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HALICHOERES WRASSES Richard Aspinall is a journalist and underwater photographer living in southern Scotland. Wrasses have always been an interest of Richard's, and here, he details the characteristics and care of his favorites from this diverse group of fishes.


DAVID MCINTYRE’S WAGGA WAGGA REEF Dimitrios Kambanis is head chemist at the aquatic supply manufacturer Quantum. In this tank spotlight, we see how an understanding of reef chemistry can solve even the thorniest issues and the beautiful results that follow.


FIRST QUARTER 2019 | Volume 13 Copyright © 2019 Reef Hobbyist Magazine. All rights reserved.


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Kyle Woekel is from Monmouth, OR, and is the owner of Tampico Coral Farms. You may have heard that flowerpot corals are hard to keep, but armed with basic reefkeeping skills and the information presented here, you, too, can succeed. Cover image by Michael Rice



Michael Rice is the marketing director at Denver aquarium store Elite Reef. The latest installment in Michael's popular fragging guide series, this article will walk you through all you need to know to frag branching SPS like an expert.


REEF ADDITIVES: DOES YOUR TANK NEED THEM? Keith Moyle is a 40-year veteran reefkeeper and writer on reef topics. This article lays out the specifics of different types of additives and discusses when you might need them.


SIMPLY BALANCED Gokhan Orduhan is the store manager at Ekstrem Akvaryum in Istanbul, Turkey, and has been keeping reef tanks for 14 years. In this tank spotlight, you'll see what a dedication to the simple concept of biological balance can yield.

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H. leucoxanthus


Halichoeres Wrasses


have a great affection for wrasses. I've kept several of them at home, and even better, I've been able to enjoy a great number of them in the wild, watching them swim in sea grass meadows, scoot across coral reefs, and browse for crustaceans in rubble zones. Spending time with wrasses in the wild is not a difficult task really, mainly because there are so many wrasse species

Wetmorella triocellata


across all the planet's seas and oceans. From the cold waters of the UK to the Indian Ocean, there are wrasses everywhere! The Labridae consist of over 600 species of fish, in 80 or so genera, that initially might not appear to be closely related at all. The group ranges in size from the simply enormous Napoleon or Humphead

Larabicus quadrilineatus has a completely different lifestyle than many of its cousins.

Napoleon Wrasse

Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), a fish many divers enjoy seeing out on the reef, to tiny species such as possum wrasses (Wetmorella spp.) that are popular in nano aquaria. This group also includes fish such as the cleaner wrasses, which lead lifestyles entirely different from the rest of their brethren. A CHANGEABLE GROUP Without prior knowledge of the life stages of many wrasse species, it is easy to see two very different-looking fish and conclude they are unrelated, but that's not always the case with wrasses. For example, the juvenile stage of the Napoleon Wrasse—the huge and, sadly, threatened fish shown above—looks almost

Coris julis is an attractive fish that may change sex as it matures.

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it is easy to mistakenly conclude that the same fish at different stages are different species. Not only do many wrasse species show a great deal of variation as they age, some also change sex as they mature. Take the Rainbow Wrasse (Coris julis), for example. This one starts out as male or female and can then become a secondary-phase male. This transformation is remarkable and requires someone with far more knowledge than I to explain. Suffice it to say that evolution, that slow and steady succession of fortuitous mistakes, is a wondrous thing! In the wrasses though, it seems to have really been let loose and offers us a series of quite unusual and remarkable fish. Although juvenile Coris aygula are cute, adults in the wild can reach 2 feet in length.

This variation and difference in life stages should be noted, researched, and understood for any intended purchase. Time after time, I have seen admittedly cute and interestingly colored wrasses in dealers' tanks that will rapidly grow and become tank busters. Personally, I find this side of the industry massively disappointing. Species such as Coris formosa, C. aygula, and C. cuvieri, for example, should be left in the ocean. Another example would be the Rockmover Wrasse (Novaculichthys taeniourus). They're cute as youngsters, but when they reach a foot long and start hurling rockwork about, they become a nightmare. I am still astounded that they continue to be imported and would urge everyone to stop stocking and buying them.

indistinguishable from the juveniles of some other wrasse species that never exceed more than a few inches in length. Often, juvenile wrasses are highly camouflaged fish, with colors and patterns that serve to get them through this vulnerable stage of their lives.

This is one of the many reasons why I think Halichoeres wrasses make such wonderful aquarium residents. In fact, I'd go so far as to say they are near perfect as aquarium fish, and they are small enough, with some exceptions, to be kept in most medium-sized and larger systems.

Radically different appearances during different life stages is a common trait in wrasses. Differences in coloration, body shape, and behavior between juvenile and adult stages are so pronounced that

I should just flag up a few that might get a little too large though:

Coris aygula looking a lot less attractive and only half grown


In the wild, this attractive Halichoeres hortulanus has grown to nearly a foot in length.

