these above) are a good indication that the coral is healthy.

Sometimes it can be difficult to identify the cause of coral problems as there are too many variables that result in a certain behaviour.

According to Boon Ping, habitats that feature live corals typically face challenges such as natural predation by fishes, diseases and water flow. Among these, maintaining good water flow within the habitat is the toughest. The main reason being the definition of ‘good flow’ is subjective and varies from species to species, making it even more difficult to get it right.

In the last two years, the team has been actively adding more live corals to Rainbow Reef – a habitat within Adventure Cove Waterpark where guests can snorkel among fishes and corals, simulating the experience of snorkeling along a coral reef.

Guests snorkeling in Rainbow Reef.
There are currently over 500 colonies of soft corals in Rainbow Reef. These live corals make up 5% of all corals in the habitat. The team aims to raise that amount to 15-20% in the near future.
Temperature in Rainbow Reef is maintained at a healthy 26 degrees Celsius.

There are both photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic corals in Rainbow Reef.

Photosynthetic corals need to be placed such that sunlight is readily accessible to facilitate photosynthesis. Yet too much sunlight may also damage the corals hence finding the right spots are critical.

On the other hand, non-photosynthetic corals do not require as much exposure to sunlight. Instead, they are fed daily with zooplankton and phytoplankton.

An aquarist checking on the corals in Rainbow Reef.

On top of the challenges they face when caring for live coral habitats, Rainbow Reef poses two additional issues: weather and human interaction.

Rainbow Reef is an outdoor habitat, hence it is subject to changing weather conditions which may affect the water temperature. At the same time, guests snorkeling in the habitat may unintentionally graze the corals, hence placement of corals here needs to be extra strategic.

While it may look like just another habitat, the aesthetics and functionality of Rainbow Reef is made possible only with the skills and dedication of this team of aquarists.

Read more about corals:

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