Richard M. Greenfield
V.P. CaribSea Inc.
Aragonite, though ubiquitous in the shallow water tropical marine
is a relatively rare mineral overall due to its tremendous instability at
surface temperature and pressure conditions.
This instability insures
almost no aragonite is preserved under emergent conditions such as the
average calcite mine. Calcite as limestone however, is extremely common,
covering 40% of the earth's surface.
Nearly all aragonite in the world is produced by living creatures in
shallow seas. These animals such as corals, specialize in creating a
skeleton of calcium carbonate with absolutely as little energy expended
possible. It appears as if aragonite depositing organisms create their
skeletons by altering the pH upwards either in their tissues as do corals
in their boundary layer as I believe coridacean algae such as the genus
Halimeda do. This is the result of the photosynthetic activity of
which produces a net surplus of oxygen thus shifting pH upwards if this
surplus is somehow contained such as by the semi-permeable membrane of a
coral polyp or in the minuscule dead water layer that surrounds all
immersed in water.
Aragonite rock with sps coral
cuttings secured with Super Glue
Since, in sea water, supersaturation for calcium
carbonate (by increasing the pH) results in the precipitation of
these animals are able to build a skeleton with little or no energy
on the task. The eroded skeletons of corals and Halimeda coridacean
comprise the majority of aragonitic reef sand grains in the 1 to 4 mm
Aragonite naturally occurs in two smaller grain sizes as well. Oolitic
aragonite is thought to be formed either as a direct chemical precipitate
from sea water or by the mediation of a microscopic coating of blue-green
bacteria/algae (in the same manner as described above). Since virtually
everything in tropical seas are coated with bacteria, the exact mechanism
precipitation of aragonite in oolitic form is difficult to pin down and
been debated by geologists for nearly half a century.
Still more aragonite is floating free in the water column of tropical
in the form of 1 to 10 micron crystals. This, until recently, was
a clear case of direct chemical precipitation from sea water due to it's
trace element signature (approaching 10,000 ppm strontium and the Sr/Mg
ratio) but with the discovery of aragonite fixing free floating bacteria
nobody knows what to think!
Several chemical properties make aragonite the ideal material from
to manufacture a high performance substrate:
1) Aragonite is metastable at a pH of 8.2 i.e. it begins to dissolve into its
constituent ions of Ca++ and CO3-- while calcite (typical "crushed coral")
begins to dissolve somewhere in the mid 7's.
2) Aragonite contains substantial amounts of the larger ionic radius +2 cations
such as strontium (up to 10,000 ppm) which are released into the system as the
substrate dissolves. Under laboratory conditions the presence of strontium in
solution appears to facilitate the inorganic precipitation of aragonite when
those solutions also contain sodium and magnesium (like sea water). This would
seem to confirm the observations of hobbyists who note an acceleration of coral
growth with the addition of strontium to a closed system.
3) Unlike calcite, aragonite continues to react chemically with sea water after
acquiring a bacterial biofilm coating. There are further ways to boost the
performance of aragonite. The physical properties of the material can be enhanced
by close grading which allows for more interstitial water per volume, and by
manipulating the surface area to volume ratio which states that if grain size is
uniform, the surface area as a function of volume increases as the grain size
diminishes. Finally, performance can also be increased by technological means
such as by a calcium reactor or the Eco-Sand plenum system. This combination of a
superior raw material boosted by mechanical and technical means is simple and
effective and lasts for the life of the system.
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What kind of magic potions could we use to make corals grow faster? If
there were just something that we could add to the water to really make our
coral cuttings grow faster, we could make a lot more money growing corals
for sale from small cuttings.
Well, you could raise your temperature a
little to speed up metabolism and get faster growth, but only to a
reasonable point. About 80-85 degrees seems to be the limit depending on
the type of coral.
Trace elements help, but only to a certain point also,
then they cause toxicity problems and excessive algal growth. Reef
Janitors can help with the algae part though.
Circulation is very helpful
to some corals, but only if you don't blow them right over. Lighting?
Maybe more lighting?
As I sat thinking of ways to speed up the growth of
corals and mushroom anemone cuttings I realized that my optimistic plans
for doubling the number of cuttings I can grow each month by re-dividing
them on a pre-set schedule usually doesn't work as planned or hoped for.
In other words, the coral cuttings don't cooperate as well as I want them
to all the time.
I dream up optimistic multiplying schedules which sound
great, but the corals sometimes grow fast and sometimes they slow down. I
found that the best you can do is optimize everything you can and then be
patient. Sometimes A coral cutting doubles in a month and the next time I
divide it, it takes two or three months to double. Don't count your chicks
before they hatch and don't spend your money before your coral cuttings
Take for example a leather mushroom coral (sarcophyton). Initially I can
cut an inch wide ring off the outer disk and then cut it into a bunch of
one inch squares. I can attach these by sewing, super gluing with Super
Reef GelTM or letting them sit in a coarse gravel bed to attach to small pea
sized chips or chunks of rock. Then I glue these attached pebbles to a
chosen rock to attach the coral.
