Saturday, December 12, 2009

Coral Reef

It's been pretty cold and dark out lately, so how about a trip to the tropics, via my livingroom?

This is a coral reef tank. A very bad one, actually, because a proper reef tank requires lots and lots of attention and water monitoring, which I find tedious. Everything you see is real, and most of it is alive. Except for the green ferny-looking algae, everything that looks like a plant is actually a colony of animals, and if you touch them they'll suddenly shrink back. It's gardening with animals. The "live rock" came from the ocean tropics and is filled with worms, isopods, sponges, and algae. It's composed of a purple corraline algae, which continues to grow and encrust everything with purple, including the glass (only a razor blade gets it off).

I learned the hard way about the dramatic effects carbon dioxide has on reefs. Reef animals take a lot of calcium carbonate from the water and use it to build their skeletons. So you have to test the carbonate/pH periodically and add more as it's removed by the coral. Like most of you, I had heard that increased CO2 levels are causing acidification of the oceans and threatening the reefs, blah, blah, blah. Then, at one point my coral started to die back, so I did some testing and discovered I had added way too much carbonate over the past few months. High carbonate equals high pH, and that's caustic. This is the opposite of what they say is happening to the ocean.

The solution was to add just one tiny ounce of seltzer water (water with CO2) to the entire tank. WHAM, the pH and carbonate shot down to correct levels. Holy Cow! A tiny bit of CO2 can do all that?? Suddenly the concept of ocean acidification became very real. My coral perked up immediately and lived happily ever after.

Here's Ricky and Lucy, my clownfish, still in bed, where they spend the night staying perfectly still to escape predators. In the wild they would be in an anemone, but these are tank-raised fish and have adapted to my soft coral. You can't have many fish in a reef tank because they pollute the water.


Dan said...

Great post Teresa. I'm still recovering from losing my community fish (long story). Where do you get your fish? Thinking about starting a community again.

Teresa said...

The name of the reef store I go to is "Exotic Fish and Corals" in Milford on the Post Road. I think I actually got my clown fish from Petco, however, since the reef store was out of stock. With the coral I just go in there at ask them to show me whatever is least likely to die at my hands and go with that.

For snails I actually just get mud snails from the Sound. They get coated with purple after awhile and fit right in.

Dick Skudlarek said...

It's nice to see coral again, especially this time of year! I snorkeled in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and in Bora Bora, and there's nothing like the beauty of the coral reefs and the fish that populate them. The South Pacific had their own problem, however, with the crown-of-thorns starfish, which were destroying the coral at an alarming rate, with no known deterent at the time. Maybe since they've come up with something.

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