Soft Coral Success In Your Saltwater Aquarium

April 17th, 2014

Soft corals are great! Not only are they the easiest corals to take care of, but they have some truly fascinating forms and amazing colours that will add interest and beauty to any saltwater aquarium.

Soft corals have highly interesting forms and shapes and are among the most tolerant corals to imperfect water quality that exist in our oceans. Not only this; they require sub-intense lighting are cheap and are much easier to care for than either LPS or SPS corals, which makes them the perfect beginners coral.


Things to know about soft corals:

They are usually found in nutrient rich tropical waters at a depth of 5 – 30 metres (shallow) predominantly in the Indo-Pacific and Red sea. Soft corals mostly are populated by zooxanthellae, the symbiotic algae living in their tentacle tissues that convert sunlight to food.

saltwater aquarium advice soft coral

Soft corals: easy, look cool and cheap!

Soft corals can be harvested very gently unlike hard corals that need to be very destructively hacked off the reef. Soft corals are very good at regenerating from small sections and fragments in your system and will asexually reproduce by budding and fragmentation, they will also grow much quicker than stony corals that have to absorb a lot of calcium out of the water to build their hard skeletons.

You would think that a lack of a hard, stony skeleton would make the polyps of soft corals much more vulnerable to predation but soft corals come well armed with both internal spiny sclerites (the structure of these is used for species identification) which deters any potential predators and chemical warfare that deters any living thing from growing on their tissue and keeps their close neighbors at bay… So dont put them too close to other sessile (non-moving) invertebrates or chemical warfare could result! Activated carbon can help filter this out of the water.

Beautiful carnation coral

Beautiful carnation coral

My personal favourite soft corals are of the genus; Lobophytum (Finger leather), Alcyonium (dead mans fingers, hand corals), Cladiella (Cauliflower, Tree leather), Sarcophyton (Mushroom, Leather, Cup leather), and Sinularia. These are all very interesting looking rubbery growths coming out of the rockwork. I also love pulsing Xenias because of their delicately waving colonies of feathery polyps.


My top soft coral tips

  1. Vigorous water movement is very important to remove waste and bring oxygen and plankton food to soft corals.
  2. Using activated carbon to soak up any chemicals released is really a must with soft corals, some species are capable of releasing some pretty nasty chemicals when threatened or stressed. A good protein skimmer will also help with this and also is highly recommended.
  3. Removing any shed mucus as soon as you notice it is important, as this is quite toxic to you other marine life and water quality.
  4. Just because these coral tolerate sub-optimal water quality doesn’t mean that your water shouldn’t be pristine and nutrient free, after all do you want your corals to just survive or thrive?

    saltwater aquarium soft coral advice

    Mushrooms are some of the easiest to care for and prettiest corals.

  5. Soft corals don’t exclusively need intensive lighting but most species will welcome it in your tank, for those who shy away from bright lighting you can place them near the bottom or in the shade of the rockwork.
  6. Soft corals unlike stony corals are not very fussy about their placement, for example they will do happily in lower light areas as long as they get adequate supplementary feeding and have high water movement, many soft corals can also be placed in high light conditions.
  7. When placing soft corals be very careful to leave enough space between them (8 inches is a safe bet) and other sessile organisms, if the soft corals end up touching another organism some nasty chemical warfare (Alleopathy) can follow which can easily kill the unlucky touching organism and foul up your tank water. Protein skimming and activated carbon can help to mop up these toxins as they are produced.
  8. Most soft corals eat plankton and will do very well with a twice weekly supplementary feeding of either zooplankton or phytoplankton depending on the coral species.

If you have found this article helpful and want a great saltwater aquarium education, please consider checking out my best selling ebook or consider my complete saltwater training solution the VIP club training course.

By Andrej Brummer.
Andrej Brummer

How To Easily Prevent The Majority Of Deaths Of Your New Marine Pets

April 5th, 2014

The most stressful and dangerous time in the life of any captive marine organism is being moved from one aquatic environment to another with different water parameters

Move me with care!

Move me with care!

This means even slight differences in pH, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, water pollution. All these sudden changes from going from one tank environment to another result in extreme stress and often death…think of us humans moving to another planet with a slightly different atmosphere and trying to breath!

Up to 90% of captive marine life mortality comes from the physical, chemical, biological and ecological stresses caused by being transferred from one aquatic environment to another. These massive marine life losses are easily avoidable! A good acclimation procedure is key here, as is understanding the stresses placed on marine life taken from one body of water and put into another non-identical one.

