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VOLUME 8 • NUMBER 6
EDITOR & PUBLISHER | James M. Lawrence INTERNATIONAL PUBLISHER | Matthias Schmidt INTERNATIONAL EDITOR | Daniel Knop SENIOR ADVISORY BOARD |
Dr. Gerald R. Allen, Christopher Brightwell, Dr. Andrew W. Bruckner, Dr. Bruce Carlson, J. Charles Delbeek, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Svein A. Fosså, Jay Hemdal, Sanjay Joshi, Larry Jackson, Martin A. Moe, Jr., Dr. John E. Randall, Julian Sprung, Dr. Rob Toonen, Jeffrey A. Turner, Joseph Yaiullo
SENIOR EDITORS |
Scott W. Michael, Dr. Ronald L. Shimek, Denise Nielsen Tackett, Ret Talbot, Matt Pedersen
CONTRIBUTING EDITORS |
2 5 6 8 20 30 42
LETTER FROM EUROPE by Daniel Knop EDITOR’S PAGE by James M. Lawrence LETTERS REEF NEWS
J. Charles Delbeek, Robert M. Fenner, Ed Haag, Lance Ichinotsubo, Alf Jacob Nilsen, John H. Tullock, Tim Wijgerde
ARITIES by Scott W. Michael R Two Boxy Beauties (genus Ostracion) NTERVIEW: Dr. William Walsh I
Denise Nielsen Tackett, Larry P. Tackett, Matthew L. Wittenrich, Vince Suh
TRANSLATOR | Mary Bailey ART DIRECTOR | Linda Provost ASSOCIATE EDITORS |
by Daniel Knop
THE SYSTEMATICS OF THE DRAGONETS (CALLIONYMIDAE)
Alexander Bunten, Bayley R. Lawrence, Louise Watson
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by Inken Krause
RETHINKING DRAGONETS A modern guide to selecting, feeding, and breeding the Mandarinfishes and Scooters by Matt Pedersen
Decoding the genetics of the Red Mandarinfish
by Adeljean L.F.C. Ho
LESSONS FROM THE HUMBLE SCOOTER BLENNY
ONE FISH, TWO FISH, RED MANDARINFISH?
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Looking for breeding breakthroughs in pelagic-spawning species by Matthew L. Wittenrich BLUE LIGHT And its importance for the colors of stony corals
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CORAL®, The Reef & Marine Aquarium Magazine, (ISSN:1556-5769) is published bimonthly in January, March, May, July, September, and November by Reef to Rainforest Media, LLC, 140 Webster Road, PO Box 490, Shelburne, VT 05482. Periodicals postage paid at Shelburne, VT, and at additional entry offices. Subscription rates: U.S., $37 for one year. Canada, $49 for one year. Outside U.S. and Canada, $57 for one year. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to CORAL, PO Box 361, Williamsport, PA 17703-0361. CORAL® is a licensed edition of KORALLE Germany, ISSN:1556-5769 Natur und Tier Verlag GmbH | Münster, Germany All rights reserved. Reproduction of any material from this issue in whole or in part is strictly prohibited. Mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus), photo by D. Knop. Stichodactyla spp., photo by Morgan Mok.
by Daniel Knop
A MOSQUITO NET FOR FISHES
The aquarium hobby meets science
by Dieter Brockmann, Ph.D.
The aquarium of Theo van den Berg
by Inken Krause
115 21 1
S PECIES SPOTLIGHT: The Spiny Devilfish by Daniel Knop R EEFKEEPING 101:
126 30 1
Thread algae—every reefkeeper’s nightmare by Daniel Knop C ORALEXICON: Technical terms that appear in this issue
Project SECORE stalks the spawning stony corals
by J. Charles Delbeek
ADVERTISER INDEX R EEF LIFE: by Denise Nielsen Tackett and Larry P. Tackett
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n ot e s f ro m DA N I E L K NO P
was a bit taken aback recently when I came across a recipe for “Rainbow Vegetables with Mandarinfish.” Granted, anyone who has spent much time in the Philippines has certainly become used to the fact that essentially all living things are regarded as edible—or at least an overwhelming majority of them. But the idea of consuming “Rainbow Vegetables with Mandarinfish” awakened a desire for simpler food that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have been very high on my list. The recipe specified that the Mandarinfish should be filleted, cut into small pieces, and heated with oil in a wok before finally adding the vegetables. How unappetizing! The vegetables recommended included carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and celery; spices and finely chopped ginger were also called for. Sound bizarre? As we have been working on this issue featuring Mandarinfishes and dragonets, I thought so. So I headed off to the Internet to try to shed a little light on the matter. I searched specifically for recipes for cooking Mandarinfish, and to my surprise I found a
KORALLE editor Daniel Knop
Mandarinfish, Bian Shoumin, Qing Dynasty, China.
number of them. Continuing to shake my head, I came to the conclusion that there must be a whole lot of people out there with very strange tastes in food. There were also recipes for cooking lionfish, and even a book on the subject. But back to the Mandarinfish recipes: they all differed somewhat from one another, but none of them showed a picture of our attractive little reef fishes—just illustrations of appetizing dishes with colorful bits of vegetable and fish of some sort. I delved somewhat deeper into the subject and soon came up with an explanation: There is, in fact, an “edible mandarinfish,” Siniperca chuatsi, a freshwater fish found in China that is also known as the Chinese Perch. And it isn’t related to our gorgeous Green Mandarinfish, Synchiropus splendidus, not even close. It’s in the family Serranidae, which includes the sea basses and groupers, and is considerably meatier than any dragonet in the aquarium trade. Happy Reading!
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CO R A L’s f re s hwa t e r s i b l i n g i s o n th e way
ne of the bedrock principles of this magazine is a belief that our mission is to serve readers interested in marine aquariums and coral reefs. We have left freshwater and brackish subjects to others and have very determinedly never mixed them within the same set of covers. That said, scratch a marine aquarist and you will often find someone who started out with a freshwater tank or even someone still drawn to non-saltwater species. Who among us does not admire a beautiful tankful of Discus, and who has not marveled at the lush planted aquaria and zen-like moods achieved by modern day freshwater aquascapers? As it happens, CORAL has a younger sister publication that is considered one of the world’s finest freshwater magazines, although heretofore only available in German. It comes from Matthias Schmidt and his Natur und Tier-Verlag publishing house in Münster, where our partner magazine KORALLE is also produced. AMAZONAS is now in its seventh year of publication in Germany, and beginning with the January/February 2012 issue, it will also be available in English, published by the same team that brings you CORAL. We are very much looking forward to working with
AMAZONAS, the new magazine of Freshwater Aquariums & Tropical Discovery, edited by Hans-Georg Evers, below left.
Hans-Georg Evers, below, the high-energy, highly respected founding editor of AMAZONAS. A world traveler to tropical source countries where freshwater aquarium species are found in the wild, Hans combines an intense curiosity about the natural world, about new and exotic species, and the hands-on husbandry skills needed to keep and breed fishes and invertebrates in home aquaria. This is not an effort to sell you another subscription, but rather to keep the loyal CORAL readers, sponsors, and aquarium retailers aware of what we are doing. There is, you should be assured, no intention of diluting the message of CORAL, but rather attempting to fill a void in the English-language magazine marketplace, where we believe a periodical dedicated to freshwater content can find a following of serious enthusiasts. Does the world need another aquarium magazine? We think it needs this one, passionately devoted to freshwater subjects in the same way that CORAL stays steadfastly focused on all things marine. For anyone in the CORAL audience wishing to know more about AMAZONAS, check out www.amazonasmagazine.com. We will be posting sample content and news about the launch. There is, of course, the old joke about two rival aquarists, one freshwater and one marine, exchanging good natured barbs: “Salt Creep,” says one. “Freshwater Dip,” responds the other. Keeping things marine and fresh separate editorially still makes a great deal of sense to us, but we believe that there is no reason that both can’t exist under the same roof. AMAZONAS is coming, and we invite any interested CORAL readers and partners to welcome it. —James M. Lawrence Shelburne, Vermont
c or re s p o n d e n c e f ro m o u r re a d e r s
“ P O S H F I S H B OW L S” An open letter to Animal Planet and responsible aquarists
As an aquarium lover who doesn’t consider aquariums as mere decorative objects, the “Tanked” show on Animal Planet television has left me deeply concerned. There are two approaches to the interest in aquariums. For some people (notably, the customers depicted in this show), aquariums are a mere object of decoration, nothing else. For others, myself included, an aquarium is a fascinating small piece of the natural world, more or less accurate, but still full of living things. As such, I think it serves several purposes, not just the pleasure of its owner. It’s an educational tool; for instance, for many people who can’t afford a trip to tropical zones it’s the only opportunity to get in touch with the amazing biodiversity one can find there. The aquarium hobby does raise complex issues involving ethics and the economies of developing countries, for which, according to the FAO, the aquarium trade can be highly beneficial. Also, the purpose for which marine organisms are collected and transported to an aquarium is (in my opinion) an important aspect. Most of us agree that harvesting an animal for food can’t be seen as unethical. If the purpose is learning? Well, there will be opinions on that. But what about decoration? Keep reading. According to at least one published study, the stress levels of fishes living in a properly set up aquarium can actually be lower than in the natural world. This makes sense, given that an aquarist doesn’t normally stock an aquarium with predators and prey, and the fish is living in a healthy enough environment with plenty of food. However, this collides with at least some of the “decorative” systems shown in “Tanked,” such as the infamous New York City phone booth tank. Fishes need an environment with a certain complexity to express their natural behaviors. Reef fishes need rock with plenty of crevices and corals. Other fishes need a sufficient
amount of sand to burrow, and often they need it to search for food, having special adaptations. None of these prerequisites are covered in examples such as the phone booth tank. Hence it’s fair to assume that the fishes will be stressed. Worse, the tank is clearly overstocked. What do I imagine when I watch the show? Well, for me it is depicting people with money who find aquariums “cool” and who, being wealthy enough, have no problem at all with replenishing their dead stock monthly. Now compare: is there a difference between collecting an animal to be cramped into a poorly designed tank, and, hence, to have a shorter lifespan subject to heavy stress, and putting it into a tank in which it will have a reasonable life expectancy, living in an environment close enough to the real thing that the animal won’t “notice” the difference? And here is the problem. There is mounting pressure on the aquarium trade to be responsible and sustainable. And depicting the hobby in that way, showing the decorative “aquarium furniture” of wealthy people, full of disposable fish, the program is damaging the reputation of all us in the hobby. And it’s giving unfair ammunition to our detractors. If Animal Planet pretends to be a channel about education and the natural world, a reality show about posh fish bowls is not the best approach. At the same time, I am sure that a properly done program could be much more interesting than the current approach. Borja Marcos Algorta, Vizcaya Spain Editor: Other opinions on this subject are invited on the CORAL Web Site: http://www.coralmagazine-us.com/ content/animal-planet
Readers are invited to write the Editor:
Coral-killing terpenes found in marine macroalgae
For the first time, scientists have identified and mapped the chemical structure of molecules used by certain species of marine macroalgae to kill or inhibit the growth of reef-building corals. Terpenes found on the surfaces of several species of seaweed on Fijian reefs were conclusively shown to harm stony corals, causing bleaching, decreased photosynthesis, and occasionally the death of small colonies being grown from fragments. The researchers, Dr. Mark E. Hay and Douglas Rasher of the Georgia Institute of Technology, suggest that competition with these macroalgae, which contain powerful allelopathic chemicals, could be a factor in the worldwide decline—and lack of recovery—of coral reefs. Seaweed growth on coral reefs is normally controlled by plant-eating fish, but in many parts of the world,
f in d i n g s a n d h a p p e n i n g s o f note in the mar ine world
overfishing has dramatically reduced populations of these consumers‚ allowing the seaweed to dominate. Understanding these harmful chemicals and the seaweeds that produce them, however, could lead to development of new management techniques aimed at protecting fish that consume the most harmful seaweed. Protecting these herbivores could help reduce the pressure on coral, potentially allowing recovery of some endangered reefs. “We were able to isolate some of the key molecules responsible for the harmful interactions between seaweed and coral,” said Douglas Rasher, a graduate student in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech. “These molecules are active at very low concentrations, suggesting that they need only to be expressed on the surfaces of the seaweed in minute concentrations to have damaging effects when they are in contact with the coral.” A May 2010 study published by Rasher and Hay showed
Green “Turtle Weed,” Chlorodesmis fastigata, killing a colony of Acropora on a reef in Fiji. Among stony corals, Acropora was found to be especially sensitive to chemicals exuded by macroalgae.
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Researcher Douglas Rasher tending a rack of experimental coral fragments on a reef in Fiji. After exposure to different macroalgae species, almost 80 percent of coral colonies were damaged or killed.
flies and termites. “Though some corals were more resistant than others, what we have shown is that these seaweeds are generally bad for corals,” said Hay, who has been studying coral reefs for more than 30 years. “At some level, these seaweed molecules can definitely kill the corals. But at other levels, what they are probably doing is cutting off the options for reefs to recover by making these reefs unreceptive to newly arriving for the first time that chemicals on the surfaces of seaweed coral larvae. It is difficult for juvenile corals to colonize could harm coral. To assess the scope of the coral-seaweed and grow through a chemically toxic layer of seaweed.” interaction, the researchers followed up their initial study In the 2010 study, the researchers determined that by investigating interactions between eight different speseaweed harmed coral only when their surfaces touched. cies of seaweed and three species of coral growing in the That meant the harmful compounds were likely hydrowaters off the Fiji Islands. In 79 percent of the interactions phobic chemicals that dissolved in oil rather than water. studied, the seaweed chemicals harmed the coral. To identify the specific harmful compounds, the reThe most potent toxins were two loliotide derivatives searchers produced extracts from the surfaces of the two from the red alga Galaxaura filamentosa and two acetymost harmful seaweeds. Using a technique called biolated diterpenes from the green alga Chlorodesmis fastiassay-guided fractionation, they categorized compounds giata. Both loliotides and diterpenes are terpenes, a large in the seaweed extracts according to the degree to which class of organic compounds produced by many types of Phosban+reactorHPCoral.qxd:Layout 1 6/21/10 9:24 AM Page 1 dissolved in oil versus water, or by size. they could be plants and some insects, including toxin-bearing butter-
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M.E. HAY. OPPOSITE PAGE: D.B. RASHER.
Far left: Porites colony showing the effect of contact with Lobophora variegata, an encrusting fan-leaf macroalga (arrow). Left: clump of Turtle Grass, Chlorodesmis fastigata, on a Fiji reef. Note absence of corals immediately adjacent to it.
They then placed gels containing the extracted compounds into contact with the most sensitive coral, Acropora. The coral samples had been placed into metal racks located on healthy coral reefs near Votua Village in the Fiji Islands. Similar gels not containing the extracts were used as controls, and produced no effect on the coral. In the future, the researchers hope to learn more about the compounds and how they evolved in seaweed. Contact between seaweed and coral would have been limited on pristine reefs, so Hay and Rasher believe the molecules may have evolved as part of a defense against microbes or herbivorous fish. “We hope that this information will inform the Fi-
jians to help them make decisions about fisheries management that could help protect the reefs,” said Rasher. “We hope to give them scientifically guided management tools for maintaining healthy reefs, or for restoring degraded reefs suffering from local human disturbance. “Our study shows that regardless of what factors are driving coral decline, once algae become established, they can suppress the recovery of coral.”
Rasher, D.B., E.P. Stout, S. Engel, J. Kubanek, and M.E. Hay. 2011. Macroalgal terpenes function as allelopathic agents against reef corals. PNAS. 10.1073/pnas.1108628108
Invasion of the Pearly Razorfish
A fish from American and Caribbean waters has been newly “discovered” by the European aquarium trade and is reportedly creating a stir worldwide. The Pearly Razorfish, Xyrichtys novacula, has classic razorfish anatomy, and the species is notable for the bright red coloration seen in some adults, although many specimens are plain cream or greenish in color. The species may be a new and expensive rarity in the aquarium trade, but it was described by Linneaus in 1758. Its natural distribution is the Western Atlantic and extends from North Carolina and the Gulf of Mexico, in the Caribbean to South America, and as far as the coast of West Africa. According to Scott Michael, Pearly Razorfish demand a large aquarium—at least 240 gallons (900 L)—and a deep (5 inches [13 cm]) sand bed for burrowing. Its considerable adult size of up to 15 inches (38 cm) must be taken into account. Large specimens can become aggressive and will consume small tankmates—fishes, crustaceans, and shelled mollusks. The pair pictured here were purchased by a fish enthusiast from Thailand who found them at Reef Corner, a Belgian aquarium shop, so hopefully they will want for nothing. —Inken Krause
Pearly Razorfish, Xyrichtys novacula
White pox happens: Acropora-killing disease traced to human pathogen
A research team from Rollins College in Florida and the University of Georgia has identified human sewage as the source of the coral-killing pathogen that causes white pox disease in Caribbean Elkhorn Coral, Acropora palmata. Once the most common coral in the Caribbean, Elkhorn Coral was listed for protection under the United States Endangered Species Act in 2006, largely due to white pox disease. Kathryn P. Sutherland, associate professor of biology at Rollins College, and her research collaborators, associate professor of environmental health science Erin K. Lipp and professor of ecology James W. Porter of the University of Georgia, have known since 2002 that the bacterium that kills coral is the same species that is found in humans. “When we identified Serratia marcescens as the cause of white pox, we could only speculate that human waste was the source of the pathogen because the bac-
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Healthy Elkhorn Coral, Acropora palmata, on Molasses Reef in the Florida Keys.
ReefLine_HP_6.63 x 4.56_Coral.OL.pdf 1 10/21/10 10:53 AM
White pox investigators Kathryn Sutherland (left) and Hunter Noren studying diseases of Elkhorn Coral at the Mote Marine Laboratory on Summerland Key, Florida. Their analyses revealed that the bacterium that causes white pox disease in corals has jumped from land to sea and from humans to these invertebrates.
terium is also found in the waste of other animals,” Sutherland said. In order to determine a source for the pathogen, the research team collected and analyzed human samples from the wastewater treatment facility in Key West and samples from several other animals, such as Key Deer and seagulls. While Serratia marcescens was found in these other animals, genetic analyses showed that only the strain from human sewage matched the strain found in white pox–diseased corals on the reef. The final piece of the investigative puzzle was to show that this unique strain was pathogenic to corals. With funding from Florida’s Mote Marine Laboratory’s “Protect Our Reefs” grant program, Sutherland, Lipp, and Porter conducted challenge experiments by inoculating fragments of coral with the strain found in both humans and corals to see if it would cause disease. The experiments were carried out in a laboratory in closed seawater tanks to eliminate any risk of infecting wild populations of corals. “The strain caused disease in Elkhorn Coral in five days, so we now have definitive evidence that humans are a source of the pathogen that causes this devastating disease of corals,” Sutherland said. “We are killing the goose that lays the golden egg, and we’ve got the smoking gun to prove it. These bacteria do not come from the ocean, they come from us,” said Porter. Serratia marcescens is also a pathogen of humans, causing respiratory, wound, and urinary tract infections, meningitis, and pneumonia. Human diseases caused by this bacterium are most often associated with hospitalacquired infections in newborn infants and immune-compromised adults.
JAMES W. PORTER
Elkhorn Coral showing effects of white pox infection that causes bleaching and, often, death of the colony.
This research reveals a new disease pathway, from humans to wildlife, which is the opposite (“reverse zoonosis”) of the traditional wildlife-to-human disease transmission model. The movement of pathogens from wildlife to humans is well documented—examples are avian flu and HIV—but the movement of disease-causing microbes from humans to marine invertebrates has never been shown before. This is the first time that a human disease has been shown to cause population declines of a marine invertebrate. “Bacteria from humans kill corals—that’s the bad news,” said Porter. “But the good news is that this problem is not like hurricanes, which we can’t control. We can solve this one with advanced wastewater treatment facilities. The entire Florida Keys is in the process of upgrading local wastewater treatment plants, which will eliminate this source of the bacterium.” The Rollins College and University of Georgia collaborative research group is currently funded by a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate the ecology of white pox disease in the Florida Keys. The five-year study will focus on mechanisms of transmission of the coral pathogen and the factors that drive the emergence and maintenance of white pox outbreaks, including water quality, climate variability, and patterns of human population density. “We are concerned that disease incidence or severity may increase with rising temperatures,” Lipp said, “reinforcing the importance of protecting near-shore water quality in a changing climate.”
JAMES W. PORTER
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Sutherland, K.P., S. Shaban, J.L. Joyner, J.W. Porter, and E.K. Lipp. 2011. Human Pathogen Shown to Cause Disease in the Threatened Elkhorn Coral Acropora palmata. PLoS ONE 6(8): e23468. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023468
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Marine geologists drill cores of fossilized coral in the Jordanian desert, with each meter of material representing 100 years or more of growth and dating back centuries and millenia.
Corals from the desert
One might think that the middle of a fiercely arid desert would be the last place to look for corals, but an international team of marine scientists recently left the sea behind in a search for fossil stony coral skeletons. Together with his Jordanian colleague, Dr. Saber Al-Rousan, marine geologist Dr. Thomas Felis of the Center for Marine Environmental Sciences (MARUM) in Bremen, Germany, made a 12-day expedition into the Jordanian desert. The Gulf of Aqaba is the northeastern arm of the Red Sea that separates the Arabian Peninsula from the Sinai Peninsula. The biodiversity of its tropical coral reefs today makes this area of the sea a paradise for dive travelers, but corals were growing here hundreds of thousands of years before the invention of SCUBA. Due to geological activity, part of these reefs were uplifted above the surface of the sea and are now partially covered by the desert sands. Probably the northernmost uplifted reef terraces in the world are found at Aqaba. The two scientists obtained a total of more than 43 feet (13 m) of cores, containing 28 different fossil corals, near the Gulf of Aqaba. These coral cores may provide information on the climate in this region of the Red Sea in times past. Like trees, corals also form annual growth rings. The environmental conditions of past eras are stored in these so-called density bands, and one meter of coral core permits us to look at 100 years of coral growth from the past. The cores from the Jordanian desert cover time windows ranging from a few decades to a few centuries within the last 6,000 years, as well as within the last period of warming around 122,000 years ago. Thomas Felis says that he is very surprised at the excellent state of preservation of these ancient corals, which over the coming years will provide unique information about the climatic history of the Near East. The coral cores are now stored at MARUM, where Felis is studying them
T. FELIS, MARUM
further. X-rays make the individual density bands visible for determining age, and geochemical research provides details of changes in temperature and salinity in this region of the Red Sea. —Albert Gerdes, MARUM (IDW)
In this study, total economic value includes so-called passive use values, such as the willingness to pay to protect the coral reef ecosystem for future generations, as well as direct use values, such as snorkeling over a coral reef or consuming fish supported by coral reef ecosystems. A panel of independent university and private scientists, from both Hawai’i and the continental U.S., provided facts to the survey design team about the Hawai’ian coral reef ecosystems and estimates of how they would change in response to two possible management options.
U.S. residents say Hawaii’s coral reef ecosystems worth $33.57 billion per year
A peer-reviewed study commissioned by NOAA shows that the American people assign an estimated total annual economic value of $33.57 billion to the coral reefs of the main Hawaiian Islands. “The study shows that people from across the United States treasure Hawaii’s coral reefs, even though many never get to visit them,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “It illustrates the economic value of coral reefs to all Americans, and how important it is to conserve these ecosystems for future generations.” “We are pleased that research is being done to look at the value of Hawaii’s coral reefs, but before we consider any potential applications of the study we will consult closely with local communities,” said William J. Aila, Jr., chairperson of the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources. The study employed a scientifically developed national Internet survey of more than 3,200 households—a representative sample of all U.S. residents, not just those from Hawaii or coastal regions. From June through October 2009, the survey allowed the public to assess the value of the coral reef ecosystems around the main Hawai’ian Islands and their preferences for their protection and restoration.
Let there be light.
The descriptions, including illustrations, of improvements to coral ecosystems gave survey respondents a clear understanding of what they were being asked to value and see the changes to the ecosystems that would result from the protection measures. To estimate the underlying value the public places on coral reef ecosystems, the study team presented survey participants with two specific measures to protect and restore coral reef ecosystems. One measure aimed to reduce deleterious effects of fishing on coral ecosystems, and the other focused on repairing reefs damaged by ships. The main Hawai’ian Islands consist of eight volcanic islands that range in
Young Stout Moray Eel, Gymnothorax eurostus, in the Hawai’ian Islands’ Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Maui.
age from active lava flows on the east side of the Big Island to seven-millionyear-old Kauai. Despite their economic significance, reefs near urbanized areas, such as Honolulu, Wailuku, and Kahului, have experienced increasing stress from ever-increasing population and other pressures.