the Checkerboard Wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus) can reach 10 inches in the wild, and H. podostigma and H. chloropterus are reported to reach 7 inches. Fortunately, most species top out in the 5- to 6-inch range, with some a little smaller. As Halichoeres wrasses mature, they grow thicker, and their body profile will become deeper. They will also lose a certain amount of the cute factor that the juveniles possess. Some species such as H. hartzfeldii will come to more closely resemble their cousins, the parrotfishes, in appearance as they mature, though most retain the typical long and slender cigar-like body profile. WHAT'S IN A NAME? The name Halichoeres means "salt pig" or "sea pig," coming from the Greek (rather than Latin in this case) "halio" and "choiros," which combine to give us Halichoeres. I have always assumed that "sea pig" refers to the snouts of this genus, which look a little like the upturned nose of a pig. Online resources such as list 79 species within the genus. Some species have only recently been discovered, such as H. erdmanni in 2010, with other species being recognized as synonyms of the same species (H. javanicus and H. exornatus are both H. nigrescens, according to a 2010 paper by Randall and Allen). I'm sure other revisions, additions, amendments, and discoveries in this genus will continue to be made. Most Halichoeres wrasses are found in tropical waters, especially in the Indo-West Pacific, with around 20 species found in the eastern Pacific and Atlantic. Some have slightly smaller ranges, such as H. hortulanus juvenile

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This H. rubricephalus (Red-head Wrasse) is transitioning between sexes (female to male).


This H. rubricephalus is a mature adult male.

H. marginatus, which is only found in the Red and Arabian Seas. Most are more widespread. As someone with more of a layman's appreciation of these fish, it is coloration and patterning that I find most interesting. The Halichoeres genus has some of the most detailed and exquisite colors, especially around the head and gill covers, that are almost infinitely variable between species yet somehow show a recognizable similarity across the genus (and perhaps among other closely related genera as well). This patterning and coloration can be more pronounced in the male of some species or, in the case of H. rubricephalus, present only in the females of the species. Sexual dimorphism is common in the Halichoeres wrasses. Personally, I find the female H. rubricephalus one of the most attractive of all the Halichoeres wrasses, but that is just a personal view. Many will prefer the bolder colors of the male, who has, as the name implies, a vivid red head that contrasts strongly with a dark emerald-green body. IN CAPTIVITY Halichoeres wrasses are generally easy fish to keep, as long as you provide them with a few basic requirements. One of these is paramount: they must have a deep sandbed in which they can burrow. The deeper, the better, and I'd suggest at least 2 inches of depth. The finer and softer the sand is, the better to prevent them hurting themselves as they dive head first into the substrate. The first time you see this behavior, it might take you by surprise. One minute the fish is there, the next minute it's not; just a small cloud of fine sediment remains. The fish bury themselves at night but may also flee into the sand when they feel threatened. This may occur immediately after you introduce one to your tank, so be prepared to wait for your new fish to make an appearance. You may also want to keep the light intensity low for a period to avoid spooking new additions. Reef Hobbyist Magazine


the move, generally ignoring other fish (except those of their own genus), scooting across the substrate and into the rockwork, examining every inch of the aquascape for their prey. In the wild, this would include small crustaceans and polychaete worms. However, in my experience, they will also take anything edible that is passing in the water column. I have known them to take everything from flake to nori, frozen mysis to lumps of clam. Such a willingness to take any foodstuffs means they can grow quite quickly.

H. leucoxanthus

I would also recommend an aquascape that is as complicated as you can make it, with plenty of small cave openings, recesses, crevices, and the rest of all that good stuff. Healthy coral growth, hard or soft, will equally encourage wrasses from this genus (and many others) to feel at home and exhibit their natural behavior. Typically, during the hours of daylight, these wrasses are always on H. ornatissimus (Ornate or Christmas Wrasse)


While these wrasses are safe with corals, they will kill and eat small crustaceans and fan worms. They're usually fine with cleaner shrimp, but anything smaller will quickly become an expensive meal. These fish will often use rockwork to break prey into smaller pieces by bashing mouthfuls of food against rocks, much to the delight of tank mates who also get a piece of the action. They may also help with infestations of nuisance worms. In the wild, many Halichoeres wrasses exist in loose haremic groups, and some species can be kept in small groups in the aquarium if all fish are added at

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(Left and Right) Bubblegum Digi | Images by author

Another beauty, H. richmondi is quite similar to H. leucurus and H. melanurus but recognized by its chain-like body stripes.

the same time. I have seen groups of H. chrysus happily ignoring each other in a large tank and they looked great, but harmony cannot be guaranteed within and between species groupings. Unless you have a large tank, consider keeping just one Halichoeres and enjoying it, perhaps alongside other wrasses. Halichoeres wrasses tend toward the peaceful side of the behavior divide. They are not particularly territorial in general, nor will they become belligerent and bully other fish, in my experience. As noted, though, one wellestablished Halichoeres is unlikely to welcome another later addition from the same genus. Halichoeres fulfill just about every criterion an aquarist could want. There are plenty of species to choose from, they are easy to feed, and as far as I have seen, they are very hardy, surviving the transition to captivity well. Beyond a few small invertebrates that would be at risk, they will leave other aquarium residents alone and perhaps above all, they look simply stunning. R


Wrasses from the Macropharyngodon genus (leopard wrasses) seem to coexist peacefully with Halichoeres species.





ne of the first reef systems to take the "Quantum" leap, this 8-foot, 370-gallon mixed reef was custom built from the ground up. The ethos behind the build was to create an incredibly stunning yet simple system that relies on natural processes.

Extra attention was paid to the need to create optimal conditions for aerobic and anaerobic bacteria to thrive. A custom 6-foot protein skimmer was added to remove the unwanted organics produced in the aquarium and maintain a high level of dissolved oxygen in the water. And a traditional deep sandbed was added to handle denitrification. Large quantities of live rock were strategically placed, and coral choice was based purely on personal preference. The idea was to have many different species of coral to create various static shapes and dynamic movements in the aquarium.

