A PERSONAL LIVE ROCK HISTORY
I had constructed a modern tropical fish only pet store featuring both fresh and marine tanks. Stephen Spottes articles and books and the enticing photos of Chins tank from 1962 had inspired me to try new technology such as all glass aquariums, protein skimmers, live rock, and living ocean sand.
My earlier experience in operating a small indoor brine shrimp farm during the late sixties and early seventies taught me several important lessons about marine systems. Two of the discoveries I had made were pH control using aragonite base rock, and nitrate control using a 2 inch layer of desert sand fed with sugar.
In 1967, I had discovered an ancient coralline algae reef while my father and I were clearing a road to my first geothermal fish farm. It would have been hard to miss it as the road was constructed out of the aragonite. I have never used or sold dead coral to decorate aquariums so I used this white rock to decorate my tanks. I soon noticed that the tanks with this aragonite rock never had a pH problem. It also became obvious that the fascinating marine organisms from the ocean collected live rocks were spreading to the desert aragonite. I learned that if the aragonite was covered with algae and anemones it could be sold with live filter sand, to start customers tanks immediately.
By selling the oldest Ocean Pure and the dirtiest sand to start tanks, we could sell fish within one week. Each shipment of new rock from the ocean added to the diversity of our living filters. The lighting in these early tanks consisted of two Chromat 50 and one each of Gro-lux and daylight florecent bulbs. We used Necktonic protien skimmers powered by Silent Giant air pumps. During the early 1970's most tank raised live rocks consisted of green hair algae and Condolactus anemones. Some interesting feather dusters grew, and the butterfly fish ate them. In 1974 live coral had never been successfully kept in Boise, Idaho, so I refused to sell it for the same reason I refuse to sell dead coral.
In 1978 my store sold large amounts of live rock. I shipped the excellent live rock, called "Mini Reefs" from John Noyce in Florida. Egg crate reverse flow undergravel filters, powered by Vortex diatom filters were used in all the tanks. Algae scrubbers and a large collection of macro algae were the pride of the store.
I was shipping in 4 quarts of adult brine shrimp from San Fransico Bay Brand every Tuesday night. We had to buy brine shrimp every week, but we only sold out on pay day weeks. We built 4 foot by 8 foot tanks to hold the extra shrimp. I noticed that if the shrimp were dying and I added five gallons of aragonite algae reef rock and unwashed sand the tank turned from blood red to clear and most of the shrimp lived until they were sold.
The dirty aragonite provided the next step in the production of tank raised live rock. After these polluted rocks were dried, they grew great batches of callerpa when added to the macro algae filters. All I had to do was to dump a bag of 100 Condolactus anemones in and pick out the rocks they stuck to. These improved "Macro Algae" live rocks sold much faster than old hair algae rocks. I think my customers Tangs liked the old rocks better.
In 1979, a Geology professor approached me with an offer I could not refuse. He said come back to college and I will bring you live Chambered Nautilus from Palau. I sold my store to my manager! The laboratory and equipment that had been promised turned out to be a large closet under the stairs, a pop cooler, and a sheet of visqueen. The nautilus would be in Boise in one month. Just put the visqueen in the cooler and fill it up with Ocean Pure. These were my only instructions.
By the time the Chambered Nautilus had arrived, I had broken down my lion fish hatchery tanks from my house. I had filled the small room with everything I could find to keep these strange new charges alive. Keeping them alive for the next 14 months until the second batch arrived was the hardest aquarium project I ever took on. During the next three years, I moved the Nautilus breeding project to two much larger laboratories.
The only thing I needed from my collection of live rocks and filter sand was their ability to filter the valuable artificial salt water. The rocks did not need to be beautiful because I kept the entire laboratory dark when I wasnÕt working or videoing the 12 pairs of Nautilus. At times, I was feeding over a quarter pound of smelt and prawns to each breeding pair, each week, in each 55 gallon tank. The garbage cans full of aragonite, that I used for a slow flow upwelling filter, were put to the test.
During 1980 and 1981 I had the incredible good fortune to study at Micronesia Mariculture Demonstration Center in Koror, Palau, for twelve weeks. It was there, while trapping nautilus, that I learned what live rocks could look like. It has been my dream to produce rocks that looked like that in closed systems.
During 1980 and 1981 I had the incredible good fortune to study at Micronesia Mariculture Demonstration Center in Koror, Palau, for twelve weeks. It was there, while trapping nautilus, that I learned what live rocks could look like. It has been my dream to produce rocks that looked like that in closed systems. After 1982 the only research funding that I could find was for practical projects like giant prawn farming and Tilapia culture.
A decade of geothermal aquaculture led me into the use of aquatic plants for filters. The permits for the many geothermal fish farms are held up because we can not filter the waste water properly. My research in wetland filtration grew into a wholesale water garden nursery using geothermal water to grow over 200 types of aquatic plants.
