Friday, July 27, 2007

Reeftopia, Part II

I arrived to work early one Monday morning before the lights were turned on and peered into my tank to see how everything was doing.

To my dismay, a 4-inch piece of galaxea had swept an entire corner of the tank clear of all life. It looked like some sort of strange alien creature that extracts the blood of its victims.

I became even more distraught when the lights finally came on. My bubble coral—positioned a good 6-inches from the galaxea—now had spots of discoloration all over its tentacles.

Fortunately, the alien’s “sweepers” receded once the lights were on. I scanned the rest of the tank for signs of destruction but the problem seemed isolated to that desolate corner.

I decided to educate myself on this particular coral’s behavior in order to get to the bottom of things.

One of the most important things I learned was that planning your reef in advance can play a key role in the success of your tanks’ inhabitants.

After learning of its aggressive nature and ability to kill of other coral, I decided my best move would be to remove the galaxea entirely. I sliced the specimen and distributed it among the other reefers in my department.

Weeks passed. I moved, restacked and repositioned the live rock and coral in my tank at least twice a week, if not more. The one rock I started with soon multiplied into several to accommodate all of the new life I introduced to the tank.

I dug deeper into the hobby, learning the ins and outs of each individual coral in my aquarium. Next thing I knew, I had collected more than 20 small coral specimens. Which was cool, but…

I was in a constant state of worry. Coral keeping was entirely new to me; I often felt I had gotten ahead of myself. All of this life was solely depending on me for survival and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for my newfound responsibilities. I never worried this much in the past, nor had I changed an aquarium’s aquascape so frequently.

I began receiving compliments on the tank, specifically on the variety of life I had assembled. I was stoked because despite its small size, the tank had proven a satifactory home for each and every new inhabitant I introduced. I hadn’t experienced any deaths or destruction beyond Mr. Galaxea’s tentacles of terror. I was very particular with water changes and additives so water quality was never an issue.

In fact, it seemed as though each specimen was growing and thriving.

I learned that lighting was a key factor in keeping a reef community healthy. My tank was equipped with a Coralife Dual 18-watt PC fixture, but I was considering an upgrade. I had seen a few modified nano tanks and found I could no longer resist the temptation.

A handy colleague showed me how I could fit another bulb in the reflector of my Coralife fixture so I immediately purchased an extra ballast, bulb and a small fan. I modified the fixture that evening with a hacksaw, screwdriver and drill.

After the mod was complete, I noticed the light in the tank was significantly more vibrant. I hadn’t realized up until that point how much lighting can affect the appearance of corals.

Some specimens that were somewhat dull in color before were now a completely different shade. I was confident the extra light would help the zooanthelia but was stunned at how quickly it flourished under the new conditions.

I was surprised how reactive the corals were to the small 18-watt increase in lighting. I remember feeling that I’d finally settled with a tank configuration I could live with. The large bubble coral now had plenty of room and I began the zooanthid garden I had long been envisioning. And neon green frogspawn perched in the corner where the galaxea once lived.

Everything was in harmony. That is when I was notified it was time to pack up and move the tank.

We were going to a new home…

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Another Comic

Friday, July 20, 2007

Reeftopia, Part I

I have been plagued with the fascination of contained ecosystems since I was a kid. Started with ant farms and collecting pill bugs from the garden. I was 10 years old when I bought my first aquarium from the local pet store. I remember I saved my allowance for weeks just to get the 5 gal. Hexagon Eclipse tank. I kept a Calico Ryukin goldfish named “Purty”. My fascination grew with my age and a few large planted tanks and one Marine system later, behold “Reeftopia."

“Reeftopia” is my 10 gallon nano reef system that resides on my desk, in my cubicle, at my job, in my life. Most of my experience with keeping tanks has been fun and enjoyable, rarely to the point of obsession. When I discovered mini reef keeping and all the possibilities, I acquired the fixation. I daydreamed of all the gorgeous mixtures of miniature organisms functioning and growing together in a tiny reef system. Tiny Zooanthid gardens, little clusters of cloves, tiny branching Acroporas, just below the waters surface; the possibilities are endless! I truly admit that I have become obsessed. You know, one of those people who can stare blankly at the tank for hours without hesitation or distraction.