Dave's aquarium was one of the original aquariums we based Quantum products on. Initially, when we started working with this aquarium, it was not in the best shape. Although Dave kept low phosphate levels, he struggled with algae and was unable to maintain an ideal calcium level. We conducted research on his aquarium and spent 2 years developing products to solve his specific issues. The main problem we identified was that calcium was precipitating phosphate, creating a nasty molecule called tricalcium diphosphate, or Ca3(PO4)2, which was giving a false negative of phosphate due to the test kit's inability to measure bound phosphate. This is often Reef Hobbyist Magazine


Acropora cytherea

A cleaner wrasse at work on the Powder Blue Tang


Acropora clathrata

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Goniopora sp.

Lobophyllia sp.

Alveopora sp.

Blastomussa sp.

Flame Angelfish

Female Bellus Angelfish

Lyretail Anthias

Canary Wrasse

VECTRA SMART RETURN PUMP EcoTech Marine has set new standards for equipment in saltwater aquariums. The Vectra is no exception. The world’s smartest return pump can be run on a schedule, wirelessly give you updates on the operation and be automatically configured to work with your specific aquarium setup.

S1 Flow: 1,400 gph (5,300 lph) Wireless: Included Max Head Pressure: 11.5 feet (3.5m) Footprint: 3.5 in. x 6 in. (89x152mm) Fittings: Input: 1 in. (25mm) Output: .75 in (19mm)

M1 Flow: 2,000 gph (7,500 lph) Wireless: Included Max Head Pressure: 21.5 feet (6.5m) Footprint: 4.25 in. x 6.25 in. (108x158mm) Fittings: Input: 1 in. (25mm) Output: .75 in (19mm)

L1 Flow: 3,100 gph (11,500 lph) Wireless: Included Max Head Pressure: 21.5 feet (6.5m) Footprint: 4.5 in. x 7 in. (114x177mm) Fittings: Input: 1.5 in. (38mm) Output: 1 in (25mm)

incorrectly called tricalcium phosphate but is actually tricalcium diphosphate. The bound phosphate was, however, still bioavailable to algae. The tricalcium diphosphate created a nucleation point for the calcium to precipitate out of the water column, resulting in the inability to maintain sufficient calcium levels. After adding our newly developed phosphate remover, the algae disappeared, and the calcium was restored. Once that issue was solved, the aquarium was ready to progress through our Reef Essential Aquarium Maintenance Program. TARGET PARAMETERS • Specific Gravity: 1.025 • Calcium: 430 ppm • Carbonate Hardness: 8.0° • Magnesium: 1295 ppm • Strontium: 8 ppm

• Potassium: 390 ppm • Iodide: 0.06 ppm • Iron: 0.1 ppm • Phosphate: 0.03 ppm • Nitrate: 1–2 ppm

MAINTENANCE • Change 10 percent of the water weekly using Quantum Mixed Macro Probiotic Salt • Maintain the recommended parameters based on uptake using Quantum supplements


• Replace Bio-Active Carbon every month • Clean the skimmer cup and ensure supplement bottles are full • Clean the aquarium glass Automatic dosing is configured to ensure that parameters are as stable as possible. An auto top-off system is installed on the aquarium to maintain a consistent specific gravity. Dosing small amounts more often helps to maintain the equilibrium. Aquarium keeping shouldn't be as difficult as it is made out to be; the key is consistency. Treat corals like a sponge, since they will absorb elements from the water, causing those concentrations to drop. The duty of the enthusiast is to maintain those water parameter levels as consistently as possible. Recommended levels can vary from aquarium to aquarium due to the biodiversity of the system. This aquarium's levels are based on almost a decade of research and experimentation, so the ideal levels for this system may not be the same for yours. The reality is that aquarium keeping requires attention. There is no magical product where all you need to do is add a single dose and your aquarium will be perfect. A stunning aquarium takes effort, but the trick, in my opinion, is to keep it simple. R

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Alveopora sp. | Image by Michael Rice



Alveopora species have 12 petals. | Image by Peter Dinh

INTRODUCTION After working in aquarium stores for many years, I can tell you the line I heard more often than any other from new hobbyists was, "I just want something that is colorful and sways in the current." When you first start reefkeeping, the vast amount of information can be so overwhelming that you hedge your bets (and save your money) by buying corals that the pet store recommends as beginner-friendly. You will probably be steered in the direction of soft corals, such as finger leathers, toadstool leathers, or pulsing xenia. Some of you may even try your luck at stony corals like Hammers, Torches, and trumpet corals.

Goniopora species have 24 petals. | Image by Peter Dinh

Alveopora have 12. There is also a difference in the names; both are commonly referred to as flowerpots, but the genus Alveopora is also sometimes labeled as daisy coral. In nature, flowerpot corals can be found in a diverse range of habitats. Although much of the literature cites them as coming from turbid lagoons (and their feeding requirements certainly reflect that), I have personally seen flowerpot corals growing alongside Acropora, Galaxea, and Pavona in crystal clear water at a depth of less than 6 feet while I was snorkeling in the Andaman Sea off southern Thailand.

