Keep it Simple with Corals
Education and industry improvements make hard and soft coral easier to manage.
Keeping and propagating corals in the home aquarium has come a long way. Twenty years ago, it was nearly impossible to keep hard corals in closed aquatic systems, said Eli Fleishauer, media director at Quality Marine in Los Angeles.
“First came the revolution in how well skimmer technology worked, then, at roughly that same time, there was the advent of high intensity discharge lighting and the system chillers that those early high output lighting systems demanded, and things suddenly got much more possible,” he said.
The tradeoff between plenty of light and maintaining the proper water temperature proved significant.
“Fast forward 10 years and you see a significant increase in the number of aquarists understanding the role of target feeding hard corals and the marked benefits to both growth and coloration that this technique brings,” Fleishauer added.
In addition, nearly all the corals imported into the U.S. are controlled tightly by CITES permits, said Ryan Voth, sales manager at Quality Marine.
“This is a positive trend because it’s in the best interest of our hobby to rely more on sustainable propagated or farmed corals,” he said. “It’s difficult to say the exact ratio of wild versus propagated or farmed corals, but the trend is showing greater and greater numbers going toward propagated.”
In addition to the hobby/industry learning much about water quality and lighting, we have made great strides in providing nutrition for the corals.
“The biggest concept that really has increased success for both soft and stony Cnidarians is the feeding or administration of an energy source, such as amino acids,” said Patrick Donston, owner of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J. Donston owns a large facility devoted to propagating corals, and he speaks from a wealth of experience.
“Corals utilize Ca2+, Mg2+ and carbonates to build their protective base,” he said. “To absorb these elements, they need an energy source fed to them. There are a variety of foods to do this: frozen/refrigerated reef plankton, coral foods, oyster/fish eggs, etc.
“Manufacturers make a variety of blended liquids to simply add to the water, which will serve the same functions,” Donston added. “Some examples are Seachem Fuel, Red Sea Reef Energy A & B supplements, and Two Little Fishies MarineSnow.”
Us old-timers in the hobby/industry remember when the only corals in a tank were white skeletons. Today’s corals kept and propagated in a good local fish store are impressive. Julie Filteau, a sales rep at Segrest Farms in Gibsonton, Fla., is familiar with both hard and soft corals. She reported that for hard corals, “Acropora species have made great advances in the aquarium hobby in the past few years. We have learned a great deal about their lighting requirements, how important water flow is to their health, and even feeding this species has become easier.”
For soft corals, Filteau said, “Zooxanthellae species have been a favorite for years, and I think it will continue. With all the different color variations, some hobbyists even are creating gardens in their aquariums.”
In the advanced techniques for keeping and propagating corals, systems for dosing nutrients and additives also have improved greatly.
“The quality and nature of dosing systems have increased dramatically, and hobbyists are able to have chemical stability now that rivals systems much larger than their own,” said Eli Fleishauer, media director at Quality Marine in Los Angeles. “Now you are seeing people with a myriad of different lighting and filtration systems having success with SPS (small polyp stony) corals.”
Aquacultured vs. Wild Corals
There seems to be a consensus in the industry that it is only a matter of time before we will no longer be allowed to take corals from the wild, and not everyone thinks this is a negative.
“With CITES permits becoming increasingly difficult to get, and frags becoming more easily obtainable, it goes without saying that wild corals are declining in popularity,” said Dave Parks, international buyer for Segrest Farms in Gibsonton, Fla. “In my travels, I have visited quite a few local fish stores that proudly proclaim that all of the marine animals they offer for sale have been commercially produced.”
Patrick Donston of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J., offered one take on the problem.
“We are so quick to run for the hills when there is a change, … but the fact of the matter is people and businesses adapt,” he said. “Importers/wholesalers are panicking about this issue, but as long as there are no government regulations that ban keeping or owning coral, the reef hobby will go on.”
Many other store owners agree with Donston’s perspective. He concluded that “Manufacturers of dry goods will drop in numbers, and so will importers/wholesalers. Instead they will be specialized and meet the needs of fraggers and commercial farmers.”
The questions really are how and when we will be prohibited from taking animals from the oceans and reefs of the world? Few professionals believe the end is not coming.
“I believe that tomorrow’s hobbyists are going to be more concerned about where their corals are coming from,” said Julie Filteau, a sales rep at Segrest Farms in Gibsonton, Fla. “And with the advances that have been made in aquaculturing corals, those hobbyists are going to be able to find what they are looking for with generational corals that are years in the making and years away from being taken from the ocean.”
Additionally, in a few years new hobbyists might look at veteran hobbyists with stunned amazement and say, “What? You actually had people capture animals from the reefs just so you could keep them in your aquariums?”
It’s important to remember to keep it simple and go with aquacultured corals.
“Aquarists who make restrained choices about their coral livestock can make a brighter display with a cleaner layout plan if they are willing to continue to embrace soft corals and polyps in their aquarium,” said Eli Fleishauer, media director at Quality Marine in Los Angeles. “These corals tend to be colorfast and grow quickly; [they] generally grow with less fuss, in much simpler systems, and offer much easier maintenance.”
In addition to going with soft corals and polyps, this industry needs to think about the future.
“If we don’t support aquacultured products, we can count on the government coming down on the industry as a whole,” said Ryan Voth, sales manager at Quality Marine.
When asked to sum up what is most needed in keeping and propagating corals, Allen Fefferman, owner of Old Orchard Aquarium in Skokie, Ill., simply said, “Patience.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Pet Product News.