Hello and welcome to this issue of our newsletter. This is LeRoy, we have some great articles for you this month. You will find two articles with lots of detailed information on producing sps corals. The first article starts a series of articles about the domestication of corals. The article on page 3 goes into detail on advanced SPS propagation techniques. Sally Jo has graced us with a great article celebrating the birthdays of her beautiful bonsai reefs.
We have now posted the first of our articles on aquarium photography. You will find a great idea for starting a new company using all the details you find on making Socket Rocks. This month we have started a series of articles on coral predators. Hopefully you'll not recognize these predatory starfish as ones that are growing in your reef. If you are doing any type of reef farming we are very interested in publishing your article. You can send us your article as an e-mail and you can attach any digital photographs. Enjoy this month's issue of Reef Aquarium Farming News.
The most important benefit that you get from buying captive raised brood stock is that as each coral is cloned in captivity the resulting divisions become hardier.
During the last five years of our research here at GARF we have been able to document this morphology change in over a hundred types of coral. The two types of coral that seem to benefit most are the bright colored SPS corals and many types of Xenia corals.
One of the most interesting studies that I have heard about was from Norway. Bruce Carlson went to Fiji and he was able to collect some corals from the original colony that he collected corals from several years ago.
The earlier corals had been grown in Norway for several years. The skeletons of both corals were analyzed and the corals that were grown in Norway contain a rare mineral that occurs in the water there.
This should not be surprising because the corals have to make all of the new tissue by utilizing the minerals in the water they live in and in the food that they consume.
CAPTIVE GROWN BROOD STOCK COLONY
The artificial environment that we are able to create in our aquariums is very different from the environment that these corals have grown in for centuries on the natural reef. In nature corals have thousands of years to adapt to a changing environment and the hardiest of these corals can be kept in our aquariums. It is during the transfer from the wild to captivity that many of these corals are stressed. Corals that are handled properly before they are introduced into our systems obviously have a much better chance of surviving this transfer. One of the things that we have noticed here at GARF is that smaller corals are often much easier to acclimate to new systems.
There have been too many times lately when I've opened up the box that has come in from a trade and I can tell that the animals will not be able to survive. This is because they were shipped when they were too large in too small amount of water.
I learned years ago that it is much better to receive a small live animal than a large dead one. The people who we trade with are certain that they're doing me a favor when they send a nice large specimen. I will be much more careful to explain why I want small cuttings in the future.
By far the largest part of our collection of corals here at GARF is made up of small polyp stony coral morphs and species. Many of the small brightly colored Acropora and Pocillopora do not start to grow for several months after they first arrive. After about six months we are able to remove the first cuttings. These first cuttings are glued in the same aquarium with the parent colony and they often outgrow the entire parent colony.
The vast majority of the corals that we buy from the ocean have been from coral farms in the tropics. These are small to medium-sized coral colonies that are grown on seashells or cement disks. We keep the original colony for about one year before we can start harvesting fragments. Many of the fragments that we remove six months after the arrival of the colony can be harvested two months after they are glued into the aquarium.
One of the most interesting experiments that we have been doing during the last two years has to do with the orientation of the frags when we glue them. It seems most natural to glue the frags with the tops pointing straight up toward the light, but this does not always produce the most productive coral colony. We have been experimenting with three different ways of attaching the coral fragments to the live rocks.
The first way is when we glue these fragments with the cutting parallel to the bottom of the aquarium. The second way that we glue the cuttings is with the top of that fragments pointing toward the bottom of the aquarium at approximately a 45-degree angle. The newest way that we have been experimenting with is breaking both ends off of the fragment and gluing the fragment upside down.
We found a very interesting correlation between the number of initiation growth tips and the way that we mount the frags. The results vary depending on the size and growth habits of the species of Acropora. With many of the larger bodied stag horn type corals the very best results have been achieved by gluing the corals parallel to the bottom of the aquarium. We have counted the number of bud tips on several dozen different pairs of corals.
We have noticed a consistent increase in the number of bud tips in literally every pair of corals that we have tested. By gluing the fragments so that they stick straight out from the rocks we have been able to produce over twice as many bud tips.
In the species of Acropora that we received as a green Bali stag the count has always came out to two times as many tips plus one extra tip.
If the cutting is planted up right grows three tips the cutting next to it that is planted parallel to the bottom will have three tips plus three tips and one extra. If the cutting mounted upright grows five tips the other cutting will consistently have 11 tips.