There is another group of corals that has not been mentioned yet that is also colorful and sways in the current. Many new aquarists see these corals for sale at their local pet stores and are mesmerized. Unfortunately, this group of corals is a bit tougher to keep alive, so most new hobbyists are advised to stay away from them and for good reason. The corals I am talking about are the ever-beautiful flowerpot corals. A LOOK AT THE FAMILY The group of corals collectively known as flowerpots belongs to the genera Goniopora and Alveopora. Hailing from the family Poritidae, they are very closely related to the genus Porites, one of the most common tropical corals in the Pacific. What sets these genera apart from Porites are the extremely long polyps found on most species. While not every flowerpot has long polyps, most have polyps ranging from 2–4 inches long when fully extended. These long, flowing polyps are what give the flowerpots their common name. Most species grow in a boulder or ball shape with polyps protruding from the skeleton in such a dense cluster that it is reminiscent of a beautiful flowerpot full of pansies or mums. While both genera look and behave in a similar manner, telling the two apart is a simple matter of counting to 24. Goniopora have 24 "petals" surrounding the mouth at the end of each polyp, while Reef Hobbyist Magazine


Over the next several years, I tried a few more times to add flowerpots to aquariums in clients' tanks, and all of these came to a similar end. They looked great, and customers loved them, but they always slowly withered and died. It was then that I made the ethical choice to pump the brakes on this coral until I could crack its code. CRACKING THE CODE As much as I love being a hobbyist, the reality of relying on coral farming for my income is that, to be able to experiment with new species, there needs to be promise that it will return on the investment of money, time, and space in the greenhouse. It is this blending of hobbyist and business owner that molded my interest and eventual success with flowerpots. When people think of frag farms, they typically think of tanks full of corals such as Acropora, Montipora, zoanthids, and designer mushrooms. What doesn't come to mind are flowerpot corals, and for me, this is where the fun began. I knew I needed to find a way to grow these corals fast enough so that they could hold a permanent spot in my farm. After acquiring several colonies of flowerpots (both Goniopora and Alveopora), I got to work experimenting with what would make these corals not only thrive but also grow quickly, and thus the code began to crack. Alveopora sp. | Image by Michael Rice

FIRST SUCCESS When I first started keeping reef aquariums nearly 20 years ago, flowerpots were considered tough to keep. The common consensus from literature at the time, as well as from personal experience, was that they would look fantastic for several months and then, over the course of 6 months to a year, wither away and die. This was probably due in part to a lack of understanding of their feeding requirements, with most people either not feeding them at all or feeding the wrong types of foods. I had attempted off and on to keep these corals for the past two decades with mixed results. My first actual success with this coral came as a complete accident. While working at a local fish store, I was putting away a shipment of live rock when I noticed an unknown coral the size of a golf ball on a rock. Naturally, I bought the rock, took it home, and waited for the coral to open. To my delight, it was an Alveopora, but to my horror, it was totally bleached. At this point, I assumed the coral wouldn't make it, but day by day, the coral kept opening more and more and started showing signs of coloring up. It sure loved being under my 6,500 K metal halide. The real magic started happening when a friend gave me a batch of homemade coral food. This food was made in a blender using fresh seafood. The Alveopora loved it, and new growth was soon evident. This aquarium was eventually torn down prior to a move. The corals were sold to the local pet store, and I never did find out what happened to that first successful flowerpot.


AQUARIUM CARE When people ask me what the secrets are to flowerpots, I tell them to treat them like a Montipora that loves to be fed. This means medium to high flow, medium to high light, consistent water quality, and lots of food. Take a look at the following suggested care requirements. Goniopora sp. | Image by Peter Dinh

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such as Bryopsis hair algae. If your aquarium has an algae outbreak, it is worth paying extra attention to the flowerpots and keeping algae off their tissue. Algae can smother and kill your flowerpot if allowed to encroach on the coral. FEEDING

For best results when feeding, turn off pumps and gently baste polyps with food. Heavy skimming helps clean up any leftovers. | Image by Kyle Woekel

FLOW You want to place the flowerpot in a spot that gets plenty of indirect water movement. Too much and too little flow are both undesirable for flowerpot corals. Luckily, it is easy to tell if your flowerpot is getting proper flow. If the polyps are trying to extend but are not swaying in the current, there is not enough flow. This may also be accompanied by mucus and detritus settling between polyps. If the current is too strong, the flowerpot will keep its polyps closed at all times. I have seen flowerpots that are in the direct path of a powerhead, where the side being pummeled by current stays closed, but the backside, enjoying the relative calm, is fully open. When flow is right, polyps will be fully extended and will sway in the current. LIGHT These corals love light, just not too much of it. They will do well under most reef lights, but if you have a spot that gets really intense lighting, save it for something other than your flowerpot. I recommend PAR levels from 80 to 250. Flowerpots also can't handle too little light. While some LPS (large-polyp stony) corals do fine being tucked away into the shaded recesses of the aquarium, flowerpots won't tolerate this. Put them somewhere where the light shines. WATER QUALITY Think SPS (small-polyp stony) tank. Consistent levels of alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium are vital to fast growth with these corals. Aquarists who aren't as concerned with these parameters will have no problem keeping these corals as beautiful pieces in their aquarium. However, like SPS, they will grow much faster when these parameters are consistent. As described by Julian Sprung in Advanced Aquarist Magazine in December of 2002, Goniopora seem particularly sensitive to low manganese levels. Iron deficit may also adversely affect them. This is especially important to remember with wild corals making the adjustment to home reef lighting. I'd recommend dosing these two elements on a regular basis if you keep these corals. The only other item regarding water quality that I feel is important to mention is that these corals are especially susceptible to smothering by aggressive forms of algae,


