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Coral Reef Magazine Volume 4

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default Coral Reef Magazine Volume 4

Post by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 21:00

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Coral Reef Magazine Volume 4
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Page 1
NUTRIENTS PART 3: SEVERAL ROADS TO NUTRITION?



Page 2

NUTRIENTS PART 4 – THEIR INTRODUCTION IN NATURE



Page 3

NUTRIENTS PART 5 – COHABITING IN A HARD WORLD



Page 4
AQUARIUMS AND ELECTRICITY – AQUARIUM SAFETY



Page 5

HOW TO BUILD YOURSELF A TRAP FOR THE INFAMOUS OENONE FULGIDA



Page 6

The transport of coral fishes



Page 7

ORNAMENTAL ROCKS IN REEF AQUARIUMS – Part 1



Page 8

ORNAMENTAL ROCKS IN REEF AQUARIUMS – Part 2



Page 9

ORNAMENTAL ROCKS IN REEF AQUARIUMS – Part 3


Page 10

ORNAMENTAL ROCKS IN REEF AQUARIUMS – Part 4


Last edited by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 22:16; edited 1 time in total
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default Coral Reef Magazine Volume 4 (Page 1)

Post by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 21:04

NUTRIENTS PART 3: SEVERAL ROADS TO NUTRITION?

[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]Nutrition” is usually defined as that vital function that makes it possible to assimilate inorganic substances and already existing organic molecules. The many forms of life in nature have, in the course of time, developed an enormous variety of strategies to obtain nutriment. Therefore it is necessary to first of all make a distinction between some groups of organisms.
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Autotrophs

An autotrophic organism produces its own nutriment with the help of solar energy. The majority of plants and many unicellular organisms, including most bacteria, belong to this category. Autotrophs are at the beginning of the food chain. Through photosynthesis or other processes they create organic composites that act as nutriment for other organisms. Photosynthesis is the most significant chemical reaction on this planet and it can be expressed as follows:
6CO2 + 12H2O + solar energy  C6H12O6 + 6O2 + 6 H2O.
To describe it in words: six carbon dioxide molecules bond with twelve water molecules, and with the help solar energy turn into one glucose molecule, six oxygen molecules and six water molecules. Basically, it is the opposite of cellular respiration. Anyway, it should not be forgotten that autotrophs also perform cellular respiration, because, like all living organisms, they need to have energy available for countless vital functions. If solar energy is sufficient, sooner or later the point will be reached where the production of organic composites (glucose) exceeds the organism’s need for them for its cellular respiration, and there is a production of surplus organic composites. Therefore autotrophic organisms are defined as “producers” or “primary producers.” In any case, primary producers have to have access to nutrients that contain nitrogen and phosphorus, for example nitrates and phosphates, that are normally dissolved in water and that plants assimilate from the environment, through their roots and from the water surrounding them. The same thing happens in the biochemistry of a marine aquarium. When aquariofiles talk about nutrients, when scientists say that reefs are lacking in nutrients and that the northern cold seas are rich in those same composites, they are usually talking about algal nutrients (often, therefore, referring to the concentration of nitrate and phosphate ions), which are dissolved in the water.

 Heterotrophs

The organisms that are not able to produce their own nutriment (and therefore their own energy) with the aid of solar energy, have to assimilate other organisms to feed themselves. They obtain their chemical energy by breaking down the nutritive organisms on which they feed, and using composites such as carbohydrates for cellular respiration. The category of heterotrophs includes animals, fungi and some bacteria. They are called “consumers” because they consume the organic substances made by the “producers.”

 Chemoautotrophs

These organisms, mostly bacteria, also draw their energy from the oxidation of organic molecules. Substances such as carbohydrates and albumin often oxidise into carbon dioxide with a chain of chemical reactions. Chemotrophs have in the past decades attracted the attention of scholars when the extremely rich fauna around the so-called “black smokers” was discovered, for example in front of the Galapagos islands in the Eastern Pacific or in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Here, in the depths of the ocean, there are some unique ecosystems that are not based on photosynthesis for primary production, but on extremely simple chemotrophic bacteria that obtain energy from the gas that gushes out of the inside of the earth. This means that the entire ecosystem exists without the presence of solar energy!
In the case of these organisms there are also a few mid-way categories. Some bacteria areautotrophic in certain environmental conditions, but they can also develop a heterotrophiclifestyle. Symbiotic relationships too can be considered in this picture. Reef building corals are, in this regard, probably the best example, since they perform a symbiosis with some unicellular dinoflagellates called zooxanthellae. Almost all corals are heterotrophs that catch plankton to feed themselves, while their minuscule symbiotic organisms are autotrophic primary producers. In this case however, a relationship that benefits both the organisms has developed: some of the products deriving from the photosynthesis of the algae, including oxygen, are made available to the host animal, and at the same time the carbon dioxide produced by the latter is used by the symbiotic algae for their photosynthesis. All this makes it so that these heterotrphic animals can live in an environment that is extremely lacking in nutrients. Anyway this doesn’t mean that reef builder corals cannot get their nutriment like all other heterotrophs: in fact, they actively capture plankton.
PART 4 FOLLOWS


