Coral warfare/shading is a becoming more and more of an issue as you would expect for any reef tank approaching 3 years of age. Well perhaps not if the tank had been sensibly/lightly stocked but I guess this hasn't happened. Common sense seems to fly out of the window where myself and reef tanks are concerned.
Most of what I'm going to post is kind of good really. Generally the corals are growing well but there are some that are losing the battle for survival.
The Stylophora needs regular trimming to prevent it from growing up to and touching the left hand glass wall. Its base continues to expand and kills off areas of contact with two neighbouring Montipora as it goes. It has also (along with the Pinnigorgia gorgonian) almost completely shaded out the Beach Bum Montipora. The Beach bum is fading away and there is nothing I can do about it, it's pretty much impossible to relocate. I try not to dwell on this fact too much, it's too painful. Big mistake. Big. HUGE!
I removed most of the green plating Montipora a while ago but it's making a comeback and shading the corals below again. I should never have introduced a frag of this in the first place, I just knew it would end up causing issues in a small tank but it was free and I just couldn't throw it away. On the plus side I must admit it is a lovely vibrant green colour.
The encrusting 'Superman' Montipora is possibly worse than the green plating Monti, I am definitely in need of some marine Kryptonite for this particular coral. At one point it grew up along one side of the clam till the Crocea decided enough was enough and forced its shell open wide enough to snap a good chunk of the the Montipora right off. The Superman Monti also kills any Seriatopora hysterix it touches and has encrusted over nearby Acropora like they were nothing but bare rock. Interestingly it has actually run out of rock space to the rear and has started growing out in a thick plate like formation instead.
I grudgingly accepted the loss of the purple tipped Acro frags to the Superman as they were not thriving anyway (due to the presence of red bugs) but it was harder to take the potential loss of the Acropora gomezi. Despite the parasitic bugs, the A. gomezi still showed nice colouration, not what it should look like under normal conditions but still nice. For months I gritted my teeth and watched this Acro be overgrown, but right at the last minute I decided to frag off the remaining two branch tips. I fixed both of them to the same frag tile and plonked it on the sand. A quick survey with the magnifying glass showed me that the tiny A. gomezi frags are still providing a home/food to the red bugs. I could remove and dip them (repeatedly if needed) but if the bugs are present elsewhere in the system then they will just become reinfested again. The frags have encrusted on to the tile but that's about all they've done at this point. One of the branch tips had a close encounter with the Scolymia thanks to a hermit crab, and got stripped. It's almost recovered bar for a tiny bit of algae covered skeleton at the very end. You can see one red bug highlighted but the arrow in the photo below.
The only other Acropora species remaining in the tank is A. hyacinthus (aka Red Planet), I have yet to discover any red bugs on it but that doesn't mean there aren't any lurking out of sight. Interestingly this Acro has been looking better recently colourwise, it's actually starting to look red once more, well pink at the very least.
The Scolymia continues to look good. It needs to be moved in the not too distant future as the Favia behind is creeping ever closer. I can't afford for those two to meet! Knowing my luck the (much) more expensive coral would be the loser if they clashed.
The Favia has completely overrun the Cyphastrea that used to grow to the right of it and continues to bubble up towards the Acanthastrea to the left. There's been no full on attack as of yet.
The Acanthastrea are surviving but not really thriving. I know that they prefer lower lighting conditions but the plating Montipora above is shading them too much at present. I have been trying to feed them to try and make up for it but 9 times out of 10 Rei the Yellow wrasse steals the food.
The Oxypora keeps expanding ever so slowly, it is also somewhat lacking in light these days.
The Utter Chaos zoanthids are a complete nightmare. They grow so fast and don't seem to be bothered by anything (at least nothing they have encountered in the tank so far). SPS corals are fair game, they just reach up shade out an area of coral until the flesh recedes and then they colonise the dead skeleton. I'm sure that this is a familiar story to many other reef keepers. Having never kept zoas before this is a new one on me. They have grown up the side of the clam and were beginning to reach over and shade the mantle before I decided to scrape them off. A temporary fix as they are encrusting again.