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Ostracion solorensis male
Two Boxy Beauties
The family Ostraciidae has many flashy members that have attracted the attention of ichthyologists, underwater photographers, and aquarists for decades. Not only are they unusual and somewhat comical in appearance, many are also boldy hued and patterned. But for anyone that is really into boxfishes (a.k.a. trunkfishes), there are two species that inspire special joy and awe: Whitley’s Boxfish (Ostracion whitleyi) and its more common cousin, the Solor Boxfish (O. solorensis). Both of these boxy beauties hail from the Pacific Ocean, although O. solorensis is more widely distributed. It ranges from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, south to Christmas Island and the northern Great Barrier Reef. Whitley’s Boxfish is only found in more eastern Oceania, having Ostracion solorensis been reported from the Hawaiian Islands, female Johnston Atoll, the Marquesas, and the Society and Tuamotu Islands. (It is reported to be common only in the Marquesas.) Both species prefer clear, seaward reefs, but O. solorensis tends to be most com-
mon in areas with lush coral growth and/or on walls with caves and overhangs. Most boxfishes are haremic—a male guards a territory that includes the home ranges of one to several females. The spawning of O. whitleyi has been observed, occuring at dusk. The male will approach the female and position his snout against her back. He will occasionally bump her with his snout as the pair ascends 3–7 feet (1–2 meters) above the substrate, where they release their pelagic gametes. The eggs are large (the long axis is about 1.7 mm) and contain oil droplets for buoyancy. Both species are sexually dichromatic, like many other members of the genus Ostracion. Most would say that the males are more colorful, but the females of both
Ostracion whitleyi male
Ostracion whitleyi young female
species are quite attractive. Male O. whitleyi are mainly deep blue, with black-edged white stripes on the upper and lower sides and numerous white spots on the dorsum. The female is golden brown on the upper sides and back, with white spots (the larger the female, the smaller and more numerous the spots) and a broad white stripe along the side of the body. The male Solor Boxfish is blue on the sides and belly with lighter, dark-edged spots and lines all over the body and caudal peduncle. The dorsum is dark with tiny white spots. The female O. solorensis is dark brown with a network of reticulate white lines on the body and white spots on the back. The color of both animals will fade in captivity if they are kept in suboptimal conditions or not fed a varied diet, or if the animal is sick. Whitley’s Boxfish is a larger animal, reaching a maximum length of about 6 inches (15 cm), while O. solorensis attains about 4 inches (11 cm).
fond of didemnid tunicates and sponges. Fortunately, they can usually be switched to the common prepared frozen foods, finely chopped seafood, and frozen mysid shrimp in the home aquarium. On occasion, an adult specimen refuses aquarium fare and you may have to introduce invertebrate-encrusted live rock to induce a feeding response. I have had males engage in these initial fasts more than females. More often than not, with time both species will become very tame and will even take food from your fingers. While these fishes actively move over the reef seeking food, they do not swim rapidly and they often hover near reef crevices and under overhangs and caves. So, when providing an aquascape for your boxfishes’ home, be sure you provide them with swimming space, but also create adequate shelter sites. These fish cannot slip into a crack or narrow crevice— they will need a cave or a hollow between the rockwork and the back of the tank that they can retreat into if they feel threatened. I have had boxfish get stuck between aquarium décor and the aquarium glass or between pieces of live rock, although neither of the two species discussed here have done this. I have also seen them get stranded atop or behind aquarium equipment. Therefore, take this into consideration when aquascaping the boxfish aquarium. (This is more of a problem when keeping those species that inhabit open sand flats and grass beds, like the Longhorn Cowfish, Lactoria cornuta).
F E E D I N G A N D T H E B OX F I S H AQ UA R I U M
All boxfishes have relatively small mouths but thick lips and jaws, armed with a single row of conical to incisiform teeth that are well suited for rasping food from the substrate. Both O. whitleyi and O. solorensis feed on a variety of invertebrates and algae. They are especially
CO M PAT I B I L I T Y I S S U E S When it comes to getting along with other fishes, these boxfishes are pretty neighborly. They do best when housed with other peaceful fish tankmates, like anthias, grammas, chromis, flasher wrasses, gobies, and firefishes. Do not keep your boxfish with overly aggressive tankmates, like morays, big dottybacks (Ogilbyina spp.), large angelfishes (Holacanthus spp.), bellicose damsels (Abudefduf, Microspathodon, and Stegastes spp.), malevolent wrasses (Cheilinus and Coris spp.), more pugnacious surgeonfishes (Acanthurus leucosternon, A. lineatus, A. sohal), or triggerfishes. Because boxfishes are rather slow and ungainly, they are easy targets for these reef ruffians. However, because they are so different in shape and behavior, the tank bullies sometimes just ignore them. Certain fishes that may not cause problems for most piscine neighbors could cause problems with your boxfish. For example, fishes that aggressively parasite-pick, such as cleaner wrasses (Labroides spp.) and the Longfin Bannerfish (Heniochus acuminatus), may incessantly nip at and chase a boxfish, causing skin damage or even eliciting
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the “nuclear option” (more on this later). Lawnmower Blennies (Salarias fasciatus) have also been observed to dash off the bottom and nip the ventrums of passing boxfishes. Bottom line: when selecting tankmates it is imperative that you remove any potential boxfish stressors, or your Ostracion may employ its ultimate defense. While cleaner fishes are not a good idea in the boxfish tank, shrimps that clean are usually not a problem. These boxfishes will pose to be inspected and picked at by cleaner shrimps. When O. whitelyi hovers and solicits shrimp grooming, it spreads its fins and its color darkens (possibly to make external parasites more conspicuous). If you want to keep two conspecifics together, add a male and a female. Males of the same species or even a male O. whitleyi and a male O. solorensis are likely to quarrel. Females may fight as well, but are less likely to do so than their male counterparts. Within the pair, male O. whitleyi are dominant over their female partners. She will give way to him and even avoid him much of the time. There is still debate as to whether boxfishes are gonochoristic (do not change sex) or protogynous hermaphrodites (changing sex from female to male). It is possible to keep these boxfishes with certain corals. For example, they tend to ignore many of the ichthyotoxic soft corals (e.g., Sinularia spp.). But I have seen them pick at the polyps of leather corals (Sarcophyton sp.), and they might start nibbling on Anthelia, Xenia, stony corals, zoanthids, corallimorpharians, fan worms,
tridacnid clam mantles, and echinoderm tube feet. However, they are less likely to feed on anthozoan tankmates if they are well fed.
THE NUCLEAR OPTION And now the downside of keeping these two boxfish beauties. The Ostraciidae release a toxic surfactant that acts to dissuade predators from eating them, although they are still eaten by sharks and jacks. While this toxin may increase their chances of survival in the wild, it can reduce their longevity (as well as that of other animals in the tank with them) in captivity. The chemical cocktail of ostracitoxin, which includes pahutoxin and boxin, is sometimes exuded when the fish is stressed. When secreted into the aquarium water, the toxin of the Blue Boxfish (Ostracion meleagris) can kill other reef fishes at concentrations as low as 10 parts per million. This is scary when you consider that a single adult Blue Boxfish can contain as much as 50 to 100 mg of crude toxin! The potency of the boxfish toxins varies from one species to the next. Here is the bad news: the chemical defenses of O. whitleyi are reported to be even more potent than those of O. meleagris. (No information is available on the potency of O. solorensis toxins.) Although they are less susceptible to their own chemical secretions than other fish species, boxfishes are often killed when they “nuke” an aquarium. So how likely is this to happen in your boxfish tank?
While it is not a common event if the aquarist takes special care to reduce boxfish stress, the Ostracion spp. do occasionally turn lethal on their neighbors. Once in a while a tank is poisoned if a boxfish dies in it. Therefore, if you have an ailing boxfish, it is best to move it to an isolated hospital tank. If you are interested in keeping an Ostracion, but are not willing to put other animals in harm’s way, why not set up a species tank for your boxfish? A tank of 75 gallons will make a suitable home for either species; you may want a slightly larger tank—100 gallons or more—if you want to keep a pair on their own. There is also one other problem with these fishes. They are prone to parasite infections like Cryptocaryonosis (a.k.a. ich or white spot disease). Keeping them in a tank with proper UV sterilization is one way to reduce the chances of such skin infections. While there are inherent risks to keeping these species in the home aquarium, with special care it is possible to house either of these two beautiful boxfishes in your living-room ocean for many years!
Kalmanzon, E. and E. Zlotkin. 2000. An ichthyotoxic protein in the defensive skin secretion of the Red Sea trunkfish Ostracion cubicus. Mar Biol 136: 471–6. Sancho, G. 1998. Factors regulating the height of spawning ascents in trunk fishes (Ostraciidae). J Fish Biol 53 (Suppl.sA): 94–103.
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R E T TA L B OT talk s with DR.WILLIAM WAL SH
In early October 2011, the county council on the Big Island
“The resolution [to ban aquariumfish collection] strikes directly at the heart of the work done by the West Hawai’i Fisheries Council and the local community regarding management of their marine resources. “
of Hawai’i called for a complete ban on aquarium livestock collection in the 50th state, sending shock waves reverberating through the marine aquarium trade. The vote was 6 to 2 in favor of Resolution 130, an action championed by Maui-based anti-aquarium activists Robert Wintner (a.k.a. Snorkel Bob) and Rene Umberger. This same council previously voted to support state-managed aquarium collection, and the reversal flew in the face of overwhelming scientific data. With emotions and politics running at an all-time high, one man has continued to use science and common sense to weigh in on the aquarium debate in West Hawai’i, and his data is cited by both sides in favor of their respective positions. In an effort to refocus the debate on the existing facts instead of relying on anecdote and emotion, CORAL sat down with state aquatic biologist Dr. William Walsh of the Hawai’i Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), who for years has been studying the reefs and fisheries of West Hawai’i and who believes the marine aquarium trade can be managed as a sustainable fishery.
CORAL: The recent passage of Hawai’i County Council Resolution 130 seeking to ban the marine aquarium trade statewide in Hawai’i seems to go against a resolution passed by the same county council last year, in which the council endorsed the management tools and approaches currently being enacted. The obvious question is: what has changed in the intervening year to make the council move from supporting fishery management tools to promoting something as extreme as a statewide ban? Dr. William Walsh: Nothing fundamental has changed since last year—we are still waiting for the deputy attorney general to finish reviewing the rules. The fishery hasn’t changed much, and there have been no catastrophic occurrences out on the reefs. We have completed a number of recent analyses, including population estimates and harvesting levels of most of the proposed “White List” species (species approved for collection for the aquarium trade). We now have estimates, for example, of aquarium catch as a percentage of population in open areas with depths of 30–60 feet and 10–100 feet. These analyses further strengthen our management efforts. I guess the bottom line is, we understand more about the aquarium fishery now than we did last year.
CORAL: And nothing in the data suggests a complete ban is necessary at this time? Walsh: No. Not at all. The data supports that we’re moving in the direction of a well-managed fishery here in West Hawai’i. CORAL: So if the data is not there to support a complete ban, what are the proponents of the resolution referring to when they claim that “the aquatic life of the reefs of Hawai’i are being devastated by the collection of reef fish and other aquatic life?” Walsh: We have a pretty good idea of what is going on out on the reefs of West Hawai’i, and I can tell you with a great deal of certainty that the aquatic life of the reefs is not being devastated by collection. That statement is simply not true. CORAL: Resolution 130 states that “scientific research proves that collection of reef fishes diminishes the number of fish reaching reproductive age, thereby reducing the number of adult fish contributing to the genetic pool.” When I interviewed council member Brenda Ford, who authored Resolution 130, she told me she was using your data. Does the above statement from 130 reflect your data? Walsh: Fishing removes fish from their environment, that’s a fact, and our data reflects that fact. Having said that, there is no fundamental reason why aquarium fishing cannot be sustainably managed.
ALL IMAGES: RET TALBOT
William Walsh, Ph.D., known affectionately as “Dr. Bill,” is a Konabased state aquatic biologist.
CORAL: Am I correct in understanding that County Council Resolution 130 advocates for all of the scientific studies done by your department and others to essentially be nullified? Walsh: Yes. The resolution strikes directly at the heart of the work done by the West Hawai’i Fisheries Council and the local community regarding management of their marine resources. It’s been a long and difficult road to reach the point where issues and problems can be delib-
A proposed “White List” of species eligible for collection does not include the Moorish Idol, Zanclus cornutus, and prohibits the taking of a number of butterflyfishes, including Chaetodon ornatissimus, center right.
erated and addressed here in West Hawai’i rather than just in Honolulu (the state capitol). This resolution attempts to cast all of that aside. CORAL: Let’s talk about the numbers. From 1976 to 2011, the number of aquarium permits issued by the state has increased from a handful to 73, correct? Walsh: Yes. The low point was from 1981 to 1986, when the number of collectors ranged from 3 to 11 as a result of the recession. In 2010, we had 73, the highest number of collectors ever, even though we’re presently in a recession. CORAL: And over that period of time, the annual aquarium catch has generally increased as well? Walsh: Yes. We saw a peak in 2006, and since then the catch has fallen off slightly, likely due to the recession. It was back up again somewhat in 2010. CORAL: What year did the Yellow Tang catch really begin to increase dramatically, or has it always been the majority of the catch? Walsh: The Yellow Tang catch has been increasing fairly steadily since 1985, with slight downturns every so often. In the early years the catch was more varied and not so dominated by Yellow Tang as it has been in the past few decades. In 2010 over 430,000 animals were collected on West Hawai’i reefs, and Yellow Tang comprised 81 percent of the catch. From 1999, when we began the West Hawai’i Aquarium Project (WHAP), to 2010 the
number of collected Yellow Tang went from 165,254 to 311,480—an increase of about 88 percent. CORAL: During this same time, from 1999 to 2010, the Yellow Tang population has actually increased, according to a recent article in FishLife, which states that Yellow Tang populations have increased 35 percent on the Kona Coast since 2000. Walsh: From 1999 to 2010 the Yellow Tang population of mostly immature fish in the 30–60-foot depth range in West Hawai’i increased from an estimated 2,236,858 to 2,573,909, an increase of 337,050 or slightly more than 15 percent. Keep in mind this only represents a portion of the population. There are Yellow Tang deeper than 60 feet, and of course the bulk of the larger breeding population is in shallower waters and is not targeted to any extent by aquarium collectors. We don’t have as long a data set for these adult Yellow Tang, but since they’re basically not targeted for food or by aquarium collectors, undoubtedly their populations have increased over that time period. Thus the 15 percent likely underestimates the West Hawai’i Yellow Tang population increase since 1999. Obviously, within protected areas the increase has been much greater. In this same time frame the number of collected Yellow Tangs has increased 88 percent. So while Yellow Tang take has increased along the coast over the past decade, the total abundance of Yellow Tangs has also increased. CORAL: Averaged over the last three years, the data shows 68-percent less abundance of Yellow Tang in “open areas” [fished by aquarium collectors] compared to fishery man-
agement areas or FRAs. Does that concern you? Walsh: Yes, it does. We’d like to get that number lower. That’s what management is for. A good part of the large disparity between the FRAs and the open areas is due to the fact that Yellow Tang abundance has increased so much in the FRAs—it’s up 71 percent since 1999—while decreasing by 19 percent in the open areas. But overall on West Hawai’i reefs, the Yellow Tang population has increased by 15 percent in the 30- to 60-foot depths. CORAL: From the data you shared with me, it seems the
Achilles Tang, Acanthurus achilles, really would benefit from additional management. What’s your take on the current status of that species? Walsh: The Achilles Tang is definitely a species of concern for us. Long-term surveys and WHAP data indicate a declining population in West Hawai’i. It’s not only an important species to the aquarium fishery, it’s also a valued food fish. We’re currently proposing an aquarium bag limit for Achilles Tang, but efforts to implement a similar limit for food fishers were derailed. CORAL: The Achilles Tang, the Chevron Tang, and the Kole Tang are all targeted in the aquarium fishery and the recreational fishery, right? Walsh: Yes, although the Chevron Tang generally is not considered a prime food fish. CORAL: How does the aquarium fishery compare to the recreational fishery and other commercial fisheries in West Hawai’i? Walsh: NOAA estimates the recreational fishing catch based on fisher surveys. This is the most credible data available. For West Hawai’i, the total combined commercial and recreational reef fish catch is slightly greater than the total aquarium catch for 2009–2011. CORAL: Isn’t the commercial reef fish catch in West Hawai’i quite small? Walsh: Yes, it is. In 2010, the commercial catch was under 50,000 reef fish caught, compared to an estimated recreational catch of over 400,000 reef fish. CORAL: And in 2010, the recreational reef fish catch exceeded the aquarium catch?
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Walsh: Yes, and if you exclude the Yellow Tang catch, the total commercial and recreational reef fish catch is 5.7 times higher than the aquarium catch. Interestingly, on Maui the total commercial and recreational reef fish catch is 41 times higher than the aquarium catch—
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even including Yellow Tang. That’s thought-provoking. CORAL: It seems the anti-trade proponents would also be concerned about the completely unregulated recreational fishery. Is there much pressure to better manage recreational fisheries in Hawai’i? Walsh: It’s not completely unregulated—there are some minimum sizes and a few bag limits and closed seasons—but very few. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much public awareness or interest in the extent of the non-aquarium reef fish take. That’s a real concern, and it’s problematic. CORAL: Several fishes targeted by aquarium fishers are of concern to you because their numbers are showing declines over time. What about those species? Walsh: Almost all of the species for which we have indications of declining populations, for whatever cause, such as Bandit Angelfish, Hawaiian Turkeyfish [Pterois sphex], Flame Angels, and a number of butterflyfishes, will be fully protected under the proposed rules. There will be no more collecting of these and most other species. There are a few species that will still be collected for which we have reason for concern. In some cases their populations are decreasing in all areas, even protected areas. These species will continue to be monitored, and additional management actions can be recommended when the West Hawai’i Regional Fisheries Management Area is reviewed every five years. It’s called adaptive management. CORAL: According to your data, one endemic species—the Saddle Wrasse, Thalassoma duperrey—seems to be in decline but not as a direct result of the marine aquarium trade. What’s going on with the Saddle Wrasse? Walsh: To be honest, we don’t really know, but we do know the decline is not the direct result of aquarium collection. The West Hawai’i population of Saddle Wrasses has dropped by over 650,000 fish since 1999 in 30- to 60-foot depths. That’s a lot of missing fish. Did they move into shallower or deeper water? Did they die of some strange disease? We don’t know. But the average aquarium take over the last five years has been only 669 fish per year—literally a drop in the bucket here. Fundamentally we’re coming to realize that the coral reef community is complex and dynamic, and even without human influence, species abundances wax and wane.
CORAL: Of the management tools coming online early next year, there has been a lot of discussion about the White List, to which you alluded a moment ago. Will you briefly describe how you arrived at the 40 species on the White List [that collectors will be allowed to harvest]? Walsh: It was a long and collaborative process. We initially started working on a Black List of species not allowed to be collected. Working with the West Hawai’i Fisheries Council Species of Special Concern Subcommittee, we started by looking at fishes showing significant declines over time. Criteria for considering a species to be of special concern were rarity, endemism, population declines, important ecosystem function, charisma, poor survival in captivity, and low fishery value. CORAL: I assume the lists were fairly wide-ranging in their recommendations. Walsh: Yes. That’s when we began to move from a Black List to a White List. After substantial consideration it was felt that the development of a Black List
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was a futile attempt, since there were so many lists, opinions, and proposed species. Additionally, enforcement would be problematic with so many species potentially prohibited. Ultimately an alternative approach was taken—a White List of species that can be collected was recommended and approved. CORAL: And there are additional rules for the top three species collected for the aquarium trade: the Yellow, Kole, and Achilles Tangs? Walsh: That’s right. Fishers will be allowed to take no more than five Yellow Tang per day larger than 4.5 inches or smaller than 2 inches. Within that slot, fish between 2 and 4.5 inches, there is no bag limit. For Kole, the bag limit on fish larger than 4 inches—the breeding population—will be no more than five fish per day, and for Achilles Tang, there will be a 10-fish-per-day limit. It’s a good start. CORAL: Some opponents of the trade have expressed concern that a White List will only put more pressure on the fishes on the list. What do you say to this? Walsh: The White List encompasses close to 99 percent of the value of all aquarium fish presently collected in West Hawai’i. What’s on the list basically includes the bulk of what’s caught and what constitutes almost the entire value of the fishery. At existing levels of collection, why would there be any expectation of increased take of the species already being taken? CORAL: There has been a lot of talk about “limited entry,” whereby the number of aquarium fishers who can acquire a permit would be restricted in some way. From my interviews with many fishers, I know that limited entry is not very popular—although a few see it as a good idea. What’s your take on limited entry? Walsh: Well, it’s certainly popular if you’re one of the ones in the fishery. As I’ve said before, I think limited entry is a very important component in managing this fishery in a sustainable manner. CORAL: In the traditional language of fisheries management, is the marine aquarium fishery in West Hawai’i sustainable? Walsh: Greenpeace has what I feel is a useful definition of a sustainable fishery: “In simple terms, a sustainable fishery is one whose practices can be maintained indefinitely without reducing the targeted species’ ability to maintain its population at healthy levels, and without adversely impacting other species within the ecosystem—including humans—by removing their food source, accidentally killing them, or damaging their physical environment.” Given that most marine species in West Hawai’i will soon (hopefully) be fully protected from aquarium collecting, that most of the species that can be collected are taken at low levels relative to total population size, that the adult populations of the most heavily collected species are not targeted by collectors—or really by anyone, in the case of Yellow Tang—and that destructive collecting practices are not widespread, I believe it can be maintained as a sustainable fishery if we take an adaptive approach and implement necessary management actions as required. If we can’t manage such a well-studied fishery, what hope is there for the sustainability of our other fisheries here in Hawai’i?
ON THE INTERNET An extended version of this interview is available at: http://www.coralmagazine-us. com/content/interview-should-aquarium-collection-be-banned-hawaii
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Mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus)
by Daniel Knop
M. WITTENRICH, PH.D.
The mandarin was a clever man in ancient China,
a worthy and wise scholar and powerful leader who spent years studying poetry, literature, and the writings of Confucius. So it remains somewhat unclear why Synchiropus splendidus, the most popular dragonet in the aquarium hobby, has come to be known worldwide as the Mandarinfish. It is sometimes said that the name relates to the robe of the mandarin—illustrations of this garment show it as a flowing piece of colorful drapery with wide sleeves. In my opinion the fish more closely resembles the cheongsam, the women’s dress that became fashionable among Chinese women of elevated social status in the 1920s. Nowadays this garment is also widespread in numerous other Asian countries, for example the Philippines and Indonesia, where it is often very colorful and sometimes gaudily patterned. Regardless of how it came by its name, given its splendid attire it is no wonder that the Mandarinfish is, in my opinion, not only the most attractive of the dragonets, but also one of the most fascinating of all reef-aquarium creatures. This fish moves through the water in a graceful manner, swimming around with virtually no perceptible movements of its body or fins. The two fanlike pelvic
Starry Dragonets, Synchiropus stellatus, engaged in an elegant courtship dance.
fins propel it though the open water and also allow it to hover in one spot. Without the beating of these continuously undulating fins, all dragonets sink to the bottom, as the swim bladder that makes other fishes weightless in water is small in these species. The spotted body color seen in the majority of members of the dragonet family (Callionymidae), for example S. stellatus or S. ocellatus, is probably an adaptation to their bottom-dwelling way of life, as it breaks up their body outline and allows them to merge perfectly with the substrate. But two species, S. splendidus (the Mandarinfish) and S. picturatus (the Psychedelic Fish), are so striking and gaudy that one cannot help but wonder why they are so brightly colored. Dragonets are bottom-dwelling fishes and protect themselves from predators using a foul-tasting mucous secretion. Perhaps this is the reason for the “fireworks” of the color pattern seen on the bodies of S. splendidus and S. picturatus. Many creatures use striking body color to warn predators that they are poisonous or noxious-tasting, examples being some nudibranchs (Nudibranchia) and various fish species. Protecting yourself from a predator with a foul-tasting or poison-
Male Scooter Dragonet, Syncchiropus ocellatus, displaying his eyespotted dorsal fin.
ous substance makes sense only if it actually prevents the predator from eating you. If the poison takes effect and kills the predator after you have been eaten, this will create selective pressure on the predator species—only those individuals that avoid the relevant prey animal will survive and breed. Deterrent substances can thus evolve only if they offer the prey fish itself an increasing selective advantage— by preventing it from being eaten so that it can breed and pass on its genes. And in the animal kingdom this is often achieved by the combination of a chemical deterrent and a visible signal, such as striking and contrast-rich coloration. This raises the question of whether Mandarinfishes are poisonous. This is often asserted in the aquarium literature, although it has apparently never been unequivocally proven. They are certainly not poisonous for humans, but they reportedly have a toxic effect on other reef-dwellers—for example, when numerous Blue-Green Chromis (Chromis caeruleus) were transported in the same bag as a Mandarinfish, shortly after the dragonet died all the damselfishes were dead as well. In another case, a newly imported Mandarinfish was placed in a dealer’s tank containing three Volitans Lionfishes (Pterois volitans). The dragonet died, and the three lionfishes also died soon afterwards. A third example demonstrates a similar effect: In a reef aquarium decorated with Yugoslavian “holey rock,” a vertical pillar of rock toppled sideways against the aquarium glass during the night. A Mandarinfish must have been right next to this area of the glass at precisely the wrong moment, as next morning the fish was found dead between the rock and the glass. But all the other fishes in the aquarium were dead too! These are only anecdotal observations. In none of these cases was a laboratory study performed to indicate the actual presence of a toxin. Plus, if Mandarinfishes had a marked toxic effect there ought to be more evidence of this, based on concrete instances, for example from aquarists on Internet forums, rather than merely descriptions of personal experiences. Other causes could have been responsible for the deaths, such as a lack of oxygen in the above-mentioned transportation bag that killed first the Mandarinfish and then the Chromis. The toppling rock could have exposed an anaerobic zone in the substrate, leading to a dramatic pH collapse that eventually cost all the fishes their lives. Like other fishes, the Mandarinfish does secrete mucus, which acts primarily as a carrier for chemical substances. And there must at least be chemicals present that make it taste bad. It is apparently relatively rare for this fish to be eaten, so under normal circumstances these chemicals don’t get into the bodies of other creatures. But if a Mandarinfish dies in the aquarium, it is conceivable that these substances may get into the water and be taken up by other fishes in some way. The effect they have on those fishes would vary depending on the fishes’ reaction to the chemicals, as well as the volume of water and the size of the aquarium and its equipment. The notion that Mandarinfishes are toxic can’t be completely ruled out, and this gives the contemplation of this deceptively beautiful fish an interesting frisson of excitement and mystery.
