Low Impact Aquariums

Discussion in 'Reef Aquarium Articles and How To's' started by Matt Rogers, Nov 2, 2008.

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  1. Matt Rogers

    Matt Rogers Kingfish Staff Member

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2000
    Messages:
    13,466
    Location:
    Berkeley, CA
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    Low Impact Aquariums
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    <div id="head">Introduction</div>
    <div class="newstext3">Revised 09/07/04 - Added UNEP Press Release</div>
    <p class="maintext2">
    Having worked at a couple fish stores in my day, I've seen the other side. The cramped quarters, the die off from shipping and the sheer volume - the scale of our hobby. This is something not so obvious when you just see the display tanks.
    </p>
    <p class="maintext">
    At some point I made a connection. I realized how many stores and wholesalers there were in my area and surrounding areas and wondered how many there were nation wide. This was not just a local phenomena. Then I realized a majority of the trade was with wild caught specimens, deepening the impact. This affected me and planted a seed of guilt that has grown over the years. The mistakes I've made and my employers have made - <i>heck, all of us make</i> - demonstrates a learning curve in which our friends from the sea pay the ultimate price. How long could this continue on such a scale?
    </p>
    <p class="maintext2">
    I was conflicted. Ironically, I honestly felt that my reef tank had brought me closer to nature. Maintaining a reef tank for years showed me the delicate balance that exists, the roles that every living thing play in maintaining that balance - the harmony of nature. I became more connected with my surroundings. At the same time, I was part of the problem. There had to be a way to learn this appreciation without aiding in the destruction of what we love.
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    <div class="newstext3">Be Aware:</div>
    <a href="http://education.guardian.co.uk/print/0%2C3858%2C4979503-108229%2C00.html" target="new"><img src="http://www.3reef.com/fish/sitepics/banggai.jpg" width="144" height"108" border="0" alt="Habitat not protected and numbers declining"></a>
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    <a href="http://www.garf.org/trever/anem/anenome.html" target="new"><img src="http://www.3reef.com/fish/sitepics/anemone.jpg" width="144" height"108" border="0" alt="Nearly all anemones sold are from the wild"></a>
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    <a href="http://www.elasmo.lu/e/finningfacts.htm" target="new"><img src="http://www.3reef.com/fish/sitepics/sharkfin.jpg" width="144" height"96" border="0" alt="Over 100-200 million sharks were finned last year alone"></a>
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    <p class="maintext">
    Fast forward 10 years - there is hope.
    </p>
    <p class="maintext2">
    This hobby has evolved. More resources are available to new and old hobbyist alike in large part due to the Internet which has proven to be an incredible catalyst for sharing experiences good and bad from which we all have learned from. On the other side, shipping methods have improved, filtration has improved, along with more humane and sustainable methods of obtaining fish and coral. Not to say there isn't work to be done. Unfortunately there are many still collecting them with cyanide and dynamite. However, the improvement is undeniable and we continue to evolve.
    </p>
    <p class="maintext">
    But we must reverse the numbers and the time is now. This hobby is becoming increasingly popular and we are collecting more and more from the sea each year. Originally I made this site to share what I learned in hopes of preventing deaths by making the same mistakes I have made. However, now I know I must take it further. My point will not be to guilt everyone into feeling ashamed of what we have done and toss out the good with the bad. I had an aquarium full of Indo rock and wild caught fish and coral just like everyone else. Perhaps you have a similar aquarium that is successful and perhaps you've even given some of the overgrowth of corals to others for their tank. Therein lies my point now and the direction we need to go in.
    </p>
    <p class="maintext2">
    We must pursue and encourage methods of propagating our own coral. We must pursue and encourage captive breeding of fish. We must do so locally and commercially. We must pull less from the sea and grow more on land. What we still pull from the sea must be done in a sustainable way that is not detrimental to the species, the surrounding reef and local peoples. We must demonstrate we can do so to the governments of the world now before the damage is beyond repair and the governments react, possibly overreact, and our hobby and the world as we know it, are gone. We are part of the problem, but we can be a big part of the solution if we act now.
