Posted: August 1, 2014, 11:25 a.m. EDT
Help hobbyists build flourishing reef tanks by offering sound advice and solid products.
By David A. Lass
Reef tanks used to be considered extremely difficult to maintain, but thanks to an increased understanding of how they work and an excellent selection of products, successfully keeping a reef tank is now possible for any dedicated hobbyist.
"Buying the best equipment available and identifying reliable and experienced information sources is very important,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA Inc. in Hayward, Calif. "An understanding of specific, repetitive maintenance is required for success.”
Corals and fishes on a reef come from an immense volume of water that is constantly at the mercy of temperature, salinity and all of the other things that true reef experts love to test and adjust. Reefs in the wild also come with some of the strongest lighting in the world. We are putting them into essentially a thimble of water, with everything always in some form of flux.
"Good water quality and adequate lighting are two important factors to a reef tank,” said Francis Yupangco, aquatic development manager at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.
With the proper water conditions, lighting and foods, any serious hobbyist can keep a reef tank thriving. Shutterstock
A third important factor is appropriate foods, said interviewed sources.
Although hobbyists might never be able to perfectly replicate the water conditions on a reef in the wild, the industry keeps striving for that ideal water.
"The water parameter that is of most concern for reef aquariums that feature living stony corals and live rock is alkalinity,” said Julian Sprung, owner of Two Little Fishies in Miami Gardens, Fla. "In general, it is not possible to maintain alkalinity with water changes in a closed-system aquarium with coralline-encrusted rock and a dense population of stony corals. For that situation, it is necessary to supplement calcium and alkalinity. Our product, C-Balance, manages that very well, and topping off evaporation with ‘kalkwasser’ [calcium hydroxide] also helps.”
Manufacturers offer a wide variety of artificial sea salts, and each store and hobbyist has their favorite. Many hobbyists do not mix their own saltwater but buy it in large quantities from their local fish store, said interviewed retailers.
"We sell water by the gallon,” said Brett Varnum, who co-owns Laconia Pet Center in Laconia, N.H., with his sister Bethany Stockman. "This takes a lot of the guesswork out of things, especially for new hobbyists and those with smaller tanks.”
Modern aquarium lighting has helped produce thriving reef tanks.
"Proper lighting for the animals being kept is important, as some corals that naturally occur on shallow reefs may require very high light, while deepwater corals may need less-intense light,” said Jim Morgan, reptile and aquatic husbandry specialist for Zoo Med Laboratories in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "There is a wide range of lighting needs that can generally be met by properly placing corals in the tank.”
The state-of-the-art lighting option for reef tanks is fast becoming LEDs. Some die-hard metal halide enthusiasts still swear by their favorites, LEDs meet the lighting needs of virtually all corals.
"LED lights are becoming affordable,” said DJ Ducharme, assistant manager and fish room manager at Little Critter Pet Center, which has locations in Exeter and Raymond, N.H. "For reef tanks, LEDs last longer, save in operating costs and give off no heat.”
For the first few years that LEDs were available to the reef hobby, they weren’t quite ideal—but now they are. And all of the major manufacturers in the aquatics industry have a wide selection of excellent LED lighting fixtures.
"LED is where it’s at,” said Jeff Champlin, co-owner of Critter Hut Aquarium & Pets, which has locations in North Kingstown and Narragansett, R.I. "They are the future of the hobby; full spectrum, low operating costs and they last very long. With the LEDs of today we can keep pretty much any corals.”
Fish and Foods
Two other factors make it relatively easy to keep a reef tank today: the availability of commercially bred fish and invertebrates, and the wide variety of foods specially developed for feeding a reef tank. Many corals and fish are being commercially raised rather than being taken from the wild.
Though some corals are fed completely by photosynthetic algae in their tissues, feeding a reef tank is very important, and hobbyists now have a variety of foods commercially available.
"Our newest food, Corallific Delite, offers coralkeepers the world’s first dual-use coral food,” said Hikari’s Clevers. "It can be used as a targeted food or in a squirt-and-go mode. It’s a uniquely formulated food that offers a wide range of corals the nutritional components they need for long-term survival and to look their best.”
With the proper water conditions, lighting and foods, any serious hobbyist can keep a reef tank thriving.
"Choosing the right types of corals and coral relatives is an important success factor,” Two Little Fishies’ Sprung said.
Doing proper research and finding a good source of information is crucial.
"Read, search the Internet, go to some local fish stores,” Reiman said. "But when you get started pick one and only one source of advice. Looking to more than a single source will just cause confusion, and potentially failure.”
Patience will lead to success, Clevers said.
"This means not overpopulating the aquarium, and adding new creatures in a methodically planned interval to allow everyone in the aquarium to flourish and develop their own space,” he said.
Introducing New Corals and Fish Into an Established Reef Tank
As if keeping a thriving reef tank isn’t difficult enough, introducing new corals and fish to an established reef tank can bring its own set of problems.
"Make sure salinity and temperature are the same in the bag of water and aquarium,” said Neal Dulaney, co-owner of Lifegard Aquatics in Cerritos, Calif. "Then add just the fish or coral, not the water from the bag.”
"Use a drip acclimation method that allows animals to not only adjust to temperature changes, but also differences in pH, salinity and all other water parameters,” said Jim Morgan, reptile and aquatic husbandry specialist for Zoo Med Laboratories in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "It is recommended to triple the water volume in the bucket. Fish or corals can then be added to the tank.”
Keeping all new fish and corals quarantined is recommended to check new arrivals for any problems before adding the new fish or corals, and all of their problems, to the pure reef tank.
"Adding new stock to an established reef tank can be risky,” said DJ Ducharme, assistant manager and fish room manager at Little Critter Pet Center, which has locations in Exeter and Raymond, N.H. "We always recommend two to three weeks of quarantine.”—DL
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