When you're farming frags, bud tip initiation is a very important concern. Cuttings do not look very good if they are cut out of the middle of the branch and they are broken on both ends. One of the most interesting experiments that we've been doing this year has been gluing the coral fragments upside down. We've only done this about a dozen times in experiments that have been going on long enough to see some results. The results are not as consistent as the last method, but occasionally the fragment has turned into a multi branched colony.
This branching happens in two different ways. The first way that we noticed was that all of the polyps lengthen and turned toward the light. Each polyp on this type of cutting becomes an initiation tip.
The other thing that we have noticed is that all of the polyps around the bottom of the cutting that is now pointed up developed into fast-growing branches. It is very odd to see the coral when it is 2 inches tall.
These cuttings look like a small colony standing on a stick. During the next two semesters we will be gluing up over a hundred of these pairs so we can document this method.
The stag horn type Acropora often produce several times more tips when the frag is mounted upside down.The longer branches of the stag horn Acropora can be cut into three-quarter inch sections. Each of the sections will soon develop multiple growing tips.
THIS CORAL IS THE SAME AGE AS THE ONE IN THE LAST PICTURE
We now remove the growing fragment as soon as the base plate is formed. Each of these fragments can be glued very close together, but it is important to not combine fragments from different colonies.
When we notice that one colony is growing too close to another colony we use a wood chisel to remove the base plate from one of the corals. We trim all the branches on that side of the colony very short and we do not allow them to grow. You can train the growth of the colony's with this type of management.
Some of the smaller branched Acropora species produce the most tips when the cutting is pointed down at a 45-degree angle. The cuttings that we have been watching for several months that came to GARF as Tonga tri-color have produce multiple branches when they are mounted like this. When these coral start to grow all of the polyps on the upper edge of the cutting turn toward the light and developed into buds. It is very exciting to see a six week-old Acropora cutting that is 2 in. long that has developed 30 branches.
One of the most interesting experiments that we will be doing this semester consists of grafting polyps that we have broken off of the lower part of the coral branches to the top of the broken branch. These polyps are glued to the same coral that they grew on. We have some incredibly beautiful Acropora millipora that is bright blue. This coral grows to about 1/2 inch in diameter. When the branches start to grow they naturally grow slightly down and then bend up toward the light. The branches are dark blue and the tips are pointed and lighter blue. When we make a fragment from this coral it leaves a big wide white scar. The base of this coral produces many one half-inch long polyps that do not all developed into branches. We're now gluing the small polyps to the broken part of the large branch. After the tissue heals back together it is hoped that these grafted tips will grow into multiple branches.
SPS coral production in research would be much slower if we had to depend on glue such as epoxy. Super glue speeds up the propagation process and it seals the damaged tissue. Lately we have been working with some of the flat bladed small polyp stony corals such as Pavona and Merulina; often the tissue is damaged when the corals are fragged. The tissue often recedes away from the broken area. Now we use super glue along the broken edge and it seals the tissue. This does not allow bacteria and small protozoans to enter the wound.
The glue that I like best for SPS culture work is a thick liquid that has a viscosity of 440. The glue that we use here at GARF is high-quality filtered clear glue that does not bubble when you put it underwater. This glue is very easy to use and I will describe some of the methods I use for culturing SPS corals. When I remove a coral colony for propagation I prepared two bowls of water from the reef that I remove the coral from. I use four main tools when I propagating SPS corals. The first tool is a ratchet PVC pipe cutter that is used for cutting two-inch pipe. Two of the other tools are side cutting wire pliers. I use one large pair and one of small pair. The last tool is a 12 in stainless steel tweezers.
I remove the coral colony from the rock it is attached to by snapping the dried glue that was used to attach the fragment in the first place. After looking at the colony I decide how to cut the branches off. I often start with a small pair of side cutters and I use them to remove the small branches around the base of the coral. By removing the small branches I'm able to open up space for the large pair of wire cutters so I can remove the medium-sized branches.
Once I have removed all of the branches I use the PVC pipe cutters to split the base of the coral. If the colony is very large I split the base into four pieces. If the colony is only about 2 in. wide I split the base in to two pieces. We often glue these pieces of the base in the grow-out aquarium very near to where we removed the colony. I always glue the pieces of the colony at the same distance from the light or slightly lower in the aquarium.
During the last year we have noticed that many of the colored SPS corals are much brighter when they are grown in less light. This is especially true of the brightly colored Acropora Colonies that are sold as bottlebrush Acropora. At the GARF propagation facility we use VHO Bulbs almost entirely. Every person who has visited our foundation has commented on our corals incredible colors.