Understand the underlying cause of the stress:

  • Physical stress is caused by differences in water temperature, cold stress is much worse than slight heat stress. The ocean is always the same temperature, so when bringing a new pet home float the bag in display tank water for 15 minutes to equalise temperatures.
  • Chemical stress is usually caused by differences in pH and also accumulation of ammonia; which can burn gills, in shipping water (always add an ammonia destroyer or buffer to the shipping water). The key is to slowly add water from your display tank to the shipping water.
  • Biological stress is caused by the unwitting introduction of parasites into your display tank, this happens a LOT. You should always quarantine new purchases in a separate bare-bones tank for 2 weeks to ensure no parasites make it past this point. They would have been revealed to you by this time and if you do spot them, you can easily medicate the water to safely remove them.
This is biological stress!

This is biological stress!

  • Ecological stress is caused by putting your new pet into an established ecosystem, that already has a pecking order in regards to food and space. Bullying is the main manifestation of this stress and is another great reason why you should quarantine. After this time your marine specimen will be much less stressed and able to cope with the wider display tank environment.

As you can see there are a whole host of stressors that can easily cause harm to your new marine pets. With a good acclimation process these stresses can be minimised.

When you are at the fish store ready to take home your new aquarium pet there are steps you can already take to help with the acclimation process:

  1. Ask for oxygen instead of air to be put in the shipping bag.
  2. Add an ammonia destroyer/buffer to the shipping water.
  3. Keep bag upright and insulated from temperature fluctuations where possible on the journey home (plastic food coolers are excellent for this)
  4. Get home as quickly as possible and try to keep movement and vibration to a minimum.

Once you get your saltwater aquarium pets home…

The best acclimation method I know is the Drip method. This is the very gradual (drip by drip) transfer of your tanks aquarium water via small diameter tube to your new pets holding water.

Angels need special care

Angels especially need careful acclimation

You should aim for about 2 drips per second and the whole process should take over an hour so you get about 3 times the original volume of shipping water. You will need to measure water parameters (temperature, pH and specific gravity) of your saltwater aquarium’s water and the shipping water at the beginning and at the end to ensure they basically end up the same.

Getting rid of stress!

A good acclimation process like the one above should eliminate physical stress and chemical stress.

Biological stress can be removed by quarantining your new pets in a bare-bones quarantine tank for at least 2 weeks before they go into your display tank. Almost all diseases or parasites will show up in this time and can be treated swiftly without putting your other marine life at risk.

Finally Ecological stress is simply a matter of researching and choosing your saltwater aquarium inhabitants wisely, ensuring they are compatible and will get along together. If there are problems with bullying there are a variety of strategies that can help with this.

If you have found this article helpful and want a great saltwater aquarium education, please consider checking out my best selling ebook or consider my complete saltwater training solution the VIP club training course.

By Andrej Brummer.
Andrej Brummer

For An Easier Saltwater Aquarium Experience, Good Maintenance is Key!

January 9th, 2014

One of the fundamental keys to a long-term thriving saltwater aquarium lies in the good upkeep of your tank!

Keeping Aquarium water conditions and the environment for your marine life pristine really is the secret to your success over the years. Having a well-maintained aquarium is the best thing you can do to avoid the problems that other less diligent aquarists often experience. This will save you time, money and the stress of replacing your marine pets.

A well maintained tank is especially important for corals

A well maintained tank is especially important for corals

Did you know that the thought of having to maintain a marine aquarium is the major reason people are put off the hobby? But if your aquarium is correctly set up your maintenance will in fact be less than for other pets such as cats or dogs. Saltwater aquarium maintenance can be easy and fast. Even though it is a chore, making a schedule and doing all the daily, weekly and monthly tasks when they need to be done will ultimately make life easier for you and greatly benefit your marine life.

There are a few factors that influence the frequency and amount of maintenance that needs to be done in your aquarium. The first being what filtration you have in place; a canister biological filter will require more cleaning and checking than live rock which uses macro and microscope life to break down waste very effectively. Increasing biological load on your filtration system will require you do more cleaning, water quality testing and changing of media as will quantity and types of foods used, remember; overfeeding is the primary cause of poor water quality.

Using tank janitors such as crabs, shrimp, sea cucumbers, starfish, marine plants, Blennies or Gobies and nitrate, phosphate removers and activated carbon will all reduce maintenance required.

Algae Blennies are excellent tank cleaners

Algae Blennies are fantastic algae removers

A marine aquarium maintenance schedule is the best way to stay on top of what needs to be done and when. If you have all the tasks written down in checklist form you cant forget what needs to be done and it spaces out and breaks the maintenance up into easy chunks that you will quickly be able to get done. This is much better than the overwhelm of trying to do everything all at once at the last minute (believe me ive learned the hard way!). This schedule can include an aquarium log where you can record any details about your marine life, readings and levels this will really help you stay on top of what is going on with the workings of your aquarium.

