9 Reasons Your Hammer Coral Is Dying And How To Fix Them!

Hammer corals are a popular and visually stunning addition to reef aquariums. However, these corals are also known for their sensitivity to changes in their environment, and any slight inconsistency within the tank can potentially lead to their demise.

In order to thrive, hammer corals require a well-balanced environment that considers water flow, lighting, temperature, and appropriate nutrient levels.

Additionally, the acclimation process plays a crucial role in the coral’s survival and adaptation to a new tank. At the same time, it is essential to watch out for potential diseases, pests, and physical damage that may compromise the coral’s well-being.

Understanding the various factors that contribute to the health of hammer corals can provide valuable insights into why they may die and how to prevent such occurrences.

Key Takeaways

  • Maintaining a balanced environment ensures hammer coral’s health, including optimal water flow, lighting, and temperature.
  • Proper acclimation process and appropriate nutrient levels are critical for the coral’s adaptation and overall wellbeing.
  • Monitoring for potential diseases, pests, and physical damage can help prevent hammer coral’s premature death.
An infographic going over our Hammer Coral CARE SHEET

Water Quality

hammer coral dying

Maintaining optimal water quality plays a crucial role in the health of hammer corals. High levels of nitrate or phosphate, significant fluctuations in pH, or a lack of essential trace elements can cause coral to weaken and ultimately die. In addition to these factors, using certain medications or treatments in the tank, or having unbalanced calcium and alkalinity levels, can negatively impact hammer corals.

It’s essential to regularly monitor and maintain water parameters within the acceptable range to ensure the well-being of your hammer coral. Nitrate levels should generally stay below 5 ppm, while phosphate concentrations ought to be below 0.03 ppm.

Moreover, maintaining a consistent pH between 8.1 and 8.4, calcium levels around 400 to 500 ppm, magnesium levels between 1200 – 1350 ppm, and alkalinity within 8 to 12 dKH helps create a stable environment for your corals.

The majority of hammer corals will thrive with a specific gravity between 1.022 and 1.025 but we have seen some people successfully keep them outside of this range in certain setups. You should always ensure that the water temperature for your hammer coral is between 76-83 °F to ensure that it is as comfortable as possible too.

Optimal water parameters are important for hammer corals

Water flow is another vital aspect of water quality, contributing significantly to the health of hammer corals. Proper water flow ensures access to nutrients, dissolved oxygen, and waste removal while preventing the buildup of detritus. Hammer corals usually thrive with moderate water flow, so we recommend you start here and adjust if required.

Routine water changes, along with the use of high-quality salt mixes, can aid in maintaining impeccable water quality. Make sure that any treatment or medication administered in the tank is compatible with hammer corals and does not interfere with their health.

In conclusion, maintaining optimal water quality is key to preventing hammer coral from dying. Regular testing and adjustments to maintain suitable levels of essential water parameters, along with appropriate water flow, will create a thriving environment for your hammer coral and contribute to its overall well-being.

Here is a little reminder for the recommended water parameters for healthy hammer corals:

  • Water Temperature: 76-83 °F.
  • Water Flow: Medium.
  • pH: Between 8.1 and 8.4.
  • Specific Gravity: 1.022 – 1.025.
  • Alkalinity: 8-12 dKH.
  • Calcium: 400-500 ppm.
  • Magnesium: 1200 – 1350 ppm.
  • Phosphate: <= 0.03 ppm.
  • Ammonia: 0.00 ppm.
  • Nitrite: 0.00 ppm.
  • Nitrate: <= 5 ppm

The recovery time for a hammer coral that is dying due to water parameter issues can be difficult to predict due to some parameters being more important than others. You should see signs of improvement within a week or two but it may take months to fully recover.

Water Flow

A thriving hammer coral in a reef tank

Hammer corals require a careful balance of water flow to ensure their health and longevity. It is crucial to maintain a moderate water flow as both extremes can lead to detrimental effects.

When the water current is too strong, it can cause damage to the delicate coral tissue and skeleton. The constant force of the water can wear down the coral, making it more susceptible to disease and other stressors. To prevent this, it is essential to monitor the flow within the aquarium and adjust as necessary to provide the ideal environment for the coral.

You can use rocks and other objects to reduce water flow from high to moderate in certain tank setups to allow your hammer coral to thrive while also keeping tank mates that require high water flow in the same tank.

Water flow is an important thing to factor in when caring for hammer corals

On the other hand, when water flow is too weak, debris can begin to accumulate on the coral’s surface. This buildup of waste and detritus can obstruct the coral’s access to vital nutrients, light, and oxygen.

