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Mumble, Grumble, Hrrrmmmphhh Aquarium.Net Feb 97

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Mumble, Grumble, Hrrrmmmphhh

By Eric Borneman

Disasters and Lessons: A compendium of tips, hints and idio(t)syncracies.

My past week started off poorly, though inanely. I lost a baby clam (Tridacna maxima) I had purchased several months ago. He had once againfallen out of his "cup," again been picked up by my Golden Headed Sleeper Goby (Valencienna strigata) for use in building the "reinforcement wall" of his burrowed underwater fortress, and again been jostled, tossed, turned, and left in the dark for at least 24 hours before I could finally locate and extract the hapless clam . Unfortunately, this time he was no longer alive.

After all, this was about the ten thousandth time this had happened since I got him. I don't blame the poor guy for giving up He refused to attach to anything, and his growth had slowed and its mantle expansion has become progressively less over the past few weeks. It was a beautiful little Maxima, and my own negligence killed him.

Lesson #1 Make sure there is a proper location for clams (and all specimens, in general) before adding them to a tank after an impulse buy.

Lesson #3 If placing clams into little molded shapes, like old shells, etc., make sure this object is securely stable on the rockwork. Snails, especially Turbo and Trochus species, are very prone to dislodging unsecured clams and other specimens.

There are more lessons here, but these are the main ones. Please allow me to continue.

The saga continued when another clam was dislodged. Fortunately, this one was placed properly, had attached to his "cup", and the entire assemblage of clam and attachment had fallen mysteriously overnight. I (wrongfully) had *assumed* that this assemblage was glued to the rock work with the brittle but usually effective bond of cyanoacrylate adhesive, which I have found to be generally better for such applications, especially coral fragments, than the remarkably non-adhesive silly putty-like underwater epoxies that have a theoretical application for hundreds of uses, but in practice are good for maybe one or two. Of course, it took a flashlight and almost an hour of peering through the rockwork to discover it had fallen into the Murphy location...lodged deep inside the rockwork, where only a four foot long pencil thin arm broken (or at least dislocated and fractured) in several places would be required to rescue it. A miracle would also work...or complete disassembly of the rock. Well, I was feeling just a touch guilty for my negligence of the previous clam, and this one was nicer and bigger still. So what do I do? I reach for him! Carefully standing upside down on my head, using my curled toes like an owl attached to a branch to secure my position, I snaked in my arm, and tried to somehow reach the clam, while scaring my fish, being attacked remorselessly by a gold bar clownish (Premnas biaculeatus), and in general really causing myself great pain from the pressure of the tank top on my inner arm. I could just touch it with my if the accomplishment of mere tactile engagament was going to do any good. I certainly didn't have any small suckers on my fingertips to just pull it out. I should've pulled something else out (if you know what I mean), because like a sub species cretin, I remained determined to reach this clam with my big clumsy hands. Trying in a final attempt to rescue him by squeezing another inch out of my already distended and progressively numbed arm, I rotated my hand and jarred a rock. This happened to be a rock where my clownish harbored his pet Rose anemone (Entimacea quadricolor) ofwhich he is very proud (he just finished some additions and remodeling). He was engaged in the most annoying practice of alternately attacking me by ramming up against my hand and arm and taking little nips of my skin. While it is not painful, this type behavior is always surprising, and causes little flinches like the one that cause to all too soon to be described disaster.

Little Premnas had also been showing off for months, staking his claim to this healthy anemone (in the process of dividing, too, I might add) by vigorous back and forth waggling around the area. . No corals were nearby, since he would promptly butt all specimens with his head or grab them with his mouth and throw them off the rocks. Bastard swine. The anemone, of course, has a perfect location with his foot lodged securely in a hole near the rock/sand interface. Thus, the motion of the clownfish constantly stirred up a cloud of aragonite that covered all nearby rocks. This little behavior had undermined the rockwork and destabilized the entire side of the reef, not to mention the sifting and burrowing of the Valencienna. So, the slight jarring of a rock following a particular violent attack during the clam rescue caused an avalanche to end all avalanches (or would that be landslide...or even reef slide?). I called desperately for help, as I now had every limb of my body inside the tank holding up rocks and corals while using my teeth (I think) to anchor myself and prevent my total dismemberment.

Lesson #1 Glue bonds underwater are notoriously fragile things that are not necessarily permanent. Experience and proper usage of the different types of adhesives are needed to ensure their success.

Lesson #2 Working underwater while looking though often obscenely thick glass and acrylic is visually deceptive, and reaching for things is often a mistake that could be averted by careful consideration of the options.

Lesson #3 Clownfish and other fish are quite aggressive to both other tank inhabitants and caretaker...they are very protective of their "turf" (especially damsels, since they quite literally often cultivate turfs of algae for their home and nests).

