How To Keep All The Corals You Didn't Think You Could

Discussion in 'Coral' started by mikejrice, Dec 27, 2013.

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  1. mikejrice

    mikejrice 3reef Affiliate

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    Recently, someone recommended that I write up some tips on keeping goniopora, and while I'm at it I figured I would include a few more corals that are on the near-impossible list.



    These would include mostly NPS species such as stylaster, sun coral, carnation coral and some gorgonians. This also includes some of the hard to keep photosynthetic corals such as goniopora and elegance.

    Before I start sounding like I'm on a high horse, I first have to admit that getting to the point that I can keep SOME specimens of these corals meant a long line of bright white skeletons.

    Currently I'm seeing success with several species of goniopora, sun coral, dendros, stylaster, gorgonians and some orange carnation coral in a mixed 75 gallon reef.

    The success that I've found, so far, hasn't come from equipment, chemicals or really even food. It's instead come out of a different kind of thinking when it comes to the way the system uses nutrients in the long term.

    It's pretty commonly known that these corals need more nutrients than is commonly available in the reef aquarium, but as you all know, you can only add so much food to a closed system before algae problems start popping up. To get around this double edged sward, I began looking at ways to use the nutrients already available within a reef tank more efficiently. Many people use target feeding to get more nutrients into corals before they can become problem causing nitrates, but this is just too labor intensive for me, so I decided to find a different way.

    What I've found is that the nutrient potential of closed systems is almost completely lost in the deep detritus traps of sump systems and dead zones within the display. These traps are formed when broken down biological matter settles into piles which are then free to decompose into solution as nitrates, phosphates and any other problem chemical you can think of. This is where the true potential nutrients of a system lie.

    It's important when working in closed systems to remember where these animals came from and how their native ecosystems work. It's detritus and and phytoplankton that fuel the entire show from the ground up, so why should our systems be so different?

    I first sought to get my systems further in line with nature by adding live phytoplankton into my feeding regiment. Many people argue against the use of live phyto, and while dead phyto will certainly aid your system immensely, I believe that live makes an incredible difference even beyond that. I add it to my refugium to get it directly under the proper spectrum for it to photosynthesize, for a limited time, which helps both to increase numbers as well as denitrify your system to some extent. This addition will help to feed corals through broadcast dispersion, but the important things it brings to the table are even further reaching. Simply put, phytoplankton is the primary food source for the majority of life forms found in marine waters, so by adding it in on a regular basis, you are feeding the next step up in the food chain and getting one step closer to success.

    The addition of live phytoplankton wasn't enough on it's own however, so next I attacked detritus as it's the next biggest food source for the majority of marine animals. It is formed by the break down of all organic matter within a system which includes food, waste products and anything that may die. Recycling these nutrients is pretty simple needing only to get the detritus into suspension. To do this, I employ large Koralia pumps in sump compartments as well as liberal turkey baster use in all areas of the system. This puts the nutrients where they can be utilized by the many tiny animals that feed the ecosystems within our aquariums and it also allows more surface area for the eventual decomposition and exportation of the nutrients within.

    I currently move detritus back into the water column every day on this system and have seen pretty dramatic bouts of recession in corals when I deviate from this task.

    The third, final and in my opinion, the most important thing I do for this tank is to stir the sand bed. Many corals that seem nearly impossible in closed systems are so difficult because they have extremely specific diets composed of microverts that exists within the sand bed. To release these, I also hit the sand bed lightly with the turkey baster every day. This can also be easily accomplished by adding a sand stirring fish to do the work for you.

    A few disclaimers:

    Everything above is in addition to an extremely dialed in system. I wouldn't advise getting into stirring up much until everything else is stable.

    If you decide to use this method, it's extremely important that you start SLOW. The object behind this is to release nutrients, and if you are not currently doing so, you have a lot more nutrients than your system can use at once trapped in your system.

    These methods WILL cloud your system beyond belief, but this is exactly what you want.
     
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  3. Kevin_E

    Kevin_E Giant Squid

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    Oddly enough, I just basted my sump an hour ago. Got really cloudy, but clear already. I employed power heads in my sump, but they recently started releasing stray voltage, so in pulled them out.
     
  4. Va Reef

    Va Reef Giant Squid

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    Mike, thank you for the write up, good idea to include NPS and other "hard-to-keep" corals. +K

    Its funny I too stir up those Detritus traps (bare bottom tank so no sand to stir) before I spot feed my 3 gorgonia or sun coral.

    After your write up, I'm tempted to start dosing phytoplankton(on top of the detritus stirring) and get some NPS gorgonia and my first goniopora and see how it works.

    I assume this also positively affects your SPS corals, seeing as its a mixed reef?

    Couple questions too:
    Do you spot feed corals on top of the detritus stirs?
    Protein skimmer or any GFO or carbon?
    Do you find that adding Phyto increases PO4 or other parameters?
     
  5. mikejrice

    mikejrice 3reef Affiliate

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    They don't appear to change much either way, but I would hope that they grow at least slightly faster from it.

    No

    I run an SWC 160 cone.

    Not that I've noticed. I've actually noticed that my bubble algae is slowly dissapearring in one tank with no changes other than the addition of live phyto rather than dead.
     
  6. Va Reef

    Va Reef Giant Squid

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    How often do you dose Phyto?
     
  7. mikejrice

    mikejrice 3reef Affiliate

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    A couple of times a day.
     
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  9. Av8Bluewater

    Av8Bluewater Giant Squid

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    I saw my fungia eating a giant tang turd. eww
     
  10. Va Reef

    Va Reef Giant Squid

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    Ah, well that explains no need for other spot feeding ;)
    lol....
     
  11. mikejrice

    mikejrice 3reef Affiliate

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    Keep in mind that this tank has several aquarists paid to care for it just about 24 hours a day.
     
  12. Va Reef

    Va Reef Giant Squid

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    Mike, do you keep any blueberry gorgs in here? (Acalycigorgia sp.) If, not have you tried them before? General experience with them?

    Idk if you've seen my thread, but I recently got a small frag (~15 polyps, pretty beat up) for free from my LFS, (it was broken off a colony that was also beat up) and figured it'd have a better shot in my tank seeing as I feed quite a bit.