Moreover, the accumulation of debris can also lead to bacterial growth, subsequently causing infections and potentially leading to the coral’s death. Regular maintenance, such as cleaning and water changes, is necessary to minimize the risk of debris buildup and ensure the coral has access to essential resources.

A high water flow is definitely more of a risk to a hammer coral than a low water flow and the potential damage that your coral can sustain in high water flow can make it difficult for the coral to fully recover. Provided you catch the problem early enough, your hammer coral can recover within four weeks.


A hammer coral thriving in a reef tank with perfect lighting

Hammer corals require a specific range of lighting conditions to thrive and maintain their health. It is essential to provide these corals with a moderate level of light, as incorrect lighting can cause stress, leading to undesirable outcomes like bleaching or even death.

Providing the right lighting is crucial for hammer corals to carry out photosynthesis.

Too much bright light may cause the coral to bleach, losing its vibrant colors and becoming more susceptible to diseases. On the other hand, insufficient lighting can result in the coral gradually withering away and eventually dying due to an inability to produce energy through photosynthesis.

Hammer corals will usually thrive with 80 and 150 PAR lighting that lasts for 10-12 hours including ramp-up time. If your lighting unit allows for it, try to program a peak intensity period of 2-4 hours, especially if your hammer coral is sick or dying.

Hammer coral lighting is more important than most beginners initially realize

To ensure optimal lighting conditions for your hammer corals, place them in the lower regions of your tank. These areas often have the ideal range of light intensity that benefits hammer corals. Moreover, using appropriate reef LED lighting in a tank set-up can cater to the moderate lighting needs of most hammer coral species.

It is worth mentioning that some hammer corals can display a stunning fluorescent appearance under actinic lights, as seen in their green, purple, and, occasionally, orange tentacles. Maintaining the right balance of lighting conditions not only helps keep the coral healthy but also showcases its mesmerizing colors, adding beauty and interest to any marine aquarium.

If your hammer coral is dying due to lighting problems then it can often start to show signs of improvement within days of the issues being corrected.

Water Temperature

A hammer coral with steady water temperatures allowing it to thrive.

Maintaining a consistent water temperature is vital for the health of hammer coral. These corals thrive in stable conditions, and rapid changes in temperature can shock the coral, leading to stress and potentially, death.

Typically, hammer corals prefer a consistent water temperature between 76°F and 83°F but they can live slightly outside of this range provided there are minimal fluctuations in their water temperature.

It is crucial to monitor and maintain this temperature range consistently. Rapid fluctuations, whether too high or too low, can negatively impact the coral’s ability to carry out essential functions, such as photosynthesis and nutrient absorption.

In addition to consistency, it’s important not to underestimate the role that temperature plays in overall coral health. Water temperature influences the coral’s metabolism, growth rates, and susceptibility to diseases.

Water temperature problems can be a common cause of hammer corals dying

For example, high water temperatures can lead to coral bleaching, a process where the coral expels the symbiotic algae living within it, weakening the coral and leaving it more vulnerable to diseases and death.

To maintain a consistent water temperature in your aquarium, utilize a reliable heater and a thermostat to closely monitor and control the conditions. Regularly check the heater and thermostat to ensure they are functioning properly. Additionally, the placement of the aquarium should be in a location that avoids direct sunlight and significant fluctuations in room temperature.

By keeping the water temperature stable and within the appropriate range, you can create a favorable environment for your hammer coral to thrive and reduce the risk of it dying due to temperature-related stress.

Most hammer corals that are dying due to issues with their water temperature should recover within two to three weeks of the problem being corrected. This does presume you caught the problem early enough to prevent any serious long-term damage from being done to the coral.

Problems With Nutrients

A well fed hammer coral in a reef rank

Proper nutrient balance is essential for the health and growth of hammer corals with nutrition being an area where people commonly make mistakes. This is why people use supplemental feeding where they will physically feed their hammer coral once or twice per week to help top up its nutritional profile.

Magnesium and Calcium are crucial elements in maintaining stable water parameters for hammer corals. These nutrients play a vital role in the formation of the coral’s skeletal structure. Insufficient levels can lead to slow growth, while excessive levels might cause the coral to become stressed and possibly die.

We highly recommend that you try to maintain the following calcium and magnesium levels in a tank with a dying hammer coral:

  • Calcium: 400-500 ppm.
  • Magnesium: 1200 – 1350 ppm.

While hammer corals mainly rely on photosynthesis and their symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae as their primary energy source, they also need to be fed occasionally.

