GARF'S BALI XENIA - A history of a cultured coral - WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO START WITH GREAT BROOD STOCK
This chapter is dedicated to our six year journey with the very rare Bali Xenia. One needs to always remember each journey we take has its own destination, and we need to enjoy each fork in the road or mountain to climb.
We are proud to report that this journey has a positive result leaving us with several generations of Baby Bali Xenia. It continues to be our goal to share our research with all who read our books. At the time I was wearing out each new camera LeRoy bought for me; I had no idea how important the day by day photo documents would be over the years. The subject of these photos is the Bali Xenia, my most beloved animal. It is a true challenge, and it is a must have for any hobbyist.
I have just barely sustained this animal for the past six years. Sometimes all I had left was one single polyp and a heart full of prayers. I have had this animal in captivity for about six years now. The Bali xenia was the most requested Xenia from our genetic bank. We had so many requests for this animal that I was propagating her at least every week. I still could not stay up with the demand our customers had.
It seemed the more pictures we took of this animal the more hobbyist simply had to get their hands on her to put in their own personal collection. This of course is not a bad thing, however selling the very last one is a risk no one at GARF was willing to take.
|The biggest problem we have found in mass producing Xenia is the trouble we have had getting large numbers of cuttings mounted in a hurry. There are many methods used to attach Xenia in the hobby. Many people place rocks next to the parent colony and then wait for the Xenia to grow onto the rock.
We needed to develop ways to make this coral easy to produce because this is one of the best corals for small scale farmers to grow. Xenia tend to be very hard to ship. The best types of Xenia pulse and have great shapes that are not like any other common soft coral. People read about Xenia and this creates demand. Many people who purchase Xenia do not read about this corals needs. Xenia tend to over grow their aquarium. If these crowded corals are stressed then they will often crash.
This combination of high demand and hard shipping makes this coral group a good one for local production. Small Xenia that have been grown in captive reefs for several generations are much more hardy than wild collected Xenia. These captive strains ship much better than any wild Xenia we have ever purchased.
|This the most popular Xenia we grow here in Boise. This Pom Pom Xenia came from Fiji several years ago. This colony is the third generation we have raised from the original one polyp that Sally Jo found after the wild colony exploded.
We have been able to grow this Xenia by using netting. After the Xenia is attached to the netting we cut the colony into small tags that can be glued to rocks. We have found that the most deadly thing we can do to a colony of Xenia is to allow the temperature to get over 80 degrees. Even a short period of high temperature often causes the adult colonies to fall apart.
We have saved many Xenia colonies by treating them with extra SeaChem Reef Plus. When we cut these corals we always use from 3 to 6 times the regular dose of this product. We are certain that the amino acids supply needed nutrients and that the Iodine may also have an antiseptic effect.
We have found that these corals do very well when grown under VHO lighting. The water flow that works best for our Xenia production is supplied by having one of the power heads on a timer. We use timers that have pins that can be pulled up so the pump is on every other one half hour.
|This is the wonderful Bali two color pulsing Xenia. This coral can grow into a giant if the reef stays cool for an entire year. We have had colonies of this Xeina with stalks that were over 5 inches wide. The polyps of this Xenia pulse almost 100 percent of the time. |
We use the timers on one of the power heads in each system so the Xenia is exposed to both high and low water movement. During the time when the water flow is slower the Xenia pulses very strongly. We are certain that these corals use the slime they produce to trap organic material.
We have found that this coral produces a very large amount of slime and this may be one of the reasons it is so hard to ship large colonies. This slime may produce toxins when it is consumed by bacteria in the closed bag.
We have had the best luck shipping small colonies of this coral that have been stressed and washed in reef water for several hours before they are sealed in the bags.
|This picture shows the net bag just after it was removed from the reef aquarium. We left the Xenia in the net bag for 21 days and it seemed like every hole in the bag had polyps growing through it. We decided to harvest the cuttings when we noticed new polyps growing.
Xenia corals have a very strong smell and when you work with this many at once it really does STINK. We are certain that after you have worked with Xenia for a while it would be possible to identify species by their smell. Each type has it's own odor. This part of the coral farming research made me glad I do not have very good olfactory senses during the spring. Healthy corals often have a pungent fish smell, but I think creeping Xenia wins the prize.
After we took this picture we cut the top of the bag off and then we cut down into the coral mass. This type of net bag works very well because it is very elastic and flexible. We were able to flatten the entire mass of Xenia out so we could see where to cut between the main parts of the coral. The entire inside of the netting was overgrown with tissue.
|This is how the Xenia mass looked when we turned the netting over in a bowl of reef water. As we stretched the netting it became more obvious where the first cuts should be made. After we started cutting the netting apart we divided each large piece into smaller sections. We wanted to be able to sell the corals in 3 weeks so we did not cut the tags as small as we could have. This bag was cut into about 48 sections. We tried to make the cuts so that a piece of the netting without Xenia attached was left on each cutting.
