Reef Aquarium Farming News
Online Newsletter for Reef Aquarium Propagation Research





Sally Jo Headlee

It has always been a pleasure to give all the people who follow our site the courage to take on the gift involved with reef keeping. I have been falling asleep each night for the past three years reading all of the books that I can get my hands on. I want enhance my ability to share more knowledge through our web site and in our magazine articles.
We had a very successful fifth annual Coral Farming Conference. I am still trying to digest all that happened in those two days. I am still trying to keep up with the hectic pace of each day. Sharing my tanks, and the rest of the tanks at GARF, has played a big part in rekindling the fire for reef keeping in so many. For several years I have been telling people "if I can do this, so can you" and then I tell them this is how I do it. Not only have I done it once, but repeatedly. I never have the perfect tank. I have my hands in them constantly, and I am found bonsai trimming my corals to keep them all content. One thing that has hurt me from time to time is the comment that one person has put on a web site that the pictures on our site are color enhanced. No one would even attempt to say that if they knew how hard we try to take the perfect picture. With as many pictures as we have taken we have still not accomplished it yet. People have tried to calm me down, saying this person is just jealous. I say jealous of what? I have no secrets. Many professional people in the reef hobby have told me that none of our pictures ever prepared them for all of the colors our corals have. I have shared my tanks daily, weekly and for years not because I want the pat on the back but to let you know that it works.

I love going into my office after a hard day of trying to solve people's reef problems and filling orders to reflect on the years that have passed and the accomplishments I have shared with this tank. My tanks are not the easiest to care for because I am a true believer in biodiversity versus biomass. I lost count how many corals I have yet I know it is over 200 kinds in a little 55 gallon. You can really see how packed this tank is when looking at it from above. In fact Mike Paletta drew a map of the animals he wanted by looking at my reef from above. This view truly shows its beauty and health. I let the tank grow to about its limit due to the farming seminar. I am now slowly propagating many of the animals, but I never let the mother colony leave my tank. Each time I propagate my corals we work on stocking my corals in many of the other tanks at GARF. We also pass them unto others in the reef research field. Corals are growing on the back glass, side glass, overflow box and you can not see one of the many power heads in this tank. Only about five of the animals in this tank were from the ocean, the rest I stole out of LeRoy's many tanks. SALLY JO'S 55 TOP VIEW

When reflecting back on the books I have been reading it is amazing how far all of us have come in such a short period of time! In the early 1990's few if any people were truly successfully keeping SPS corals. Now we have so many kinds that truly add so much beauty and grace to the tanks.

I have also found a true balance with the Reef Janitors, Grunge, and the bio-diversity of animals in this system. The only work involved with this tank is making certain animals are not touching, that something has not fallen over, and adding the twice a week supplements. We are also believers in skimming once your tank is about six months old. All of my tanks have an Eco-Sand plenum, GARF Grunge, Aragocrete rock, tank-raised corals, and fish. LeRoy deserves the credit for placing more power heads in my tanks from time to time. I look at the addition of a power head as a new place to glue more corals. This tank has way over 100 different kinds of SPS corals, no Metal Halide lights, which was unheard of when I started. The reef has six VHO's the lights that are placed one blue, one white all the way from front to back. You can look closely at all the corals and you will have a hard time finding one brown coral. Many of them came into GARF brown. I also still like to have the beauty of soft corals in with the SPS corals. This does add a little more work to this tank, but the beauty is breathtaking. I have never painted a picture this incredible, nor have I planted a more beautiful garden. We do hope that by sharing these pictures it will give you additional help with where to place the coral once you acquire it. Don't be afraid to move it around if it does not look happy. Moving the corals, is one reason this tank is so successful. Once the corals get their color, they have never lost it when we move them to any of GARF's other tanks.

One has to really want to have a tank like this
and never stop wanting to have a tank like this.

