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Musings on ReefStock’s Q&A Session With Vincent Chalias and Jake Adams: A Panel Discussion Featuring 9 Industry Professionals

We recently attended the 10th annual ReefStock aquarium show February 24 and 25 in Denver, Colorado. We had a blast wandering the Radisson Hotel Denver Southeast talking to other hobbyists, coral farmers, equipment manufacturers, and expert speakers.  We always enjoy hearing and learning from everyone.

Here are some of the sights from the show:

We had the privilege of hearing a presentation from Vincent Chalias. Chalias is a Marine Biologist at Bali Aquarium, a coral mariculture company in Indonesia. He spoke about the transition and transformation of corals from the ocean to the aquarium. He explained that corals in the wild get a ton more flow than we provide in a captive environment. They endure wild fluctuations in their lighting, flow, temperature, food intake, and have much greater food heterogeneity.

More to come on Chalias’ presentation in a future post, so be on the lookout for that!

In the meantime, rather than recount every interesting tidbit from his presentation, we thought we’d take a different approach. At the show, Chalias and Jake Adams from Reef Builders answered questions from the audience on a wide variety of topics. We took six questions people asked and sent them to our favorite industry professionals to think about. So if you weren’t able to attend ReefStock this year, we hope we’ve captured the spirit of the event with our own panel of experts. We invite you now to participate—free of charge!

Special thanks to our friends at Coral Morphologic, EcoTech MarineTunze, Current USA, Hanna InstrumentsNanoBox, Oceanbox Designs, inTank, and Santa Monica Filtration for taking the time to share their opinions with us. Readers, please join in the discussion by answering the questions below and/or by responding to our panelists in the comments section.


What is your water change philosophy?

Bryan, Santa Monica Filtration: I like to strive for low or no-maintenance, and also the most natural, so I prefer no water changes. Natural reefs recycle all nutrients within their reef systems (lakes recycle too), and this can be done in aquariums just as well. If you would like to read studies on this you can search for “nutrient recycling” on research sites like ReefBase.org.

Dave Fason, NanoBox: I currently change 5-10% in all reef tanks on a weekly basis. I tried dosing elements and negating water changes but found a better response with water changes. Please note I do not have any tanks larger than 50 gallons. Every tank is different and each person is too! Use a method that works with your schedule.

Roger Vitko, Tunze: I started out changing 20% every 2 weeks, I have since scaled back to 20% every 4 weeks. I am not sure that I will stay with the less frequent water changes, I scaled back both because I found a slightly higher phosphate level seemed to give better growth and coloration and because I found between chaeto, GFO, and carbon dosing I had reasonable means to control nutrients without water changes, but I have had more problems with valonia since changing to the lazier schedule. I will continue it for a couple more months and reassess.

Jay Sperandio, EcoTech Marine: I would describe myself as a barely intermediate level hobbyist – in that with a little success in the hobby and a handful years of experience I now know enough to know that there are oceans to learn about being a reef keeper. My own brand of hard learned experience has involved a lot of water changes—and as a subscriber to simple techniques—namely because I have had hard enough time keeping the basic water parameters in check. Weekly water changes are instrumental to any reef tank I keep. Additionally water changes are my go-to rescue technique in the event that something seems to be amiss in a tank. I’ve always like the old saying “The solution to pollution is dilution.”

Phuong Truong, Oceanbox Designs: I must first say I’m a nano reefer. I currently own two tanks: a 12 gallon Long and an all-in-one 8 gallon, which for most people are far more difficult to maintain than a large reef system. I strongly believe in water changes to maintain the health of corals. I do 30-50% water changes  every 7-10 days. Replenishing elements (CAL, ALK, MAG) and reducing phosphate/nitrate are critical in such a small reef system.

Ike Eigenbrode, Current USA: We generally perform a 20-30% water change every 30 days.

Colin Foord, Coral Morphologic: I try to change 20-25% of water each month… sometimes it is more like 6 weeks. Being based in Miami, we have the luxury of natural sea water delivery services. We keep a 600 gallon HDPE storage tank outside that allows us to buy in bulk, and then use if over the next 3 months. In general though, if I see a reef tank with corals that look like they are ailing (and it isn’t from light shock), I find that a partial water change will almost always be helpful. If I weren’t a commercial coral aquaculturist and only a hobbyist, I like how the new Two Little Fishies AccuraSea 1 salt mixes come in a bag perfectly sized for mixing up the perfect salinity in a 5 gallon bucket. This removes the chance of overdosing or underdosing salinity, and by coming in individual bags, it eliminates the problem of moisture condensing in larger batches of salt, and makes sure the ion balance will be the same from the first gallon to the last.