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default Coral Reef Magazine Volume 4 (Page 2)

Post by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 21:08

NUTRIENTS PART 4 – THEIR INTRODUCTION IN NATURE

[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]Here we are at our fourth, but not last, part of our articles on nutrients. If you have missed them or if you just want to read them again, here are the first, second and third.
As you know, coral reefs are usually ecosystems that lack in nutrients, where the concentration of nitrate and phosphate ions is very low. Living with symbiotic algae allows for adaptation to the lack of nutrients. It is however a mystery how such a variety of species like the ones that are found in the reef could develop in an environment that is so lacking in nutrients. Even though the “mystery of the coral reef nutrients” has already been partially solved, we are still missing some important pieces to fully understand it. 

Tropical coral reefs work as nitrogen fixatives in a nutrient desert. Nitrogen gas is fixed inside the skeleton of hard corals by cyanobacteria and algae, in the same way the algae do it on a moving substratum (ocean floor), on the skeletons of dead corals or on limestone, and just like the bacteria that live on marine plants or on other plants or in free water. The quantity of nitrogen fixated yearly per square metre is between 40 and 100 mg, and the process is helped by optimal lighting conditions and the availability of organic substances. A further source of introduction of nutrients in the coral reef is through the cyanobacteria brought by the currents, which contain nitrogen (especiallyTrichodesmium rubrum).

They usually live in areas lacking in nutrients, at a depth of 50-70 metres, and the currents transport them to the surface, where, by decomposing, they release considerable amounts of nutrients. (D’Elia & Wibe, 1990). This process is much more relevant in the open sea than in the proximity of the coast, as here there is a lot of nitrogen, even just from the fresh water that ends up in the sea. The supply of nutrients, other substances and sediment can be so important that it can constitute a serious danger for the coastal coral reef. It is one of the main problems for the coral reefs in proximity of the coast in the Australian Great Barrier Reef. Anyway, nitrogen fixation does not constitute the only way through which nitrogen compounds are made available for primary producers in the reef. 

Even the water that infiltrates rocks through their microscopic pores and that from great depths arrives higher up can bring with it some nitrogen compounds. Even the animals that feed on plankton and that devour the planktonic organisms that the current brings from the open sea to the reef supply nitrogen. A great example was given by Richter (2001). Doctor Claudio Richter and his colleagues from the Centre for Tropical Marine Ecology in Bremen (ZMT) use a modified endoscopy in five reefs of the Red Sea to study the openings and the canals inside coral rocks. What they found was an abundance of sponges, more that the varieties of coral species in the reef. 

Sponges are filters that catch over 60% of the available plankton. The nutrient-rich composites that these sponges release in the water represent food for many corals. Doctor Mark Wunsh, a colleague of Doctor Richter, has developed the underwater endoscopic video camera (“CaveCam”), that allows researchers to see the narrow canals present in coral rocks, up to 4 metres inside them. Later, a computer program examines the shootings. The images demonstrate that the inner surface of the examined Red Sea reef is covered in thin sponge scale. Richter and his colleagues have compared water samples before and after passing through the cavities. The studies have demonstrated that when the water passes through the rocks the concentration of micron-sized planktonic particles(picoplancton) decreases, while the concentration of nutrients increases. 

The researchers have concluded that the sponges use picoplankton, releasing vital nutrients for the corals and algae of the reef. Anyway, the sponges inside the rocks are only one group of filters present in the tropical coral reefs. Moreover, all of the filters are only one of the many groups that consume the energy source that arrives in the reef through primary producers. For this reason we want to take a look at the variety of these environments.