To be fair it's just the Utter Chaos zoanthids that are causing a headache, the rest are much slower growing (aside from growing out onto the sand which is making it hard for Lurch the conch to navigate round the tank).
The Heliofungia has grown to a lovely size but is really squashed up in the front left hand corner of the tank. It remains attached to the small rock and so cannot move around. This is possibly a good thing as I'm sure there would be carnage if it could scoot along the sand and relocate itself. It expanded so much that it was stinging the orange Dendrophyllia to the right of it.
The Lobophyllia has been doing OK, it's really slow growing but since it's tucked away at the side of the tank with not great lighting then that's not exactly surprising. It started off with one head and now almost has three.
Unfortunately one night it suddenly launched an all out attack on the Black sun coral. Before now it had been almost completely overgrown by the Utter Chao zoanthids and not retaliated but clearly the threat posed by the Black sun was a different matter. It stripped three branches of the sun overnight.
Since the orange Dendrophyllia and black sun both needed moving, plus I (still) had the Balanophyllia sitting in the sump I decided space needed to be made for them elsewhere. In the end I pulled out 100+ Utter Chaos zoas, clipped a few branches of A. hyacinthus and removed all of Seriatpora hystrix. The Seri broke into pieces during removal and I decided to keep just a single piece and reposition it a little higher up. This left a space big enough to just about squeeze in the sun corals, now I have quite a nice little cluster of NPS corals on the right hand side of the tank.
After spending over a year and a half in the sump the Balanophyllia is finally back in the DT once more and it's looking good, I don't know why I struggled with it so much. I wonder if perhaps it had some sort of infection that caused the flesh to recede before. It's good to see it back to full health (fingers crossed). I'm also thrilled that the accompanying hitchhiker bivalve is still alive too, I have no idea what that is eating but it must be filtering out enough as it has grown larger since introduction.
The yellow Dendrophyllia remains in place next to the Heliofungia, it has encrusted onto the rock work so I'm not going to mess with it. Eventually I expect it too will be stung but that's a problem for the future. In just over a year this Dendro has increased from 3 to 15 separate heads with another forming. Such a lovely looking coral.
The Pinnigorgia gorgonian goes from strength to strength, it grows so fast and always fully extends its polyps. I have cut off a number of branches of it already and need to trim it some more. The Muricea and Plexaurella gorgonians are much slower growing tucked away at the back of the tank.
That's it for now, I will post an updated full tank shot in a few days' time.
First the not so good news, I think it's time to hold my hands up and admit defeat when it comes to growing Acropora in this tank. As soon I discovered the first red bug I feared the worst and that certainly appears to have been the case. I had hoped that the corals would be able to survive the parasitisation and for a while they did, growth was slow but steady and colouration looked OK but that's certainly not the case now.
To recap, patient zero (the frag that initially infected the tank) was removed leaving a small amount of encrusted base in the tank, it looked like was going to recover and regrow but progress was so slow that the neighbouring Montipora (Superman) completely overgrew it. The second casualty was the Purple-tipped Acro, this suffered from STN (slow tissue necrosis) and had to be fragged. The remaining frags encrusted onto the rockwork but again showed little upward growth and were in time also overgrown by the Superman Montipora. A tiny bit of encrusted base still remains but I fully expect it to fade away or be overgrown eventually. The A. loripes suffered from RTN (rapid tissue necrosis) whilst I was on holiday and the Red Dragon joined it shortly after. The A. echinata frag also suffered from STN and was fragged but the stress of it being chopped up caused the remaining branch to strip overnight. So this leaves me with Acro #1 which has browned out and is soon going be completely overshadowed by the green plating Montipora (I never actually wanted any plating Montipora in this tank but this was a freebie coral that came in along with an order of encrusting forms and I, like an idiot, assumed it was encrusting one too, duh!). I also still have Acro #3 which is struggling for space next to the large gorgonian and A. gomezi. At first glance the A. gomezi looks OK but is actually covered with red bugs and has put in no upwards growth since its introduction almost 18 months ago!! There is one Acro however which appears unaffected by the Red bugs and that is the A. hyacinthus (aka Red Planet), this has grown relatively well and in fact has to be fragged because it keeps growing too close to the front glass. I cannot find any trace of red bugs on this coral. So there you go, it's no more Acropora for me, perhaps I'll be able to restock one day when the remaining Acros have gone and the red bugs have died out without a coral on which to host.
