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Reef Aquarium Farming News
Online Newsletter for Reef Aquarium Propagation Research

ISSUE # 19 page 2 JULY 1998

Welcome to page two of our July issue. We are proud to have another great article by Tracy Gray. We have an article on Making Zoanthid plugs by our volunteer of the Year Michael Holcomb. We are also posting the winning article in our essay contest. Please e-mail your entry to me at leroy@garf.org you can write about any subject that deals with I GREW IT MYSELF. You have a very good chance of winning!



When Leroy first asked me if I might be willing to write an article covering the genesis of coralline algae colonization on "aragocrete", I had an impulse to look behind me and see to whom he was really speaking. Then, I remembered this was a phone conversation. Leroy continued by saying GARF receives much e-mail asking about what to expect when seeding one's "aragocrete". Until you've watched new rock mature a few times, this question will naturally arise. While my two tanks and two years experience cannot compare to 40 GARF tanks and decades of experience, Nature does tend to repeat itself. Therefore, maybe what I have seen is generally applicable and useful to the greater majority of those making there own live rock. At any rate, I can at least shed some light on some things to watch for.

When a sterile piece of rock is added into an aquarium, the manner in which it is colonized will be determined by the relative numbers of the species present, their relative growth rates, and the nature of the substrate being colonized. There is little control over the species present, as most reefs will contain a myriad of algae and diatoms just waiting for the right opportunity. The nature of the substrate will have been determined by the aquarist's choice of materials. However, the relative growth rates of the species present and their ability to compete with other organisms is hopefully under some degree of control.

Specifically, this control will take the form of trace element and nutrient availability, light, pH, water motion, alkalinity, etc. But even with the best control, the new rock seems to have to go through a specific progression of growth stages before it becomes well encrusted with coralline algae. What follows are my impressions of this growth progression and then some of the things I have encountered which have subverted my efforts.

1) Stage One. This stage is characterized by absolutely nothing. At least, nothing is happening that is outwardly visible. Undoubtedly, detrital material and many water borne spores are arriving on the new surface. Minute dissolution of surface material from the "aragocrete" is likely also occurring as the material reaches equilibrium with the water. (I also would not be surprised to learn that the "aragocrete" is also temporarily a sink for trace elements). This stage lasts for about 1 week, but will be dependent upon what else is happening in your tank.

2) Brown "Algae". The diatom bloom. Apparently, these brown diatoms are very available in the water column and multiply quite quickly. The extent to which this brown film covers the new rock again depends on the nutrient levels available for the diatoms to spread.

In a new tank with many new pieces of rock being added this growth can be very extensive and appear to outstrip the capabilities of the snails and hermit crabs in the tank.

Without any attempts to control silica levels this growth can last for quite some time. I don't remember for sure, but I think I saw this stage last for about 3 to 4 weeks. It really is helpful to add an adsorbent to remove silica at this point, but I wouldn't get too alarmed and begin physically removing the diatoms. (Most silica adsorbents also will remove some phosphate as well.) Personally, I have resorted to physical removal of diatom growth, but now think patience would have been the wiser solution.

3) Red Algae. I have had only small growths of the red algae and it has really occurred simultaneously with the diatom growth. It has never been a problem for me. But I understand that some people do find this growth stage significant and troublesome. Once again, the answer is patience, phosphate adsorbent and algae eating critters.

4) Green Algae. My experience has been that the green algae and the first hint of coralline algae appear at about the same time. I list the green algae first, as it is easier to notice, and in high nutrient tanks, (especially phosphate), will most probably be the first to appear. When adding a single new rock to an aquarium already growing coralline algae, the coralline varieties may colonize before the green types. At the point the green algae begin to appear, the growth rate of diatoms will be much lower and the snails will have cleared areas of the rock. These cleared areas seem to be where the first green and coralline algae growth appears. The green algae will be a light covering on the rocks, not the long waving locks of hair algae.