PART 5 FOLLOWS
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default Coral Reef Magazine Volume 4 (Page 3)

Post by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 21:17

NUTRIENTS PART 5 – COHABITING IN A HARD WORLD

[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]Coral reefs are often called “the rainforest of the sea,” and they are some of the biotopes with the most species in the world. Until now about 4.000 species of fish and 800 species of reef building corals have been described. Apart from one, all 33 animal phyla known on this planet also exist in the sea, and 15 of them are only found here. Anyway, taxonomists have just started cataloguing the species of the coral reef, and many are waiting to have their first scientific description done. Organisms in the reef barrier coexist, but it is a hard world. The death of one allows for the survival of the other. It is always a matter of survival, of eating or being eaten. Nutrients in the coral reef exist mainly as contained in its inhabitants, and they are used very effectively by the living organisms of the ecosystem. The use of nutrients in an environment that is lacking in them is a very important premise for the creation of a great specific variety. Many fish feed on corals, eating their polyps: butterflyfish, great angelfish or carnivorousmolluscs. 


The big parrotfish bite corals to feed on the tissue of their polyps, excreting the indigestible remains of the skeleton as coral sand that spreads over the whole barrier. Gastropods and piercing worms weaken the skeleton of the corals until they die, completely eroding the structure that, anyway, will solidify again with time, as coral rock. One of the most important groups of piercers is peanut worms (family Sipunculida). Since these worms usually stay inside rocks, they are rarely seen, but they are widespread all the same.


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In Hawaii there have been found up to 700 of them for every square metre. However, erosion is not the only thing happening in the reef, new things are constantly built, since from fragments or larvae new corals are created. Shellfish and molluscs are eaten by small fish, which eventually become food for bigger fish. Predatory pressure in the reef regulates itself. Worms, sea cucumbers and starfish living on the bottom of the sea take care of the leftover organic material that deposits on the sea floor. Bacteria break down what remains, finally freeing the nitrogen that will be used again by primary producers as a nutrient. The cycle is closed, and almost none of the nutrients is exported outside of the barrier reef. 
The variety of species is one of the key factors that mantain the balance in the reef. Anyway, we should not be mistaken about one thing: the ratio between quantity of water and living biomass. Despite the complexity of life and the multitude of marine organisms, every animal has a great quantity of water at its disposal. and circulation in the reef is massive as well. After having talked about nutrients and having taken a look at their content in the coral reef, in the next series we will examine the aquariological aspect, looking from up close to two tanks in which there have been added many more nutrients that in a normal reef aquarium.
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default Coral Reef Magazine Volume 4 (Page 4)

Post by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 21:21

AQUARIUMS AND ELECTRICITY – AQUARIUM SAFETY

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Aquariological equipment and safety


A reef aquarium needs a lot of technical equipment to replace the natural regulatory cycles and the physical processes that do not happen in an aquarium. This concerns water circulation an much as oxygen exchange, light supply, or other things. Therefore electricity has to be present in aquariology. Of course, it is possible to keep a marine aquarium with little equipment, but it is not possible to avoid it completely. Moreover, reef aquariology is, just like other branches of this hobby, a field where DIY prevails. Many aquariofiles have the most fun when they are building and assembling, not just to save money, but even just for the pleasure of creative handiwork. Some only install ready made electrical appliances, but others even make their own pumps and lamps. Quickly the new appliances occupy the necessary multiple plugs, and in this way, a temporary solution can soon become a definitive one. As long as nothing happens, we do not realise how dangerous this is. This article does not mean to intimidate more than it is necessary, because marine aquariology is not any more dangerous than other aquariological hobbies, if done in the correct way. 

But carelessness can sometime be very dangerous. You should never underestimate, especially in this hobby, the dangers hidden behind routine actions, since, after all, electricity and saline water do not go together. It is important to know the risks. Sometimes aquariofiles who love DIY will have HQI lamps with home-made wooden structures, or fluorescent lamps with no connection to the ground, covered in aluminium foil (which is an electricity conductor!) to work as a reflector, multiple plugs right beside the aquarium and in reach of water splashes, or even placed underneath the aquarium, ready to be submerged should the tank spill over. These are certainly the best things to do to make a catastrophe happen. They should be avoided at all costs. And if there is a malfunction, for example because the filter tank spills over and the water goes on the floor, we often react rashly and in the wrong way! You couldn’t commit a bigger mistake than to rush towards your aquarium from which strange noises and hisses are coming, at night, in the dark and walking on the wet floor, and then to put your hands inside the tank. This could be seriously dangerous for your life. In this cases, it is important to keep calm. Do not walk on the wet floor without wearing dry shoes, and first of all turn off the safety switch, so that the whole aquarium is electricity-free. 