But some times the new cuttings skin over
and go into an unusually prolonged dormancy cycle. For this reason I
learned to not use phosphate remover ever just before or after making sarcophyton
cuttings. Phosphate remover can especially cause havoc when leather corals
(and some others) are trying to attach to new rock. The process just slows
If you take too much phosphate out of the water to combat hair algae
and cyanobacteria, you not only slow down the growth of hair algae but the
growth of everything. Constant overuse of phosphate remover will help me
get a beautifully clean tank that is slow growing with dead sarcophyton
corals after a while. So, too much phosphate slows down coral skeletal
formation and too little phosphate starves corals. Should we dose
Wow, I can almost hear a commotion out there already.
If we could dose just small but healthy doses of phosphate into a
phosphate deficient system then maybe we could control it and get good
results. Did I hear someone say: "Oh no, not another piece of equipment?".
No, it's not another piece of equipment. How about just an additive
instead? I think I heard another groan: "Not another additive, I use 15
of them already!". Well, just try using some simpler additives that have
most everything combined already. Then you'll have room for a couple of
goodies like Magic Reef DustTM and Coral VitalTM. I have seen and heard of Coral
Vital helping in many instances as a supplement.
What is Magic Reef DustTM ?
is from GARF and is simple and natural, and it really works. It is a
special soft crumbly grade of Idaho aragonite rock ground up into a fine
powder. You mix a tablespoon or two of it into a 32 ounce drink cup with
tank water and stir it. Let it settle about two seconds then dump the
unsettled cloudy water off into your tank.
This amount is perfect for
dosing a 55 gallon aquarium according to Sally Jo Headlee. Living proof of
how well it works is in her 55 gallon reef aquarium. It is amazingly
beautiful! Those who have had a chance to watch it grow will attest to its
unusually fast growth rate.
She adds a capful of SeaChem's Reef Plus every
other day and gives it the Magic Reef DustTM treatment weekly.
After dosing with Magic Reef DustTM, the reef aquarium looks quite cloudy and
mucky for hours. When it clears after 6-12 hours, the aquarium water is
unusually clear and the corals all perk up. I'm sure it has a similar
effect to adding SeaChem's Reef Builder to the tank, but this seems to do
Besides adding calcium carbonate, it adds lots of trace
elements including phosphate which no one would dream of adding to a reef
aquarium, right? Once diluted in a whole aquarium full of water, the
actual dose is quite small and controlled though. The reason I really think
that the phosphate it provides is helpful to many corals is as follows.
After using Magic Reef DustTM "on and off" for about a half year, I started
noticing that after I used it, sarcophyton corals and their cuttings that
were in dormancy, skinned over with retracted polyps, would usually come
out of dormancy the next day! Kind of the opposite effect as using too
much phosphate remover for too long.
This isn't a guaranteed cure but it
really helps most of the time and all the corals appear to benefit. It
probably isn't just because of the phosphate in the dust.
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Propagation notes on Mushroom Anemones
Otto Segura Ph.D.
After loosing many cuttings to slime, protozoan infection, I decided to cut the mushroom
into four pieces like a pizza pie. After cutting them and let them heal first, until they are fully
healed, in my opinion, when the disk is fully form, this will lead to stronger cuttings.
THESE RED MUSHROOMS GROW VERY WELL UNDER
TRITON AND BLUE MOON 40 WATT BULBS
When the cuttings are fully formed remove all of then with exception of one, this will provide
more cutting in a few weeks. The cuttings should be removed with either a sharp razor blade
Make the cut bellow the disk as close as possible to the base, these cuttings are
much stronger than cuttings done of just the disk of the mushroom, even if these cuttings are
not attacked by protozoans.
After the cuttings have been removed, dip then in a small cup of the aquarium water with a
few drops of iodine for about three minutes.
I found out that after about two days that most
of the cuttings detached by themselves. Once this is done, put the cuttings into a gravel bowl,
as described by Leroy Headlee in the home page of Garf.
Editors note - This method of cutting seems to improve on the other ways we have done it. Please report any data you collect.
Several methods are often used to attach the cuttings to base rock.
One of the easiest way to start new mushroom rocks is to cut the top off of a healthy anemone and attach it to a fresh base rock. This is done by holding the mushroom up with the heads hanging down. Hold the mushroom rock above a bowl of reef water and cut several pieces off. The cuttings will fall into the bowl.
USING NETTING TO ATTACH MUSHROOMS
Mushrooms can be attached to base rocks by holding the cuttings in place with a piece of netting secured with rubber bands.
The type of mesh netting we use is sold in fabric stores in wedding dress section
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