It is important at this stage to have phosphate levels low enough that the green algae do not multiply so prolifically as to over run the budding coralline algae. If you haven't already done so, it would be a good time to take the necessary steps to get the tank phosphate levels in control. Be advised that soft corals such as sarcophyton do need some phosphate. I once had a very healthy looking sarcophyton close up never to open again after adding a large amount of phosphate adsorbing material. I can't be sure if the phosphate adsorbent was the actual culprit, but I have since read on Albert Thiel's web site that this can occur. As always, be sure you have plenty herbivores. Also at this point, or sooner, I would invest in a calcium and alkalinity test kits.


5) Coralline algae tint/micro spots. There have been two distinct types of initial growth in my tanks. The first type usually shows up as a pink or purple tint on your rock. In contrast to the coralline algae on your ocean harvested live rock, this first growth will not appear to have any noticeable thickness. Instead it appears more like a light sprinkling of colored dust on the rock, and can cover fairly large areas. In my experience, the first place this new growth shows up is in fairly intensely lit areas, but I will hasten to say that I have never tried to grow coralline algae precisely following the GARF method. The second type appears as very small specs of coralline algae that have a slightly noticeable thickness to them. This second type shows up in moderately lit areas first. I think the algae that first shows up in the well lit areas is a bit faster growing than the coralline algae that shows up in the partially shaded or less lighted areas, but these algae also seem to be more likely to die off. Perhaps what is happening is that the algae are initially growing in these areas, but the light is a bit too intense for them to easily survive. By now, you should have already been monitoring both calcium and alkalinity. In my opinion at least, it is not adequate to follow a recipe for buffer and calcium additions as different tanks provide varying levels of carbonate and calcium depletion. If this is your third or fourth time, you probably have developed a good sense of what is required, but for first timers the certainty provided by the test kits is invaluable and will help diagnose problems if they occur.


6) Coralline Spotting. This stage is a continuation of the previous stage. Some of the areas where the coralline tint is occurring do not continue to grow while some areas do. This results in the formation of spots that may be solitary or localized in groups. These spots might be compared to the first few pieces of a large jigsaw puzzle. At this point you should be able to observe a thin white ring around the algae growth. This ring is an indicator that the algae are growing. Usually, there will also be white specs on the surface of the spots. On some species these areas will appear as individual white specs, while on some species the entire area is covered by extremely fine white specs giving it a frosted appearance.

Coralline Encrustment.

7) Coralline Encrustment. By this time, some of the algae have gained a strong foothold and will not be easily overgrown by green algae, in fact it will slowly overgrow the thin layer of green on the rocks. All the coralline crust will now have a noticeable thickness to it and begin to grow outward. The spots will begin to connect and cover larger areas. The few and scattered white specs initially seen on the algae may now be much more noticeable and greater in number. Those species that started in the lower light areas seem to me to be hardier and more likely to survive and grow larger. Those species grown in bright light do seem to spread out more quickly, but they do not appear as thick and seem to be more easily covered by green algae and diatom growth. Those initially thinner species can and do grow thicker eventually, but more care must be taken to support their proliferation.

Well, that's the progression I have seen in my tanks. Don't expect that each stage will be completely separate, for there is certainly room for a great deal of over lap. After all, there is always some amount of each type of algae in your tank. The trick is to get the preferred ones to dominate. Also, I have never started a tank with lower level lighting, but it seems this method would encourage those thicker lower light species to predominate. Since these species seem to be the more durable, the method must be recommended. Additionally, once these species are well established, they do seem to be able to tolerate higher light levels later on. I have not been at this for very long and am still learning as I go. So I can offer some insights on what has gone less than perfect for me.

1) At stage five in the progression above it is very important to be sure that your alkalinity, pH, calcium and strontium levels are as optimum as you can possibly make them. This will help those areas where coralline algae are colonizing to survive and compete with green algae for real estate.

The more places where the coralline algae start, the faster your rocks will become encrusted. It appears to me that it is a bit harder for the coralline algae to established new growth locations when green algae are already well entrenched. You may read into this comment that I did not always follow the above protocol and had several infant growths fade away into nothing. This brings me to item number 2.

