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've been really pleased with the progression of the tank recently, the fish seem settled with no argy-bargy between them, coral colouration continues to improve with each week and things are generally looking healthy. I hope by saying that I've not just jinxed everything now.
As a consequence I have been on the look out for a few more corals to add a bit of extra interest to the tank. It's proven hard to source the last few bits from my wish list as they don't seem to be readily available or the pieces I've come across in the shops are just too big to squeeze in my tank. Regular readers (if there are any out there? Ha ha!) will know that I've been trying to stick to small frags so that I can enjoy watching them 'grow in', plus buying aquacultured corals has always got to be a good thing, right? After 7 months of keeping my eye out I resorted to shopping online (my second favourite pastime). I never thought I would actually take the chance of buying corals online but so far my experience of it has been all great with no losses to date.
Yesterday the postman brought me not one, but two packages, it was a very exciting day.
The first package contained 3 corals. A Balanophyllia sp., possibly my new favourite coral. This is non-photosynthetic and will require feeding by hand but it is so very, very pretty. I had originally wanted to source a small colony of sun coral (Tubastrea sp.), as I've kept those in the past and found them easy to care for but have not seen any for sale, They used to be regularly available but not any more it seems. Anyway this species is very similar (and fits in the small size theme) so I decided to give it a go. My research has suggested that they only extend their feeding tentacles at night but this one seems happy to open up no matter whatever the time of day which is wonderful, more time for me to admire it! As a bonus there is a mussel attached at the base, although I haven't ascertained if it's still living or not. I do hope so but keeping it that way may prove difficult as it's a filter feeder.
Check out all those nematocysts!
Then came a baby plate coral, now I knew that I wanted an LPS coral with swaying tentacles and had originally considered a Euphyllia sp. but I know these can get very large over time so I finally settled on a plate coral. When I saw this baby one available I knew that I wouldn't have a better opportunity to purchase one, it really is tiny measuring just 2cm across when the tentacles are expanded. Normally these corals are free living on sandy or muddy substrates but this one presently has a 'stalk' and when it arrived was glued to a flat frag plug. Unfortunately the frag plug was covered in tiny Aiptasia so it just had to go. The base was duely chopped off along with as much of the original superglue as I dared (and there was a LOT!), then it was fixed it onto a spare piece of rock I had in the sump (I just knew that I'd find a use for that rock eventually, lol!). Now I am hoping that this coral is indeed a long tentacle plate coral, Heliofungia actiniformis and not a very small branch of a torch coral, Euphyllia glabrescens. They do look rather similar when small. I guess time will tell, if it grows and detaches from the base to become free living then it'll be a plate coral, if it develops new branches then it's not!
The final part of this order was a Sunny D zoanthid (plus a baby bud), during transit the polyp had worked itself free of the frag plug so clearly it had been fragged very recently. My first response was one of annoyance but as I hate the look of frag plugs in general it proved fortuitous, it was a simple matter to dab a bit of glue to the base of the polyp and fix it to my live rock. It opened up within a few hours of introduction and is still there today so hopefully it'll survive. I think it's fair to say I'm now a fan of zoanthids, I'm up to 7 different types now, how did that happen?! ;o)
My second online order came all the way from France, how brave was that!! Ever since I added my first gorgonian I knew that I wanted to introduce at least one other species. I had been waiting to purchase the purple frilly gorgonian that Reefworks supply but as it hasn't been available for months I started searching elsewhere. Sadly gorgonians seem to be a bit of an afterthought at most LFS I have visited. The SPS corals are lined up neatly in tanks but the gorgonians seem to be plonked in without any care to their wellbeing at all, most ending up lying on their sides and being stung by something more aggressive resulting in stripped branches or worse. Fortunately for me I discovered Eco-Gorgs, sustainably-produced aquarium sized Carribbean gorgonians, perfect for me and only a few clicks away. OK, admittedly a bit of a journey was required to get them to my tank but worth the chance i thought.
First in my basket was a small frag of Plexaurella sp. and very fluffy looking it is too.
This was followed swiftly by Isis hippuris, though I have to say it doesn't look anything like images of this species online but what do I know?
...and lastly Muricea elongata because it seemed a shame to only order just 2 corals when they were coming so far. This is the only one that has not fully extended all it's polyps yet. I had to leave all 3 gorgonians on the sand for a few hours after acclimation whilst I went out and when I got back this one had been knocked over, typical! There seems to be a bubbling issue with the two branches that had been in contact with the sand. Fingers crossed it will recover in a few days time.
That's it for the time being, I'll try for some better shots of the new corals later on in the week when they've fully settled in and maybe even a new FTS. If you've managed to read all the way to the bottom of this post then top marks, you must be a sucker for punishment!
Hi, my name is Lisa and I live in Derby, UK. I am a self-confessed reefaholic!