Then, you should turn off all the electrical appliances before turning the safety switch back on, and only then you can look for the reason of the malfunction. Of course, it is OK to make some thing by yourself, but in reef aquariology it would be better to stick to things that do not have any relations to electricity. Electrical appliances do not only need to be installed by a specialist, but making them as well requires more experience than the average aquariofile has, and the competence of the engineers that develop those products. Safety first!
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The correct positioning of the cable is important: A The cable goes down towards the power socket: risk. B The cable goes down towards the power socket but it has been curved so as to allow dripping: temporary compromise. C The cable goes up towards the power socket: permanent solution.

Safety first!



  • Attention to safety has to start already during the handling of electrical equipment. Do not under any circumstances hold a submersible pump by its cable. A submersible pump operates in safety underwater only when no cracks have formed between the cable and the die-cast component. If that happened, the pump could transfer electricity to the water.





  • Avoid water splashes and under no circumstance install plugs or electrical equipment in reach of saline water splashes. The cables of pumps, lamps, or other electrical equipment should always reach power sockets from under them, because otherwise, saline water running down the cable might reach the plug. If this is unavoidable, even temporarily, you should always create a dripping curve, meaning you should position the cable so that it creates a curve in the direction of the floor, to then go up towards the socket, so that in case there is any water on the cable it will drip down and not reach the socket.





  • Only use lamps that are specifically made and warranted for aquariological purposes. Current regulations strictly establish safety norms, indicating building and protection procedures to avoid splashes or to have watertightness, and how these things can be achieved. These features can be relevant in case of a fire or for insurance purposes.

  • The best thing to do is to use a safety switch, which in case of a malfunction can interrupt all electricity supply, thus avoiding dangerous situations.


This photo has not been prepared but it is from an interesting case; in one plug, instead of a flexible braid cable made of multiple thin copper filaments, which is what is usually present, a thick one (3 x 0.75) was installed. The contact surface between the copper and the fixing screw through the round section of the cable was reduced, creating resistance to the flux, so that heat developed even without an overload. The heat increased the resistance in the point of contact, and the cable caught fire!
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default Coral Reef Magazine Volume 4 (Page 5)

Post by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 21:25

HOW TO BUILD YOURSELF A TRAP FOR THE INFAMOUS OENONE FULGIDA

[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]In my very long experience as an aquarist, I have encountered, like many of you, all kinds of pests that can dishearten even the most tenacious enthusiast. They are mostly spontaneous or accidentally introduced organisms, which, growing and reproducing, can really cause a lot of problems.
One of them is Oenone Fulgida, a worm of the Polychaeta family, which can reach remarkable dimensions (the one I had was around 50-60 cm).
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How to recognize its presence in the tank:




Unfortunately, it is quite simple. The Oenone Fulgida worm feeds on molluscs and bivalves, so if you notice slugs, tridacnas and similar organisms quickly disappearing, there is a good chance that this worm is the culprit. To be 100% sure, just check if on the dead or dying tridacna there is the unmistakable transparent gelatinous mucus that the worm secretes to suffocate its pray, to then take its time eating them. If you find this mucus, then you can be sure that you have anOenone Fulgida in your tank.

How to catch it:




Reading on forums and blogs on the internet, I found something that was right for me. To build a really effective trap, you will only need a few and easy to find things.
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[*]A PVC tube, about 20-25 cm in length and with a diameter of 25 mm.

[*]2 PVC spherical caps with a diameter of 25 mm.

[*]A nylon sock of the kind used for activated carbon.

[*]Some sturdy fishing line, not less that 0,16.

[*](Optional) Toy night vision goggles, which can be bought for about 20 euros.

[*]A drill to make holes in the PVC.


[/list]
First, take the fishing line and make a noose, or if you prefer, a slip knot. If you do not know how to do this, you can find many guides on the internet, and it is very simple.
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Take the PVC tube and use the drill to make a small hole close to one of the extremities.


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Then make the nylon thread with the noose that we prepared earlier pass through the hole.

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Take the drill again, and make a hole in one of the spherical caps with an 8mm drill bit. The cap with the hole will be the one to be placed at the extremity of the tube where you drilled a hole for the thread.


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Now make the sock go through the noose and into the tube.



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Then close the bottom of the tube with the cap without the hole, put the bait in the sock (as deep as possible) and close the entrance with the cap with the hole, letting the edge of the sock come out of the tube.


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The trap is ready to be used.