2) If you see areas of new growth starting to fade instead of getting heavier or spreading, double check your water parameters as something is probably not in line. In my experience, it is easy to get the ratio of Reef Builder to Reef Advantage wrong, especially if you follow the line of reasoning I did. My pH levels were lower than I wanted so I increased the Reef Builder relative to Reef Advantage and my alkalinity went too high driving the calcium levels down. ( Had I read the labels more carefully, I would have seen SeaChem's recommendation to use about 2 parts Reef Advantage to 1 part Reef Builder).

3) I initially added calcium hydroxide by dripping it into the tank's sump on a home made level make up system. The system works fine, but in time I think the constant calcium intake skews the strontium and alkalinity levels from optimum. I still use calcium hydroxide in my make up water for level control, but I also add Reef Builder and Reef Advantage on alternating days. They are of course, premixed in water. This reduces the amount of calcium hydroxide that is added through the make up system and seems to keep the calcium and alkalinity in better control. I have been doing this only for the last few weeks as per GARF, but I think I can see a difference already. And I still think its worth a testing the water about every third day to make sure you are on track. Once things seem stable, testing can be reduced.

4) Once you see some coralline growth on your rocks, try not to move them around. I can't say for certain, but I think they are growing in a light that they like and moving the rocks seems to retard the coralline growth.

5) Coralline algae seem to preferentially colonize oyster shells. Of all the materials I have tried, oyster shells were definitely the best for rapid colonization. The nice thing about oyster shell is that it is much less expensive than aragonite sand or crushed coral.

6) This is something I am trying just now. The idea stems from a conversation with Leroy and my observation that I don't see many new satellite colonies of coralline algae once the green algae has a foothold. Leroy mentioned that he felt like the action of sea urchins in the wild was beneficial to the reefs as they so completely scour the surface of whatever they're eating from. I am using a wire brush to scrape clean some areas of rock now having only green algae growing on them. (Of course one could accomplish the same thing by leaving the rock in the dark for several weeks, but this is often not desirable if you don't want to rearrange your tank). Hopefully, in an established aquarium with low nutrient levels, the coralline algae will be able to colonize the new surface first. It will be interesting to see if this procedure circumvents the usual growth progression on new rock.


Michael Holcomb

Delivered-To: algae-garf-leroy@garf.org
Date: Fri, 17 Jul 1998 21:04:37 -0600 (MDT)
Mime-Version: 1.0
To: "(GARF) LeRoy & Sally Jo Headlee"
Subject: Re: zoanthids

The other day at GARF I made zoanthid plugs, here is what I did:
On a counter I placed a cutting board, chisel, side cutters, bowls of water (from the tank that the cuttings would be put in), Reef Glue, plugs, and plug racks. I also had a bucket of water with the mother colonies in it. I had a nearby outside door open to let fresh air in because in a closed room the stench from the zoanthids and the cyanoacrylate fumes can be overwhelming.

I removed mother colonies one at a time, set them on the cutting board and scraped the zoanthids off. When scraping off the zoanthids, I was careful to scrape off a small piece of the underlying rock with them to make attaching them to the plugs easier (cyanoacrylate sticks to the rock better than it sticks to the slimy zoanthid). I tried to hold the rock opposite the cutting direction so that I didn't hit my fingers when the chisel slipped.

Some of the mother colonies had sarcophytons and acroporas attached to them that were in danger of being overgrown by the zoanthids; when I came to one of these, I would get the chisel as close as I could to their base and scrape back from there to remove the zoanthids. I didn't worry about getting base rock off with the zoanthids because leaving the corals undamaged was my primary goal.

When I had cut enough zoanthids from a mother colony, I returned the mother colony to the tank and placed all the cuttings from that mother colony in a bowl; I used separate bowls for each colony to keep the colors separate. Sometimes there were pieces of dead coral that the zoanthids had grown on, so I used the side cutters to cut up the coral with the zoanthids attached (this is the easiest way to make zoanthid plugs as there is always a nice clean surface to glue to and easily place in the cyanoacrylate with little risk of getting fingers in the glue).