Have I mentioned that these corals love to eat? As much as these corals love food, they are somewhat picky eaters. This is where I believe much of the historic difficulty with these corals came from. It was not long ago in this industry that commercially formulated foods for corals were not readily available, and most aquarists relied on homemade concoctions or, at best, baby brine shrimp to feed their corals. Both of these foods work but for the most part are too large for flowerpots. When I first acquired a group of these corals, I knew they would need to be fed, so naturally, I reached into the freezer and thawed out every frozen thing I had. Fish eggs, pureed salmon, pureed squid, pureed shrimp‌ you get the idea. What I noticed was that these corals responded to the feedings, but they also sloughed off everything but the tiniest, almost microscopic, bits of food. Even Cyclops were too large. This left the aquarium dirty, and within days, I had a dirty crop of hair algae growing. I needed a new approach. In my experience, the best foods for these corals are any of the commercially made powder foods specifically designed for corals. I won't name a specific brand as there are many good ones, but typically, the smaller the food particle, the better. Turning off the flow and using a pipette or Flowerpot corals love to eat. Slurries of tiny particulate foods are preferred over larger food items. | Image by Kyle Woekel

Frequency of feedings is important too. In my experience, once a week is a good starting point, but again, if you want faster growth, three or more times a week is better. I feed mine every 2 to 3 days. However often you feed, make sure that you aren't overfeeding, as algae encroachment is bad. If you are going on vacation, don't stress about having your tank sitter feed these corals. They will do fine for a few weeks without target feeding; after all, they do contain zooxanthellae. FRAGGING

Fresh cut flowerpots heal quickly as evidenced by the new growth encrusting over the cuts left by a band saw. | Image by Kyle Woekel

turkey baster makes it extremely easy to target feed these corals without causing excess waste in the aquarium. Simply mix coral food with tank water and gently squirt food several inches above the coral, making sure that the water pressure from the baster is gentle enough not to disturb the coral. Once the coral has ingested the food, it is fine to turn the pumps back on. Typically, this takes around 5 minutes. Any leftover food will be blown to other corals in the aquarium or swept away to be removed by the skimmer. It may take a few tries to get it right, but within a few weeks, you should be a flowerpot-feeding master.

Fragging flowerpot corals is quite straightforward, but like everything else with these corals, it takes a bit of practice. Hands down, the best tool to use for the job is a diamond band saw. Tile saws and Dremel tools will work as well. Coral clippers and bone shears are less effective with these corals, as they are not precise enough to cut through the skeleton cleanly. The basic process of fragging is the same as most massive LPS (Favia, Acanthastrea, etc.). Simply wave the polyps into retraction, remove the coral from the water, and run it through the saw, thus creating new fragments. While the basic concept is the same, there is one major difference when fragging these corals. Remember those extra-long polyps that were waved closed before removing the coral from the water? Those extra-long polyps also need an extra-deep home inside the skeleton. Keep this in mind when fragging. I typically shave off as much skeleton as I can when fragging LPS, as it makes a more attractive frag and, at the same time, allows the coral a faster path to encrust over the plug. You can't do this with flowerpots. I learned quickly that trying to cut the skeleton too close to the flesh will cut right through the retracted polyps, killing the frag and mother colony. Cutting larger frags and leaving plenty of skeleton attached to the frags is of paramount importance when cutting flowerpots. Leaving three-quarters of an inch of skeleton is a good starting point with these corals. After the coral has been fragged and rinsed in salt water, glue the frags to plugs, let them sit in tank water to slough off their mucus, and then place the frags back into the aquarium in a spot with suitable flow and light. If the abovementioned care requirements are taken care of, frags and mother colonies will reward the owner with fast growth. CONCLUSION While I wouldn't suggest a flowerpot coral for someone who has just set up their first aquarium, I can say that once you have basic reef husbandry down, these corals are worth the little bit of extra work to keep. They will thrive in a well-maintained reef aquarium and are forgiving enough to handle mistakes and lapses in water quality. They even come in a myriad of colors, such as green, red, pink, purple, blue, teal, cream, and even multi-toned colors. I have come to love these corals so much that I started collecting them. Next time you are at the aquarium store and notice that peculiar flowerpot, do yourself a favor and give it a go. With a little patience and the information in this article, you should be well prepared to see your flowerpot grow and thrive. R


Reef Hobbyist Magazine


Seriatopora sp. | Image by Will Thomas



First, take a moment to preplan where you will cut.

A colony of Acropora millepora will be used for this fragging demo.


ne of the great ironies of the reef hobby is that some of the hardest corals to keep and grow, SPS (smallpolyp stony) corals, are also some of the easiest to frag. With brittle skeletons and growth patterns that almost seem designed for division, Acropora, Seriatopora, Pocillopora, Stylophora, and branching forms of Montipora are all prime targets for propagation. Due to advances in techniques and equipment in recent years, SPS corals have gone from being nearly impossible for the average hobbyist to keep, to being commonly kept by reefers of all skill levels. Common tools found around the home can often be used to cut these corals, though with varying results. In this fragging guide, I'll use tools ranging from a rusty old pair of side cutters to a Dremel tool and Gryphon band saw, as I show you how to cut up a branching Acropora specimen. The methods outlined below can also be used to frag many other corals with similar growth forms, including other types of branching SPS corals.

transfer each one into a second bucket with tank water along with an amino acid solution, like Seachem Reef Plus, to promote quick healing. After fragging, all coral pieces are soaked in this bath for about 15 minutes before being returned to the reef system. The hardest part of fragging branching SPS corals is planning where to cut. I've found that the best plan of attack is to begin at the base of the colony and work upward toward the top branches. This removes less efficient growth from the bottom of the colony, allowing it to be set lower in the tank for more growth, or if the entire colony is to be fragged, it creates the greatest yield of good-looking frags.