An infographic going over Protein Sources For Hammer Coral

Here are are some of our favourite food options for hammer corals that are perfect for topping up the nutritional profile in their diet:

  1. Mysis Shrimp: A popular choice for feeding many types of coral, mysis shrimp are rich in protein and nutrients.
  2. Brine Shrimp: Another common food, especially if offered in their enriched, frozen form.
  3. Copepods: Small crustaceans that can be found in many reef environments.
  4. Krill: These can be broken down into smaller pieces if needed, depending on the size of the coral’s polyps.
  5. Fish Eggs: Available in some specialty aquarium stores, fish eggs can be a nutritious treat.
  6. Squid and Clams: Finely chopped or offered in a frozen mix, these can provide variety and essential nutrients.
  7. Daphnia: A type of small crustacean that can be used to feed Hammer Coral.
  8. Chopped Seafood Mix: Some hobbyists prepare a finely chopped mixture of various seafood (like fish, shrimp, and scallops) that can be bought fresh or frozen from a grocery store.
Manually feeding a hammer coral to increase the nutrition in its diet

Manually feeding your hammer coral is far easier than most people initially realize. If you are feeding the coral Brine shrimp, Mysis shrimp, copepods, or krill simply use something like a turkey baister to squirt the food at your hammer coral. If you are using a solid food like squid, clams or fish, use tweezers to put the food as close to your coral as possible.

Both overfeeding and underfeeding can create problems with hammer coral and potentially cause it to start dying.

Overfeeding may lead to rapid algae growth, deteriorating water quality, and stress on the coral. Underfeeding, on the other hand, can result in slow growth or even the coral withering away. It’s essential to find the right balance in feeding your hammer coral to ensure its health and vibrancy.

Low oxygen levels in the tank can cause stress and ultimately lead to the death of the coral. Proper water circulation and the use of air stones or protein skimmers can help maintain oxygen levels in the aquarium, ensuring that your hammer coral receives the necessary oxygen to thrive.

Monitoring and maintaining nutrient levels in the aquarium is a crucial aspect of hammer coral care. By keeping a close eye on magnesium, calcium, and providing appropriate feeding, you can ensure that your hammer coral remains healthy and vibrant. Remember to also maintain adequate oxygen levels to prevent stress and promote optimal growth for your coral.

The majority of hammer corals that start dying due to problems with nutrition will usually make a full recovery within weeks of their nutritional needs being consistently met.

Improper Acclimation

Improper Acclimation is another common reason hammer corals can start dying

Hammer corals, like any other coral species, require proper acclimation when being introduced to a new environment. If not properly acclimated to the tank, hammer corals can experience significant stress, leading to decline.

There are a number of different ways you can acclimatize your hammer coral to a reef tank and many of the methods you can find online work.

We always recommend that you quarantine a new coral prior to adding it to your display tank but here is the acclimatization process we usually use:-

  1. Inspect the Coral: Upon receiving the coral, carefully inspect it for any signs of damage or disease.
  2. Equalize Temperature: Float the sealed bag containing the coral in the tank for around 15-30 minutes to equalize the temperature.
  3. Prepare a Drip Line: Set up a drip line using airline tubing and a valve or knot to control the drip rate. This will be used to slowly add tank water to the bag.
  4. Begin Drip Acclimation: Place the bag in a container large enough to hold both the bag’s contents and additional water from the tank. Start the siphon and adjust the drip rate to about 2-4 drips per second.
  5. Monitor and Adjust: The entire process should take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. During this time, you’re slowly matching the water parameters of the bag to those of the tank.
  6. Check Specific Gravity: If possible, test the specific gravity (salinity) in the acclimation container to ensure that it closely matches your tank.
  7. Remove the Coral from Bag: Once acclimation is complete, gently remove the coral from the bag, being careful not to expose it to the air if possible. Do not pour the water from the bag into your tank, as it may contain contaminants.
  8. Dip if Necessary: Depending on the source of the coral, you may want to dip it in a coral dip to remove any potential pests. Follow the instructions on the coral dip if you choose to use one.
  9. Place in the Tank: Place the coral in the tank in a location that matches its lighting and flow requirements. Hammer Coral generally prefers moderate flow and lighting.
  10. Monitor the Coral: Keep a close eye on the coral for the first few days to weeks, checking for any signs of stress or disease. Adjust its placement in the tank if necessary, based on how it’s reacting to the lighting and flow.
  11. Avoid Feeding Initially: Allow the coral to acclimate to the tank for a few days before attempting to feed it, so it can settle in without the additional stress of feeding.
  12. Maintain Good Water Quality: Ensure that your water parameters are stable and within the proper range for a reef system to help the coral adapt smoothly.

People always try to rush this process resulting in problems with their corals dying. If your coral is having problems due to a rushed acclimation process then there is a good chance it will naturally recover itself over the coming days.

