This school of Jacks is beautiful, and would feed a lot of people.

After two weeks of slogging through the jungle, being forced to endure huge stick insects, wild pygmy elephants, several species of hornbills and a Tarsier, we are finally getting down to seeing some “good wild life.” (Ow. My wife just kicked me, but she knows I am kidding – the land portion of this trip has been astounding). So far we have dived house reefs of various resorts, all of which have artificial reef structures that are rather mature and teeming with life. Not only are they fantastic to explore, but it’s great to see local operations building habitat. Tomorrow we dive Sipadan Island, and I can hardly contain myself, but that has to be its own blog post.

I woke up this morning in my room on stilts built over the reef. From the font window I watched the sun peek up over the Celebes Sea and bathe my sleeping daughter in ‘sweet light’. I walked out the front door, and as I made way to the 5 star dive center, I watched the local village come to life. The juxtaposition between the luxury of the resort, and the stark substance lifestyle of the local community was sobering as I prepared for the first dive of the day.

Less than 30 minutes later, fishing village forgotten, we were diving paradise. My wife was swimming through a tornado of jacks when a tremendous KRACKKKKKKBOOMMMM shattered the idyllic experience. What the hell was that? The dive master and the 5 newbie divers with us didn’t react at all. To me, the sound was overpowering and terrifying. I hoped it was some kind of construction project, but the recent round of dynamite fishing and reef destruction in Komodo made me think it was not construction at all. Twice more on the dive, the calm was split by the jarring shock of explosions. The sound was unbelievable. It was awful to be surrounded by life and beauty but to know that animals and habitat were being destroyed nearby in the name of easy food. I was moved to tears both under water and now while I write this.

At the surface the local dive master confirmed that it was dynamite fishing but that it was ‘far away’ – sound travels far underwater. The aquarist in me was horrified, but I couldn’t help thinking as a father; my family has never gone hungry. It’s easy for me, with my first world values, to wish education and responsible practices would prevent this kind of destruction…but if my daughter needed a meal, I would do whatever I had to do to provide for her.  And, if I found a practice that worked, that ensured that my little girl would have a full belly at night, I am not sure what anyone could do to make me give it up.

It’s a heartbreaker. Lets keep that in mind as we are tempted to judge real world practices that we feel might impact our hobby of keeping reefs in our living rooms. We need solutions that fill bellies as well as fill glass boxes.

PS I was filming during the dive and I think I was shooting during the one or two of the explosions. When I get back to my computer, I’ll listen to the footage and if I have any of the explosions recorded, I will post a follow up. For now, I have to go prepare for another dive in some of the most beautiful reefscape I have even been on, and hope that I won’t hear any more destruction in the distance.

From Reefs.com

hen I finally got home, I wiped the glass and everything looked just as good as when I left; all of my automation worked perfectly. Yay Automation.

It seems to me that we hear a lot about automation disasters, but not so much about automation successes. That makes sense because disasters tend to stick with us when we hear about them, and we just don’t talk about everyday successes because well, they are just regular every day happenings. So, here is a non everyday automation success story.

Recently, I had to leave town immediately and unexpectedly  for what turned out to be several family medical emergencies in succession (it was difficult, but everyone turned out to be fine). I was gone for 10 days with no time to prep the tank, though I did franticly arrange with friends and colleagues to move some octopus I am working with to a lab at UC Berkeley. The whole time I was away I thought about my reef tank exactly once on day 4, the first extension of the trip, when my wife and daughter asked me if they were feeding the tank the right way. While in the hospital dealing with emergency room doctors and drama, the back of my mind was not also busily worrying about my home systems, I was able to focus on what was right in front of me.

My advice – automate everything you can on your reef. Not only will it free you from the some of the drudgery of every day maintenance and help keep the system stable over time, but it will give you some piece of mind when you are out of town on vacation or for an unexpected emergency.