One of the most exciting times for me happened during the 1998 coral-farming seminar. One of the corals farmers who owns one of the largest coral farms in America sat in front of Sally Jo's reefs for several hours. When I went into her office he told me that her original 55 gallon show tank had more colored SPS corals than his entire farm. I enjoyed the phone call about four months later when he explained his new indoor SPS tanks that were being lit with VHO Bulbs. We will be doing MUCH more research on this subject in the next few semesters. Please report any data you collect on methods that produce extra growth tips.
Free reef help line 1 208-344-6163
Reef JanitorsTM 1-800-600-6163
HAVE FUN IT IS HOBBY - YOU CAN DO IT
THIS 70 GALLON ARAGOCRETETM AND GLUE REEF IS ONLY 24 HOURS OLD IN THIS PICTURE
Most of the aragocreteTM rock is less than two weeks old.
The tank is set up using 3 arches, 4 caves and several ledges. The sand is still 80 percent open to the water flow. We call this the SMALL FOOTPRINT REEF
We are putting mushroom rocks in the caves. We will move them as soon as the mushrooms grow onto the cave.
SOCKET ROCKS CREATE A FINISHED LOOK
We want to share with you one of the first 'New' reef products that has been introduced to the hobby in several years. There have been new skimmers, pumps, and filters, but we have had skimmers, pumps, and filters. The AragocreteTM and Glue reef project is new way to make reefs from scratch using nothing from the wild ocean.
This is a new product that can be started with very little money. You can market dry rock in your area while your brood stock is growing. This product is a great one to trade for Ice Caps and Gemini pumps. You are only limited by the size of your local market.
I am receiving more and more data on ways that people are making these rocks. If you think of some new ideas please share them with us so we can get others growing their own reef.
We have more questions about making Aragocrete than almost any other subject lately. AragocreteTM is a very exciting product because it can be made almost anywhere, and the market for it seems to be immense.
Properly cured Aragocrete that is made using our recipes and techniques makes a porous, lightweight, and attractive live rock. We have been operating many of our reefs with only Aragocrete artificially made the live rock for four years.
When I started this project I have to admit I was most interested in finding a way to reduce the demand for wild collected live rock. In all of my studies of marine biology it was always stressed that in healthy tropical marine environments literally every piece of substrate would be colonized.
In the 1970's I was very worried that our hobby would reduce the number of tropical fish that live on our reefs. My research led me to some studies that were done in the Caribbean and the study showed that as long as the habitat was there it did not seem to matter how many fish were removed from an area.
THIS IS THE SAME TANK A YEAR LATER
It seemed logical, that within reason, there would be more potential baby fish on any reef than there would be hiding places. One of the studies is most memorable because it relates directly to the aquarium trade. An area was marked off with ropes and for a period of several years the commercially valuable tropical fish were harvested. At the end of this test period each of the available habitats were refilled with growing tropical fish.
Much of my work in fresh Water fish management has had to do with creating habitat structures. It seemed to me that if we left the structures and the live rocks on the reef we will be able to harvest the fish and invertebrates in a sustainable manner.
This is an easy, inexpensive product to produce and test market. You can get started by purchasing one bag of cement and one bag of gravel. I cannot think of another product that you could manufacture for the local salt-water market that would be easier to start than AragocreteTM rock manufacturing. The AragocreteTM can be manufactured in tropical fish Styrofoam boxes and these boxes can be moved and stacked while the Aragocrete is curing.
The only problem you'd have with manufacturing Aragocrete in an apartment would be finding a place to soak it in fresh water. One particularly enterprising young student told me that he had found the perfect place to cure his Aragocrete Reef Plugs. In a recent e-mail he said his method of curing them was as simple as hanging some reef plugs in the toe of a nylon stocking in the back of his toilets. He said his mom had not noticed and that everyone helped him change water several times each day.
THE BASIC RECIPE FOR ARAGOCRETE:
ONE PART WHITE CEMENT
5 PARTS ARAGONITE GRAVEL
ONE PART PLASTIC SCRAPS
ENOUGH FRESH WATER TO MOISTEN
SIMPLE ROCK MAKING:
1. DIG NICE SHAPED HOLE IN SAND
2. MAKE A DRY CEMENT MIX
3. FILL HOLE AND COVER WITH SAND
4. DIG UP AND SELL THE ROCKS
This is the absolute bare bones method of making Aragocrete. If you're interested in more details there are many articles in the back issues of reef aquarium Farming news. I do want to explain some of the simple things get you can do to increase the production of live rocks.
Here are some great links to help you learn more about making rock.
