Geothermal aquaculture Research Foundation has been able to collect, maintain, and propagate several hundred different strains of sps corals. During the last two years we have been researching production techniques that include symbiont recombination and axial corallite -growth tips- initiation. The growth tips of SPS corals in the genus Acropora are very important in the commercial propagation of fragments. By manipulating the brood stock corals we have been able to increase the number of salable frags.


We have chosen a beautiful blue tip Acropora for a series of photographs that document the production of growing tips. Fragment orientation and controlled pruning are two of the methods that have produced the best results. The Blue tip Acropora that we are using in these experiments has an important growth characteristic that has made this work very easy to document. When we received this stag horn coral it was a dull green color. This strain of Acropora took about one year to start growing and when it did we noticed that each of the growth tips turned a beautiful florescent blue.

Because this coral has two distinct colors it makes it very easy to document axial corallite production. As soon as the Polyp has started to grow into an axial corallite it turns bright blue. There are several other types of coral that grow as fast, but the axial corallite is the same color as the brood stock.

One of the most important things that we are researching now is a phenomenon that has been noticed in many different invertebrates that divide or are fragmented in nature. The process that we are studying is called escape size. When I looked up escape in the dictionary I found this definition - To avoid capture, danger, or harm.

Escape size was explained to me by my teacher to make clear something I had noticed during the last several years of SPS coral production. We noticed that there were times when we would remove a fragment from a small colony of coral, and the fragment would often outgrow the colony it came from. When I asked my teacher why this happened so often he told me that there was a well-known process in marine biology called escape size. During evolution any coral that was broken into small pieces and was able to initiate a rapid growth were able to survive to produce offspring. I best understood this when he explained that escape size for sps corals may well be the size that is large enough that something will be left if a Parrot Fish takes a bite.


Each distinct body type of Acropora has its own different optimum Escape Size. Cuttings that are below this size do not have enough polyps to start rapid growth. When too large a branch is used as the cutting the coral often does not go into accelerated growth. At GARF we have over three hundred strains of ornamental corals, and we're researching the proper size of cuttings for each of these strains.

The Blue tip Acropora and in this article is of a medium branch size and it has tubular corallites. I will now explain the method that we use to produce multi tip colonies of this coral in the shortest possible time. The cutting is taken of this coral that is approximately 1 in. long. This cutting is mounted very close to the original colony with the growth tip pointed slightly down at what would be 08:00 on a clock face. GARF super glue is used to attach a group of these corals to a clean Aragocrete rock. During the last year we have been able to mount dozens of these cuttings in our brood stock tanks. The cuttings that are glued with a growth tip pointed down soon produces several axial corallites on the fragment. These fragments grow most rapidly if they are mounted closer to the light than the parent colony.


This blue tip Acropora has morphed into a rapidly growing commercial coral and the new branches grow to about three-quarters of an inch in twelve weeks. The original fragment is carefully removed from the GARF super glue that is holding it. Super glue allows you to attach fragments in a few seconds, but more importantly unlike epoxy putty is very easy to remove the fragment. This is when we break each of the branches 1/2 of the distance to the tip.

The small broken branches can be glued to another rock. The original fragment with the branches removed is then mounted in the same location. When this fragment is glued it is mounted upside down so the branches are pointing toward the bottom of the aquarium. On this fast-growing blue tip Acropora the bottom of the branches are much lighter colored, and there are very few corallites.


It is important to get into the habit of snapping Acropora branches instead of cutting them. By breaking the branches with a pair of needle nose pliers you produce a clean break. When Acropora branches are broken you often find that several of the corallites at the break have been split in two leaving the polyp exposed. On this strain of Blue Tip Acropora the surviving polyps first look like black dots set back slightly from the edge of the white skeleton. For several years we have been studying thousands of Acropora cuttings to learn what initiates axial corallite production. A major part of our research is the collection of over fifty-nine thousand digital pictures of our reef aquariums. We are now able to go back several years and watch cuttings as they grow into colonies. Sally Jo's and I have burned over one hundred and twenty five CDs, and soon we will be loading the pictures onto a 50 GB hard drive.

