The Salty Side: Saltwater Aquariums for Beginners

How To Post Coral Frags Safely

Many reefers come to a point in their saltwater tanks when corals need to be trimmed back, or fragged. This can happen fairly quickly with soft corals such as Zoanthid and mushrooms as the fastest growing corals. LPS take a little longer, while SPS take longer still. When it comes to the decision to trim and move the frags on, you are invariably left with a decision to make. How do you move your frags on? A couple of years ago there was no such thing as COVID-19 and people happily sold privately from their homes, and would travel to collect too. Of course you always had the option of parting with your frags at your LFS, with the downside being a 50% loss in profit. Things changed quickly with COVID and although coral posting has been around for years, it has become more popular for the average reefer to send frags out in the post. But how do you post coral frags?

post coral frags
A few of the items you will need.

Coral healing

The most important part of posting a coral that has been recently trimmed is to ensure it has fully healed first. There is no point in risking posting a frag that is not yet ready.

Generally speaking, soft corals bounce back in a couple of days after cutting. When trimming Zoanthid, once the polyps are fully open again, they are ready to go. Green Star Polyp is just as tough as Zoa. Mushrooms are as tough as nails too, but once cut they need to settle again on a frag plug or on rock rubble and this can take up to a couple of weeks. Mushrooms cannot be glued down, but need to settle down naturally.

For more information on fragging soft corals, read this article.

LPS can be super easy to frag, or not, depending on the coral. For example, a branching Hammer or a Candy Cane can be cut on the bare branch without affecting the rest of the colony, and can be ready to ship off immediately. However, Acans and Goniopora which encrust need to be sawn through with a purpose made coral bandsaw like the Inland DB-100 Aqua Saw. Using the DB-100 allows for a cleaner more precise cut, but you should still leave your frags to heal for at least 4 weeks.

For more information on fragging LPS corals, read this article.

SPS coral are a little easier to trim with a pair of heavy duty toenail clippers, or coral specific cutters. Once an SPS coral has been secured to a frag plug with superglue, you will need to wait for the frag to begin to ‘base out’ a bit. This signifies that the coral has recovered and is ready to ship.

For more information on fragging SPS coral, read this article.

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Sealed Containers and Double Bagging Coral Frags

To post a coral frag you need to either secure it in an airtight container or in a fish bag. 

This comes down to personal choice. I tend to use double bagging for soft coral and the majority of LPS, and containers for SPS frags and smaller corals on frag plugs.

post coral frag
Coral frag in single bag
post coral frag double bagged
Coral frag double bagged

Double bagging is simply placing a single frag in a fish bag with a small amount of water (enough to cover while in transit). Removing as much air as you can from the bag which will ensure that when the parcel is being tossed about the coral will always be in water.

Secure the bag at the top with an elastic band by looping it over repeatedly until tight. Then place this bag in another bag and secure it with an
additional elastic band.
Do not be tempted to place two different coral species in one bag. This could result in both corals dying during transit. Either because they are being bashed against each other in transit, or because they are having
their own little bought of chemical warfare. Instead, place them in smaller bags, then place those bags in a single larger bag.
The importance of double bagging cannot be overestimated. Once or twice I have sent corals out in double bags where the inner bag has perforated and the outer bag has survived. On one occasion,
both bags perforated but the double layer made it hard for the water to completely escape and the coral remained submerged at all times.

As mentioned above, my preference is to ship soft coral and LPS in bags. My reasoning seems to work. Both are fairly robust and can take the abuse at the hands of the postal system. Additionally as they tend to grow faster they are also sold as larger specimens which means that sealed containers are
not always practical or large enough.
SPS frags on the other hand are always shipped in separate sealed containers (apart from plating Monitipora and Turbanaria which can be larger than containers too) as they can be very fragile depending of the type. To post a coral frag of SPS the container is filled to the brim, and the frag plug on which the coral is attached is secured into a round piece of foam (either through a cut slit, or drilled through). This foam is then pushed into the container and the lid is screwed on tight. The frag plug will not come adrift from the foam so you can be certain the coral can survive the trip to its new owner.
Only once have I had a report of a broken SPS being received, and this was down to possible extreme handling while in transit, and because the frag in question was a Montipora Setosa which is a very fragile SPS.
Thankfully the same coral is also very robust for an SPS, and the buyer ended up with two in his aquarium.

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how to post coral
Rainbow Chalice secured in foam in shipping container.

SPS frags on the other hand are always shipped in separate sealed containers (apart from plating Monitipora and Turbanaria which can be larger than containers too) as they can be very fragile depending of the type. To post SPS the container is filled to the brim, and the frag plug on which the coral is attached is secured into a round piece of foam (either through a cut slit, or drilled through). This foam is then pushed into the container and the lid is screwed on tight. The frag plug will not come adrift from the foam so you can be certain the coral can survive the trip to its new owner.

Only once have I had a report of a broken SPS being received, and this was down to possible extreme handling while in transit, and because the frag in question was a Montipora Setosa which is a very fragile SPS.
Thankfully the same coral is also very robust for an SPS, and the buyer ended up with two in his aquarium.