I started the tank about 8 months back to “fit in” with the crowd here at the MD headquarters. I have kept extensive freshwater planted tanks and one FOWLR system. Never had enough money for corals and inverts and was scared to experience the horror stories I have heard about contained reefs. I wanted to keep it natural so I supplied the tank with a Hydor Thermo-filter and x2 Aquaclear hang on power filters. One filter for strictly mechanical filtration and the other one I stuffed with Chito and Coulerpa. I do not use carbon or any chemical filtration in my tanks on a normal basis. Some situation may call for special filtration, but water changes should handle it!

Once established, the wonderful staff at Marine Depot Live hand selected my first corals for me. I don’t have any pictures of this stage but it was truly a new venture. I started with just a couple of Candy coral and a Pearl Bubble Coral with the company of a damsel that was left from the cycle, and a big ol' Clarky Clown.

I began reading more and seeing pictures of these gorgeous nano-reefs and learned that this is really a fairly new way to keep reefs. Tiny little systems make the maintenance of a large reef seem minute and you still have the ability to create the rainbow essence of a reef. Not more than a week later I bought more coral, Zooanthids and a Galaxea. Now at this point I was not aware that my new tank friends would not be friends forever...

Another Day, Another Product Review

The expression “don’t make waves” has no place in reef aquaria.

A quick Google search of the subject will yield countless sources that attempt to validate this claim.

But I say, “To heck with research!”

What makes this statement factual is that continuous body of water encircling our planet, commonly referred to as the ocean.

The saline waters of the ocean move. Thus, the saltwater in your reef tank should move.


This is an undisputable, basic truth. Like hair loss.

I know—just by looking—that I no longer have the brilliant, shining, shimmering hair I had two decades ago.

Sad but true.

But boy, what a head of hair it was.

The late 80s were my golden years: back when Southern California was a hotbed of smog alerts, earthquakes and drought.

I played with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures, entered the Konami code to score 30 lives in Contra and tore through my ‘hood on a Huffy Sonic 6. All the while whipping the bangs out of my face like Tony Hawk in a Bones Brigade video.

Fast-forward to the present.

I wake up, look in the mirror and … sigh. Where my totally radical bangs once hung is now just a bunch of barren forehead. So much forehead, I call it fivehead.

I know—just by looking—that ocean waters move. Just like I know that one day soon I will be as bald as Lex Luthor.

But why is this movement important? To find out, let’s go back and check out a couple of the sources that came up in the aforementioned Google search results.

According to NASA oceanographer Gene Carl Feldman, “Ocean waters are constantly on the move. How they move influences climate and living conditions for plants and animals, even on land.”

The water movement in my aquarium is not likely to influence my living conditions, but let’s read on.

“Currents flow in complex patterns affected by wind, the water's salinity and heat content, bottom topography and the earth's rotation.”

This is good information … but a little broad. How, specifically, does water movement benefit a nano reef?

To answer that question, let’s turn to a couple of experts who also happen to be an actual couple: Stan & Debbie Hauter of Animal Jungle in North Carolina.

The Hauters manage and care for the fish department at Animal Jungle in the Vernon Park Mall and previously ran a livestock business in Hawaii.

“The more your tank water is circulated and filtered, the better the water quality is in the aquarium. [Water circulation] keeps detritus and other tank matter from settling on the bottom of the tank … circulation permits the majority of these particulates to be circulated or suspended, allowing them to be filtered out by a mechanical filter.”

I recently invested in a Hydor Koralia 1 Circulation Pump/Powerhead for our 24-gallon AquaPod (see my June 11, 2007 post for more in-depth info) and the results have been nothing short of spectacular. So when one of my colleagues informed me that I could improve water circulation even more for a measly $13 bucks, I was sold.

Enter the FLO Deflector from Hydor (pause and hold for dramatic effect).

The Hydor FLO Deflector is propelled by the water flow from our existing pump and perpetually rotates 360° degrees. In layman's terms, it’s in a never-ending spit-and-spin cycle and does not require an additional power source.

That’s right… there is nothing to plug in.

So rejoice, fellow hobbyists, the last remaining outlet in your surge protector can now be saved for something else. I’m sure our accounting department will appreciate the few watts I’ve saved when the electric bill comes around.

The rotating water flow creates a natural and pleasant wave effect. This is beneficial to reef inhabitants and leads to increased oxygenation and surface gas exchange. Generally, this is where I would make a joke about gas exchange. Jokes aside, it is that release that will prevent the infamous “white line” effects from forming on the walls of your tank.