We'll be using an Acropora millepora as our example, as this is one of the easiest of all corals to frag and requires very few tools. While preparing to frag, I place my Acropora colony in a bucket with water from its tank, along with some Seachem Reef Dip to sterilize any cuts or breaks made during the process. As frags are cut, I

Various tools can be used to frag SPS corals.

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Cut frags from the base of branches to get the most out of your colony.

Side cutters make quick work of snipping coral branches.

It's also important at this stage to begin considering the gluing process to come. Frags cut flat on the bottom at a perpendicular angle will be much easier to glue later and will look better too. The simplest tools to use for fragging branching SPS are your hands! Very often, these brittle corals can simply be snapped apart with a quick twist of your fingers, but there are a few keys to getting the best results. Due to their brittle nature, branching skeletons can be easily shattered, so it helps to grab the branch you'd like to frag as close to the base as possible and with as much finger surface area as possible. Break branches free with a light twisting motion, but be sure not to apply pinching pressure. For some thicker colonies, a metal object such as silverware or a screwdriver may instead be used to pry between branches and break frags free. Whenever fragging, and especially when using your hands as a tool, it is important to wear protective gloves to prevent injury. For increased accuracy, side cutters can be used to frag branching SPS corals. These will allow you to pick the exact spot where the break is made and produce frags that are more appealing. When using side cutters, it's important not to use pinching pressure.


Using a Dremel, cut through branches at a right angle to leave a flat base on the new frags.

A Dremel sanding drum can be used to grind frag bottoms flat before gluing.

Coral skeleton cutters, which have become commonplace in the hobby these days, may also be used in the same way. The downside to side cutters or using your hands to break branches is that the gluing surface of frags will often not be flat, which can lead to more difficulty when mounting. A Dremel tool with a sanding drum can be one solution to flattening the bottoms of frags. A cut-off wheel can be used to both frag and flatten the bottoms of frags simultaneously. When using a Dremel to frag Acropora or other branching SPS corals, it's even more important to start from the bottom. As you cut frags, this will keep the blade from damaging uncut branches. For colonies or branches too thick to cut fully through, a Dremel can be used to score the surface, and branches can then be broken off by prying with a screwdriver or chisel. Be sure to consider how each branch will stand up when glued as you make each cut. Vertical frags glue, grow, and look the best. Whenever fragging, but especially when introducing the high speed spinning blade of a Dremel to your fragging process, I urge you to use eye protection to keep flying coral juices out of your eyes. Reef Hobbyist Magazine


A band saw can be used to cut frags accurately for easy mounting.

Less is more when applying glue.

Press the frag onto the glue and hold tight until the glue sets.

As with all hard corals, my favorite tool to cut Acropora or other branching SPS is the Gryphon band saw. The combination of accuracy and cooling fluid makes for the best survival rates and usually the best-looking frags.


From left to right: remainder of colony to be returned to display, freshly cut frags, and a base piece still to be fragged

The procedure here is much the same as with the other tools. Start from the bottom and work your way toward the top, keeping in mind how the frags will mount to plugs later. A perfectly flat cut on the bottom with a perfectly vertical frag on top is easily attainable with a band saw. For this next part, patience is the only solution. Very often, gluing branching SPS frags requires holding the frag against the frag plug for some time while the glue sets. When gluing SPS corals, care should be taken to use as little glue as possible. This prevents glue from being squeezed and pushed onto areas where coral flesh is still alive. To help with healing freshly cut hard corals, I add enough iodine to turn the holding water a light amber shade. While cutting colonies, it's important to dip them into this solution often to sterilize cuts and cool the cutting area. After all frags are cut, I soak them for about 15 minutes in an amino acid bath of salt water from the coral's home system mixed with enough amino acid dip to lightly tint the water. I've used many different brands of amino solutions, and they all seem to work equally well, whether it's AcroPower from Two Little Fishies or Reef Plus from Seachem. This seems to initiate the healing process and prevent most coral death due to fragging. Fragging these corals is easy, and with a little practice, you'll soon be producing great-looking frags to share with fellow hobbyists, so give it a try and let your success grow! R Reef Hobbyist Magazine



REEF ADDITIVES: DOES YOUR TANK NEED THEM? INTRODUCTION In most fish stores, you'll find a wide range of reef aquarium additives for a multitude of uses, all claiming to improve the conditions in your reef. Each has a unique selling point, and some may even suggest that your reef cannot flourish without them. If you are a newcomer to the hobby, you may be overwhelmed by the selection available and possibly confused as to what you really need for your tank. In this article, I will provide an overview of the types of additives that are available, categorize them, and consider their uses and value in the reef aquarium. TYPES OF ADDITIVES For the purpose of this article, I define an "additive" as any product in liquid or powder form that is added to the aquarium, including those used for the sole purpose of removing unwanted compounds from the tank through chemical interaction. For ease of reference, I will categorize them as supplements, conditioners, foods, probiotics, and treatments. DO YOU NEED ADDITIVES? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer, as all systems are different, and many factors will influence which additives, if any, are


required. Can you run a successful reef aquarium without them? Without a doubt, yes. Plenty of examples of successful systems being operated this way can be found on the internet. Providing the system has a low bioload, contains corals with low calcium/ alkalinity demands, and receives regular water changes, then additives may not be necessary. Of course, you could argue that a water change constitutes using additives, but that's a matter of opinion. SUPPLEMENTS The most common types of additives used are meant to replace depleted major and minor elements. Most reefers will need to turn