Producing Acropora colonies from a blue tip fragment

1. Glue original fragment with the tip pointing slightly down using super glue

2. After the first set of branches are one half-inch long remove the fragment.

3. Break one half of each branch and reattach the tips to a new rock

4. Remount the original fragment in the same place but upside-down.

5. As each new axial corallites develops into a branch remove the tips.

This method of fragment production works very well with almost all of the medium-sized branching Acropora. There are other methods that we are using to produce large branched Acropora and the brilliant colored Bonsai Acropora such as the brilliant purple small branch Acropora with the green polyps.


Starting in 1995 we became very interested in collecting rare, brightly colored small polyp stony corals. Several times during the next few years we were able to purchase some incredibly beautiful corals. We have always had the very best luck acclimating small fragments of captive raised corals. One particularly beautiful coral that we have is an Acropora millipora that has brilliant blue tips and incredibly large Polyps.

When we received this coral cutting it was less than 1 in. long and we super glued it on a large arch shaped artificial live rock. Clones of this original coral are now in several of the coral brood stock tanks. This is one of the only corals that I wish I had never sold pieces from.


GEOTHERMAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATIONThe other Acropora that I wished I had kept every piece from is a bright pink Acropora millipora from the Solomon Islands. This coral has the most un-coral like pink color with bright white tips. We now have over 150 types of SPS corals in our genetic bank. We have worked on increasing the brood stock of these rare corals. The research I am reporting has been done so we could find ways of increasing the bud tips production.

This is the original Solomon Island plug. We have cut this coral three times during the last year. It how has over 20 nice tips . When it came in a year ago it had just two small tips and it was tied to cement disk with fishing line.

Bud tip initiation has proven to be one of the most important parts of SPS coral production. A small healthy branch of an Acropora with an actively growing tip is called a frag. One of the other research projects at GARF has to do with increasing production of wetland and other water loving commercial plants. SPS coral production for the market reminds me of the work that I've done on forcing out of season asparagus production. We have found out that to be commercially valuable each frag needs a growing tip. No one would want to buy the bundle of asparagus that was cut out of the middle the stalks. And not many people would be happy to receive a frag that was cut from the middle of a branch and had two broken ends.

The most interesting thing that we've discovered about coral production is that each growing tip will produce the same number of polyps on each brood stock coral. If you have a brood stock coral with a base 2 in. wide that has nine growing tips and you compare it to a base from the same clone that has four tips you'll find that each tip grows to the same length. We discovered early on that anything we could do to produce bud tip initiation increased coral production.


After you have cut the base of the SPS coral colony into two pieces it is time to glue it in the reef. We use the glue that we call GARF Reef Glue. This thick liquid glue is very inexpensive and easy to use. This glue has the consistency of cold honey and we use it for all types of coral. One of the most important things for SPS coral brood stock management is the ability to remove the corals later. The Reef Glue allows you to attach the corals rapidly. After the coral colonies have grown new branches it is very easy to remove the colony later by just snapping it off of the live rocks.


We found that the best way to grow more branches on the coral base is to mount the coral base sideways. Each of the places where you remove branches close to the base of the coral will rapidly grow new tissue. If the cut coral base is mounted sideways many of the polyps around the cut frag will develop into new branches. When we mount the cut bases so that they are pointing in the same direction they grew the cut frag often only develops into one new branch.

The branches that you have removed the colony can now be grown into new colonies. Each 1 in. branch is mounted sideways on the live rock so the tissue from the coral will grow down on to the rock into a circle. Each type of SPS coral will act differently and I will explain what we have found about certain types of Acropora.

The medium sized Acropora that are sold as tri-colors grow rapidly down onto the base rock and often in less than one month the new disk is over 1 in. wide. It is important that when the original frag has grown to twice its starting length that you cut it off very close to the new base. Cutting this dominant frag off will allow many of the polyps around the base to develop into new branches. The branches you just removed can be glued in a new location. This type of coral grows branches that are about one-quarter of an inch wide and these branches tend to form natural divisions.


