Here is a link to a full size picture of Sally Jo's reefs that you can use as wallpaper on your computer.

This week we have started something new. We are starting a new section on our site that will feature detailed information on all of the popular corals that we propagate here at GARF. This section will soon include many species of soft and sps corals. We will try to include both culture and propagation information so you can choose the proper corals for your reef aquarium or coral farm.

Please e-mail us if you like these larger pictures so we can make our site more enjoyable and educational.

This is an incredible animal to start off with in a salt water tank. It grows fast, ships well and adjust to different tank conditions. They are very tank friendly meaning they do not sting other animals. One needs to remember to give them plenty of room to grow since they grow fast and can shade other animals from the light. In the wild these animals can get as big as a Volkswagen. These are very easy animals to propagate. We are seeing more and more of these animals on the market. Many of them are being tank raised and not brought in from the wild.

There are so many beautiful varieties of these animals. Some of them have different colors, some of them are frilly, some of them with longer polyps and we are seeing more and more varieties every day.

This is a great first coral for almost any reef aquarium because it often grows in lagoons that have less than crystal clear, nutrient free water. The popularity of this coral makes it a great one to farm.

There have been many times that people with reef problems have told us that the Sarcophytons were the most hardy corals and that they survived even when little Suzy decided to feed the fish all of the flake food before she went to bed.


This animal does great in most tank lighting. It does not like strong current that is hitting it constantly and it needs plenty of room to grow. You can move this animal up and down in your tank until you get it positioned right. You can tell that your animal is happy where you placed him by watching the polyp extension.

Remember that if a snail or hermit falls onto the corals head the polyps will not extend until it crawls off or you remove the item that is bothering it. You will see this animal listed in books as well as a pet store as a toad stool, gold crown, leather coral, but its true name is Sarcophyton. It is a very hardy soft coral and is one of the first corals a hobbyist should try.
What you see in this picture is what I described above. A hermit or snail has fallen on its head and thus the polyps have retracted. Remove the snail and in a short while you will see this animal fully extended and happy again. This picture shows one of the most common varieties you see in many fish stores. It was the very first one I placed in my show tank.

It grows faster than almost any other animal we have researched at the Foundation. It was the very first one that I learned to propagate. In 1995 LeRoy kept coming by my tank and saying "you should cut that animals head off you are getting to much bio mass in your system." We were just around the corner from presenting our reef tour and this was the biggest animal in my tank. I was doing everything I could to make LeRoy forget about cutting it's head off. Then one day he looked into my tank and once again said "you need to cut the head off that animal." If you let me do that then just think you can have ten different animals to place in your system.

He got me:) I allowed him to cut off its head and I pursued finding ten new tank mates for my show tank. The head grew back on the stock in a very short time. I have now cut this animal many many times over and believe it is one of the best corals to first try your skills at propagation.


As you can see by the pictures there are many varieties and they truly are a great addition to anyones tank. This animal is one of the most common soft coral found in the Indo-Pacific. If you look closely at the polyps you will notice eight feathery tentacles. You should be able to find these animals without a problem. We propagate many of them every week. As with all of our messages on any coral it is best to purchase a captive raised one versus a wild caught one.

We feel that feeding fish in the tank with a Sarcophyton is important to sustain its growth. Feeding the fish will also add supplemental nutrition for the zooxanthellae to metabolize. Our choice for coral food is blended Spiralina flake food that has been soaked in SeaChem Reef Plus.

These animals are often found in the wild in more nutrient rich areas of the reef. Because this animal can grow to be heavy, it is best to find a location in your tank that can hold the weight of this animalas it grows. Gluing this animal works well but make sure you glue it to a rock that will sustain its growth as it adds weight.


In this picture you will notice that the polyps are retracted. This is not a sign that this animal is dying. You may wonder why the snails or hermits are attracted to this animal. You must understand that this is a natural occurrence in nature. The Sarcophyton often retracts their polyps and become covered with what looks like a thin layer of plastic.