I had kept my live rock cultures going in several friends' tanks. One friend ran small commercial callerpa greenhouse. In early 1994, I aquired this marine system for just hauling it to storage. One 105 gallon tank was just too beautiful to put in storage so I set it up at research foundation.
During an incredibly lucky call to Detroit for some tank raised coral I learned about the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America in Cleveland. I found out that my friend and most respected teacher, Gerald Heslinga from Palau, would be a speaker and nothing could have stopped me from attending. It was the best decision I ever made in this field. While I was so busy growing every type of water garden plant I could find, the hobby grew up.
It seemed obvious to me that with my Ocean Pure and all the new blue lights. It was time to produce tank raised live rocks like I found in Palau.
I am now the Director of Research at the Geothermal Aquaculture Research Foundation, Inc. For the two years I have been looking for the simplest most teachable ways to grow live rock in captivity . In my thirty years of marine aquarium research, I have studied many different techniques and many different additives for growing the best reef rock. Last December, 1994, I met a customer in Boise Idaho and witnessed one of the most beautiful captive reef tanks I have ever seen in my life. This man has a 250 gallon reef tank, completely full of stony corals, soft corals, star polyps, and mushrooms. The problem he was experiencing with his tanks was that his mushrooms where growing all over everything. Included in his 26 colors of mushrooms he has large florescent green mushrooms, he has very large colonies of purple mushrooms. He has more coralline algae growing on the lave rock and back glass than I had ever seen in any tank. Several large four year old Gonaporra corals have produced a dozen healthy young this year.
He explained his problem. Each time he chopped up the mushrooms and sucked up the pieces with his diatom fiter some would escape and they were growing everywhere. I talked him into trying some aquaculture techniques I learned at MACNA in this reef tank. I gave him some base rock and taught him how to put the cuttings onto the rock.
He has his tank built into a wall of oak with built in cabinets and bookshelves. He then opened up the medicine cabinet, and he pointed to the very back where he had every kind of reef additive that I had read about in the magazines. He had all the most famous marine supplements all pushed to the very back wall.
Across the front he had several Sea Chem products; Reef Calcium, Reef Complete and Reef Plus. He told me that several years ago he had found out about these three chemicals, and he had been using those additives alone in his reef tanks ever since then.
During the past two years I have had an opportunity to test these products. I tell the students who are volunteering their time at the research lab to use the Red, the Yellow and the Blue.
The red is Reef Plus. This is a vitamin mixture with amino acids and Iodide. This is one that we use to feed the Anemones, the Mushroom anemones, the Corals, and the Coralline algae. This marine life absorbs amino acids over the skin. We add the Red with Iodine and amino acids once a week to all our reef tanks.
The yellow is an interesting form of bio active calcium. We add Calcium to the tank as a liquid once a week. I've tested the growth of Coralline algae by using this for twelve weeks and measuring the Coralline algae growth. I then stop using it for a twelve week period. I then started using it again in a series of different tanks. It is obvious that while you are using the reef Calcium the Coralline algae grows extremely well.
The Blue one is a magnesium and strontium mixture that is very effective for helping Stony Corals, Mushrooms, and Soft Corals grow.
When using the three products together I've had extremely good luck in growing live rock in captivity.I believe that this is a simple chemical combination that you can control.
I have tired experimenting with seven times the recommended dose. I was suprised to find out that the tank that I tired to over dose for sixteen weeks is one of the finest of the bullet proof reefs we've ever set up. At the Foundation we affectionately call this the student's tank. Everything that no one has wanted in the research lab for the past year, was put in this tank. All the vicious crabs, all the sea urchins, pieces and parts of rock that the students have scavenged and taken out of the shipments. The Coralline algae growth in this tank is very thick and colorful. This is one of the visitors favorite tanks. It is a 55 gallon bullet proof reef that I have placed at the end of my maintenance line. I carefully measure the Red, the Yellow and the Blue in the other tanks. When I get to the student's tank all that is left in the bowl I dump in this tank. I started this as a test thinking that it would be toxic. It turned out just the opposite. The results have proved to be incredibly beneficial for the student's tank.
The thing that I think is the most interesting about the use of these chemicals is the lack of hair algae in the tanks that I treat with them. I have been experimenting with reef janitors, especially the red legged vegetarian hermit crabs. I have had to use other additives to get the hair algae to grow so that I can test it. I started some hair algae tanks using the skimmer liquid from several of my other tanks so that I can get some cyanabacteria and hair algae to use in our video for our degraded reef videos.
I have developed a cookbook method for setting up a 55 galon live rock research aquarium. These tanks are being set up all over the country. I am going to include the Red, the Yellow, and the Blue in all the tanks. I will include them for the same reason that I use 2 - 4' 40 watt Triton and 1 - 4' 40 watt Blue moon bulbs, 2 maxijet 1000 power heads, 1 visi-jet skimmer and Ocean Pure. They do not cost the most they just keep on doing the Job.