PLANT CORALLINE ALGAE ON ROCKS;
This may seem like the very simplest thing but it is something that many people forget to do. When you start a tank full of live rocks it is very important that you put Coralline algae into the tank. We use our own GARF GrungeTM in every batch of rock live rock that we make. You can remove Coralline algae from the glass of any of your other aquariums and put it on top of the new rock. This Coralline Algae will start to grow as soon as it touches down.
USE MAXIMUM WATER FLOW RATE
One of the things that we've noticed consistently about Coralline algae growth is that it often thrives in fast-moving water. If you can add more power heads to your rock grow out tanks I am certain that you will find that your coralline algae does very well. In our new greenhouse we will be using airlifts to create a low-cost high-volume water flow.
REMOVE EXCESS PHOSPHATE;
Keeping the Phosphate level very low will help the Coralline grow. Phosphate is known as a crystal poison and it has an inhibiting effect on the formation of the calcium skeleton in the Coralline algae. We use a product from SeaChem called Phosguard and it is very effective at dropping the Phosphate level in the water column to very close to zero.
Keeping the calcium level above 400 parts per million is very important. Coralline algae uses a lot of calcium to deposit it's skeleton so you have to continually add Calcium to the grow out tanks. One of the least expensive ways that we found to do this in large tanks is with the use of pickling lime -Calcium Hydroxide. We do not use this in our systems because it is better to apply it to the tanks as a drip. We have to take care of many individual systems every day and we have found out that things go much faster when we use SeaChem products. We are thinking about adding a drip system to our 1,000 gal. grow out tanks in the new greenhouse.
USE SUFFICIENT NUMBERS OF HERBIVORES;
We have left the most important part for last because we want to discuss it fully. Using the proper number of herbivores to keep the pest algae in check is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the quality of your product. We use a combination of snails, hermit crabs, and Tangs in all of our grow out tanks. The only problem we have is that we also sell Reef Janitors and often the herbivores are removed to fill the orders. It is absolutely the easiest thing to tell when one of the systems has been over harvested. As soon as we start to notice algae a quick inventory of the Janitors shows that too many have been removed. We now use 1 and 1/2 mixed hermit crabs and snails per gallon and two small tangs in each 55 gallon tank.
You can see how the finished socket rocks are used to finish an AragocreteTM and Glue reef.
The coralline algae moves off of the socket rocks onto the rest of the reef structure.
SOCKET ROCKS HOLD THE CORALS AND PREVENT THEM FROM FALLING OVER
The ledges give us lots of room to glue sps corals near the lights.
THIS SPS CORAL PLUG GROWS SO FAST THAT THE CORAL TIPS OVER THE SMALL ROCKS WE RECEIVED THEM ON.
We invented the socket rock so we could plug the sps corals into a coralline covered rock that would hold it up as it grew.
Many sps coral die because they fall onto other corals. This method can prevent that from happening as often.
SOCKET ROCKS SELL VERY WELL BECAUSE PEOPLE CAN MIX AND MATCH THE CORALS
These are some of the Reef PlugsTM that we grow to place in the socket rocks. It is very exciting now that we have many finished reef sockets. I remove the reef plug from them and the colony of inverts has grown onto the rock. It is most fun when an sps coral does this. Then you have a cave with coral growing around it. You then move the plug into the next rock.
Take the plug you are making the socket hole for and cover it with three layers of plastic.
Each socket rock is made by placing one hand full of AragocreteTM on the damp CaribSea gravel.
Insert the covered plug into the wet AragocreteTM and then cover the rock with CaribSea Aruba Shell or fine aragonite sand.
Wait one half day and then remove the
covered plugs from the firm AragocreteTM.
Push your finger all the way into the
socket hole and finish making a tunnel.
We grow the coralline algae in 300 gallon water tanks with Tritons and Blue moons
After the rocks are covered we add the plugs to some. We sell of the rocks with no plug so the customer can pick their own.
We use Sea Chem products to spead up the coralline growth as much as possible.
THE FINISHED PRODUCT
This Zoanthid will grow out onto the rock in three months and we can move the plug into the next rock. We often place an empty reef plug in the socket hole and the Zoanthid soon grow onto it.
We often put 3 or 4 colors of Zoanthids on the same plug so the finished product will sell faster. You can invent any new type of rock using these plans.
These socket rocks are ready to sell. These pictures show the same rock under Halide (left) and Actinic (right) lighting.
People like the fact that they can have a reef and they can be certain that it is tank grown.
I am very interested in any feedback about this project. I have helped several people set up small production sites. This product is very good for the local market because the finished rocks are heavy and they cost extra to ship in.
You can save the stores the hassle of waiting until 4:00 in the morning for a lost shipment.