Time for a long overdue FTS update. As you can see the coralline continues to encrust apace, every now and again I scrape it off the front and sides but I leave it to grow rampant on the back wall. The plates grow quite thick until a large snail crawls across and the added weight causes a chunk to detach and they both fall down to the sand.
I'm sure some eagled-eyed reefers will have spotted the presence of hair algae in some of the previous close-up shots. If it weren't for the aforementioned coralline I expect the situation would be a lot worse. It began to grow when I lost some of the Acropora to red bugs. I cut out the branches but that still left dead encrusted bases which provided the perfect breeding ground for algae. I was not thrilled about the appearance of the green hair algae but it did allow me the opportunity to purchase a gorgeous Rainford's goby who loves to graze on the tufty stuff. I've noticed recently however, that it's been starting to spread elsewhere in the tank. For example when I brought the Balanophyllia up from the sump the rock on which it was attached rapidly grew a green furry cover as did the freshly exposed rockwork after I removed the Seriatopora. Part of the problem lies with the clean up crew as they simply do not venture on to the rocks to feed any more. The Trochus and Turbo snails only bother to rasp algae from the glass walls, I think they find it too difficult to navigate around the corals, why make an effort to search for algae on the rocks when an easy meal can be found on the glass? The only snails I have found so far that make any difference to the hair algae are Money or Annular cowries. I have four of these fascinating molluscs and they do seem to have an appetite for the shorter hair algae, a patch will occasionally be mown down.
I don't want to completely eradicate the hair algae as Jessie (the Rainford's goby) needs some in his diet so I'm a bit stuck as to what to do right now. The nitrate and phosphate levels are a touch under 4mg/l and 0.04mg/l respectively at my last ICP analysis (2nd September) so not overly high. I did try introducing a few new herbivorous molluscs in the hope that they would have a taste for it, (two Astralium sp. followed by three Spiny Astrea snails) but none of these new species are interested in eating the hair algae either. Typical! It seems that film algae/diatoms are preferred all round. The Trochus snails seem to do well on it anyway, last month I woke up to an alarmingly cloudy tank but it was just the snails having a bit of reproductive fun.
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....
A few weeks ago I decided to take action against the hair algae growing on the skeletons of my recently deceased Acros. I armed myself with a toothbrush and tried scrubbing the affected areas, at the same time I performed a water change enabling me to siphon out the algae as soon it was liberated. It didn't take long for me to realise that this just wasn't going to work very well. It was almost impossible to reach some of the areas without running the risk of damaging the surrounding corals and even in the areas I could reach I was unable clear it all off. Worst of all during the process, thanks to my clumsiness, I snapped off the branch tips of several corals. So no more scrubbing for me!
Instead I decided to embrace the hair algae rather than hate it. For years I've wanted to try keeping a Rainford's goby (aka Court Jester goby, Koumansetta rainfordi) but never had the courage to try one because of their reputed difficulty in accepting prepared foods plus need for filamentous algae in their diet. As luck would have it I came across one of these little fish during a visit to a local fish shop, I observed it for a while whilst running through my Rainford's goby purchasing check list.
1. A healthy looking specimen (sleek looking without a concave tummy). ✓
2. Eating prepared foods (I watched it tuck into frozen mysis). ✓
3. Mature aquarium to introduce it to (the tank is 22+ months old now). ✓
4. Filamentous algae present on which it can browse (yes indeed!). ✓
5. No super aggressive tank mates such as dottybacks or hawkfishes to harass it. ✓
My biggest concern, apart from the feeding issue, was the presence of my Yellow and Pintail wrasse, they are much bigger fish and I had no idea how they would react to the introduction of a small and delicate goby. I was fairly confident that the other nano gobies and wrasse would have no issue. After much umming and aahing I decided to take the risk and bring the little fish home with me.
