The unique pipe organ coral (Tubipora musica) is a soft coral with a calcareous, external skeleton that is red. The dried skeletons of this attractive coral used to be very popular with marine fishkeepers back in the day when bleached coral skeletons, rather than live corals, were all-the-rage. The deep red skeleton of Tubipora musica added a rich color to the otherwise white bleached coral decor. Fortunately, in more recent times, live pipe organ corals are more popular than dead ones. The only downside is that in the live Tubipora musica, the red skeleton is often obscured by the polyps, at least when they are extended, as well as sponges that often grow within the skeleton structure. The structure of the pipe organ coral is really quite spectacular – it consists of vertical tubes (which are actually fused sclerites) that are connected together by horizontal, stolonic plates. Each of these tubes is occupied by a single polyp.
Difficulty: The pipe organ coral is a moderately hardy species, but according to Sprung and Delbeek (1997) the different “forms” available in the hobby vary in their hardiness. These authors indicate that the larger-polyped forms are easier to keep, while the Tubipora musica “type” with smaller polyps are less durable. The pipe organ coral harbors zooxanthellae in their tissues, and they rely on the sugars that are a byproduct of the algae photosynthesis for a good deal of their nutrients. For this reason, a good light source is required to keep the pipe organ coral healthy. It is also a good idea to feed the pipe organ coral some of the particulate coral foods that are readily available.
Physical description: The pipe organ coral is a member of the order Stolonifera and the family Tubiporidae (which are usually referred to as mat polyps). The polyps may or may not have pinnules (extensions off the tentacles) and can be creamy brown, greyish-green, yellowish-green to bluish-white. As mentioned above, some pipe organ corals have smaller polyps, while others have large polyps. The skeleton, as indicated above, can be a deep to bright red. The extended polyps can be confused with Briareum, Clavularia and Anthelia, all of which lack the red skeleton. Tubipora musica colonies can be hemispherical and massive, thick and encrusting. The colony can grow to a height of about 12 inches and a width of 24 inches.
Range: The pipe organ coral can be found from the Red Sea and the east African coast east to southern Japan, the Marshall Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. Tubipora musica is most often encountered on sheltered fringing reefs, often in relatively nutrient-rich habitats. On the Great Barrier Reef, the pipe organ coral tends to inhabit clear water on the mid and outer reef. It has been reported at depths of 10 to at least 60 feet on reef faces and slopes. In some regions it is common on shallow tidal flats where it is exposed to strong illumination.
Compatibility: The pipe organ coral is not aggressive. The pipe organ coral may shade slower-growing species, but it will not sting other corals. It is more likely to fall victim to chemicals and sweeper tentacles that are utilized by its coral neighbors. Like other stoloniferous corals, it is sometimes nipped at by angelfish and hungry surgeonfish. Of course, the normal villains, such as butterflyfish, pufferfish and triggerfish, are likely to nip at the polyps of the pipe organ coral.
Aquarium conditions: The pipe organ coral does best under moderate to high lighting (some suggest high lighting is essential to keep it happy). The pipe organ coral will require at least moderate waterflow as well, but it may keep its polyps contracted if subjected to a strong, direct waterflow. Water parameters for the pipe organ coral should be a calcium level of 400 to 450 ppm, alkalinity 3.2 to 4.8 meq/L, magnesium 1200 to 1350 ppm, no phosphates and a water temperature of 76 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
Care considerations: This pipe organ coral can be quickly overgrown by filamentous (hair) algae. This often results from detritus collecting around the polyps in the skeleton interstices. The pipe organ coral is also susceptible to brown jelly disease. Brown jelly disease is thought to occur as a result of the buildup of protozoa in the genus Helicostoma. The sponge that grows between the polyps should be checked when the coral is initially purchased to make sure it is still alive. If it dies off, it can kill the polyps and encourage pestilent algae growth that can smother the polyps.
Breeding: The pipe organ coral can be fragged. Simply cut the coral from top to bottom with a sharp knife (do not cut it horizontally).