So what exactly needs to be done and when? Right, maintenance tasks can be broken up into daily, weekly and monthly chores.

Daily tasks would be things like: checking on your marine life, your equipment and the temperature.

Weekly tasks include: topping up evaporated water, water quality testing, checking filter and emptying protein skimmer cups (every few days).

Monthly Tasks include: Partial water changes (although 15% every 2 weeks is better ;), also adding supplements.

So, regular maintenance really is a must for a consistently healthy saltwater aquarium and even though it may seem like there is a lot to do, if you break it all up into a maintenance schedule  it really becomes a series of short, manageable tasks that will save you and your marine life a lot of problems in the long run.

For some expert saltwater tank hand-holding check out my best selling ebook or consider my complete saltwater training solution the VIP club training course.


What You Need To Know About Saltwater Aquarium Starfish

September 6th, 2012

For todays’ blog post we are going to focus on that most recognisable, decorative symbol of the ocean; the Starfish!

My favourite Starfish; the Blue Linckia.

What organism could be more symbolic of the ocean in your saltwater aquarium than the humble Starfish?

Starfish also known, as Sea Stars are a kind of marine invertebrate called Echinoderms and are of the class Asteroidea. They usually have 5 arms radiating out from a central disc. There are over 1600 species and they are found on muddy, rocky or sandy sea bottoms spanning the world.


Starfish can regenerate and turn their insides out!

Starfish have the ability to completely regenerate into a new organism from a small section of tissue, this is a way they increase their population assexually (“comets” are new starfish regenerated from a single arm of the original).

Starfish  live oral side down and have the ability to externalise their entire stomachs which secrete enzymes to liquefy flesh so it can be absorbed before the stomach is retracted. Their arms are very strong and can open the most robust of mollusc shells and send the contents of their stomach inside to devour the poor creature in no time at all!


A Starfish as a pet

I think a Starfish in a reef tank is a wonderful and interesting addition and really adds an natural authentic flair to your slice of tropical reef. Many species will be peaceful detritus scavengers in your reef tank making a good addition to your clean up crew of marine invertebrates and keep inaccessible recesses of your reef clean and can also stir up and aerate your sandy substrate. Starfish are most happy if kept at a population density of 1 per 3 metres squared.


Choosing the right Starfish…

You must be careful in your Starfish or Sea Star selection because some species can grow very large and/or are insatiable predators feasting on smaller fish and what ever other invertebrates they can get their 5 hands on. Choose carefully and if you have a reef tank ensure you purchase a reef-safe species.

If you have Boxfish, Parrotfish, Pufferfish or Triggerfish do not get Starfish, as these fish are their natural predators, other than these very few species of fish will attack Starfish. Large Starfish may often consume smaller ones and a few shrimp species such as the Harlequin shrimp will also attempt to dine on Starfish. The rest of your tank should leave them alone as they are well-armoured and docile creatures.

Britslestars are awesome clean-up crew members.

Finding a healthy Starfish

When choosing a Starfish ensure it is active and moving around, you should be able to observe its tube feet to ensure it is healthy (tube feet are retracted in sick Starfish). Its body should be firm and not limp.

A good test for the health of your prospective Starfish is to turn it on its back and see if it can right itself, this will help to assess whether or not the stresses of capture and handling were too much. Missing tentacles are not a problem as they will grow back quickly (although freshly wounded Starfish should be avoided as they may develop infection). Also avoid any Starfish with white or dark patches of tissue; this is not a good sign.


Good Starfish for saltwater aquarium use are:

- Blue “Linckia” Starfish (Linckia laevigata): reef safe, amazing colour (you can also get orange or red ones, but blue is the best), very self-sufficient in larger tanks but not tolerant of water chemistry changes.
- The Sand Sifting Starfish (Astropecten polycanthus) Reef safe, aerates your sand bed but eats all the beneficial creatures that make it “live” sand, very easy to care for, ensure it’s well fed if you still want live sand.
- Chocolate chip Starfish (Protoreastor nodosus): Classic starfish shape and reminds you of cookies, good for fish only tanks and FOWLR’s.
- A Brittlestar (various species): Totally reef safe, are very hard working nocturnal cleaners and are the only Starfish I would recommend for your clean-up crew.
Feeding a Starfish:

A great way to feed a Starfish is to place a meaty morsel underneath it; this way no other organisms will be able to steal it from the slow moving Starfish.

Many Starfish species are also omnivorous scavengers feeding on uneaten food, detritus, bacterial films, tiny invertebrates and algae. They do eat a fair bit for their size and so will do better in systems that are not skimmed and spotlessly clean. The bigger the Starfish the less likely it will be able to get into the rockwork to find food.