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to this supplementation at some point, especially if they're keeping LPS (large-polyp stony) or SPS (small-polyp stony) corals. While regular water changes can keep up with the demand for calcium and alkalinity in hard-coral reefs with low stocking levels, predominantly soft-coral reefs, or fish-only systems, supplementation is necessary in most other cases.

the condition is likely to return, as treating the symptoms doesn't address the cause. Establishing the root cause of the problem and rectifying it is a far more effective solution. These short term remedies should not be confused with ion exchange products, which are used to eliminate toxins and metals. FOODS

Calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium are all depleted by hard corals utilizing these chemical compounds to build their skeletons. The most common method of supplementation is either manually or with the use of a dosing pump. Calcium chloride, sodium carbonate, magnesium chloride, and sulphate are used for this process, and they are available in a liquid solution or can be mixed from powders. For larger, more heavily stocked systems, the use of kalkwasser stirrers or calcium reactors are reliable and cost-effective ways of adding the desired elements to the aquarium. These devices use calcium hydroxide and calcium carbonate media, respectively, to produce the necessary supplement.

In the context of this article, I will consider some coral foods as additives. Coral foods commonly consist of vitamins and amino acids, though some also include trace elements. They are added to the water column where they are consumed by the corals. There are a wide variety of such foods aimed at LPS and SPS Coral foods come in both liquid and powder forms.

Minor elements such as strontium, iodine, and potassium can be manually supplemented, but tank levels should always be tested prior to dosing. In many cases, regular water changes should be sufficient to maintain these levels, so supplementation may not be required. CONDITIONERS Cycling Products – The shift to the use of artificial rock rather than live rock when creating a reefscape has brought about a significant increase in the popularity of bottled cycling products. As a result, there are now a multitude of products on the market that contain the bacteria required to seed the biological filtration needed in a new aquarium. Whatever the brand, the premise is the same: each bottle contains millions of bacteria, and by using the product, the aquarium cycling time is significantly reduced, and fish can be added more quickly. This type of cycle is often referred to as a rapid cycle, as opposed to the long (or natural) cycle. Despite the success of rapid-cycle products, there remains much debate as to which method is preferable. Some product manufacturers claim there is no need, nor benefit, in waiting 6 to 8 weeks for the natural completion of the cycle. They state that sufficient populations of bacteria can be made available from day one, as opposed to waiting for them to multiply in sufficient numbers to provide adequate biological filtration. Those dubious about the use of such products emphasize that this longer period isn't just about bacterial populations; it extends to the time needed to allow the system to chemically stabilize, providing a more settled environment prior to adding livestock. I must admit that I'm inclined to agree and have never used such products, preferring the natural method. However, I do recognize the benefits of a rapid cycle in certain situations when time is of the essence, such as setting up a quarantine system. Clarifiers – These products are designed to clear up cloudy or discolored water and generally work by causing the fine particles in the water column to clump together. They are then removed by the filtration system. However, the results can be short-lived, and


corals. Some provide the necessary food source while others are designed to trigger a feeding response from the coral and are used in conjunction with other food additives. The dosing of amino acids is gaining momentum, as they provide the building blocks of proteins, which are essential for living organisms to thrive. In the case of corals, they are essential for enzyme production, tissue growth, and skeletal formation. Amino acids, like proteins, can be synthesized, and some corals can produce the essential ones themselves. Corals can also take up amino acids directly from seawater. Dosing them is an effective way of supplementing those aminos created by synthesis and increasing those available in the water column, which improves coral uptake. PROBIOTICS There's an increasing interest in the use of probiotics in aquaria, and much has been written on this subject. Unfortunately, there's also a lot of misinformation being circulated. It's important to understand what probiotics are and what they are capable of doing. For example, reference to the bacteria found in biopellets as a probiotic is misleading, though it has become a common term within the hobby for this and other forms of solid carbon dosing.

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Additionally, the term "probiotic" is often used as a generic term for any type of aquarium additive containing bacteria, irrespective of the strain of bacteria or if indeed they function as a probiotic. True probiotics do have a role in the aquarium industry; for example, they are useful in larval development, aid in digestion, and increase immunity in much the same way many probiotic drinks work for humans. There isn't room in this article for a full discussion of probiotics, but bear in mind that some additives termed probiotic may not actually be. TREATMENTS Chemical Removers – These are additives that result in the removal, depletion, or neutralization of something that is having a negative impact within the aquarium. Typical applications include nitrate removal, phosphate removal, or ammonia neutralization. Probably the most recognizable of all such additives is Red Sea's NoPox, commonly used to reduce both phosphate and nitrate. Of course, it's not just retail products that fall into this category, as vodka dosing was used long before NoPox was available. Products such as Agent Green, used to remove nuisance algae, or its DIY alternative, lanthanum chloride (basically phosphate removers), are other examples. Disease Treatments – There are many treatments available for use in either a display or quarantine tank, some of which are safe to use in coral systems and others only suitable for fish-only aquaria. Personally, I'd always recommend that medications are best suited and more effective when used in a quarantine tank,

Chemical removal can be facilitated with the use of various additives.