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The hunt:


Oenone Fulgida only comes out at night, and to catch it it will have to be completely dark in both the tank and the room. To help with this, I bought online for a few euros some toy night vision goggles, which are perfect for this purpose.
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As a bait I recommend to use a piece of sardine, because not only it is very desirable to all the inhabitants of the tank, but it also releases a very strong smell that will lure out the worm in no time.
Place the trap horizontally on the sand, with the hole facing the worm’s hideout (if you know where it is). It has to be easy to retrieve, so think carefully about its position. About an hour after the lights have been turned off, check with the goggles if the worm’s front part is inside the trap.

Always give the worm time to slide all the way inside the trap to have more chances of succeeding. Wear rubber or latex gloves and do not touch the worm with your bare hands.

When you are sure that the worm is inside the trap, pull the thread. Do not use too much force, or you will risk cutting the worm and therefore multiplying the problem. When you pull the thread, the noose will close around the sock and the worm, stopping it from sliding backwards and breaking itself.
Now take the tube and pull gently, making the rest of the body of the worm come out of its hideout, always being careful not to break it.

Once you have pulled it out, you should have the trap in your hand with the worm hanging from it.
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This is my experience and I can assure you that for me it worked perfectly.
I hope this guide can help all the aquarists that are being vexed by this worm, and give hope to those who had given up, thinking there was nothing they could do to get rid of it anymore.
 Lorenzo Dainelli
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default Coral Reef Magazine Volume 4 (Page 6)

Post by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 21:41

The transport of coral fishes

[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]Transporting coral fish is not always trouble free. If a single fish is moved while in a large tank of water, which is also filled with oxygen, as is usually practiced in specialized aquariological trade, then the entire move should be trouble free. But as soon as you want to transport a larger amount of fish things become more complicated, particularly during the transfer from one private aquarium to another, where instead of placing each single fish in a large tank of oxygenated water, they tend to group a number of different types of fish together in a plastic bucket.



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In the transport bag coral fish, in relation to the volume of water, should have a large surface area.


The tank for transporting coral fish should have a large surface area in relation to the volume of water. However this is how the problems begin. The fish while giving off carbon dioxide and ammonium through their gills lower the amount of oxygen and the pH value of the water. Usually a high plastic bucket with a lid is used for this purpose. In addition there is a trend to fill it with as much water as possible, thinking that if there is more water then there will be more oxygen for the fish, or maybe not? In fact the opposite is true: the less water there is, the higher their chance of survival, at least to a point. This fact may seem initially like a paradox, but a tragic event from my early period as a marine aquarist, 20 years ago, should help to explain it. I wanted to carry 20 turquoise bridesmaids in a bucket of ten liters of water. I placed the fish inside and filled the aquarium with water within a couple of cm from the brim. After driving about three quarters of an hour by car, I arrived at my destination and opened the bucket. 

About two-thirds of the fish were dead and the others were splashing desperately around in the water looking for oxygen; but what had happened? Each fish had had a larger amount of water available compared to commercial exports from Indonesia or the Philippines while travelling to Europe (where, in fact, each example of fish has only a few tablespoons of water for transport). In my case each fish had had much more water so what was the problem? With a larger amount of water the metabolic products of fatty fish would have been diluted, or not? At this point it had to be absolutely an advantage to fill the bucket to the brim and not only to two-thirds or at least that was what I believed. However thing in life are often NOT what they seem!
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Possibilities for transporting coral fish:
A-bucket of water filled to the brim
B-bucket of water half filled, C-a shallow container, D-a tank three quarters full.





The amount of water is not the decisive fact; in fact it is the relationship of its volume with the surface, which allows adequate gas exchange. For example: if you fill a 10 liter bucket with 9 liters of water a certain relationship is created between the volume and the surface with a passive gas exchange. The same amount of gas is passively exchanged through its spread on the water surface for each unit of fish and this gas exchange within 9 liters of water determines a particular level of oxygen and CO2 in the water. If the same bucket were filled with 1.8 liters instead of 9, the saturation of oxygen in the water would be five times higher! In fact, it is much more complex than that, because on one hand in a limited volume of water the metabolic fish products enrich more than a higher volume of water, on the other hand the higher concentration of these substances lead to a higher exchange of passive gases, this exchange of gases depends mostly on what is above the surface of the water, a sufficient amount of oxygen must be provided and in no case should carbon dioxide be allowed to accumulate, but must be allowed to escape, because otherwise it will hinder the exchange of gases. It becomes evident that with more water when transporting, with the same surface area in the container, problems are created not resolved. For this reason, today I always follow Prof. Ellen Thaler’s advice by always transporting coral fish in a reduced level of water. Even when it comes to a large surgeonfish, almost 8 cm in height, it’s better to transport in a bucket of 10cm of water instead of half or completely filled. 