Starfish care:

Starfish prefer good water quality and care should be taken not to remove them from the water suddenly because if any air bubble gets trapped internally in its vessel system they can die. If you want to take them out of the water first place a few of their legs out then slowly bring the body out after a few seconds, this will give them enough time to close their water valve and so be able to be exposed to the air safely.

Special care must be taken when acclimating a Starfish, it must be done very slowly using the “drip” method. Starfish are very sensitive to changes in pH and salinity.

Remember, if you need extra help with your saltwater tank join my VIP club or check out my ebook.


What To Do When Your Bristleworms Become a Problem

August 21st, 2012

Fireworms can be saltwater aquarium nightmares…here’s what you can do about them

What grows up to 24″ and eats all your inverts?

Generally speaking the Polychaete worms we know as Bristleworms and their stinging bristled cousins the Fireworms are beneficial hitchhikers into a saltwater aquarium that feed off detritus (making them detrivores) and uneaten food helping to breakdown waste in your tank. Not only that, they also aerate the substrate and are very effective nutrient recyclers.


Nice or Naughty?

Typically there will be many small individuals in your tank and you just don’t notice them because they hide in the substrate during the day then come out at night when it’s dark. Normally your Bristleworm population will be self-limiting over time due to the small amount of available food.

Usually they will not be present in enough numbers to be problem unless there is plenty of uneaten food to build their population up. They eat a lot and will grow and reproduce rapidly when there is enough food available for them to do so, this is when problems occur. But unless your tank is over-populated with Bristleworms and/or your invertebrates are being attacked just let them be, because they are doing good for your tank.


Where Problems Begin…

The Bristleworms that cause most of the problems in our tanks are the larger carnivorous Fireworms of the family Pherecardia (Pacific), Hermodice (Caribbean), and other related species which are also effective predators, so when they get large enough they can quickly turn their jaws to your marine pets. Their body spines can inflict a painful sting so handle with caution (this is how they get their name).

If well feed it is not uncommon for Bristle/Fireworms to grow up to 24 inches in length (they sometimes appear smaller than they actually are because they are bunched together and not stretched out to their full length). Fireworms this large can turn into very nasty predators and have ravenous appetites.

They are well known to snack on Anemones, hard corals, gorgonians, Snails, Shrimp, even small fish! Large hungry Fireworms can do a lot of damage in a saltwater tank and you will need to get rid of them.


Detecting a Fireworm…

If you suspect Fireworms of attacking and gnawing on your invertebrates the only way to really tell is at night time a few hours after you have turned off the tank lights, ensure the room has been in total dark for a few hours too. The most effective way to spot them is with a red light (just secure a piece of red cellophane onto the light emitting end of your torch) searching the tank slowly with no rapid movements. Red light will not cause them to hide away like normal light does. Injured corals and anemones can also indicate you have a Fireworm problem.


So, Now You Know You Have Them, How Do You Get Rid Of Them?

1. Prevention:
The best form of defence is always to prevent the problem in the first place. Fireworms are usually introduced to a tank by hitchhiking on Live rock. Before putting the live rock in your tank try laying it out on newspaper. By doing this you should be able to see any fireworms crawling around or sticking out of their holes, remove them with tweezers. Dipping the live rock in fresh water will also help to kill any Fireworms you have not detected.

2. Natural predators:
Before I go into natural predators as a solution, please ensure you select a species that will be compatible for your tank and will not starve when all the Fireworms are eaten. It’s also important to note that most of the following will end up eating all your beneficial worms as well:

- Arrow Crab (Stenorhynchus setrcornis)
- Bird Wrasse (Gomphosus varius)
- Coral Banded Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)
- Dottybacks
- Maori Wrasse (Cheilinus oxycephalus)
- Mexican Red Legged Hermit Crabs (Clibinarius Diguetti)
- Mythrax Emerald Crabs(Mithraculuc Sculptus)
- Six-Line Wrasse (Pseudocheilinus hexataenia)
- Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata Amboinensis)
- Sunset Wrasse (Thalassoma lutescens),
- Wrasses of the Halichoeres family

My personal favourite here is the 6-line Wrasse because it looks very pretty and it is quite active with cool personality.

3. Trapping:
Trapping is probably the most effective method of getting rid of Fireworms but it also requires a lot of patience, as these worms can prove quite elusive and hard to trap. People seem to have limited success with commercial traps, as they tend to trap the smaller worms and not the biggies that cause all the damage and cant be adjusted as easily as homemade ones as the opening ideally will be slightly smaller than the diameter of the Fireworm you want to catch. Commercial traps also can be expensive.