The FLO comes packaged with several adapters that would seemingly attach to the outlet of “any pump or filter,” or so the box claims.

The truth is that none of the included adapters would permit me to simply screw the sucker on our pump. Instead, I chose the adapter combination that worked best and held it in position to make sure it would spin. Next I unplugged the pump, siphoned enough water out to safely glue the FLO on to the pump and then simply waited for it to dry.

Today all of the tank’s inhabitants, from fish and crabs to clams and coral, are benefiting from increased water movement and circulation.

Of course, if the water movement in your tank is already sufficient, you can always pick one up for the fun-factor: the turbo snail in our web designer’s tank likes to ride the FLO round and round like a carnival ride.

Hurry, hurry, step right up! Get your Hydor FLO Deflectors here!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Comic Relief! I was thinking of calling it "Mo' Betta Times"

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Wonderful World of Mariculture, Part II

One of the more recent “pests” becoming prevalent in mariculture is a small crustacean that resembles a mite.

It is nearly impossible to see without a magnifying glass at a mere ½ mm in length, but this crustacean is yellow in color with a red dot and appears to prefer species of
Acropora corals.

his particular parasite wears its “red bug” moniker proudly. It has been theorized that these red bugs are either a parasitic form of copepod or micro-amphipod, though little research has been done to uncover their true identity.

Parasites and pathogens can—and should—be avoided when choosing your corals, so pay careful attention to where you purchase them from. Many experienced reef hobbyists understand the damage red bugs and flat worms inflict upon a reef system. That is one of many reasons why maricultured corals are becoming more popular in the industry today.

Here are some things to look for when choosing corals for your aquarium:

  1. See if your current vendor and/or local pet store carry maricultured corals. If not, ask them to order them!
  2. Observe the husbandry and quarantine techniques of your local pet store. Ask them how they would administer treatment if the need arose. Also, don’t be afraid to ask what measures they take to ensure their systems are free of pests and pathogens.
  3. Never take a fellow hobbyists’ word that their system is free and clear of pests when trading frags. You must quarantine all new specimens until you are sure that the colony is free of unwanted organisms and are adjusted to their new environment. This is a perfect time to acclimate new arrivals to the water and lighting conditions used in your main system.
Despite the many pros, there are several downfalls to maricultureing products.

Waste can leak into bodies of water and contaminate that ecosystem. Excessive feeding and treatments that would not occur naturally in the wild can sometimes leach out if handled carelessly by farmers. Cleaning supplies, chemicals, overfeeding and sedimentation can be released back into the ocean if mariculture is not practiced thoughtfully under stringent regulation.

The flipside, “black market” mariculture, can alter or decimate reefs altogether due to a lack or understanding or concern for the surrounding wildlife.

The good news is more and more conservationists are teaming together to thwart such bootleg operations. The Global Coral Reef Alliance
(GCRA) is comprised of several large mariculture farming operations and operates under a stern code of aquaculture ethics and guidelines.

A great way to lend support to conservation and preservation efforts is to patronize local pet shops that deal only with reputable mariculture facilities and/or groups. Strike up a conversation with your vendor/supplier and ask whether they get their corals from mariculture or the wild.

Some popular, eco-friendly mariculture and frag suppliers include:

Knowledge is power. Use the knowledge you have acquired as a practicing reef keeper and share it with other hobbyists and local groups to empower them and change the way they think.

Sure, it might be fun to get a saltwater tank and throw a bunch of life into it. But unless you take the time to educate yourself about the bigger picture, you may never truly see things in the proper perspective.

Reefing is a lifestyle that should not be taken lightly.

Don’t get me wrong: I think everyone should experience the joy and awareness that comes with being a hobbyist. But I also think that before you dive in head first, you should do your homework and due diligence. You owe it to yourself… and the creatures whose lives you hold in your hand.

And with that, my mind begins to wander back to that tropical island paradise. I realize that my fantasy of being submersed in my own personal “aqua world” is only a dream. But hopefully a dream that will one day be fulfilled.

Whether it is an island or merely a small spot in the middle of nowhere, I hope my dream of operating a mariculture facility becomes reality one day soon. I cordially invite you all to join me and share the passion I have for this hobby … and the world!

Until next time … thanks for reading. Happy reefing!