This layer may stay on the animal until it covers with a light film of algae that is why the snails and hermits tend to work on this animal. They love to eat this film that consists of proteins and other compounds which are called Sarcophene. Directing a power head at this animal for a short time is a great way to remove this film and allow the polyps to extend to their normal grace. We find that by placing the animals where they are happy they tend to not secrete this fine layer as often. They also use this as a defense and if they are not bothered you will rarely notice this situation. This is also one reason we propagate them when they get too big otherwise they continue to fight other types of corals for room to grow.

What you see in this next picture are two different kinds of Sarcophytons. They do very well next to one another and they will not sting or kill each other. We are now successfully propagating these animals with almost a 100% success rate. We have found that you can cut the animal directly in your tank or remove the animal from your tank and make the cut. You must remember that not all animals are that safe to cut directly inside of your tank.
GEOTHERMAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATION We have lost two of my most beautiful and healthy clams due to cutting Palythoa ( they look like Zoanthids ) directly in my tank. They are so toxic that in less then 24 hours they killed two huge and healthy clams. The toxin released by the Palythoa is called Palytoxin. It is being used for treatments for people who are suffering from muscular dystrophy. In years past it was used for poison darts.

I have heard, yet not experienced, that placing ones hand in a tank that has Palythoa in it can cause a reaction in the most sensitive people. Most certainly do not put your hand in the tank if you have a cut on it or you may feel the effect of its toxin. Also make sure that when cutting this animal you do not get sprayed in the eyes. This has happened to both LeRoy and I and the result is a swollen eye that needs to be rinsed and eye drops used.

We have found that the Sarcophyton is safe to cut inside the tank but if you can remove from your tank it will be better for the fish and corals. I always dip my fresh cut corals in a bowl of salt water before placing them back in the tank.

When beginning your propagation of the Sarcophyton you need a sharp scissors, glue and a rock to attach the new baby to. We perform this procedure two different ways. I tend to cut the head right off of the stock and then cut the head into as many pieces as I desire. The stock which is now your mother colony will grow a new head.

you can learn the best way to propagate leather corals

You will see the beginning formation of polyps on the stock in a two week period. In less than a one month period you will hardly be able to tell that you cut this animal. The babies generated from the mother colony can be glued directly to the rock and will grow its own stock in a very short period of time. A head like you see in the above picture can easily be made into twenty babies. LeRoy likes to cut the head into many pieces and let them fall to the sand bed of the cutting tank. He then waits for the cuts to heal. The waiting period is about two weeks then he glues them directly to a plug. Once glued these animals are ready to ship in about one month.


These animals are easy to ship and will adjust well to almost any tank. If you are not brave enough to cut the whole head off the stock you can make pie cuts on the existing animal but it is not necessary. Believe me when I say the head will always grow back and I have found mine to even grow little arms that develop off of the stock that can also be propagated.

Once the animal is glued like you see in this picture it does not take them long to grow over the glue and become a healthy tank mate with your other corals. You can hardly tell that this animal was a cutting made by our staff only a month ago. If you have a rare green polyped one like the one seen in this picture it would be a great asset to the hobby to propagate this animal and share it with others in the hobby.

We will always trade for this type of live stock. There was a time not so long ago that these animals were very hard to find in the hobby. Due to their adaptability we find them in many hobbyist tanks. They are one of the corals we recommend for the beginners and even the experts are found keeping this specimen in their tanks.

If you have strong lighting make sure you place this animal more towards the lower end of your system. Move it up gradually to secure its new place in your system. They do not like a strong current directed at them all the time if you have a wave maker they will love the indirect water movement. If you do not have a wave maker you can do what I do and change the water current by changing the direction of your power head these animals will be happy for a long time. I do this for about an hour and then position the power head in a different direction. I also have some of my power heads on timers they are on for fifteen minutes and off for fifteen minutes.