Furthermore, the bucket shouldn’t be completely shut or at least it should be opened regularly so to allow movement to the water and to allow carbon dioxide accumulations to escape. The ideal situation would be to achieve also when transporting in a bucket, the same relationship between air and water as we find in small transport bags, in which coral fish are exported from their original countries. In this case there are only a few millimeters of water in comparison to the large surface area, above which there is a high supply of oxygen. This means, therefore, that a shallow tank is a better form of transport than a bucket. If you must use a bucket then you should fill it with less than two-thirds of water and open it regularly to help gas exchange. There are other ways to optimize the transport of coral fish.
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default Coral Reef Magazine Volume 4 (Page 7)

Post by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 21:49

ORNAMENTAL ROCKS IN REEF AQUARIUMS – Part 1

[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]Marine aquariums always contain large quantities of ornamental rocks. What is the reason for it? Are the rocks only used for aesthetic purposes, or do they also have biological value? Because of the often high cost of a living rock environment, many beginners or aquariofiles who wish to change from freshwater to marine wonder if it is not possible to do without. In freshwater aquariums often only floor material and plants are used. Is it not possible to set up like this a marine aquarium too, without ornamental rocks? In a few words, it wouldn’t make much sense. The freshwater aquarium reproduces mainly the biotope of a river or of a similar environment. Here water plants take root in the floor, which is reproduced in the aquarium. In a marine tank, however, we try to reproduce a snippet of a coral reef, and in this case limestone is prevalent. In fact, the whole reef, with all its inhabitants, exists on a base of calcareous rock. However, these reefs have grown over the remains of organisms such as shellfish, snail shells, hard corals and other organisms. The skeletons and remains of these creatures have been “welded” together in a compact mass by calcareous algae. These relatively light and often porous calcareous rocks are the base for all the reef’s corals. Therefore, to set up a marine reef aquarium, we cannot do without calcareous rocks.


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A dry but very porous calcareous rock of marine origin, ideal to be turned into living rock.

Which type of rock is the best?

Which material then is the most appropriate? To this question too is easy to answer: the best is without a doubt the marine “living” rock, just the one that has formed in the reef itself. It is much more than a simple calcareous material, as it is rich of life inside. Micro organisms, countless worms and many other animals colonize it densely. We will never see many of these organisms, but their hidden life contributes all the same to increase the species variety, biologically stabilizing the aquarium. Many of the worms, shrimp, crabs, slugs and other organisms are detritivores, mainly active during the night, when they leave their hiding place and feeding even of dead fish before it can pollute the water. Deeper in the rocks live the bacteria that uses nitrates for their breathing, helping limiting the increase of this substance in the water of the aquarium. For these reasons, natural marine rock is the best solution for every reef aquarium. Very thick and heavy rocks, offered on the aquariological market as “dolomitic perforated rock” or something similar, are in the best scenario only a second choice. They are surely suitable, because of their shape, for invertebrates to insert themselves in their recesses, but the porous structure that is vital to many small organisms is missing. The thicker these rocks are, the less suitable they are to set up a well functioning reef aquarium. If an aquarium is set up with only these rocks, later it will only be possible to avoid the increase of nitrates only by using alternative means (nitrate filter, etc.).
 In any case, the rocks should be calcareous, if anything for aesthetic reasons. A reef aquarium would certainly not have a natural appearance with other materials. One should be careful with colored veins, especially brown ones. They are often compounds that can later bring complications related to heavy metals. In this way it can be easy to complicate things, making the growth of bothersome algae uncontrollable, or facing inexplicable coral deterioration symptoms. While this risk has to be considered for all of these kinds of rocks, it is almost absent in the case of living rock.

