When embarking on the reefing journey, it's common to be dazzled by the myriad of bright and vibrant corals available in the hobby. For many, the path begins with more forgiving soft corals, which are relatively tolerant to various water quality, lighting, and flow conditions. As their skills and confidence grow, aquarists often progress to LPS (large polyp stony) corals, which demand slightly more attention. However, the true pinnacle of the hobby for many is the dive into the world of SPS (small polyp stony) corals. SPS cultivation can be challenging, requiring precise conditions and consistent care. Stability, in particular, is key for the health, growth, and longevity of these species.
For those eager to begin their SPS adventure without diving into the deep end, the Top Shelf team presents a curated list of the top 10 beginner-friendly SPS corals. These species are robust enough to provide a positive initial experience while offering a glimpse into the rewarding world of SPS keeping.
Often overshadowed by its more popular relatives (Acropora), Anacropora is a robust SPS coral that is fairly easy to keep. It offers branching forms and grows well in tanks with moderate flow and lighting. Anacropora is also less sensitive to changes in water quality, meaning it can handle moderate fluctuations in alkalinity and higher nutrients levels. Some of the Anacropora that we offer here at TSA include RRC Goldenrod, JF TNT, RRC Tropicana, and CB The Thing.
2. Plating Montipora
Similar to most other SPS corals, Plating Montipora is great because they can be cut and shaped to grow the way the reefer intended through pruning and placement. They’re perfect for aquarists who are just getting into SPS due to how fast they can grow and the large variety of colors they come in. At TSA we actively work on growing grafted plating montipora to further enhance the colors they show off in any reef tank. One of our newest creations is the TSA Mind Melt Montipora.
3. Encrusting Montipora
Similar to the plating montipora, encrusting montipora is also a fast grower and is hardier to fluctuations in water parameters. It’s also not as light demanding as various other SPS corals. These coral are perfect for barron rock faces in reef tanks. Some of our favorites include TSA Danger Zone, Aquaman’s Revenge, and the Rainbow Montipora.
4. Palawanensis Montipora
Palawanensis Montipora comes with even better and brighter colors than its plating counterpart. Plus the texture and growth patterns are unmatched with the various ridges and peaks. These Montipora can both encrust and eventually plate out. Some of the most iconic pieces in this category include the JF Beach Bum, TSA Beast, and TSA Mango Tango.
Montipora Setosa, better known as just Setosa, is rather unique in its growth pattern. It can start as an encrusting piece and then grow out in a branching plate pattern. It almost looks like a hybrid between an encrusting montipora and digitata. After a lot of time and hard work, TSA has created a triple grafted Setosa with bright red and deep green and purple. We’ve decided to call it the TSA Fruit Swirl. Setosa is a great beginner SPS and can fit right in with a soft coral or LPS tank.
Birdsnest is also another perfect beginner SPS due to its hardy nature. We actively grow and aquaculture over 20 variations of birdsnest, with varying different colors. The part about this SPS is how dense it grows and the wavy polyp’s that show when there is adequate amounts of flow. We recommend our TSA Neon Green Birdsnest due to its incredibly bright green hue.
Similar to birdsnest, Stylophora has the same fuzzy texture, bright coloration, and dense growth patterns. These SPS need flow in order to remove any sand particles, built up detritus, and keep the water replenished of various elements. A well known Stylophora here at TSA is our TSA Triple Threat Stylophora.
Pocillopora is another great choice for beginners as it’s fuzzy in nature and has a slight possibility of reproducing in a reef tank due to polyp bailout, causing it to appear in various places overtime. This coral is perfect for filling up space with a tree-like structure.
One of the cornerstone Acropora in the hobby that's been around for years is the green slimer. From its fluffy green appearance, to its hardiness, the green slimer is all around the perfect acropora to test in a reef system.
10. Bill Murray Acropora
A hallmark here at TSA is our TSA Bill Murray. Named after actor and comedian Bill Murray, this hardy acropora features a deep green and bright pink. It’s also a great acropora to use as an indicator coral. If it can be colored up and really hold it’s beautiful colors, then the tank is definitely ready for some higher level acropora.
Starting with SPS can seem daunting, but the right choices, paired with dedication, can yield a vibrant and thriving underwater landscape. TSA's curated selection ensures that every beginner feels the joy of success while cherishing the beauty of these marine wonders. Dive in, and let your reefing journey evolve with SPS!