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A Beginners Guide To Feeding Corals

by Brian Dunleavy
A Beginners Guide To Feeding Corals

Corals are a staple inside saltwater aquariums, but keeping a reef tank healthy can often be challenging, particularly if you are not sure how to feed corals, or if they even need to be fed. 

Remember that corals are living animals, and like any other living creature, a balanced diet is required to thrive, survive, and grow. 

The topic of feeding corals is often controversial, and if you have been on an aquarium forum before, you soon get keyboard warriors quick to answer your questions. The thing is, there is scientific research that has revealed the true feeding habits of corals. 

So, if you are serious about maintaining a healthy reef tank with corals, it is important that you know how to feed corals, how much food they require, and what to feed them. 

Do Corals Need Feeding?

Most corals are photosynthetic animals. For those that skipped biology class, that means that they get the majority of their energy (food) from photosynthesis, and it is all thanks to the microscopic algae that live inside their tissues called zooxanthellae. 

Zooxanthellae inside coral polyp

Zooxanthellae provide corals with most of their nutritional needs, and in return, the coral provides a safe environment for the zooxanthellae to live. 

As mentioned, corals get most of their nutrition via photosynthesis, but it is also very important to feed them to ensure that they have the necessary building blocks to grow, thrive, and prevent common coral diseases

How Do Corals Feed?

Each coral polyp has one opening, called the mouth.

coral mouth

Now, I know what you are thinking - if they eat via their mouth, where does their waste (poop) go? Yup, that’s right! A coral uses its mouth to both take in food and get rid of some waste products. 

Surrounding their mouth (and anus if you will) is a ring of tentacles to aid in capturing food. The good news is, corals are not too fussy when it comes to eating, and feeding corals can be done in three different ways. 

Feeding Corals: Zooxanthellae & Lighting

Zooxanthellae are what give your coral its amazing colors. The microscopic algae provide food to your coral from the aquarium lighting, driving photosynthesis. 

While many hobbyists believe that corals only require lighting to survive, we always recommend additionally feeding your corals, as zooxanthellae may only provide a portion of your coral’s total nutritional needs.

Feeding Corals: Direct Feeding

Direct feeding is straightforward. If your coral has large tentacles and a large mouth (i.e. Large Polyp Stony (LPS) Corals), it’s likely to accept larger prey such as shrimp, fish, squid, krill, phytoplankton, and protein-rich pellet food

Directly feeding corals is known as target feeding.

When direct feeding, it is important not to overdo it, as overfeeding typically causes nitrate build-up, negatively affecting your coral’s health. 

Feeding Corals: Indirect Feeding

Indirect feeding is when your corals directly absorb dissolved organic compounds from the aquarium water, such as uneaten fish food or food that has been directly poured into the aquarium. 

Indirectly feeding corals is also known as broadcast feeding

Broadcast Feeding Vs Target Feeding Corals

The two main ways to feed corals are broadcast and target feeding. In short, broadcast feeding means pouring coral food into the water and allowing the water flow to move the food around the aquarium. Target feeding involves using a syringe or baster to feed small amounts of coral food directly over the targeted coral.

Whichever method you choose, it is important NOT to overfeed your corals, as this can cause spikes in the water parameters. 

How To Broadcast Feed Corals?

Broadcast feeding is the easiest way to feed corals.

  1. Turn off your protein skimmer and pump return system, so the food is not sucked up by the skimmer or removed by the carbon media
  2. Leave any wave pumps on to evenly distribute the coral food
  3. Prepare the coral food in a measuring cup or small container
  4. Pour the coral food into the top of the aquarium - aim to drop it near the wave pump - if you do not have a wave pump, pour the coral food from one side of the aquarium to the other
  5. After 30 minutes, you can turn the system back on
  6. We recommend testing the water parameters afterwards to check that the nitrate and phosphate levels are still within range

Broadcast Feeding Using A Dosing Pump

If you have a dosing pump, you can use this to your advantage! Add the amount of coral food needed for a week into the dosing container. If you have a smart dosing pump, you can set it to feeding mode. 

How To Target Feed Corals?

Target feeding is our preferred choice of feeding corals, as it allows precision and it means you can feed specific coral foods to different coral species. For example, small polyp stony (SPS) corals require powdered food, while LPS corals can consume powdered and pelleted food. 

To target feed corals, you will need a feeding tool; a pipette, syringe, or turkey baster works wonders!

  1. Mix your coral food with aquarium water - check the manufacturer’s guidelines for mixture percentages
  2. Turn off any return pumps, skimmers, and wave pumps
  3. Once the aquarium water has stopped, fill your feeding tool
  4. Gently feed the targeted coral by releasing a small amount of food above its mouth
  5. Set a timer to turn your system back on, as you can easily get carried away when target-feeding corals

The Best Coral Foods

Common Q&A

Coral polyp and mouth

Q: When is the best time to feed corals?

A: The best time to feed corals is in the evening, when the lights are switched off. 

Q: How many times should I feed my corals?

A: It is recommended to feed corals 1-2 times per week.

Q: How long does feeding corals take?

A: Feeding corals should take no longer than 10-20 minutes. 


At Reefco Aquariums, not only do we offer a variety of corals, but we are also here to offer you knowledge about caring for corals. Feeding corals is easy! You can either feed your corals by target or broadcast feeding powdered, pelleted, or a mixture of both. 

If you have any questions regarding feeding corals, or what coral food products we have to offer, do not hesitate to contact the Reefco Team - we’re available to answer any questions you may have.

by Brian Dunleavy