I have lots to update, hmm where to begin? I think I should probably get the bad stuff out of the way first.
Forgive me Father for I have sinned. For quite a while I had noticed that I was harvesting less and less macro algae from the refugium, growth had slowed to almost nothing at all despite there being plenty of nitrate and phosphate available. The days of my tank having low nutrients were certainly in the distant past as they had been slowly but surely creeping up. At the last ICP analysis nitrate was sitting at 11.5mg/l and phosphate at 0.13mg/l. I'd also noted that the mini brittle stars that used to thrive in amongst the algae had dwindled from hundreds to zero (there are still lots in the DT). I'd come to the conclusion that Charlize the hitchhiker crab had been supplementing her diet with some brittle star meat. Anyway hair algae had taken a firm hold in the upper half of the refugium and was choking out the growth of macro algae below. This meant that there was even less algae available to the crustacean residents (Charlize and also Bruce the Emerald crab) at the bottom of the refugium. Then at the beginning of December, I discovered what was left of Bruce, had he also been eaten by Charlize? RIP Bruce.
So on the 16th December 2019 I decided then to take the refugium out for a good clean, removing the old mud substrate and replacing it with some new, a long overdue task I must admit. I carefully salvaged as much of the macro algae as I could (a mix of Caulerpa racemosa and Chaetomorpha) and placed it, along with the naughty Charlize, into a bucket (with tank water obviously). I then disconnected the refugium and set about cleaning it.
Once everything was clean(ish) I added a new layer of mud, refitted the refugium and carefully filled with water. After a while I reintroduced the macro algae and crab. So far so good, however things were about to take an unfortunate downward turn. It seems that by cleaning the refugium and/or replacing the mud I had altered the water chemistry and not in a good way either. The redox value dropped to 250mV and stayed there. Under normal circumstances the redox probe reads somewhere between 350mV to 450mV and to be honest I don't pay that much attention to it. The numbers bounce around depending on whether I've just fed the fish or done a water change. A value of 250mV however was definitely not normal. I wondered if the probe was reading accurately so I cleaned and recalibrated it but still the readings remained low.
A few days after cleaning I noticed some suspicious looking brown algae starting to appear in the refugium and I just knew this wasn't going to be good. Sure enough after about a week or so I started to see signs of it appear in the DT too. It began by coating the gorgonians, the Plexaurella was particularly affected and closed up. Ten days after cleaning I discovered Charlize the hitchhiking crab dead in the refugium. Nooo! I couldn't believe it and felt so terrible guilty. Why did she die? My immediate thought was that the brown algae may have been the cause as some species of dinoflagellates are know to be toxic. I've have not been unfortunate enough to have to deal with this type of algae before but I've certainly read about it a lot. It looked just like typical dinoflagellates, brown and snotty with trapped air bubbles but just to be sure I took a sample and dusted off the microscope.
My suspicions sadly proved correct. The tiny oval protozoans were swimming in a circular motion around an anchor point like a tetherball which is typical of Ostreopsis sp., this is indeed toxic to snails and other herbivorous creatures. I've read many horror stories regarding dinoflagellates in reef tanks, so to say I was feeling depressed was a bit of an understatement, I had visions of all my corals covered with brown snot and the sand littered with shells of dead snails.
According to my research there is no easy way to rid a tank of dinoflagellates and I certainly wasn't keen on the idea of performing a 5-7 day black out. I decided not to panic and continue tank maintenance as normal. I continued with the weekly water changes (yes I know these were not advised) and siphon out as much of the 'snot' as possible in an effort to give the gorgonians a tiny bit of relief. I don't know if it helped them but it certainly made me feel better. In the ensuing days the dinos spread to the tips of the Seriatopora hystrix but surprisingly nothing else seemed affected. Every morning I would count the number of snails to make sure they were all still present and correct.
The redox level remained very low so on the 14th January I sent off a sample of water for ICP analysis just to check if the mud was leeching out something nasty but as you can see from the link below the results looked OK. Nitrates and phosphates were lower than the previous test but not that low.
Since I'd effectively removed most of the beneficial bacteria and critters from the refugium (except for amphipods and mysid shrimps) I decided it might be a good idea to add some diversity back in the form of some live rock rubble. This proved easier said than done as nobody seems to stock actual live rock anymore, it's all artificial or dead rock and bottled bacteria these days. I tried ordering some in from a local shop but when I went to collect it, it was just a bag of dry rock, sigh! In the end I located an online shop that was out of stock but expecting a fresh delivery of Australian live rock in the next few weeks or so. I decided to preorder a small amount and crossed my fingers that it wouldn't take too long.
In the meantime the redox gradually started to creep back up again and by the end of January it had hit 350mV once more, the gorgonians started to pick up again. The first to bounce back was the Muricea followed by the Pinnigorgia and finally after over a month of looking completely dead the Plexaurella shed a layer of algae/mucus and the polyps came back out again, sadly a couple of branches had stripped but at least some of it was still alive. I also only had to frag off one of the Seriatopora branch tips and the rest bounced back in no time at all.