    </p>
    <p class="maintext">
    What follows is an overview of environmentally low impact methods as they apply to common aquarium setups - a roadmap to guide you in the right direction.
    </p>
    <p class="maintext2">
    The rest is up to you.
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    <p>&nbsp;</p>
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    <div class="newstext3">Heroes:</div>
    <a href="http://www.3reef.com/pcrf.shtml" target="new"><img src="http://www.3reef.com/fish/sitepics/pcrf.jpg" width="144" height="104" border="0" alt="Mapping the reefs of the world and monitoring their health"></a>
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    <a href="http://www.atollreef.org" target="new"><img src="http://www.3reef.com/fish/sitepics/atoll.jpg" width="144" height="113" border="0" alt="Protecting reefs by buying islands around them"></a>
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    <a href="http://www.swim4thereef.com" target="new"><img src="http://www.3reef.com/fish/sitepics/paulellis.jpg" width="144" height="96" border="0" alt="Scuba-dived 35 miles straight to raise awareness of our reefs"></a>
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    <a href="http://www.cousteau.org" target="new"><img src="http://www.3reef.com/fish/sitepics/cousteau.jpg" width="144" height="118" border="0" alt="The legend and pioneer of the sea"></a>
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    <div style="border:1px dashed; width: 90%; padding: 5px" class="newstext3">
    <a target="new" href="http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2003/unep172.doc.htm">From UNEP, January 1st, 2003</a>
    <br>
    Over 20 million tropical fish, including 1,471 species ranging from the sapphire devil to the copperhead butterflyfish, are being harvested annually to supply the booming marine aquarium trade in Europe and the United States, according to the most comprehensive global survey ever undertaken.
    <p>
    A further 9 to 10 million animals, including molluscs, shrimps and anemones and involving some 500 species, are also being traded to supply tanks in homes, public aquaria and dentists' surgeries.
    <p>
    Up to 12 million stony corals are being harvested, transported and sold annually estimates the report, released today by the United Nations Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).
    <p>
    Unlike freshwater aquarium species, where 90 per cent of fish species are currently farmed, the great majority of marine aquariums are stocked from wild caught species. This activity, if not carried out in an appropriate manner, can cause irreversible damage to coral reefs.
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    <p>&nbsp;</p>
    <p class="newstext3">
    The following is somewhat general in places as I am limited to my own experience. I encourage you to search the forum on this site and elsewhere for more information. I also encourage you to submit your own experiences below so that we can learn from you as well! :)
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    <div id="head">Low Impact Reef Aquarium</div>
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    Want a low to zero impact reef aquarium? Do it with frags, captive bred fish and DIY rock.
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    <a href="http://www.3reef.com/cgi-bin/album.pl?photo=admin/fragggss.jpg" target="new"><img src="http://www.3reef.com/fish/sitepics/myfragtank.jpg" width="144" height="108" border="0"></a>
    <div class="caption">My Low Impact Reef</div>
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    <p class="maintext2">
    <b>Frags</b> (Fragments of corals)
    </p>
    <p class="newstext3">
    Disclaimer: Before you attempt any fragging of your own, do research on the coral you would like to frag and make sure it's a good one for fragging.</i>
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    <p class="maintext">
    Looking at my reef aquarium right now, the amazing thing is that there isn't a coral in there I couldn't frag with a pair of scissors or shears. In fact all my corals came to me that way, as frags from fellow hobbyists. Nothing from the wild.
    </p>
    <p class="maintext2">
    In the 1980's - early 1990's, it was just hard to keep corals alive. With today's filtration and knowledge, we are not only finding it easy to keep many corals, but easy to frag them too.
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    Soft Corals
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    Many soft corals are pretty easy to frag. Remove the specimen and place in a Tupperware bowl with some tank water. Use sterile and sharp scissors and cut about a 1" piece. (Mushrooms can be cut like pie.) At this point you can dry it a bit with a towel and put some superglue on the bottom of it to attach it to some substrate or rock and lightly tying with a rubber band so it doesn't float away. Or, alternatively, use fine plastic mesh like a wedding veil to secure it to a rock. Doing so on a small rock is a good idea should you want to move it later - commonly they are put toward the bottom of the tank so there is less shock with less light and current until they recover (May take a couple of weeks).