Part 2 will follow

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Post by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 21:54

ORNAMENTAL ROCKS IN REEF AQUARIUMS – Part 2

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Synthetic ornamental rocks

Be careful also with “synthetic” aquarium rocks, especially when it’s not clear what material they are made of. Some rocks of this kind give more the impression of hardened industrial waste than of a real ornament, and even if sometimes it is possible to integrate them in a reef aquarium, they are not an ideal substitute. We should always remember that our aim is to make the delicate coral polyps grow in our aquarium. For these organisms, in fact, even the smallest concentration of certain substances, which are innocuous to fish and other inhabitants of the aquarium, are often lethal. Skeletons of dead corals were very sought after in the past. Fortunately this trend has changed in time and only rarely we still see coral skeletons in aquariums. Even though the laws for the protection of the species forbid them, this is not the only reason to strongly advise against their use. Arrangements with dead corals are part of the aquariology of the 60s. 
This skeleton based decoration was used at the time to replace not rocks, but live corals. Today, a similar “cemetery” of corals would not be up-to-date, and it would rightly raise criticism against this hobby. However coral skeletons should not be used in reef aquariums also for another reason: algae eater animals need smooth surfaces to feed. This is true for fish as well as sea urchins or other herbivores. A similar coral skeleton could be very problematic if filamentous algae should appear. On these extremely branched skeletons, the annoying algae are very difficult to remove. Synthetic foam, which to this day is used as a substitute for coral material, is not recommended. With this material one can definitely create structures which are very similar to the natural ones, but not only we cannot completely rule out the presence of substances that are bad for the water, we would also have to do without the crucial internal life that instead we find in abundance in living rocks. It is necessary to observe that these artificial rocks have in the best of cases the charm of fake flowers, and that therefore have nothing to do with a coral environment. However, taste is a personal factor! To help with the expenses necessary for the arrangement, dry and living rocks can be combined. Dry rocks can be used to create a sort of base, attaching them to each other. Non-living rocks can constitute up to 60% of the necessary material, and the arrangement will be completed with living coral material. In this way, enough living rocks are introduced in the environment, and at the same time it is possible to limit the costs.
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The calcareous rock that is too thick offers few possibilities to the colonizing bacteria.

Farmed living rocks

Another solution is farmed living rocks, which however are not yet available in every country. Following the already existing limitations on the import of living rocks from the countries of origin, and their very possible future tightening, these farmed rocks will be soon regularly available here as well. At this moment this material is mainly produced in the southern U.S., especially in Florida. The technique consists only in depositing in the coral reef some calcareous and porous rocks, and waiting about two years for the coral organisms to colonize them. At the end it is very difficult to distinguish them from those that really have formed in the reef. Choosing the rocks, it is recommended to check their porous structure. This is true for both natural living rocks and for farmed ones, and clearly also for dry rocks. The more porous they are, the more extended the internal surface will be, and the more their biological activity will be in the future. Of course it needs to be said that rocks are usually sold by weight, while for the aquarium the occupied volume is more important. But with lighter rocks it is possible to save a lot of money. How much living rock should be used for an aquarium arrangement? It is impossible to answer this question in kilograms, as we are interested in their biological vitality. If we assume that we are talking about good quality living rock, then a third of the total volume of the aquarium should be enough. In any case, the ideal solution is the exclusive use of living coral material. As in many cases this choice is ruled out by financial reasons, we try to solve the problem by making the base arrangement with dry rocks (for example two thirds of the total), and finishing it later, after the aquarium has been filled with sea water, by introducing living rocks (one third of the total volume).

Part 3 will follow


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Post by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 21:57

ORNAMENTAL ROCKS IN REEF AQUARIUMS – Part 3

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Estimating the volume

If you are interested in estimating the exact volume of used rocks, you can do that with the following procedure: place a large empty container on the floor. In this container place a bucket filled to the brim with water. Now put the rocks into the water one after the other, so that a certain quantity of water flows out of the bucket. After every rock you put in, the water has to be replenished by filling the bucked again. The water in excess will accumulate in the bigger container and therefore it is easy to determine its volume at the end (in case of determining the volume of living rocks, it is of course better to use sea water). Once the operation is finished, you should make a note of the exact volume occupied by the rocks, to be able to remember it at the opportune time. It can, in fact, be very useful in the future to know exactly how much water is contained in the aquarium. Under the rocks it is advisable placing a sheet of a material that is resistant to sea water, to protect the bottom glass. This can be made of polystyrene, PVC, or acrylic. Be careful not to leave any grains of sand or other materials under it, because the consequences could be fatal.
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An aquarium is not a cemetery. Dead coral skeletons should have no place in a reef aquarium.

Attached or simply piled up?

