Artificial Reefs: Go Big or Go Home

 

artificial reef

Artificial reefs have been used by fisherman for hundreds of years for attracting fish, providing structure, and allowing more fish to be caught easily.  These traditional reefs were typically made from submerged logs that were tied together, or some other simple object.  Shipwrecks sites have also long been used for fishing areas, because of all the fish that they attract.

In modern times, the use artificial reefs has exploded, and large scale reefs are being used for a variety of reasons, including improving commercial fish stocks by increasing habitat for small fish, sport fishing , recreational SCUBA diving, and wave attenuation and beach erosion control for coastal communities.  There is even a television reality show called Reef Wranglers on the Weather Channel, which features one of the most prominent builders of Artificial reefs in the US, Walter Marine.  Use of Artificial Reefs in tropical waters of the world can also have an impact on the aquarium hobby, they attract all kinds of fish and invertebrates, and can be  used for structure in farming corals.

World’s Largest Artificial Reefs

U.S.S. Oriskany

U.S.S. Oriskany during service.

Oriskany Tower

U.S.S. Oriskany in its new home

The title for World’s Largest Artificial Reef is currently held by the State of Florida, with the sinking /Reefing of the U.S.S. Oriskany.  The Oriskany is an Essex Class Aircraft Carrier commissioned in 1950, and served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  Decommissioned in 1976, the Oriskany began its new life as an artificial reef in 2006.  After extensive preparation for environmental safety, the 900 ft vessel was intentionally sunk of the coast of Pensacola Florida, where she now sits upright at a depth of about 215 ft.  Dubbed the “Carrier Reef”, in honor of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the massive ships tower reaches to about 70 ft from the surface, making it a popular diving and fishing site.  There are many great videos available on youtube about the Oriskany, here is one of the sinking.

 

 

 

 

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Giant crane lifting Artificial Reef modules into place during Kan-Kanan project.

 

 

The U.S.S. Oriskany won’t be the biggest artificial reef for long.  Currently under construction in the State of Quintana Roo Mexico, is the massive Kan-Kanán project, known as the Guardian of the Caribbean.  When completed, the Kan-Kanán reef will stretch for 1.9 km (1.18 miles) along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.  Constructed from over a thousand individual concrete pyramids, each weighing 10 tons, the reef is being put in place to help try and stabilize the local fish populations, as well as control beach erosion that has been occurring due to climate change and environmental degradation from human activities.  From above, the reef will look like a giant serpent that stretches along the coast, which is where its name comes from.  Kan-Kanán is Mayan for “Protecting Serpent”.

 

Fear not Floridians, you may not lose your title as owner of the world’s largest reef for long.  Announced earlier this year, Collier County Florida will be the future home of an enormous reef project. Using funds established in the wake of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, along with local governments, and Non-Profit organizations, the Planned reef will consist of six 500 ton reefs, each the size of a football field.  More funding is still needed, and can be made as a tax deductible contribution.  For a mere $100,000 you can even have one of the reefs named after you.

 

Some strange things have been used for Artificial Reefs.

Whatever you have visualized in your mind as an artificial reef, you are correct, no matter what you imagined.  An artificial reef can be made from most anything, so long as it poses no environmental threat.  And wow, have some strange things been used as reefs over the years, here are a few of my favorites.

New York City subway cars being dropped offshore from barge.

New York City subway cars being dropped offshore from barge.

Fish hiding out on RedBird Reef subway car.

Fish hiding out on RedBird Reef subway car.

New York City Subway cars.  The east coast of the United States is the final resting place for thousands of decommissioned subway cars.  Most folks probably don’t even know they are there, but offshore from the popular NJ, MD, DE and VA beaches lay a huge network of old subway cars.  Directly off shore from Indian River Inlet in Delaware is RedBird reef (named after the famous New York Subway RedBird subway cars) which has upwards of 700 cars alone.

 

Underwater VW

Anthroposcene Sculpture, MUSA Cancun

Silent Evolution, MUSA Cancun

Silent Evolution, MUSA Cancun

Statues and Sculptures.  The Mexican government commissioned British Artist  Jason de Caires Taylor to build the Cancun Underwater Museum.  Located with a Marine Park, this underwater museum features over 400 life size sculptures and statues ranging from a VW Beetle, to life size humans, to a small house.  One of the most famous underwater sculptures in the world, Christ of the Abyss, is located in Key Largo Florida, and is visited by thousands of scuba divers (and fish) every year.

Eternal Reef structure with marine life.

Eternal Reef structure with marine life.