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Shipping Heat Packs

Maintaining the correct temperature is one of the most important aspects of shipping, and it is simply achieved by adding a Uniheat heat pack. The purpose of the heat pack is to ensure the temperature of the water in which your coral now sits does not dip below an unacceptable temperature. Each heat pack is sealed in a plastic cover, that when removed and exposed to air will react and begin to warm up. You can help the process by giving the pack a small shake. It should be secured to the lid of the poly box with tape, with further instructions on which side must face the inside of the box. Following instruction, always make a couple of small holes in the poly box to allow the ‘air reaction’ of the heat pack to continue throughout the transit.

Post coral frag box
Heat pack and screwdriver holes
Cover the heat pack

It is important to protect the fish bags from direct contact with the heat pack, which I normally do by placing at least two inches of scrunched newspaper between the two.

You may be wondering if it is always necessary to use a heat pack. The answer is no. If the temperature outside matches or exceeds the temperature of the water then there is no need to add a heat pack. The purpose of the heat pack is to keep your water warm when temperatures are lower.

When choosing your heat pack I would suggest the 40hrs plus. When shipping coral, the aim is to have it arrive within 24hrs, but should it be extended for any reason (and that does happen) then at least you have a few more hours of heat to aid in survival.  

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Posting coral frags with activated carbon

I have received a number of corals which have included a few pieces of activated carbon in the water.
The reason for this addition is that they absorb any organics in the water, keeping the water in pristine condition. I like the idea, but I haven’t added any carbon to corals I’ve ever shipped, and I can’t think of a reason I would.

Dipping coral prior to shipping

Occasionally I have opened packages and removed the corals and have smelled coral dip. Now my immediate assumption is there was a reason that coral was dipped prior to shipping. The seller will tell you that the dip helps the coral combat illness, which it does. But dipping is the responsibility of the buyer. I have never dipped corals prior to shipping.

When I smell coral dip I make doubly sure that frag is properly cleaned and quarantined before going in my display tank.

Shipping boxes and poly boxes

Choosing whether to use an insulted carton (poly box) or a standard cardboard box comes down to the weather at the time of shipping and the ambient temperature at the time. It goes without saying that the poly box and heat pack would be the way to go if temperatures outside are in the low numbers. If you do chose to use a poly box in warmer weather, there is no need to make any holes as you will not be including a heat pack. Both will require packing-out material to ensure your bags or sealed contains do not rattle about inside the box.

post coral frag packing
Pack out the box with paper
Post coral frag box
Close the box with packing tape
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Ideally, you want to keep the boxes as small as possible to limit the cost of the shipping and the amount of packing-out material you need to use.

Labelling of boxes with ‘Fragile’, ‘This way up’, or ‘Live coral’ can make the presentation look the part for the buyer, but the truth is that these are never adhered to while in transit.

Shipping coral frags

Sending coral frags in the post is like entrusting an extremely fragile heirloom to house movers, they won’t care how it gets there, only that it gets there. Each time you send a frag you wait to hear no news. No news is normally good news. If you are selling on eBay, you may even be rewarded with a positive feedback. However, you should be prepared for bad news too.

No matter how much care you take, it is in the hands of the postage gods for 24hrs of potential abusive handing. Most come through unscathed, but there are those that do not.

If you are selling on eBay it does not matter what conditions you ascribe to receipt of an otherwise healthy coral. The buyer will expect a replacement or a refund, because the negative feedback button is always a click away.

In fact I know of one seller who was banned from selling on eBay. He sent out 3 healthy frags which were purchased in 3 separate listings. The postage gods were bad that night and all arrived in bad condition, having been shipped in the same box. The buyer left negative feedback on all three resulting in an immediate ban.

I suppose what I am saying is, yes you will make some money from fragging, but you can also make losses which are completely out of your control. If you choose to sell on eBay, right from the outset of a sale you should contact to arrange delivery, and be as friendly as possible with the buyer to offset any postage disaster that may occur.

If Shipping Goes Awry…

This is bound to happen, and you will have to know how to react.

Know that if the buyer sends you a picture of grey water and tells you that the water smells, there is no coming back. 

If however, they tell you that a bag has burst and the heat pack is sodden, you need to assume that the water is cold. If they can retrieve any water (another good reason to use a poly box) and temperature acclimate the coral in the remaining water there may be a chance of survival, especially if they are soft coral or LPS.

If they send you a picture of an SPS stripping in the bag, get them to temperature acclimate it, then if there is sufficient remaining, snip the affected parts off. This is a 50/50 outcome.

Most importantly, when shipping coral, the acclimation process is critical. Some people way overdo coral acclimation. They have been starved of oxygen rich water and need to be reintroduced to a running system ASAP. It may be worth including an acclimation guide.

Acropora and color changes

When fragging acropora it is worth bearing in mind that the frag may change color in another system. It may be a vivid pink in your system, but immediately changes color in the next. Be prepared to answer this question. Water chemistry plays a huge part in color of the frag, as does the stress of relocating.

I am still waiting for a PC Rainbow, a Spathulata and a Tenuis to gain the color they had in the original system. It might be a long wait. The Spathulata was pink in the bag and changed immediately to green as it entered my system.

 

Most other corals colors set and do not change dramatically.

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