Once I was finished making the cuttings, I started making combination plugs. To create a combination plug I took a plug and applied some cyanoacrylate near the edge of the plug and placed a zoanthid cutting in it. When placing the cutting in the cyanoacrylate, I tried to push the rock to which the zoanthids were attached into the cyanoacrylate and move it around (not much, just a little twist or two) to help force the cyanoacrylate into cracks in the rock and strengthen the bond, when I was doing this I tried to keep my fingers and the upper portion of the zoanthid away from the cyanoacrylate so that the cutting would not stick to me instead of the plug (removing zoanthids from fingers can be very difficult; so can separating fingers that are bonded by cyanoacrylate. I strongly recommend avoiding contact with the cyanoacrylate).

As soon as the first cutting was attached I applied cyanoacrylate near the edge of the plug (approximately 90 degrees from where the first cutting was attached) and took a cutting of a different color and attached it. I repeated this process two more times until I had a plug with four different colors of zoanthids.

Once all four colors of zoanthids were on a plug, I placed the plug in a bowl of tank water to set the cyanoacrylate and I started on another plug. When the bowl began to get crowded with plugs, I transferred the plugs to a plug rack and placed the plug rack in a tank where the cuttings could grow. I continued making plugs and filling racks until the cuttings were used up.

Thiel-Garf contest Winner # 2



Aquariums for Aquariums

by Gordon Terpenaks

A few weeks ago, I was cruising around the GARF web site when I found the 'recipe' for Aragocrete rock. I began to create all kinds of shapes of live rock. They were all very nice looking when completed. One day, I was watching my tank and thinking about how much life can fit into a small glass box. Then, I had the idea to make a mini fish tank out of Aragocrete.

I filled my first one with a yellow zoanthoid
Did it ever look good! I was so impressed,
I made lots of them with various types of zoanthoids
and I am selling them for $65.00 a piece.

I spent a long time thinking of how I could make something like this. I would come up with a plan in my mind and debate over it. It took me not too long to come up with my plan for the tank. I knew that there could not be a top or nothing could grow inside of it because it wouldn't get enough light. So, I came up with my idea for building my mini aquarium. This is how I made my mini fish tank:

I dug a relatively rectangular hole in the Carib Sea box (with the Aragonite Sand still in it) about 7 inches wide and 4 inches long and 5 inches tall. I then put about 1" of Aragocrete in and then let it cure like that over night.

The next day, I cut three panels of cardboard that would leave a 3/4 inch gap on three sides of the opening and would not let any Aragocrete go onto one of the 7 inch ends. I taped all of the seams, front and back with masking tape. To keep the Aragocrete from sticking to the cardboard, I sprayed it with water so it was good and wet, Then I filled the gap.

After curing for two days, it was time to dig it up. It took some persuading to get the Aragocrete unstuck from the masking tape but it worked out.

After thinking about what to put inside of this little mini tank, I decided that zoanthoids would be best because the polyps are smaller. I filled my first one with a yellow zoanthoid (I'm not sure what kind it is, I know that it is not a gold crown) that I got from my local aquarium shop. Did it ever look good! I was so impressed, I made lots of them with various types of zoanthoids and I am selling them for $65.00 a piece.

20 of these structures later,
I decided to make them with different shapes.
I used a medium sized rubber ball
and made a sphere<

20 of these structures later, I decided to make them with different shapes. I used a medium sized rubber ball (pushed into one side so there would be a window) and made a sphere that turned out to look like my other ones except for they had round edges. I also picked up some pebble-like shards of Aragonite out of my aquarium shop's box of Aragonite rocks. These I stuck into the sand to created little patterns.

I also used my finger to pat out irregular shapes making the mini aquarium look more natural. I also tried using popsicle sticks to create designs in the sand for the exterior walls of the mini aquarium. This made the tanks look naturally eroded on the walls.

Whenever I bring these into the aquarium shop (they buy them from me to sell) people hound me for them when i'm halfway through the door. These mini aquariums are attractive objects for any aquarium, especially when they get full of coral!

Thanks for reading!





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