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Domestication of the SPS corals

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There are many things that you need to do so that you will be able to produce beautiful, brightly colored SPS coral fragments. This month we will be discussing some of the system requirements needed for growing small polyp stony corals.

Here at GARF we have collected well over 200 varieties of these corals. We grow these coral brood stock colonies in many different size aquariums with many different light combinations, and there is one requirement that we have noticed in every type of situation. As systems age they become more stable. Many of our systems that would not support SPS corals early in their life now support beautiful collections of a SPS corals.


WELL ESTABLISHED AQUARIUMS SUPPORT SPS CORAL BETTER

Articles and books that were written early in the 1990's often stated that SPS corals could only be grown using metal halide lighting and that they could not be grown in systems that housed soft corals. Many of these early articles said that huge protein skimmers were positively needed to keep SPS corals alive. During the last 10 years we have learned that SPS corals grow very well in a multitude of different situations. One thing has been very important in all of the systems that we have used. This one important constant is that SPS corals do much better in older establish systems.

During the last decade we have set up many aquariums using the live rock, water, and gravel from old established reef aquariums. We have noticed that even when we use all of the old materials from an established reef the aquariums still go through many of the same cycles that a new reef does. Because these reefs are able to support soft corals very well after only a few weeks, we have been tempted to try SPS coral cuttings before the tank is completely cycled. Many of the systems that were unable to support SPS corals for the first five months are now full of SPS coral brood stock. The same thing often happens when an entire reef is moved. After any major change in a reef aquarium we often notice diatom blooms. When people ask is if their aquarium is ready for SPS corals we ask them if they have coralline algae spots the size of 25 cent pieces. By the time a reef system has been established long enough to grow that size of coralline algae colonies it is usually ready for hardy SPS corals.

CORAL COMPETITION IN REEF AQUARIUMS

Corals compete for space on the reef by using one of several methods to combat other corals. Some corals tend to over grow the surface of the reef and they can cover up other corals as they grow. Green star polyps, the Zoanthids and Mushroom corals tend to use this type of invasive growth pattern as they fight for space on the reef.

GEOTHERMAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATION Other corals are able to grow tall and they can shade the light so that corals below them do not thrive. Gorgonians, and the larger species of Sarcophytons and other soft corals along with the flat bodied SPS corals such as Pavona can over grow many of the shorter corals. Some corals such as the galaxy coral are able to fight using sweeper polyps to clear space around them.

One of the most important jobs in maintaining a brood stock aquarium is the control of all of these different methods that the corals use to compete. Studying the web and reading books about the different types of corals and how they compete for space is a good way to get started, but watching and studying your corals will teach you much more. Brood stock aquariums are not the same as most reef aquariums because it is important to grow as much brood stock as possible in a limited amount of space. In 1994 it seemed logical that we would grow each individual species in its own system. We soon learned that these Monoculture systems were not very stable. During our decades of research on Geothermal fish farming we had learned that Polyculture often produced a very stable system. These stable systems were able to produce many crops such as food fish and aquatic plants using the same amount water and land.

In the 31 years that I've been keeping marine aquariums I've never met anyone who studies their corals as much as Sally Jo. She is able to maintain a biodiversity in her reefs that no one who has ever been here can believe. By watching each individual coral she is able to trim and move her colonies so that literally hundreds of different species can live in each 55 gal. aquarium. GEOTHERMAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATION

BONSAI REEF METHOD

Sally Jo's has learned many tricks that make the maintenance of her Bonsai reefs much easier. One of the most important things that I have learned about SPS colony management is the use of a spacer rock when mounting fragments.

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When I am gluing fragments of an especially fast growing SPS coral into to my reef I first attach them to a small rock with super glue. I then attach the small rock to the larger live rock using my underwater super glue method.

While the fragment that I have glued to the smaller rock is in a bowl of reef water curing, I put a large drop of reef glued on my finger. I then rub this glue on to the spot on the live rock I want to attach the fragment to.

It takes less than one minute for the fragment to become firmly attached to the small rock. I then place a large drop of reef glue onto the bottom of the rock. It is then very simple to attach the fragment and the small rock to the larger live rock by rubbing the two glued surfaces together under water. I start by moving the rock and the fragment around in small circles until I feel the glue start to set up. The entire process takes less than one minute.

After several months, when the coral fragment has grown larger, it is very easy to remove the small colony for trimming. SPS corals have many different growth patterns and we are learning to utilize each of these natural growth forms for the production of multiple growing tips.
The second most important thing that we have learned from watching Sally Jo is that the more you cut the SPS corals the more branches they produce. Many of the smaller branched Acropora colonies first produce a large base plate before they start to grow new bud tips. This type of Acropora colony causes the most problems if you do not use the spacer rocks. GEOTHERMAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATION

These corals tend to spread out and they often compete with each other to the detriment of both colonies. It is very hard to remove this base plate from a large live rock, but it is quite easy to split a spacer rock into four or five pieces.

