Propagating Bubble Coral | Business Planning Technique - Pricing For Profit

Reef Aquarium Farming News
Online Newsletter for Reef Aquarium Propagation Research

ISSUE # 10 page 3 OCTOBER 1997

Propagating Bubble Coral

Plerogyra Bubble Coral Propagation
A. Thiel

The propagation of SPS corals (small polyped stony corals) has progressed in great strides in the last year or two and hobbyists all over the country, and elsewhere, make cuttings of many forms of SPS corals and grow new colonies without too much difficulty. Coral propagation farms and businesses are popping up all over the place.

The most advanced one that I have seen to-date is certainly The Aquatic Wildlife Company in Cleveland TN (423) 559 9000. I have described what they do and the text of interviews with Dana Riddle and John Walch on our web site in the SW Library. There is a banner on our main index page that leads directly to these documents. If you have not read them, you are encouraged to do so. Our support for these kind of endeavors is crucial to the future of the hobby. Support the AWC and purchase your frags from them. They are of real high quality.

The same cannot be said for large polyped stony corals (LPS corals) such as Catalaphyllia, Plerogyra, Euphyllia, Nemenzophyllia, Symphyllia and so on. That is still an area where little information is available, although propating these corals can now easily be done.

In fact, I have been experimenting with various methods for quite some time and have had great success with most corals that I have artificially propagated by breaking their skeletons.

Propagating LPS corals in such a manner is not new, it has been done before, but the techniques are not really described anywhere that I know of, except for the article in the NetClub Library on how to propagate Elegance Coral in this manner.

Bubble coral is not as easy to deal with because its skeleton is different than that of many other corals, and the manner in which the polyp itself is embedded makes it a little more touchy as it is easier to damage the polyp than with some other LPS corals. Keep this in mind when you apply the technique described below.

Let me try and explain how to go about the process:

First let me list the tools you will need:

So much for the preparation and assembling the needed tools and other implements we will require.

What one needs to understand when propagating LPS corals is that real care must be taken "not" to harm the polyp itself. This is unlike fragging SPS corals where one just takes a piece of, say, Acropora sp. and nips off a branch and then epoxies that down somewhere in the tank in an appropriate spot, and you are basically done.

With LPS corals things are a little more complex and the method used differs depending on the coral you are dealing with. Bubble corals happens to be one of the more difficult ones, well maybe not difficult but more complex, to split and propagate. It requires more work than most of the others that I have been working on.

Now that we have all the tools ready and of course a Bubble Coral, we are ready to start the procedure.

The Procedure Described

You have now finished the first part, and you have either placed the coral back in the water or it is still in tray. If it is still there you may wish to continue with the next step. If it is not, and you decided that you wanted to place the coral back in the water for a while, that is fine too. At some point though you will need to continue and the sooner you do the better in my experience.

Second Step

Third Step

What is next?

We have split the skeleton and we have it back in the tank as described above.

Because of the offset and the wedges, tension is created on the polyp and that will make the polyp stretch.

For the Bubble coral to split in two, we will need to increase that tension and that offset little by little, day after day, until the split starts to occur.

Note that you may wish to look at a skeleton of a dead bubble coral if you get a chance to see how its structure is and how it is more fragile towards the top than at the bottom. That is obviously the reason most of our efforts are concentrated at the bottom so we minimize the possibility of harming the polyp which is more concentrated towards the top.

As the tension is increased and has the pieces are farther apart and as the offset in increased as well, you will start noticing after a while that the polyp actually starts to split.

  • When that happens you know that you will soon have two bubble corals. The split starts with an indentation in the polyp, sort of like a large V on both sides and the narrow ends of the V will work towards each other and expand until they meet. When they do you have basically two corals.

    How long does this all take?

    I have had instances where the split was as short as 10 days and others where the split took nearly 3 weeks. The speed depends on your expertise with this and the amount of offset and tension you introduce.

    In the beginning or what I mean is when you do this for the first time, do everything slowly. As you gain more expertise you can certainly speed the process up by increasing the offset of the 2 frags and the tension on the polyp to speed things up.

    Acquire some experience first though and do not pay too much attention to how fast this all happens. The key is to be successful. Once you have done it a few times you can speed things up somewhat as I explained above.

    Keep your skimmer running. Do not turn off the lights. Make sure your iodine levels are where they should be and maybe a little higher even. Dose with a complete supplement, such as VG, at twice the recommended dose. Feed the coral during the night or a few hours after the lights are off. Add Plankton at nite if you wish. I have found that this is beneficial. If you use plankton make sure it is live. Brachionus is a good choice and can be ordered from AWC or from Florida Aqua Farms.

    Where do you get most the implements you need?

    I got mine from Home Depot and a Hobby shop. You can find the Dremel Tolls and the drill bits that go with it in many places though. I have tried other shapes than the V, a half round for instance, but have found that the V works best to make the initial groove. The V shape should be a wide one not one of the narrow angle V drills they sell. The second drill is basically a round dot that you use to make the V deeper. The dot drills come in various sizes and I used the small one.

    Note that in the beginning I indicated that you should use an adjustable speed drill. The reason is that they are easier to control. Some of the higher end models allow you to set the actual RPMs and that is what I use. If you get a lower end model, get one that has a low speed setting and you will be fine.

    The plastic wedges were found at Home Depot but they were larger than what I needed, so I cut them down to the sizes explained above.

    Note that the Dremel will be used to propagate other corals so it is a good piece of equipment to have if you plan on doing this to more than one type of coral. You will need other drill bit types and you may wish to consider buying the Dremel kit that comes with an assortment of drill bits in it. That way you have everything you actually need.