You and Me. That’s right, you can have yourself made into an artificial reef.  Eternal Reefs, is a company that will take your cremated remains, and incorporate them into a concrete reef structure.  Many reef options and locations are available, not a bad way to spend eternity if you ask me, nice view.

Thanks for reading, until next blog.

Dave

Aquatic Science Fair Projects for Aquarium Lovers

With the new school year getting underway, it’ll only be a matter of time before the first science fairs and lab experiments start up. We get lots of students visiting or contacting us in search of ideas and test subjects for project ranging from the simple to the complex so I thought I’d share some tips and some of our favorite ideas for easy (and affordable) aquatic science fair projects for students of all levels.

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Before you begin…

 

Before you start any experiment or project involving live plants or animals, it is important to make sure you are prepared for the maintenance, care and cost of the experiment and livestock they are taking on. We’ve had many students that have a great idea for a project involving crabs, jellyfish, “Nemo” clownfish or other animals but don’t realize how much work and supplies are going to be needed to keep these animals healthy. They are also a commitment after the experiment is done; fish aren’t disposable and you have to be ready for them to go from Test Subject to Pet at the end of the project. Some experiments also require multiple subject that each need their own setup and supplies.

 

Time is another important factor to consider with these projects. Many experiments involving fish and plants are going to take some time before you will really start to see results like growth or changes to color or behavior. It can take at least a few weeks to reach any conclusions so if this is a last-minute project, you might be better off heading in another direction.

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What do you want to know?

 

The hypothesis of an experiment is the question you are trying to answer or what you are trying to prove or study. Depending on your grade level, this might be observing an environment or behavior or it might be testing a number of variables against a control. If one of the ideas here intrigues you but you aren’t sure where to go with it, ask your teacher or let us know and we might be able to help point you in a direction.

 

The project ideas here are mainly freshwater. Saltwater science fair projects are definitely possible, but they are going to be more difficult and expensive. Saltwater aquariums have a lot more factors than freshwater and need more equipment and maintenance to keep them healthy. If you already have a saltwater aquarium, you may be able to adapt one of these ideas to it or come up with your own but it may be easier to stick with a freshwater experiment if you don’t already have some saltwater experience.

 

Some Aquatic Science Project Ideas

 

Bettas and Aquatic Science Fair Projects

A male Veiltail Betta

The Betta (“Siamese Fighting Fish”) as a test subject

  • Betta splendens, also known as the Siamese Fighting Fish, is a good fish to use in aquatic studies and projects. They don’t need a lot of equipment or space, are easy to care for and are fairly inexpensive. They can be found in a lot of different colors and varieties but the most common kind that you will find in most stores is the Veiltail Betta. Some project ideas would be keeping bettas in a few different environments like a brightly lit versus darkened room, under a colored light like blue (“actinic”) light versus a white light, or warmer versus cooler temperatures. How do those changes affect each fish’s growth or coloration? You can take a picture every few days to compare any changes in their color or fins. Does the type of food or the color of the ornaments and backgrounds compared to the fish’s own color make any difference? Try different types or brands of food (flakes, pellets, frozen food, live food, freeze-dried food) to see how each affects the fish’s health.
  • A good way to measure grow is to weigh a specific amount of water in a container without the fish, then weigh the same container with the fish. The difference between the two weights will tell you about how much the fish itself weighs and changes in that weight will tell you if the fish has gained or lost weight.

 

Fish Food Nutritional Comparison

Aquatic Science Fair Projects and Fish Food Nutrition

Color-enhancing flake food like this is a common aquarium food.

 

  • Anyone who has gone shopping for food for their aquarium knows how many choices there are for your fish. Flakes, pellets, frozen, freeze-dried, live, color-enhancing, vitamin-enhanced…the choices can be overwhelming. At the time that I write this, we have over 400 different fish food items on our website alone! For a science fair project, you can compare several of these foods and see how your fish react; feed the same kind of fish in separate but identical environments the same amount of different types or brands of food at the same time of day and measure how this impacts their growth, health and behavior. Maybe one kind of food is advertised as color-enhancing or another has a different primary ingredient…does one kind give the fish brighter colors or makes them grow more during the time frame of the experiment? The fish should all be in separate aquariums to make sure they are only eating “their” food but you can otherwise use any fish – goldfish, bettas, livebearers like mollies or guppies. You can use the same method as above to record their growth.