Traps usually work by putting in small pieces of bait (2x pea sized raw salmon seems to work best but any seafood flesh should suffice as long as it is fresh and not frozen) in an area where you know to be a Fireworm and leaving the trap overnight. You may need to try over a series of a few nights changing the type of bait to catch your worm(s).

A homemade trap that has good results is to use a small opaque food container (so the worms cannot see the food) with a tight fitting lid. Cut an “X” in the lid with a razor blade that is slightly smaller than the diameter of your worm, push the 4 sides in slightly do they face down at 45° making escape all but impossible. Immerse so is full of water and leave for 48 hours, if you have no success try different raw seafood bait for another 48 hours. If you believe the worm escaped try with a smaller opening.

4. Substrate breakdown:
This can be a good solution for a severe infestation. This option is a lot of hard work and involves taking out every piece of rock (as above putting it on newspaper and checking and removing fireworms with tweezers) one by one. Also small lots of substrate should be removed and sieved through by hand (or swirled up by hand in a container of water whereby the Fireworms should be able to be netted). Keep live substrate moist with saltwater at all times.

I hope this will help with the presence of nasty Fireworms. Remember the first line of defence should always be prevention!

Remember, if you need extra help with your saltwater tank join my VIP club or check out my ebook.

How To Get Rid Of Phosphates In Your Saltwater Aquarium

August 7th, 2012

Phosphates are a problem in saltwater aquariums…

Phosphates as im sure you know are a nutrient in saltwater systems that come  from biological waste products and other substances we put into our water. Phosphates negatively  affect the plants and animals in your tank:

1. Phosphates reduce water quality and promote pest algae growth.

2. Excessive phosphates inhibit calcification in corals and coraline algae so inhibit their growth.

Phosphates, along with nitrates and silicates are the saltwater aquarium “big 3” of chemical nutrients you don’t want accumulating unchecked in your saltwater tank.

Where do they come from?

Phosphates are expelled from all organisms  (metabolic waste), they also are present in:

  • Many foods (especially frozen foods) contain phosphates as preservatives.
  • Untreated water sources (you should be using RO or DI water for a reef tank).
  • Substrates including crushed coral, dead reef rock (base rock) and other coral based rock can have high levels of precipitated phosphates.
  • Salt mixture (check the label).
  •  Additives (also check the label).
  • and even chemical media (activated carbon).

The harmful phosphates we want to minimise are in the form of precipitated (solid) or dissolved inorganic orthophosphates, which are detected by standard chemical test kits and are released into the water from one or more of the sources I mentioned.

Ok, so how do I get rid of phosphates?

 So, now that your test kits reveal you have phosphate levels that are too high what do you do?

 1. Use Macroalgae: Macroalgae is the perfect biological control for phosphates (and nitrates); it uses them up effectively and outcompetes pest microalgae species. As the macro-algae grows and locks up the phosphates from the water it can be harvested, thus getting rid of it for good. Macro-algae will not be a sufficient control if rock is the cause of your phosphates.

2. Understock and underfeed: As heavy biomass and large feedings are a notorious source of phosphates in saltwater tanks, simply dial both of these back a few notches and kick back and watch as your pollution levels become much easier to control.

3. Protein skimming: A wonderful way of removing organic waste from your system before it throws your water quality out.  Protein skimmers are mostly effective at reducing nitrates but they do help with phosphates to a smaller degree. Remember to clean out the skimmate once or twice a week.

4. Effectively reducing phosphates at the source: with a bit of testing you can establish exactly where your phosphates are coming from, eliminate them here for a long-term solution. Remember everything you put into your water stays there in one form or another, so only put in what your tank really needs.

5. Regular partial water changes: the single most effective way of reducing phosphates (in the short term). I recommend changing at least 5% twice a week if you have a phosphate problem.

6. Phosphate absorbing/binding media: An easy way to mop up those pesky phosphates, most work exactly as advertised and are best applied in a small mesh bag somewhere in high current flow, make sure you follow the replacement instructions and don’t over do it, because all living creatures need a small amount of phosphates to thrive. Media needs to be washed every few days to remove the bacteria that will build up and block the phosphate absorption. The product I recommend is Phosban by Two Little Fishies.

So now you know what phosphate is, what it does, where it comes from and some of the most effective ways of getting rid of it (for me:  filtered water, water changes and macro-algae are the most successful ways).



The Most Beautiful Marine Invertebrates In The World.