We are seeing more and more varieties of this animal and are keeping 29 different kinds very successfully at the Foundation. This animal likes its temperature to be no greater than 80 degrees. When purchasing your new Sarcophyton make sure you give it a couple of days to extend it polyps fully. This will happen for the most part every time you move this animal. It is a natural defense mechanism to retract is polyps when bothered.

There is absolutely no reason to take these animals from the ocean any more they are so easy to propagate. The rare colors of these corals will be a good product for ocean based aquaculture. The best reason I could agree to purchase one that comes from the wild is if it is one that has not often been in the hobby and we can be shard with other hobbyist. These animal have a leather feel to them and are not slimy like the other soft corals that need to be netted when trying to get them to attach.


Sarcophyton cutting diagram

This diagram shows the steps we take to produce the best cuttings from a Sacophyton.

1. Cut the head off of the base as close to the top of stalk as possible. Use clean sharp scissors.
2. Cut the head into two equal halves.
3. Starting at the center of the cap cut each half in thin pie shaped slices.

After you have rinsed the cuttings in reef water, you can put them in a gravel tray with light and water flow for three days. We use extra SeaChem Reef Plus while the cuttings heal. When the cuttings have hardened we use rubber bands to attach them to Reef Plugstm. The cuttings are placed on a cutting rack in a tank with good lighting and moderate water flow. DO NOT use any type of wave maker because the changing currents cause the cuttings to work loose.

If you are interested in one of these animals please give our office a call we always have many of these ready to go to a new home. Call Matt at 1-800-600-6163. If you are like Tom in Tulsa, keeping one that our Foundation does not have, please give us a call we will be more than willing to trade to add to our genetic bank. If for any reason you are scared to propagate this animal please e-mail us or call us on our free reef help line at 208-344-6163 and we will walk you through the steps.

I will never forget my first experience with propagating this animal. It was wonderful seeing the new babies attach and form and the mother became more beautiful in such a short period of time. As with all of our research we share this information freely with you so that you will add to our efforts to not take anything from the ocean. It is our hope you will share this information with others and more importantly provide us with your results so that all research can be shared. Save a reef grow your own, take pride in what you are doing remembering you are making this a better place for future generations!!!!



This article will explain the process that we go through at Geothermal Aquaculture Research Foundation when we are domesticating a wild collected soft coral. Late last semester we were able to purchase a very beautiful gold Sarcophyton from Tonga. I will explain how we quarantined, treated, and started the process of symbiont recombination.


In the foundation's genetic bank there are over twenty-five separate strains of Sarcophytons. During the last few years the only strain that we have been unable to propagate successfully has been the beautiful gold colored Sarcophyton elegans. The corals often arrive in very bad condition and they frequently suffer from bacterial infections.

The specimen in the first picture arrived in very good shape and seemed to be acclimating very well. After a period of about four weeks we noticed a necrotic area and a general decline in the appearance of this coral. Our research during the last year on symbiont recombination has produced some remarkable results. Many of the strains of soft coral that we have acclimated to our lab have been tested in a simple experiment.

We prepare cuttings from coral that we are acclimating and we divide them into two sets. We treat one group of cuttings with a mixture of the Zooxanthellae and bacteria from healthy corals that are closely related.

The other set of corals does not receive an intentional dose of symbionts. In virtually every experiment the corals that were treated with symbionts healed much faster and attach to the substrate in a shorter period time.


When we removed the gold Sarcophyton elegans from the aquarium Sally Jo noticed a white milky discharge from a damaged area. I prepared three bowls of water that were the same temperature as the aquarium. The first bowl was full of reef water from the aquarium that we had just removed the coral from. I added 500 mg of antibiotic to this water and agitated it until the antibiotic was dissolved. We are experimenting with different antibiotics and I will be reporting on this soon.

The second bowl contained fresh tap water. The third bowl contained a mixture of cuttings of three types of Sarcophytons that have been in captivity here for several years. These three corals were prepared by slicing small cuttings into water from the reef that was the destination for the cuttings of the Sarcophyton elegans.