The next type of Acropora that we work with is the stag horn type with Branches' about 1/2 of an inch thick. These types of corals tend to make small base plates. The branches on these corals tend to grow several inches long before they divide.

Production of stag horn type Acropora corals is a little different because they do not tend to branches often. One of the best ways that we have found to increase these types of corals is the Mass planting method. We remove several branches from a healthy colony, and we cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. We then choose a piece of live rock that has good Coralline growth.

It is important that no pest algae grow between the new branches because it is very hard for the Janitors and the Tangs to reach the algae when the colony grows the way we want it to. The Coralline on the rock tends to prevent hair algae from growing.




Remove the rock that you have chosen from the aquarium and place it on the cutting table. After we have decided how the rock will set in the aquarium we apply spots of glue to the top of the rock. After we have applied the glue soak the rock in a large bowl of reef water so the first glue will harden.

We then set the rock in an upright position on the Glue up table. We remove the frags from the small bowls of reef water. The broken end of the frag is dried by tapping it on a paper towel. A small drop of reef glue is then applied to the frag.

Each frag is then glued onto the rock following the pattern that we made with the glue. With fast-growing corals such as the Green Slimer - Acropora youngii - we mount the frags about 1/2 inches apart. We set the distance between the frags depending on how fast the coral grows down onto the base rock. We want all of the bases of the cut frags to blend into one large colony.


As soon as these bases have started to grow together we trim all of the fragments that have started to grow into branches. These original frags that have started to grow longer can be divided to start new colonies. After we have removed the growing tips from the new colony many of the smaller polyps will develop into initiation bud tips.

One of the most important things to do while you are building your stock of corals is to remember to put several different pieces of the same coral in different systems. Many times during the last four years we have divided corals and put them in a healthy system to protect them. Often the cutting of certain kind of coral will not thrive in one system. The same cuttings will grow very rapidly in a slightly different system.

Dividing the head of SPS corals is one of the best ways to produce brood stock cuttings rapidly. As soon as a new coral has started to grow branches we divide the cutting in half. After we have of divided the risk we concentrate on producing more growing tips.

When you're growing many types of SPS corals you'll find some types of coral that thrive in your systems. GARF is working with a public aquarium on the East Coast in a research project that will identify the algae such as Zooxanthellae that that live inside of coral tissue. We have picked out seven strains of SPS coral that have morphed into a very healthy, domesticated SPS corals.

These corals have all been at GARF for over three years. During this first part of the research we will be dividing 3 frags from each of the types of coral. One frag will be sacrificed and preserved. The other to frags will be sent to the public aquarium laboratory. GARF will continue to grow the original colonies in our systems here in Boise. The scientists at the public aquarium will identify the Zooxanthellae in each of the corals. We will continue to send fragments of these corals for several years. By comparing the algae in the original preserved specimens with the corals that are growing at GARF the researchers will be able to discover how the Zooxanthellae morph as the coral becomes domesticated.

This research will be aimed at discovering if there are more hardy types of Zooxanthellae. These hardy strains may resist bleaching in the ocean. GARF's main interest in this part of the research will be to discover if hardy strains of Zooxanthellae can be transferred to other captive corals. In the future we may be able to inoculate difficult to keep corals so they can be mass-produced for eventual return to the oceans. Scientists are hoping to find new methods to combat the man-made pollution and higher temperatures that are devastating the wild reefs.

This research will affect the farmer when we're able to produce stronger strains of SPS corals. This process of domestication is happening in your systems at this very moment. Zooxanthellae can take up to a year before they start to stabilize the coral colony in a new environment such as in our reef aquariums. The research here at GARF has shown us that rapidly growing small fragments adapt to new systems much more rapidly than larger Colonies. When we get feedback from our continuing research at the public aquariums we will understand the science behind this practical method of increasing coral productivity.