June 21st, 2012

Marine invertebrates are prized not only for their colours but their weird and wonderful forms, which are so alien to what is found on land. There are many different marine invertebrates (they make up the huge majority of the diversity of life in the ocean), so which do you choose? How about one or more of the more attractive examples below…

The most beautiful marine invertebrate…

The reason most of us are attracted to this hobby is the sheer beauty of the marine species involved; I often am asked, “What do you think is the best looking marine invertebrate for my tank?” I think for a while then rattle off any combination of the below species (in no particular order of beauty):


1. Harlequin shrimp (Hymenocera Picta):

The Harlequin shrimp looks very cool.

Only the best looking crustacean in the ocean (well…I think it is ;) with an impressive looking white body with black-rimmed blue splotches all over it; they are indeed one of the most elegant looking shrimp species.

They are peaceful and reef safe and thrive when are fed well and have regular supplements of the same trace minerals hard corals need (especially Iodine for good shell growth). They grow to about 5cm in length and live in pairs feeding exclusively on starfish, especially the Crown of Thorns starfish in the wild

These timid creatures will do well in any sized tank where they are free from harassment and high nitrate/copper levels. Keeping a nano tank centred around a mated pair makes for a cool variant on the typical reef nano theme (as I talked about in a previous Eclass).

They need reef quality water and can be fed on a diet of starfish arms! The easiest way to do this is to grow chocolate-chip starfish (Protoreastor nodosus) or Linckia starfish in a separate tank and every two weeks harvest an arm (which regenerate) to feed your shrimp. Adults may also eat sea Urchins.


2. Sea Apples of the genera Paracucumaria and Pseudocolochirus:

The weird and wonderful Sea Apple – for experts only!

These strange filter feeding sea creatures are highly sought after because of their beauty, interesting behaviour and strange form. They are actually a type of sea cucumber and come from the tropical waters of Australia. A sea Apple feeds on phytoplankton and has a blue, round body and has red feet with multi-coloured tentacles. They can grow to almost 8 inches long.

Watching them fed is interesting as they send their oral tentacles to catch particles of food then retract them into their mouths; like a multi-trunked elephant!

Sea Apples are reef safe (in terms of compatibility) but are not for beginners, this creature will release toxins and/or its internal organs if nibbled on or attacked (usually by typically reef-unsafe fish or crustaceans) as a defence mechanism. Their toxins are potent and can easily kill other marine organisms. They may also release toxins as they die.

If housed without any fish or crabs that may pick at its tentacles Sea Apples can thrive with no problems as long as they are fed daily. Sea apples can easily starve in saltwater systems and require targeted feeding of phytoplankton (in liquid or dried forms).

Sea apples like room to move around and high water current as well as plenty of live rock (from where they get their food).


3. Linckia starfish (Linckia laevigata):

I just like blue Starfish…

I first saw these beautiful deep blue Starfish on a trip to Fiji and have loved them ever since. They are often known as the Blue starfish and are reef safe providing a stunning focal point in any reef tank. They can grow to up to 30cm. They have fleshy, tubular arms and are quite firm to the touch.

They enjoy hanging out on sandy bottoms or hiding amongst the rocks and will be a peaceful addition to any tank. They will happily scavenge the tank but also appreciate some meaty foods being placed under them (to stop fish getting it!) from time to time.

Linckia starfish are very intolerant of any quick changes in water pH, oxygen and salinity and must be very slowly acclimated using the drip method. Many specimens die because their acclimation is not gradual enough.

Linckia are prone to parasitisation by tiny snails (Thyca crystalline) so an eye must be kept open for these appearing on the starfish. Many other species predate Linckia like Pufferfish, Harlequin shrimp, Triton shells and some anemones.


4. The Bubble-tipped anemone (Entacmaea species):

Clownfish love these too…

This anemone is very attractive, hardy and adaptable, its colour morphs range from orange, red, rose to green. Its colouring and tentacle form make it very attractive to many saltwater aquarium owners.

It also hosts the largest range of Clownfish species (13!) and is not a fussy eater nor grows very big (but is still classed as a large anemone). It can grow up to 30 cm in diameter. These anemones do best when they are hosting a Clownfish.

The most popular BTA (Bubble Tipped Anemone) is Entacmaea quadricolor the bubble tip or Rose anemone. BTA’s do best under intense lighting (metal halide or similar), as they are photosynthetic, to make yours truly thrive try supplementary feeding with finely chopped meaty items a few times per week.

BTA’s do have a sting so don’t place too close to corals or other anemones and ensure they have a nice spot to anchor (for example purchase one attached to live rock) so they don’t move around too much.

They are easy to “frag” by splitting yourself (in 4 with a razor blade through the mouth) or naturally and come in colours from tan, green, orange, pink, red, purple. This anemone is easily recognised by the cool looking “bubble” in each tentacle just before the tip. This type of anemone does not often roam around the aquarium, which is nice!