In case there was something going on with the water quality that I wasn't aware of, I did send off for an ICP analysis but nothing stood out as being particularly troublesome. Strontium, Barium and Manganese were on the low side. Nitrate and phosphate were 3.02mg/l and 0.09mg/l respectively which is the highest they have been but not excessively high, I think (maybe someone may correct me?). Still, I have decided to run a little Rowaphos to bring the phosphate level down a touch. Full results can be seen via the link below.
Now for the better news the rest of the livestock for the most part appears to be doing fine. The Stylophora, Montipora and Seriatopora are all growing great (a bit too great actually). The lovely beach bum Montipora is thankfully still with me and finally showing signs of growth too. Unfortunately it's becoming harder and harder to see with the ever increasing Stylophora situated to the left of it and monster green plating Montipora to the front. Very poor planning on my part! I can just about catch a glimpse of it from the top but I suspect that won't last long. I would really love to move it to somewhere viewable but I doubt that I could get it off the rock even if I had somewhere to move it to which I certainly don't.
The Superman Montipora has completely filled in the space I gave it and is also growing up the side of the Crocea clam shell. I'm not sure if I should be worried about this development or not. I hope it doesn't impede the opening and closing of the clam.
I had to remove the original frag of the Cyphastrea as the Favia next door was remorselessly attacking it every night and anyway I never liked the look of the horrible frag plug. Since its removal the remaining encrusted part has been doing much better, it's still very close to the Favia but seems to have fallen under the radar for the time being. As for the Lobophyllia I had always been led to believe that they are super aggressive corals but the Utter Chaos zoanthids are creeping ever closer without any form of retaliation at all. I had rather hoped that it would keep them in their place.
Sadly the Sunrise Goniopora frag is not doing very well at all. To begin with, it looked great and was encrusting on to the rock it was placed but then it started to lose colour and not extend as much. I tried moving it to the back of the tank where it was less bright but that didn't seem to make a difference. I can only assume that it hasn't been finding enough food, I do target feed it Reef Roids and Goniopower but generally not more than once a week. I am ever conscious of the size of the tank and nutrient levels.
Here are a few recent photos:
Now on to the new stuff!
With the loss of a few of the SPS corals I was needing a pick me up and a new coral (or two as it happens) does the job. For ages I had fancied adding a short tentacled Fungia to the tank and since we had a trip to London planned a couple of weeks ago, a visit to Advanced Aquarium Consultancy was in order. I couldn't believe my luck when I found out the night before that they were having a sale on some of their corals. I thought "fantastic", I can save some money for a change, lol! However instead of saving money I spent more as I ended up buying a Scolymia instead of a Fungia. Oops! It's funny how that happens when shopping for corals. Needless to say I could have spent more, waaayy more, thank goodness I live too far away for AAC to be my LFS.
Apparently it's a Reverse Bleeding Apple Scoly (more red colouration than green) and here it is after 4 days. I've been watching it like a hawk, worrying about its health because frankly it's the most I've ever paid for a coral even with 20% off. Oh but it's so pretty.
I had to remove 4 Asterina sp. starfish from the base of the coral after acclimation, I felt bad about killing them but really, I have enough pest issues to deal with as it is. It's a shame because close up they are quite nice to look at and I love starfish but I can't take the chance that they may become a nuisance. Although it would be cool to have a Harlequin shrimp...
