How Long Can Coral Survive Out Of Water? Expert Insights.

How long can coral be out of water?

Coral is a delicate marine organism that relies on water to survive.

While it is possible for coral to survive short periods of time out of water, it is essential to minimize this exposure as much as possible.

The exact amount of time coral can tolerate being out of water varies depending on various factors, such as the species of coral and environmental conditions.

However, it is generally recommended to return coral to water within 20 minutes to ensure its survival.

Why are Corals Sensitive to Air?

Corals are classified as sessile organisms, which means they are rooted in place and unable to move.

They have a remarkable symbiotic relationship with algae called zooxanthellae, which live within their tissues and provide them with essential nutrients through photosynthesis.

Corals also depend on water to maintain their temperature, oxygen levels, and hydration.

Therefore, exposure to air can have detrimental effects on their health and survival.

Short-Term Exposure

When corals are briefly exposed to air, they can tolerate it to some extent, especially if they are kept moist.

Short-term exposure can occur during low tides, extreme weather events, or human intervention such as coral collection for scientific purposes or aquarium trade.

However, the duration of exposure plays a significant role in determining the coral’s ability to survive.

  • Corals can survive out of water for a few minutes if they are kept moist and shaded.
  • To minimize stress and damage, it is crucial to handle the corals with extreme care and avoid touching their delicate polyps or structures.
  • Wetting the coral with sea or filtered water can help maintain moisture and prevent desiccation.
  • Avoid exposing corals to direct sunlight, as it can cause excessive heat stress and damage the zooxanthellae.

Longer Exposure and Implications

Longer exposure to air poses a greater risk to coral health and survival.

If corals remain out of water for an extended period, they may experience various physiological and environmental stresses, leading to irreversible damage.

Here are some factors that contribute to the impact of extended air exposure:


Desiccation refers to the process of drying out, and it can have severe consequences for corals. When exposed to air, corals gradually lose moisture, leading to dehydration.

As the tissues dry out, the delicate balance of the coral’s ecosystem is disrupted, affecting both the coral animal and the zooxanthellae, which cannot survive without sufficient hydration.

Temperature Stress

Water plays a crucial role in regulating the temperature around corals, buffering them from extreme temperature fluctuations.

When corals are exposed to air, they lose this natural protection and can experience rapid temperature changes.

High temperatures can lead to thermal stress, causing coral bleaching, which is the loss of the zooxanthellae, ultimately leading to coral death if prolonged.

Oxygen Deprivation

Corals require oxygen for respiration, just like any other organism. When they are out of water, their access to oxygen is limited, and they can quickly become oxygen-deprived.

The lack of oxygen can hinder metabolic processes and compromise the coral’s ability to survive.

Efficient Rehydration and Recovery

If corals are inadvertently exposed to air for an extended period, their chances of survival can be improved through proper rehydration and recovery methods.

These techniques aim to restore the coral’s hydration, temperature, and oxygen levels to minimize stress and promote healing.

Here are some effective methods for rehydrating corals:

Water Bath

One common method is to submerge the coral in a container filled with seawater or a mixture of water and coral-specific additives.

The water should be at the same temperature as the coral’s natural habitat to prevent thermal shock.

The duration of the water bath may vary depending on the extent of dehydration, but it is generally recommended to keep the coral submerged for several hours up to a day.


Misting is a technique used to provide moisture to the exposed corals by spraying a fine mist of water above them.

This method helps maintain humidity around the corals and prevents desiccation.

However, misting alone may not be sufficient for long-term survival and should be accompanied by other rehydration methods.

Tank Placement

For corals kept in aquariums or artificial tanks, it is essential to place them back into the water as soon as possible.

This ensures that they are exposed to appropriate water parameters such as temperature, salinity, and oxygen levels, which are vital for their well-being.

Proper water circulation and filtration systems should be in place to support their recovery.

Prevention and Conservation Efforts

While it is crucial to know how to rehydrate corals after exposure to air, prevention is always the best approach.

Minimizing human-induced stress on corals and their habitats plays a significant role in their conservation.

Here are some measures to consider:

  • Avoid touching or collecting corals unnecessarily, as handling can disrupt their delicate structures and introduce diseases.
  • Be mindful of low tides and extreme weather conditions that may result in prolonged air exposure for corals. Consider natural tidal cycles when planning activities near coral reefs.
  • Support sustainable practices, such as responsible coral aquaculture and proper care of corals in aquariums.
  • Raise awareness about the importance of coral conservation and the potential risks associated with air exposure.

Corals can tolerate short-term air exposure to some extent if they are adequately handled and kept moist.

However, extended air exposure can have severe implications for their survival, including desiccation, temperature stress, and oxygen deprivation.

It is crucial to implement efficient rehydration techniques to improve their chances of recovery.

Prevention and conservation efforts are essential for safeguarding these delicate organisms and the intricate ecosystems they support.

By understanding the impacts of air exposure on corals, we can contribute to their preservation and the health of our marine environments.

Corals growing out of the water…. now what ?

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens to coral when it is out of water for too long?

When coral remains out of water for an extended period, it faces several risks. Firstly, without water, coral’s delicate tissues begin to dry out, leading to potential damage or death.

Coral relies on water to obtain oxygen and nutrients. When deprived of water, it cannot properly respire or receive essential sustenance, further compromising its health and survival.

Can coral be revived if it has been out of water for a while?

Reviving coral that has been out of water for an extended period can be challenging, but it is not impossible.

If you encounter coral that has been out of water, it is crucial to act quickly. Place the coral in a container filled with seawater or aquarium water, ensuring it is completely submerged.

Gently swaying the container can help simulate water movement.

However, success in reviving the coral greatly depends on the duration it was out of water and the condition it was in, with shorter durations and healthier corals having a higher chance of recovery.

What precautions should I take when handling coral?

When handling coral, it is important to take precautions to prevent damage and ensure the well-being of the coral.

Avoid touching or handling coral with bare hands, as the oils and residues on our skin can harm the delicate coral tissues.

Instead, use proper coral handling tools or wear disposable gloves. Additionally, always handle coral gently to avoid any unnecessary stress or injury.

Are there any specific storage requirements for transporting coral?

Transporting coral requires careful attention to provide the best chances of survival.

If you need to transport coral, it should be placed in a well-sealed container or bag with enough water to cover the coral.

The water should be seawater or properly mixed aquarium saltwater with the appropriate salinity.

It is crucial to maintain a stable temperature during transportation, as sudden temperature changes can be harmful to the coral.

Ideally, consult with a marine expert or follow specific instructions provided by coral suppliers for optimal coral transportation.

Final Thoughts

Coral can only survive for a limited time out of water. When exposed to air, coral begins to dehydrate, which can have detrimental effects on its health and overall survival.

The exact duration that coral can tolerate varies depending on various factors such as species, temperature, and humidity levels.

However, it is crucial to handle coral with extreme care and return it to the water as quickly as possible.

Generally, it is recommended to limit the time coral spends out of water to a maximum of 20 minutes. Beyond this timeframe, the risk of irreversible damage significantly increases.

Therefore, it is essential to prioritize the well-being of coral by minimizing its exposure to air and ensuring its swift return to the water.

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