Why Is My Birds Nest Coral Turning White?

A favorite of aquarium enthusiasts worldwide, the bright colors and interesting shapes of Birds Nest Coral make the flora a popular choice for many aquatic displays – but like all living organisms, Birds Nest coral does present its own unique challenges, and can be temperamental in regard to certain conditions in its environment – or the lack thereof.

One common issue for Birds Nest owners is coral bleaching. Just like the bleaching occurring in wild reefs around the globe, coral in aquatic tanks can turn completely white if its requirements for water and lighting conditions are not strictly adhered to.

In spite of this, with the proper care and environment Birdsnest coral can thrive and add eye-catching color to any display of tropical fish and aquatic life.

What is Birds Nest coral?

Birds Nest coral belongs to the Small Polyp Stony (SPS) coral family and is one of the easiest SPS corals to care for. A healthy coral is available in bright hues of yellow, green, purple, orange, brown, or pink, with sprawling branches (hence the name ‘Birds Nest’) that will easily catch the eye and brighten up an aquarium.

Found in the wild in shallow tropical reefs along the African East Coast, and the North, East, and West Coast of Australia, Birds Nest coral can grow via fragmentation – meaning you only need a small cut-off of a coral branch to propagate a new plant.

Although amongst the SPS corals Birds Nest is one of the easier types of coral to grow and keep alive, it can still be moderately challenging for a new aquatic tank owner to maintain the lighting and water quality that this plant needs.

Genetics of each individual Birds Nest coral plays a large role in determining its need for light, for instance, a green coral tends to thrive in lower or moderate light, whereas pink coral prefers brighter light conditions. Corals will change color depending on their conditions, which is something to keep in mind for those wanting a specific tone for their tank.

Why is my Birds Nest coral turning white?

A common issue presented by Birds Nest coral is the coral turning completely white. This is the result of coral bleaching, which is a topic a lot of us have probably heard referenced in discussions about the damage of global warming to our natural environments. 

Coral has a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship with microscopic algae – which gets expelled by the stressed-out coral when water is too warm or the lighting in its environment is too severe. 

Zooxanthellae algae assist the coral by photosynthesizing and providing nourishment so although the bleaching process itself does not kill the coral, without the algae it cannot survive.

How can I stop coral bleaching from happening?

As the proverb goes, prevention is better than cure. There are a number of measures you can take to ensure that your Birds Nest coral stays healthy and never loses its color in your tank:

  1. Acclimate your coral to its new environment – when introducing a new Birds Nest propagation to your tank it is a good idea to start with low light intensity, and gradually increase it over time.
  2. Give your Birds Nest coral plenty of room allowing it to grow to a sturdier size (amongst SPS corals, Birds Nest is relatively fast-growing), giving it more resilience to adverse conditions.
  3. Ensure your water quality is high right from the get-go to give your coral the best chance of growing and staying healthy. You want your alkalinity to measure between 8-12 dkh and pH between 8.2 and 8.4, and salinity to be 1.025 specific gravity.
  4. Keep your tank temperature between 78℉ and 82℉ (25.5℃ and 27.8℃). Too warm a temperature is one of the most significant contributing factors when it comes to coral bleaching (and a cold environment can cause a host of other issues too).
  5. Plant your coral in an area of your tank where it will receive more lighting and be in the path of a strong flow of water, encouraging it to grow thicker ‘branches’, again increasing its resistance in tougher conditions, as well as exposing it to the organic matter in the tank.

What if my Birds Nest coral is already white!

If you do find your Birds Nest coral turning white, there are still a few things you can do to try and save it. As mentioned above, the bleaching does not kill the coral, so even if white patches appear (indicating the absence of vital algae) some changes can be made to help the coral re-attract the algae it needs.

  • Check your lighting and make sure that it is not too intense for the coral. Using predominantly blue lights decreases the harshness and intensity, and repositioning your lighting may assist in regaining color in your coral.
  • Make sure that you are feeding your Birds Nest coral enough for it to have the energy to grow. Indirect feeding is when coral absorbs organic matter from the water around it, usually left by fish or other aquatic creatures in the tank. If you are lacking organisms that contribute to or produce uneaten food, bacteria, and waste products your coral may suffer as a result.
  • Bleaching of coral can sometimes be a delayed reaction to a change in conditions in the tank. A sudden swing in alkalinity can be a notorious example, If conditions have since stabilized there’s not a lot you can do other than ensure conditions remain steady in the future, and it is likely that your coral will recover within a short period of time.

Birds Nest Coral is considered a gateway into the world of Small Polyp Stony corals, and so long as you are able to invest the time and resources into keeping it healthy, is a great way to brighten up your home aquarium.
For a seasoned aquarium enthusiast, Birds Nest coral will fit seamlessly into the conditions of an already-established tropical tank and is a relatively low maintenance addition.

Like with all aquatic flora, you can run into some issues with Birds Nest coral if the environmental conditions aren’t consistent and maintained within narrow parameters – the most common being coral bleaching.

Steps can be taken to avoid coral bleaching from ever becoming a problem, and luckily even if issues such as this do arise, they do not have to be a death sentence for your coral population. With a few minor adjustments to conditions in your tank, you can have your eye-catching coral back to full health in no time!