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.
The tank has survived to reach its second anniversary today, how the time has flown. Needless to say after two years of running, the exciting stocking phase is pretty much over with (although never say never, lol!) and I've moved on to the not quite so exciting fragging phase.
The first coral that needed a proper pruning was the Seriatopora hystrix. It has grown in rather an unruly manner and some of the branches were growing over the top of the clam (a definite no-no!) and a good section was also now obscuring my view of the sun coral, making it harder to feed. The tips are easy to frag but I found that when trying to cut branches further down, whole sections would break off instead, so I removed far more of the coral than I intended. Oh well it will recover given time (assuming that the Utter Chaos zoanthids don't take it over completely).
Finally, I am able to see the sun coral in all its glory again. As you can see it does try to keep the branches of the Seri in check by stinging and killing off the tips that stray too close. If you look closely you can also see a few of the baby sun polyps that have settled on to the rockwork to the left. The whole tank is pretty much spotted with baby suns right now, even the Scolymia already has one settled on its skeleton.
Talking of sun corals, the Dendrophyllia frag I added in August is doing really well, it started out as 3 heads and now has 5, with another 4 more developing. This seems like a much faster growth rate than the Tubastrea, or maybe it is just more noticeable due to its branching formation.
I have also been lucky enough to pick up another Dendrophyllia frag from a fellow reefer. Morphologically it looks the same as the yellow one so it's possibly just a different colour morph (or perhaps it's a different species, I don't know). I so looove these corals, I know that they are only at their best after the lights go out but I simply don't care, I think they are spectacular! I sometimes wonder if I should have just gone with an NPS tank and be done with everything else, lol! Ideally I'd prefer to feed these corals during the day so that I can admire their beauty with the lights on but it's so darn frustrating. The wrasse try to steal the food and 98% of the time they are successfuI before the polyp has a chance to fully ingest it. No matter how I defend the coral, the bloomin fish sneak in and grab it most of the time. It's just not worth the effort and stress it causes (to me and the coral). Oh to be outwitted by a few fish....
Anyway back to fragging. The second coral that needed reducing in size was the green plating Montipora, I'd been psyching myself up to do this for months. I knew the time had finally come when the Acanthastrea corals growing directly below it started showing signs of struggling, they were at that point pretty much completely shaded out by the coral above. I kept putting it off because the Montipora had grown into such a perfect saucer shape and looked lovely, I knew that once I'd had at it the shape would be ruined. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos of either this or the Seri before I began chopping, I don't know what was I thinking? Anyway the plate coral may look quite delicate but it was surprisingly hard to frag, lower down the skeleton is deceptively thick. I took off a good couple of inches around the edges on the right-hand side and probably should have done more but that's a problem for another day.
Now that the there's a bit more light, the Acanthastrea 'Lava Glow' looks good again. Its smaller brother to the left of it is unfortunately still somewhat shaded. However this coral has never really grown well even when it received better lighting. I did try to move it to another location recently but it's fused to the rockwork so I'm afraid it's there to stay.
The third coral that needed to be fragged was Acropora hyacinthus. I've been nipping the front tips off here and there for a while as they grew towards the front glass but more drastic action was needed this time as I was no longer possible to clean the glass in front of it. Due to the fused branch growth it was now impossible to remove individual bits so the best remedy for the long term was to remove the entire front half of the coral and as with the Seriatopora more was removed than intended. In fact there's not much of the coral left now, just the base and one main branch. Hey ho!
Whilst fragging the A. hyacinthus a large chunk snapped off at the base and fell right on top of the Scolymia. Argh! The Scoly looked very unhappy for a few days and remained shrivelled up, naturally I feared for the worst but fortunately the reefing gods were smiling down and it has bounced back to full glory once more. To say I'd have been upset if a frag that originally cost £15 took out a much, MUCH more expensive coral would have been a bit of an understatement to say the least, lol!
The Scoly loves to eat but never shows its tentacles till after the lights go out so I only feed it at that time. I offer it krill or LPS pellets once or twice per week.
The Favia has grown from a frag the size of inch squared into quite a big beastie and has spread out not only over the rockwork but also out onto the sand towards the Acanthastrea to the left of it. There used to be a good gap between the left and right rock piles, a space in which the conch could easily pass through but now his shell won't fit through at all. I fear that it's only a question of time until the two corals start fighting each other and there won't be much I can do about it as they are both well and truly encrusted on to the rockwork, It won't be pretty I'm sure!
The Heliofungia also continues to do well, there's no sign of it wanting to break away and wander round the sand (which is fine by me!) nor are it's offspring. As you can see from the photo below the coralline algae growing on the glass is a bit of a pain. I want to scrape it all off but I don't want to damage the coral during the process. Everywhere I've read says if the flesh gets torn then it's "hasta la vista baby!", so I feel it's best to just leave it be.
Jessie the Rainford's goby has settled in beautifully and whilst he always gives way to the much larger wrasse at feeding time, he's not shy at all. He roams all over the tank, pecking at algae and chewing the 'sand'. He now feeds really well on frozen food and tries his level best to grab as much as he can before the greedy wrasse hoover it all up, I still offer him a bit extra via a pipette to make sure he gets enough to keep his little belly full.