Steve Taggart, inTank: As of today? Or 10 years ago when I created and lived by a very popular pictorial “how-to” on completing a weekly water change? As someone that lives in the all-in-one nano reef world, weekly water changes are EXTREMELY important. Especially when the aquarium is at a young age—under one year. Water changes are your best source to remove waste and import key trace elements back into the aquarium. They are relatively easy as we only need a five gallon bucket, unlike our big tank friends.

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As the tank ages and you invest in good filtration equipment the weekly water change can become a chore and in my experience life can get in the way. But if you are dosing, keeping an eye on your skimmer, changing the media as directed and filter floss weekly in your inTank Media Basket all can go well with a 2-4 week water change schedule.

Yet, if you slack further, bad and unsightly things happen. It’s best to keep the schedule and do those water changes!


What glue do you use?

Jay Sperandio, EcoTech Marine: For rock work assembly I really like the NYOS Reef Cement. For Frag gluing I obviously use our EcoTech Coral Glue. I have used a number of the other products available and will certainly acknowledge there are a lot of great glues, cements and epoxies out there—Julian Sprung’s line and D-D Epoxy I have had good results with as well.

Colin Foord, Coral Morphologic: At Coral Morphologic we use and prefer Two Little Fishies CorAffix Pro cyanoacrylate (super glue) for almost all our coral fragging. The thick consistency is really great and you can use enough of it to function like epoxy. In fact, when we use epoxy (AquaStik by TLF) to permanently attach larger colonies into an aquascape, I find that the addition of super glue between the coral and epoxy ensures an unbreakable bond. We use CorAffix Pro on everything from Acros to Zoas.

Roger Vitko, Tunze: I use both Tunze Coral Gum and Coral Gum Instant. I like Instant because it is fast and will release with a firm pull, so if you change your mind about placement you can move it. Coral Gum is a more traditional epoxy and sets up more or less permanently and I use it where I need a strong attachment.

Ike Eigenbrode, Current USA: Seachem Cyanoacrylate Reef Glue.

Steve Taggart, inTank: Trade secret: we do not glue acrylic, we weld it. Oh, for gluing corals? I use the “Sandwich Method”: Super glue gel // two part putty // super glue gel. Last coral I attached was using Bob Smith Industries Super Glue Gel and Two Little Fishies Aquastik.

Dave Fason, NanoBox: Loctite Super Gels.

Phuong Truong, Oceanbox Designs: I use my own brand of Oceanbox Designs coral glue gel which will be available soon but I have also used Dollar Store $1 Superglue Gel and it worked out great.


Should we schedule our protein skimmers to turn off and not run all the time?

Kevin C. Costa, Hanna Instruments: I feed my corals a lot and believe the added oxygenation effect is beneficial to a recirculating system such as an aquarium.

Steve Taggart, inTank: In an all-in-one or smaller reef aquarium the protein skimmer should be left on 24/7. Things can happen quickly in a smaller tank and the skimmer can be a great line of defense. Plus, smaller skimmers tend to not start up well after being shut off for some time and collect skimmate intermittently as waste levels change more quickly than a larger, heavier-stocked aquarium. Their performance is also driven on water levels which can change faster in a rear chamber so keep them ON and invest in an auto top-off. The only reason to cut the power is during maintenance or a water change.

Phuong Truong, Oceanbox Designs: Your skimmer should be running at all times except when dosing medications that instruct you to turn the skimmer off. You shouldn’t run it when you are dosing nitrifying bacteria to start a tank cycle, either.

Dave Fason, NanoBox: I prefer running a skimmer 24/7. Some foods and additives “require” the skimmer to be turned off. For this I turn my return pump off for 15-30 minutes rather than the skimmer. This allows the skimmer to always running efficiently and correctly.

Ike Eigenbrode, Current USA: We run our protein skimmers 24/7.

Bryan, Santa Monica Filtration: The less it runs, the more food particles remain in the water. Since natural reefs have the most food particles at night, turning the skimmer off at night makes the most sense. This also matches what most reefers want: clear looking water during the day. I personally however like to see food particles swarming throughout the water column, knowing that the corals and small fish are getting the particles they are used to getting. Any diver will recognize and appreciate the huge amounts of food particles.