Amazingly, once introduced the new goby was completely ignored by all the resident fish, I was certainly not expecting that! Despite the lack of aggression the goby was far from relaxed which I suppose is normal for any new fish and the Yellow/Pintail wrasses are undoubtedly quite scary to a timid little goby. He didn't hide but kept low down on the sand in the front left-hand corner of the tank and actually looked to be struggling with the brisk flow so I turned down the powerheads to give him some relief. That night he created a cosy little depression in the sand underneath the Utter Chaos zoanthids to sleep in. By the way I have no idea if this fish is male or female, I decided to go with male (a tough little guy with any luck) and named him Jessie.
Over the next couple of days Jessie slowly settled in and started exploring the tank. I can confirm that he does peck at/sift the sand and eat hair algae, result! I can't see him being voracious enough to eradicate the hair algae or even keep it in check for that matter but that doesn't bother me right now, I'm just thrilled that he's eating. He was still nervous of the bigger fish and would dart out of their way whenever they approached and when it came to frozen food he would look interested but was not confident enough to grab a bite. Fish have to be quick off the block in this tank when it comes to food as the greedy wrasse tend to hoover it up in no time at all.
I increased the number of feedings from three to four times per day and on the fifth day post introduction, Jessie felt confident enough to sneak a couple of small pieces of Gamma Mysis. By the eight day he was up for trying to tackle a large piece of PE Mysis but this was a bit beyond his capability, he tried 'chewing' it 4 times but as he spat it out for yet another attempt a wrasse swooped down and stole it, lol! To ensure that he is getting his fair share I have introduced him to the magical food dispenser (me and a pipette). I like to spot feed most of my livestock (fish, corals, shrimp and crabs) and naturally the fish know that the pipette means food so it takes a bit of time and patience to get the food to the intended target. The Yellow and Pintail wrasse try to steal as much of it as possible, I swear given the chance those fish would keep eating until they popped! I have to wait until these fish 'appear' to lose interest before quickly releasing a piece of food in front of the intended recipient. Fortunately, Jessie is a quick learner and took to the pipette trick remarkably fast, he's even started pecking at the tip in his impatience for the food to appear.
It's early days for this fish but so far I think it's looking promising. I will certainly keeping a very close eye on the state of his tummy to make sure it stays full looking and not sucked in.
It occurred to me after my last update regarding the continuing red bug issue that there was one pest I hadn't actually seen in the tank for a while and that was pyramid snails. For months and months I religiously siphoned out as many of the tiny parasitic snails that I could find, I literally removed hundreds of them without any obvious dent in their population. Naturally this got old very fast and as the months went by and my hardworking clean-up crew (Trochus & Turbo snails etc) and clam looked fine I became less vigilant. I would still remove any that I saw attached to the snails but I no longer actively seeked them out. Today though I've searched the tank most thoroughly with a magnifying glass and cannot find any evidence of a single pyramid snail. That's not to say that they aren't still present in the tank but considering how many there were at one point I take it to be a positive sign. Perhaps one of the fish has finally found a taste for them, the most obvious candidate being the Yellow wrasse but I have never seen her (now him) show any interest in eating them even when faced with one crawling up the glass in front of her face.
So that's the step forward, now for the backward step. Since the demise of some of my Acropora I have been faced with the issue of what to do with their dead skeletons. I fragged off as much as I could but that still left a goodly amount of encrusted base on the rocks. Sadly these have now become a magnet for hair algae. Normally the snails would have made short work of this algae before it had chance to establish but they find it quite hard to navigate their way round the rockwork these days due to the fact that there are lots of other corals in the way, in fact I hardly ever see the Trochus/Turbo/Ceriths on the rocks at all now, they just spend all their time cruising round the glass. Since this algae is growing ever longer by the day and starting to spread I need to formulate a battle plan asap.
That's it for now I'll sign off with an updated video for your viewing pleasure.
Hi, my name is Lisa and I live in Derby, UK. I am a self-confessed reefaholic!