SALLY JO'S REEF REFLECTIONS
SPS EATING STARFISH DISCOVERED
MARCH ISSUE PAGE 2
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|I spent a great deal of time soul searching for a title to this month's article. To think that I have been privileged enough to share these past four years with these incredible animals is not measurable by words. It is with tremendous pride that I celebrate the birthdays of each of my office tanks.
|The oldest one is four years old, the middle one is three years old and the youngest two just turned one year old. I have been blessed to share these tanks through our Internet site at www.garf.org from day one.|
I hope all of you will take at peek at their beauty, and realize that you too can have the reef of your dreams. The corals that I began with are still in my tanks and they have mothered so many generations I have lost count.
At first I was afraid to ask them for I felt they were stupid and had been asked of him many times over. You see LeRoy has been active in this Industry for over 33 years. I would watch him set up new tanks, purchase equipment and animals and go home and read the books. I personally did not know one coral from another, did not understand the equipment, nor had I ever had fresh water tanks or salt-water fish. You could say I knew absolutely nothing about reef keeping and felt way out of my league.
|The books scared me, however they also peaked my interest and I found myself asking questions. Perhaps one of the biggest advantages to my success was the fact that I did not have 33 years under my belt. Or perhaps because of my compassion for gardening and animals I could emphasize with their needs. I found myself asking more and more questions, and more frequently LeRoy would ask me about setting up my own tank. The answer from me was always, "NO". Yet I would still go home and read my books and wonder how in the World was it possible to care for these animals and sustain their life outside of the ocean. Believe me no one gets into this hobby to spend money only to watch animals die.|
|I would go home and read more chapters but I felt overwhelmed with confusion, and fear. I am not one to take on any task and fail at it. I always strive to be the best I can be and when we add live material into the equation I become that much more serious. When placing a seed into the ground you have to nurture it to have it grace you with the beauty of your love reflected in the flower. |
I understood this, however when you are talking about a reef tank you are talking about equipment, gadgets and animals I had no understanding of. I do carry compassion for animals and I have at my feet this very moment two of the most loved dogs in the world that we rescued from the pound. These guys have never let me down either for they help make my world worth waking up to and they keep me smiling.
|My first tank and oldest tank is now four years old and is comprised of most everything everyone told me I could not do. I remember the debate of plenum or no plenum, what types of lights, as I recall all topics seemed to cause debates. I felt like the lone pioneer setting out to discover new territory, for so much of it yet today is left unexplored.
I asked LeRoy to take me on several trips to the ocean for I feel that Mother Nature is the best teacher of all. I am not one who learns or relies souly on textbooks, I have to touch and witness life for myself. I often am found asking why or why not, if no one can answer my questions I tend to seek out my own results.
It was then that LeRoy and Eddie began making the first Aragocrete rock. We can reflect back on the first pieces that was made and laugh, however they have evolved into pieces that any tank would welcome. This rock is completely man made with the recipe shared in many of our monthly on line posted newsletters at www.garf.org.
|Eddie is a master at making concrete into masterpieces. If I said I wanted an arch, he worked on the shapes until perfection. Same with the caves and tables, he is constantly improving his designs. LeRoy has fun trying new recipes on how to make the rock and the formula used to shape the rock. He was having such fun playing in this own beach right here in Boise ID. Having many different shapes of man made rock also allows one to create several environments within the one system. Some animals don't like light, some don't like much current and some love it.|
My first focus is to make the man made rock become live rock so I wanted to force the coralline spores and sponges to grow unto the rock. All of this material is found in the GARF GrungeTM. I use low 40-watt lights to achieve this goal figuring that coralline loves blue light and grows best in low light. My favorite lights to start with are the blue moons and tritons. I do not place a skimmer on the tank in the beginning stages for I do not want to skim out all the beneficial organisms in the grunge. We placed two Maxi Jet 1000's in the tank one blowing current one direction the other blowing current the other direction. LeRoy uses the plenums as Undergravel filters for the first few months.
|Believe it or not the very next day when the dust has settled I begin placing our Reef Janitors in the tank along with some of the hardier soft corals. Within the very first week I also add some fish to the system. Often I am asked about fish, I personally prefer the cheap mean fish for they live.