The Mandarinfish needn’t
worry about competition. With its gleaming metallic coloration, which clothes it like an expensive silk kimono, it will forever remain the darling of fish enthusiasts. Nevertheless, its 129 relatives are also worth a mention, even though they don’t all compare with it– at least where color is concerned.
The systematics of the
The Green Mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus) and its brightly colored and contrast-rich relative, the Spotted Mandarin or Psychedelic Fish (S. picturatus), are without a doubt the best-known dragonets—mainly because beauty equals popularity among aquarists, divers, and photographers alike. But if you limit your experience of this entire fish family, with its immense diversity of species, to these colorful eccentrics you will be missing a lot. Certainly, Mandarinfishes are unrivaled in their splendid coloration. But the majority of other species boast equally intriguing body forms.
T H E FA M I LY C A L L I O NYM I DA E At present, the dragonet family (order Perciformes, perch-like fishes) contains 130 species in 18 genera. This is a considerable number, given that the vast majority of these species are concentrated in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific and only a few live elsewhere—in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Most dragonets have a very similar external appearance and ecology, so even unfamiliar species can be quite readily identified as members of this fish family. Practically without exception, they are dainty but elongate bottom-dwellers, usually with a length of 2–4 inches (5–10 cm), although there are a few exceptions, such as the Finger Dragonet, Dactylopus dactylopus, or Callionymus species, which attain a body length of
At right, top: Young Mandarinfish male, identifiable by the greatly prolonged first dorsal-fin ray. Below: Female Mandarinfishes lack the prolonged first dorsalfin ray. This individual is stressed, as can be seen from the increased production of skin mucus with particles of sediment sticking to it. An aggressive wrasse in the aquarium was the cause.
by Inken Krause
Male Mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus) on a stony coral (Turbinaria reniformis).
up to 12 inches (30 cm). All dragonets feed on benthic invertebrates and, depending on the genus, live in more or less close association with coral reefs or adjacent sandy zones. All species have evolved numerous anatomical peculiarities as adaptations to a particular ecology and habitat, giving them their typical appearance.
A N ATO M Y Although many dragonets look fabulously attractive, this too is simply a matter of form following function. The extraordinarily large, roundish, widely separated ventral fins are used as props while the fish searches for food,
usually while floating only millimeters above the substrate. Often (at least in the genus Synchiropus) it is almost exclusively the rotating pectoral fins that are used for propulsion, making possible highly accurate navigation and the precise targeting of small crustaceans and worms. The small, funnel-shaped mouth is also a perfectly adapted instrument for this purpose—it is mobile and permits targeted “suck and snap” feeding similar to that of syngnathids. But unlike the latter, dragonets don’t move their entire bodies with a jerk while feeding. Because they move only their mouths, additional prey items lurking in the vicinity are not frightened away.
then less likely to be “inhaled.” Unlike the majority of perciforms, dragonets have no scales of any kind. Instead, the Pair of Mandarinfishes (Synchiropus splendidus), smooth skin is coated with mucus. This female below. makes it difficult for predators to grab hold; presumably it also tastes bad and may even be slightly poisonous. Thus these generally small, dainty, and slowmoving dragonets are not completely defenseless. Many dragonets exhibit sexual dimorphism in the anterior of the two dorsal fins, which is appreciably larger in males than in females. In the genus Synchiropus, at least, this applies to all species to a greater or lesser extent. In some species (for example, S. splendidus) the male’s fin is high and elongated, while in others (for example S. ocellatus, S. stellatus) the surface area is wide and sail-like. This sexability is very useful when it comes to aquariumkeeping, as males are intolerant of one another and The large eyes, positioned high up laterally on the shouldn’t be kept together. relatively large head and able to move in all directions, betray a careful hunter whose strategy involves not speed E T YM O LO G Y but precision. In the majority of dragonets the gills are sited on the upper part of the head and not laterally as in most fishes. In addition they are very small, perhaps an adaptation to the fact that feeding and hovering above a sandy substrate frequently stirs up sediment, which is The collective name dragonets (dragonnets in French), used for the entire family Callionymidae, seems very appropriate; it means “little dragons” and probably relates to the large dorsal-fin “sail” and bright coloration. The Mediterranean species Callionymus lyra (Latin lyra = lyre or lute) is probably responsible for the German name Leierfische (lyrefishes) for the entire dragonet family. But how this astonishingly large (12-inch, 30 cm) dragonet came to receive its scientific species name is difficult to understand. Perhaps the family-typical triangular body form was the inspiration for the name, as it bears a vague resemblance to the shape of the ancient stringed instrument. It is, however, easier to see how C. lyra gave its name to the German collective name for all its relatives—probably because its ready availability compared to tropical coral fishes meant it could be maintained in the aquarium long before the boom in the marine aquarium hobby (Debelius & Kuiter, 2006). Male Psychedelic Fish
(Synchiropus picturatus). The prolonged dorsal-fin ray is clearly visible.
GENERA AND SPECIES The family Callionymidae contains a huge wealth of species, but the majority of these fishes are unremarkable, little studied, and of no importance in the
TOP: I. KRAUSE; BOTTOM: E. THALER
Pair of Starry Dragonets, Synchiropus stellatus, displaying male in front.
aquarium trade. In addition to the Synchiropus species it is mainly the genera Dactylopus and Callionymus that are worth mentioning, but anyone who is interested in all the other members of the family, with their sometimes unpronounceable names, will find a complete overview on pages 54–5.
present it probably contains only a single species, namely N. bacescui. There is no doubt, however, that Synchiropus is the only dragonet genus of commercial relevance for the
Synchiropus The systematics of this genus, which contains the well-known and popular Mandarinfishes, have been subject to some confusion in recent years. In some works, Synchiropus splendidus and S. picturatus have been assigned to the new genus Pterosynchiropus, but this appears to be incorrect. Taxonomic disputes are difficult for the layman to understand, so for the time being I am relying on the online databank Fishbase, which continues to assign both species to the genus Synchiropus. Similar circumspection is required regarding the assignment of a number of other Synchiropus species (S. marmoratus, for example) to the genus Neosynchiropus in the literature. The genus itself may be valid, but at
Female Synchiropus stellatus, example of the red color morph.
Male Synchiropus stellatus of the red color morph.
aquarium hobby. As well as the usual Mandarinfishes, the Ocellated Dragonet (S. ocellatus) and the Starry Dragonet (S. stellatus) are also frequently imported. At first glance their pallid, reddish-brownish marbling may make them look like ugly ducklings compared to their colorful relatives. But appearances can be deceptive: males of both species have a very large first dorsal fin; not the elongated rays seen in S. splendidus, for example, but a kind of “sail” or “flag” that can be extended for display or when the fish is threatened and is a spectacular sight to see.
Ocellated and Starry Dragonets are overall very similar in external appearance, and because their distribution regions intersect it isn’t always easy to tell them apart in the trade. S. ocellatus tends to exhibit browngray shades, while S. stellatus exhibits a greater percentage of red. The Marbled Dragonet (S. marmoratus) is also imported for the aquarium hobby, but only rarely. It is rather similar to S. stellatus, but is usually mottled with red patches. It is easily confused with other dragonets, and some experts say that fishes sold as S. marmoratus are often Starry Dragonets.
The Ocellated or Scooter Dragonet, Synchiropus ocellatus. This photo of a male in the wild clearly shows how the color of the fish matches the substrate.
TOP: E. THALER; BOTTOM: D. KNOP
This genus contains only two valid species, the Fingered Dragonet (Dactylopus dactylopus) and the Orange-Black Dragonet, Dactylopus kuiteri. Fishbase lists 10 species that have carried the Dactylopus name, but eight of these have been reassigned to various other genera. Be that as it may, Dactylopus dactylopus, whose taxonomic status is not disputed, is a very interesting dragonet that attains a length of up to 12 inches (30 cm) and is noted for its unusual way of life. Except during courtship, it buries itself in the sandy bottom and remains there completely motionless, especially when danger threatens. The common name, Fingered Dragonet, relates to the finger-like ventral-fin rays, which serve as aids to locomotion (Thaler, 2008).
Dactylopus dactylopus male, with three distinctive long dorsal rays and the ventral fins converted to “fingers” for walking.
Callionymus With 100 species, this genus contains more than half of all the dragonet species currently known. Callionymus species not only occur in tropical seas, but also inhabit the northeastern Atlantic, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean, and include, for example, the Common Dragonet (Callionymus lyra) mentioned at the start of this article. As for the other species, divers in particular will perhaps be most familiar with C. filamentosus, which is native to the Red Sea and can be seen over sandy expanses there. But, like practically all species outside the genus Synchiropus, these dragonets play no role at all in the aquarium hobby. The Lancer Dragonet, Callionymus bairdi, of the Western Atlantic and Caribbean Sea, is gaining some atten-
tion, as Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D., and his colleagues have recently succeeded in its captive breeding at the University of Florida. Wittenrich reports that the larvae of this pelagic-spawning species are some of the smallest known and a challenge to feed. See also his article on breeding the Scooter Dragonet on pages 62–63.
Debelius, H. & R. Kuiter. 2006. Atlas der Meeresfische. Kosmos, Stuttgart, Germany. Mai, W. 2009. Leierfische im Meerwasseraquarium. Pflege und Nachzucht. Natur und Tier Verlag, Münster, Germany. Michael, S. 2005. A PocketExpert Guide: Reef Aquarium Fishes. Microcosm/TFH, Neptune City, NJ. Moyle, P. & J. Cech. 2004. Fishes. An Introduction to Ichthyology. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ. Nelson, J. 1994. Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, New York.
Scooter Dragonet, Synchiropus ocellatus, female.
TOP: E. THALER; BOTTOM: D. KNOP
Dragonets (often also spelled dragonettes) are arguably the most confusing, misunderstood, and neglected fish in our hobby. The most notorious species, the embodiment of gaudiness and a truly iconic fish, is the paisley-patterned Mandarinfish, Synchiropus splendidus. You probably already know the species, but if you don’t, you won’t soon forget it after today. The Mandarin and its kin masquerade through the trade under pseudonyms implying that they are either gobies or blennies, but dragonets are in a family all their own, the Callionymidae. Whether you pronounce it Sink-E-ROPE-Us, Sin-Cheer-O-Pus, or Oh-My-GodThat’s-Gorgeous, the genus Synchiropus includes four readily available species so cute and seductive that aquarists disregard caution and common sense, eagerly entering an often tragic love affair with these seemingly perplexing, expert-only fish. The four commonly available species include the aforementioned Mandarinfish or Green Mandarin (S. splendidus), as well as the other
story & images by Matt Pedersen
A modern guide to selecting, feeding, and breeding the mandarinfishes and scooters
“Green,” Spotted, or Target Mandarinfish (S. picturatus), the Scooter Blenny or Ocellated Dragonet (S. ocellatus), and the Red Scooter Blenny or Starry Dragonet (S. stellatus). I often lump the species into pairs, calling them Mandarins (S. splendidus and S. picturatus) and Scooters (S. ocellatus and S. stellatus). Other dragonets enter the trade from time to time, including the Fingered Dragonet (Dactylopus dactylopus, also called by the somewhat humorous name “Mother Scooter Blenny” owing to its larger size), the OrangeBlack Dragonet (D. kuiteri), the Northern Dragonet or Flying Jet Gunard (Diplogrammus xenicus), the extremely rare (I’ve been looking for it for four years) Circled Dragonet (S. circularis), and, on at least one occasion in the last year, the Lancer Dragonet (Callionymus bairdi), which, unlike every other species mentioned, hails from Florida and the Caribbean. No doubt, other dragonets may also be collected and available, perhaps coming in as assorted or grab-bag fish, but these should not be
Left: The new protocol for acclimating, conditioning, and training a wild-caught Mandarin to eat aquarium fare calls for a hang-in-the-tank breeder net cage for a period of weeks to months. Right: The author breaks all the old rules recommending large reef aquariums for keeping and breeding dragonets, preferring 29-gallon nano tanks where the fish can be target fed.
overlooked; you may discover the odd jewel. I suspect much of what can be said for the common types might be applicable to these rarer species, too.
D R AG O N E TS O F T H E PA S T It’s true that the dragonets of the past didn’t have a reputation for easy care and longevity in marine aquariums. Above all else, the less-than-stellar track records stem from the dragonets’ generally passive nature and micropredatory, perpetually grazing feeding habits. These fish cannot be maintained according to Marine Fish Husbandry 101; you can’t feed them pellet foods once a day and expect them to live long. The often mysterious needs of dragonets have given rise to all manner of myth and dogma that only further distance the aquarist from any hope of real and consistent success with this group. I actually resisted and avoided dragonets for years; this was a fish that I “knew better” than to try to keep in a 25-gallon aquarium. The conventional wisdom told me that I would need a 75-gallon or larger reef aquarium that had been set up for more than six months just to care for a single fish. The Internet rumor mill also told me that Mandarins would decimate the plague of red planarian flatworms that I had in my tanks. In perhaps one of my most brazen acts of desperation and indifference to the general consensus, and without further planning, let alone a backup plan, I went out of my way to order not just one Green Mandarinfish (S. splendidus), but a hand-picked male-female pair that I would add to my 25-gallon reef tank in hopes of wiping out my planarian infestation. I may as well give away the ending now. These fish are indeed dead…but not from the causes all the Internet “Mandarin-police” are about to charge me with. Long before my first pair of Mandarins died, they lived in more than one 25-gallon tank, they ate frozen foods (even pellet foods), they consorted with other dragonets, and they spawned repeatedly in my tanks, even producing viable larvae that I almost managed to rear successfully. My success with the Mandarins led to a long affair with the family; at this time I’ve kept, spawned, hatched, and attempted to rear all four com-
monly available dragonet species and have kept multiple pairs of each species. My years of working with dragonets have confirmed that just about everything I once read or was told about them is now outdated (if not outright wrong). Yes, even the part about them fixing a planarian problem—my dragonets never once touched them. It’s about time to rethink the dragonets.
B U YI N G A D R AG O N E T Your potential for success with a dragonet largely hinges on the specimen you start with. Given that dragonets are constant feeders, some of which won’t eat anything in the chain of custody, they can show up at the local fish store in pretty sad shape. You should avoid any dragonet that is not actively picking at the substrate. A dragonet that is sulking or just sitting there is probably on its way out. Look for dragonets that are active, alert, and interested in their surroundings. Dragonets can become quickly and dangerously emaciated. The first place they become thin is in the belly—it rapidly becomes hollowed out. As starvation progresses, the spine will become apparent along the back. You want to purchase the least-emaciated fish possible. I think it was Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich who first said that a healthy dragonet looks like a “fat little sausage,” but I’ve never seen a “prime” Mandarin come through the typical chain of custody in “fat little sausage” condition; they are all starving to some degree. Given the unique needs of dragonets and the higher level of attention they require in comparison to other common reef fish, I would not condone letting a member of this group sit at your average local fish store for a week or two for observation. Dragonets are not especially prone to common disease problems like ich (Cryptocaryon), so if you find a choice specimen, buy it then and
there and take it home. Place it in quarantine and give it the daily attention it needs, but doesn’t always get at the local shop. I have also had remarkably good luck with online purchases, and this is another way to shorten the chain of custody and get a fresher fish to work with.
the proper remedy for fin rot in your dragonets, but it would be my first-choice medication based solely on my experiences.
D R AG O N E T D I S E A S E I’ve found dragonets to be very resilient and resistant to most diseases. This may be due to their very thick slime coat, which is said to be toxic and certainly seems to be distasteful to other fish. I’ve had Mandarins in a tank of fish that were heavily infested with ich; the Mandarins were the last to show any symptoms, and when they did there were thick balls of clear slime on their skin. I should point out that the use of a “reef safe” medication killed all the scaleless fish in the tank when I tried it (both dragonets and gobies)—there was no warning on the medication, but scaleless fish commonly have sensitivities to medications that other fish don’t have. The only recurring disease problem I had with dragonets was a form of fin rot. It would appear without warning, generally at the edge of the tail. Within a day or two, the tissue between the rays of the fin was often eaten away completely. The fish would usually be dead in another couple of days as the disease progressed. In the six years I’ve kept dragonets, I believe I had this disease break out four or five times (spread across three different tanks), and sometimes it only affected one of several dragonets in the tank. When I didn’t act quickly, I lost fish. I did find some success in stopping this disease if I caught it early and treated the tanks with Maracyn SW (the active antibiotic is erythromycin). I should mention that these Maracyn SW treatments were done in full-blown “reef tanks” without any negative effects on my corals and invertebrates (I should also mention that it can drive your protein skimmer crazy for weeks, and cannot say it won’t stress out or even cause the death of more sensitive corals—use at your own risk). I cannot say for certain that Maracyn SW is always going to be
D R AG O N E T CO M PAT I B I L I T Y & PA I R I N G At one point, I kept six dragonets in a 24-gallon cube tank (the Mandarin Police are now drafting a warrant for my arrest). There were a pair of Synchiropus splendidus, a pair of S. picturatus, and a pair of S. ocellatus. At one point, all three species were even spawning in the tank together. I’ve mixed all the species together with the exception of the Red Scooter (S. stellatus) with the regular Scooter (S. ocellatus). With proper mates on hand, I never once witnessed a “hybrid” pairing form during an evening’s spawning activity. Still, keeping more than one species of dragonet in a system or tank could easily result in cross-fertilization (something to keep in mind if you’re trying to breed and rear them). Sexing the commonly available dragonets is easy. In all species, the first dorsal fin is the most obvious dimorphic and dichromatic marker. In Mandarins, the male has an elongated first dorsal ray (the spike) unless that spike has been lost to fighting or disease. In Scooters, the mature male’s dorsal fin is immense and flag-like, with scrawling and ocelli on it. Female Scooters have small dark brown or black dorsal fins with a white margin. Avoid keeping multiple males of a species together in a small tank due to aggression, and even multiple females could be problematic. The lowest risk of aggression is one pair per species per tank. When selecting pairs, the male must be larger than the female. If the female is the larger of the two, she will often behave aggressively towards him and attempt to drive him away. Still, dragonet pairs may squabble at times, but aggression between mates is diminished if they are healthy and well fed.
M O D E R N D R AG O N E T H U S B A N D RY There is one piece of advice that I wish we could all permanently forget: that you should only buy a dragonet if you have a big, well-established reef tank. This advice is based on the hippie-like premise that “the reef will provide, man,” The Psychedelic Fish or Spotted Mandarin, and is derived from the notion (Synchiropus picturatus), that since dragonets won’t eat often does best in pairs. prepared foods, the only way to keep them successfully is to have a big enough tank to support a large population of copepods, amphipods, and worms. Throw ’em in your big old tank, and hope that the dragonet finds enough to eat. I cannot tell you how many purportedly healthy (read: starving) dragonets I have seen
Scooter Blenny, Synchiropus ocellatus, also known as the Scooter Dragonet, emerging from a chalice-shaped Cup Coral, Turbinaria peltata, that the author used as a feeding station for dragonets and seahorses.
in 100- to 200-gallon reef tanks. I believe it is fundamentally wrong to take this hands-off, “good luck little fishy” approach to fish care. In fact, I can’t think of any other fish that we keep where we just throw them in the tank, don’t even bother to try to feed them, and hope for the best. I’ll take all the heat for calling this method irresponsible and perhaps even unethical. I am not saying it cannot work—it can, but I do know it often doesn’t. More importantly, there is now a better way, and because there is a proven proactive and direct manner in which to keep dragonets in the best condition, I can never condone going back to the way things used to be. There is an upside—with modern techniques, dragonets do not require large tanks. I personally would have no issues with the well-planned addition of a single dragonet to a smaller cube tank. I am aware of at least one person who had a spawning dragonet pair in a standard 10-gallon aquarium. You simply do not need a 75-gallon or larger aquarium to keep the commonly available dragonets. I would personally suggest that a 25–30-gallon tank is manageable. If you are serious about breeding, a taller tank will help accommodate their spawning rise. Above all else, your tank must be completely covered. The single most common reason I’ve lost dragonets is that they are prone to jumping. Each and every spawning rise brings the fish purposely towards the surface and ends with them erupting and making a mad dash towards the substrate. But often, it’s more like a mad dash out of the tank. I even lost all three of my ORAproduced captive-bred Spotted Mandarins to a 3" by 6" uncovered space required by a hang-on-the-back filter. Do everything you can to cover every last space, or risk
losing your fish to the floor. Surprisingly, I think it is often overlooked that several of the dragonet species bury themselves. Both Scooters (S. ocellatus and S. stellatus) require a soft sand substrate where they will sleep at night and seek cover when scared. The Mandarins (S. splendidus and S. picturatus) do not seem to use the substrate, but I know some of the less common dragonets do (Dactylopus sp. and the Lancers). Do not keep dragonets in bare-bottom tanks. While Mandarins are “reef fish,” they actually do not require the heavy flows we may use in a typical reef tank. In fact, I believe they suffer from it. Dragonets in general are not strong swimmers, but that’s not the real issue. One of the reasons we use high flows in our tanks is to keep the substrate free of debris, but dragonets feed off the substrate. High flows simply blow their food away before they even get to it. To counter flow issues, I’ve used the “feeding station” concept, borrowed from seahorse keepers (as well as Marc Levenson’s well-known Mandarin Diner), to help concentrate food, allowing for extended grazing. However, even a feeding station requires a somewhat reduced flow. Furthermore, unless you use a concept such as Marc Levenson’s Mandarin Diner to exclude all but the dragonets from food, the dragonets are generally going to be outcompeted by most other fish we commonly keep. Choosing not to keep dragonets in a larger reef tank can be a difficult exercise in selfrestraint—if you can’t resist, you have to plan carefully to ensure your dragonets have enough feeding opportunities. It’s much easier to treat the dragonets as a primary focus and cater to their needs. Tanks with lower flows are the way to go—they make feeding easier for your drag-
onets. Tankmates like seahorses, pipefish, gobies, firefish, and other passive fishes are much less likely to cause problems or outcompete your dragonets.
M O D E R N D R AG O N E T F E E D I N G Dragonets are micropredatory grazers. They work the substrate like hummingbirds go through flowers, feeding a tiny bit in one spot, then hovering to the next spot to eat another tiny tidbit, and they do this most of the day. Because of this, dragonets simply will not get by on once-a-day feedings. Even two times per day is often not enough to keep weight on. Ideally, I would start with three times per day, but I encourage you to feed them almost as often as you can. You have one way to circumvent constant feeding. Provided you use a feeding station, feeding a lot in one sitting will allow the fish to graze at their leisure for an extended period of time. You can remove uneaten food later on, and you’ll learn how much to feed per sitting to allow constant access to food. While I thoroughly dispensed with the notion “the tank will provide” as the sole means of feeding a dragonet, I should reaffirm that live rock, rubble, macroalgae, and refugiums will all help to provide some supplementary sustenance between meals. The routine addition of live copepods will certainly provide a highly nutritious supplemental feed, but given the simple mass of food a Mandarin can consume in a single sitting, even a bottle of commercially available copepods could represent only a filling afternoon snack! Dragonets just do best when intentionally fed. As far as what to feed dragonets, you have many good choices available. Frozen enriched adult brine shrimp is often the first prepared food to be accepted. There are numerous forms available, but I tend to gravitate towards types that are enriched with Spirulina or HUFAs whenever possible. Frozen mysis shrimp is the staple for most aquarists. The smaller Hikari Mysis is, in my experience, not to be overlooked. Dr. Wittenrich noted that when he fed exclusively the larger Piscine Energetics (PE) Mysis, he was able to bring his Mandarins into daily spawns, whereas my general feeding, which combined PE & Hikari Mysis and enriched brine shrimp, only resulted in an average of one spawn every four nights. While you can maintain Mandarins on just mysis and brine shrimp, I am still a firm believer in variety. Nutramar Ova (prawn roe) and minced squid are two caloriedense food items that my dragonets will accept. Frozen mixes such as Rod’s Food are often accepted too. Most dragonets will accept pellet foods; generally you need to offer a very small pellet size or use a softer pellet like the Ocean Nutrition Formula 1, which is small enough and soft enough that most dragonets can chew it up. Despite all the prepared foods I mentioned, the responsible dragonet keeper will locate a reliable source of live adult brine shrimp (Artemia sp.) before buying a dragonet. If your local fish shop carries it, great. If it
doesn’t, then start learning to culture and grow your own and have it on hand before you buy your fish. Newly hatched baby brine shrimp is generally not appropriate— it should be adult (it takes a couple of weeks to grow it up). Whether you buy it or grow it, learn how to enrich it with HUFAs and/or phytoplankton prior to feeding it. I insist on having access to live adult brine shrimp for one simple reason—it is the fail-safe. If your fish refuses everything else, it should still accept live adult brine shrimp. If the dragonet won’t even touch live adult brine shrimp, it is probably past the point of no return. When it comes to actually getting dragonets to eat non-live, frozen, or prepared foods, in some cases it is downright easy. Every Scooter (both species) that I have obtained has taken some form of prepared or frozen food almost immediately. I have even seen S. ocellatus chasing down flake food in a dealer’s aquarium. For this very reason, I strongly suggest that these two species are ideal for your first dragonet. You may not have to train the fish onto anything, and with time, they may come to readily accept any food offered. I should also point out that with the availability of captive-bred Mandarins, primarily from ORA here in the U.S., having to train these species to eat prepared foods is a thing of the past. Captive-bred Mandarins are indeed eating prepared foods such as Nutramar Ova and various small pellet foods in the hatchery, and they are willing to accept these and many other foods as well. When they were first introduced in the U.S., there were rumors that the captive-bred dragonets would not eat prepared foods. In most cases, I attribute these problems to inappropriate husbandry (such as aquarists placing these fish in rarely fed, high flow SPS reef tanks) or offering unfamiliar food items. I’ve kept three of the captive-bred Mandarins from ORA, and every one ate prepared foods without any issues. Between the facts that the Scooters don’t seem to have problems taking to something right away and that captive-bred Mandarins are a reality, I actually don’t even need to tell you how to get a dragonet to eat prepared foods because the work is done for you. Still, over the years I developed a methodology that worked consistently to train wild-caught Mandarins onto frozen foods.
