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Propagating Bubble Coral | Business Planning Technique - Pricing For Profit

Reef Aquarium Farming News
Online Newsletter for Reef Aquarium Propagation Research

ISSUE # 10 page 3 OCTOBER 1997

Propagating Bubble Coral

Plerogyra Bubble Coral Propagation
A. Thiel

The propagation of SPS corals (small polyped stony corals) has progressed in great strides in the last year or two and hobbyists all over the country, and elsewhere, make cuttings of many forms of SPS corals and grow new colonies without too much difficulty. Coral propagation farms and businesses are popping up all over the place.

The most advanced one that I have seen to-date is certainly The Aquatic Wildlife Company in Cleveland TN (423) 559 9000. I have described what they do and the text of interviews with Dana Riddle and John Walch on our web site in the SW Library. There is a banner on our main index page that leads directly to these documents. If you have not read them, you are encouraged to do so. Our support for these kind of endeavors is crucial to the future of the hobby. Support the AWC and purchase your frags from them. They are of real high quality.

The same cannot be said for large polyped stony corals (LPS corals) such as Catalaphyllia, Plerogyra, Euphyllia, Nemenzophyllia, Symphyllia and so on. That is still an area where little information is available, although propating these corals can now easily be done.

In fact, I have been experimenting with various methods for quite some time and have had great success with most corals that I have artificially propagated by breaking their skeletons.

Propagating LPS corals in such a manner is not new, it has been done before, but the techniques are not really described anywhere that I know of, except for the article in the NetClub Library on how to propagate Elegance Coral in this manner.

Bubble coral is not as easy to deal with because its skeleton is different than that of many other corals, and the manner in which the polyp itself is embedded makes it a little more touchy as it is easier to damage the polyp than with some other LPS corals. Keep this in mind when you apply the technique described below.

Let me try and explain how to go about the process:

First let me list the tools you will need:

  • A so-called Dremel Tool with adjustable speed, or similar type of a different brand is needed, and a drill bit that allows you to make a groove in the base of the skeleton. What you want is a groove that looks like a V. Various bits can be bought for these drills and you want the one that looks like a wide V not a narrow one. The angle is larger. This results in a groove of about 30 degrees.
  • A drill bit that allows you to drill that groove out deeper. You drill into the V shaped groove, and drill deeper (I will explain how later as this requires a drill that looks like a little ball).
  • Wedges that can be inserted into the skeleton after you have drilled into it, to force it to split, gently. This is done by taking a plastic wedge and forcing it into one of the deeper cuts you will have made (more details later).
  • Three or four plastic wedges with blunt ends about 1/2 inch wide. They do not need to be long but need to be thick (about 0.25 inch).
  • pliers to hold the wedge and be able to push and twist it into the skeleton, gently without forcing too much so you do not damage the polyp.
  • gloves if you are allergic to saltwater or coral slime.
  • protective eyewear.
  • a plastic tray on which to lay the coral. This should have raised edges to contain the water.
  • towels.
  • First-Aid kit just in case you hurt yourself.

So much for the preparation and assembling the needed tools and other implements we will require.

What one needs to understand when propagating LPS corals is that real care must be taken "not" to harm the polyp itself. This is unlike fragging SPS corals where one just takes a piece of, say, Acropora sp. and nips off a branch and then epoxies that down somewhere in the tank in an appropriate spot, and you are basically done.

With LPS corals things are a little more complex and the method used differs depending on the coral you are dealing with. Bubble corals happens to be one of the more difficult ones, well maybe not difficult but more complex, to split and propagate. It requires more work than most of the others that I have been working on.

Now that we have all the tools ready and of course a Bubble Coral, we are ready to start the procedure.