I try my best to simulate the real reef, and feel that the bio-diversity found in my oldest reef is what has led to its tremendous success. The damsels, clownfish and dottyback's are great fish for the long term. There are a few damsels you want to stay away from for they are cute when you first purchase them but they grow real big real fast and can be a problem.
Along with the setup one most also understand that supplements are important to add to a new system. As well as establishing a maintenance program that you will constantly follow. It has taken a lot of time to try and understand the needs or even the placement of all of these animals. I actually can say that I learn something new each and everyday. One of the reasons we share so many pictures of our tanks on the web, is to give you some idea of placement. You also have to realize that these animals grow and as they grow there needs grow. I feel that in order to keep my tank in balance it is important to place a skimmer on the tank at about the five to six month stage of development. I also feel water changes of at least 10% a month is important not just to change the water but to add back the minerals that get depleted over time.
|On my four-year-old tank, I have six VHO bulbs that is 11 watts per gallon but this was spread out over a two-year period. I change my lights on a six-month period, changing two bulbs at a time spreading it out over a one-month period so as not to shock or bleach any of the corals. I have a good skimmer on this tank. I add reef janitors every six months, to keep the tank in balance. I add the supplements never missing a dose using Sea Chem.|
I do monthly water changes of at least 10% with Ocean Pure. It has five powerheads in the tank making certain no one animal is blocking another animal from getting current or lighting. I have to do weekly pruning and daily visual to make certain no one is unhappy or touching. I feed only sprilina flake food almost daily sometimes more depending on visitors. We use no RO unit Boise water it great. We set our makeup water out for 24 hours before using it in our tanks.
Four years later my Sarcophyton is still in my tank and is being propagated still:). I was making babies from the mother colonies in the very first six months of my first tank. LeRoy had to really twist my arm to make me partake in all the propagation research but it wasn't long before I was cutting and gluing along with the best of them.
By this time my interest in having as many different species as I could became my focus. I wanted some of the delicate sps corals. So I decided to increase my lights slowly so as not to shock the animals already in my tank and honestly my lights of choice is the VHO bulbs. What was an all soft coral tank with six 40 watt lights, grew into a sps coral forest with six VHO bulbs. This tank is indeed my biggest challenge to date. For I have to make certain all animals are happy in this environment that I created for them. I am constantly propagating from this tank, and seeding tanks throughout GARF. Presently at GARF we have over 40 separate systems, mine are all set up with the same structure.
|Not everyone will have the same desire I have had with trying to get as many animals as I can into a small 55-gallon system. However I have shown people what you can do if you want to. Animals are growing on my powerheads, on my overflow box and anywhere there is room. These tanks are indeed my pride and joy and many people across the Country have grown to love them. They have babies from Dick Perrin, Mike Paletta, Steve Tryee, Jerry Heslinga, Joe and Cindy Jones, the Smithsonian, and several individual farmers across the land.
Their original colonies are from all parts of the World. I look at these tanks and I loose my heart. Yet when I look at how many animals are still out there we only have a small part of the World in our tanks.
When my desire to keep the sps corals grew and my success with them was so incredible that I found the soft corals to be outgrowing the tank so much faster than I could keep up with. Again Valentines Day came and LeRoy took me into the office and here was another 55 gallon tank that was empty and needing my love. It wasn't long before this tank started to house many of the second generation Sally Jo corals. People who came to visit could not believe how fast the tank matured and how much fun one can have from the very first day. Again you can see this tank from day one on our web site at www.garf.org. This second tank was labeled the old man tank because of a rock I found on one of our research trips looks like the side profile of a man.
