The development of standardized and sustainable aquaculture techniques for the cultivation of marine organisms offers many advantages: it would help reduce the quantity of living material harvested from coral reefs; it could be used as an efficient means of rehabilitating impoverished reef ecosystems (e.g. by reseeding depleted natural stocks of corals); it would provide an educational and research tool for the intensive study of marine animal biology under controlled laboratory conditions.
Here, we present the results of aquarium maintenance of 3 Red Sea soft coral species (Clavularia hamra, Nephthea sp., Litophyton arboreum) raised from field collected larvae. Planulae settlement was enhanced when dead coral fragments and stones freshly collected from the sea were added to the settlement dishes. Young colonies (n=106, 258, 60; respectively) were monitored for 307, 475 and 207 days, respectively. The survival rate at the end of the observations ranged between 17% and 30%. Growth rates of colonies differed and showed species-specific variations. The most successful growth was recorded in Nephthea where the average colony size reached 324.5 polyps. Current aquaculture techniques for alcyonarian corals not only reveal that these organisms can thrive in aquaria but also provide significantly improved yields of colonies, as compared with yields under field conditions. Our studies have shown that various steps involved in the cultivation of young corals in captivity may need to be specifically tailored to suit the coral species in question.