D R AG O N E T T R A I N I N G If you find yourself contemplating a wild-caught Mandarin, you will need a small hang-on-the-tank breeder net box (such as the one offered by Lees) for each fish, and you will need a steady supply of live adult brine shrimp. Your newly acquired Mandarin is placed into the breeder net (one fish per enclosure), and ideally the net should be positioned in a place that offers a horizontal current through the net. You need not offer any hiding places, and in my experience, the fish don’t need them. Extra structure equals places for waste to collect. The small, confined space of the breeder net serves to isolate the fish from any competition. It also serves to concentrate
S. picturatus, courtship ascent shortly before spawning in one of the author’s aquariums.
food items in the immediate vicinity of the fish. I start by offering enriched (gut-loaded) live adult brine shrimp, generally using Super Selcon (a liquid HUFA enrichment). Usually within a couple of days, the Mandarins learn that the writhing shrimp are food. While you don’t want to overwhelm the fish, you need more than just a couple of shrimp in the net. You’ll want to introduce shrimp throughout the day so there is always fresh, enriched prey available. You will notice that the exterior currents pin the live brine shrimp against the sides of the breeder net, and the Mandarin will eagerly pick them off the “substrate” (the netting). We will use this to our advantage when it comes time to wean the fish off live shrimp. I don’t start the weaning process until the Mandarin is eager enough and strong enough to immediately notice the introduction and start feeding on it. They may well learn to snatch the shrimp right out of the water column. Once the fish is exhibiting this level of comfort, I start introducing frozen enriched adult brine shrimp in conjunction with the live shrimp, and these frozen shrimp are thawed and soaked in the same HUFA enrichment as the live shrimp. This is where the “magic” happens, although it has nothing to do with actual magic and a lot more to do with things I’ve learned over the years as a fly fisherman. In fly fishing, the goal is to fool a fish into eating something that isn’t live food. We do everything we can to mimic the size and color of a prey item. We fret over our “presentation,” our efforts to offer the fake in a manner that mimics the location and behavior of the real prey item. If trout are feeding on mayflies on the surface, we want our own fake mayfly to float on the
surface just as the real mayfly does. So how does fly fishing translate back to this whole setup? When you introduce the HUFA-soaked, thawed brine shrimp, it looks pretty much just like the live brine shrimp. It’s the same size and a similar color. By using the same enrichment soak, you even help the frozen thing to smell and taste like the real thing. But wait, it gets better still—what about the mysterious external current that pins the live adult brine shrimp to the side netting? Well, it also pins the frozen brine shrimp to the side, right alongside the live shrimp. In the end, the only thing that’s really different about our frozen brine shrimp is that they don’t swim and wriggle. It generally doesn’t even take a day for the Mandarin to overlook that slight discrepancy. Once the Mandarin starts eating frozen brine, I often rather quickly withdraw the live adult brine. Still, a diet solely consisting of frozen brine shrimp is not ideal, so I will generally start adding the small Hikari Mysis shrimp to my thawed and soaked foods. Once again, the difference between the frozen brine and the frozen mysis is reduced by soaking them together. From there, the sky is the limit. Adding foods to a thawed mixture will usually encourage a Mandarin to at least taste it. Once the Mandarin is feeding eagerly on frozen foods and has replenished any lost weight, it is ready for release into the final tank. Generally, I’ve found the process of training in this manner takes two or three months from start to finish. If you are feeding pellet foods that sink to the bottom and you offer them with your frozen foods, most wild-caught Mandarins learn to take small pellets as food in another three to six months without any special intervention.
D R AG O N E T B R E E D I N G Much has already been written about the breeding of Dragonets, so I won’t delve into great detail here. Perhaps the most important information I can offer is that with a lot of hard work and persistence, you can successfully breed and rear dragonets at home. The key point is that dragonets spawn at dusk, releasing a few to several hundred buoyant eggs roughly 1 mm in diameter. If you turn off all water circulation and filtration in the evening, you can easily collect the eggs by skimming the surface after a spawn, paying particular attention to the meniscus (where the water’s surface meets the glass and other objects), where eggs tend to congregate. Incubation of eggs often works best when there is no intervention of any kind—placing the collected eggs in a half-gallon specimen container, immersed in a water bath that is 0.5 to 1ºC warmer than the broodstock water, typically results in a successful hatch 12 to 32 hours after spawning. A couple more days go by as the prolarvae develop eyes, mouths, and guts. From there, using the greenwater (phytoplankton) technique in a black round tub, offering rotifers and copepod nauplii as first foods, has proved to get at least a few babies through to settlement. It’s hardly easy (I’m still the only one to successfully spawn and rear the Harlequin Filefish, but ironically, I’ve yet to succeed with a dragonet). For the breeder who’s tackled moderately challenging species like dottybacks, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest trying a dragonet as your next breeding project. Dr. Wittenrich reports that the Psychedelic, Spotted, or Target Mandarin, Synchiropus picturatus, has the shortest larval period before settlement, progressing to S. splendidus, then S. ocellatus; S. stellatus, with the longest larval phase, is the most difficult-to-rear species. D R AG O N E T S O F T H E F U T U R E The long-term outlook for dragonets in the hobby is bright. In most situations, I’d encourage you to seek out a source for a captive-bred dragonet. While it may retail for two to three times the price of a wild-caught specimen, you won’t have to worry about the training I outlined above; with the costs associated with training and the risks that come with wild fish, it could be that a captive-bred fish is actually cheaper. What captive breeding does for seahorses, it also does for dragonets. While I will never suggest that any dragonet is a beginner fish, the last decade has truly refined our understanding of this family. Armed with the latest information and dedication, we no longer need to relegate dragonets to a haphazard existence in a large, established reef tank. The proactive and engaged aquarist can indeed succeed, and even breed, these iconic marine fishes.
Matt Pedersen was honored as the Aquarist of the Year at MACNA 2009. He lives and experimentally breeds marine fishes in Duluth, Minnesota.
One Fish, Two Fish,
ith tropical reef habitats so diverse in shape and color, it is not surprising that fishes have evolved a marvelous range of colors and shapes to match. The allure of finding something new, exotic, and rare on the reef causes some of us to keep searching through the nooks and crevices of the tropical marine realm for our next visual fix. Certainly one of the most astonishingly pigmented of reef fish species is the Mandarinfish, Synchiropus splendidus, with its amazing pattern of blues, cyans, and reds. Mandarinfishes possess a cyan pigment that no other animal except the Spotted Dragonet, S. picturatus, has—a testament to the distinctiveness of the dragonets. The Mandarinfish is offered in the marine aquarium trade as either the “Red” or “Green” Mandarinfish. However, both are currently recognized by science as one and the same, S. splendidus, with no recognized division below the species level. So what is the difference between the Green and Red Mandarinfish? The Green Mandarinfish is characterized by the reticulate pattern of cyan across a base of orange-red on the body. Furthermore, the fins are edged with a striking margin of indigo, while the pectoral fins exhibit exquisite
story by Adeljean L.F.C Ho images by Matthew L. Wittenrich
Decoding the genetics of the Red Mandarinfish
alternating bands of indigo and orange. The reticulation in the Red Mandarinfish is less pronounced, with thinner cyan bands, while the indigo on the fins is highly reduced, in particular in the pelvic and pectoral fins. The most striking difference lies in the pectoral fins, where the alternating pattern seen in the Green Mandarinfish is substituted by a pectoral fin that is almost completely red. This overall reduction in the indigo and cyan colors gives the Red Mandarinfish its more pronounced red appearance. Simple enough. Or is it? We know from captive breeding that these two Mandarins breed true, meaning that Red Mandarinfish produce red type offspring and Green Mandarinfish, green type offspring. This suggests that the color differences are not variations between individuals but are rooted in the genes, and would lend validity to the classification of the color difference between these Mandarinfish as different varieties at the scientific level: varietas. This led to our delving deeper into the nature of this color variation, into the DNA of these variants. Mitochondrial DNA is a small packet of DNA that is inherited maternally, that is, from mother to offspring. This makes mitochondrial DNA ideal for studying variations among groups in nature. Analysis of the mitochondrial DNA in Mandarinfish has shown that there is marked divergence in DNA between the Red and the Green Mandarinfish. Not only has it shown that there is significant divergence, but it also suggests that the green form is the ancestor of the red variety. Further analyses are scheduled and will test these hypotheses more rigorously. However, this indicates that the two color forms might be more than just varieties, as the divergence in mitochondrial DNA suggests that these two color variants are reproductively isolated from one another and in the crudest sense might represent incipient species. This brings us to a premise that these two varieties should not be interchangeable in the ecological sense and urges us to take educated and sound management practices of interplay between commercial culture and wild harvest into account. In doing so, when we admire these splendid fishes at home, we can rest assured they will be comfortably able to go about their evolutionary business on the reefs.
Adeljean Ho is a marine biologist currently pursuing his Ph.D. at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida.
Lessons from the humble
Looking for breeding breakthroughs in pelagic-spawning species • story & photos by Matthew L. Wittenrich
At the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin, Florida, we sometimes joke that our role in the Rising Tide Conservation Initiative is attempting the impossible, targeting the marine ornamental aquaculture’s biggest challenge: raising angelfish, surgeonfish, and other small-egg pelagic spawners that rank among the most heavily traded reef fishes. For many breeders in the past, this has proved to be a quixotic dream, but we are starting to see some small victories that we believe will help pave the way to important advances. Our approach is to use model pelagic spawning species to help answer detailed questions about development, incubation, feeding, and environmental constraints to survival that may be used to breed a range of other species. One recent example is the Ocellated Dragonet, Synchiropus ocellatus. More commonly known as the Scooter Blenny, it is collected in high numbers from the Philippines and Indonesia, and is probably the most abundant dragonet in the aquarium industry. But, unlike their congeners, the Green (S. splendidus) and Spotted Mandarins (S. picturatus), which are now in commercial culture, there are several bottlenecks to the breeding of S. ocellatus. I first raised S. ocellatus a few years ago when I was developing large-scale methods for S. splendidus and S. picturatus. I raised a few, but never observed the success in numbers of fish raised that I had with the other species. I attributed this to a first feeding challenge and vowed that one day I would revisit the species and work out the kinks. In typical dragonet fashion, S. ocellatus produces chains of pelagic eggs that slowly rise to the surface. Bottlenecks to culture are encountered shortly after spawning. Unlike other dragonet eggs that hatch in 12–16 hours, Ocellated Dragonet eggs take up to 32 hours to hatch. This leaves them vulnerable to the microbial environment of the rearing tank. First feeding is initiated three days after hatching and creates the crucial first step to a successful breeding attempt. The 1.8 mm-long larvae are capable hunters, but highly selective. Mouth gape is a major constraint, as the tiny larvae just can’t fit many zooplankton organisms into their mouths. Most larvae, though, consume prey that is less than 20 percent of the maximum gape—in the case of the Ocellated Dragonet this means prey that is only 40–50 microns. University of Florida researchers Eric Cassiano, Christine Creamer, and I have been exploring the efficacy of alternative live foods in rearing marine ornamental fishes. To succeed in expanding aquaculture technologies for new species, we need to start from the beginning (the ocean) and find out what live prey organisms are consumed by each species through development. We first offer controlled densities of size-sorted wild zooplankton to observe what the larvae ‘choose’ to eat. Then we attempt to culture the organisms identified and test survival rates with the different prey organisms. From hatching, we have achieved survival rates exceeding 90 percent using various species of copepods and other zooplankters as a first food. We are hopeful that captive-raised Ocellated Dragonets will eventually make their way into retail outlets from a solid commercial protocol. In the meantime, we are using this creative approach to target similar species like the Starry Dragonet (S. stellatus) and ultimately Blue Tangs, Bartlett’s Anthias, and others.
Special thanks to the participants in the Rising Tide Conservation Initiative, Seaworld & Busch Gardens, the Shedd Aquarium, PetCo, Boyd Enterprises, Instant Ocean, Segrest Farms, and Piscine Energetics for their valued support. Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D., is a biological scientist at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory and author of The Complete Illustrated Breeder’s Guide to Marine Aquarium Fishes (Microcosm/TFH, Neptune City, NJ, 2007).
Larval development of Ocellated Dragonets is rapid, but commercial production of the species has been hindered by a first-feeding bottleneck. University of Florida researchers have identified and cultured zooplankton organisms that the diminutive larvae consume and bridged the gap with commercial diets.
A N D I TS I M P O R TA N C E F O R T H E CO LO R S O F S TO NY CO R A L S
Blue light is an important component of the lighting in coral-reef aquaria. But how does this light radiation affect the development of coral pigments and our perception of their color? • by Cecilia D’Angelo and Jörg Wiedenmann
Blue light with a wavelength of 430–490 nm penetrates most deep-
ly into the clear water of tropical coral reefs. For this reason it has proved beneficial over the course of evolution for corals and other invertebrates to specialize in this light color for the regulation of metabolic processes via light. One well-known example of this is the synchronized mass spawning of stony corals, which is triggered by the blue light component of moonlight, among other factors. It has also long been known in the marine aquarium hobby that an increase in the blue part of the spectrum encourages growth and color in corals and other aquarium occupants. However, it is not clear precisely how blue light affects color intensity: Is the human eye simply better able to see the coral pigments under light of this
Opposite page: Blue light penetrates most deeply into the clear water around the coral reef. Above: Stony corals look their best under lighting of appropriate intensity and color. The display tank of the Coral Laboratory at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton uses a combination of HQI lamps (two 250 watt, 13,000 K) and blue LEDs (eight Aqua Beam 500 Reef Blue).
wavelength, or does blue light actually encourage increased pigment production in the corals? And how does the light-dependent population of symbiotic algae influence the pigmentation of the host? For many years, we have been studying the pigments of corals and other actinians as part of our research work on these animals. In the process, we have also been able to explain some of the effects of blue light on coral colors and growth.
P I G M E N TS I N S TO NY CO R A L S: A N OV E RV I E W Brown shades: The reef-building stony corals, which include the majority of species maintained
in the aquarium, live in obligatory symbiosis with unicellular algae, the zooxanthellae (Taylor 1969). The corals profit from the photosynthetic products of the algae, and in return “fertilize” the latter with
Important groups of pigments in actinians. (A) Brown color shades in corals are frequently the result of the presence of zooxanthellae. (B) The coloration of the brown variety of the Frilled Anemone, Metridium senile, is caused by melanin. (C) An aplysinopsin-like pigment contributes to the coloration of Tubastrea. (D) Carotenoids determine the orange-red color of the Beadlet Anemone, Actinia equina. (E) Green fluorescent proteins in Fungia sp. (F) Photo-convertible orange fluorescent protein in Lobophyllia sp. (G) Red fluorescent protein in Montipora digitata. Non-fluorescent chromoproteins from the family of GFP-like proteins are more often found in growth zones (H), but can also give a whole stand of coral a pink, blue, or violet color (I).
nitrogen and phosphorus compounds that occur in the host animal as waste products of metabolism. The light requirement of the zooxanthellae also determines the light dependency of their symbiotic partner, the coral. The term zooxanthellae is derived from the Greek word xanthos, meaning yellow, referring to the yellow-brown color of the algae, which is caused in large part by a mixture of the photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll and the carotenoid peridinin. If the density of algae is high enough, the intense color of the zooxanthellae will be visible through the host tissue, and this is usually what causes the brownish color in corals and other actinians (Wiedenmann 2000, Oswald et al. 2007). The loss of the symbiotic algae is seen as bleaching of the tissue, and the skeleton turns white. Following coral bleaching, which occurs as the result of unusually high temperatures, entire reefs exhibit a white color (Glynn 1993). In rarer and usually less pronounced cases it can also bring out a brown color in the host. One cause of this may be the pigment melanin, which is responsible for the dark pigmentation of human hair and skin and has occasionally been recorded in actinians (Fox 1941).
Green and orange -red color shades: Stony corals can be impressively colorful. Individual specimens exhibit intense bright green and red shades, which have a mysterious luminescence when illuminated with blue light (Wiedenmann 2008). Given stronger pigmentation, this neon effect, which is caused by fluorescence, is also visible under light sources of the daylight type. Unlike pigments like peridinin, fluorescent pigments not only absorb light of certain wavelengths but subsequently also emit light with a color towards the red end of the spectrum (Wiedenmann 2008). The fluorescent light radiated is responsible for the brilliance of the colors. The fluorescent pigments of corals and other actinians are generally proteins from the family of GFP-like (Green Fluorescent Protein) pigments. Despite clear differences in color, these proteins have a very similar overall structure, and comparative studies of the composition of the pigments have shown that the multitude of GFP-like proteins evolved from a single, probably green fluorescent pigment (Alieva 2008). In a few species, for example the sea anemone Anthopleura, symbiotic green algae can contribute to the green coloration of actinians (Muscatine 1969). Their so-called zoochlorellae lack peridinin, the brownish pigment found in zooxanthellae, so they appear green due to their chlorophyll content. Carotenoids seem to more often determine the orange-red shades of color, particularly in leather corals, gorgonians, and in sea anemones (Hertzberg et al. 1969, Rho et al. 1996). In some cases these pigments, which are chemically related to the betacarotene found in carrots, are linked to proteins. Yellow color shades: An aplysinopsin-like pigment contributes to the yellow color of the stony corals Tubastrea and Leptopsammia pruvoti (Guella et al. 2004). Zoanthid anemones (Zoanthus sp.) can contain a yellow fluorescent, GFP-like protein (Matz et al. 1999). Com-
parable yellow protein pigments haven’t yet been found inside stony corals, but because of the variety of colors in this protein family in corals, their existence cannot be ruled out. In the case of Turbinaria reniformis the polyps exhibit a bright yellow color; however, this doesn’t result
The coloration of Acropora millepora varieties is determined by the concentration of GFP-like proteins. Which pigment is predominant depends on the genetic material of the specimen, and the lighting can strongly influence the amount of pigment deposited in the tissue. (A) In the case of a low concentration of GFP-like proteins, the color of the zooxanthellae dominates; dominant production of (B) green fluorescent proteins, (C) red fluorescent proteins, and (D) non-fluorescent chromoproteins.
from a yellow fluorescent protein, but from the mixing of a green fluorescent protein with a yellow, non-fluorescent pigment (Wiedenmann, unpublished). Pink, violet, and blue pigments: Stony corals of the genus Acropora frequently exhibit an accumulation of pink, violet, or blue pigments at the tips of their branches (D’Angelo et al. 2008). In other species too, for example certain color varieties of Montipora foliosa, we find similar shades of color in the growth zones. In other cases an entire coral may exhibit an intense violet or blue color. Interestingly, these pigments, too, are members of the family of GFP-like proteins. However, these proteins exhibit little or no fluorescence. The lack of fluorescence results from a slightly different positioning of the group responsible for color, the chromophors, but otherwise
Red Green Blue
the GFP-like chromoproteins of the fluorescent members are structurally very similar (Nienhaus et al. 2009, Prescott et al. 2003). Here, too, it is the exception that proves the rule: the sometimes very striking violet coloration of the Common Sea Fan, Gorgonia ventalina, is also caused by carotenoids (Leverette et al. 2008). Animals, including corals, are not capable of creating carotenoids themselves, but rely on the importation of these pigments via food or symbiotic algae. Because carotenoids can also occur in azooxanthellate actinians from weak-light habitats (Fox et al. 1978), there appears to be no general connection between lighting intensity and the deposition of these pigments in animal tissue. The situation looks different as regards the photosynthetic pigments of the zooxanthellae (chlorophyll and peridinin) as well as the GFP-like proteins of the host animal. The concentration of these pigments in the tissues of actinians can vary considerably, independent of light. In addition they have a great influence on the intensity of color in corals in the aquarium (Oswald et al. 2007, D’Angelo et al. 2008).
Daylight Fragmented offspring (replicates) from an Acropora millepora colony were maintained for six weeks under comparable amounts of red, green, and blue light. Blue light produced the strongest green and red fluorescent proteins.
B LU E L I G H T A N D T H E ZO OXA N T H E L L A E P I G M E N TS
Leaves at the top of a tree contain less chlorophyll than those in the lower, shady parts of the crown. The tree optimizes its photosynthetic productivity in this way. In areas where lots of light is available, a small amount of chlorophyll is enough to achieve an adequate level of photosynthesis. By contrast, a higher chlorophyll content in shaded leaves has proved helpful in capturing the small number of photons available as completely as possible. Because of their symbiosis with zooxanthellae, corals and other actinians behave like plants in many respects: the amount of photosynthetic pigments in the coral tissue increases under weak light conditions (Oswald et al. 2007). These higher concentrations result from an increase in the number of zooxanthellae and/ or an increased pigment content per algal cell. As with the shaded leaves of the tree, efficient use of the small amount of available light is assured. It is easy for the observer to recognize the differences in the concentrations of photosynthetic pigments: corals that are light beige in color under intense lighting may become chocolate brown under weak light. Because of their chemical attributes, the pigments chlorophyll and peridinin absorb mainly blue and bluegreen light. For this reason the content of zooxanthellae and their pigments is determined not only by the intensity of the light, but also by its color. Within certain bounds, an increase in the blue component of the lighting can have the same effect as increasing its overall intensity, a paling of the coral tissue. On the other hand, illuminating exclusively with red light can lead to a slow loss of symbiotic algae. This type of bleaching is otherwise seen only under permanently inadequate light intensity, and
LIGHT INTENSITY (µmol photons/m 2 /s)
F LU O R E S C E N T P R OT E I N CO N T E N T
150 125 100 75 50 25 0
F LU O R E S C E N T P R OT E I N S [Emission maximum in nm]
[ 484 ]
[ 496 ]
[ 512 ]
[ 605 ]
LIGHT INTENSITY (µmol photons/m 2 /s)
(A) Acropora millepora become more colorful and fluorescent when the light intensity increases. (B) Blue-green fluorescent proteins are produced chiefly under low and moderate amounts of light. The content of green and red fluorescent proteins increases continuously as the amount of light rises. Light intensity is given as photon flux density in the photosynthetically effective area of the spectrum (400–700 nm). The values were determined at the surface of the water. In the experiment the specimens were sited immediately beneath the surface.
D I S TA N C E (cm)
under certain circumstances can result in an increased mortality rate. It should, however, be noted that red light is also important for photosynthesis by the zooxanthellae. Hence, lighting with a balanced spectral distribution can lead to increased photosynthetic productivity by the zooxanthellae compared to exclusively blue-light illumination, at least in corals from shallow water.
90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 0 200 400 600 800
I N F LU E N C E O N T H E P R O D U C T I O N O F G F P - L I K E P I G M E N TS
Because the fluorescent pigments and their non-fluorescent relatives are proteins, the colorfulness of the animal depends primarily on the presence of the “pigment genes” that encode information for the manufacture of pigments. Within various species of actinians we find different color varieties that differ in their GFP-like protein content (Wiedenmann et al. 1999). In corals and sea anemones there are frequently differences in both colorfulness and color patterns. The color seen by the observer is determined by the presence or absence of different protein pigments (Oswald et al. 2007, Kelmanson
LIGHT INTENSITY (µmol photons/m 2 /s)
Light intensity decreases as the lamp is moved further away. The amount of light that penetrates into the water is heavily dependent on water movement at the surface. Waves and turbulence result in a significant amount of reflected light.
et al. 2003). At least six different pigment genes influence the appearance of the color varieties of Acropora millepora (D’Angelo et al. 2008). Interestingly, we have established that pigment genes are also present in varieties in which the pigments themselves could not be found in the tissue (Leutenegger et al. 2007a). This clearly demonstrates that the presence of the genes alone is not sufficient to produce color in the animal— the genes must also be sufficiently active to ensure the production of the pigments.