Most of what you see me doing in these tanks is everything that was being argued about four years ago. Some people argue that you have to use Metal Halides even today. This tank is my oldest system in my office; it is almost four years old. You can look back through the pictures on our site and watch it develop over time. I hear from so many people who want a tank just like this one. They tend to forget that this is not what I started with. Time is a huge investment in having a tank like this. Stuart, our Intern from England would sit in front of this tank for hours and point at something new he had not spotted before. One day he looked up at me and said I love this tank but the hours you spend with it is incredible. One has to really want to have a tank like this and never stop wanting to have a tank like this. The longest I have left this tank is a week and I am honestly scared to leave it that long. I am very fortunate to have Eddie, our caretaker for the Foundation, who lives on site care deeply for my systems as well. I am hopeful that we will be able to make a difference in the care of the wild reefs by taking the managed care program we have achieved at GARF and applying it in programs with the wild reefs. It simply works:)


This is an over the top picture of the left side of my tank. In this picture you can see one of the very few animals that did come from the wild that I sneaked from one of LeRoy's tanks and placed in this tank almost three years ago. It was a very small red brain that everyone over looked. I sneaked into my tank and have moved it around since then. It really likes being in the front lower part of this tank pressing up against the glass. People point at it often. We hope to pioneer some new techniques for propagating these animals in the near future. You can see how I have the Xenia growing on the same plug as a SPS coral. I due propagate the Xenia often and find the more that I propagate it the more it grows and really does not sting the SPS coral at all. I have found that one must enjoy their tank at each stage it is in for they are forever changing and there is great beauty in a complete soft coral tank. As you can see from up above there is little space for any new additions however if there is one I simply can not pass up I will cut one to make room for another.

I do not allow any wild corals in this tank and will not risk adding a new coral to it until I have watched it for weeks and am certain that I am not going to cause any problems for this system. I placed an Ultra Violet sterilizer on this system about two and a half years ago. I have a skimmer on this tank. I also change two lights at a time after they have been used for six months. If you do not change the lights you take the risk of the light bulb changing color spectrum, and if it goes to the red spectrum you will run into algae problems. I find changing the lights at six months to work perfect; I just don't change all six of them at the same time. You can look for hours at this tank and never find one piece of algae. The Reef Janitors are worth their weight in gold. I add some about once a semester to replace ones that passed on for one reason or another. However if you look into my overflow box, where the Janitors can not reach, you will notice there is algae' growing in it. It is easy to see how well the hermits and snails are maintaining this system.

I have corals from all parts of the World in the same tank and as I reported in my last article damsels spawning. As of today they have hatched out their fifth batch of eggs in this system. What I find still puzzling and unsettling is the arguments over the species names of corals. We are going to work very hard to get these identified and documented.

This is a picture of the front middle of my tank. Before I forget LeRoy deserves the credit for this weeks pictures. I bought him a new toy. They seem to get more expensive, but they do so much more. I know it won't be long before he is sharing his 60-second videos with you. I have to admit that this camera shows so much more detail. The Sony DCS55 takes pictures that are 1600 by 1200 pixels. Now we can really show the whole tank and not just close ups of coral.
Here is mom damsel in this picture. I have eight fish in this tank and who knows how many babies might actually make it through development. In this picture if you look closely you can see some of the other Xenias that I am keeping and propagating. I have nine different ones in this tank and for some reason this tank does the best with trying to get them to grow. We have saved several damaged ones in this tank that did not survive at first in our other systems. We now start them here and then seed them to other tanks. After I have divided the Xenias into LeRoy's Xenia filter we propagate them so we can get them into your tanks. I am not a true advocate of violent water movement. I believe it is important but one must be careful not to have the current blast on the animals directly. I always place a rock in between the corals and the power heads. I like to decorate my tanks and you will notice that I have mixed and matched species of hard and soft corals. I love Zoanthids, however they will grow up and damage the SPS coral. You will need to get in the tank and propagate them often so they don't over take the SPS corals. The colors of the Zoanthids are fantastic and they are simple animals to care for. They also fill in space and are an easy animal to farm. I probably cut about 50-100 corals out of this tank twice a month. You can see the green Pocillipora, many corals of Acropora. One of my favorites is this blue one. It is growing pretty it fast now but took some time to really take off. I have moved all of these around in my tank quite a bit and when propagating I spend literally hours trying to make it all fit back in. If you look closely you can actually see some of the propagating I did recently in this tank. There are corals all the way to the front glass to the back glass and I simply love playing in this system. When this tank becomes to full, I pass cuttings onto LeRoy. I also place them in my other two tanks in my office.