The cuttings were soaked in the first bowl of reef water and an antibiotic powder for one hour. The water from this bowl was then poured into another bowl. The water containing the antibiotic, the first bowl, and the tweezers were treated with a strong solution of chlorine bleach. It is important that all solutions of antibiotics be destroyed before they are disposed of.

The cuttings were carefully poured into the fresh water. The cuttings were soaked in fresh water for one minute before they were placed in the third bowl. One of the cuttings appeared to be very small and symmetrically shaped so I put it in a small bowl of reef water. What looked like a piece of Sarcophytons turned out to be a yellow nudibranch that was the exact same color as the Sarcophyton elegans.


This nudibranch has projections on its back that look exactly like Sarcophytons tentacles. This nudibranch was placed in a container so it could be photographed and studied. The next day it laid a long spiral shaped string of eggs. This nudibranch is camouflaged perfectly to blend in with this species of Sarcophyton.



As we have been building our genetic Bank of over four hundred fifty strains of commercially valuable corals we noticed that the vast majorities corals became easier to keep after each clone generation. Each generation of clones is genetically identical to the parent colony. The two factors that we can isolate that could explain how the corals are able to morph into captive strains are genetic packet switches, and a random recombination of the genetics of the internal symbionts. Corals may have normally unused groups of genes that could explain how few species could change. The change we see as we are domesticating commercially valuable corals happens in too many corals to be explained genetically.

It occurred to us that although the genetic blueprints of the coral colonies were virtually unchanged by cloning that the genetic makeup of the rapidly multiplying symbionts might be adapting to our systems. When we look at the Zooxanthellae on a microscope slide we notice that they are able to live outside of the coral.

The symbiont recombination experiment is one that you can do. We prepared the third bowl by slicing thin cuttings from several different Sarcophytons. We noticed that Sarcophyton glacum as the same body shape as Sarcophyton elegans. We have a beautiful, fast growing strain of Sarcophyton glacum that was cut for this experiment. After the domesticated coral cuttings were in the bowl of reef water we agitated them so they would release body fluids from the mesoglea layer.

The cuttings from the Sarcophyton elegans were soaked in this mixture. It is important that you monitor the temperature so that it does not change too drastically. We soak the target cuttings in this mixture for one hour. The entire contents of the third bowl are then poured into a shallow propagation chamber.



During the last several years we have made the mistake of treating Sarcophyton elegans like all of the other Sarcophytons in our collection. Now we are keeping the cuttings in our predatory coral system. The predatory coral system has a large amount of water flow, and the corals are fed phytoplankton and gelatinous microorganisms from our Bag O Bugs project.

The Bag O Bugs project consists of approximately twenty-four plastic bags full of nutrient solution and microorganisms. These bags are hung on racks in a South facing window. The Bag O Bugs contain a huge number of different microorganisms and algae. The heavyweight clear plastic bags are very easy to maintain. We will be reporting the progress of this series of experiments in the near future.

In experiments with been during the last two semesters on propagation of Sarcophytons we have learned that the cuttings grow much faster after they have been treated. We also learned to cut the Sarcophytons brood stock to remove three-quarters of the head. We do this by trimming a wedge shape peace by starting our cut an inch below the head and then cuttings upwards through the crown of tentacles.

When we are through cutting the brood stock there is a large scar tissue area and small area that still has polyps. The large scar tissue areas seems to develop polyps very rapidly. By cutting our Sarcophytons in this matter we are able to increase the production of each brood stock tank. This method of harvesting also leaves a section of the stalk on each of the triangle shaped cuttings. We are certain that the cells that differentiated in the stalk tissue attach to rocks in the cutting chambers much more rapidly than tissue that had differentiated into the cap.


Thank you for visiting our web site and I hope you've enjoyed these pictures. We now have over fifty nine thousand digital images and we hope to share many of those with you soon.