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Other species of SPS corals such as the Stag Horn corals often grow very small base plate before they start to grow up toward the light. These are the types of SPS corals that depend on shading their competition. One of the most important things on a natural reef would be for this coral to rapidly grow up into the light. We've noticed that when these first branches are trimmed these type of Acropora often produce multiple new buds from the polyps nearest the scar tissue that forms over the cut. This scar tissue is the main thing that we will be researching during the next two semesters.

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Scar tissue on Acropora branches reminds me of the research that we have done on mass producing exotic water Iris. Many of the most beautiful water Iris are in a group named the Louisiana Iris. Some of the more exotic hybrids of these Iris sell for over $100 each. This Iris grows a long root with many growth rings that looks somewhat like a bamboo stock. This root tends to grow out away from the colony about one foot and it then forms one new Iris. The long root then receives a chemical signal from the single mature flower stalk that causes it to decay. During our research on culturing these Iris in our Geothermal greenhouse we learned that if we split this root down the center and laid each half in peat moss we could produce hundreds of clones. We are now slicing living coral branches down the middle using a diamond blade wet bandsaw. We have already started these experiments using the incredible Blue Acropora millapora.

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There are many other species of SPS corals and I am more certain than ever that there is hundreds of times more information left to learn than all of us in this hobby and profession have been able to discover in the last 30 years. It is this vast reservoir of unanswered questions that excites me more than anything else about reef keeping. The next three groups of SPS corals that we will be working on are the Montipora , Pocillopora, and Stylophora.

I do have to admit that all I think about now are the Acropora. This group of corals is so vast and so varied that I am amazed every time I start to grow a new species. Many of the test colonies of Acropora that we have been growing in our bud tip initiation research are starting to mature. I was very excited this month when I was able to ship two of the Green Slimer fragments that were produced from corals that we mounted upside-down.

If you were lucky enough to receive these fragments, please take the time to tell me how they are doing during the next year. I will be able to post pictures of this colony as it develops into a large brood stock coral.

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During the last year, GARF has been able to purchase over 150 SPS corals that were produced in the Solomon Islands. These multiple species of SPS corals give us great way to do our experiments on bud tip initiation. We quarantine these fragments for several weeks in tanks that have 40 W blue lights. We learned that many Solomon Islands SPS corals do not thrive under brighter lights when they are first imported. Now that we are quarantining them in less light they are acclimating to captivity much faster. These corals come in on cement disks and almost everyone that we have talked to loses 20 to 30% of most shipments. Besides our experiments on fragment orientation we're doing to other experiments using Solomon frags.

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The first of these experiments has to do with my interest in scar tissue and I am certain that smaller frags can acclimate to captivity faster than larger frags. The other experiment that we are working on has to do with inoculating newly imported Solomon SPS corals with zooxanthellae from captive raised SPS corals.

The most important thing that you can do as a reef farmer is to continue to experiment. I know that it may seem hard to believe now but one of the other most important things you can do as a reef farmer is to share the information that you discover. I have found over the years that sharing information is like planting seeds. The more you plant the more that comes back to you. I remember once in my career being willing to share something that I had learned about my Chambered Nautilus breeding pairs. Even though I was sharing it with one of only five people in the world who could have already known it, my willingness to share my knowledge was paid back many times over for years to come.

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In science knowledge is like a river and continues to flow even if you try to dam it up and hide your part of it. Throughout history many people have discovered the same thing at the same time in many different places around the world. If you treat your knowledge like a river it will continue to flow around you. Often, if you try to dam it up you'll be the only one left in your puddle. Remember why you want to be a reef farmer- have fun.
SUMMARY

There are several things that we have talked about in this article. The three take away messages for you to remember and think about are the use of spacer rocks, super glue gel, and the trimming methods we use to produce more bud tips. Spacer rocks are very important in brood stock aquariums because you can move your SPS corals before they are able to damage each other. I have just started to realize how important these spacer rocks are in frag production. The colonies that I planted on spacer rocks are very easy to remove from the reef when I need to trim them. The super glue gel allows me to detach the spacer rock from the live rock and then reattach it later. If I had used epoxy to attach these rocks, not only would it have taken me hours to get them to set up properly, I would not be able to remove them later.

Trimming and moving SPS fragments is important for bud tips initiation, but it also allows you to divide the coral early and often. Moving fragments to other parts of the same reef and other to reefs is one of the best ways to be certain that you will not lose the genetic strain. Moving coral fragments to other aquariums and to different parts of the same aquarium gives you an opportunity to notice differences in growth rate and color.

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In closing I would like to tell you that you can grow SPS corals with soft corals and in tanks with no soft corals. You can grow SPS corals in systems with huge protein skimmers and and systems with no protein skimmers. You can grow SPS corals with mangrove filters, mud filters, with Plenums or no Plenums, you can use Fiji rock Tonga rock Florida rock or Aragocrete rock- but can't grow any SPS corals unless you get some and give it a try.

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