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ARTIFICIAL CORAL IN A SEAHORSE TANK?

A Review of ROCKNREEFS Artificial Coral

After starting a 60 gallon tank for my seahorses, who were outgrowing their original tank, I had the feeling that the tank was empty and lacking hitching posts.  A piece of green star polyps, a finger leather coral (thanks to my sweet UPS delivery guy that gave them to me) and some plastic plants and plastic gorgonians were bringing some touches of color to the display, while a coral skeleton sat sadly on the right.  It was just not the full and vibrant tank that my seahorses deserve!

So fake and bare!


As a freshwater hobbyist since an early age, I have always hated all of the fake decors, especially fake plastic plants… until I had seahorses!  The need for good hitching posts became more important than my dislike of artificial decorations.  Fake plants are inexpensive at the local fish shops, and many others use them in seahorse tanks, so I decided to give them a try.  I also added a few pieces of macro algae and an orange sponge from other tanks, to fill the emptiness of the display.  But, I could see that my plastic plants were not really appreciated as hitching posts.

image of seahorse on net

It’s probably because of their shapes.  Most artificial decorations at local shops are made for freshwater displays, and meant for appearance only.  I guess they are too  “spiky” for the seahorses’ delicate tails, because none of my seahorses would really use them.  So I decided to order some more suitable hitching post for my beloved fish.  

“I’d rather hitch on the dang net versus your fake plants!!!”

WHAT IS AVAILABLE?

I looked online at several different websites, manufacturers and/or brands.  I considered all of my options, from common decorations in chain pet shops, to hand made custom decorations made per order.

A few brands of resin corals make realistic and good looking fake decorations.  But, they are pricey, can break easily during shipping or maintenance.  Their color can also fade or be ripped off if they are cleaned too hard.  So if they start to be covered in algae, it can be tricky to correctly clean them, especially if they mimic branching corals like acroporas.


A nice resin hard decor on saltwateraquarium.com

Also, the lack of transparency from manufacturers about if they are really suitable or not for saltwater is a concern.  Some coatings that are safe in freshwater might not be in saltwater.  I mean, we don’t even know what kind of paint is used! Same for some types of plastics that can leach bad things into an aquarium.  I truly wish more answers were available on these vendors’s websites. I’m probably a little bit paranoid, but it’s for seahorses’ safety!

WHAT DO SEAHORSES REALLY LIKE?

seahorse hitched on canister filter

Have you ever noticed that seahorses have preferences when it comes to hitching posts?  In my opinion, they will prefer round edged items like pipes, tubing and airlines.  They will prefer soft hitches over another that is rough or hard.  

This seahorse prefers the canister filter intake to any of the artificial hitches!

For example, live codium algae are a favorite of my seahorses!  Codium has rounded branches and a spongy texture, perfect for a soft hitching post!  The seahorses seem to only choose the fake plants if there are no other options.

The very comfortable and natural codium algae hitch

With no more spare algae, and wanting to keep the seahorses feeling safe and happy, I knew that I still needed to provide more hitching posts.  So, after comparing the different options from diverse online shops, I decided to try the artificial decorations that are not manufactured from hard polyresin, but are hand poured, soft to the touch and made of urethane with mass coloration.  RockNReefs carries these types of decorations, and other seahorse breeders recommended checking their website.


“Our custom corals are made from non-toxic urethane. They are handcrafted, using a deep pigment base throughout each piece to ensure endless beauty with your coral reef insert. Our corals are tough! These corals are very strong, yet flexible, perfect to withstand any aggressive handling and maintenance. Custom two-tone colors available. “

Description from RockNReefs website

Initially impressed, I ordered 8 pieces based on the website color examples, and of course my own personal preferences.

I ordered them 07/24/18 and received them 4 days later.  I was pretty surprised, as the website stated to expect delays.  I can say that their customer service team was very prompt, and quickly answered any emails regarding my order. 

When the pieces arrived, I cleaned them based on the included instructions, using Dawn soap and warm water.  I rinsed thoroughly before adding them to the display tank.  But, I was excited to see what the seahorses thought of them!

My order just out of the box
In the tank.

SHIPPING

Shipping costs were not the best, compared to other similar manufacturers that offer free shipping for less than what I ordered. The flat fee of 25 dollars (USPS priority mail) does not make it worth ordering just a decoration or two, as this would double the cost of a few pieces.  But the shipping industry is a mess that is worthy of it’s own article…..

The packaging was compact and simple, but efficient. These corals do not break, so they were stacked like tetris blocks in the package.  Nothing to worry about!

Two notes were included in the package.  One specified how to clean and prepare the pieces, as I mentioned earlier.  The other detailed different ways to install them:

FIRST IMPRESSION

My first impression was about the colors:  the pieces did not look very realistic due to the fact that they are only 1 tone.  I then looked at the texture:  soft and very bendable, but resistant.  I noticed that there were many small defects:  bubbles, dots of previous colors in the mold, and residues from the molding process.  But, remember these are hand made, and not produced in an industrial factory.


