Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Wonderful World of Mariculture, Part I

As long as I can remember, I have dreamt of one day living on an island.

An island far from the mainland, where the cool trade winds blow and the sweltering sun bakes my skin; where the echoes of cars racing by would only be a faint memory of the wretched concrete jungle where I once lived.


As shimmering waters dance harmoniously on the sea floor, above the surface, ocean mist sprays off wave crests from the outer reef to catch a free ride in and land gently upon my face.


Then I take a deep breath and free dive down to check on my babies below, only to find that my loved ones are now so far along they are ready to harvest. This fantasy is a way of life for many native islanders, although they might not romanticize their lifestyle with such dream-like prose.

Welcome to the world of mariculture.


Mariculture, according to the Water Environment Federation, is the cultivation of marine organisms in their natural habitats, usually for commercial purposes.

Wikipedia defines mariculture as the cultivation of marine organisms for food, either in their "natural environment", or in seawater in ponds or raceways. An example of the latter is the farming of marine fish, prawns, or oysters in saltwater ponds. By definition, mariculture is a specialized branch of aquaculture.

Non-food products produced by mariculture include:
fish meal, nutrient agar, jewelries (e.g. cultured pearls), cosmetics and corals.

The Convention on Biological Diversity says mariculture production worldwide is growing at the rate of about 5 to 7 per cent annually. Currently, the main types of marine organisms being produced through mariculture include seaweeds, mussels, oysters, shrimps, prawns, salmon, fish and corals.

Mariculture plays a very important role in the marine and fresh water hobby.


It has prolonged the rate at which poachers and locals displace these beauties by allowing them to remove cretin species from the wild to grow and cultivate.

Hand selecting fish and corals can be a daunting task that requires time and knowledge of surrounding reefs. Mariculture has inspired a new way of thinking that saves time and energy, all the while conserving our extraordinarily delicate, complex ecosystem and biotopes.

As the hobby has progressed through the past decade, knowledge and awareness of the preservation of reefs and bodies of water has become a focal point, changing the way we look at the world and the place we live.


More and more hobbyists are beginning to endure the challenging and rewarding task of mariculture.From a small time frag tank operation to a full-scale greenhouse facility, more and more individuals want their own in-house reef that can house and sustain all types of corals, fish and invertebrates.

Most saltwater hobbyists think of one thing when they hear the word mariculture:
corals. The increase of mariculture corals has shot up dramatically with the demand—and actual success rate—of keeping corals, which previously came from maricultured farms and/or tanks.

The benefits of maricultured corals are incredible. Cultivating corals yourself can actually be a safe way to protect them against unwanted pests. Corals introduced and grown in synthetic or less than perfect conditions are more prone to defending themselves from unwanted diseases. These corals will also be able to withstand the sub par conditions of an aquarium better than most corals captured in the wild. Keep in mind that this is not because wild corals are weak; they simply have a tougher time adapting to the conditions of your tank than maricultured corals.


On the other hand, corals retrieved from quarantine are even more likely to flourish in your aquarium. Quarantined corals kept under strict conditions and guidelines can thrive in a tank because they have been prepped for synthetic conditions. This will not protect your aquarium from flat worms or red bugs, but it will surely lessen the chances of transmission of such pathogens because most quarantine systems are under close scrutiny.


Remember, corals are the bread and butter of many cash crop owners, who depend on these sites to survive. They will therefore do whatever is necessary to protect themselves and their crop from these pathogens and parasites in order to be successful.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

“Bring out yer dead”


I purchased a new aquarium since my last post.

It is 10” x 11” x 22” … or approximately 10-gallons, whichever you prefer. I’ve detailed the specs below for your reading pleasure.

Maintaining the perfect tank is hard work.

Most people don’t realize it, but caring for an aquarium is a lot like having a cat or dog. You don’t need to take your tank for a walk or anything, but you certainly need to provide the same level of attention to your tanks’ inhabitants as you would any other pet.