    </p>
    <p class="maintext">
    At this point you want to discard the water in the Tupperware as it will contain a lot of slimy mucus from the cutting that you don't want to put back in your aquarium. Oops. Almost forgot. I am not a big rubber glove guy, but this is surgery and you might want to use some for your protection and that of the coral. You don't want to wipe that stuff in your eye. ;)
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    <p class="maintext2">
    LPS (Large Polyp Stony) Corals
    </p>
    <p class="maintext">
    LPS can be tricky from what I know. Again do research on the coral you are thinking about to see if it's suitable for propagation.
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    Again remove the specimen from the tank and place in a bowl with some tank water. Techniques to cut the hard base include a hammer and chisel, strong shears or a rotary dremel tool. This will likely be determined by the size of the coral and what tools you have available.
    </p>
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    Some of these corals are difficult because they have soft meat that go across the top. You will have to carefully split the base of the coral with some of the tools above and cut the meat with scissors. This can be messy and scary from what I have seen at frag swaps, but many will recover. A slower and safer method is to not cut the meat and carefully place the coral on the bottom of the tank with a rock in between the split base to put light pressure on the meat above. I believe you are supposed to put a little more distance between the split base each week and this can take a while (months?) for the meat to split on it's own.
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    SPS (Small Polyp Stony) Corals
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    <p class="maintext">
    Fragging SPS corals can actually be pretty easy in my experience. Surprisingly so. Do the usual Tupperware technique. But what's wild at this point is some of SPS coral can merely be broken apart by hand! I received an Acropora coral from a friend (Hi G!) that was suffering from RTN - rapid tissue necrosis - and I was able to save it by merely breaking off the healthy tips with my hands and gluing to a rock. The tips are now growing well with no signs of RTN!
    </p>
    <p class="maintext2">
    Otherwise using shears with work well and be sure to glue SPS to a rock or cement plugs as they will knock over easily. Unlike some of the other types of frags, SPS frags will benefit from good flow and light.
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    <p class="newstext3">
    Want to get some frags for your tank? Do some research online and make some calls to see if there are any frag swaps in your neighborhood put on by local reef clubs. For the price of membership, you can get a lot of frags. I paid $20 and got about a dozen frags. That's a good deal. It's fun to trade too. There are also some companies online that sell frags. Check out 3reef sponsor, Coraldynamics.com. This company only sells frags. Way to go!</i>
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    DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Rock
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    <p class="maintext2">
    After my initial revelation about the impact of our hobby on the ocean's fish and coral, it didn't take me long to realize that surely all the live rock we are pulling from these exotic places must be having an impact too. I mean I had 60 lbs. of it in my 30 gallon. At the time people were recommending 2 lbs. per gallon (current recommendation is 1 to 2 lbs. per gallon). So that's a lot of pounds per tank. Think about all the rock in your tank, all your friends with rock, all the fish stores, and that's a lot of rock. Some might say, 'Hey it's just rock man!' And that's true. But that's rock with a lot of life on it and rock that is providing habitat for many of our friends from the ocean. How long can one of these little islands provide rock for us before we have to move on to another island?
    </p>
    <p class="maintext">
    So with my current tank, I said I was going to go a different way. I was going to make all my rock myself. It was a bit daunting at first, but once I got into it, I started having a lot of fun. It's one of those things the whole family can get into. And you know what, the rock turned out great and after a while, has tons of coralline algae, feather dusters, sponges and now frags, growing all over it. Although it took time, it's really rewarding now - I can look at all of it and say, 'I made that!'
