1726 Merrill St. St, Boise, ID, 83705
WELL ESTABLISHED AQUARIUMS SUPPORT SPS CORAL BETTER
Articles and books that were written early in the 1990's often stated that SPS corals could only be grown using metal halide lighting and that they could not be grown in systems that housed soft corals. Many of these early articles said that huge protein skimmers were positively needed to keep SPS corals alive. During the last 10 years we have learned that SPS corals grow very well in a multitude of different situations. One thing has been very important in all of the systems that we have used. This one important constant is that SPS corals do much better in older establish systems.
During the last decade we have set up many aquariums using the live rock, water, and gravel from old established reef aquariums. We have noticed that even when we use all of the old materials from an established reef the aquariums still go through many of the same cycles that a new reef does. Because these reefs are able to support soft corals very well after only a few weeks, we have been tempted to try SPS coral cuttings before the tank is completely cycled. Many of the systems that were unable to support SPS corals for the first five months are now full of SPS coral brood stock. The same thing often happens when an entire reef is moved. After any major change in a reef aquarium we often notice diatom blooms. When people ask is if their aquarium is ready for SPS corals we ask them if they have coralline algae spots the size of 25 cent pieces. By the time a reef system has been established long enough to grow that size of coralline algae colonies it is usually ready for hardy SPS corals.
CORAL COMPETITION IN REEF AQUARIUMS
Corals compete for space on the reef by using one of several methods to combat other corals. Some corals tend to over grow the surface of the reef and they can cover up other corals as they grow. Green star polyps, the Zoanthids and Mushroom corals tend to use this type of invasive growth pattern as they fight for space on the reef.
One of the most important jobs in maintaining a brood stock aquarium is the control of all of these different methods that the corals use to compete. Studying the web and reading books about the different types of corals and how they compete for space is a good way to get started, but watching and studying your corals will teach you much more. Brood stock aquariums are not the same as most reef aquariums because it is important to grow as much brood stock as possible in a limited amount of space. In 1994 it seemed logical that we would grow each individual species in its own system. We soon learned that these Monoculture systems were not very stable. During our decades of research on Geothermal fish farming we had learned that Polyculture often produced a very stable system. These stable systems were able to produce many crops such as food fish and aquatic plants using the same amount water and land.
BONSAI REEF METHOD
Sally Jo's has learned many tricks that make the maintenance of her Bonsai reefs much easier. One of the most important things that I have learned about SPS colony management is the use of a spacer rock when mounting fragments.
After several months, when the coral fragment has grown larger, it is very easy to remove the small colony for trimming. SPS corals have many different growth patterns and we are learning to utilize each of these natural growth forms for the production of multiple growing tips.
These corals tend to spread out and they often compete with each other to the detriment of both colonies. It is very hard to remove this base plate from a large live rock, but it is quite easy to split a spacer rock into four or five pieces.
Other species of SPS corals such as the Stag Horn corals often grow very small base plate before they start to grow up toward the light. These are the types of SPS corals that depend on shading their competition. One of the most important things on a natural reef would be for this coral to rapidly grow up into the light. We've noticed that when these first branches are trimmed these type of Acropora often produce multiple new buds from the polyps nearest the scar tissue that forms over the cut. This scar tissue is the main thing that we will be researching during the next two semesters.
Scar tissue on Acropora branches reminds me of the research that we have done on mass producing exotic water Iris. Many of the most beautiful water Iris are in a group named the Louisiana Iris. Some of the more exotic hybrids of these Iris sell for over $100 each. This Iris grows a long root with many growth rings that looks somewhat like a bamboo stock. This root tends to grow out away from the colony about one foot and it then forms one new Iris. The long root then receives a chemical signal from the single mature flower stalk that causes it to decay. During our research on culturing these Iris in our Geothermal greenhouse we learned that if we split this root down the center and laid each half in peat moss we could produce hundreds of clones. We are now slicing living coral branches down the middle using a diamond blade wet bandsaw. We have already started these experiments using the incredible Blue Acropora millapora.
During the last year, GARF has been able to purchase over 150 SPS corals that were produced in the Solomon Islands. These multiple species of SPS corals give us great way to do our experiments on bud tip initiation. We quarantine these fragments for several weeks in tanks that have 40 W blue lights. We learned that many Solomon Islands SPS corals do not thrive under brighter lights when they are first imported. Now that we are quarantining them in less light they are acclimating to captivity much faster. These corals come in on cement disks and almost everyone that we have talked to loses 20 to 30% of most shipments. Besides our experiments on fragment orientation we're doing to other experiments using Solomon frags.
The most important thing that you can do as a reef farmer is to continue to experiment. I know that it may seem hard to believe now but one of the other most important things you can do as a reef farmer is to share the information that you discover. I have found over the years that sharing information is like planting seeds. The more you plant the more that comes back to you. I remember once in my career being willing to share something that I had learned about my Chambered Nautilus breeding pairs. Even though I was sharing it with one of only five people in the world who could have already known it, my willingness to share my knowledge was paid back many times over for years to come.
There are several things that we have talked about in this article. The three take away messages for you to remember and think about are the use of spacer rocks, super glue gel, and the trimming methods we use to produce more bud tips. Spacer rocks are very important in brood stock aquariums because you can move your SPS corals before they are able to damage each other. I have just started to realize how important these spacer rocks are in frag production. The colonies that I planted on spacer rocks are very easy to remove from the reef when I need to trim them. The super glue gel allows me to detach the spacer rock from the live rock and then reattach it later. If I had used epoxy to attach these rocks, not only would it have taken me hours to get them to set up properly, I would not be able to remove them later.
Trimming and moving SPS fragments is important for bud tips initiation, but it also allows you to divide the coral early and often. Moving fragments to other parts of the same reef and other to reefs is one of the best ways to be certain that you will not lose the genetic strain. Moving coral fragments to other aquariums and to different parts of the same aquarium gives you an opportunity to notice differences in growth rate and color.