Here is the Scoly in night feeding mode.
Just after the addition of the Scolymia I discovered an online seller was offering frags of Dendrophyllia sp. Now I really love sun corals (well, non-photosynthetic corals in general) and my current Tubastrea is doing great so I convinced myself that I could squeeze in an itty bitty frag of a Dendro too. The coral was listed as yellow/red in colour with the polyps opening up in the day time as well as the night. However as you can see the coral is a uniform lemon yellow in colour with not a hint of red at all (unlike the one shown on the website). No matter though it looks healthy and really rather lovely, it opened up much faster than I expected and is taking in food already which is excellent. I can confirm in my vast experience of one week that it does indeed stay open during the day. I'm not convinced that it's a Dendrophyllia sp. however, it could alternatively be a branching Tubastrea sp. Only an examination of the skeleton will determine that for sure and since I'd really rather it didn't die I'll be content without a positive ID.
Here's a full tank shot to end this update.
It's been five months since I removed the frag of Acropora sp. #2, due to an infestation of red bugs (Tegastes acroporanus). As I reported before a tiny piece of encrusted base remained in the tank, it was scrubbed rigorously with toothbrush whilst the surrounding water was siphoned away. The Acro base amazingly survived the scrubbing ordeal and has finally began to branch upwards once more. It appears to be red bug free, however, and this is the big downer, the tank is NOT free of these pests! Whilst taking some macro photos of the corals yesterday morning I discovered that at least three of the other Acropora sp. have red bugs crawling over them too (A. gomezi, Acropora sp. #3 & #4). So basically I tossed Acro #2 for nothing. To say that I'm feeling a wee bit disheartened with the tank right now is an understatement.
So what to do now? Remove all of the Acros? But most are encrusted to the rockwork so this would be tricky. Try biological control using a pipefish? The biggest drawback with this (apart from size of the tank, feeding/flow issues blah blah) is that I feel the tank is fully stocked now (see below for the recent and last fish additions). Of course I could strip the tank down entirely and quit or start again. The word 'upgrade' and using this tank as a quarantine tank has even been mentioned! Lots to think about.
Elsewhere war is underway between the Favia sp. and the Cyphastrea sp. The Favia is clearly winning since there is an area of dead skeleton on the leading edge of the Cyphastrea. The fighting occurs only at night so I'm going to have to camp out with a flashlight if I'm to catch the Favia in battle mode. Also the green encrusting Montipora is on the losing end of a clash with Acropora loripes.
Now on to happier news (had I known about the red bugs I would have held off buying any fish but I didn't, *sigh*). I visited my favourite fish shop a couple of weeks ago with the intention of choosing one final fish for the tank, I thought maybe a firefish or a wrasse, one that might actually relish eating pyramid snails. Talking of which I've just spotted one of the buggers in the shot of the damaged Cyphastrea above, argh!! Anyway, I decided against buying a firefish (I really loved the Helfrichi but just couldn't bring myself to fork out so much for one fish) and was discouraged from trying a Leopard wrasse because of possible compatibility issues with my resident Yellow wrasse. Instead I was directed towards the fairy wrasse; colourful and peaceful and not overly large. Now I must confess that I didn't really know too much about this group of fish so I was relying heavily on what I was being told by the lovely shop assistant. There was a group of Pintail wrasse, males and females (although they all looked pretty much the same to me) and apparently I was informed that it was possible to keep a male and female pair together, which is always a plus point for me.
I have since found out that female fairy wrasse almost invariably change into males in a captive environment resulting in warfare between the now two males. Unfortunately I was an hour into my journey home when I discovered that fact. I should have walked away for a coffee and research time before having a pair bagged up. Anyway they are in my tank now so I'll have to deal with issues if and when they arise. As if I don't have enough issues already!