Colin Foord, Coral Morphologic: While we’ve long run our protein skimmer continuously, I’m beginning to consider running our protein skimmer on a 6 hour on, 6 hour off cycle. When you think about the reef, corals are not always bathed in the same quality water all day long. Most reefs around the world get washed with 2 tidal cycles each day. At low tide, these corals are usually subject to water with less clarity… due to the higher concentrations of phytoplankton that are abundant in shallower, nearshore habitats. At high tide, cleaner, clearer oxygen-rich water comes back in to bathe them, just as a protein skimmer does. Last year we began live phytoplankton dosing in all our tanks, and couldn’t be happier with the results. Ideally, I’d love to dose live phytoplankton for 6 hours with the protein skimmer off, then run the protein skimmer for 6 hours to remove the excess phyto and nutrients from the system. Any time we can mimic the natural rhythms of life in our reef tanks, I think the corals and marine life stand to directly benefit.

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Jay Sperandio, EcoTech Marine: Not my area of expertise. Although it would be nice to automate its shutdown or rundown during feeding and water changes.


The aquarium trade faces opposition from environmental groups. What do you think the future holds for the aquarium hobby?

Phuong Truong, Oceanbox Designs: I think we are on the right path for protecting the environment and the corals and creatures of the ocean just by being involved in the reef hobby—even if we don’t know it. What if one day all corals in the ocean die except for the ones in our tanks at home?

Bryan, Santa Monica Filtration: The more that people are informed about how aquariums keep species alive (because the species are “safe” in our aquariums), the more they will want to support the hobby. An emphasis can be placed on how easily and rapidly corals are farmed—don’t say “fragged”—in aquariums.

Jay Sperandio, EcoTech Marine: Where I sit in the industry, I am starting to see that a lot of the hobby and industry is becoming increasingly mobilized in support of efforts to save the reefs and oceans. The expertise in the hobby community has in some cases been directly responsible for assisting in the research and conservation efforts taking place in the wild. At a macro level the simple and unfortunate truth is that the ocean is changing and that is damaging coral reefs at an alarming rate. The worst thing in my opinion is not to preserve that biodiversity while working to find ways to protect and re-establish coral and ornamental fish populations in the wild.

Without getting into the weeds. People are usually best motivated by their own livlihoods and interests. The ornamental fish and coral trade gives a very direct and tangible value to these creatures. Leveraging that interest and commercial value for sustainability, preservation and re-population is the best means to that end. It saddens me that most environmental group pressure on the hobby is usually structured in absolutes that do not leverage the value of this relationship. For example, we want to ban collection of fish and coral in this area vs. we want to issue specific and limited licenses to reputable collectors for the purpose of raising funds that go directly into study, protection, education and development of this resource, etc.

I think that the more we do as an industry and a hobby to educate legislators and the general public on what we are doing to help—and how we as a community could be further mobilized to help—the better off we as hobbyists and the reefs will be. I don’t know what the future holds but I am hopeful that we see a changing view of what good environmental stewardship looks like with respect to coral reefs.

Ike Eigenbrode, Current USA: While the hobby continues to grow and make tremendous strides in terms of coral propagation and marine fish aquaculture, opposition groups are still putting pressure on our industry. Most of the opposition is not actually from environmental groups, but from groups opposing aquariums and fish keeping in general. These groups base their opposition on emotion, not data, and unfortunately have made some strides in legislation that a handful of environmental groups tag on to support. The future of the hobby should continue to grow and we should continue to support aquaculture/mariculture in our industry, with both corals and fish.

Dave Fason, NanoBox: I personally believe we need regulations on fish, corals, inverts, etc. The amount of people who buy animals just to buy them is sickening. This will weed out the people that do not care about the animals. The larger aquaculture, propagating and conservation groups will care for the animals correctly.

Colin Foord, Coral Morphologic: Currently, the marine ornamental hobby is the only financially-positive industry to help coral reefs globally. Show me a natural reef where eco-tourism diving has improved the health and biodiversity of the corals… The advent of mariculture in Indonesia over the past decade has upended the traditional paradigm of criticism that the reef trade ‘rapes reefs.’ By culturing the most ornamental color morphs of these species in their native waters, it creates a direct incentive for local people to be engaged with the health of their local marine environment. Until eco-tourism coral transplantation as pioneered by the Coral Restoration Foundation (founded by a tropical marinelife collector) is financially net positive, ornamental coral aquaculture will stand as the only financially net-positive activity that produces more corals in the ocean. I think it is a shame that the recent shut down of coral export from Fiji has also effectively ended the highly successful coral mariculture programs there. Furthermore, Fiji was one of the only places where coral mariculturists were producing corals for both ornamental export, and also eco-tourism restoration. There is no reason to shutdown genuine mariculture, which is about the most sustainable aquacultural practice on the planet (try catching a wild bluefin tuna, cutting it in half and expecting it to regrow). I would like to see an organization like CRF embrace the dual-use coral nursery (ornamental and restoration) in coral exporting countries, and embrace coral reef hobbyists as allies who care deeply about the health of the coral reef and who spend millions of dollars every year out of their own pockets to keep these organisms alive and propagated.