Note that the coral is dirty after 3 months in a tank without cleaning

The pieces also all had very broad bases.  They can be easily cut and mounted on the rockscape with pegs, as explained in the installation note provided in the package.  But, most people do not expect to have to drill artificial coral pieces.  And they suggest using epoxy to attach the pieces to rock, but doing so voids any warranty.  This makes it quite difficult to arrange the pieces and still be able to return them if they do not work for your aquarium.

CLEANING 

I let some of them get really dirty for 3 months on purpose, in another tank.  I allowed macro algae, red turf algae, diatoms, green hair algae and spirorbid to grow on them.  I needed them really dirty to truly test how they held up to cleaning.

I first used tapwater and a hard brush to try and clean them, but the shape of the corals did not allow me to reach all parts of the decor.

Dirty dirty!

So I decided to soak them for 24 hours in bleach diluted with tapwater. Quite a high percentage of bleach actually.  I had not asked the manufacturer about the use of bleach, and this probably voided any warranty also.  

Soaking in tapwater with bleach

Brushing them in the diluted bleach, letting them soak again, and then rinsing them got them quite clean.  I then let them soak again for 24 hours in mix of tap water and prime (an important step to make sure no bleach gets back into the seahorse tank).

Clean but showing white residues

A white residue could clearly be seen on the decorations.  So, I brushed them again under running tap water and let them dry.

The white residue did not go away completely, and I am not sure what the residue is, so I rinsed them again for safety. In the process, I noticed that Spirorbis could be easily be removed now with a very light scratch.

On the right coral, the base kept a color pretty close to his original one

The following picture shows the differences in coloration due to my bleaching process

Original piece 
After bleaching 
I honestly prefer the bleached color!

PROS AND CONS

PROS

  • The pieces are soft and flexible, something I know the seahorses will appreciate
  • The decorations do not break 
  • They will not lose color over time (unless bleached :))
  • They are easy to clean, even with a hard brush to get rid of algae, but some of their shapes can make it tricky to clean by hand (gem acropora for example)
  • They can be lightly bleached without loosing all color. I do not know what the manufacturer’s instructions are concerning bleach. But, you can fade the color at the surface if you let them soak with a good percentage of bleach, followed by a soak in water with prime to make them safe again.
  • They are easy to place (pegs, cut…)

CONS

  • The coloration is one tone (some manufacturer can do 2 tones, and rocknreefs can do it on demand).  But, one tone does not look very realistic in my opinion.
  • They were expensive compared to mass production pet shop resin decors
  • Each had visible molting defects (air bubbles, epavures – translation burred)
  • The colors can be deceiving, and different than the online pictures
  • My skimmer went mad for four whole weeks after I added them to my tank.   I cannot prove that this was related to these decors, but they were the only thing added before the skimmer went mad.  I followed the cleaning instructions before putting them in my tank, so I am curious if others have had this issue. I did not notice any other negative effect, except for the protein skimmer.

FINAL THOUGHTS

3.5 star rating

Overall, I am satisfied with my purchase in general, but would not buy again.  While these might come in handy in some situations, and have nice overall construction, they are just not my cup of tea.  They look too fake and I was expecting more natural and discrete looking pieces.

The coloration was my biggest issue.  I was quite disappointed with three of the particular pieces I bought.  Two were much brighter when compared to the colors shown on the website.  The third had a realistic, nice discoloration on the tips in the picture displayed, but the piece I received had no such tips.  The “two-tone” option was not indicated on the website picture, so I was disappointed that my coral looked so different.  I can understand a difference in color with LIVE coral, but there should be no question when purchasing artificial pieces.

Fortunately, after using and brushing the pieces in a high percentage of bleach, and then letting them soak under the glorious Florida summer sun, I succeeded in fading the surface colors.  While I recommend that anyone ASK THE MANUFACTURER before trying this, this trick worked to make the colors of my pieces look more natural, and more to my liking. 

The faded look is pretty cool, and they are well built

The company kindly offered to replace the pieces that I did not like at no cost, if I shipped the originals back.  But I chose to keep them for growing systems instead.  I am still very curious about what caused my skimmer to go mad…

But the most important and bottom line is that my seahorses absolutely love to hitch on them!  And, the seahorses do not care what color they are!  Even fry seem to love them!  So, as long as natural coloration is not a huge concern, or you are willing use DIY methods to change the colors, the ROCKNREEFS artificial coral will definitely work in a seahorse display tank.  They love the soft, rounded hitches.

I will be sure to post updates if anything changes over time with these pieces.  For anyone interested, here are some vendors that make and sell urethane artificial corals online :


RockNReefs

Ocean Aquaria

Living Color

Or ask your local store about WECO South Pacific products!

If you have purchased artificial decorations that you absolutely love, or were less than thrilled with, please let us know in the comments!  And if you have a product that you would like to see reviewed, please let us know that too!