As of today the dinoflagellates have almost completely disappeared from the DT, if you check the Pinnigorgia very closely there is still some evidence of some thin brown strings in one area of low flow but there's not much left at all. I am hoping in another month or so it will have gone altogether, I have my fingers crossed.
Oh and just as things were starting to look up I received acknowledgement that my small order of live rock was available and ready for delivery (20th February 2019). That story will have to wait until another post, oh the stress is never ending....
I first discovered Charlize the hitchhiking crab sitting at the base of the Seriatopora in February 2017, she was such a tiny little thing back then no bigger than the nail on my little finger. For a couple of months I let her do her thing before deciding to move her after she knocked a frag off the rockwork. She was surprisingly easy to catch and rather than dispose of her, something I never like to do with any living creature, I placed her into the most desirable of crab residences, the refugium! Since then she has positively thrived and has grown incredibly. She's a beefy crab now measuring a couple of inches across, quite a bit bigger than the Emerald crab she now shares her home with. When I added Bruce (the Emerald crab) I did worry that there might have been issues between the two but so far everything's been good. They tend to hang out at opposite ends of the tank although I occasionally find them relatively close together as in the second photo below. I can't help but wonder how much growing Charlize still has left to do, I may need a bigger refugium if she keeps expanding, gulp!
My tank is exactly a year old today! Wow, where has the time flown to? I've been a bit lax with the updates recently so there's lots to catch up on.
First lets get the bad news out of the way. I'm afraid that I've lost the lovely Tridacna maxima clam, it simply never thrived in my tank. Before adding it I carefully checked the shell looking for any nasty hitchhikers but I never found any. I must have missed some (or their eggs at least) as I started to notice some pyramid snails feeding on my precious Trochus and Turbo snails. Nooo! I checked the clam regularly at night with a flash light but never found any of the little devils feasting on it. After two and a half months it finally it became clear that the clam was doomed so I decided to remove it before pollution became an issue. I checked it over again when it was out of the tank and still couldn't find any pyramid snails on it. These guys are so small and clearly hide really well! Later on three teeny tiny ones did emerge from inside of the clam, it's hard to imagine that just three could have any impact on an animal so much larger than they but clearly over time they do. Unless of course the maxima was suffering from something else too?
At this point there's not much I can do about the pyramid snails, I am removing any that I see every day and I've become quite adept at spotting them now. On average I remove about 10 per day. The wrasse are sadly not eating them, come on guys I could really do with a helping hand here, sheesh earn your keep why don't you!! At least I haven't lost any of the snails yet and my original Tridacna crocea clam seems to be doing fine, it's laying down new shell so I take that to be a good sign for now.
The other blip on my reefing horizon is the Balanophyllia. It just doesn't look as good as it once did and I can't work out why. Am I feeding it too much or not feeding it enough? I had been offering it a piece of food once per day (at night), generally PE mysis, clam, Krill or lancefish, perhaps that wasn't enough to sustain it? So I decided to up the feedings to multiple times per day (anywhere between three up to a maximum of five a day) but this seemed to make no difference at all (in fact the coral looked a little worse) so now I'm trying less food. It's really frustrating because the sun coral is looking fantastic on a single feed per day.
Apart from the above everything else seems to be doing OK. The fish are all good, Rei the Yellow wrasse eats like a horse and is noticeably bigger. The best news is that my Tomiyamichthys nudus gobies have finally paired up with the Red Spotted pistol shrimp so I get to see them all much more now. The male goby still goes MIA every now and again but always resurfaces at some point. The gobies and pistol shrimp do not naturally associate together in the wild but I suspect they have done so in my tank because there are simply no other alternatives.
The corals are getting bigger and some are starting to get close to each other already, war is on the horizon I expect.
The zoanthids are spreading nicely especially the Utter Chaos, these are reproducing at a phenomenal rate and unfortunately over taking some of the original slower growing morphs. Whatever was afflicting the Red Tuxedo zoanthids seems to have subsided and I've not lost any more recently, I hope that's the end of that.
After a bit of a slow start the algae in the refugium has really got going now and the amount of life in there is incredible. It's amphipod, mysis shrimp and brittlestar heaven! Charlie the hitchhiking crab is alive and kicking and still growing. She was such a tiny thing when I first noticed her in the DT hanging out in the Seriatopora, now she's huge in comparison.
Life in the refugium.
Whenever I harvest any algae, I spend the following 30 minutes rescuing brittlestars from amongst the fronds. Well I can't just throw them out can I? It's easy to see how they are reproducing by division.
My first canister of ATI Carbo EX came to the end of its life in September, it lasted just over 3 months which I don't think is too bad. I have decided to continue with the CO2 scrubbing and have replaced it with a fresh cartridge.