From Reefs.com

Last December when Koji Wada of the renowned Blue Harbor visited the Steinhart Aquarium he was kind enough to bring us two stunning Halcuriascarlgreni anemones. From Japans deeper, cooler waters, these anemones are jaw droppingly bright and colorful. Currently, they are being kept at 66 degrees in our Nautilus exhibit and both animals seem to be getting along just fine with each other. The Halcurias are being fed thawed frozen mysis via ‘Julians Thing’ every other day, and we hope they will be so happy and full of food that we will have more of them in the near future.

From Reefs.com

I took a chance on a Live Aquaria Divers Den  Juvie Regal Angel (Pygoplites diacanthus) about 2 months ago. As beautiful as this fish is, it ended up getting an appetite for some of my favorite SPS corals as well as a voracious appetite for my growing Zoanthid collection, so it’s got to go. Easier said than done right?

Catching a fish in a fully stocked, mature reef tank is often a hassle.A net is not going to work because there is too much coral growth in the way. Trying to remove the fish while it’s sleeping is not going to work (unless you are very lucky) because sleeping spots are so numerous and, invariably, the fish picks a spot at the bottom middle back of the tank.  Removing rocks isn’t practical because, since the tank is mature, removing rocks probably means destroying the coral that you have worked to hard to grow. Since the reef is mature, it’s probably fully stocked with fish, so any attempt to use a fish hook isn’t going to work because other fish are going to get the food off the hook before the fish you are trying to catch even knows there is something to strike. Knock-out drugs won’t work either because not only are they hard to get, but even if you are able to squirt it in the face of the fish, the knocked-out fish can sink to the bottom where it is impossible to remove before it wakes up, swims away and laughs at you.

To the best of my knowledge, that leaves one option  – the fish trap. 5 days ago, I pulled out my trusty acrylic trap, the kind with the weighted door that is held open by a piece of monofilament with a suction cup on the end. This particular trap also has another piece of monofilament that you can pull on to slam the door closed quickly instead of simply relying on gravity to trap the fish. I used some electrical tape to affix an old algae magnet to the trap so I can rest the trap on the glass instead of on coral. The magnet also allows me to leave the trap in place  over time without it getting blown around by the current. This is very important because unless you are very lucky and the fish goes right in (I am not lucky), the trap needs to be left in place over time so the fish gets comfortable enough with the trap to actually go in the trap. Of course, the most important part of trapping a fish with this method is patience – and man can that patience be annoying.

Every night, I bait the trap with some Reef Nutrition Mysis Feast and watch patiently as almost every other fish in the tank-Orange-spotted rabbitfish (Siganus guttatus), Radiant Wrasse (Halichores iridis), Multicolor angel (Centropyge multicolor), Potter’s Angelfish (Centropyge potteri), Margined butterfly (Chelmon marginatus), Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), orchid dottyback (Pseudochromis friedmani), Mimic Saddle Puffer (Paraluterus prionurus) and even green chromis (Chromis viridis) hang out in the trap and chow down – often all at the same time- while the Regal hangs out near the trap entrance waiting for scraps. Every night the Regal gets a little closer to the trap, but doesn’t go in. I may need to catch every other fish that goes into the trap to make the Regal feel comfortable, but not yet. Tonight I moved some Zoanthids into the trap to make it even more enticing. I hope.

It’s really frustrating, but I keep calming myself down reminding myself that patience is the key and it works. Just a month ago, I had to catch two big lunare wrasses out of the 212,000 gallon reef tank at work. It took two weeks of baiting the trap for the fish to be comfortable enough to go in, and when the finally did, I was able to catch both of them in less than 10 minutes. But it took patience. Patience.

Some corals have fallen over, but I am going to leave them for now as not to disturb the Regal. Algae is growing all over the front glass, but I am going to leave it as not to disturb the Regal. So, here I sit, most of the pumps off to keep the food in the trap waiting…and waiting…and waiting…because thats what I have to do.

 

 

From Reefs.com

by Chris Maupin

I have known Rich Ross for a long time, let me start by clearing the air with that disclaimer.  You also may read this post and feel like it is a bunch of ass-kissing.  If that was your conclusion, then apply for a MacArthur Grant, because that’s exactly what it is. Rich is a philosopher who should have been a scientist.