This extra netting is important during the next part of the process because we use it to glue the tag to the rocks. We have been using Aragocrete reef plugs for all of our soft coral production. We like the way that we can move the plugs from one part of the plastic rack to another. We can also keep track of how many corals we have sold during each week by counting the empty holes in the racks.
Now that we are selling corals every week it is easy to inventory the racks and to see how many cuttings we need to make. We have had a special this week and we gave a free Xenia with each 5 corals we sold. Today we moved all of the creeping Xenia together on one rack so it was easy to see how many we need to make this week.
|These small cuttings each have from 4 to 12 polyps attached to the netting. If we were putting these corals away for later we could have made twice as many tags. Xenia corals are very fast growing when they are in the right aquarium. Finished corals of the group ship much better when they are small so the customer is happy to receive a living small Xenia that will grow rather than another large dead or dying wild colony. |
We have noticed that each generation of Xenia seems to be stronger than the ones that they were propagated from. Alf Nilsen gave a great talk at the Seattle seminar this month. He had some slides that helped me understand why corals become better aquarium animals as they are propagated in our reefs. He had corals from his reef aquariums tested for minerals. He compared them with corals from the same colony that Bruce Carlson collected directly from the reef in Fiji. The corals from Germany had minerals in them that only occur in the tap water from that region. As we grow corals in aquariums they are composed of the types of water we use and the minerals we add. One important part of the reason that captive Xenia are stronger than wild Xenia is because the weaker ones died before we could propagate them. When a strain survives a problem such as overheating then the next generation will often be able to survive that problem later.
We put a small drop of reef glue on the dry reef plug and then we press the netting into the glue. None of the tags came off of the plugs.
These pictures show some of the glue we use for our research hatchery work. We now use about 400 grams of glue each week. The 20 gram tubes will be big enough for most people. The small .4 gram tubes are fine for learning, and they will do between 5 and 15 cuttings. Remember to dip any cutting in the reef water as SOON as you can. Super glues heat up as they cure.
WE DO SELL THE 20 GRAM TUBES OF GLUE AND WE HAVE SOME OF THE CUTTINGS AVAILABLE. 1-800-600-6163
The next 3 pictures show how we attached a Pom Pom Xenia tag to a live rock underwater in our Kona reef. This time we added the drop of glue to the tag before we put it on the rock that was near the top of the reef. We can choose parts of the aquarium that have good water flow and bright light. These tags are all growing very fast. The tags allow the water to flow over and under the cutting so it does very well. As the Xenia grows it covers the netting and you can not see it after a few weeks.
This method of attaching Xenia makes it easy to move the corals to new aquariums. We can not stress enough the need to divide your brood stock between several systems. If it is possible, give some of your first cuttings to an experienced reef keeper who would be kind enough to return some of them if you need them later.
Xenia colonies crash in nature as part of their natural cycle of reproduction. Many divers have told us that during the late Summer these corals grow so fast on some reefs it looks like Xenia will soon be the only coral left. As the season goes on the Xenia often crashes and it is hard to find any adult colonies. By keeping the broodstock in several systems we have been able keep many species going for several years.
|These two Xenia tags are several weeks old. They will be grown for brood stock in our newest AragocreteTM and glue display. This reef is a 55 gallon tank with 50 pounds of hand made rock that we sent to Jerry Heslinga in Kona for 6 months. This reef has 4 VHO bulbs and 2 Maxi-Jet 1000 power heads. We used several inches of gravel and Grunge with no plenum.|
We will keep track of these Xenia tags during the next year so we can show you how many cuttings you can make using some of the new methods we have been writing about in the last few issues. XENIA MASS PRODUCTION RESEARCH This article shows you how use plastic rings to make Xenia cuttings from single polyps HANGING XENIA PROPAGATION FOR PROFIT This method of hanging cuttings can be used in reef systems that are full of corals.
We will continue to bring you as much new data as we can so that soon the only corals we will need to take from the wild reef will be wonderful new types that can be used as brood stock for all of the new land and ocean based coral farms. We are certain that as soon as tropical countries start to see the giant reef farming industry that they can share in, they will do the things that are needed to protect their reefs. They may find it is better to NOT strip and burn the forests so the reef can heal. We may be forced to rebuild the wetlands so our land based agriculture, lawns, and golf courses do NOT keep dumping tons of Phosphate into the oceans. We are more certain than ever that it is very important that as many children worldwide as possible see reef aquariums. We have seen how the children learn to love corals and how the child in all of us grows when we learn that - corals are like flowers not rocks - I have heard this statement from several crusty old Idaho farmers.
More next time - LeRoy
The first picture shows some of the Xenia brood stock that we are growing in LeRoy's sps coral reef. You can see many of the colors that we are growing. These Xenia are cut each month to keep them from shading the sps corals.
This group of Xenia is changing form every month. This is the place that we glued many of the new Xenia that we started propagating several years ago. We wanted to see if the different colors of Xenia would keep their color if they were all grown on the same Aragocretetm arch. As the Xenia grew they did keep their colors, and we learned that all of different Xenia could grow together without hurting each other. As this group grows the polyps blend together into a multicolored tapestry.
