It was nearly two years ago now that I decided I needed a change of career, so what to do? I needed something that I had a genuine interest in, had the potential to be successful at, and that I could feel good about myself doing. To cut a long (and slightly dull) story short, I like many of you found myself engrossed in the pages of the worlds first on-line coral farming school, and I was spellbound. Within a couple of weeks I had enrolled myself on a BSc course in aquaculture and fishery management at Sparsholt College, Hampshire, in England. With the aim of combining a study of more traditional aquaculture and management techniques with a passion for corals, a high goal to set myself my would-be tutor noted at my interview, but certainly not impossible. Those three words were all the encouragement I needed.
The research center was smaller than I had expected, and obviously wasn't funded by some eccentric millionaire or endless government resources, GARF is a self-sustaining research project and any income is spent wisely, on the corals. Everything that may be recycled or re-used is. Most of the equipment is inexpensive and relatively simple, making it simple to both maintain and repair should an emergency occur. Coming from England this was a surprise, I knew that protein skimmers and plenums were the filtration techniques employed, but still half expected to find a trickle filter hidden away somewhere! This wasn't the case, plenums filled with good quality GRUNGE seemed to take care of almost all the filtration requirements, and the protein skimmers seemed as important for aeration as for water quality. To emphasize this point, we were able to switch off the protein skimmers on certain tanks when they looked "too clean", allowing nutrients levels to build up again to productive levels!
So to the water, what were the secrets there? Water quality was always the least of our worries; we used Instant Ocean (an Aquarium systems product) along with the supplements recommended. Apart from using the supplements at much higher doses than directed to on the packaging, we were able to rely on the quality of our water. Aquarium System's products really are consistent enough to base your livelihood on!
So where are the secrets? Leroy and Sally-Jo have a real love and passion for what they do. They care, and demonstrate their care for the corals through strictly kept maintenance of each tank, and personal attention to each and every specimen. What many people may disregard as "off-cuts" and therefor too small to ever survive or develop are nurtured at GARF and tended in a slightly unique fashion dependant upon individual requirements. Believe me it's really beautiful to see, and even better to be a part of. No coral or fragment is too small or too unwell on arrival, all receive the care that they need, and GARF continues to prosper.
All these maintenance jobs require doing before they become a problem, and even if no one else notices our lack of regularity, even if we can convince ourselves that we aren't "skimping" on supplies, the tank will notice, as will inhabitants. Even if they don't show it immediately, they will eventually! So how do we combat this? I would suggest that all we can do is to make our reefs as much a part of our daily lives as possible. Whatever your daily routine, try to make your tank a part of it. Personally I am an Englishman, and am therefor good for absolutely nothing until I have had my first cup of tea of the day, (ask LeRoy or Sally-Jo, I can be REALLY grouchy in the mornings!). So I got into a habit of checking my make-up water at the same time, otherwise I'm not sure when I'd do it! Habits like this are easy to make, whilst bad or sloppy habits are equally tricky to break!
One essential trick I learnt during my time at GARF, was to be able to check each tank at a glance, whilst dealing with something completely different! The trick is simply to remember to glance every time you pass each tank, there's no need to stop what you're doing, or spend half an hour examining your tank ten times a day, that's just not practical, but if you can notice it.
The last big area I'd like to address is again one that I feel applies to most of the people I spoke to on the phones, and that I was lucky enough to meet at the conference, confidence. When I first arrived at GARF, I had read most of their web pages and waxed lyrically in essays for college on the procedures used in coral propagation. But I'd never really tried it! So I arrived assuming I knew nothing, and excusing the pun tried to clear my mind so as to absorb information like a sponge. I remember that first day so well, being totally overwhelmed by the tour Sally-Jo gave me. About halfway through the tour we had found ourselves stopped in front of the tanks used to hold the hermits before sale. We also used this high density of hermits to clean any rocks or plugs that we might find with algae on. We were looking at one of the Gorgonians, and I asked whether it really was as soft and fleshy as it looked. "Well pick it up and find out" was Sally-Jo's immediate response. Now I had been trained to teach SCUBA before studying corals, and we always told people never to touch any corals as they were so delicate that damage would lead to disease and ultimately death for the entire colony. Consequently I was horrified at the damage I might do by needlessly plucking a coral from the water! So Sally-Jo did it for me, and insisted that I touch it, feel it and try to gain some understanding of its relative strengths as well as its weaknesses. That must have worked, as I soon had my hands in all the tanks and was rapidly gaining in hands-on experience and consequently confidence.
Eight weeks later, (after a second extension to my internment!!) I was lucky to be sharing this valuable experience with the guests at GARF's 1999 coral farming conference. So many of the guests appeared to be experiencing touching new corals for the first time, and some looked even more intimidated by the prospect than I had been. In my opinion the only way to gain confidence is through experience, and the more experience you have the more confidence you have. So the point is? As soon as you finish reading this, go to your tank and get your hands wet. If you've done the things above, then take confidence in applying GARF's techniques to propagate your own corals (what you experience tonight you'll have in confidence tomorrow! And if you haven't done all the maintenance above, well what are you sitting here reading this for? Go do it!
In all honesty as Sally-Jo keeps telling us we should never stop asking questions, equally so we should never be content just to read about the answers. Many of the questions we ask we could answer ourselves, if we just take the time and confidence to tackle them. I remember asking LeRoy if Gorgonians would be likely to branch or morph differently if grown on their side. Many teachers would have just told me the answer; "yes"; LeRoy handed me a specimen and suggested a place in his 350gallon tank where I might try it! I learnt so much more by doing this than I ever could have learnt through listening or reading. I guess that in this day and age it is easy for all of us to believe that we can learn all we ever need to know through either a TV or monitor, but real learning comes from experiencing.
As children we learned through the same techniques as most animals do, through having fun. After all this is a hobby for most of us! I think this attitude is important when we attempt to learn about our corals, it leads to experimentation. It aids creativity, and most importantly it allows us to enjoy our tanks, and appreciate our corals. If our time with our tanks is seen as luxury time, instead of as a series of chores done to avoid crashing the tank, we are likely to learn a lot more, simply by being there and watching.
This hobby, and especially this end of the hobby, is still very much in a pioneering age. So much about these lovely creatures their care and propagation is not yet known, and many of the answers we seek have never been fully scientifically investigated. We all seek these answers, but how many of us really do as much as we can to help find the solutions? Before I studied I thought that science, (and especially research) only really happened in laboratories, a strange misconception really! Now I'm starting to realize that it's happening all around, all the time, and the answers are all staring us in the face. Whether we like it or not we are all conducting research projects in our tanks right now, if we just watch for the results and share what we learn the answers will come to us a lot quicker. And as LeRoy always says, "The only way to start, is just by starting!"
FOR THE LAST 5 YEARS WE HAVE WORKED VERY HARD TO PURCHASE, TRADE,
AND SAVE AS MANY TYPES OF CORALS AS WE CAN.
We are having a special on all of the coral cuttings. WHEN YOU PURCHASE 5 AT THE REGULAR PRICE OF $100 WE WILL GIVE YOU TWO FREE CORALS!. If you have any questions please use this form to ask them. WE WILL PHONE YOU AND HELP YOU PICK THE BEST CORALS FOR YOUR REEF AQUARIUM. We will continue to provide the most current data on reef farming for both education and profit.