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Roger Vitko, Tunze: While I would like to hope reason would overcome objections to our hobby, it is generally noted that extremists on either side are not open to reason. We can only hope that we can influence the reasonable majority to defeat legislation and make strides toward more captive bred animals. The facts I think are on our side. The aquarium hobby provides sustainable incomes for many, many people and the enjoyment of our hobby gives people an appreciation of what would otherwise be nothing more than a blue hole. It drives conservation and appreciation that many of us would not have otherwise.

Steve Taggart, inTank: As someone that lives in an area where you can walk on water 3-4 months out of the year, I will leave that to the locals. Aquaculture and advancements in computerized equipment will solve any future issues keeping all sides happy, even if they don’t want to admit it.

Kevin C. Costa, Hanna Instruments: I believe aquaculture will advance and more captive bred species of saltwater aquarium fish will become available to the market. Consumer opinions of aquaculture marine ornamentals is highly favorable, and as environmental groups advocate against many aquarium fishery practices, this will help advance the science in breeding saltwater aquarium fish.


Which corals are the easiest to keep in a reef aquarium?

Colin Foord, Coral Morphologic: Depends on whether we are talking about: Scleractinian stony corals or the broader umbrella of ornamental anthozoans (like soft corals, corallimorphs, zoantharians) we aquarists keep in our reef tanks. For soft corals you can’t go wrong with a nice green polyp Sarcophyton sp. (toadstool leather). I try to be careful with soft corals like Xenia and green star polyps because they can become weedy and invasive, so if you keep them, I recommend putting them on an ‘island’ like a rock in the sand where their growth can be contained. For stony corals, probably one of my favorite easy to keep kind is Caulastrea sp. candycane coral. The neon green morphs are about as intense neon green as a coral comes.

Phuong Truong, Oceanbox Designs: Soft corals and a few LPS are actually very easy to keep and available in a wide range of beautiful coloration. Some of my top favorites are Green Star Polyps (GSP), Neon Nepthea Leather, Neon Toadstool Leather, Collector Zoas/Palys, Acans, Frogspawn, Torch, Blastomussa, and Krytonite Candy Cane.

Kevin C. Costa, Hanna Instruments: Pulsating Xenia, Acans (Micromussa lordhowensis), and Kenya Tree Coral.

Dave Fason, NanoBox: Leathers, Acans, and Favias.

Ike Eigenbrode, Current USA: Polyp corals (Xenia, Mushroom, colored polyps), maricultured Leather/Toadstool corals and maricultured Montipora corals.

Jay Sperandio, EcoTech Marine: Good question. From what I’ve seen some corals grow like weeds in one tank and won’t grow at all in another. I would say that tank hardened bread-and-butter corals that have been passed around the hobby are obviously genotypes that thrive in diverse conditions. I have a green montipora that has been passed from office tank to office tank, to a few home tanks and back to office tanks. Once established it seems you are breaking pieces off to stop it overgrowing your tank weekly.

Likewise there is a nice tri-colored acro, red monti, and a couple other branching birdsnest which grow very well for me.


eflux Pump

What is your favorite return pump?

Phuong Truong, Oceanbox Designs: My go-to brands for a return pump are Eheim and Sicce. No doubt of the quality of German and Italian-made pumps. Both reliable and quiet in operation.

Ike Eigenbrode, Current USA: eFlux DC Pumps—or DC pumps in general.

Colin Foord, Coral Morphologic: We’ve been using ReeFlo Dart Hybrid pumps for the last 5 years and have had great results with them. Never had one blow a seal even after years of continuous use. However, we recently upgraded to EcoTech Marine Vectra pumps and have been super happy. Having a DC controllable return pump is very handy, especially for times like feeding corals… gone are the days of reaching into dark spaces behind the aquarium in order to unplug a return pump. It is also very quiet and more energy efficient.

Steve Taggart, inTank: Quality pumps that fit. The stock return pumps that come with most all-in-one aquariums are only good for the water change bucket. The issue comes in finding a pump that fits your specific rear chamber, and some manufacturers neglect to leave you with enough room for your hand, let alone a good pump.

Luckily there are more and more good options coming on the market. Some of my favorites are the Cobalt MJ1200, Tunze 1073.008 and Eheim 600. They have proven European design and manufacturing.

Jay Sperandio, EcoTech Marine: The Vectra. 🙂

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