During this year of maintaining all the tanks at GARF I would hear LeRoy consulting with many of our visitors. They were discussing how they felt I should be given a bigger tank to work with. Meanwhile I was content working with my 55-gallon systems. I had my hands full with the decorating, pruning and constant care of my two reefs. I also took on the task of adding all the supplements to all of the systems at GARF. For stability is one of the most important gifts you can give your corals and they will reward you with beauty for years to come.
At about the nine-month stage the old man tank was ready for LeRoy to make me a sump and the lights were graduated up to, of course, my favorite bulb VHO. I then started gluing some sps corals in this system. Now it is so grown with animals you can hardly see the face of the old man rock. It is also so full of life and such beauty. Although I feel like I have given each tank my full attention and put such emphasis on starting them all the same way not one of my tanks are truly alike. Well as you can guess Valentines Day was rolling around again.
|This time LeRoy was busy making tanks and building things so I was certain I would not be surprised with another tank. I had also informed him that my hands were full with the tanks that I had. And my office was getting a little crowded. LeRoy was working way into the night hours on his newest project, I was not aware of his deadline. |
Of course little did I know that the tanks he was building would become my new cutting unit, along with the three 40-gallon unit came another 55 gallon tank all in one year last year. It brings tears to my eyes the joy these gifts have given me. It angers me when people say what we have done can not be done. I could see it if the one tank, the miracle tank was a fluke, but we have set up many tanks using our methods.
Many things can go wrong in a reef tank. I feel very lucky my losses have been very little. I give so much of the success of these systems to having LeRoy by my side. Also paying more attention to the animals not changing things because a new idea is written about. The more stable you keep your tank the better the animals will be. We keep our tanks at;
Salinity 1.023 -1.025
Temp 78 steady
Calcium > 400
I have heard people say that you can not keep corals with 40 watt lights. Not only are they dead wrong they are putting down a company that have produced a great light. My youngest tank is over 365 days old and still has three 40-watt lights over it. It houses over 100 different types of coral, from Xenia, to Sarcophytons, some large polyp stony corals, a clam, and fish. It is a simple inexpensive way to have tremendous success. As a matter of fact I am already propagating from this tank as well.
Please take a moment of your day and dive into GARF's web site to view these tanks for yourself at www.garf.org. This tank is featured from day one by placing rock by rock into the tank. Each month we shared updates and pictures of how it progressed over time. There is nothing in the World that compares an aged system which is what the GrungeTM allows our tanks to do.
We also cheat a little by using some of the water from other aged tanks at GARF. It is so hard for us to throw anything away, even water. I am planning on keeping the system as it is however. I will be changing the lights when needed but not upgrading them to more intensity. For one needs a tank where the soft corals can grow free. I love this tank and want to have a tank with just soft corals for when you upgrade to keeping sps corals you have to constantly keep the soft corals, mushrooms and leathers in check so as not to out grow the sps corals.
|If you were to visit GARF as many of you have, you would see my tanks setup side by side. The oldest one being the first one people see, the one next to it is my three year old and the next one is the one year old and than we can't forget my cutting unit which houses 1,500 Xenia and sps cuttings on any given day. I have taken thousands of pictures of all the tanks at GARF I have never been able to take the perfect picture and people are truly amazed when seeing them in person. No color enhancement is needed on my part, nor can a camera capture their beauty. I often smile when a person calls to place a coral order for they ask that the animal not be brown.|
I never envisioned myself as a coral farmer and could never have foreseen how much work is involved with this effort. For not only are we trying to keep the farm going, but GARF has many other projects as well. It is so similar to farming a crop, first you have to till the land, you have to amend the soil, you have to seed it, you have to weed it, then you have to water it and you have to harvest it. There is constantly something that has to be done and never a dull moment. We are constantly developing new methods for propagation, coral placement, as well as researching ways that our hobby can have a low impact on the wild reefs. We found that with working with several separate systems the risk is low in having something go wrong fast.
