While increasing evidence supports a key role of bacteria in coral larvae settlement and development, the relative importance of environmentally-acquired versus vertically-transferred bacterial population is not clear. Here we have attempted to elucidate the role of post-brooding-acquired bacteria on the development of planula-larvae of the octocoral Rhytisma f. fulvum, in an in vitro cultivation system employing different types of filtered (FSW) and autoclaved (ASW) seawater and with the addition of native bacteria. A good development of larvae was obtained in polystyrene 6-well cell culture plates in the absence of natural reef substrata, achieving a 60–80% of larvae entering metamorphosis after 32 days, even in bacteria-free seawater, indicating that the bacteria acquired during the brooding period are sufficient to support planulae development. No significant difference in planulae attachment and development was observed when using 0.45 μm or 0.22 μm FSW, although autoclaving the 0.45 μm FSW negatively affected larval development, indicating the presence of beneficial bacteria. Autoclaving the different FSW homogenized the development of the larvae among the different treatments. The addition of bacterial strains isolated from the different FSW did not cause any significant effect on planulae development, although some specific strains of the genus Alteromonas seem to be beneficial for larvae development. Light was beneficial for planulae development after day 20, although no Symbiodinium cells could be observed, indicating either that light acts as a positive cue for larval development or the presence of beneficial phototrophic bacteria in the coral microbiome. The feasibility of obtaining advanced metamorphosed larvae in sterilized water provides an invaluable tool for studying the physiological role of the bacterial symbionts in the coral holobiont and the specificity of bacteria-coral interactions.