Last week to celebrate the fact that the tank was approaching its first birthday I decided that some new additions were required. There was a gap (left by the T. maxima clam) that was just crying out to be filled. OK it didn't really need to be filled but what can I say, any excuse to shop for new corals.
I decided another encrusting Montipora sp. would do nicely and since it was likely to be the last addition (never say never tho) I wanted something special. I decided the Beach Bum (what a name!!) Montipora would contrast nicely with the three that I currently have. Since I was mail ordering from a fellow reefer I found I couldn't just buy the one coral so I ended up with frags of Hawkins Echinata (Acropora echinata) and a Sunrise Goniopora too. My name is Lisa and I'm a coral addict, lol!
Here they are on the sand awaiting fixing (squeezing!) in place.
Phew that was a marathon (are you still with me?) before I sign off I'll add a few more updated photos. After all who doesn't love a bit of eye candy?!
Charlie climbed to the top of the refugium to say hello to me this morning. I discovered her sitting on top of the thick mat of algae. Oh my, she's grown a lot! So is clearly finding enough to eat down there. :o)
On the 18th April I relocated Charlie (or is it Charlize?) the hitchhiking crab from the DT to the refugium. After almost 4 weeks of no-show, today I discovered him (her?) alive and well in the jungle. I am chuffed, what a survivor!
Also I've also been playing around with a new macro lens, starting with some of the easier corals to capture.
Never in a million years did I think that it'd be easy to catch and remove my hitchhiking crab but boy how very wrong I was. My deluxe homemade crab trap actually worked first time! I propped an empty glass spice jar up against the top rock where the crab lived and baited it with some mysis shrimp just after lights out. I honestly felt that the jar was a little too tall for the job and it would never catch anything but to my very great surprise it did. I checked back on the tank after just an hour and was gobsmacked to discover the crab sitting in the jar. It's so great when a plan comes together without any blood being shed (and doesn't cost anything, lol).
With clearer photos I'm now confident that the crab is indeed Chlorodiella nigra. Please refer to the link below for comparitive purposes.
Of course I couldn't bring myself to kill the little guy, after all he had done no wrong, simply knocked a frag off the rock which was probably my fault for not fixing it down securely enough. The biggest issue for me was the fact that he'd set up home right next to my clam and whilst this species is reported to mainly eat algae I didn't want to take the risk of the clam being irritated or even worse becoming a crabby snack down the line. So off he went into the refugium where hopefully he'll be content with an endless supply of algae (and pods?) to munch on.
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.
My hitchhiking crab has been getting bolder and I've finally managed to snap a few photos of him. Charlie is much bigger now, at least 2 times larger than when I first spotted him or maybe even 3 times now! When I say 'him' I may be incorrect, in reality 'he' may be a 'she', so a Charlize as opposed to a Charles. Female crabs have a wide abdomen and males have a narrow one. In Charlie's case it looks sort of in between, an immature female perhaps?
This tank is approaching the 6 month mark (on the 16th April). Wow, where has the time gone to? It's now well and truly in the 'spotty phase', the back glass is covered with spots of coralline algae and spirobid worms. I have scraped it once already and am now in two minds if I should do it again. Does it look natural or does it just make the tank look messy? I can't decide, answers on a postcard please. :o)
I've had to move the Lobophyllia yet again. The Lobo was very happy in its last spot but, darn it, the snails (Mr Conch I'm looking at you particularly!) just kept knocking it over no matter how hard I pushed it in to the sand. So now I've glued the base of the skeleton to the rock work on the right-hand side at the back. It's not great for viewing but at least it won't get damaged there. Fingers crossed that's the last time I have to move it!
Acropora sp. #2 still appears to be red bug free and the PE looks good. Acropora sp. #3 is on the mend I think, to my eye there appear to be less blistering now. It's not completely out of the woods yet but I'm feeling a little more confident about its future. General coral colouration is not great but I'm not too concerned about that at this point.
My mysterious hitchhiking crab has thankfully moved away from the S. hystrix and has set up home in the uppermost right hand rock. I still don't have a decent picture of him to show I'm afraid, he moves like lightning whenever I get close. So far he's not attacked or eaten anything that he shouldn't, I regularly observe him scraping at the rock work with his spoon shaped claws and he does a great job of keeping that area clean of algae and detritus. He has grown considerably and I am probably not helping matters by occasionally feeding him directly. I have tentatively identified him as Chlorodiella nigra which is a member of the Xanthidae crab family. According to my research they are generally fine when smaller but can become troublesome as they grow and their appetite increases. I am investigating removal options just in case.....
Yesterday afternoon I introduced probably my last fishy additions for this tank, they are still settling in at the moment, pictures to follow hopefully later on in the week.
Hi, my name is Lisa and I live in Derby, UK. I am a self-confessed reefaholic!