We spread the risk around to several tanks and have found ways to balance each individual system. I like to work the 55-gallon systems but we have everything from 10 gallons to 500 gallons at GARF. We have tested ways to rid of tank of bubble algae, I never thought I would see the day LeRoy would try and grow it on purpose. However with trades coming in and still trying to get one of every animal means setting up tanks for wild corals. You then take the risk of introducing some algae's and other creatures that will cause problems if one does not find a way to control the pest. Algae control research is LeRoy's main job. |
If you are at wits end a Red Sea Sailfin Tang is a great asset as is a Purple Tang. Also it may be time to test your water and see if something is off key just a little.
For Aiptasia control we tested the Copperband butterfly fish and have had great success with this species when they are imported from Jakarta. They eat the aptaisia and I have never seen them harm any coral. The problem is what will they eat when the Aiptasia are gone? I grew adult brine Shrimp for them and then mixed it with frozen Brine Shrimp. Soon they were eating frozen Brine Shrimp. We have seen them eating flake food in a tank where they have been living for over seven years. I think the best advice I can give you is to never give up for there is always an answer, you may not find it on your first attempt but no problem is ever too bad. Occasionally you may need to start some of your rock over. You can also call our help line, which is 208-344-6163, and we will see if there is any way we can help you solve the problem.
|We find that by making our own rock, seeding it with our own sand we have very little problems with any of these above problems. Working with captive raised corals also makes a huge difference in the success of animals living, shipping and growing better. We also feel that by making caves and arches one can keep several animals that would be very difficult to keep otherwise. Plus it gives your fish places to hide or swim in and out of. My Damsels are still laying eggs and hatching out on the fourth day. Most of the babies fall prey to the starfish but someday I hope to figure out what they eat and how to make some of them make it through to maturity.
We also want to add that GARF's way is not the only way, but it works. We have worked with tanks all across the USA and the individuals have shared the same success as we have encountered. It has taken a great deal out of me to share the success of my tanks, but I will continue to do so in hopes of getting as many people hooked as we can.
I was very dishearten by a meeting we recently attended in Hawaii. I heard so many people discussing the wild reefs and the push to ban wild collection. I am afraid that until we address the real issues and look at the whole picture we are indeed risking the fate of these animals. For over development, loss of our natural wetlands, pollution, agriculture, warming of the temperatures and tanker spills will kill more reef than this Industry could in its whole lifetime. Many of the faults this Industry could be blamed for are improving daily. Many companies have spent time educating natives about net caught programs and proper collecting practices. Believe me if there is no market for poisoned fish those practices will stop.
I have seen golf course after golf course being built right up to the ocean; I have seen thousands of people put sunscreen on before going into the ocean to snorkel with the fish. What would happen if you put sunscreen on before putting your hand in your tank? In some places there are new rules about this. If we do not work together I am afraid of what the future holds for all of us. It is up to us to be the voice for these animals.
Perhaps we can take what we have learned in our closed systems and figure out ways to manage the wild reefs, perhaps by zoning the reef, perhaps by building artificial reefs for coral larva to have a fresh place to settle on. Maybe some of the bleaching event is Mother Nature fighting back, in Idaho it takes a fire to release new seedlings on some of our pine trees. Could it be that this is how we might get back some of the bio-diversity versus biomass? We can't stop asking these questions and we can't stop caring. Most importantly now is the time to act. We may not agree on all issues, but if we are all working towards the same goals it is the future generations that will benefit from all of our hard work.
|So few people look at the whole picture, so few people even know what a coral is. It is all of our jobs to educate, to share information, and to help each other be successful. There is room for many people in this Industry; there is no reason to work against each other. GARF has so many big tasks we are involved with in the year 2000. We are excited to report that we are working a New York Aquarium. They are sending us test tubes to begin DNA testing on Zooxanthellae. We are continuing our work with Dr. Lake who has tested some of our animals on different types of tumor cells. These test results were shared at our Oct 1999 conference they were very positive and are going into another phase of testing. We thank each and every single one of you for assisting us with this project and the trades that have been generated have helped us with this research. We have been given new hope of reseeding some of the lost wild reefs. This seems to be a vision for the future and we hope to be a part of that this year in Palau.|
Each day when I walk into GARF, I pinch myself to make certain all of this is not just some dream and then I hear the phone ring and I know where I am. We have made our own land based operation where Xenia are becoming as famous as our potatoes. If you are wanting to keep a reef tank please visit our site; look at our pictures read some of our articles and you are well on your way. For if I can have this much success so can you and the most important thing to remember is have FUN!