    Also note that the Bubble coral is one of the more difficult one to do this procedure with. Many other corals that I have applied this method (or a very similar one to, are much easier to propagate. The main reason for this is the make up of the internal parts of the skeleton.


    Since I am not at your place to supervise how you do all of this I cannot take responsibility for your success or failure but if you follow the instructions and do not rush things the first time you should do just fine.

    Do not improvise. Follow the directions. After you have gained some experience you can improvise somewhat and perhaps adapt the technique to your own liking. This is a description of how it works for me but that does not mean that you cannot make some modifications to it.

    Should you see damage to the polyp, you need to treat with high dosages of Vitamin C and rub some on the wound too. You also want to maintain those high dosages in the water and aim water current at the affected area.

    If you break some of the top lamellae, leave them in place. They will come loose by themselves and be ejected by the coral

    If you decide to give it a try and have questions do not hesitate to email me. I will be glad to help you as best as I can.

    Albert J. Thiel

    © A. Thiel, 1996-1997

    Business Planning Technique - Pricing For Profit

    PART 2

    Last month I began a discussion of the pricing process and computing the costs and the volumes needed to make a desired income, this month will continue on with that and go on to some basic business planning technique.

    When I was in the US Army, taking an instructors' training course we were told, " tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them". I have since noted that is also done by many good teachers everywhere, so in that vein, I am going to ' tell you what I'm going to tell you'.

    What you, we, I, need to do is compete with a superior product,
    that is proven captive bred and is acclimated to aquaria conditions.
    In many cases you can also add delivery to a shop or wholesaler
    and better customer service.

    We have discussed the how-to, a little, of setting up record keeping books, and the need to get involved early on with a good accountant to set up your record keeping system, and I have pointed out some of the pluses of some easy to use accounting software programs that can be of a big help to you, actually, once you have either, Quick Books, or Peachtree Accounting you can do 95% of your accounting yourself, both systems talk you through your setups and have tutorials and helps to guide you along. There is also a good tax program to use called Turbotax which has an individual version that allows you to process 5 sets of tax returns which is similarly 'user-friendly' and priced under $50, and you can do your personal taxes as well as business on it, the commercial version is higher.

    In next installments I am going to discuss the Balance Sheet which is simply a 'report card' of where you are in your business operation, along with after that the tax forms that you will need to compute your profit or loss on your enterprise and how to use them and where the info for the business profit or loss goes on your form 1040. After I would like to show how this is applied with some of my own figures, pictures etc. of a 'production module' I have set up and where it is at and what I am producing from it, first , so you will know what I am talking about a few more things to discuss. This installment will conclude the cost/volume discussion and begin business planning.

    As a wise friend recently said,
    "if you don't know your costs, you are lost".

    He is a CPA and teaches accounting,
    and this is one of his basic teaching points,


    Last month we discussed how many units that we wholesaled at $ 10 each to reach a break even point of $ 12000 of costs, and how many to produce to make us an income of $ 40,000. This was done with a product that we wholesaled at $ 10 and which gave us a CONTRIBUTION MARGIN of $ 5, or a return to us of $5 over the costs to produce it. This whole process is why I have stressed how important it is to know what our costs are in order for us to know how to price our products, and, whether or not we are making money or losing it. As a wise friend recently said, "if you don't know your costs, you are lost". He is a CPA and teaches accounting, and this is one of his basic teaching points, KNOW YOUR COSTS!.

    One other closely related point to this is the necessity of proper pricing of your products. Of course you have to be competitive, but, it will be a long time before you can compete with shipped-in, cyanide collected products from the Philippines. They are CHEAP! What you, we, I, need to do is compete with a superior product, that is proven captive bred and is acclimated to aquaria conditions. In many cases you can also add delivery to a shop or wholesaler and better customer service.

    One of the greatest causes of business failure
    is pricing oneself out of business !

    What happens is new producers price themselves too low
    and don't receive enough cash income to remain
    solvent (pay their bills).


    Don't underestimate the value of these, the later ones are factors the transshippers cannot compete with you on, and very soon the first one will be the ultimate plus for you, having hardy, local raised captive bred products. That said, do not be afraid to price your product accordingly, if you deliver you don't need box charges, they can have a shorter lead time on order/delivery, and you are there to service them with a superior product.

    What I am leading into is this- One of the greatest causes of business failure is pricing oneself out of business. ! What happens is new producers of products price themselves too low to be competitive, and then don't receive enough cash income to remain solvent (pay their bills). The simplest way to prevent this is to price your products competitively yet fairly to yourself to cover your costs. And, to do that, you have to know what your costs are. I keep coming back to that and will, get used to it, its a fact of life for you. " if you don't know your costs you are lost". attributed to Tony Conte, CPA.

    For our discussion I used an arbitrary figure of a product that wholesales for $ 10, this is an easy figure to use, but, in reality, I would suggest this only for a smaller single species rock, with coralline algae, and maybe some caulerpa or other algae species. AragocreteTM cookies' come to mind here, depending on size, but at a $ 10 wholesale I am not talking about a very large piece.

    If you want to get an idea of what stuff is wholesaling for to your retailers, look at their stock and divide by 3-4 times, that will be an approximate base price plus box costs etc. , but, remember he also has fixed costs they have to cover, so, the retail price of the corals is what the retailer has to receive to make his break even point and then get onto his income.

    Don't think he is getting rich if his base price is $5 and he is retailing it at $20. He is not. Use this though to get an idea of what the going wholesale prices he is paying are. Some of his markups may be as low as 2 times.

    Back to the cost/volume pricings. Last month we showed using the wholesale sales price of $ 1