Lack of Space

Hammer coral under special lighting

Hammer corals require adequate space within their environment to grow and thrive. A primary concern for hobbyists is ensuring that the tank size is sufficient for the coral’s needs.

It is crucial to provide enough room between the hammer coral and neighboring corals, as these species can engage in a form of “chemical warfare.” This phenomenon occurs when corals release allelopathic chemicals to compete for space, which can ultimately lead to stress or death for the hammer corals.

Given the potential risks of close proximity, it is advisable for aquarium enthusiasts to monitor and maintain appropriate distances between hammer corals and other inhabitants. The ideal tank size is determined based on the growth rate of the coral species and their compatibility with other corals in the tank.

Always ensure that the tank you are keeping your hammer coral in is large enough

As a general rule, most marine aquariums should be at least 40 gallons in size to accommodate various coral species. Hammer corals, in particular, are considered mildly aggressive and will appreciate the abundant space to spread out and avoid unnecessary confrontations with other corals so many people should use a 50 gallon tank over a 40 gallon if possible.

Hammer corals can be unpredictable when it comes to their growth rate but remember to upgrade your tank as your coral grows if needed to provide it with all the space it needs.

By ensuring proper spacing and providing an ideal tank size, one can promote healthier growth and prevent the hammer coral from experiencing undue stress, ultimately avoiding potential loss or complications within the marine ecosystem.

A hammer coral in poor health due to space issues in its tank will often start to make a recovery within days of being provided with adequate space but it can take weeks to fully recover.

Physical Damage

A hammer coral that is kept in a community tank

Accidents happen, and hammer corals are no exception. Accidental damage from handling or other physical contact can lead to infection or slow death if the coral’s tissue is significantly damaged. When moving or adjusting coral placement within the aquarium, it’s essential to be careful and gentle to minimize the risk of any physical harm.

Physical damage can also occur when tank mates interact with hammer corals. For instance, some fish or invertebrates might nibble on coral tissue, causing damage over time. It’s crucial to ensure that the other inhabitants of the aquarium are reef-safe and compatible with hammer corals to minimize the risk of unwanted interactions.

To help prevent physical damage, consider the following precautions:

  • Carefully plan your coral placement in the tank, avoiding overcrowded areas where other corals might grow into or collide with your hammer coral.
  • Keep a watchful eye on your tank mates to ensure their behavior doesn’t harm the hammer coral. If you notice any aggressive interaction, it might be necessary to relocate the coral or the problematic tank mate.
  • Use proper handling techniques when moving or adjusting hammer corals in the aquarium, such as holding the coral by its base and minimizing direct contact with fragile parts.
  • Monitor your hammer coral for any visible signs of tissue damage or deterioration. If you spot any problems, address them promptly to prevent further harm or infection.

Provided the water flow in your tank is not too high, most healthy hammer corals with a suitable diet should be able to fully recover from damage within a month.

Diseases And Pests

A hammer coral in a marine tank

Hammer coral, like any other coral species, can be affected by various diseases and pests that may eventually lead to their decline or death. Among these diseases and pests are brown jelly disease, rapid tissue necrosis, and flatworms.

Brown jelly disease is a bacterial infection that causes a brown jelly-like substance to form on affected corals. If left untreated, it can quickly spread to other corals and cause additional infection and potential death. To combat brown jelly disease, it is essential to maintain excellent water quality and remove any affected coral tissues as soon as possible.

Rapid tissue necrosis is another disease that can severely impact hammer coral. This condition causes the coral’s tissue to quickly disintegrate, often leading to coral mortality. The exact cause of rapid tissue necrosis is not entirely understood, but it is strongly associated with stress from various factors, including poor water quality, temperature fluctuations, and inadequate lighting or flow. Maintaining stable water parameters and promptly addressing any tank issues is crucial in preventing the onset of this disease.

Flatworms are a type of pest that can infest hammer coral. These organisms can damage coral by feeding on their tissue and causing stress, which may eventually result in tissue loss or death. To prevent flatworm infestations, it is essential to observe proper quarantine procedures when introducing new corals to the aquarium and to monitor your coral regularly for signs of flatworms.

Moreover, bacterial, viral, or fungal infections can quickly kill off coral if not promptly identified and treated. Maintaining optimal water quality, adequate lighting, and flow are the best ways to prevent the onset of infections and ensure the overall health of your hammer coral. If you suspect a coral is suffering from one of these infections, immediate intervention and treatment are necessary to prevent its spread to other corals within the aquarium.

In summary, it is essential to maintain a healthy environment and closely monitor your hammer coral for signs of diseases and pests, as early detection and intervention are key in preventing further damage and potential coral death.

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