As the Xenia spreads onto the racks we will be able place clean Reef Plugstm in the holes in racks, and they will soon be covered with new Xenia. Many of the Xenia that fell to the bottom of this filter have started to grow. We have put some Reef Plugstm next to these corals and soon we will be able to remove them with the Xenia that has grown on them.
Many of the plugs have more than on type of xenia growing them. We have been making cuttings of these filter Xenia by removing the plugs from the racks. We hold the coral upside down so we can slip the scissors in between the heads. We remove all but one of the heads by cutting the stalks as close to the heads as we can. We have found that the coral grows a new head faster if we leave as much stalk as possible.
We use 3/8" plastic so the racks do not bend when we put the plugs in them. The size of the holes that you drill will be determined by the size of the plugs you use. We make the legs from the same plastic that we use for the tops. We now drill holes in the legs so that there is more water flow under the racks. We have made solid legs and they restrict the water flow.
The very best drill bit for making the holes is a Forstner bit. We have a small drill press and we can drill a hole in about 30 seconds. It is important to keep your bit sharp so it cuts a clean hole. We use a scraper to remove all of the sharp edges.
Much of our Xenia that we are using for propagation now come from this filter.
|THIS FIJI XENIA IS GROWING ON A REEF PLUG. THIS IS THE TYPE OF CUTTING WE WILL BE PRODUCING.
The most interesting thing about this method is we are able to use single polyps to produce the cuttings. We have been able to trim the polyps off of the parent Xenia without cutting into the body of the coral. We made the plastic rings we used in this project by cutting the top off of a wide mouth plastic jar. We glued the netting to the inner ring with super glue gel.
The first batch of Xenia we grew this way came from the bowl of extra polyps we had left over after we had made 30 reef plugs. These single polyps were poured through the netting so that they were spread out over the surface.
After the polyps were stuck on the bottom netting we put the second layer of netting over the top of them. We positioned the second layer so we could push the outer ring over it to hold it in place. We cut this layer off around the edge of the rings. We left a piece of the netting one half inch wide and six inches long on the top of the rings. This piece of netting was used to hang the rings in the reef aquarium.
It is very important that there is strong water flow directed at the ring. If the ring is not moving in the current so it can not come to rest the water flow is NOT strong enough.
Many of the polyps settled to the bottom of the ring. This did not cause any trouble. When we opened the rings several weeks later the polyps had all stuck to the netting.
The netting was then cut into small pieces. We tried to make each piece of netting about one inch long.
This is one of the Xenias that we grew using this method. You can see the bridal veil between the cutting and the rock. This tag was glued in place underwater using Reef Glue. The netting is VERY east to glue to any type of live rock. We just put a small ball of glue on the extra netting. When the tag is where we want it we rub the glue onto the live rock. The glue holds the netting because it pushes through the netting.
These cuttings have grown very well because the water can flow all around them. Several of the tags only had one small polyp attached. These have grown into small colonies of a dozen polyps in three weeks.
None of the net tags have come off of the rocks. A few of the smallest single polyps did come off of the netting because they were not very well attached.
These are some of our new cuttings growing on AragocreteTM eggs. The net tags were easy to glue to these before we put them into the systems. We will soon produce hundreds of these EGGS with all types of coral and coralline algae on them. We are using this product as a teaching project. We will develop a demand for coral EGGS by promoting them as a new aquaculture product.
One of the most important things we all need to do during the next several years is to promote new and interesting reef aquaculture products. Everyone knows that eggs of all kinds start life. We will use this natural shape to give a line of reef products a distinct marketing appeal.
We will be very open about how we promote this product so you can learn how to promote and develop your own products. We have had some people question how a nonprofit foundation can market products. Every nonprofit corporation must support itself some way. Many public aquariums have gift shops and snack bars. All museums charge admittance or have a membership drive. We grow and produce reef products so we can teach others how to do the same.
|NET PRODUCTION OF XENIAS|
1. FIND OR MAKE A RING - We used a table saw to make our rings from the tops of Beef Jerky jars. We set the rip fence at 1/4" and sawed the top off of the jar. We then cut the neck off of the jar.
2. GLUE NETTING TO INSIDE RING
3. POUR XENIA CUTTINGS ONTO NET - BE certain to spread them out.
4. PLACE SECOND NET OVER THE CUTTINGS
5. HANG RING IN HIGH WATER FLOW WELL LIT PART OF REEF AQUARIUM
6. WAIT 21 DAYS - We removed one ring and let the two nets slowly pull apart.
7. CUT NETTING APART AND GLUE TAGS TO ROCKS.
We use SeaChem Reef Plus as our only source of Iodine and it WORKS very well. I have told the people at SeaChem that I think they should call this product Xenia Plus. :)
We are working on several new ways to mass produce these corals and we will be reporting on them soon.