R I P E N I N G O F T H E P I G M E N TS In order to test the effect of various environmental factors on colorfulness, we initially investigated the influence of light intensity 5 on the pigment content of corals. Some species—for example, Montastrea cavernosa and 3 Lobophyllia hemprichii—exhibited no chang6 es in their content of fluorescence protein (Leutenegger et al. 2007b). The pigment genes remained active even when the corals were kept in total darkness for a while. The fluorescent color of the tissue changed from red to green. Even when the corals were 1 exposed to red light, their tissue exhibited mainly green fluorescence. When they were 4 maintained under blue light or illuminated with violet light, the color changed from green to red within hours. This observation can be explained by a chemical peculiarity 7 2 of the pigments involved: If the proteins are produced in the coral tissue, they initially exhibit a green fluorescence. When they are irradiated with violet-blue light (360–435 nm) a chemical reaction takes place that effects a permanent change in the pigments and is associated with a change from green 5 to red in the fluorescence color (Oswald et al. 2007, Nienhaus et al. 2005, Wieden3 mann et al. 2004). This so-called photo6 conversion takes place constantly during prolonged exposure to light on the reef or in the aquarium. Hence the color change in the animal can Light color has a direct influence on the visibility of GFP-like pigments. be observed only under appropriate experimental conditions. It should be noted that not all red fluorescent pigTop: Under a combination of HQI lighting (250 watts/13,000 K) and blue LEDs (four 12-watt) the pink, violet, and blue ments (RFPs) require blue light for ripening: for example, chromoproteins are most noticeable (4–7). the process also takes place spontaneously in the dark in RFPs from Acropora millepora (D’Angelo et al. 2008) and Bottom: Under exclusively blue LEDs the green fluorescent proteins are most visible (1). Red fluorescent proteins are poorly Entacmaea quadricolor (Wiedenmann et al. 2002). visible (2) if they cannot be stimulated via green fluorescent The picture is different when it comes to corals found objects (3). The colors of the non-fluorescent chromoproteins mainly in shallow water. In particular, because of the (4–7) are not visible. Depending on the pigmentation of large number of pigments produced in its tissue, a red the specimen, the visibility of the different pigments can be color form of Acropora millepora permitted interesting increased through the choice of light color. insights into its regulation under different light inten-
STRONG LIGHT WEAK LIGHT sities (D’Angelo et al. 2008). It was established that fluorescence proteins (FPs) that fluoresce in the blue-green part of the spectrum were produced by the coral only at a very low light intensity. The concentration in the tissue increased as the light intensity was increased, but only up to a maximum photon-flux density of 400 μmol/m2/s. A further increase in the amount of light did not produce any further increase in the content of these pigments; on the contrary, in the case of A. millepora the blue-green fluorescence proteins partially disappeared again. The red fluorescent protein from Montipora digitata likewise exhibited a maximum concentration at moderate light intensities (400 μmol/m2/s). Matters were different with the pink or violet chromoproteins from Seriatopora hystrix and Acropora pulchra: only at a photon-flux density of 400 μmol/m2/s was there any noteworthy deposition of pigments in the tissue. The production of green and red fluorescent proteins in Acropora millepora rose continually as the light intensity was raised to 700 μmol/m2/s. The detailed results of this research can be downloaded free of charge at http://www.int-res. com/articles/meps_oa/m364p097.pdf. We next tested the influence of light color on the production of pigments. The highest production of the pigments studied took place under blue light. The bluelight stimulus caused increased activity in the pigment genes after as little as four hours, though the corals required several weeks to achieve maximum colorfulness. The light-dependent upregulation of the green and red fluorescent pigments in Acropora millepora can be seen as evidence of the long-debated photoprotection function. However, the mechanism that Replicated Montastrea cavernosa were maintained for several weeks under lighting of various strengths. Under strong light the tissue became paler due to enables the pigments to produce photoa smaller concentration of zooxanthellae pigments. In these specimens there protection remains unexplained. was a noticeable increase in green fluorescence. Analysis showed, however, that Our research also showed that inin this species the production of GFP-like pigments was not influenced by light creased growth was frequently seen under strength. The increased visibility of the green fluorescence in specimens under the lighting conditions that make higher strong light can be attributed to their lower density of zooxanthellae; the green pigment production possible. Perhaps fluorescence of the retracted tentacles is more perceptible externally. this means that the pigments perform a function in processes linked with growth ergy viewpoint their production and conservation are in the corals. The increased production of chromoprorelatively favorable for the coral when compared with teins in growth zones such as the apical polyps of Acroother proteins (Leutenegger et al. 2007b). However, the pora species likewise points in this direction. sometimes unusually high amounts of pigment deposBecause the pigments are very stable and each reited in the tissue nevertheless represent a significant inquires only one gene for its manufacture, from an enF LU O R E S C E N C E DAYL I G H T
vestment in energy for the animal—especially in terms of the “valuable” amino acids that are required as building blocks for the manufacture of the pigments. For this reason it can be assumed that conditions that generally favor growth in these corals are further prerequisites for the production of the pigments.
I N F LU E N C E O N T H E V I S I B I L I T Y O F T H E H O S T P I G M E N TS
An increase in the blue component of the lighting can, in certain cases, actually improve the perception of colors by the observer. As mentioned above, the fluorescent members of the family of GFP-like proteins are stimulated by light of certain wavelengths. Blue-green or green fluorescent proteins emit greenish light after stimulation
with blue light. This fluorescence is amplified by an increased blue component in the lighting. In addition, the shift in the spectral distribution of the lighting leads to reduced reflection of green and red light by the decor and substrate. This in turn results in heightened contrast: the green “glow” of the corals can be better perceived against the “darker” background. This effect is at its most pronounced under exclusively blue-light illumination: in this situation the visible green light is produced almost entirely by the fluorescent pigments and hence is particularly noticeable to the observer. However, an increased blue component doesn’t affect the visibility of the individual pigments of the family of GFP-like proteins in equal measure. The colorfulness of the non-fluorescent chromoproteins results from the
I N F LU E N C E O F B LU E L I G H T O N T H E G F P - L I K E P R OT E I N P I G M E N TS
Species 1 Pigment 2 Blue light–induced ripening (photoconversion) Increase in production via blue light
Fluorescence under blue light
Lobophyllia hemprichii Montastrea cavernosa Trachyphyllia geoffroyi Echinophyllia sp. Euphyllia glabrescens Acropora pulchra Acropora millepora Montipora digitata Hydnophora grandis Seriatopora hystrix
RFP CFP CFP GFP RFP CFP RFP RFP GFP CFP CP (blue) CFP GFP RFP CP (pink) CP (blue) RFP CFP CFP CP (pink)
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1 In some cases, not all color types were studied. 2 CFP = Cyan (blue-green) Fluorescent Protein, GFP = Green Fluorescent Protein, RFP = Red Fluorescent Protein, CP = non-fluorescent chromoprotein (color in parentheses) 3 Increase to only moderate light intensities (400 μmol photons/m2/s) 4 Downregulation at increased light intensities (>100–400 μmol photon/m2/s)
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reflection of irradiated red and blue light. Depending on the pigment involved, the result is a different mixture of these light colors and hence a palette of pink, violet, or blue color shades. The visible colorfulness is reduced by an increased blue component in the lighting, and under pure blue light the colors are no longer visible. The orange-red fluorescence proteins exhibit their fluorescence mainly when stimulated by yellow-green light (Wiedenmann et al. 2002). We should thus expect that their colorfulness will likewise largely disappear under illumination with blue light. This is, in fact, true of the red fluorescent protein in Acropora millepora, for example. By contrast, however, orange-red varieties of various corals such as Lobophyllia hemprichii and Montipora digitata exhibit intense fluorescence under blue light. This can be explained by the presence of green fluorescent by-products that can occur, sometimes in considerable quantities, during the ripening of the red pigments (Baird et al. 2000). Because these green fluorescent proteins (with the exception of the color-pigment group) are identical with the red end products, the result is reciprocal effects between the two forms on a molecular level. If the green fluorescent forms are then stimulated by blue light, they transmit the stored energy to the closely adjacent red fluorescent molecules. These then exhibit their characteristic red glow (Wiedenmann et al. 2004). This indirect stimulation, known as the Förster
transfer, explains the intense red fluorescence of various species under blue light.
ZO OXA N T H E L L A E P I G M E N TS: V I S I B I L I T Y A N D P R O D U C T I O N O F G F P - L I K E P R OT E I N S
As already described earlier, the content of zooxanthellae pigments alters depending on the amount of light and the spectral composition. If it decreases, less blue light is absorbed. Under certain circumstances this free light can lead to better visibility of the GFP-like proteins. We observed this in Montastrea cavernosa: Under high light intensities the content of chlorophyll and peridinin in the tissue decreased, but the content of green and/or red fluorescent proteins didn’t change (Oswald et al. 2007, Leutenegger et al. 2007b). In the lower light state, however, the green fluorescence of the tentacles was more strongly stimulated because of the reduced shielding by the algae pigments, and produced the illusion of an increased amount of GFP. If the zooxanthellae population is smaller, more blue light will be reflected from the coral skeleton, resulting in an increase in the amount of blue light acting on the pigment-producing cells. In species where the activity of the pigment genes is regulated by light, such an increase may contribute to the stimulation of pigment production. The relationships described here may also explain why corals often exhibit an increase in colorful-
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ness when the nutrient content of the water decreases: the related reduction in the population of zooxanthellae may result in both better visibility and increased production of pigments.
S U M M A RY • Blue light is of major importance for the colorfulness of corals, and influences both the production of color pigments and their visibility. However, certain species and pigment groups react in different ways to changes in lighting. • GFP-like proteins are often responsible for the intense colors of corals. In order for a coral to be colorful, the genes that encode the pigments must be not only present but also sufficiently active. Certain species or color morphs never become colorful despite optimal light conditions. • In some species, pink, violet, and blue chromoproteins are produced only under sufficiently intense blue light. On the other hand, too high a blue component in the lighting can reduce the visibility of these pigments. In order to improve the visibility of these colors there should be adequate amounts of red light in the spectrum of the lamp(s). In our experience a high production of these proteins with simultaneous good visibility can be achieved with color temperatures of around 13,000 Kelvin.
• The production of certain green and red fluorescent proteins can be stimulated by an increased amount of blue light. However, in some cases blue-green fluorescent proteins were “turned down” under high light intensities. And not all species of corals react in the same way (see table). But in large-polyp stony corals the amount of light often appears to have no influence on the concentration of these pigments in the tissue. • Red fluorescent proteins from large-polyp stony corals often require violet-blue light for ripening, although low intensities are sufficient to effect this photoconversion. • The visibility of blue-green and green fluorescent proteins is improved by a high blue component in the lighting. On the other hand, pure blue light can have a negative effect on the visibility of red fluorescent proteins, if these aren’t stimulated indirectly via green fluorescent states. • If the nutrient content of the water decreases, then so will the zooxanthellae density in the coral tissue, and this may benefit both the visibility and the production of GFP-like pigments. • In the interests of the livestock, and in order to increase their colorfulness, efforts should be made to provide optimal conditions for growth. Only if the animals have adequate energy reserves can they synthesize GFPlike proteins in large quantities. Moreover, it appears that
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in some cases the production of these pigments is directly linked with growth processes. A lower nutrient content in the water can, under certain circumstances, have a positive effect on pigment production in some species. • When conducting experiments with altered light intensities, it should be noted that the adaptation of corals to increased amounts of light or an increased blue component in the lighting requires several days to weeks. If the animals are exposed too quickly to these new conditions, the result can be light shock and sudden loss of the zooxanthellae, which often leads to increased mortality in the corals. Bear in mind that as they have evolved, corals have adapted to different degrees of exposure to light in different parts of the reef. These genetically determined light-tolerance boundaries cannot be altered in the aquarium even by slow acclimatization. Animals from habitats with lower exposure to light, for example Lobophyllia hemprichii, will suffer under the intense lighting necessary for good growth in a number of reef-top Acropora species.
References Online: http://www.coralmagazine-us.com/content/blue-light-online-references
Acknowledgments: Our thanks to the German Research Foundation and the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) for financing our work on coral pigments. We would also like to thank TMC London and Tropic Marin for sponsoring the NOCS Coral Reef Tanks. Dr. Cecilia D’Angelo, born in 1972, studied biotechnology in Rosario, Argentina. In 2006 she graduated with distinction from the University of Münster in Germany for research on the molecular mechanisms of the stress response in plants. Since then she has been studying the effects of changes in environmental conditions on coral genes, at present as visiting scientist at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. Dr. Jörg Wiedenmann, born in 1969, studied biology in Ulm and graduated in 2000 for research on the biochemistry of fluorescent pigments in sea anemones, and subsequently obtained special qualifications in molecular biology and zoology. He is currently a senior lecturer and head of the Coral Reef Laboratory at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. He has received several awards for his research and teaching activities.
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Записки из подполья, or Notes from the Underground, the novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky, examines the inability to change one’s situation even though one’s very survival dictates that something must be done. Here we go into an aquatic underworld to explore an opposing premise: how it is possible to fundamentally enhance an aquarium’s environment by making a significant part of it more like the natural world. Of course, there are many ways to effect a change in an aquarium, most of which involve the trading of a relative large quantity of rubles or dollars for sometimes overengineered and often undertested product concepts, quite a few of them designed fundamentally to separate cash from aquarists. Daniel Knop, the founder of KORALLE, this magazine’s German forebear, has indicated in many of his recent essays that he wishes the aquarium hobby would move more toward natural management and less toward the technogroovy approach favored by so many aquarists. The establishment and maintenance of a Deep Sand Bed (DSB), or a functional sand ecosystem, in an aquarium provides an uncomplicated and easily maintained version of
by Linda Winkelhöfer
FAR LEFT: L. WINKELHÖFER; ALL OTHERS:D. KNOP
Deep Sand Beds
by Ronald L. Shimek, Ph.D.
Previous page: Spaghetti worm or terebellid. Above: Fireworm, one of the most efficient scavengers in any marine aquarium.
IT IS HI-FI Claiming that any reef aquarium component matches a natural ecosystem component would seem to take either a healthy dose of delusion, an excess of chutzpah, some
PREVIOUS PAGE & ABOVE: DENISE NIELSEN TACKETT
“nature’s way” to control many of the critical aspects of a reef aquarium. It is not a radical new idea, it is passing the test of time (often with flying colors), but it is still regarded with suspicion or even trepidation (see Mything Information, page 88) by many marine hobbyists. Comprised of the sediments and associated organisms found in a 4–6-inch (10–15-cm) layer of the proper sediments covering the aquarium bottom, a DSB is a natural way to assist in the management of the food, wastes, and nutrient balances in an aquarium. The live rock sits on, or in, this sand layer, which is turned into a functional sand bed ecosystem by the addition of populations of the appropriate organisms. Living in the proper physical habitat, a wide variety of worms, crustaceans, microorganisms, and bacteria help to reduce detritus, debris, and dissolved nutrients in an aquarium. Simultaneously, the growth of the populations of sand bed organisms recycles aquarium wastes and excess food into relatively large amounts of food, such as fine, bacterial, particulate organic material and invertebrate larvae, which are food for the decorative animals, such as corals, fishes, sponges, and other animals, that extract planktonic and particulate food from the water. Finally, the functionality of the sand bed assists in the resiliency of the aquarium by resisting and dampening out sudden deleterious changes.
really good data, or a generous mixture of all three. Most likely all three. But, interestingly enough, that is not the case! A functional DSB, with the appropriate sediment particle distributions and the proper animal, algal, and bacterial populations living within those sediments, is, by definition, a fully functional ecosystem. This probably seems crazy to some readers; after all, they might think an ecosystem is something like a forest or the lagoon of a coral reef atoll. And, yes, those are ecosystems. But a piece of discarded bread covered in mold, or the arctic rock with its thin lichen layer—or, for that matter, living human skin, with its populations of mites and bacteria— are also ecosystems. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a definition of an ecosystem that is both workable and scientifically valid: “An ecosystem is a biotic community together with its physical environment, considered as an integrated unit.” That’s it, the basic and simple definition of an ecosystem. And there is absolutely nothing in this definition that would exclude a well-constructed and wellmaintained DSB. A functional DSB contains a physical environment: the sediments and interstitial water and a biotic community, the sand bed organisms, and they function together as an integrated whole. As in almost all ecosystems, electromagnetic energy drives the system. In this case it enters the sand bed directly as light and indirectly as modified light energy stored in the chemical bonds in either dissolved organic nutrients or suspended particulate nutrients. Additional dissolved substances, mostly mineral ions, may also be used in the metabolic reactions of sand bed organisms. The biological processing of these substances, coupled with the elimination of wastes, results in the continual recycling and self-maintenance of
Top: mass of tentacles and no obvious burrow shows a hairworm, or cirratulid, eating detritus. Middle: gallery of worm tubes in author’s black lava sediment indicates a healthy DSB. Bottom: Filter-feeding bristleworm in a tube that is normally buried.
the sand bed biotic community. In an aquarium that is adequately and properly fed, a correctly established DSB will continue to function without any further intervention by the aquarist as long as the whole system is adequately maintained. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but the functionality, including the sediment types and the organism types, must be identical to that found in natural, normal, marine softsediment ecosystems. Finally, compared to the scale of everything else in a typical reef aquarium, a deep sand bed can have an astonishingly large surface area. I once calculated the surface area of the sediments in my 45-gallon (170-L) reef aquarium, which is 36 inches (91 cm) long by 12 inches (31 cm) wide, with an average sand bed depth of 4 inches (10 cm). With an average particle size of .125 mm, a good average size for a DSB, the total sand surface area is 14,828 square feet (1,378 square meters), or just slightly over one-third of an acre (.13 hectare). A 180-gallon tank with a 4-inch-deep sand bed would have an equivalent surface area one-third larger than an American football field.
PA R T S & PA R C E L S The physical environment of an aquarium deep sand bed must necessarily be constructed carefully, and with an eye toward detail. When I first proposed the DSB concept as part of an aquarium system in the early 1990s, I emphasized that the proper sediments were necessary for success. Drawing upon published accounts of subtidal sand ecosystems as well as my own research, I suggested that three specific sediment characteristics were necessary: 1. The sand should consist predominantly of grains less than 0.1 mm in diameter. 2. The average sand-grain size should be no more than 0.150 mm.
TOP & MIDDLE: RONALD L. SHIMEK; BOTTOM: DENISE NIELSEN TACKETT
3. The largest particles in the mixture should not exceed 1 mm. These were good criteria at the outset of the DSB concept, and remain good today. New products have become readily available, and it is obvious that some
Sand-sifting animals such as this sea star will eat beneficial worms and other small animals, killing the sand bed.
easily procured bagged sands can work just fine. These sands generally list their overall sediment characteristics and, provided some care is taken to choose the closest match to the unobtainable ideal sand, the commercially available sands perform quite satisfactorily. Now when people ask, I suggest that as long as the larger grain sizes, with diameters exceeding 2 mm, comprise less than 10 percent of the mixture, and the average grain size is near or below 0.5 mm, the sediment should work. Of course, the sediment composition is immaterial as long as it isn’t toxic. Available choices include CaribSea’s Aragamax Sugar Sized Sand, ESV’s Oolitic Aragonite Reef Sand, and others.
and to some extent behave similarly, even though they may not be related at all. In biological interactions, “might almost always makes right.” In evolutionary terms, this means those individuals whose adaptations are superior will generally prevail. The capability to exploit sediment environments is directly related to the physical force that can be brought to bear on the substrates. As a result, there is a gradient of sediment exploitational ability. At one end of the gradient are animals large enough to exert enough force to displace large volumes of sediment, while at the other end of the gradient there are animals so small that they may spend their entire lives on one sand grain or slithering through the very small spaces between sand grains. Ranging in size from that of a large bratwurst down to about the size of a flea, the true infauna are between the two size extremes of sediment-exploiting animals. Typically, infaunal animals move by eating their way through the sediments and passing the sediments through their bodies, digesting organic materials in the process. They may also burrow through the sediments by pushing the sediments aside. Although the larger ones may leave obvious impressions on the sediment surface, the activities of most infauna are largely invisible. As a result of their activities, the sediment environment is often vastly modified. For example, some crustaceans
E X P LO I TAT I O N A sand bed and its infauna are a lot like the classic chicken and the egg, only in this case we know from the fossil record that sediment came first, far pre-dating the appearance of animals that could exploit this habitat. Although it might seem logical that the exploitation of the sediment habitat would occur early in the evolution of animal life, that was not the case; living within sediment obviously is difficult and puts significant constraints on the animals that would live in it. Animals in sediments find it difficult to move, to respire, to separate food from the sediments, and definitely neither least nor last, to reproduce. As a result, it took a long time for natural selection to effect enough changes in baseline ancestral animals for some of their descendants to efficiently exist as the “infauna,” those animals living in sediments. The obvious structural similarities that allow these animals to live within sediments also characterize and group them together. Consequently, many of the animals that aquarists obtain for their sand beds tend to look alike,
Tanaid, a small and highly beneficial crustacean commonly found as a hitchhiker in sand beds. They feed on detritus and pump water into the sand bed.
TOP: DENISE NIELSEN TACKETT; BOTTOM: RONALD L. SHIMEK
While small featherduster worms often thrive in a deep sand bed, large ornamental specimens require heavy feedings of phytoplankton.
DENISE NIELSEN TACKETT
and polychaete worms create networks and galleries of tunnels, allowing water to move easily through the sediments. They also modify sediments by removing some organic materials and adding others. Organisms from many different animal groups are found within the size ranges that comprise the infauna. It should be obvious that animals in this size range are the sedimentary infauna that aquarists must utilize in their deep sand beds. Smaller animals and many other organisms also live in the sediments. They include protists, small organisms with bodies that, depending upon one’s point of view, are composed of either no cells or just one cell, as well as many different types of unicellular algae and various microbes. In natural communities, the absolute biomass of these minute organisms might at any one time far exceed the combined biomass of all other organisms found in the ecosystem. The abundance and importance of these very small organisms, particularly the bacteria, is inferred by their effects on the rest of the sand bed ecosystem and the aquarium as a whole. And, frankly, that importance cannot be overstated.
And their role in the sand bed is absolutely essential for its proper functioning. An old biological saying, “form follows function,” means an organism’s shape is dictated by its function; that is, by examining an organism’s attributes, the functions of those attributes may become obvious. The infauna are typically small, thin, somewhat deformable cylindrical animals that are long for their width. Additionally, most are able to exert significant pressure with their heads or front ends, allowing them to push or shove sediments aside. Taxonomically, the most common infaunal worms that make their way into aquaria are typically from the phylum Annelida, the segmented worms; however, functional “worms” are not restricted to that group. Possibly the best examples of animals that are functionally, but not taxonomically, worms are the long, thin, sediment-dwelling crustaceans, such as the tanaids, and some isopods and amphipods that are found rather commonly in marine aquaria. The macro-infauna consists of all sediment-dwelling species, no matter what their taxonomy, that are large enough to be sieved out of sediments using a mesh with 0.5 mm holes.
V E R M I F O R M: I T ’S A WAY O F L I F E In any article about sand beds, it is necessary to discuss “worms,” because only if we know a bit about worms can we understand their important role in the sand bed.
T H E WO R M S G O I N, T H E WO R M S G O O U T… It is the actions of the infauna that converts a pile of sand in the bottom of an aquarium into an ecosystem. In nature, animals of virtually all ecological types, from active, highly mobile predators to the scavengers of the discarded leftovers of life, live in sand, all playing their roles to a perfection controlled by the amount of nutrient input. Materials containing dissolved and solid nutrients entering the sediments are processed by the infauna. The efficiency of this processing is not fixed; rather, it is dependent on the number and types of organisms in the sediments and probably varies, quite literally from moment to moment, exactly as it does in nature. In the simplest situation, some sort of generalized scavenger eats the detritus that makes it way to the sediments. The scavenger’s urine contains metabolic wastes, mostly ammonium ions, which are utilized by bacteria or cyanobacteria, and eventually leave the sand bed as dissolved nitrogen gas or as bacterial particulate material. Food that is indigestible by the scavengers, their feces, remains in or on the sediments, where bacteria break it down to its basic constituents. Alternatively, these wastes are colonized by unicellular algae such as diatoms. In a short
It would seem that building an ecosystem in an aquarium would be difficult, but that is not true. In fact, it is probably too easy, as it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security and neglect the subsequent maintenance.
1. The sand bed needs to be at least 4 inches deep over
2. The sand composition is immaterial as long as the sand
the full footprint of the aquarium being used. The sediment should be comprised of small particles: the majority of them should be less than 0.250 mm in diameter, and there should be no more than about 5% that are 2.0 mm in diameter or larger. It is easiest to add sand to the tank and then add water. If the sand is added to a water-filled tank, have no more than a couple of inches of water in the tank. does not contain any toxic minerals such as fluorite. Calcium carbonate sands, either calcite or aragonite, are fine, as are silica sand and black lava sand. The sand bed sand is not to be used to maintain the calcium or alkalinity of the tank water. Those have to be maintained separately. The pH swings necessary to cause much dissolution of aragonitic sand result in significant damage to all animals in the system. simply moist sand with some bacteria already in it. Normal bacterial colonization will “catch up” to the amount in bagged “live” sand with a few days. I would not waste my money on this material. in before adding the sand.
12. If live rock was added, the bacteria on and in the live
13. Add infauna. In all cases, make certain the tank’s “cy-
rock, as well as the bacteria from the air and environment, will rapidly colonize the sand. If only “dead” base rock was added, the bacteria from the air and environment will rapidly colonize the sand. Putting a piece of decaying shrimp in the tank to “start the cycle” is unnecessary.
14. Do not add any infauna until the tank has been set up
cling” is complete. In other words, don’t add any animals until the ammonium and nitrite ion levels are undetectable and the nitrate levels are low. Remember, the sand infauna are animals that are adapted to living in the sand, they are NOT adapted to toxic or harsh conditions. and fed for at least two weeks. The infauna are deposit(= bacterially covered sediments) or detritus-feeding animals. There has to be food in the sediment for them to feed on. If added to brand-new, out-of-the-bag, “sterile” sand, they will starve before enough food is incorporated into the sediments. added, both in amount and in diversity.
3. It is unnecessary to purchase bagged “live” sand. This is 4. If the tank has plumbing lying in the sand bed, put this
15. ry to maximize the variety of live material that is T
16. There are two major sources of sand bed fauna. It is
5. Layer the sand on the tank bottom. The sand should not 6. The sand bed should be at least 4 inches (10 cm) deep, 7. Live rock may be either placed on the sand, or placed
on the bare bottom of the tank and the sand poured around it. or 1.026 at 82°F [27°C]). be rinsed, because the “fines,” or very small sediment particles, facilitate the colonization of the sediments by beneficial bacteria. but no more than 6 inches (15 cm) deep. Deeper sands do work better, but the larger animals needed to colonize them are not available in the hobby.