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    <p class="maintext2">
    <i>Does DIY rock work as well?</i>
    </p>
    <p class="maintext">
    Well this can be debatable, but if you do what I did to make your porous, I don't see why not. Let's think about this.. common knowledge says that the main benefit of live rock is the surface area for bacteria to grow and help keep your tank stable. So if you make your rock with some tricks like putting pvc pipes in the middle and drilling the heck out of the rock with a masonry drill bit, then you will have some light weight, very porous rock. Plus it looks more natural. Mine has pods going in and out of it. So I think it's working just fine.
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    How do I make DIY rock?
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    You will need a few things, but what's great is the sum total comes out to very little money. It's cheap to make rock.
    </p>
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    Supplies I used:
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    <li>Portland I White Cement (Portland II and III are supposed to cure faster, but I wanted white.) One bag is plenty.
    <li>Crushed Oyster Shell - You can get this from a feed store. One bag is plenty.
    <li>Balloons - Blown up slightly, created hollow parts in rock. Drill bit later removed them.
    <li>Some shells and sea glass collected from my local beach at low tide.
    <li>Some sand from the local beach to use to make molds. Later returned leftover sand to beach. Yes, I really did.
    <li>A couple plastic tubs from Home Depot to make the sand molds in. Another tub to drill the rock in.
    <li>5 gallon paint bucket to mix ingredients in. And a wood paint stir to mix.
    <li>A $5 kiddie pool from Kmart to cure the rock in.
    <li>A few masonry drill bits
    <li>Work gloves so you don't cut your hands when handling the rock and drilling it.
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    <img src="http://www.3reef.com/fish/sitepics/diyrocksmall.jpg" width="144" height="108" border="0"></a>
    <div class="caption">Cement and Crushed Oyster Shell</div>
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    <a href="http://www.3reef.com/cgi-bin/album.pl?photo=admin/diy/diyrock17.jpg" target="new"><img src="http://www.3reef.com/fish/sitepics/diyrocksmall1.jpg" width="144" height="108" border="0"></a>
    <div class="caption">Starting My DIY Rock</div>
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    <p class="maintext">
    First thing I did was pour sand into the tubs and make molds the size of the rock I wanted. My sand was already a little wet from the beach so this was easy. Then I poked my fingers around in the mold to give it some dimension and texture. Later I learned to coat the mold with a layer of oyster shell to prevent the sand from bonding with the rock.
    </p>
    <p class="maintext2">
    Then I mixed about 5 cups of crushed oyster shell with 1 cup of cement and 1 cup water. I stirred this about and added some of the stuff I collected from the beach. I learned that I wanted just enough water that it would rise to the top a bit into little pools. This part is tricky and will take some trial and error, experiment, I did, it's cheap, why not?
    </p>
    <p class="maintext">
    I poured the mix in the molds and covered the tub with a slightly damp towel to retain the heat and aid in curing. A week later I pulled out the rock and proceeded to drill the heck out of the rock - many holes to a rock. This did a couple things. It made the rock very porous which you want. It also made it much, much more natural looking. You'll be amazed. When you first pull the rock out of the mold, it looks like someone spilled oatmeal. Not sexy. But spend some time with the drill and you will be in awe of the transformation. I was. Drilling all hunched over will hurt and make you sweat, but it's worth it. (If your rock just falls apart at this point, then you didn't make it strong enough. Try more cement and/or water.) Get a few different sized masonry drill bits for different sized holes. You will also need a few because you will wear some out.
    </p>
    <p class="maintext2">
    Take your finished rock and put it in the kiddie pool with some fresh water. Get the hose and do water changes at least once a week. Curing takes time. You will have to check the pH. One good sign is when there is no longer a white film on top of the water. Curing can take a month or more.
    </p>
    <p class="newstext3">
    For more details and pics of how I did it, click on this link - <a href="http://www.3reef.com/forums/i-made/my-diy-rock-29433.html" target="new">my diy rock.</a>
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    Aquacultured Rock
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    <p class="maintext2">
    Don't have time for all this rock making? Then aquacultured rock could be your answer. Aquacultured rock is typically porous lime rock from a quarry that has been placed in the ocean for about a year. In that time it get it gets seeded with pods and coralline algae among other things and is ready for your tank. This is a win / win situation. The hobbyist wins, the supplier wins, and the environment wins. Heck, that's a win / win / win!! :) 3reef sponsor liverocks.com is a place to check out. Their rock looks great.