Sadly I haven't seen Candy the Red Striped goby (Trima cana) since the 8th October. He/she was one of the first fish added to the tank on the 3rd December 2016. I understand that nano gobies do not have long lifespans, only a couple of years, so I'm assuming it was just his time. Two years is just too short sadly. I can't help but wonder how long Hop the Nudus goby will be around for now. He was also added at the same time as Candy and he already lost his mate earlier this year (March).
Sadly I don't have a recent(ish) photo of Candy to share as once the zoanthids grew over his rock he took to hanging out behind Lobophyllia where he was difficult to photograph. I'll post this sneaky shot taken last year instead. :'(
The rest of the fish are fine.
I have a new invert (see, I can still squeeze more stuff in lol!), a crinoid squat lobster. I tried keeping one of these adorable little crustaceans back in 2016, when the tank was relatively new. Sadly it vanished after just 20 days and I vowed not try another... then I came across this little guy. I reasoned that now that the tank is mature this itty bitty crustacean would stand a better chance at survival so he now resides in my tank. As I type this, it's been 27 days since introduction and I'm happy to say that he's taken up permanent residence amongst the branches of Seriatopora, hiding underneath the relative safely of the Utter Chaos zoanthids during the day, he blends in extremely well with the orange of the polyps. He's been named Jaffa and readily accepts all sorts of food from the pipette, I am hopeful he will do better than Stripes did.
Jobs I still need to do. I need to frag the branches of the Stylophora that are growing too close to the glass on the left-hand side and try and remove some of the many Utter Chaos zoanthids that have spread round the tank (I really regret adding those devils).
I've run out of time now so I'll sign off with the obligatory full tank shot.
To this, in two years.
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.
Firstly another equipment change to report. I finally decided to change out the Beamswork EVO refugium light for a Kessil H80 Tuna flora. I had been considering replacing it for quite a while now, not because I was unhappy with the light but because the metal stand was rusting in all four corners where it sits on the top of the refugium. I'm not sure if this has caused any metal contamination in the tank yet or not but I wasn't happy with the situation so it had to go. The reason I opted for the Kessil is because it's pretty much the only light that I could find small enough to fit over the refugium, everything else was either too big/long and would have caused a huge light overspill issue or excess heat in the small sump area. To combat at least some of the light spill produced by the H80 I have added a small piece of black acrylic sheet between it and rest of the sump. The red light is something that does take a bit of getting used to but if the macro algae grows well under it then I'm happy, time will tell.
Now for a Fauna Marin Skimbreeze update. The FM media lasted two and a half weeks before needing to be replaced, about the same amount of time as the most recent ATI 1l disposable unit. I'm not that keen on the design of this reactor itself as air is preferentially pulled from the side the outlet tube sits (as can be seen in the photo below). So when changing out the reactor some media is still unused. I think I will try rotating the cylinder next time to see if I can reduce the problem. To refill the reactor I used the Spherasorb media, it looks exactly the same as the FM stuff but costs a lot less.
As for the livestock well everything is ticking along. Acropora growth is slow to nonexistent thanks to the red bugs but at least they are not dying. The exception to this is the A. hyacinthus which seems fine (with a rather odd growth shape it must be said), I've accidentally fragged it with the algae magnet a couple of times now because it's growing too close to the front glass.
The Utter chaos zoanthids are becoming annoying as they keep detaching and floating around the tank ending up in spots where I don't want them in or sucked on to the powerheads. Since I don't have anywhere to place frags (and hate the look of frag racks in the DT) I've chucked the loose ones I've found so far.
The sun coral is still releasing planulae and I keep finding baby polyps popping all over the tank. The more I look the more I can spot, they've even settled out on the clam shell. The larvae are fascinating to watch, tiny orange tear shaped blobs that wiggle around the tank until they find somewhere to settle out. It's very cool!
As for the Balanophyllia now living down in the sump, I can't decide if it's doing better or worse. There is one thing though, I happened to knock it over whilst trying to feed it and when I set it straight again I noticed it has some tentacles poking out the back, my initial response was Oh ****! Aiptasia!! But on closer inspection it actually looks like a baby Balano bud. I'm not sure if this a good sign or a bad one? Is it failing so badly that it's sending out buds as a last ditch attempt to survive?? I surely hope not.
I'll sign off with a few photos.
And finally a FTS..
There's one zoanthid morph that I've been saving a spot for in my tank but have never seen it for sale in an aquarium shop or via my favourite online supplier so I decided to give E-bay a whirl instead. I ordered two polyps of the "Utter Chaos" zoas, they arrived promptly and were in great condition, I was very pleased (and relieved) with my purchase. I did treat the polyps to a dip in Reef Primer just in case there were any unpleasant hitchhikers, it seemed unlikely on such a small frag disc but as I didn't know the source tank I decided it was not worth the risk. I can see why these zoanthids are so popular, the fluorescent orange colour really 'pops' under the blue LEDs. I roughly chopped down the frag disc as much as possible and hope the remainder will be grown over and hidden asap. I hate frag discs on show in the DT!
I also added a few more snails today to boost my clean up crew as I've noticed that the resident crew aren't quite managing to keep the algae growth in check, not unsurprising now that I am feeding the tank more. So a big welcome to Laurel, Hardy, Eric & Ernie the Trochus snails and Del Boy & Rodney the Ceriths.
Hi, my name is Lisa and I live in Derby, UK. I am a self-confessed reefaholic!