I am in a constant state of worry about the well-being of my fish, inverts and coral. Are they happy? Are they healthy? These questions are never more pressing than when you are about to go on vacation. Like a cat or dog, they need a babysitter for feeding, cleaning and, [insert whoever you pray to here] forbid, anything that may go wrong while you’re away.

But, when it comes down to it, all you can really do is hope for the best and that when you return they will have missed you as much as you missed them.

THE STORY


I had to leave the country a couple of weeks back for a family emergency. Since I would be gone for 10 days, I gave my tank a thorough cleaning and carefully crafted an email with instructions for a fellow employee, hobbyist and friend. He is a rookie reef keeper himself, but considering his tank is flourishing with more than a dozen fish and corals, I concluded he would be a more than adequate caregiver in my absence.

THE EMAIL

Dear XXXX,

There will be a limited amount of actual work involved in the care of my tank, so I feel confident leaving things in your hands while I am away. Basically all you’ll need to do is remember to feed my fish and corals.

There are brine shrimp and krill in the lunch room freezer. Take a cube of your choice and warm it between your fingertips to allow the ice time to melt. Fish do not like cold food, so no TV dinners! Dip your hand in the tank and distribute the melting meat cube evenly amount my tanks’ inhabitants. Be certain to feed the anemone so he doesn’t dine on one of my fish.

Don’t feed them too much, either. If they seem uninterested in food, just remove it and give the remainder to Dot or Ryan’s fish. If Kira dips by with her cup of coral food, please have her hook up my tank, too. I guess that’s it … the telephone number is on the fridge and you can watch TV if you want. I have cable and feel free to use the phone. Please also feel free to clean the glass of my aquarium. Many thanks!

From your humble friend,
Royce
THE RETURN

I arrived home jet-lagged but jovial, anxious to learn how my reef faired while I was away.

First impression: good! My corals never looked better. Wait, wait… there’s something unusual. The sandbed now had a reddish-tint that spread throughout the tank. No matter, though.

I powered up my PC and breathed a sigh of relief. I glanced over at the tank once again.

“Hmmm … I wonder where my fish are,” I pondered, scanning the tank. “Where’s my clown?”

Strange. There seemed to be no fish in my tank. NO FISH IN MY TANK!?!

“Oh, $%#@! My anemone ate them!” I rationalized.

But then the truth sauntered in. “Dude, I’m sorry. I tried.”

THE DIAGNOSIS


The following string of events is pieced together from equal parts eyewitness account and scuttlebutt.

Witness reports indicate the first couple of days I was away passed without incident. Until one warm morning, when the caretaker—whose identity shall remain anonymous—noticed white spots on the fins of my clownfish.

Concerned, the-man-who-shall-remain nameless instant messaged one of MarineDepot.com’s resident reef keeping experts, Kira, to ask for her professional opinion. She moseyed over and quickly classified the ailment as Ichthyophthirius multifiliis or “Ick”, as it is more commonly referred to.

Kira tested the tank’s salinity, temperature and chemical balance to isolate the cause of the outbreak. Other MarineDepot.com employees also stepped up and collectively they did all they could to save my fish.

But it was too late.

Ick spread through my tank like the plague did in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and, like the film, there were no survivors, save for my corals screaming, “I’m not dead!”

The following day, my purple dottyback wearily gasped for air, but resistance was futile. My reef Haitian anemone finished the job, and the caretaker tossed the carcass in the trash.White spots began appearing on the Chromis Damsels and within a day they were gone, too.

A small funeral service was held in memory of 7, 8, 9 and 10 aka “Briefs” (he acquired the nickname because he had a pattern on his side that bore a striking resemblance to a pair of underwear).

When I first started working at Marine Depot I was told many things about keeping an aquatic habitat. One urban myth was never to name your fish because it was bad luck. What I have opened my eyes to is that fish pass away regardless of whether you name them or not.