Lesson #4 The constant perturbation of substrate can cause a lot of sedimentation on rocks and corals. For rocks, this sediment may cause a buildup that plugs crevices and surfaces, resulting in a decreased ability of the rock for nitrification and dentrification. It can also cause the loss of coralline algae cover and other sessile inevertebrates (fanworms, etc.), by burying them with a fine layer of silt. Corals and other invertebrates can be covered, or at least annoyed, by the fine particles. Some can exude mucus to wash it off. Others cannot, and may perish. Excess production of mucus is also an energy cost, and takes away energy needed for proper growth and reproduction, leading to disease, slowed calcification and/or death. The mucus may also be toxic to other tank inhabitants.

Lesson #5 The use of a substrate may initially allow for the more secure placement of rocks. However, currents, sifting and burrowing fish, and other means of substrate shifting may eventually cause secure formations to become destabilized, and the aforementioned avalanche may result. The use of plastic dowels, glues, straps, bands, and whatever else is necessary to ensure a solid framework of the captive reef cannot be overemphasized. The repercussions are too obvious to even be stated.

May I continue with my sordid tale? Unfortunately, it ain't over yet.

After several vain attempts to resecure the rocks without total disassembly, we spent several hours carefully removing all coral specimens and rocks. Of course, my rocks are covered with well attached multiple species of Acropora, Montipora, Seriatopora, etc., which are not all too resistant to instant breakage when merely brushed against. This may be and adaptive form of reproduction in the wild, but in my tank, it is just plain nerve wracking.

After six hours, I finally succeeded in getting everything back in the tank, albeit in a way that has to be the most hideous rock arrangement I have ever seen. My fish were all lined up against the glass staring at me with a look that said, "Are you nuts???? You're done?????" I told them to shut up and swim, and threw in the towel.

Should've known it wouldn't last.

Lesson #1 Always approach rock stacking with a calm frame of is an arduous task that in the long run will be responsible for your entire reef. Careful consideration and utmost surety of stability is imperative. It is also important for good water movement, hiding places for fish, and a healthy reef.

Lesson #3 If possible, have a tall, ambidextrous, long armed, tolerant, mute and deaf reef lover by your side at all times.

The final insult. The next day, my sorry attempt at indignant rock stacking collapsed again...only two rocks this time. I was able to right them easily. Unfortunately, this spill had caused the breakage of two Acropora specimens and a yellow cup coral (Turbinaria reninformis). What else is new? I glued the Acropora fragments, indolently justifying and rationalizing that *now* I had TWO Acropora for every ONE I had. So what if they were glorious well branched fragments I had raised from mere stubs? And I had already been disgusted at the Turbinaria. I had recently purchased it in a weakened state from a long delayed shipment to save it. It turned out to have white band disease, which it passed to my Elephant Skin coral (Pachyseris rugosa). The Turbinaria then progressed to Black Band disease, and I had to treat it with Neomycin paste brushed on the affected area. The disease seemed to have been arrested, but the stress was causing increased mucous production, some skeletal dissolution, and really poor polyp expansion. Breaking off the edges from this latest disaster sure wasn't going to help. Oh yes... the Pachyseris was not responding to treatment. I was seriously contemplating the purchase of a gun at a local pawn shop.

Lesson #1 See previous lessons on proper stacking of rocks.

Lesson #2 Fragmentation of SPS corals is a common way of reproducing colonies. It is very successful, and can be done by merely breaking off branches and gluing the fragments to a base. There are almost no problems associated with this procedure, except the possibility of bacterial infection or algae encroachment at the point of breakage. Good water conditions and the judicious application of a little super glue or epoxy to seal the area, if necessary, is all that is usually required for complete healing and recolonization. However, it is always nice to have a couple of mature colonies free from accidents and mishaps. :-/

Lesson #3 Corals, especially those caught in the wild and subjected to duress from improper holding and shipping, may be weakened, allowing them to submit to a number of diseases which may also be already present on the coral. Since most of these diseases (or parasites, etc.) can be transmitted to other corals, quarantine of corals (like fish)in a healthy appropriately lit environment may be a good idea. When tissue rejection of SPS corals is present (tissue peel), or any number of other contagious diseases, the coral should be removed from the tank to prevent the loss of other specimens.

The End of the far.

The result of my week is that I will probably lose the Pachyseris and the Turbinaria. I have broken three corals, lost a clam, destabilized the environment, stressed the fish, and really created havoc in my reef tank that, I might add, was absolutely thriving. I suppose the losses were minimal, all things considered, and things look pretty much back to normal, but I strongly urge everyone to think before they act in all aspects of this hobby. I am not new to this. I have been through all this before, and absolutely knew better. But did it stop my stupidity and the accidents?

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Hardly. And so, I hope that at the very least this article will enter everyone's mind when that little voice pops in their head and says....

"You probably shouldn't be doing thaaaaaat!"

"Mistakes are the portals of discovery." - James Joyce

Eric Borneman

Created by liquid
Last modified 2006-11-18 18:31