though I acknowledge that this isn't always possible. Treatments are common for diseases such as Cryptocaryon irritans (Marine Ich), Brooklynella hostilis (Brook), and bacterial infections. Before embarking on any treatment, it's essential to correctly diagnose the disease. While this may sound obvious, you'd be surprised how many treatments prove ineffective due to incorrect diagnosis. In all cases, early intervention is likely to produce the best success rates in effecting a cure. Similarly, be sure to follow manufacturer's instructions to the letter, especially accurate dosing based on actual system volume. With many products, it's necessary to turn off skimmers, ozonizers, and UV sterilizers, as their use is likely to impact the treatment's effectiveness. When using copperbased treatments, be sure to test the levels in the tank to ensure that optimum levels are maintained throughout the treatment period. Always run the full course of treatment rather than stopping it once the symptoms disappear, and on completion, carry out a water change and run carbon for a few days. Never mix medications unless they are designed to work in tandem, and always run carbon Treatments are available for just between different treatments. about every type of disease.

Other treatments are available, such as Flatworm Exit, which are designed specifically for one particular purpose—in this case, eradicating flatworm infestations from the aquarium. I would always suggest caution when using such products and only use as a last resort. If used incorrectly, they can be harmful to other marine life, rather than just the parasite being targeted. Good housekeeping, including careful inspection and dipping of corals prior to adding to the aquarium, can help prevent such outbreaks. Natural approaches should be favored, such as adding Halichoeres wrasses that are natural predators of flatworms.


MISCELLANEOUS PRODUCTS Some products don't fit into any of these categories, which perhaps explains a lot about the product and its claimed use within the aquarium. A prime example are products that are used to kickstart or improve coralline algae growth within the aquarium. They are generally nothing more than carbonate buffers, sometimes with added potassium and trace elements such as iron. If good water quality is maintained, with calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium in balance, nitrate and phosphate kept at low levels, and regular water changes performed, it's highly unlikely that you will need such products. A suitable dosing routine is also much more costeffective in encouraging good coralline growth. SUMMARY Whatever type of system you keep, it's probable that you'll eventually need to reach for an additive of one type or another, whether it's to improve general aquarium conditions or fish health. Always conduct your research, and don't embark on an additive program simply because of reported success from other hobbyists; remember, all systems are different. Identify the requirements of your own system, source suitable products, and monitor the results. If you don't know what a product contains or its intended purpose, or if the manufacturer doesn't provide clear instructions, then don't buy it. If you do use additives but notice side effects such as negative coral reactions or simply aren't happy with the results, stop using them—they're certainly not obligatory. Ultimately, your system's health will determine if and when you need to use additives. With careful selection and a clear purpose, they can be of great benefit in maintaining a successful reef aquarium. R Monitor your coral's color and growth for indications that supplemental food or additives are needed. | Image by NOAA

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reetings from Istanbul, Turkey. Featured in this article is a tank installation by my company, Ekstrem Akvaryum. This setup was our third installation and was created in 2015. We designed this setup to be fully stocked with SPS (small-polyp stony) corals, though there are now a few LPS (large-polyp stony) corals as well. From the very beginning, we went exclusively with Aquaforest products. While there are many approaches to keeping a successful reef, we believe in a biological balance of the system. When building a system, we first look at what corals will be stocked and design the system to meet their needs. This includes all the planning around system design, equipment choice, and maintenance. We also consider how to match the fish bioload to the system so that the fish waste will contribute to the overall health of the system instead of overloading it.

Pectinia sp.

Symphyllia sp.

Montipora undata


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Montipora spp. Royal Exclusiv skimmer and sump


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SPECIFICATIONS • Aquarium Size: 89" × 35" × 26" • Volume: ~350 gallons • Filtration: Royal Exclusiv Dreambox 49" × 24" × 14" • Protein Skimmer: Royal Exclusiv Bubble King Deluxe 250 • Flow Pump: Royal Exclusiv Red Dragon 12m3, 170 gal/h • Live Rock: 45 kg Fiji live branch and plate • Live Sand: CaribSea Special Grade (1–3 mm), 120 lbs. • Lighting: EkstremTech Lumos (12) 54-watt T5s, (12) 39-watt T5s • Circulation Pump: (2) Ecotech VorTech MP60, (2) Tunze 6155 • Chiller: TECO TK-2000

• Calcium: 400 ppm • Carbonate Hardness: 6.7° • Magnesium: 1320 ppm • Potassium: 390–400 ppm CORAL FOOD • Aquaforest AF Power Food • frozen copepods and fish eggs FISH FOOD • Hikari Marine Carnivore and Herbivore

ADDITIVES FISH • Aquaforest Component 1+ 2+ 3+ (Balling method) • Aquaforest AF Amino Mix • Aquaforest AF Vitality PARAMETERS • Temperature: 77–78° F • pH: 8.1 (day), 8.0 (night) • Phosphate: 0.025 ppm • Nitrate: 1–3 ppm


• (9) Lyretail Anthias (Pseudanthias squamipinnis) • (2) Canary Wrasse (Halichoeres chrysus) • Kole Tang (Ctenochaetus strigosus) • Powder Blue Tang (Acanthurus leucosternon) • Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) • Pyramid Butterflyfish (Hemitaurichthys polylepis) • Azure Damsel (Chrysiptera hemicyanea) • Talbot's Damsel (Chrysiptera talboti) • Naoko's Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus naokoae) R

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Reef Hobbyist Magazine Q1 2019  

Reef Hobbyist Magazine Q1 2019