One of the first things that we noticed about the starfish was the different length of the legs on almost every member of this group. After some detective work we were able to find these predatory starfish eating several types of small polyp stony corals. The starfish are approximately 1 in. long and they often have seven legs.
When the starfish is ready to divide all the legs will be about the same length. The starfish then starts to split across the disk leaving each new starfish with from three to five legs. The starfish seem to be able to grow very fast and they rapidly populate an entire aquarium.
|The starfish then find SPS corals to feed on. It is hard to find these starfish because they are able to camouflage themselves among the coral branches. It is very common to find two of the same size starfish feeding on the same coral.
When the starfish attack a Stylophora fragment they can eat all the polyps in one day. The other coral that they seem to attack is the Pocillopora. If you have been noticing large white patches on your SPS corals you may have an infestation of these predatory starfish.
These types of starfish often arrive on Fiji live rock. This is another good reason to quarantine live rock before you add it to your reef aquarium. If you have seen this type of starfish in your aquarium already, you'll need to find them, and finding them can be quite a problem. Of course it is easiest to remove them when they're crawling on the glass. If you see the starfish do not put off collecting them because once they are on the rocks they are very hard to see.
| The most effective tool for removing these predatory starfish is a pair of 12-inch long stainless steel tweezers. These tweezers are one of the most important tools that we use in our coral farm. The best place we have found to buy tweezers is a used tool store. Each year at the Idaho State Fair there is a booth that sells magnifying glasses, scissors, and carving tools.|
The tweezers that I like best are made in Pakistan and they cost about $9. Several people told me at that in their part of the country there are large flea markets and they have found these tweezers for as little as $4 each.
If you find a good source of high quality stainless steel tweezers please e-mail GARF so we can restock. These tweezers are one of the very best things for picking up fragments of SPS corals, and we also use them to remove Zoanthids and Woods polyps from base rocks in the aquariums.
|One of my very favorite types of corals is Stylophora that have wide branches and brilliant colors. I have been babying a small fragment of brilliant purple Stylophora with fluorescent green polyps for almost two years. This fragment had started to form a small colony about the size of a golf ball, and it had developed six nice branches.
Last week Sally Jo called me into my office. She had finally decided that the small starfish that were multiplying in my reef aquarium are definitely coral predators.
When I looked at my colony of Stylophora I notice several large white patches but I did not see the starfish at first. When I had removed the cover, I finally saw the starfish on the top of this small colony. I removed this starfish and was getting ready to replace the cover when Sally Jo pointed out the second starfish on the same colony.
|Stylophora and Pocillopora both have rounded branches that are covered with large polyps. These two corals look quite a bit alike in the aquariums and they do not seem to be very aggressive in territory battles. Several different predators choose this type of coral first if they are available. Pocillopora is one of the most widely spread corals, and on many reefs it is the dominant species. We have set up a special tank to save this species of starfish for further research. We will make the starfish and several other species of coral predators available to any research laboratories at no charge.|
|We're certain that the starfish may be responsible for a lot of this tissue damage that people find on their SPS corals. When the starfish are feeding on SPS corals they live a very cryptic life and they often hide under the coral when the lights are on. We hope to have this species of starfish identified at Boise State University. We will be collecting as many specimens of this type of starfish as possible. We're not certain that all of the types of starfish that are shaped like this and have spontaneous divisions are coral predators.|
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SALLY JO'S REEF REFLECTIONS
SPS EATING STARFISH DISCOVERED