We have found that unlike many of the books tell you the SPS coral will do well under many types of lights. The most important thing in regards to keeping them successfully is to allow your tank to age properly. I say you can try some of the hardier SPS corals at the time your tank is about nine months old. You will not see very many large polyp stony corals in my tanks. They tend to have long stinging tentacles that would cause harm to this packed tank.


This is also a picture of the front left-hand side of my tank. Honestly, I started most of these corals from frags that were no bigger than one half inches long. I have propagated them more times than I can count. I find the Pocilliporas to be the fastest growers in this tank and they do tend to spawn in the tank and could be a problem if you let it get out of hand. I am not certain that many of the corals will spawn in this tank due to my drastically propagating them so often. You can see a picture of Freckles my clown fish in this tank. I keep cheap, mean fish in this tank because they live for years, and they provide me with countless joy. All of the fish are a little crazy since the damsels decided to make babies in this tank, although I still find peace in this tank, you can not help but notice the constant battle for the damsels young. The biggest corals in this tank are my Pocillipora they were the first ones I placed in this tank and were no bigger than one half inches long. I have lost count how many times I have taken a tool and hit the bottom of the colony breaking loose branches from these animals. I have probably six different colors of Pocillipora and we are having a hard time telling them from Stylophora. If anyone is interested in sharing their input on this subject we are all ears. It depends on who you ask as to what answer you will get, and that is one more reason we feel the DNA testing of these animals is critical. It is also important to clean off your light bulbs from salt splashes I do this about twice a week. If it builds up to bad it is very difficult to get off and little light can penetrate down to the animals. You must also realize that I do no feeding other than a little flake food in all of my tanks.
I also am a firm believer in water changes and use Instant Ocean to refresh my beloved animals at least once a month. Although I have three tanks sitting side by side in this office I spend the most time playing in this one. LeRoy knows if my hands are in this tank that it is best to keep my office door closed and stay out of my way until all animals are glued back into their home. I try hard to give them at least some recovery time before I begin to cut on them again. Depending on species, you can see new polyp development in the first week after cutting them. I also think that doing a small water change after propagating is important to get some of the toxins removed from the tank. This is also why I am a firm believer in the skimmer as well.


At this time in my life I have heard so many horror stories about tanks and people giving bad information that I think it is important to see some ones tank before taking their word as gospel. I will help any of you as much as I can. GARF's work would have been for nothing if we could not help many people be successful. The only thing we ask in return is that you share your propagated animals and experience with others. It is the only way we will be able to turn the tidal wave of bad publicity that building against our hobby. GARF believes more than ever, that people learn to love and protect the wild reefs by seeing reef aquariums. If you ever wanted to say something about this topic many committees are forming and no one can afford to hold their breathe or the outcome is not going to be good for anyone. A managed care program works for the gardens, the forest environment, endangered species and it will work for our wild reefs


This is a picture of the right front side of my tank. One of my absolute favorite animals in this tank is this new incrusting Xenia with the fluffy polyps. It has the same color as my Fiji pom-pom but grows completely different and does not pulse at all. Also featured in this picture is a sea fan that was no bigger than a pea when I placed it in this tank three years ago. It has grown considerably and I have often told LeRoy I was willing to share it with him but he has always told me not yet. It is an incredible animal and loves some movement to pass through it. It has great polyp extension. I have not moved this one around a lot in this tank it seems to be happy right were it is. Also in this picture is Mike Paletta's Montipora it is yellow, almost a light lemon color. I have lost count how many times and how many tanks this one is in now. I just recently propagated this one quite a bit. It does not have great polyp extension but does grow fast and it adds a great deal to any tank. The green Acropora in this picture is the one LeRoy calls the Green Slimmer. This one has great polyp extension. The more you cut it, the more it branches. Until last week it was almost growing out of the water. This one is probably our best seller and is a candidate for cancer research. This animal secretes abundant slime when out of water. It does this naturally when the tide is out in the ocean. This slime protects the animal from the rays of the sun. Who knows, this may be part of the answer for us not getting skin cancer, however they are going to have to come up with something to make it smell better or no one will use it.:) This picture also shows you the many colors of Zoanthids that fill in every empty space in this tank. I often go in and propagate the Zoanthids and mostly what I hand over to LeRoy is Zoanthids growing up mounds of glue. I have more glue in this tank than I have rock and it makes it easy to propagate and thin out animals that are over growing their space.
I must add, this type of brood stock tank is not for everyone. This tank is one that I love, and I love to play in it, but it requires a huge commitment of time. One of the things that I am trying to get you to understand that if you give the animals the love and attention they need they will grow and grow for you. So you must give them room or be like me and spend a great deal of time with salt water hands making certain that one animal is not over taking or stinging another. The red colored SPS coral is what I have called a Cats Paw. It was brown and small when I first placed it in this system. I have yet to propagate it, but I will soon. You can also look down on the Blue Challis this one was one from Steve Tyree's collection. He has some great animals and I am indeed privileged to have them showcased in my tanks. Before taking on the challenge of growing SPS corals make certain your tank is ready, also it is important to work with captive raised animals and start with Hardy ones.