The next question that we ask ourselves is: “to attach them or to simply pile them up?” In this case, there are discordant opinions, because both of the solutions have advantages and disadvantages. The simple piling up of the rocks is definitely quicker, although the aesthetic result rarely gives much gratification. Often the rocks are just leaning on the rear glass. Once it is all covered in corals it certainly does not look boring, but positioning the rocks in a more planned way can result in more scenic underwater landscapes. The advantage of a simpler arrangement is that later, every single rock will be easily removed. Such an opportunity might be appreciated in case annoying Aiptasias, small anemones, or hydroid polyps should appear. Once fixed, it becomes difficult to remove individual pieces, even though in this way it is possible to create truly sensational structures. We could, for example, reproduce a small snippet of the coral reef in 1:1 scale, or we could create a miniature reef, with all the various components, from a more exposed reef to a wall, or a peak, or if you want even a lagoon. In the middle, you could maybe create a narrow canyon that disappears towards the back. Just get inspired by looking at pictures of a natural reef. Making a drawing can be very useful for accurately collocating the rocks. In freshwater aquariology it is normal to use this system to make a project of the exact placement of the plants. So why not do the same in reef aquariology? In this phase, we should already consider which corals and invertebrates we will want to add to our aquarium. 
Soft corals need more space than hard ones, because they grow faster. Hard corals need more light than the majority of soft corals. We should already think of all these factors from now. It is useful to remember that soft corals have their own rocky under-layer, for which there should be space in the aquarium. Even the volume of the colonies of invertebrates is often forgotten while planning. Many aquariofiles make the same mistake in this phase: they use too many base rocks, and later they will find themselves forced to gradually take some out. This also depends on the fact that at this stage there still isn’t any water in the aquarium. Sea water, in fact, has the has the optical property of reducing distances making everything appear larger than what it really is. This effect is immediately perceived as soon as we have filled the tank; in this way the whole arrangement will appear closer to the front glass of about a third. The entire thing will then look more voluminous and this effect should be kept in mind when planning. If while you are putting together the arrangement you feel that you have bought only half of the necessary base rocks, then the total volume is probably just right. After filling the tank with sea water, add the living rocks and the arrangement will be complete.

Part 4 will follow

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Post by Coral_Reef_Magazine on Thu 21 May 2015, 22:01

ORNAMENTAL ROCKS IN REEF AQUARIUMS – Part 4

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Cementing ornamental rocks

If you should decide to attach the rocks, leaving aside the use of cement, silicon could be a good compromise. In this way you would obtain a junction that does not need long rinsing, and later can be easily separated with a knife, if you should ever need to do so. Fixing the rocks with cement, instead, gives much more stable results.

The cementing of ornamental rocks

For this operation we use a cement that is devoid of iron substances called Portland cement, which we will mix with double its volume of fine quartz. After the construction has hardened, we have to fill the tank and leave the water to extract the alkaline substances. We recommend a period of about two weeks, adding table salt to tap water. Salt water is, in fact, more chemically aggressive than fresh water. For the last rinsing we can use hydrochloric acid (muriatic), best if in a 32% concentration and a quantity of 15 ml for every 100 liters. With this method the remaining alkaline substances in the cement are neutralized. At the end we finish by rinsing everything with plenty of tap water. An analysis of the PH will indicate if the cement is still releasing alkaline substances.
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Special arrangements

It is also possible to create arrangements of different types. In particular, Japanese marine aquariofiles are masters of special arrangements, and their aquariums are notably different from most European and American ones. It is interesting to note how the majority of Japanese reef aquariums reproduce solitary coral formations, which we often see in nature. These rock coral constructions are positioned completely freely in the reef aquarium, and do not have any kind of contact with the glass, in order to allow the fish to swim around them. Sometimes for these creations scaffolding made of PVC tubes is used to avoid using cement. Individual rocks are then fixed to the structure with nylon thread or cable ties. In this way it is possible to create reefs with interesting shapes that are also stable. Some ingenious aquariofiles in the U.S. and in the Philippines have used this technique to channel water inside the pipes. 
From the start, the plan includes the possibility to later pump water in the system. Openings in several places allow circulation both under and behind the structure. No doubt, it is an interesting construction. However, it can be quite difficult to give a natural look to it. You should also add the risk that one of the main pipes might cave in under the weight of the rocks, inevitably making the entire structure collapse. Although this is not very probable, the risk of this eventuality should not be underestimated, considering the effect of rocks impacting the glass. In the end, whatever you decide to do to prepare your aquarium, whether it is the easiest of arrangements, or a more complicated structure fixed with cables or cement, with only living rocks or with a mix of the two, take your time. A well thought out plan is the foundation of a good aesthetic final result.
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