The Procedure Described

  • Plug the drill in after having inserted the V-shape drill bit and put the drill to low speed. If you have a high end one you can ajdust the RPM's. If this is the case set them to 500. If not set the speed to "low". Do not switch it on yet though. We first need to get the coral ready,
  • I assume that the coral you are going to use is now in your tank,
  • It's "bubbles" are probably expanded,
  • We need to get the coral to retract its bubbles so they cannot be damaged,
  • Submerse your hand (wear gloves if needed) and wave your hand over the coral at about 2 inches distance creating a good water flow,
  • This will get the coral to retract its polyp and close up,
  • Remove the coral from the water,
  • Place it on the plastic tray (this should be a tray with a raised edge so the water that comes out of the coral does not drip every where),
  • Because of the shape of this coral, it will lay on its side,
  • Switch the drill on,
  • With one hand hold the coral on its side and start drilling a groove starting with the outer edge and running all around the skeleton,
  • To do this you will be coming downwards first then will need to turn the coral over so you can continue towards the opposite outer edge,
  • Try to make the groove as straight as you can so the line you form runs as a continuous straight groove,
  • The skeleton is longer than wide and you make the cut on the narrower side, not length-wise but width-wise.
  • The first time do not drill deeper than about 1 mm. You are actually barely scratching the skeleton, yet there is a groove running all along the skeleton from one side to the other. Apply pressure to the drill bit but not much as the coral skeleton is not that "hard" and the drill will make the groove real easily,
  • Make sure you do not touch any of the polyp, especially when you are close to the edges,
  • You can now drill a little deeper and follow the contour of the line that is already there, making the groove a little deeper. I usually add about 2 more millimeters at this point,
  • When this is done you should have a widea angled V-shaped groove about 3 mm deep, and you should still no have passed through the skeleton,
  • What I mean is that the skeleton is still intact and no openings have been made through it, but you have a V shaped groove in it about 3 mm's deep,
  • This is the end of the first step.
  • You can now place the coral back in the water if you wish, or you can continue the procedure.
  • The first time you do this, time will fly quickly, meaning this whole process may take 6 to 7 or more minutes. Once you have done this a few times you can probably do this entire step in a minute or two maximum.

You have now finished the first part, and you have either placed the coral back in the water or it is still in tray. If it is still there you may wish to continue with the next step. If it is not, and you decided that you wanted to place the coral back in the water for a while, that is fine too. At some point though you will need to continue and the sooner you do the better in my experience.

Second Step

  • Now that we have a groove that runs around the skeleton of the bubble coral we can continue the procedure,
  • What we are going to do now is use the other drill bit and slowly but very slowly, drill deeper and do so at the bottom of the skeleton until we actually pass through the hard/coral part,
  • To do so drill along the bottom over a width of about one inch, going from one side to the other, applying a little pressure so you go in deeper and deeper,
  • As you do this you will find that after a very short period of time you actually are through the skeleton and have an opening of approximately one inch,
  • The next step is to take the wedge and insert it in the hole and push it in with the pliers,
  • Do so gently, very gently,
  • Apply pressure and push it in a little deeper each time,
  • You may need to rock the wedge back and forth a little to get it to go in deeper,
  • Once it goes in deep enough, and because a wedge is really V shaped and gets thicker, the pressure on the skeleton increases. Do not push the wedge in forcefully in one swift movement. Do so little by little and a fraction more and more at a time,
  • At some point the skeleton will break,
  • It fractures along the groove that you previously made,
  • You will hear it when it happens, and you may be surprised or shocked the first time you do this. Don't worry if you do this again you will soon get used to this,
  • Because you are going slowly and because coral polyp is very flexible you are actually not hurting the polyp or rupturing it,
  • Once the skeleton has cracked you have finished step two of the process and you now really have a large polyp and two pieces of skeleton
  • The next step will be to place the coral back in the tank in a particular fashion as I will explain as we go along.
  • The inside plates which are much thinner will crack automatically too. That is what we want as we want two pieces of skeleton. The polyp is still attached of course and will remain attached. The split occurs later.

Third Step

    We are now placing the coral back in the aquarium,
  • There is a particular way to do this as we want the two parts of the skeleton to be drawn apart and offset against each other,
  • To do this you will need the small plastic wedges
  • Insert the wedges around the coral skeleton so the two parts do not touch each other
  • Insert them gently so you do not damage anything (mainly the polyp)
  • Insert them far enough so they remain in place and insert about a quarter of the way of their thickness. This ensures that the two parts of the skeleton to not touch each other and would have a chance to recement together
  • Now place the coral in the water, with one part of the skeleton being placed a little lower than the other part (about half an inch to three quarters of an inch difference is fine)
  • Hopefully you have selected a place in the tank for this in advance so you have the offset you need
  • Basically after it is placed in the tank the coral looks like:
  •      ======

  • The left part if higher than the right part, or vice-versa. Which way you do it is not important as long as you have the offset and the wedges in place. The space between the two lines indicates the tension you are introducing on the polyp so it stretches. Both are meant to force the polyp to split in two parts and it will eventually do so. Believe me I have done it numerous times.

