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Seafan and Gorgonians


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My Experience with Gorgonian’s,
Basic Care and Selection

By Alex Silber

Of the many coral selections made available to us some of my favorite’s are the photosynthetic gorgonians from the Caribbean. Here are five choices I can suggest to request and purchase; Purple Frilly ( Psuedoterogorgia elisabethae ), Silver Sea Plume ( Pseudopterogorgia aceros ), Sea Rod ( Plexaurella sp. ), Silver Gorgonian ( Muricea laxa ), and the Golden Sea Bush ( Muriceopsis sulpherea ). I chose these because of their availability and my successful experience with culturing them. Each of these species is still alive and have been growing in my aquarium grown 16 to 32 months. 

As mentioned by various other authors, their needs are few and simple. " Give them strong water and light ". As an example, to give you an idea as to what is meant by " strong water movement ", I use a Rio 90 Powerhead pointed at a six inch tall gorgonian about one foot away. Giving the gorgonian the correct adjusted amount of water movement will assist with discarding its shedding skin. This shedding skin is a protective reaction which occurs on a regular basis a few times a month. This important point is key to its survival, otherwise undesirable algae’s will settle on their branches and begin to spread, eventually smothering the specimen. 

In my experience metal halide lighting works, but their intensity isn’t necessary. VHO fluorescence, or Power Compacts seem to work the best. 

Although it is unnecessary to feed them directly, they do have the ability to take in particulate matter such as finely crushed flake food. Stirring the live sand bed also works well for feeding purposes, and perhaps helps them grow faster. Even though with these corals smooth sailing is usually the case, there are as always, some obstacles to be aware of. Keep in mind not to place them next to stinging neighbors such as Elegance, Bubble and Hammer Coral. Some non-stinging corals such as Pulsing Xenia and various leather species can inadvertently harm them as well. 

Pulsing Xenia’s have an annoying tendency to take the most direct path to wherever they are going.  And in doing so they’ll climb over whoever is in their way, sometimes smothering them in the process. If you notice a colony approaching your gorgonian, place a small rock in front of it.  Once on the rock they can be relocated. Another point of interest comes to mind when I think of a recently introduced gorgonian that was damaged when the shedding skin of a neighboring large leather Coral landed on it. This skin should have been removed immediately with a small pipette. Although irritated, the gorgonian, which remained closed for over a week, recovered without serious damage. I cant help but wonder if left unchecked would the damage have been more severe ? I have since relocated the gorgonian. 

Also learn to identify a little bleach white nudibranch occasionally found hitch-hiking on the Purple Frilly gorgonians. They are tiny but don’t let that fool you into disregarding them. They can kill your gorgonian in a few days. This I experienced firsthand. For more information on this ‘ little bugger ’, look on page 304 of "The Reef Aquarium", Volume One. There is a picture of it on a Purple Frilly. 

The importance of selecting a healthy appearing specimen to begin with should not be underestimated. I suggest purchasing a gorgonian that is pre-mounted to a base with an Underwater Epoxy or naturally attached to a rock with its own holdfast. Examine it for any visible deterioration along its main branches, although if the tissue on the tips has receded, even as much as an inch, this in itself is no major concern. This problem is easily remedied by cutting the tips off with scissors a ¼" beyond the dead area into the healthy tissue. Cutting beyond the dead area into the tissue could prevent a bacterial infection or protozoan attacks which may have started to take due to the open wound. The tip damage may simply be due to physical abrasion and the accompanied stress from handling and transportation. 

Once these precautionary measures are taken into account, and the stress of transporting  and introduction into your aquarium has passed ( approximately 1 week ), gorgonians can be an excellent addition to your mini reef aquarium. 

Placed either as a centerpiece or accent piece off to the side, they help give your display a natural look. From an Aesthetic point of view, gorgonians offer the best of both worlds. Their seemingly fragile thin branches covered with small polyps remind me of the various Small Polyp Stony  ( SPS ) corals, while at the same time they deliberately sway in the current like many a soft coral. Truly a coral to be appreciated. 


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