These anemones do well with “reef” minerals such as iodine and the same conditions (water quality and lighting) found in a reef aquarium.

BTA’s are primarily photosynthetic but also benefit from meaty supplementary feeding (less feeding is necessary when hosted by an Anemonefish).


So, that is my two cents worth for what I believe to be the most stunning and most interesting reef aquarium inhabitants!

Marine invertebrates can often be much more colourful and interesting than marine fish, a clever selection of marine invertebrates will make for a stunning, constantly interesting saltwater set-up.

So what do you think?  Are there any major contenders you think I have missed out?


How To Get Rid Of Evil Acropora Red Bugs

June 3rd, 2012

Love SPS corals in your reef? Have Acropora species? You should really be on the lookout for this nasty…

Looks much better without red bugs!

Acropora “Red Bugs”: The dreaded red bugs, these tiny pests are thought to be copepods and only infest small polyped stony corals (SPS) of the genus Acropora. Red bugs are like a flea or mite infection and can easily take over and kill your Acropora in a few weeks if left untreated.

Some reef aquariums with smooth skinned Acropora SPS corals may get infested with Red Bugs. Especially the following Acropora species;  A. caroliniana, A. echinata, A. granulosa and A. tortuosa . Red bugs do not always kill the coral on which they live, but they can negatively affect growth rate and cause a decline in overall health.

An infected coral will loose colour and stop growing and upon close inspection will be covered by tiny yellow bugs with a red dot on one end that are about half a mm in length. These bugs will be parasitising and feeding off the living coral tissue.

Red Bugs look like red fleas...

An infected system will become bug free after 2 weeks of infected Acropora specimens being removed.

How to treat a red bug infestation…

The best way to treat is to remove all infected Acropora’s to quarantine if possible. Prophylactic (preventative) dips like the iodine based Lugols solution and reef dip can be used to kill off the red bugs, but in some instances they may not be 100% effective so inspect corals carefully and re-dip if necessary. People seem to have more success by using a more concentrated dip.

In terms of biological control agents, people have got mixed results with the usual helpers like 6- lined Wrasses. and Yellow Clown Gobies. A lot of success has been reported using a Dragonfaced Pipefish, which should eat up the bugs pretty quickly.

Another method has been newly developed by Dustin Dorton of ORA, which uses a de-worming medication for dogs called Interceptor. The active ingredient is Milbemycin oxime this medication requires a prescription from a vet but effectively kills all crustaceans (which means you should move all your beneficial crustaceans to a separate tank to avoid killing them!). Each tablet will treat about 380 gallons of aquarium water so split the tablet into whatever fraction you need for your tank volume to be treated.

The treatment procedure is to crush the amount of tablet you need and dissolve into the tank water, after 6 hours you should change at least 25% of the water and run activated carbon, then after 24 hours change another 25% of the water and replace the activated carbon. You should treat the tank like this 3 times to ensure all red bugs at all phases of their life cycles are killed.

Just a side note: this treatment method is a little more unorthodox, the long term effects on an aquarium (and the crustaceans in it) haven’t been studied fully.

So keep on the look out for Red Bugs on your Acropora and if you spot them you now know what to do!

How To Aquascape Your Saltwater Aquarium Intelligently.

May 29th, 2012

Today I want to talk about a subject that really makes or breaks a saltwater aquarium; aquascaping!

A nice clean aquascape.

Aquascaping as an art should be the intelligent design and decoration of your saltwater aquarium, which needs to be functional, pleasing to the eye at the same time as creating the habitats your marine pet’s need to thrive.

Aquascaping  is one of the most fun parts of the saltwater aquarium hobby for me.  A good aquascape keeps your aquarium from looking disorganised and thrown together, gives it a theme and visually ties your tank and marine life together.

An aquascape plan…

The first step in creating a stunning aquascape is getting inspired and planning your creation; drawing it on paper (to scale) complete with the environments you intend to create, then once you have decided on all the equipment you need get a sheet of cardboard (the same dimensions as your aquarium base) with a grid pattern drawn onto it and construct your model and see how it works in 3D before it goes in your tank!

What materials do you want to use?

Please, please, please forget the use of artificial corals, treasure chests, ornaments and the like. Your aquarium will be with you for many years so decorating it with gaudy, clichéd trinkets might make you happy now, but what about in 5 years? Your aquascape may be very difficult to change once you have finished and populated your tank with marine life.

Using live rock and inert (non reactive) rocks or even dead coral skeletons (which are also not my thing ;)) as a rockwork base to build up into shapes is your best bet, you can easily create a PVC pipe frame and attach rocks onto it using cable ties and marine epoxy/glue. Avoid using objects found on the beach and made of dubious non-safe materials so as not to introduce any nasties (chemical and/or living) into your delicate system.