I say that not to belittle his life choices, but to compliment him on the fact that he is independently one of the best and most creative skeptical and scientific minds I have met.  He will openly tell you that he killed something or did something wrong, and, more importantly, tell you why it happened, and therefore how you can avoid having the same problem.  How scientific, right?  Not to mention, uh, productive and helpful.  This mindset and attitude has taken him from philosophy major to peer reviewed, published scientist, WITHOUT re-attending undergraduate with a science major, or attending graduate school.  How many can claim that?

Despite this introduction, the focus of this post is actually Rich’s home tank.  Every year I make a trek to the Bay Area for the largest annual scientific conference in the world, and every year the hospitality of Rich and his family is a highlight of my trip, allowing me to see the progression of an amazing example of home reefkeeping.  Rich managed to go from a respectable stay at home dad to rogue professional aquarist, responsible for hundreds of thousands of gallons worth of living coral habitat on display in the largest closed system living reef aquarium in the world.  Somehow, he still has not lost the passion for his tank at home.  Unfortunately for the eyeballs of reefkeeping community, he is WAY too humble about it.  So I’m calling him out.

The tank Rich set up and maintains is what folks these days would call a “fruit stand”.  In fact, it goes beyond that. It pretty much could be the reefkeeping definition of a stand of fruit.  I’ve come to understand there is a negative connotation in the community to the use of such a term, but I am at a complete loss to understand why.  Perhaps it’s a lack of patience in allowing such systems to mature?

Rich’s tank is coral after coral, anemone, clam, etc. set in a highly custom, faux built-in system.  The display is a tightly focused 150 gallons, with an additional 250 gallons to provide stability and dilution.  The set up is designed to be redundant without being overly technical.  The lights, heaters, water motion and returns from the sump are distributed across different electrical circuits.  The Vortech has a battery back up, a modified Maxi-Jet is on a UPS and there are multiple battery-operated Penn Plax air pumps.  There is a calcium reactor driven by a peristaltic pump and a fail-safe automated top off through a kalkwasser reactor.  Lighting consists of 4 x 250watt metal halides bulbs (2 x 14k and 2 x 20 k, with all of them being on at the same time for about 3 hours a day), blue LED supplementation with all lights controlled by different timers.  Rich is adamant about this.  A true skeptic at heart, he avoids a single point of failure, such as a controller.

Water motion is a fundamental pillar in Rich’s philosophy of the fruit stand.  There are two Vortech MP40’s, a 10 port Loc-Line manifold driven by a Sequence 5800, again, on its own timer, a modified Maxi-Jet, a Hagen 801 which pumps water out of an overflow back into a tank, also on its own timer (are you sensing a theme yet?).  There is a Poseidon Titanium pump that drives two eductors, both of which reside in the back bottom corners to keep any detritus from settling, and finally, an Ampmaster 3k serves as the sump return.

It’s a mature tank as well, despite a major crash only two years ago (http://www.reefsmagazine.com/forum/reefs-magazine/66910-epic-fail-anatomy-disaster.html), which gets to the crux of my awe for it.  Nothing looks muddled with.  Corals have been allowed to grow into each other, undergo warfare, and grow over each other.  There is depth.  Instead of everything being at the forefront where it is easily accessible to the viewer, every available square inch is utilized.  You have to crane your neck, peer around corners and squint.  You can stare at the tank for hours and still not see everything.  The closest thing I can liken it to is diving on a real reef.  Photos do it hardly any justice because of its depth and complexity.  You could see it today and never know that it had undergone multiple, accidental disasters.

To conclude, when it comes to reef aquariums, ultimately, I haven’t experienced anything close to the “holy expletive” factor of working on reefs of every variety in the Solomon Islands or Vanuatu, especially not with the recently hyped low-ecology systems, but to each their own.  That being said, I also haven’t seen anything near the “holy expletive” factor of Rich’s matured “fruit stand”.  Why?  Well because it’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the real deal.  Period.  And I say this as a reef scientist who REALLY likes looking at real reefs, and not as a modern art aesthetist.  I encourage more reef aquarists to exercise the patience it takes to get there.  Do it.  And f you make a terrible mistake, learn from it, tell people about it, and do it again.