 

 

The Nitrogen Cycle and Aquatic Science Fair Projects

The Nitrogen Cycle

The Nitrogen Cycle and “Cycling” a New Aquarium

  • The Nitrogen Cycle is a process that every aquarium and contained body of water will go through as the helpful bacteria populations that take care of fish waste will go through. Every aquarist has seen this happen whether they realize it or not. As the first living critters in a tank produce waste or leftover food or other material decomposes in the tank, a bacteria known as Nitrosomonas change that waste from ammonia (NH3) to nitrite (NO2-). Another population known as Nitrobacter will change that Nitrite into Nitrate (NO3-), the end product of the cycle which is usually removed by water changes or plants that use it to grow like fertilizer. If the levels of Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate could be put on a graph throughout the process, they should look like three hills with their peaks coming one after another. Can you set up and “cycle” a new aquarium and use test kits to record these values at a specific interval (every 5 hours, for example) and see if you can recreate this cycle? Does the number of fish change the levels or speed throughout this cycle? What about if the tank is cycled with a dead “waste” like leftover food instead of live fish?
  • A project like this does use chemical test kits. The kits available from pet stores for aquariums are easy to use, but adult supervision should always be used around chemicals like these.

 

 

Fish Tricks

  • Did you know fish can learn? Fish like goldfish have been “trained” to recognize objects and do all sorts of tricks like swimming through hoops or under limbo bars. There have even been “soccer matches” between saltwater fish to celebrate the World Cup. Training fish, like most animals, is all about positive reinforcement. Some companies have even made training kits just for teaching fish. Some experiments have trained fish to recognize certain colors by putting food in cups of one color (like red) but not others (like blue and yellow). Once the fish begins to associate the red cup with food, does putting a red ornament in the tank or red background on part of the tank make them choose that over the blue or yellow? How long does it take, and does any kind of fish learn faster than others? You can try putting one fish through its paces or train a few fish to compare their learning styles.
  • Check out this video from Rochester Institute of Technology’s Professor Caroline DeLong to see how she taught a goldfish to recognize shapes

 

Hatching Brine Shrimp and Aquatic Science Fair Project Ideas

Brine Shrimp Hatchery Kit

Hatching Brine Shrimp

  • Brine Shrimp are popular as fish food in aquariums as well as in the wild, and there was a time that “Sea Monkeys” were popular as “pets”. Hatching brine shrimp can be an interesting endeavor. They can be easy to grow but need just the right salinity (salt level) and the newly-hatched shrimp will need equally tiny food. The baby brine shrimp also show a behavior known as “phototaxis”, meaning they are attracted to light. Brine shrimp eggs are inexpensive and can be purchased in their dry “cyst” form where they will hatch once back in the right water. Experiment with salt levels, food like phytoplankton and with light and see what factors make for the best hatches. Once the shrimp are hatched, they can grow to almost a half inch in length and make great fish food!

 

 

This is just a sampling of some concepts that aquarists face every day and there are a lot more out there like overfeeding, breeding and genetics in fish like guppies or mollies, water changes and water chemistry…the possibilities are endless! Popular aquarium fish are even ending up in important medical research. Have we given you any ideas for your next science fair project or laboratory experiment? What would you like to learn more about, and what are some of your favorite projects? Share your results and experiences with us…we’d love to see the results of your studies!

NOAA lists 20 species of corals under the Endangered Species Act

NOAA lists 20 species of corals under the Endangered Species Act

remote coral reefIf you have a marine aquarium, it is time that you paid attention to some of the legal battles that have been going on around you, and get involved to try and preserve the future of your hobby.  In recent years, environmental groups have made a concerted effort to push for regulations that could have profound effects on the aquarium hobby, through lobbying efforts directed at invasive species legislation, bans on collection for certain species, and as in this case, a petition to list species under the Endangered Species Act.  While these actions may be well intended, and not necessarily directed at the the aquarium hobby, they have the potential to affect the aquarium hobby in a profound way.  This most resent legislation to include species of coral under the Endangered Species Act, some of which are common to the aquarium trade, is a serious threat to the future of the hobby.

In a Final Ruling on August 27, 2014, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) listed 20 new coral species and Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  These new listings brings the total number of coral species listed as Threatened to 22, including the Caribbean Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) Corals.  Here is the official Fact Sheet released by NOAA, including a complete listing of the 22 corals listed.

The 1973 Endangered Species Act defines two categories of plants or animals that fall under the ESA, Endangered and Threatened.  Endangered Species are “any species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range”; Threatened Species are “any species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”  Endangered species are provided with the full protection of the ESA, while the Threatened Species receive many, but not all, of the protections of the ESA.

How did we get here?