After your rockwork is created the rest of the tank base can be decorated with sand and/or substrate if you wish (warning: do not stack rockwork on substrate, it will be unstable and is a t risk of collapsing, instead scatter sand around the base of your rockwork), personally I like to leave the substrate bare so polluting detritus can easily be vacuumed off and the base will soon become grown over by beneficial encrusting organisms such as macro-algae. This said I still think a crushed coral sand bed is quite attractive.

Quality construction is a must!

Optimising the construction and stability of your aquascape:

Engineering an elegant and functional aquascape will take some time and effort, but will be well worth it in the long run. It really needs to be structurally sound to avoid it collapsing when some boisterous fish (like a Damsel) or crustacean, snail burrows into it or knocks it; if the whole thing goes over this can cause a lot of damage to marine life, your tank and equipment! If you plan to have a loosely stacked aggregation of rocks it can be a good idea to silicone them together. Remember any silicone, cable ties, PVC piping put into your tank will soon be encrusted over and so “disappear” into the background in a short amount of time.

Some other tips and tricks…

  1. A really good idea I have found when constructing your aquascape is to use live rock that has holes drilled into it with wooden doweling plugs glued into the holes, then the rocks with plugs (male) are inserted into other rocks with (female) drill holes to hold the whole structure together, this is a great alternative to the PVC pipe framework with rocks glued and tied onto it with cable ties. This method can easily be disassembled also.
  2. Clever use of aquascaping to conceal pipes, tubes, heaters and other equipment is a good idea and can be easy to achieve.
  3. Think also of ease of cleaning the tank, it is a good idea to leave enough space for easy cleaning between the edges of the rockwork and the glass walls of the aquarium.
  4. Your aquascaping should be such that it prevents any dead spots (areas of no water movement) that can lead to deleterious water conditions. Aquascape in such a way so that there is total water circulation and flow through, this will benefit all your marine life and water quality.

In conclusion there is no sure-fire recipe to success with aquascaping; different things work for different set-ups and people, take all my points into consideration then do your due diligence and finally let your imagination and artistic side take over!

For many people aquascaping is a constantly evolving process, so rockwork should be constructed to be removable and detachable if you want to update the look of your tank with the new seasons fashion…don’t laugh, ive seen a really cool Christmas tree in a reef tank this past festive season!

A Question About Diminishing Soft Corals In A Reef Tank…

May 26th, 2012

What could be the cause of a reef aquarium with soft corals shrinking and diminishing while the hard corals are thriving at the same time???

Today’s blog post is inspired by a question from Lori who emailed me via, who is having this very problem.

What is wrong with you???

She asks me “ my soft corals are diminishing while my hard corals are flourishing. Water parameters seem to test within normal limits. Since I do not want to loose my neon green hairy mushroom that has lost half its size, what can I change to help the softies in this reef tank?

Generally speaking soft corals are usually very robust, tolerant and hardy in reef tanks and the problem would more commonly with the stony corals in a situation like this. What could be some common reasons?

Too much light?

Soft corals as a general rule require less intense  lighting than more-fussy stony corals. It could be that the softies have simply had too much and are getting photo-saturated if not gradually exposed to intense lighting set ups. This would be extremely likely if the lighting set-up was new. If this is the case simply move them down the tank :)

Disease or infection?

Its pretty easy to check for any lesions or discolouring on soft corals and rule this out as a cause. Naturally they have very few predators and parasites in the wild (which is why you never see soft coral fouled up with algae, barnacles or the like) but do check for any commensal crabs that could be attacking them and get rid of them if they are present.

Chemical warfare?

Usually soft corals are not on the receiving end of this as they are quite capable of aggressively attacking their neighbours (especially mushrooms) and ending up on top. LPS corals can give soft corals a good run for their money if going head to head.  Ensure there is at least 6 inches of space separating the softies from anything and if in doubt add some activated carbon to the water to help mop up any toxins.

Playing dead?

Before getting too worked up about this problem remember that often these animals can and do shrink and get flaccid and wrinkled for no apparent cause, then days later spring back to life. Give it some time and see what happens as this is commonly part of the life cycle for captive soft corals.

Your water quality is fine which is a great sign (as is the hard corals doing well). Watch for  any slime/ mucus or any other tissue being shed as this will be toxic to your water and usually accompanies a return to health of your soft corals. Do check your mechanical components too to ensure they are working well and are not the cause of the problem.

I would hazard a guess that this is what you corals are going through, keep an eye on them and let me know what happens. You can add some iodine and increase random water movement around them to help them out.

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