Today I have rid myself of the ick by using Super Ick Cure by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals. I also rearranged the scenery, since too many tragic events happened in the old one. Two True Percula Clown’s now reside in Bedrock and they seem to like their new home.

Monday, June 11, 2007

“I Have the Powerhead!”


For non-80’s babies who didn’t catch or care for the “He-Man” reference in my headline, I feel a more surefire approach to labeling our blog posts may be necessary going forward.

But before we proceed, there are a couple of things you should know about me:

  1. I’m not funny … although I’d like to think I’m funny. Therefore you must forgive me because I will be trying my darnedest to make you snicker, smirk or smile because, really, that’s what makes my job worthwhile.
  2. I’m an advocate of easy-to-read, user-friendly websites. So when we write, we will try to make paragraphs short and easy-to-digest. When we do layout and design, we promise eye-candy will take a backseat to usability. Nevertheless, we will try to make the entire experience easy on the eyes. Some stunning scenery to stimulate your senses along the way should help make your journey that much more enjoyable.
So anyway, like I was saying, we’re introducing some straight-to-the-point graphic sigs to help you determine if a blog post is worth your time.

We know tagging stories is handy, but nothing beats inserting a functional (yet decorative) typographic treatment to identify certain topics, like a How-To or a Product Review.

And so, without further ado, I’d like to take a stab at penning a product review about the new Powerhead I just picked up for our 24-gallon AquaPod.

So, what is Powerhead exactly? I’m glad you asked…


A Powerhead, dear reader, is a small water pump that can be completely submersed in an aquarium. They are generally used to provide water circulation—which is why I bought one—but also power protein skimmers, wavemakers and/or undergravel filters.


Based on recommendations by both my boss and one of our customer service reps, I purchased the Hydor Koralia 1 Circulation Pump/Powerhead for $37.99
from the MarineDepot.com website.

Installation was quick and easy, with no small parts or assembly required. In fact, this puppy was ready to go right out of the box.

It’s a good thing, too. I hate reading instruction manuals.


The Hydor Koralia has a suction cup on one side with a magnetic support for the outside of the tank. To setup, all you do is attach the Powerhead to the wall of your tank and plug it in. That’s it!

For something so simple to setup, the effects could not be more dramatic. The instant we put the Hydor Koralia in our tank a week ago, everything began to spring to life.

Our Midas Blenny and False Ocellaris Clowns now swim around the entire tank. Pre-Powerhead, King Midas (our Blenny) would only sit inside a hole in the live rock, opening and closing his mouth. Now we enjoy his brilliant yellow color daily as he patrols his turf at the front of the tank.


Krusty and Pennywise, our clowns, used to migrate together to the top-rear of the aquarium by the pump, which I never understood. Now they are constantly abuzz, cruising around exploring areas of the tank they never used to visit.


I have to say, though, that I am most pleased with how the Powerhead has influenced the behavior of our Reef Haitian Anemone and corals.

Our anemone looked a little, I dunno … flaccid when we first put it in the tank. I was worried about its health because I’d read they were hard to care for and my boss cautioned us about putting one in the tank so soon.


It’s now behaving like I’ve read about in the forums, burying its base into a crevice of live rock for protection while the long, purple-tipped tentacles sway in the current.


Our Sun Coral and Star Polyps are also benefiting from the increased water circulation. The Sun Coral emigrated from a coworker’s tank after failing to thrive in a 3-gallon aquarium. The polyps’ normally orange skin tone has now returned and the beautiful yellow branches protract for its daily feeding (and presumably, to show off in front of other coral).

The water is clear, the light is bright and everything appears healthy and harmonious.

Oh yeah: just in case my personal account isn’t enough to convince you to invest in a Powerhead, I’ve included a fast-facts spec box for more tech-obsessed reef keepers out there.

Well, until next time … that’s all folks!