What is next?

We have split the skeleton and we have it back in the tank as described above.

Because of the offset and the wedges, tension is created on the polyp and that will make the polyp stretch.

For the Bubble coral to split in two, we will need to increase that tension and that offset little by little, day after day, until the split starts to occur.

Note that you may wish to look at a skeleton of a dead bubble coral if you get a chance to see how its structure is and how it is more fragile towards the top than at the bottom. That is obviously the reason most of our efforts are concentrated at the bottom so we minimize the possibility of harming the polyp which is more concentrated towards the top.

As the tension is increased and has the pieces are farther apart and as the offset in increased as well, you will start noticing after a while that the polyp actually starts to split.

  • When that happens you know that you will soon have two bubble corals. The split starts with an indentation in the polyp, sort of like a large V on both sides and the narrow ends of the V will work towards each other and expand until they meet. When they do you have basically two corals.

    How long does this all take?

    I have had instances where the split was as short as 10 days and others where the split took nearly 3 weeks. The speed depends on your expertise with this and the amount of offset and tension you introduce.

    In the beginning or what I mean is when you do this for the first time, do everything slowly. As you gain more expertise you can certainly speed the process up by increasing the offset of the 2 frags and the tension on the polyp to speed things up.

    Acquire some experience first though and do not pay too much attention to how fast this all happens. The key is to be successful. Once you have done it a few times you can speed things up somewhat as I explained above.

    Keep your skimmer running. Do not turn off the lights. Make sure your iodine levels are where they should be and maybe a little higher even. Dose with a complete supplement, such as VG, at twice the recommended dose. Feed the coral during the night or a few hours after the lights are off. Add Plankton at nite if you wish. I have found that this is beneficial. If you use plankton make sure it is live. Brachionus is a good choice and can be ordered from AWC or from Florida Aqua Farms.

    Where do you get most the implements you need?

    I got mine from Home Depot and a Hobby shop. You can find the Dremel Tolls and the drill bits that go with it in many places though. I have tried other shapes than the V, a half round for instance, but have found that the V works best to make the initial groove. The V shape should be a wide one not one of the narrow angle V drills they sell. The second drill is basically a round dot that you use to make the V deeper. The dot drills come in various sizes and I used the small one.

    Note that in the beginning I indicated that you should use an adjustable speed drill. The reason is that they are easier to control. Some of the higher end models allow you to set the actual RPMs and that is what I use. If you get a lower end model, get one that has a low speed setting and you will be fine.

    The plastic wedges were found at Home Depot but they were larger than what I needed, so I cut them down to the sizes explained above.

    Note that the Dremel will be used to propagate other corals so it is a good piece of equipment to have if you plan on doing this to more than one type of coral. You will need other drill bit types and you may wish to consider buying the Dremel kit that comes with an assortment of drill bits in it. That way you have everything you actually need.

    Also note that the Bubble coral is one of the more difficult one to do this procedure with. Many other corals that I have applied this method (or a very similar one to, are much easier to propagate. The main reason for this is the make up of the internal parts of the skeleton.


    Since I am not at your place to supervise how you do all of this I cannot take responsibility for your success or failure but if you follow the instructions and do not rush things the first time you should do just fine.

    Do not improvise. Follow the directions. After you have gained some experience you can improvise somewhat and perhaps adapt the technique to your own liking. This is a description of how it works for me but that does not mean that you cannot make some modifications to it.

    Should you see damage to the polyp, you need to treat with high dosages of Vitamin C and rub some on the wound too. You also want to maintain those high dosages in the water and aim water current at the affected area.

    If you break some of the top lamellae, leave them in place. They will come loose by themselves and be ejected by the coral

    If you decide to give it a try and have questions do not hesitate to email me. I will be glad to help you as best as I can.

    Albert J. Thiel

    © A. Thiel, 1996-1997

    Business Planning Technique - Pricing For Profit

    PART 2

    Last month I began a discussion of the pricing process and computing the costs and the volumes needed to make a desired income, this month will continue on with that and go on to some basic business planning technique.

    When I was in the US Army, taking an instructors' training course we were told, " tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them". I have since noted that is also done by many good teachers everywhere, so in that vein, I am going to ' tell you what I'm going to tell you'.