These fish are really very pretty, the male is slightly larger than the female with perhaps more defined markings but to be honest they don't look that different to me. I hope that's not a bad sign. As expected they took some grief from the Rei the Yellow wrasse. She was not best pleased to see some new fish moving in to 'her' tank. She is the undoubted boss of the tank. The rest of the fish ignored the new additions after their initial curious inspections. The har-wrasse-ment by Rei continued for about three days after which she decided it was just too much bother and now lets them be. Most of the time she ignores them aside from a few half hearted chases every now and again.
OK these Pintails really like to eat!! Right from the very first feed they were in there grabbing their fair share even stealing food from right under the nose of Rei and they'll eat whatever I add to the tank almost without question. At the moment during the day they coexist quite peacefully with each other. When the lights dim in the evening there is a bit of jostling for sleeping accommodations, at least that's what I think is going on. It certainly doesn't look like the male is displaying to the female. I will be watching on very carefully for signs of it all going south. Gulp!
And now for a few more updated photos. Sorry there's no video footage yet, I got a bit distracted by the red bug fiasco and needed a large glass of wine to help ease the pain.
After waiting absolutely ages for delivery I was finally able to set up my shiny new GHL Profilux 4 controller over Easter. The hope is that when the time comes I can monitor the tank whilst I'm away, so less worry for me. At the moment I just have it set up with four probes measuring temperature, pH, redox and conductivity.
There is just 0.1 degree Celsius difference in temperature readings between the digital GHL probe and the Simplyaquaria temperature controller which is pretty good going considering the price difference between the two. I am going to keep the Simplyaquaria controller running as a backup to the GHL, two alarms are better than one in my books. I may actually move the Simplyaquaria probe to the DT so that I have two separate temperature readings to compare.
The conductivity of the tank water measured by the GHL probe was 51.8mS which converts to a specific gravity of 1.0257. My calibrated refractometer measured it to be 1.026, again the values are pretty close which is good. I am happy to know that I've been maintaining a suitable salinity using the refractometer.
I never bothered to purchase a pH test kit this time round so I had no idea what the actual pH readings were going to be. The levels are fluctuating between 8-8.2 or thereabouts, I would like to study the whole 24hr cycle but haven't managed to work out how to access data from the Profilux yet (if indeed it's actually possible to do).
The redox probe is still bedding in, to be honest I'm not really sure what to expect from the readings as I've never used one before. It came with the set so I thought it'd be interesting to set it up and investigate what it can tell me about the tank.
On the livestock front, Charlie the hitchhiking hermit crab is now on borrowed time after his first tank misdemeanor yesterday. He knocked my prize Acropora gomezi frag off the rock in his quest for food. I supposed I should be pleased that he just wanted to graze off the rocks and not eat the coral but still it's annoying. He's really quite big now so I'm sure that he'll cause more trouble in the future if I don't try and catch him now.
I think the T. nudus gobies have spawned again, Hop has been sequestered in the cave for the last two days and Skip won't let him out to feed, so I'm hopeful that there are eggs hidden inside. I hope I actually get to see some fry this time round, pretty please! The Cardinals also appear to be courting but there's been no further release of eggs.
So far the corals (and clam) that I have purchased from my (sort of) LFSs have arrived with 'extras'. Aiptasia, nudibranchs, pyramid snails & red bugs. The corals I have mail ordered from Reefworks however have been hitchhiker-free, so it was a kind of a no-brainer who to choose for my next additions. On Friday I took delivery of some lovely new corals. A beautiful frag of Oxypora sp., so well encrusted that the frag plug was completely hidden, it's my new favourite coral. A frag of Cyphastrea sp. "Meteor Shower", also well encrusted although I would have preferred to have been able to remove the frag plug entirely for positioning onto the rockwork. It looks kind of unnatural at the moment but hopefully it will 'grow in' given time. I also received a frag of Acropora sp. "Red Dragon", and a frag of Acropora sp. with purple tips (but is currently not purple at the moment), plus a frag of Red Tuxedo zoanthids. The zoas are still settling in so I don't have a photo of them yet and the I'm still working out how to take a decent shot of the "Red Dragon" (the bloomin' Welsh Dresser gets in the way. It's going to have to go, lol!).