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    <p class="maintext">
    Captive Bred Fish
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    <p class="maintext2">
    So you want to have fish in your tank eh? Well alright, fine. :) Fortunately there is a low impact way.
    Buying captive bred fish. Each year, more and more fish have been bred in captivity due to the diligence of some dedicated individuals that deserve to be commended.
    Furthermore, many of these fish are now available commercially and a lot of them are reef safe! When you think about your next fish, think about buying captive bred. It's a cause worthy of your support. Premiumaquatics.com (another 3reef sponsor!) has several to choose from. Check them out. You can also find a list of captive bred fish and more info on the 3reef forum <a href="http://www.3reef.com/forums/fish/" target="new">here.</a>
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    <div id="head">Low Impact Fish Tank</div>
    <p class="maintext2">
    Just have a fish tank and want to do your part? Well you have some choices too. In addition to what was mentioned above (captive bred fish, DIY rock) there are actually some really nice fake corals you can buy now. They have come along way and will look great in your tank.
    I'll never forget being on the beach in Mexico and seeing this guy trying to sell a huge tabletop coral that he had just chiseled out of the reef. That thing was bigger than a Frisbee and still green on the bottom. I wondered how old it was to get that big. The stuff on the shelf wrapped in cellophane at your local fish store isn't any better.
    Some guy did the same thing to get that.
    </p>
    <p class="maintext2">
    Please check out these alternatives: <a href="http://www.esuweb.com/products.asp?ESUSubCompany=Coralife&Catagory=Flexible%20Tropical%20Treasures&SubCatagory=Flexible%20Tropical%20Treasures&RelationID=90&IDProductRelationship=265" target="new">Flexible Treasures</a>, <a href="http://www.aquariumsystems.com/anemones.htm" target="new">Aquarium System's Anemones</a>, <a href="http://www.livingcolor.com/coral.cfm" target="new">Living Color Corals.</a>
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    <a href="http://www.esuweb.com/products.asp?ESUSubCompany=Coralife&Catagory=Flexible%20Tropical%20Treasures&SubCatagory=Flexible%20Tropical%20Treasures&RelationID=90&IDProductRelationship=265" target="new"><img src="http://www.3reef.com/fish/sitepics/flexibletreasures.jpg" width="144" height="206" border="0"></a>
    <div class="caption">Cool fake coral now available</div>
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    <div id="head">Conclusion</div>
    <p class="maintext">
    I hope this was some help to you and perhaps will make you think a bit before your next purchase. Our hobby is growing fast and the impact on our reefs is greater than ever. We aren't the only stress on the reefs by a long shot, but we can be instrumental in their recovery and preservation.
    </p>
    <p class="maintext2">
    My reef aquarium consists of 100% frags, DIY rock, and local sand from a pristine beach. (I am lucky to live near one.) I even <a href="http://www.3reef.com/forums/general-reef-topics/i-swam-my-natural-sea-water-31036.html" target="new">swam</a> for my saltwater. Heh. But I won't recommend that. Use a boat. The point is, I am very proud of it. Going this route took a lot longer, but it has been much, much more rewarding, actually cheaper, and the impact on the environment was next to nothing. How about that?
    </p>
    <p class="maintext">
    Take a look at some of the other sites linked on this page and what they are doing. Show your support. Share what you learn with others. Maybe you can start a frag swap in your area if there isn't one already. Doing something, even small, is better than the alternative. If we just exploit our reefs, soon the harm will be severe if not irreversible and eventually many corals and fish will no longer be available to us either due to extinction or prohibitive laws. The signs are everywhere if you look, so we must act now. The world is changing fast, and it won't wait.
    <br>
    <br>
    Sincerely,
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    <p class="maintext2">
    Matt Rogers
    </p>
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2008