    What you, we, I, need to do is compete with a superior product,
    that is proven captive bred and is acclimated to aquaria conditions.
    In many cases you can also add delivery to a shop or wholesaler
    and better customer service.

    We have discussed the how-to, a little, of setting up record keeping books, and the need to get involved early on with a good accountant to set up your record keeping system, and I have pointed out some of the pluses of some easy to use accounting software programs that can be of a big help to you, actually, once you have either, Quick Books, or Peachtree Accounting you can do 95% of your accounting yourself, both systems talk you through your setups and have tutorials and helps to guide you along. There is also a good tax program to use called Turbotax which has an individual version that allows you to process 5 sets of tax returns which is similarly 'user-friendly' and priced under $50, and you can do your personal taxes as well as business on it, the commercial version is higher.

    In next installments I am going to discuss the Balance Sheet which is simply a 'report card' of where you are in your business operation, along with after that the tax forms that you will need to compute your profit or loss on your enterprise and how to use them and where the info for the business profit or loss goes on your form 1040. After I would like to show how this is applied with some of my own figures, pictures etc. of a 'production module' I have set up and where it is at and what I am producing from it, first , so you will know what I am talking about a few more things to discuss. This installment will conclude the cost/volume discussion and begin business planning.

    As a wise friend recently said,
    "if you don't know your costs, you are lost".

    He is a CPA and teaches accounting,
    and this is one of his basic teaching points,


    Last month we discussed how many units that we wholesaled at $ 10 each to reach a break even point of $ 12000 of costs, and how many to produce to make us an income of $ 40,000. This was done with a product that we wholesaled at $ 10 and which gave us a CONTRIBUTION MARGIN of $ 5, or a return to us of $5 over the costs to produce it. This whole process is why I have stressed how important it is to know what our costs are in order for us to know how to price our products, and, whether or not we are making money or losing it. As a wise friend recently said, "if you don't know your costs, you are lost". He is a CPA and teaches accounting, and this is one of his basic teaching points, KNOW YOUR COSTS!.

    One other closely related point to this is the necessity of proper pricing of your products. Of course you have to be competitive, but, it will be a long time before you can compete with shipped-in, cyanide collected products from the Philippines. They are CHEAP! What you, we, I, need to do is compete with a superior product, that is proven captive bred and is acclimated to aquaria conditions. In many cases you can also add delivery to a shop or wholesaler and better customer service.

    One of the greatest causes of business failure
    is pricing oneself out of business !

    What happens is new producers price themselves too low
    and don't receive enough cash income to remain
    solvent (pay their bills).


    Don't underestimate the value of these, the later ones are factors the transshippers cannot compete with you on, and very soon the first one will be the ultimate plus for you, having hardy, local raised captive bred products. That said, do not be afraid to price your product accordingly, if you deliver you don't need box charges, they can have a shorter lead time on order/delivery, and you are there to service them with a superior product.

    What I am leading into is this- One of the greatest causes of business failure is pricing oneself out of business. ! What happens is new producers of products price themselves too low to be competitive, and then don't receive enough cash income to remain solvent (pay their bills). The simplest way to prevent this is to price your products competitively yet fairly to yourself to cover your costs. And, to do that, you have to know what your costs are. I keep coming back to that and will, get used to it, its a fact of life for you. " if you don't know your costs you are lost". attributed to Tony Conte, CPA.

    For our discussion I used an arbitrary figure of a product that wholesales for $ 10, this is an easy figure to use, but, in reality, I would suggest this only for a smaller single species rock, with coralline algae, and maybe some caulerpa or other algae species. AragocreteTM cookies' come to mind here, depending on size, but at a $ 10 wholesale I am not talking about a very large piece.

    If you want to get an idea of what stuff is wholesaling for to your retailers, look at their stock and divide by 3-4 times, that will be an approximate base price plus box costs etc. , but, remember he also has fixed costs they have to cover, so, the retail price of the corals is what the retailer has to receive to make his break even point and then get onto his income.

    Don't think he is getting rich if his base price is $5 and he is retailing it at $20. He is not. Use this though to get an idea of what the going wholesale prices he is paying are. Some of his markups may be as low as 2 times.

    Back to the cost/volume pricings. Last month we showed using the wholesale sales price of $ 1