17. The second source of sand bed fauna is from “accidental” sources.
possible to get most, if not all, of the minimum requirement of animals by purchasing them from vendors. Two online vendors in particular, Inland Aquatics (www. inlandaquatics.com) and Indo-Pacific Sea Farms (www. ipsf.com), sell reasonable sets or “kits” of animals that will reproduce in aquaria and completely populate a sand bed. I highly recommend them both. There is some overlap in what these two vendors sell, but it is of significant benefit to get materials from different vendors, so that the full array of possible animals is added to the system.
8. Add water with normal reef salinity (35 to 37 PSU; 1.025 9. Install a heater and maintain the temperature at reef 10. Adjust water flow in the tank; particularly make sure 11. Adjust lighting as necessary and maintain normally.
temperatures (82°F to 84°F).
that no powerheads or pump exhaust ports are aimed so they stir up the sand.
a. First, there is a product euphemistically called “live” rock. Would that it were alive, or rather had animal life on it! Too often, this rock is collected, whereupon the collectors and distributors attempt to kill all of the interesting, decorative, and useful animals living on or in it; unfortunately, they mostly succeed. In many cases these living remnants are juveniles of wild sand animals that had been, perhaps, living under the rock when it was collected. As with all wild collected animals, these creatures are a bit of a wild card; sometimes they are
very good and quite neat, sometimes they are pests and need to be removed. In most cases they are common and beneficial, if not spectacular in appearance. They live unseen in sand, so who cares what they look like. Be sure to get the highest quality rock possible and definitely not “boat rock” that is cheap but quite dead. b.Second, don’t neglect your local fish store! They get shipments of rock and specimens and often have tanks or vats containing mud, sand, sludge, or “gunk” (= a technical/scientific term meaning “gunk”). In some cases the stores will let a customer have a cup or so of this stuff for a nominal fee. If you are not a customer, you probably won’t be able to get it at all, so support your local folks. This material often has worms, crustaceans, and other sand-dwelling critters in it, and it is good stuff to add to your sand bed. It also, occasionally, has pests such as Aiptasia, so look it over carefully to remove potential pests. c.Finally, it is often possible to trade samples of sand at reef clubs or societies. All of these sources help to increase the diversity of the sand bed fauna, and that is definitely “A Good Thing.” many other aquarium animals, such as fishes and cleaner shrimp, will look upon these animals as snacks. So it is best to add sand fauna after dark, when most of the tank’s predators are not engaged in hunting. them through the sides of the tank and where they surface in the sediments. A large number of aquarists find that these animals are more than just functional, they are interesting and desirable in their own right. Once the animals have been in the system for a few weeks, the sand bed will start to provide its benefit to the whole system. As the ecosystem in the sand bed matures with the growth and reproduction of the various animals in it, not only will you have set up an automatic and natural filtration and recycling system, you will truly have a—fully functional—example of the largest ecosystem in this world of ours at the bottom of your glass or plastic box.
can be tricky. If there is a sand layer in the existing reef tank, it is best to remove it. Use a wide suction tube at least one inch in diameter, and siphon the sand out into a container that will hold it all, but in a wide, shallow, layer if possible. Once the sand layer has been removed, the sand layer for the new bed may be installed. The best way is to add it all at once. Lower the water level in the tank as much as possible before the new sand is added. Turn off all pumps, power heads, heaters, and so forth. Use a piece of 1½ inch or 2 inch PVC pipe that is about as long as the aquarium is deep. Additionally, you will want a wide-bore funnel. Put the funnel in the top of the PVC tube and proceed to add sand to the tank, placing the outflow of the pipe next to the bottom. Spread the new sand over the bottom until it is about ½ inch deep and completely covers the bottom. If you don’t want the sand bed to cover the bases of the live rocks, lift them out of the water and place them on the sand. Otherwise, just complete the bottom sand layer and then add another ½ inch layer on top of it. Repeat this until the total depth of the sand layer is four inches or slightly more. Live rocks may now be placed on or imbedded a couple of inches into the sand layer for stability. Go to Step 8 above and continue from there.
18. When adding the sand animals, remember that
19. After the infauna are fauna in your tank, observe
“Sugar-fine” oolitic sand in a healthy deep sand bed.
dding a sand bed ecosystem to an existing reef lacking such an essential component is logistically somewhat harder than starting from scratch, but it can be done. This addendum needs to be used in conjunction with the instructions given above. Obviously the sand needs to have the same physical properties as in a new sand bed, but adding sand to an existing reef
If there was a previously installed sand layer that was removed, that layer may contain some useful animals. These animals can be added after the new sand is in place in the tank. If the old sand layer had the same sediment size as the new bed, the old layer can be “sprinkled” or layered over the new bed to a depth of about ½ inch, and the animals will colonize the new bed. If the old layer was made of coarser sand than the new bed, which is the normal situation, it may be possible to use a turkey baster to collect animals out of the old layer and put the animals into the new bed. The coarse sand should be discarded after all the harvestable animals are removed from it. An easier route, of course, is to have a remote DSB in your sump or refugium, following the rules about not having the sand bed be vulnerable to physical disturbances.
Hairworms, or cirratulids, crawl through the substrate, while true “spaghetti worms” live in deep burrows. (See pages 78–9.)
Small carnivorous Peppermint Snail, Hyalina albolineata, a Caribbean species that cleans up uneaten food and carrion.
time, any material not directly consumed by the animals is either incorporated into the sediments or dissolved away into the water mass. Finally, and exceptionally critically, the organisms’ movements pull aerated water into the sediments, flushing particulate and dissolved materials out of the sediments and into the tank’s water mass for consumption and recycling. Such a simple biological system is not very efficient, but it works. Its effectiveness in an aquarium depends on three things: the number and types of the scavengers, coupled with the rate of nutrient input. Ideally, and often, the scavengers’ capabilities and nutrient inputs are balanced and linked. Normally, changes in the nutrient input caused by changes in feeding or by the variation of livestock change the number of scavengers. More or less food entering the sediments controls the scavengers’ reproductive rates and, after a lag period, their populations increase or drop to adjust to the new food levels. Although simple systems adjust to small nutrient changes, they are easily overwhelmed, particularly by rapid changes. If the nutrient levels get too high, excessive nutrients build up in the sediments. In turn, this causes increases in the bacterial populations, coupled with increases in bacterial respiration and a drop in the sediment oxygen level. When the oxygen concentration drops, so does the scavenger population, and the system cascades into a crash resulting in excessive nutrient buildup in the aquarium. Simple systems dominated by populations of one major scavenger species are common in aquaria and are not uncommon in the real world, particularly in areas with either very little, or too much, nutrient input. In both natural and aquarium habitats possessing only a
few types of scavengers, the sizes of the scavenger populations are ultimately limited—or controlled—by the amount of food entering the system. However, in natural populations, the types of scavengers are drawn from a potentially large number that might be found in the region, and may adjust over time to large changes in nutrient input levels. In aquariums, however, the scavenger types are limited to those that have been added by the aquarist, and the ability to adjust is limited to smaller fluctuations. When those scavenger populations increase to saturate the available habitats, the system reaches its maximum processing capability. As a result of this limitation, sand beds have to be monitored to assess the animal populations, and aquarium feeding must be kept within the limits of the organisms to process it. It is obviously to an aquarist’s advantage to try to increase the number and types of animals living in the sand bed. Increases in both of these parameters provide different and additional utilization sequences for any given food item to follow on its way to disappearance. Such alternative “pathways” for nutrient “flow” through the sediment environment increase the efficiency of nutrient processing and prevent the buildup of nutrients in the sediments. They also increase the processing capability of the DSB with regard to the nutrient input of the whole system. Finally, the more energy and nutrient pathways in an ecosystem, the more robust is that system, all other things being equal. In a nut-clam shell, the higher the number and the more different types of animals living in the DSB, the more animals and the more different types can be supported as decorative livestock in the aquarium, and the more stable and resilient is the entire system.
TK ALL: RONALD L. SHIMEK
A L L T H E S A N D B E D ’S A S TAG E… Wild sand beds are home to diverse arrays of thousands of species. The composition of the animal assemblage will vary depending upon the physical parameters, the types and rates of nutrient input, and the various other animals present. In most healthy sediment ecosystems, these assemblages are often dominated by one to several polychaete/bristleworm species, burrowing crustaceans, deposit-feeding clams or, occasionally, echinoderms. Any of these species would be wonderful additions to a DSB. Unfortunately, the odds of getting any of these species is nil. Most of the truly desirable infauna, the small burrowing animals that consume relatively large quantities of organic material, are only very occasionally found in aquaria; in those cases that I know about, they probably entered the tanks on some semi-live rock or live sand. Fortunately, a few highly beneficial annelids are more or less commonly found and easily available to aquarists. Other than small fireworms, which will construct burrows in the upper sediment layers, the infaunal worms most commonly seen for sale are the highly desirable hairworms or cirritulids, family Cirritulidae. They are often misidentified as terebellid worms, but that is of little consequence; because they remain ignorant of the terrible terebellid slur, they behave like the good hairworms they are, which is great, as they are more beneficial than any terebellid could be. Hairworms differ from terebellids in a number of ways, but the most obvious characteristic that will distinguish them are their tentacles. The hairworms’ tentacles arise from all over the body; the terebellids’ tentacles all come from a single small region on their heads. Terebellids, including those known as spaghetti worms, live in semi-permanent tubes or burrows and their long tentacles all come from the single burrow
Tiny Seed Shrimp, or ostracodes, are common detritivores in deep sand beds, usually arriving with live rock and live sand.
opening and collect particles, which they convey back to the animal’s mouth. In contrast, infaunal hairworms do not live in permanent burrows but move slowly through the sediments eating detritus particles. Some of their fine, hair-like, red tentacles extend though the sediments to the surface, where they are often seen wiggling in the water, fulfilling their function as gills. Occasionally, hairworms can be seen crawling up on the aquarium’s rockwork, presumably in pursuit of a flock of the wily detritus particles. There are also an immense number of small—and some not so small—infaunal crustaceans found in most natural sand communities. Few of the specialized infaunal crustaceans are specifically purchasable by hobbyists. Fortunately, however, it is possible to obtain some common, more or less generalized beneficial amphipods, isopods, and occasionally, a few other “pods” for the sand bed. Many of these animals are quite small, but fortunately they reproduce well in tanks and often form large populations of useful detritivores. While most of the infaunal worms are beneficial, or at least neutral, with regard to other aquarium inhabitants, that is, unfortunately, not the case with the crustaceans. Other than the small, common, and generally helpful amphipods and copepods, other infaunal crustaceans are often found in aquaria, probably making their way into tanks in the crevices of live rock. Some of these, such as tanaids, long, thin crustaceans that live in tubes, are beneficial and desirable. Infaunal mollusks form a huge and diverse array; however, the mollusks most commonly associated with living in sediments are the clams. There are quite a sizeable number of deposit-feeding clam species that would be great sand bed animals, if only we could 1) get them, and 2) ensure they had enough food. Unfortunately,
A predatory isopod, one of the few “hitchhiking” pests that will attack both fishes and the hands of the aquarium keeper.
ALL: RONALD L. SHIMEK
Important Mything Information about Sand Beds
Although all aspects of the reef aquarium hobby are subject to the evolution of mything links, the myths that have developed about sand beds specifically need to be addressed. A few of these misleading or wholly inaccurate ideas about sand beds have gems of entertaining stories contained within them; they await only a good videographer and computer graphics artist to go viral. The best is probably the legend of the eruption of the sulfide volcano. It goes something like this. Joe the Aquarist sets up an aquarium that contains a biotope of a distant South Seas reef, complete with sand bed and a normal fish complement. As a result, it is necessary to heavily feed the tank. Everything goes well for a period ranging from a couple to a few years. I have heard “factual accounts” (“True!” they swear) stating that two, three, or five years passed before THE problem became evident. Excitingly evident. Our aquarist comes home one evening after a hard day managing the rat race, pours the usual refreshing glass of absinthe, grabs a small dish of psilocybins out of the veggie bin, and sits down to enjoy watching the tank, which for some reason hasn’t been doing as well lately as once was the case. All of a sudden, the sand bed starts to bulge upward, shivers in a sand-bed quake, and a giant, sandy, pustule-like volcano erupts, ejaculating a blackish globule of foul fluid, which surrounds a bubble of—what can only be, it has to be, it IS hydrogen sulfide gas. As this bubble makes its way to the water’s surface it engulfs the (pick one or more: largest, most expensive, or spouse’s favorite) fish, whose eyes immediately glaze over as it goes “fins up” and dies. And, of course, the cause of all of this disorder and devastation is, and can only be, of course and naturally, the sand bed. Is it possible to determine what the aquarist actually saw? Probably not. While I normally don’t accuse folks that ask me questions of being fabricators of the truth, there are a number of reasons why this tale is suspect. First, I have heard several almost identical versions of this event, most of them initially making their appearance almost simultaneously during a period of online acrimony several years ago. Then, there is the problem of reality and hydrogen sulfide. Certainly, very small amounts of this material can and frequently are made in reef tanks by the anoxic decomposition of proteinaceous material. But, only very
by Ronald L. Shimek, Ph.D.
small amounts will be made. It is made where some substrate encloses or seals off some proteinaceous matter, such as excess food, or the corpse of some reef animal, so that no water moves through the sediments surrounding the debris. Hydrogen sulfide is the result of anaerobic bacterial decomposition, and when it is made, it generally stays where it was made, until the substrate is disturbed in some manner. Then often some black sediment or debris is noticed and the foul sulfide odor is apparent. The odor is often referred to as being a “rotten egg” smell. The number of people these days who actually have smelled a rotting egg is pretty small. It stinks. And profoundly! Hydrogen sulfide is exceptionally toxic, far more so than most people realize, and natural selection has adapted our olfactory systems to detect it in parts per trillion concentrations. As a result, when we smell the characteristic “rotten egg” smell of hydrogen sulfide, even at its seemingly unbearable strongest, there still is not enough of the material present to do us any harm. Enough hydrogen sulfide to make an eruptive bubble large enough to engulf a fish, or even a small part of a fish, would be so unbearable to our aquarist that he would literally have to run from the room. And I do mean run. The amount of hydrogen sulfide necessary to cause the stated effects (in other words, an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, very tiny amount of gaseous hydrogen sulfide), when it burst through the film of the air-water interface and was convected across the room to be inhaled by the aquarist, would stimulate the olfactory epithelium so intensely that the respiratory musculature would be paralyzed. The aquarist would have to run from the room to get into “clean” air. Initially, he wouldn’t or couldn’t smell this pungent gas, as the concentration of the gas would be too high and the specific odor receptors would
be overwhelmed. Within a couple of seconds—which would seem much longer—he would be able to breathe as the gas diffused away from the nasal epithelium, and then the smell would hit him. These effects would be so evident, nobody would describe the event without mentioning them. Second, it would take a relatively immense amount of protein decomposition to produce enough gas to do the deed as described. However, that decomposition does not and cannot occur in isolation. Because of the amount of H2S necessary for the described effects, and the total lack of oxygen necessary for the generation of H2S, so many other things would have had to go wrong in the tank prior to the eruption that the tank would have been in severe and noticeable distress well before the gas erupted. It is likely it would either have had to be cleaned or disposed of; in other words, it could have never gotten that far. But, let’s assume for the moment that it did, and the gas was formed as a bubble, contained somehow in the sediments. When the bubble was somehow released, and it started to rise through the sediments and then into the water overlying the sediments, the H2S would be destroyed and converted into sulfate ions. Any mixture of oxygen and hydrogen sulfide is amazingly reactive. By the time our infamous bubble had risen even a short distance through the water, most of the sulfide would be gone, replaced by sulfate. If the gas encountered a fish, the mucous layer over the fish’s skin would protect it for a long enough period that all the sulfide would be destroyed. What could have happened, if a sand bed failed so badly as to cause such an excessive accumulation of hydrogen sulfide? The only way this could happen would be by intense and excessive overfeeding, coupled with the death or removal of all of the sediment infauna. In natural situations, such a pattern of organic enrichment may occur in areas such as sea grass beds where the buildup of decomposing vegetation will be the cause. Often the plants living in such areas have tubes in their tissues to allow the movement of atmospheric oxygen down to their roots, so that they can survive, but not much other than bacteria lives in the sediments. Similar concentrations of organic material also occur in highly polluted areas, such as near pulp-mill effluent discharges. In one such area I was consulted about, the sediment looked, and felt, like black mayonnaise, and to say it took your breath away was an understatement. In any case, alteration of the normal color and consistency of the aquarium sediments would give these changes away long before any problem could occur. Additionally, as long as oxygenated water was moving across the sediment surface the tank’s inhabitants would be safe. Hydrogen sulfide and oxygen together form an extremely reactive combination, and the sulfide in the presence of oxygen would be almost instantaneously oxidized to sulfate ion, which is non-toxic. As long as oxygenated water moves across the sediment-water interface, no sulfide ion can exist in the tank’s water. A similar situation occurs in most natural ponds in the temperate regions; the sediments in the pond immediately below the sediment-water interface is anoxic and full of sulfides, but fish live just fine millimeters above the interface
because no sulfide crosses the barrier. Only if all water movement over the sediments’ surface was stopped and the water itself was anoxic could sulfide ion persist in the tank’s water. In other words, none of the events in the described scenario (= myth) can occur in an aquarium. A second myth-take that is made is to say that sand beds cause something called “old-tank” syndrome. Supposedly, this is a slow and progressive cessation of the sand bed’s functionality with time, so that after about six or seven years, the bed is functioning as a “filter” at a much lower efficiency than it once did. Unlike hydrogen sulfide volcanism, this scenario has a hint of reality to it. The bad news is that sand beds can accumulate some materials over time, and those materials may impact the functionality of the sand bed. The good news is that this accumulation is uncommon and almost completely preventable. The detrimental materials that the beds can accumulate are toxins that enter the tank in very low concentrations and get bound into organic compounds and sequestered or precipitated into the sand bed. Problems can occur only if the material redissolves, and this is normally very unlikely. The primary materials that cause trouble are metals, especially the toxic heavy metals that are often called “trace elements.” These toxic materials are often added by aquarists in excessive amounts as additives for no good reason, as in most cases they become poisons in concentrations above those in natural sea water. In addition, most organisms get all the “trace elements” they can use from well-formulated foods. Fortunately, most organisms can deal with a bit of overdosing by binding the metal into large protein-metal complexes called metallothioneins. Such complexes are insoluble, and thus render these dangerous chemicals harmless. Additionally, in the deeper parts of sand beds where the dissolved oxygen concentration is very low, the pH will tend to rise, and that can cause these metals to bind with sulfide ions, which are present in very low concentrations. These metal sulfides are largely insoluble, as long as the pH is basic (= greater than 7). Can the buildup of these toxic materials occur in a reef tank? Certainly, but it takes long and diligent work on the part of the aquarist to foul things up that badly. First, one must almost literally pour in the additives containing the various toxic heavy metals. Generally, aquarium supplement manufacturers recognize that such materials are potentially toxic, and not wanting to kill the geese that shovel in the dollars, they tend to keep the amount of these materials in supplements at quite low levels. In most cases, actually more of these materials probably enter reef tanks in foods than in additives, and after they get excreted by animals and dissolve in the water they get bound directly into the algae that need them for growth. Fortunately, algae are often exported from reef tanks, keeping the level of trace metals low. Even so, however, some nutrients always make it to the sand bed, and if the sand bed’s infaunal organisms are ignored, allowed to perish, and are not replaced, excessive nutrients can be deposited in the sand bed, and the metals in them can build up to fairly high levels. Normally, with reasonable care and regular maintenance, this doesn’t occur, but it is a possibility.
they are not currently imported to be sold to aquarists. The largest group of purely sediment-living animals are the clams that feed on phytoplankton from the overlying water. While these clams would move around in the sediments to some extent, many burrowing clams actually move far less than most people think they do, and in any case, simply moving through the sediments is really not particularly beneficial. Finally, even a small filter-feeding clam needs to feed daily on a relatively huge amount of phytoplankton; obviously, they are not animals that should be considered as part of any aquarium’s sand bed faunal assemblage. Only a few sediment-dwelling mollusks, all snail species, are commonly found and able to persist in aquarCaption
CPR AQUATIC, INC
ium sand beds. The four most commonly found are: 1) the small generalized scavenger/predator, Hyalina albolineata, sold occasionally as “Peppermint Snails;” 2) any of a number of similar species of, often, burrowing deposit/detritus-feeding snails with tall spires and more or less round apertures, referred to as “ceriths;” 3) some small columbellids, probably in the genus Euplica or Pyrene; and 4) some specialized carrion-eating whelks in one specific genus, Nassarius. Peppermint Snails are scavengers as much as predators, and as such they feed on decaying animals. Ceriths are highly beneficial deposit/detritus-feeders, and some species reproduce well in aquariums as well. The small columbellids also reproduce in some reef aquaria, and feed on algae growing in the sediments and on hard surfaces. Nassarius species are a special case: although they live in sediments, they forage on the sediment surface, not within the sediments. They feed only on carrion or meaty foods. They are not detritus-feeding animals and their specialized diet means that most tanks cannot support more than two or three AERO FORCE RCE CE Nassarius unless some special effort is made to feed them. And even so, they need to be in tanks that get a lot of meaty foods. F Features Features Individuals of a few echinoderm species are sold as sand bed animals. The most Recirculating Protein Skimmer Design beneficial of these are a number of serRemovable, Dual-body Construction pent/brittle stars. These range in size from Quiet, Energy Efficient Operation some with a magnificent span across their Adjustable Collection Cup arms of 1/8 to ¼ of an inch (2 to 5 mm), to Hang-on-the-back Design larger animals more than a foot (30 cm) in Degassing Water Return diameter. While sediment-dwelling brittle Easy Installation stars are often generalized as “anything” feeders, most are predatory if they get the chance and most will eat any animals BlacK Background - NEW Black they can catch—including fish. The small Black Inlet/Outlet - NEW ones, however, can’t catch much and most sand-dwelling animals can generally escape these stars. As a result, most of the ones hobbyists maintain eat excess food, and they are exceptionally good at obtaining and converting it into brittle-star flesh. Includes The smallest brittle stars reproduce well Feed Pump in aquaria, either by spawning or asexuProtein Skimmer Pump Dual-body Skimmer ally splitting or both, and many tanks will Waste Collection Cup eventually develop a large population even if only a few are introduced. Interestingly enough, some tanks don’t seem to ever be able to support a population of these animals, probably because they face competition from some other sediment-dwelling animals. www.cprusa.com There are quite a few infaunal sea cucumber species, and representatives of a
few species are routinely found in the hobby, most often under the name of “medusa” worms. Many sea cucumbers, when stressed, may release primarily fish-specific toxins. This happens very rarely, but it does happen, probably just often enough that it is of some concern. There are two functionally different types of infaunal sea cucumbers. The first of these are effectively echinoderm worms, and much like hairworms, they burrow into and eat their way through the sediments. These animals remain buried out of sight, and once put into an aquarium, generally disappear. Forever. The other group of infaunal sea cucumbers are suspension-feeding animals. While they live in sediments, they will extend tentacles into the water to feed on plankton. Most suspensionfeeding animals don’t do well in aquaria, and these cukes are no exception. There are also a wide variety of sediment-dwelling sea urchins called “irregular” sea urchins because they are not spherical like the “regular” kind. Known by the names sea biscuits, heart urchins, or sand dollars, they may either eat particulate organic material, algae, or organically enriched sediments. Although most of these animals are too big to be considered as good animals for aquarium sand beds, there are a couple of very tiny species of heart urchins and sand dollars that could do well in aquaria if they were available, provided the aquaria had rich enough sediments from good feeding.
infauna, the very animals that keep the sand bed functional, while the second type are those animals that bulldoze their way through the sediment disrupting and killing the necessary infauna. Adding sand-sifting animals is one of the quicker, but more expensive, ways to render a functional sand bed not only useless but deleterious. Other animals that trash a sand bed, although somewhat more slowly than the sand sifters, are predators that search for and eat near-surface infauna. Many of these predators are those animals known as “decapod” crustaceans; these are the crabs, shrimp, hermit crabs and their kin. They are all perfectly fine animals, and some of them are quite decorative and interesting. However, decapods are typically generalized omnivorous predator/
SAND-BED KILLERS A few types of animals commonly for sale in the hobby will effectively kill a sand bed. Their presence in an aquarium is guaranteed to turn a nicely functional sand bed into a stinking, nutrient-ridden sediment mess. First and foremost are the so-called “sand-sifting” animals. The concept that a sand bed needs to be “sifted” reminds me of the old movie, Dumb and Dumber, because it was probably conceived of by one of the mental giants who thought that all bristleworms are dangerous and should be removed from aquaria, truly a classic amongst dumb aquarium ideas. The concept of sand-sifting is yet another a perfect example of a masterpiece of faulty reasoning and, if anything, is a dumber aquarium idea. A sand bed needs to be sifted just as often as a live rock pile does, and for the same reasons. Two kinds of animals “sift” sand; the first type are predators, such as “sand-sifting sea stars,” that move through the sediments to find and eat the
M Y CM MY CY CMY K
Harpatecoid copepods will reproduce in the DSB and yield a supply of live foods for small fishes and corals.
Filter-feeding sea cucumber buried in fine substrate is a typical member of a natural sand bed community.
Side view of amphipod, a substrate-dwelling crustacean and an excellent detritivore.
Feeding palps of a buried Chaetopterid or Spionid worm.
LO N G E V I T Y It used to be considered that the animals in aquarium sand beds needed to be replenished every year or so. Until recently, I thought that the animals comprising the aquarium sand bed fauna, particularly the important polychaetes, did not reproduce well in aquaria. They appeared to die off over the course of a year as if they were,
A Chaetopterid worm in its tube.
in fact, members of annual species. As far as was known, that was often the case in nature. Many infaunal species began life as spawned gametes, which get fertilized and develop in the plankton only to settle out into the appropriate habitats after a short period of development.
