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Live Rock Aquarium.Net Dec 96

Article on the changing status of collecting Live Rock in Florida, December 1996 Index for Aquarium Net, Aquarium Net has numerous articles written by the leading authors for the advanced aquarist

Live Rock

Live Rock was first marketed in the 1970's. With the advent of improved filtration systems, and recognition of the vital role live rock plays in a reef system, a demand has grown for a steady supply of live rock. The live rock provides a natural filtration and biodiversity that can be attained by no other artificial means. Factors affecting survival of marine life in aquaria include; high intensity lighting, effective protein skimming, good water movement and a reef structure made of rock taken from the marine environment, which harbors bacteria and other macroscopic life that help in maintaining required water quality parameters (Moe, 1982, 1992a, 1992b; Tullock 1992, 1994; Sprung and Delbeek, 1994). Marine aquaria are successfully maintained by a varied group of people ranging from novice hobbyists to large public aquariums, with support from a world-wide industry which has seen tremendous growth since the mid-1980's. In the state of Florida in particular, rapid growth and development of a commercially important new fishery has evolved via the harvesting and supply of live rock for the marine aquaria market.

Live rock is described as a living marine organism or an assemblage thereof, attached to a hard substrate (including dead coral or rock usually calcareous in nature). Live Rock provides a habitat for invertebrates and larger plants. Anemones, tunicates, bryozoa, octocorals, sponges, echinoids, mollusks, Sabellarid and Serpulid tubeworms, and calcareous algae are common inhabitants of live rock obtained from Gulf Coast waters.(Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, 1994), GMFMC).

Collection of live rock has evolved into a commercial industry in primarily two regions; the waters surrounding west central Florida, and waters surrounding the Florida Keys. As the demand for live rock increased, harvesting increased in Florida waters, and subsequently opposition to harvesting increased from political, special interest and environmentalist groups. Because of the many concerns raised by these groups, the Fishery Management councils were charged with developing a plan for the National Marine Fisheries Services for management , or closure of the live rock fishery. Subsequently, Amendment 2 to the Fishery Management Plan for Coral and Coral Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic (Amendment 2) was developed and implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Services. Amendment 2 allows for closure of all wild harvest as of January 1, 1997, and allows for, and facilitates permits for aquaculture of live rock in the Gulf of Mexico in federal waters(GMFMC,1994). The state of Florida has also implemented a program for leasing plots in state waters of the gulf, and South Atlantic areas for live rock aquaculture sites.

Open ocean aquaculture of live rock has been implemented by several individuals in both federal and state waters offshore from Florida with very favorable results. Observations of aquaculture sites to date demonstrates growth of desirable organisms within months, however the optimal time for growth of hardy, viable organisms which are sustainable in an aquarium appears to range between 24 to 32 months, notwithstanding any disturbances from natural forces or predation. Typical successional growth patterns of pioneering or solitary organisms, followed by encrusting stage or colonial organisms (Jackson, 1977; Choi, 1984; Kobluk, 1988) has been observed on aquacultured live rock. The sequence of, and types of encrusting organisms that attach to the rock does seem to vary from site to site, and there are seasonal differences as well (Each company or individual may obtain permits for more than one site).

The major benefit of open ocean aquaculture is that the seed rock deposited creates new habitat for fish and other marine species, which will in time benefit fishermen, and indirectly contribute to the economy. The overall benefits of aquacultured rock have been discussed by many individuals involved in the marine aquaria hobby from individual hobbyists to noted authors. Other benefits which may be attained through open ocean aquaculture include using naturally recruited corals and other organisms which attach to the rock for repairing or replacing reef or hard bottom areas damaged by shipwrecks or other physical disturbances ( Sandy Nettles, pers. comm.).

There are several potentially devastating risks associated with open ocean systems: poaching, hurricanes, or other severe weather, red tide outbreaks or other environmental toxins, and boating or diving accidents. Poaching is an issue which has been addressed, and is a potential law enforcement problem. Federal and state legislation has been implemented to establish prohibitions against removing or tampering with items from aquaculture sites. Weather and water conditions must be observed closely, as with any business which operates on open ocean sites.

Roy Herndon, owner of Sea Critters, based in Dover, Florida has been a pioneer in developing aquacultured live rock in the Gulf of Mexico. Along with a former business partner, an informal study of the feasibility of open ocean live rock aquaculture was under taken in 1992, which had very favorable results. After depositing a small sample of seed rock in waters offshore and observing the growth of encrusting life over a three month period it seemed likely that a commercially successful product could be achieved. Shortly thereafter permits were obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers to build artificial reefs for the purpose of harvesting the rock. Upon the implementation of Amendment 2, these original sites were "grandfathered" in and given official Federal Live Rock Aquaculture permits.

The status of aquacultured live rock today is very promising. Additional live rock aquaculture permits have been issued, both by the National Marine Fisheries Services, and the state of Florida, which increases the number of companies involved in providing aquacultured live rock to the market. Harvesting of naturally occurring live rock in Gulf of Mexico and Florida waters ends as of January 1, 1997, which will usher in the newest member of the "captive bred" selection of marine aquaria inhabitants.

References

Amendment 2 to the Fishery Management Plan for Coral and Coral Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico, including a final supplemental environmental impact statement, regulatory impact review and initial regulatory flexibility analysis. July, 1994.

Choi, D. R. 1984. Ecological succession of reef cavity dwellers (ceolobites) in coral rubble. Bulletin of Marine Science, 35(1): 72-79.

Jackson, J. 1977. Competition on marine hard substrata: the adaptive significance of solitary and colonial strategies. The American Naturalist, Vol. III No. 980.

Kobluk, D. 1988. Cryptic faunas in reefs: Ecology and geologic importance. The Society of Economic paleontologists and Mineralogists. PALAIOS, 1988, V. 3, 379-390.

Moe, Martin, 1992. The Marine Aquarium Handbook Beginner to Breeder.

Moe, Martin, (pers. comm.)

Nettles, Sandy P. G. Ph. D. Candidate, University of South Florida, Department of Marine Science.

Sprung, J. And Delbeek, C. 1994. The Reef Aquarium, Vol. 1

Tullock, J. 1992. The Reef Tank Owners Manual.

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