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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.


While we are waiting for the results, we will describe a practical application of this discovery in the next issue.

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