Whilst I had the camera out I snapped a few other shots, more to follow including a FTS later in the week. Acropora sp. #2 that I treated for red bugs is now looking much happier with good PE. Acropora sp. #3 with the blisters is actually showing some improvement, a couple of the blisters have burst and the wounds are healing nicely. I think it's on the up and up now.
For the most part the tank is doing OK. There is very little in the way of nuisance algae, the furry stuff that was coating the rocks seems to be fading away without any intervention on my part. The zoanthids are opening up nicely and looking good, so I think the nudibranch problem is solved. The LPS expand nicely during the day and are always ready to eat whenever they sense food in the tank.
Most of the SPS corals are doing well, showing good growth or at the very least basing out. Colouration however is not great for some of them, I'm hoping that with time and stability the colours will improve. Maybe it's a nutrient issue?
There is one Acropora sp. (#3) that does not look good. I have noticed recently that there appears to be blistering to the flesh. This is a new one on me so I did a bit of searching on the web and others have reported this ailment. Unfortunately no one really knows what causes it. Some say that it's due to an imbalance with the big three, i.e. KH, Ca and Mg but in my case I have those parameters well within recommended levels and they haven't fluctuated much either. The only suspect I can think of at this stage is KZ Sponge Power, I began dosing this on the 11th February (1 drop every other day). It may have nothing to do with the problem but I think I'm going to stop using it for a while and see if the Acro improves.
I nuked the tiny Aiptasia that sneaked into the tank on the clam shell with Aiptasia-X and didn't feel bad about it at all. Now I just have to be vigilant for more Pyramid snails. My list of hitchhikers found in this tank is growing ever longer.
I'm happy to report that the fish are all doing fine. It's been just over a month since I added the Pink Streaked wrasse and I'm thinking that the time might be right to introduce some more soon. This time I definitely want fish that will swim out in the open. I have fish that hug the rockwork, that sit on the sand and one that hides in a hole in the sand, I really need some bold fishies that aren't shy!
The new corals have been fixed in place and are looking great, I just hope I can keep them looking as good. I had to move the Lobophyllia as Lurch the conch kept barging past it and knocking it over, it's well away from the Acanthastrea now so there'll definitely be no coral warfare between those two.
Also, and try not to laugh too much, but I managed to take a quick video of Gordon the Whitecap goby and Al, his pistol shrimp partner. Al had decided to rework the 'wall' yet again giving me the best chance of capturing them on camera. Unfortunately I had to position the camera downwards to see into the hole so there is some glass distortion and I've never taken a video in my life so there's that, lol! Still you can see that they are alive and doing their thing.
Whitecap goby & Pistol shrimp
Up till now I have avoided ordering corals through the post but this week after seeing one of my 'wishlist' corals available online and checking the shop reviews I decided I should give it a whirl. Boy am I glad that I did, the frags arrived yesterday from Reefworks and they look great, easily as good as those that I have driven to the LFS and picked up myself. The colouration was excellent right out of the bag. The coral that I really wanted was the plating Acropora hyacinthus (red planet), this growth shape really speaks to me of reef. Naturally I couldn't just order one coral so frags of A. gomezi and A. loripes were also added to my basket along with a gorgonian for some movement. I'm not sure that they would necessarily be found together in the wild but my tank is quite static looking at the moment and they apparently can take a blasting in regards to flow so hopefully it should fit in quite nicely with my set up.
I'm pretty much set up for SPS corals now, maybe I could squeeze one more in along with something encrusting perhaps. I am happy to say that the corals that I have all appear to be doing well either basing out or growing at the tips, I expect that I'll need to keep a close eye on the KH levels etc now, the extra corals are bound to suck it up quicker. Now I just need to find that perfect clam...
Hi, my name is Lisa and I live in Derby, UK. I am a self-confessed reefaholic!