Believe it or not, I can still tell you where every coral came from. I can tell you the date that I placed it in my tank and I even notice when someone has had their hand in my tank. As a matter of fact, I get so upset if I even think someone has placed a hand in my tank that one of my past employees said "don't worry Sally Jo if I ever decide I want to go to work for McDonald's I would consider putting my hands in your tank." I learned long ago that I can not cut my tank to meet the demands of individual customers or the animals I once had would be gone. So I only cut them when they need to be cut or when LeRoy is starting a new arch in one of his tanks. I will not rest happy until at least a cutting of every coral is in many tanks across the USA. I remember when I was certain that I was going to get my hands on every kind of coral and was certain that I could make them fit in my tank. That dream has now gone. Yet, it is a good reason to set up more tanks.

LeRoy at one time wanted to get me to move up to bigger tanks but I am still sold on the 55 gallon systems. I can get my hands everywhere in these tanks and have come up with the perfect recipe for maintaining them. The corals seem to thrive in this size system. I know that my tanks and the other tanks at GARF made believers out of all who came to our seminars. We truly hope more of you will be able to come next year and we will do all we can to continue to share GARF with you through words and pictures. However I am certain we will always be trying to get what we are striving for and that is the perfect picture. Trying to get any camera to take a picture of the animal shown in this photo has been difficult to say the least. In between the Pocilliporas in this picture is the most orange colored Montipora I have ever seen. This is another piece that was given to me about three years ago by Mike Paletta. It was fun giving him back babies from the now mature colonies he gave me.


I have a great deal of empathy for people who have to move their tanks it usually causes problems and some losses occur. I will hate the day that I may have to face this and have often told LeRoy I would much rather raffle off this tank than tear it down. It is now labeled the Sea Chem tank and I promised Doctor Morin I would take good care of his tank:) I do want to leave you with one message "you can do this, you really and truly can." You need to make certain that your heart is in the right place, your trust is in the right place and most of all you must do this with FUN.

Other than marrying my wonderful husband LeRoy, fighting over who gets what coral and sharing our success with you is the most rewarding task I have ever achieved. I thank all the people who have shared their wisdom with the rest of us. I also want to thank the pioneers in this hobby who have inspired us. Most importantly I strive to do all I can to save and protect Mother Nature who has blessed us with so many gifts that too many of us just simply take for granted. In our next pictures I will try and steal LeRoy's camera and bring to you the many trades that have added so much to GARF's genetic bank. I have to ask those of you who are dyeing to get your hands on these animals to hold back for a while. These are new arrivals and they are being propagated at GARF and spread around in our tanks we will let you know when some of them are ready for your tanks. We are extremely proud of these trades it is hard to find words to express our gratitude. A huge thank you needs to go out to a Woman I do not even know, her name is Linda, and she graced my tank with the most beautiful propagated elegance coral I have ever seen. Thank you so very much for thinking of GARF and yes I am trying to have her follow up with an article on how she propagated this animal. You would not believe how much the coral puffed up right after shipping and it now has four mouths and I am sharpening my tools:) Well I've got to run please take some time each day to enjoy your reef and most of all remember to have some FUN! and SAVE A REEF - GROW YOUR OWN

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