Green Chromis on ReefIt was a long and winding road to get to the final ruling.  In October 2009 The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned NOAA to list 83 species as endangered under the ESA.  After an initial 90 day finding period, the agency announced in February 2010, that 82 of the proposed species warranted investigation, and launched an official status review process.  NOAA then embarked on an in-depth science-based study, gathering and examining any and all relevant scientific, commercial and public data that was currently available. This was one of the broadest and most complex listing reviews ever undertaken by NOAA.

In December 2012, after and in depth study by a biological review team, NOAA published a proposed rule to list 66 of the coral species studied for listing under the Endangered Species Act.  The Proposed Rule looked to list 57 species as endangered status, and 9 species to be listed as threatened, this rule included a proposed change of status from threatened to endangered for Caribbean Elkhorn and Staghorn corals.

August 2014, with significant changes from original proposed rule, NOAA announces that it has listed 20 new corals as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, as well as a ruling that the Caribbean Elkhorn and Staghorn Corals would remain as Threatened Status.  The Changes were the result of new scientific papers on climate change and coral habitat, distribution and abundance which were recently published.  An unprecedented level of public comments was also included in the final ruling.

This is a brief summary of the ruling, the complete 1,100 page document can be found HERE

 

This issue struck a nerve.

Given the precedent setting nature, and the sheer magnitude of the petitions scale, input was sought from many sources.  Non-Governmental, Public, Academic and others experts were included in the study.  This was one of the largest and most in-depth listing revues ever done.

During the public engagement and comment periods NOAA received more 75,000 emails, letters and comments, all in an effort to make sure that the decision was based upon the best available information.

 

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What Does This Mean For The Aquarium Hobby?

In the short term, there will not be any real impact felt.  With the corals being listed as threatened vs endangered, there are no immediate or automatic restrictions on taking wild coral for the aquarium hobby.

The Future is quite cloudy however. Once listed, and under government control, the level of protection or additional restrictions for a listed species is subject to review.  Any species listed as threatened is only one step removed from endangered status. Endangered status would mean an immediate bad on collection, importation, interstate travel and limit captive breeding to a permit only activity.  It would effectively remove the species from the hobby. Included in the press release for the final ruling were these two points.

“In the future, we may also identify specific regulations for the conservation of these threatened species, because ESA prohibitions against “take” are not automatically applied as they are for species listed as endangered.”

”We will continue to work with communities to help them understand how the agency’s decision may or may not affect them. The tools available under the Endangered Species Act are sufficiently flexible so that they can be used in partnership with coastal jurisdictions, in a manner that will allow activity to move forward in a way that does not jeopardize listed coral.”

The Caribbean Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) corals are a perfect example, while they are only listed as threatened under the ESA, there has been a complete ban on collection for public use.  Both listed as threatened under the ESA in 2006, the National Marine Fisheries added a ruling in 2008 which gave these species almost full protection of the ESA, and a complete ban.  Legislation was also passed to create protected habitats which further limits activities that could impact these coral, including fishing and fish collecting.

 

What Can You Do?

The forces at play here are much bigger than the aquarium hobby, while illegal, unsustainable and damaging collection practices play a role in the decrease of coral reefs worldwide, it is only a small part.  In the final ruling for the 20 new species listed under the ESA,  NOAA cited impacts related to climate change (rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and disease), ecological effects of fishing, and poor land-use practices (runoff and pollution) as the most serious threats to coral reefs.

As you can see in what information was used in making this final ruling, public involvement counts, public input helps make sure that these are informed decisions.  Support advocates of the aquarium industry that promote and support responsible and sustainable collection practices.  Support aquacultured and maricultured species of aquarium fish and corals, these are critical to conservation efforts. Get involved in the process, or the marine aquarium hobby is going to disappear as we know it.

Visit the National Marine Fisheries website often to know what is in the news, This is the branch of NOAA responsible for the stewardship of our oceans, make sure that your voice is heard during public comment periods of investigations.  You can see all of the species under investigation for ESA consideration:

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/esa/candidate.htm

Of particular interest to marine aquarium hobbyists, should be the status review of the Percula Clownfish and other Pomacentrid fishes. ESA Status change to these fishes could have profound effects on the aquarium hobby.  Educate yourself about the issues, and get involved in the process.  Public comments are open now, put in your two cents!

The loudest lobbying voice for the aquarium hobby is PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council), visit their website www.pijac.org for news and information about issues affecting the hobby, as well as information about making donations to the Marine Ornamental Defense Fund.

Until Next Blog,

Dave

Aquarium Clean-Up Crew: How Many Snails Do You Need?