TOP RIGHT, LEFT & MIDDLE LEFT: RONALD L. SHIMEK; MIDDLE RIGHT & BOTTOM: LARRY TACKETT
scavengers, actually rather like humans. These animals really eat anything they can catch, find, or kill. Like humans, they eat everything they can catch without regard for the consequences. Humans should know better; the crabs’ brains probably aren’t large enough for those sorts of thoughts. In any case, the slow-moving or immobile worms, smaller crustaceans, and various mollusks living in or on the sediments are nothing but a presumably flavorful dinner for these animals. Decapod crustaceans are some of my favorite animals, and I have kept many of them as interesting “pets.” While a few of them in a large tank with a healthy DSB will probably not cause severe damage to it, they are not animals that can coexist with a DSB in a small enclosed volume.
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The animals would then live for a year or so, feeding and growing, until after about a year the adults would die after spawning to start the cycle all over. It seemed obvious that this cyclic life pattern of life stages could not be successfully accomplished in the aquarium. As a result, I recommended that aquarists replenish their sand bed fauna with some purchased replacement animals about every year or so, and I did so myself. More recently it has become apparent that the “obvious” inability to complete the life cycles did exist. However, the cause of this inability was misunderstood. It was an artifact of the way in which the systems were fed. In an earlier article in CORAL, I described a feeding methodology that results in the addition of a lot of small planktonic animals, such as Artemia nauplii and other things, to a tank. In my tank where that has occurred there has been no sign of a need to replace the sediment fauna even after several years. In fact, the sediment animal populations seem to be getting more and more dense and abundant. There is, fortunately, an easy test to see if replenishment is necessary. The aquarist must observe, through the aquarium’s walls, the sediment in the upper 2 inches (5 cm) of the sand bed. Using a good magnifying glass or hand lens, it is necessary to note the number of worms, worm tubes, crustaceans, and other animals in the sediments. There should be numerous animals visible, at least three to five animals along each inch of the wall. Probably the best way to do this test is to mark off 10 inches (25 cm) and count all the visible animals, and then calculate the average. If the average value is less than three animals per inch, replenish the sand by purchasing some more critters. If it is between three and five animals per inch (1 animal per 5 to 8 mm), replenishment is not necessary, but the system should be examined monthly to see if replenishment becomes necessary. If there are more than five animals per inch (or one animal per 5 mm) then no replenishment is necessary. In essence, the secret to maintaining a sand bed in the best of health is exactly the same as the secret to maintaining the rest of the tank in the best of health: feed it well! A well and properly fed tank and its sand bed will be functional as long as one wants to maintain the system. As long as there is no addition of toxic trace elements or other extraneous materials, and as long as the biological load of the system is within the range of what would be found in nature in a comparable volume, then the system will remain stable. Those aquarium systems with abnormally high bioloads, for example, having too many fish or an overload of decorative invertebrates for the volume of the sand, will be inherently unstable and will need to be managed very carefully. A deep sand bed would not be a useful addition to such systems. For many others, however, it is a low-tech, low-maintenance, truly “natural,” and, once you look closely, fascinating way to manage aquarium wastes and water quality.
This alga looks like one of those green plastic scouring pads that are sold in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket. Unremarkable, not very attractive, even ugly? But it is a miracle weapon in the marine aquarium hobby. • by Daniel Knop
haetomorpha is a genus of green algae with around 50 species. It forms dense mats of unbranched, single-row strands of cells; the individual cells, which can be seen by the naked eye on close observation, are cylindrical and thick-walled and the strands look wiry and bristle-like. Chaetomorpha linum is the species best known in the aquarium hobby. Its strands are 0.25–0.5 mm thick. In its natural habitat it grows in shallow water among other species of algae. It is found worldwide, not only in the tropics (central Indo-Pacific, Indian Ocean, Australia), but also on the American North Atlantic coast (Florida), in the North Sea and the Baltic, in the Mediterranean, and even in some parts of the Pacific. The enormous distribution demonstrates the fantastic adaptability of these algae. Not all Chaetomorpha species grow especially fast, but in this species the growth rate is truly phenomenal.
H I D D E N B E N E F I TS There is no question that on the face of it there are more attractive algae than Chaetomorpha for the marine aquarium—calcareous algae of the genus Halimeda, sponge-like algae of the genus Codium, or
Chaetomorpha linum, opposite page, with oxygen bubbles. A clump, left, looks like a plastic pot scrubber. On closer inspection, the individual cells can be seen with the naked eye, above. Unlike Caulerpa, this species does not leak toxins.
the wine-red Halymenia—the list is long. So why in the world would anyone bother with these shapeless, plump cushions of algae? Quite simply, because they have benefits that aren’t readily apparent. My first encounter with Chaetomorpha took place 25 years ago, largely by chance, when just one tiny, crinkly green algal strand suddenly sprouted in one of my soft-coral aquaria. At first I was merely curious to see what it would grow into. Somewhat later I became impressed with the enormous growth potential of this algal hitchhiker. Within a few months, it had proliferated so dramatically that it completely filled a 10-foot-long (3-m) slimline sump with a single rectangular “pillow.” And all that from one tiny algal strand! During this burgeoning it had solved one of my most serious problems: it had brought a dramatic proliferation of Gambierdiscus toxicus, toxic dinoflagellates, to a standstill—something that, in those days, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve in any other way (Knop 2009). To put it bluntly, I’ve felt a great respect for these algae for a quarter of a century. In fact, however, it is neither sensible nor advisable to cultivate Chaetomorpha species in a reef tank among corals. It would also be pointless to grow it even in an algae-only marine aquarium, which is, unfortunately, virtually nonexistent. So what can the aquarist do with this wiry green potscrubber? A whole lot of things, as it turns out. Chaetomorpha species are ideally suited for an algae
ALL: D. KNOP
Opposite page: Chaetomorpha linum is being used here to mature a new tank and prevent nuisance algae from starting to grow. The period between the first two photos was less than four weeks. After the maturation phase, the algal mass was transferred to the lighted sump, bottom left. Bottom right: Chaetomorpha is also eminently suitable for maturing a tiny nano tank or running a small rearing tank.
refugium or algae filter. Up until now, Caulerpa algae have seemed predestined for this purpose. Caulerpa are widely available (although illegal to possess in some states), they are robust and grow rapidly, and they’re attractive. What more could anyone want when it comes to an algae filter? But anyone who has a large, dense stand of Caulerpa in an algae filter that is connected to a reef aquarium may not have reckoned with the nature of the beast. Stands of Caulerpa need to be regularly thinned—if this alga Premium grows too densely it undergoes sexual reproduction, which leads to the disintegration of the stand (see Knop 2008). The algae initially turn light green, then glassy, and simultaneously release their contents into the water, which quickly turns cloudy. And if the algae aren’t removed from the tank in time, they disintegrate completely. (This isn’t true of all Caulerpa species; some of them, for example C. racemosa or the uncommon C. paspaloides, have a stronger tendency in that direction. Caulerpa taxifolia and C. prolifera, on the other hand, are much more robust and also tolerate denser populations, but they, too, will disintegrate sooner or later.) The problem with Caulerpa species is that when these unicellular organisms are damaged, they release large amounts of secretions that contain a toxin called caulerpin. This isn’t dangerous to the aquarist, but it has the effect of suppressing numerous other organisms in the aquarium, so the required thinning isn’t conducive to healthy coral growth.
potential for growth is so great that even with regular “harvesting” it should generally be possible to limit any unwanted rise in nitrate—at least in conjunction with other “nitrate retardants” such as a deep substrate or abundant live rock. Because of this, more than 10 years ago I started trying to make marine aquarists more aware of these algae. For a long time all this was no more than theory, as Chaetomorpha wasn’t available in the aquarium hobby in Germany. I imported some from friends in the U.S., where it was already quite popular. I propagated it and began to spread it around so that as many aquarists as possible could raise it themselves and pass it on. But hardly anyone was aware of this alga, and dealers didn’t appreciate its aquarium-hobby potential. Over the
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By contrast, Chaetomorpha are multicellular and don’t release any toxins into the water, so one can reduce the number of these algae at any time by removing part of them. Their
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Chaetomorpha linum is very robust, but it doesn’t like fluctuations in salinity. It may break down if the sump is topped up with too much fresh water.
Not all Chaetomorpha species are especially fastgrowers. the strands of this slow-growing species are up to 2 mm thick.
Gone to the dogs—the Chaetomorpha population prior to disposal (the quadruped is pictured to indicate the quantity).
course of the years, reports in books and in this magazine helped to make Chaetomorpha somewhat better known among aquarists, who tried in vain to find it in the aquarium-hobby trade. I offered the alga to numerous retailers free of charge so that they could propagate it and sell it to their customers, but not a single dealer took me up on the offer. Maybe they thought I was simply trying to get rid of my excess algae. And when I broke down a large reef tank and had to dispose of a huge amount of Chaetomorpha from its refugium, I found no takers and had to destroy the lot. But now increasing numbers of reef aquarists are recognizing the benefits of these unremarkable-looking spaghetti algae, and virtually all good local aquarium shops carry it or can obtain it quickly. Savvy dealers can keep a tank of Chaetomorpha linum, which can be harvested repeatedly because it quickly restores itself. This is possible only to a limited extent with various Caulerpa species, but with Chaetomorpha the whole affair is generally problemfree, even in the long term.
be free of microalgae. In the best of all possible worlds, one would then establish it in an algae filter or refugium operating in parallel, and remove it from the main aquarium before beginning to populate the latter with corals. As we learn more about the toxic effects of macroalgae on corals, it is extremely good to know that we have toxin-free Chaetomorpha linum as a natural, selfperpetuating filter medium for the algae filter, sump, or refugium.
Knop, D. 2008. Algen im Meerwasseraquarium—Pflege und Bekämpfung. Natur und Tier Verlag, Münster, Germany.
MIX IT UP!
NEW SETUPS In my experience, Chaetomorpha are very helpful when setting up a a new marine fish-only or reef aquarium. Live rock can be placed in the tank even before the lighting is first switched on—around a week after setting up—and, depending on the size of the aquarium, a fist- to football-sized clump of the algae should be added at the same time. If this is done before diatoms begin to develop, the latter may proliferate less vigorously as a result of competition for CO2 and nutrients. The difficult-to-control microalgae usually have a harder time getting established. During the first weeks, while the system is maturing, the spaghetti algae can be allowed to grow unchecked. This won’t be a problem later, since it doesn’t attach to hard substrates—unlike Caulerpa, which often attaches itself so tightly to living rock with its rhizomes that it can be curbed only with the aid of suitable herbivores. Once Chaetomorpha has been reproducing for a number of weeks, it will have absorbed so many dissolved pollutants from the aquarium system that large areas of the rockwork will
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The aquarium hobby meets science
A mosquito net for fishes
Many parrotfishes sleep inside a mucous cocoon at night. What purpose does this serve? • by Dieter Brockmann, Ph.D.
Many parrotfishes (here Scarus quoyi) produce a mucous cocoon to protect themselves from nocturnal parasite attacks while sleeping.
ow do fishes protect themselves against the parasites that are ubiquitous on the coral reef? The number of strategies is limited. Initially the only one that springs to mind is the cleaner fishes and shrimps that maintain regular cleaning stations on the reef, where their fish clients stand in line to be relieved of harmful pests. If the cleaners are removed from a reef, the fishes become sick and eventually migrate to other areas, underlining the importance of this hygiene measure. Another efficient strategy, used extensively by some parrotfishes, is avoiding parasite attacks using appropriate protective measures. Why do parrotfishes enclose themselves in mucous cocoons at night? There have been various theories to answer this question, but no scientific evidence to support one hypothesis or another. Some researchers have put forward the view that parrotfishes use these cocoons to protect themselves against their predators, the morays, who go hunting at night and use their sense of smell to detect prey animals. The cocoon might thus act as a sort of scent barrier and make the parrotfishes “invisible” to their predators from an olfactory viewpoint. But as long ago as 1959, experiments by Winn & Bardach demonstrated that many parrotfishes were eaten by morays despite their mucous cocoons. So what can be the point of going to the effort of producing such a protective envelope every night? An interesting hypothesis, supported by scientific research, was published by Alexandra Grutter of the University of Queensland and colleagues in the December 2010 issue of the journal Biology Letters.
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“M O S Q U I TO N E TS” The experiments conducted by Grutter et al. were as simple as they were ingenious. They caught specimens of the parrotfish Chlorurus sordidus on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Australia and maintained them in large aquaria for the duration of the experiments. Thereafter they were returned unharmed to the reef. Parrotfishes begin to produce their mucous cocoons with the onset of darkness. They possess highly specialized glands in their gill cavities for the purpose, and these construct the cocoon from a network of small, tightly intermeshed glycoproteins (Videler et al. 1999). The mucous cocoon is completed within 45–60 minutes. For the experiment, the mucous “net” was carefully removed from some of the parrotfishes without waking them. Next, a known number of ectoparasites (marine isopods of the species Gnathia aureusmaculosa) were added to each of the aquaria. Four and a half hours later, the parasites that had attached to the parrotfishes and were sucking the blood of their hosts were counted. Evaluation of these experiments showed that only 10 percent of the parrotfishes with intact mucous cocoons were attacked by parasites, versus up to 94.4 percent of the fishes whose cocoons had been removed. The message from these results is clear: the cocoons help parrotfishes protect themselves from nocturnal parasite attacks. T H E CO S T O F CO CO O N S The use of a mucous cocoon for nocturnal protection against parasite attacks appears to be extremely important to parrotfishes: 60 percent of the parrotfishes whose mucous cocoons were removed immediately made new ones. In addition, the fishes invested a significant percentage of their energy in the production of these cocoons. The authors of the study estimate that around 2.5 percent of the daily energy budget goes into this nightly mucus production. PA R A S I T E P R OT E C T I O N S T R AT E G I E S Grutter and her colleagues’ research has enabled them to add a new strategy to the list of known protective measures used by fishes on coral reefs to counter parasites: the production of an individual “mosquito net,” which may not only protect against parasites, but also serve as an olfactory barrier to predators. A quite different, but at least equally effective defensive tactic is used by a number of gobies that have poisonous skin cells with which they restrict attack by parasites to certain regions of their bodies. Then again, other fishes secrete substances harmful to predators in their skin mucus, and these produce the same effect. Many wrasses bury themselves in the sand to sleep and avoid nocturnal parasite attack in this way. And certain parrotfishes that aren’t able to produce a protective cocoon spend the night in the open water off the coral reef, far from the majority of pests. All these tactics indicate that protection against parasites is very important for the fishes of the coral reef; otherwise they wouldn’t use such energy-intensive methods or engage in close interaction with other Number of parrotfishes (in %) affected by parasites at night reef-dwellers to protect themselves against these pests.
REFERENCES 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0
DIAGRAM: D. BROCKMANN AFTER GRUTTER (2010)
Grutter, A.S. et al. 2010. Fish mucous cocoons: the “mosquito nets” of the sea. Biol Let (epub ahead of print), doi: 10.1098 / rsbl2010.0916. Videler, H., G.J. Geertjes, and J.J. Videler. 1999. Biochemical characteristics and antibiotic properties of the mucous envelope of the queen parrotfish. J Fish Biol 54: 1124–27. Winn, H.E. and J.E. Bardach. 1959. Differential food selection by moray eels and a possible role of the mucous envelope of parrot fishes in reduction of predation. Ecology 40: 296–8.
without mucus cocoon
with mucus cocoon
aquarium portrait | INKEN KRAUSE
Front view of the 633-gallon (2,400-L) aquarium.
ALL: D. SCHAUER
the fish shop aquarium of Theo van den Berg
own aquarium to demonstrate the right way to maintain a reef aquarium.
hen we think of Belgium, the first thing that usually springs to mind is that country’s irresistible chocolate pralines. So, you might ask, what do pralines have to do with reef aquariums? Well, I find the bright colors of the impeccably maintained corals and fishes in Belgian Theo van den Berg’s aquarium not a little reminiscent of the artistry of a creative confectioner. The reef aquarium portrayed here is the showpiece of the Belgian aquarium store Reef-Corner. Photographer Dietmar Schauer frequents the store and often photographs the fishes and corals there, and many of the photos in past issues of CORAL were taken at this display aquarium. For that reason alone, it deserves a closer look. And, of course, because Theo has a certain weakness for unusual reef animals (such as garden eels), there is always something exciting to see. But Reef-Corner doesn’t just display rarities; the owner of the shop also uses his
As far as Theo is concerned, his reef aquarium, which acts as a room divider, must set a good example for his customers. It’s true that his intention is to present as spectacular an underwater world as possible, but the aquarium also must be stable and easy to maintain. Nothing could be worse for the shop than exposing a display aquarium that is not thriving to the critical eyes of innumerable visitors. To avoid taking that risk, Theo has decided on a rather conservative concept: in order to keep not only small-polyp stony corals (SPS) but also animals with a higher nutritional requirement, he selected a protein skimmer that is moderately proportioned in relation to the huge volume of water in the aquarium. Dispensing with the extremely strong protein skim-
Many fishes are maintained in pairs—here the butterflyfish Hemitaurichthys polylepis and Microcanthus strigatus.
a child and subsequently became involved in the marine ming usually found in an exclusively SPS tank guarantees hobby, initially as a hobbyist. In 1984 he had just one at least a slightly increased level of food. Theo says that 26-gallon (100-L) tank filled with salt water, but this this means the corals are not as susceptible to diseases tiny biotope soon led to more and larger aquaria. Over and bleaching, even if there are problems he doesn’t nothe course of a few years his reef aquaria got larger and tice immediately because he is busy running the store— larger: first 160 gallons (600 L), then 420 gallons (1,600 he accepts the fact that no very light pastel colors are L). When Theo moved from his native Holland to Beldeveloped using this method. In addition, any floating gium, the fish room he set up in the cellar of his new particles not removed by the protein skimmer serve as abode consisted of several tanks totaling 2,110 gallons food for the filter-feeding invertebrates in the tank. (8,000 L). Theo also considers the safety of his charges particuTheo now thinks that the development of the Berlin larly important when it comes to equipment for creating System was mainly responsible for his rapid progress in current. He has dispensed completely with internal curthe aquarium maintenance of reef-dwellers. Because he rent pumps in favor of a “closed-loop” system in which had good contacts in Germany he was able to benefit water is sucked in in only a few places. In addition, the intake tubes beneath the reef structure do not have large openings but are fitted with long, very fine slits, whose large Liopropoma carmabi surface area means the suction they create is barely noticeable. Thus even “high-risk” occupants such as the numerous sea cucumbers and sea anemones are in no danger of being sucked in.
T H E OW N E R
Theo’s aquarium-hobby career can be described as typical. He obtained his first freshwater aquarium when he was
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SIZE, VOLUME, TIME IN OPERATION: 80 x 60 x 32 inches (200 x 150 x 80 cm) + filter tank 60 x 40 x 18 inches (150 x 100 x 45 cm), main tank around 633 gallons (2,400 L), about 1½ years. ZOANTHARIA (STONY CORALS, ETC.): various small-polyp stony corals (SPS) and large-polyp stony corals (LPS), for example Acropora, Catalaphyllia jardinei, Duncanopsammia axifuga, Lobophyllia, Montipora, Pocillopora, Seriatopora. OCTOCORALLIA (SOFT CORALS, ETC.): various gorgonians and soft corals, for example Sinularia, Pseudopterogorgia. OTHER INVERTEBRATES: various shrimps, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, starfishes, sponges, Tridacna spp. FISHES: 2 Acanthurus pyroferus “Vanuatu,” 2 Amphiprion percula “black,” Anampses neoguinaicus, Halichoeres chrysus, Choerodon fasciatus, Ecsenius stigmatura, Elacatinus oceanops, 3 Gorgasia maculata, 4 Gorgasia preclara, 2 Hemitaurichthys polylepis, 4 Heteroconger hassi, Liopropoma carmabi, 2 Macropharyngodon meleagris, 2 Microcanthus strigatus, Ophioblennius atlanticus, 5 Pseudocheilinops ataenia, Pseudochromis fridmani, Pseudochromis hybrid “Indigo” (P. fridmani x sankeyi), 2 Pseudojuloides severnsi, Salarias ramosus, Scarus spinus, Siganus uspi, 4:00 PM Page 1 Valenciennea puellaris. DECOR: 250 kg fresh live rock, substrate (1¼–2 inches/3–5 cm layer) of 30% live sand and 70% coral sand (grain size 0.5–3 mm). LIGHTING: 9 250-watt HQI lamps (BLV 14,000 K and Aqua Medic 13,000 K, on for 8–10 hours daily), plus 10 T5 fluorescent tubes (ATI Blue Plus, on for 12 hours daily). WATER MOVEMENT: closed-loop current; pumps: 1 Abyzz (around 4,750 gallons [18,000 L] per hour), 1 Red Dragon (around 4,485 gallons [17,000 L] per hour). WATER MANAGEMENT: Bubble King 250 Supermarin protein skimmer, RC 2000 (Reef-Corner’s own brand) kalk reactor, fluidized bed filter filled with Rowaphos, UV filter (20 watts), Chemi-Pure filter medium. WATER PARAMETERS: magnesium 1,300 mg/L, calcium 380 mg/L, carbonate hardness 7–9°dKH, nitrate 5–10 mg/L, phosphate 0.04 mg/l, salinity 34 ppt, temperature 75–77°F (24–25°C). MINERALS, MAINTENANCE: weekly partial water change (10%) using Reef Crystals, Tropic Marin, and ATI brands; calcium reactor filled with coral gravel and magnesium granulate; Reef-Corner’s own brand trace elements; iodine supplementation using Lugol’s solution from Tropic Marin. OWNER: Theo van den Berg, Neerglabbeek, Meeuwen-Gruitrode (Belgium).
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Below: Minimal gadgetry in the sump—the aquarium is run with comparatively little filter equipment.
Above: The corals exhibit healthy color.
from the know-how already available there at the time. Technical developments in protein skimmers, for example, were far ahead of the simple biological filtration that was usual back then, and he was soon able to record successes in the maintenance of very demanding livestock.
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Word soon got around that there was a lot to be seen in Theo’s aquaria, and many of his friends enjoyed stopping in to see it. His lady friend gave him the idea of turning his hobby into a profession. No sooner said than done—they acquired suitable premises in 2005 and a year later opened their store. Reef-Corner is celebrating five years in business this year, and Theo’s success is both well deserved and very sweet, indeed. The staff at CORAL sends its congratulations!
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The Reef Care Program The Reef Care Program
Ac A CoCo c cc e ra ra leele l Gl Gra ra t ro roted ed ww th th
nE CoCEo hnh ra raan an l C l Cce ce ol ol d d or or s s
The Reef Foundation The Reef Foundation Program Program
Provides biologically balanced levels of Provides biologically balanced levels of the foundation elements (Calcium, the foundation elements (Calcium, Carbonates and Magnesium) that Carbonates and Magnesium) that ensures the optimal water conditions ensures the optimal water conditions for a sustainable, vibrant coral reef. for a sustainable, vibrant coral reef.
The Reef Coloration The Reef Coloration Program Program
Provide the essential minor and trace Provide the essential minor and trace elements that are part of the coral skeleton elements that are part of the coral skeleton and soft tissue and are speci cally and soft tissue and are speci cally their important for SPS corals to display important for SPS corals to display their natural pigments. natural pigments.
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species spotlight |
Inimicus didactylus is difficult to recognize as a fish because of the numerous fringe-like appendages on the body. Below: When threatened, the fish spreads its caudal and pectoral fins in order to make itself look larger and deter attack.
The Spiny Devilfish
Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates) Class: Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Order: Scorpaeniformes (scorpionfishes & sculpins) Family: Scorpaenidae (scorpionfishes) Subfamily: Synanceiinae Genus/species: Inimicus didactylus
OV E RV I E W First, a word of warning: the Spiny Devilfish (a.k.a. the Bearded Ghoul) is just as unsuitable for a private marine aquarium as the closely related stonefishes, as it is extremely venomous and potentially deadly. Its captive keeping is advised only for experts and public aquariums, and certainly never in a system where children or casual viewers might reach into the water. That said, this fish is essentially easy to keep, and it can live to well over 10 years of age in the aquarium. Although Inimicus didactylus isn’t aggressive—it uses its poison only passively for defense—extreme caution is advised, as it is very easy to contact the spines of this well-camouflaged fish while working in the aquarium. The venom causes severe pain, swelling, and necrosis at the site of the sting. There can be secondary symptoms ranging from feelings of weakness to circulatory failure. Only the symptoms
TOP: E. THALER; BOTTOM: D. KNOP
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Left: When lurking, the fish folds its caudal fin against its body and looks like an empty snail shell. When threatened it slowly unfolds itself and spreads its brightly colored pectoral fins, below.
is considered a delicacy in the same class as the deadly Fugu Puffer.
I. didactylus attains at least 10 inches (25 cm) when adult. Compared to the true stonefishes, with which they are closely related, the Spiny Devilfish is smaller and slimmer. The anterior two rays of the pectoral fins are detached from the fin and are used for “walking” on the sandy bottom. Most of the body is covered with fringelike excrescences whose purpose is to mask the contours of the body in order to make the fish difficult for larger predators to spot. The dorsal-fin spines, which contain poison glands, are very long and likewise bear fringelike structures. This fish exhibits a very inconspicuous coloration on parts of its body, and this camouflages it effectively against the substrate. However, it also has brightly colored areas, especially on the tail and pectoral fins, which it spreads when threatened.
H A B I TAT
can be treated; no specific antitoxin exists. Immersing the stung area in hot water, at least 50ºC (122ºF), may help neutralize the toxin. Extreme care must always be exercised when working in a Devilfish’s aquarium. If startled, it may move with unexpect swiftness and even leap out of the tank. Inimicus didactylus eats fishes, crustaceans, and cephalopods, lying motionless in wait to ambush any incautious creature that comes too near. Newly acquired specimens may require live grass shrimp to elicit a feeding response (Michael, 1998). Because these fishes don’t move around by swimming, they don’t require a large aquarium, and a species tank as small as 30 gallons (115 L) will suffice. They can be maintained with corals, but this isn’t really possible with small fishes and crustaceans, although some fishes recognize the danger this predator represents and maintain a safe distance. Inimicus didactylus lives on the sea bed and on coral reefs in shallow-water zones (inner reefs, lagoons, seagrass meadows). It doesn’t always seek out corals and rocks, but also lives in the open sandy zone. It should have at least 2.5 inches (5 cm) of fine sand on the bottom for burying itself.
B E H AV I O R This fish camouflages itself by coating its body with substrate, making it almost impossible to spot. In addition, it not only folds its large pectoral fins close to the body, but also bends its tail through 180 degrees to lie against the body, so that it looks more like an empty shell than a fish. When threatened, it extends its caudal fin and spreads its pectoral fins like broad, brightly colored fans to deter predators. Simultaneously the band of poisonous dorsal-fin spines begins to undulate, which serves to warn off the aggressor.
DISTRIBUTION Indo-West Pacific, Thailand to Vanuatu, north to Japan’s Ryuku islands and southeast China, where it
Michael, S.W. 1998. REEF FISHES, Vol. 1. Microcosm/TFH Publications, Neptune City, NJ, 460–62.
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ALL: D. KNOP
—every reefkeeper’s nightmare
lagues of algae are part of the less pleasant side of the reef aquarium hobby. Thread algae of the genus Derbesia, as well as Cyanobacteria (“red slime algae”), are particular nuisances. While I was away on a trip lasting several weeks, during which the HQI lighting period was increased, a dense carpet of Derbesia developed in a small reef tank with no algae-eaters. On my return, large areas of the living rock were covered in thick green cushions, and the stony corals were opening only slightly. What should one do in such a case? It is important to regulate all factors that are essential for algae to thrive. These are primarily light and nutrients—specifically, nitrate and phosphate. The lighting shouldn’t be too strong or the photoperiod too long. In general, HQI lighting can be reduced to 8 hours, especially when the photoperiod is prolonged somewhat by fluorescent tubes. In the case under discussion I started by shortening the photoperiod, as the problem was probably triggered, at least in large part, by having lengthened it (there had previously been no Derbesia visible in the aquarium). The next stage is the installation of activated carbon filtration and rapid mechanical filtration, in order to remove as much as possible of the floating algae fragments and algae secretions from the water during the subsequent cleaning of the rockwork. Thick cushions of algae can then be removed by hand. Take your time and be thorough, so that the algae you remove from the tank at this stage cannot later get back into the system. Next, scrub the affected rockwork with brushes—first with a coarse brush for flat surfaces and then a small
one for getting into the fine relief features and cracks in the rockwork. Many authors advise against this scrubbing of the rock surfaces out of fear that bits of algae thus loosened
Under certain conditions, thread algae can get out of hand.
may take root elsewhere. This concern is certainly not entirely unfounded, but the eventual spread of the algae cannot be prevented without thorough cleaning of the rockwork. Moreover, after the initial removal by hand, a short covering of algae will remain, and this will still be too long for the vast majority of herbivores. It is inevitable that algal substances will get into the water in
First, dense clumps of algae are pulled away by hand. The rest is scrubbed away with a large brush, and then any residue is extracted from cracks with a small brush. Rapid mechanical filtration and activated carbon filtration should be employed throughout the process. Finally, suitable algae-eaters should be introduced. If over-intensive lighting and excessive nutrient levels are avoided, there is a very good chance of quickly getting the plague under control. If necessary, the brushing should be repeated weekly for at least a month. In the case discussed here it was required only twice, as the algae growth largely receded after the initial treatment.
the process, but with effective rapid mechanical filtration and powerful water circulation, you can ensure that algae fragments cannot accumulate in areas of weak current. After the scrubbing you must introduce a population of herbivores. Ideal candidates for the task include snails (for example, Turbo or Astraea) and sea urchins (for example, Mespilia globulus and Tripneustes gratilla).
Their requirements regarding environmental conditions are so modest that they should always be preferred to algae-eating fishes. Invertebrates like snails can be used as “tools” to a certain extent, but fishes are highly evolved vertebrates that interact with their environment in so many different ways, and exhibit such complex social behaviors, that they shouldn’t be degraded to the status
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H OW TO CO N T R O L T H E A LG A E:
• Reduce the lighting as much as the corals will tolerate (shorten the photoperiod, reduce lighting strength). • Monitor phosphate and nitrate levels and lower them if necessary (partial water changes, phosphate adsorber). • Install rapid mechanical filtration. • Use activated carbon filtration. • Remove thick cushions of algae by hand as much as possible. • Coarse cleaning: scrub the affected rock surfaces with a large (new, clean) brush. • Fine cleaning: scrub the rocks with a (new, clean) toothbrush, not forgetting any cracks and crevices. • Introduce herbivores, in this case the turbo snail Turbo petholatus.
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of “algae-eating machines.” You can transfer the snails to another aquarium with a clear conscience after the disappearance of the algae. A large partial water change is advisable after the mechanical cleaning of the rock surfaces. This will, of course, provide the remaining tiny strands of thread algae with all the important minerals, especially iron, but the procedure is also important for two other reasons: it reduces the nutrient concentration and removes some of the algae fragments and secretions that have been released. Algae fragments that have accumulated anywhere in the tank can be siphoned off as well. Finally, a little thought should be given to protein skimming and phosphate concentration. Is the protein skimmer functioning optimally? Is the phosphate level too high? While the nitrate level can usually be controlled with regular partial water changes, phosphate will very quickly get into the water again from deposits on the limestone. A value of 0.2 mg/L will still permit coral growth, but is very problematical with regard to algae growth. If in doubt, use an effective phosphate adsorber.
Sprung, J. 1999. Corals: A Quick Reference Guide. Ricordea Publishing, Miami, FL.
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The NEW media reactor for aquariums up to 600 gallons NPX BioPlastics® are pelletized biodegradable polymers that provide a time-released source of food for bacteria that assimilate nitrate and phosphate. The bacteria grow on the pellet surfaces, and excess growth sloughs off due to the tumbling in a fluidized filter. These bacteria can be harvested with a protein skimmer or serve as planktonic food for filter-feeding invertebrates such as corals, clams, and sponges. Anaerobic zones also develop within the pellets, thus promoting denitrification there. Why bother with dosing Vodka daily when you can just use NPX BioPlastics and let the bacteria work for you?
United States Postal Service Statement of Ownership, Management, & Circulation Filed 9/27/2011
The title of this publication is CORAL (ISSN 1556-5769). It is published bimonthly, with 6 issues published annually at an annual subscription rate of $37.00. The office of publication and the general business offices are located at 140 Webster Road, P.O. Box 490, Shelburne, VT 05482. The publisher and editor is James M. Lawrence, 140 Webster Road, P.O. Box 490, Shelburne, VT 05482. The owner is Reef to Rainforest Media LLC, 140 Webster Road, P.O. Box 490, Shelburne, VT 05482. Publication Title: CORAL, The Reef & Marine Aquarium Magazine Issue Date for Circulation Data Below: September/October 2011 Extent and Nature of Circulation Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding Months 12,202 5,487 — 2,994 0 8,481 — — — 613 613 9,094 3,108 12,202 93.3% No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date 12,310 5,234 — 2,805 0 8,039 — — — 1184 1184 9,223 3,087 12,310 87.2%
A. Total Number of Copies (Net press run) B. Paid Circulation 1. Mailed Outside-County Paid Subscriptions Stated on PS Form 3541 2. Mailed In-County Paid Subscriptions Stated on PS Form 3541 3. Paid Distribution Outside the Mails 4. Paid Distribution by Other Classes of Mail Through the USPS C. Total Paid Distribution D. Free or Nominal Rate Distribution 1. Free or Nominal Rate Outside-County Copies Included on PS Form 3541 2. Free or Nominal Rate In-County Copies Included on PS Form 3541 3. Free or Nominal Rate Copies Mailed at Other Classes Through the USPS 4. Free or Nominal Rate Distribution Outside the Mail E. Total Free or Nominal Rate Distribution F. Total Distribution G. Copies Not Distributed H. Total I. Percent Paid I certify that all information furnished on this form is true and complete. (Signed) Judy Billard, 9/27/2011
Two Little Fishies Inc. www.twolittleﬁshies.com
PhytoPlan and ZoPlan: Planktonic Foods for Filter-Feeding Marine Invertebrates.
PhytoPlan® Advanced Phytoplankton Diet is a blend of several varieties of phytoplankton in a dry powder form. The spray-dried intact cells aren’t live, but when re-hydrated they are a microencapsulated source of colorenhancing beta carotene and astaxanthin pigments, vitamins, amino acids and essential fatty acids. Ideal food for ﬁlter-feeding invertebrates, such as soft corals, anemones, feather duster worms, clams, sponges, and sea cucumbers. PhytoPlan is also a great supplement to enrich the nutritional value of dry ﬁsh foods. Soak dried ﬁsh foods brieﬂy in a mix of 1/4 teaspoon of PhytoPlan with two tablespoons of water. PhytoPlan is also a great food for raising live brine shrimp, or it can be used to enhance their nutritional value immediately prior to feeding them to ﬁshes. • Source of vitamins, pigments, amino acids, & essential fatty acids. • For ﬁlter-feeding invertebrates. • For enhancing the nutritional value of ﬁsh foods. • For feeding live brine shrimp and enhancing their nutritional value.
ZoPlan® Advanced Zooplankton Diet is a blend of dried crustaceans
and other sea creatures in a size range that makes it an ideal food for marine invertebrates such as soft and stony corals, gorgonians, seafans, anemones, cerianthids, zoanthids, hydrozoans, clams, and other ﬁlter-feeders. Also a food for ﬁshes that feed on zooplankton. • Source of vitamins, pigments, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. • Particles sizes from less than 10 microns to more than 250 microns. • For ﬁlter-feeding invertebrates. • For zooplankton-eating ﬁshes. • Low moisture means concentrated nutritional value. • Long Shelf life. Zooxanthellate corals that feed on zooplankton can calcify more than 50% faster. Ahermatypic corals and other ﬁlter-feeders depend on zooplankton to meet their metabolic needs, but also obtain some nutrition from dissolved or particulate organic matter (MarineSnow®), and phytoplankton. Feed them our plankton and watch them grow!
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allelopathy: the use of biochemical exudates by an organism to suppress the growth, reproduction, or survival of competing organisms. Example: macroalgae that can chemically impact stony coral settlement and growth. ambush predator: in fishes, a species that does not actively pursue its prey, but rather lies in wait, often using camouflage, for target items to come within striking distance. Example: Spiny Devilfish. bioload: in aquarium terms, the density of fishes, corals, and other animals in a system, or the nitrogen waste–processing demands placed on a system’s filtration. biotic: related to living organisms. biotope: in ecology, an area with uniform environmental conditions that supports its own distinctive community of plants and animals, for example, a shallow seagrass bed in a lagoon. cirritulid: a free-moving polychaete worm, commonly called a “hairworm.” Its tentacles arise from different parts of its body. See terebellid. DSB: abbreviation for Deep Sand Bed; an aquarium term denoting a mass of sugarfine sand with an average depth of 4–6 inches (10–15 cm).
Technical ter ms that appear in ar ticles in this issue
piscivorous: fish-eating, usually in reference to a type of predator. planula: a free-swimming larval form of a coral or other cnidarian. tanaids: small, shrimp-like crustaceans usually found living in association with marine substrates. terebellid: a polychaete worm, commonly known as a “spaghetti worm,” that lives in a permanent burrow or buried tube. Its tentacles arise from its head. See cirritulid.
envenomation: the process in which a venomous animal injects venom into its victim, as in the scorpionfishes. ecosystem: a biotic community that, together with its physical environment, is considered an integrated unit. Ecosystem sizes can range from microscopic to global. H2S: hydrogen sulphide, a noxious gas with a classic “rotten egg smell,” produced by the anaerobic decomposition of protein. infauna: animals adapted to living in sediments.
REEF LIFE page 136
Komodo Marine Park, Indonesia An invertebrate garden growing on coral reef. At lower left, yellow encrusting sponge and feathery hydroids, cf. Gymnangium gracilicaule. Only the siphons of large solitary sea squirts, Polycarpa spp., are visible because a variety of colonial sea squirts encrust the bodies. The pale blue sea squirts, Clavelina moluccensis, grow on thick stalks. —Denise Nielsen Tackett, co-author, with Larry Tackett, of REEF LIFE, Natural History and Behaviors of Marine Fishes and Invertebrates (Microcosm/TFH, 2002). Image from the CORAL REEF LIFE Calendar 2012.
Seven reasons why you should ™ use ReVive Coral Cleaner
ReVive Coral Cleaner™ is a new type of coral dip solution for live stony corals. Its formula is based on powerful plant extracts, but it isn’t harsh on coral tissues the way iodine-based dips are. For coral dipping prior to acclimation to aquariums, for rinsing prior to shipping, and for dipping newly fragmented corals, such as at coral farming facilities.
What’s the seventh reason? ReVive Coral Cleaner was developed by Julian Sprung, you know, the guy who wrote the books... yes, that guy!
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Project SECORE stalks the spawning stony corals
especially branching, easily fractured stony corals that can quickly populate large areas of reef in a few decades simply through the “fragging” action of storms, boring creatures, crabs, and accidental contact with large fish. However, there are two main disadvantages to asexual reproduction: limited dispersion and lack of genetic diversity. It is only via sexual reproduction, where sperm and eggs from unrelated colonies can come together, that an increase in genetic diversity can be achieved. The resulting planktonic stage, the planula, can be carried for hundreds of miles, allowing the coral to spread over a much wider range than can be achieved via fragments dropping to the reef-bottom near the mother colony.
oday, experienced reef hobbyists have learned that propagating corals is a fairly simple matter for most genera and species. Just creating fragments by cutting, snipping, or sawing away at larger colonies has become commonplace. There are advantages to using these asexual methods of reproduction, such as speed and creating relatively large pieces that can be quickly sold or grown out to a larger size. One can also quickly generate several specimens of a desirable color morph or shape without any guesswork. They are clones and you know what you will end up with. In nature, asexual reproduction is also the most common form of reproduction for a wide range of corals—
SECORE founder Dr. Dirk Peterson leads a daytime practice session, demonstrating how to change the collection vessels used to capture Elkhorn Coral gametes.
Team members deploying a series of net bags as spawning activity starts; note gametes in water column. Right, top: Large Acropora palmata stand at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium. Right, bottom: pair of Creole Wrasse, Clepticus parrae.
For commercial and scientific purposes, fragmentation also has its limits in that usually only a few dozen fragments can be generated from a single mother colony at a time. Contrast this with the thousands that can be generated via sexual reproduction, which is, therefore, a very alluring way to supply large numbers of corals for use in aquaria or for reef restoration work. The problem is that it takes time to raise the larvae to a size suitable for outplanting, and when it comes to coral color, it is a bit of a game of roulette.
E N DA N G E R E D AC R O P O R I D S
In 2005 the Rotterdam Zoo, under the guidance of Dirk Peterson and Michael Laterveer, hosted the first SECORE (www.secore.org) workshop in Holland. SECORE stands for SExual COral REproduction, and the original goal of this organization was to develop techniques to sexually produce corals for public aquariums. By combining the talents of professional aquarists with those of coral reef researchers, SECORE aimed to further our understanding of sexual reproduction in corals as well as promote the successful spawning and rearing of corals in captivity and in the field. Since these early beginnings they have begun to do more work in situ, particularly with the endangered Caribbean Acroporid species Acropora cervicornis (Staghorn Coral) and A. palmata (Elkhorn Coral). Since 2005, the SECORE consortium has held coral spawning workshops in Singapore, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Belize, and the Dutch protectorate of Curaçao in the southern Caribbean. They have successfully collected and reared coral spawn of A. palmata and distributed these amongst researchers and partner public aquariums. In 2009, the Steinhart Aquarium became a member of Project SECORE, and in August of 2011 its general curator, Bart Shepherd, and I joined the group on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao for 10 days of coral
TOP: ©P. SELVAGGIO; INSETS: C. DELBEEK
spawn rearing of A. palmata. In the previous year, SECORE had constructed a coral rearing facility at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium (http:// www.Curaçao-sea-aquarium.com), which consisted of five open-system aquariums that would hold both gametes of A. palmata and specimens of brooding coral species such as Agaricia spp. and Favia fragum. The brooding species are interesting in that they take in sperm and fer-
tilize their eggs internally, resulting in the expulsion of planulae from the coral polyp. (Another, better-known Indo-Pacific species of brooder is Pocillipora damicornis.) Brooded planulae are relatively easy to rear, and Pittsburgh PPG Aquarium biologist Bob Snowden has worked extensively with these Caribbean brooding species; on this trip he was delighted to produce second-generation planulae from colonies he had grown from planulae produced the previous year.
S YN C H R O N I Z E D S PAW N I N G
I can report, however, that collecting coral spawn from A. palmata is no easy task. First of all, this species spawns only at night, about five days after the full moon, once a year—most often in August. Occasionally there will be a split spawn, with some colonies “going” in July and others in August. To make things more interesting, not all the colonies spawn on the same night, and not every section of the colony produces gametes at the same time. Therefore, we employed several teams of divers on each night, entering the water at 9 PM. We swam out to the reef carrying several gamete-collecting nets. Battling currents and wave-generated surge in 12 feet of water at night, carrying what amount to pillowcases, is a challenge. Mounting the nets around the branches of the coral and then keeping an eye on them for about 45 minutes is no mean feat. Each fine-mesh net consists of a cone-shaped collecting contraption that rises from a wide base to a narrowing funnel, to which is attached a small, screw-capped jar in which the rising coral egg/ sperm bundles are collected. Like all Acropora, A. palmata produces a small, spherical bundle that consists of several eggs wrapped in sperm. These are positively buoyant, and once ejected from the polyp mouth they slowly ascend to the surface. In less than an hour, they break apart and the sperm swim off in search of eggs produced by other colonies. Once we had collected these egg/sperm bundles we swam back to shore and trundled off to the waiting lab. Here the jars were carefully opened and the eggs, which had by now separated from the sperm, were siphoned off using fine pipettes. The eggs were then carefully rinsed with fresh seawater in order to remove the sperm; it took 8 to 10 successive rinses to complete this. Then the eggs were mixed with the sperm of different colonies and placed into the larval rearing tanks at the Aquarium. By now it was close to midnight, and a team of biologists spent the rest of the night caring for the eggs to ensure that they remained suspended in the rearing tanks. Every 30 minutes we stirred the containers and sprayed water along the sides to make sure the eggs were not stuck along the sides of the container. By the next morning the eggs were already well along the path of development, and within four days after fertilization we could see that planulae had begun to develop. Within five days of collection, we estimated that over 600,000 planulae had been pro-
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A Reef Creation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .128 www.aReefCreation.com A&M Aquatics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16, 91 www.amaquatics.com American Marine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 www.americanmarineusa.com Aqua Craft Products® . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3, 28, 29 www.aquacraft.net Aqua Engineering & Equipment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94 www.aquariumwaterfilters.com Aqua Medic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116, 117 www.aqua-medic.com Aqua Vision Aquatics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .127 www.aquavisionaquatics.com Aquarium Concepts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .128 www.aquariumconceptsinc.com Aquatic Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 www.aquaticlife.com Aquatic Pixels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .135 www.aquaticpixels.net Aqua Top . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .127 www.aquatopled.com Atlantis Aquariums . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .128 www.AtlantisVA.com Bashsea. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .123 www.bashsea.com Beital’s Exotic Aquariums . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94 www.beitalsaquariums.com Blue Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 www.bluelifeusa.com Boyd Enterprises . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25, 127, 133, 135 www.chemipure.com Breeder’s Registry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .127 www.BreedersRegistry.org Brightwell Aquatics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34, 35 www.brightwellaquatics.com CPR Aquatics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36, 90 www.cprusa.com C-Quest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .111 www.c-questfarms.com D-D . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .inside back cover www.theaquariumsolution.us Ecological Laboratories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13, 111 www.microbelift.com EcoRay. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77 www.ecorayled.com EcoReef Corals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 www.ecoreefcorals.com EcoTech Marine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18, 19, 38, 39 www.ecotechmarine.com Fauna Marin/Reef Wholesale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .129 www.reefwholesale.com/about-balling FishWorld . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .128 www.fishworldric.com Hydor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 www.hydorkoralia.com Inland Aquatics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .128 www.inlandaquatics.com Karen Talbot Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76 www.karentalbotart.com Kent Marine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 www.kentmarine.com LFS Locator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .121 www.lfslocator.com Lifegard Aquatics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .112 www.lifegardaquatics.com
Manhattan Aquariums . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .128 http://manhattanaquariums.com MARATA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .110 www.marata.org Marineland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93 www.marineland.com Ocean Nutrition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37, 74 www.oceannutrition.com Ocean Critters Ranch (OCR) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 www.oceancrittersranch.com Orphek . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .133 www.orphek.com Pacific Aqua Farms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .104 www.pacificaquafarms.com Pacific Sun . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 www.Pacific-Sun.eu The Pet Advantage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .128 www.thepetadvantage.com Piscine Energetics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 www.mysis.com Poly-Bio-Marine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 www.poly-bio-marine.com Quality Marine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . inside front cover www.qualitymarine.com Red Sea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106, 113 www.redseafish.com Reef Aquaria Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .132 www.reefaquariadesign.com ReefBuilders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76 www.reefbuilders.com Reef Dynamics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 www.reefdynamics.com Reef Nutrition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .120 www.reefnutrition.com Rod’s Food . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .125 www.rodsfood.com Royal Nature/Reef Wholesale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 www.reefwholesale.com/royal-nature Russo’s Reef . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99 www.russosreef.com San Francisco Bay Brand . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12, 101 www.sfbb.com Segrest Farms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .103 www.segrestfarms.com Sicce . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 http://sicceus.com Sustainable Aquatics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .114 www.sustainableaquatics.com Thrive Aquatics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 www.thriveaquatics.com Tropic Marin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . back cover www.tropic-marin.com Tunze . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .109 www.tunze.com Two Little Fishies . . . . . . . . . 10, 24, 40, 75, 104, 110, 124, 125, 126 www.twolittlefishies.com Ushio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 www.ushio.com UV Lighting International . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73 www.uvlco.com Wallet Pen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .127 www.thewalletpen.com ZeroEdge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .119 www.zeroedgeaquarium.com ZooMed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 www.zoomed.com
For a CORAL Media Kit or other information, please contact:
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duced; they were now beginning to settle on the specially designed settlement forms developed by the SECORE team. The three sleepless nights of wave-tossed collection expeditions paid off in the best-ever spawning effort since SECORE first started in 2005.
B U I L D I N G A “F R O Z E N ZO O ”
So what is the end game in all this work? Curaçao, in the Lesser Antilles, has one of the few remaining populations of Elkhorn Coral in the Caribbean that is still successful in sexually producing new colonies. However, the A. palmata reefs of Curaçao are but a shadow of their former selves—the abundant coral cover that existed 50 years ago is gone. The next stage of Project SECORE is to grow the newly settled planulae into small colonies that can then be outplanted to the local reefs, where their survival and growth will be monitored over the coming years. Planulae are also distributed amongst SECORE member institutions that hope to grow them into colonies and reproduce them in captivity. The plight of both Elkhorn and Staghorn Corals in the Caribbean is disconcerting. Reduced fitness of populations across the Caribbean, and staggering die-offs due to coral diseases and bleaching brought about by climate change, have exacted a staggering toll on these reefs. It is hoped that through the efforts of Project SECORE in Belize, Mexico, Curaçao, and Puerto Rico, these populations can be preserved in public aquaria and restored to some extent in their native habitat through the reintroduction of juvenile corals. A specialist in the cryopreservation of fish embryos and coral gametes, Dr. Mary Hagedorn of the Smithsonian Institution, is also a SECORE partner. She is using her expertise in the cryopreservation of coral gametes to perfect the techniques necessary to preserve the eggs and sperm of endangered corals. The plan is that though a species may become extinct in the wild, it can be kept in a frozen “zoo” for the future, when environmental conditions may allow for its reintroduction. Hopefully, this will ensure that a species and its genetic information are never lost.
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reef life |
DENISE NIELSEN TACKET T
More colors, more variety, more vitality
The new BIO-ACTIF SYSTEM line of products from Tropic Marin represents a decisive step towards a more natural approach in the marine aquarium. It works quite simply: a small number of naturally occurring long chain marine polymers, made from the purest raw materials, stimulate the continual breakdown and utilization of nutrients in natural processes. The result is stable and near-natural conditions for all lifeforms in the marine aquarium. For you this means less monitoring, less interference, and ultimately, less effort, The results speak for themselves: the water is crystal clear, the corals are more open, the tissue of the leather and stony corals is strong and healthy. The BIO-ACTIF SYSTEM also ensures an effective protective mucus coating on fish, which demonstrate their health and well-being through more active mating behaviors. BIO-ACTIF: the first natural life solution for the aquarium. Innovative, proven, Tropic Marin.
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