Hiring staff for any job can be tricky. You need to make sure you have the right number of qualified employees to handle the job, not just a lot of employees on your payroll that eat into your bottom line or ignore the job you’ve given them. Choosing a clean-up crew for your saltwater aquarium is similar; you need to make sure you have the right snails and crabs and other cleaners for the tank without too many that can deplete your resources or just not even do the “right” work at all. “How many snails do I need?” is only part of the question; making sure you are getting the ones best suited to the job is just as important.

 

 

The White-speckled Hermit Crab. Cute, but NOT an algae eater!

The White-speckled Hermit Crab. Cute, but NOT an algae eater!

Job Description and Qualifications

 

Hiring an employee without knowing their qualifications or describing the job doesn’t make much sense, whether it is renovations on your home or clean-up within your aquarium. Not all snails eat algae. Not all snails that eat algae eat the same kind of algae. Not all “algae” is even algae at all. And snails may not even be the best (or only) cleaners for the job; “detritivores” that eat the leftover food and waste (“detritus”) are also necessary for keeping a tank clean and healthy. The first step to choosing a clean-up crew is to identify what the problem is that you’d like them to help you solve. Algae is normal in any aquarium and having a basic clean-up and scavenger crew is a good idea but beyond that, if you have a specific problem like a cyanobacteria bloom, hair algae, green water or other issues, you may need a solution beyond a few snails. You may be seeing a symptom of a larger problem like poor water flow or lighting quality and unless that problem is addressed, it will keep coming back no matter how many snails or other clean-up crews you throw at it.

 

What are the working conditions?

 

It takes a different kind of person to paint the walls of a house than it does to paint the cables at the top of the Golden Gate Bridge. It also takes a different kind of critter to clean up a nano-reef than it does a rock-filled bare-bottom aquarium or a deep sand bed. Some hermit crabs can have difficulty reaching into small crevices and some snails can’t flip themselves over if they tumble off of the glass or rockwork. Some snails, starfish and other animals popular in aquariums also eat other snails or invertebrates and corals. Are the animals you are choosing suitable for the environment you have?

 

It’s all in the job security

Some of the most popular saltwater clean-up crew snails

Some of the most popular saltwater clean-up crew snails

Contrary to popular belief, snails and hermit crabs are not disposable or short-lived or robotic lawnmowers that feed on nothing but salt and sunlight. If they have plenty of food and proper care, they can live for a long time. If they run out of the right food, they won’t survive so overloading a tank with cleaners to keep it spotless is only going to end up with losses. When snails and other cleaners die and decompose, they affect water quality. When water quality goes down, algae will bloom. When algae blooms, you’ll need to add more cleaners. Starting to see where this cycle goes wrong? Avoid the urge to overload on a massive cleanup crew and start with a basic foundation. Once you can observe where they need the help, supplement with some helpers for that purpose (like aerating the substrate, cleaning the glass, targeting hair algae or other trouble areas).

 

The magic number is…

 

Just like the old “inch-per-gallon” rule that is still floating around for fish, there are some stocking guidelines for clean-up crews. Some of the most common include a snail per gallon or a hermit crab per five gallons but again, this only works if that snail or hermit crab is suitable. To help you out in making some selections, we have basic Algae Packs with recommended tank sizes. You can start with the one closest to your tank size and give it some time. You can always supplement later or get a specialty algae pack to target a specific need like detritus or hair and buble algae. Remember, hiring is always an ongoing process!

 

You're hired!

You’re hired!

 

Lionfish Banned in Florida

lionfish-invasionFlorida has stepped up its game in recent months, in an effort to combat their serious problem with invasive lionfish.  Some of which has a direct impact on the aquarium hobby in the state of Florida.  In what seems like a very short amount of time, the problem has gone from rumors and possible sightings, to a full out invasion.  Lionfish populations have exploded and now are affecting the entire state of Florida, and neighboring areas of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and The U.S. East Coast.

This story has been one of particular interest for us here at That Fish Blog, and we have covered the topic in detail in past entries from 20072008 ,2010  again in 2013

 

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It has only taken about 30 years for these predators to establish themselves, and spread like wildfire.

In a unanimous vote by the commissioners of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the State has adopted several measures to help fight against the invasive fish.

  1. Complete import ban of all Pterios genus Lionfish into the state of Florida.  No more mail order lionfish, and no more imported lionfish in Florida pet stores.
  2. Divers are authorized to use rebreathers, in the capture and harvest of Lionfish.  This enables divers to dive longer, deeper and quieter while hunting lionfish.  Use of rebreathers is otherwise prohibited for spear fishing in Florida.
  3. Authorizes the Executive Director to issue permits for spear fishing tournament in waters that would otherwise be off limits to spear fishing.

0630_Lionfish1These new regulations will go into Effect on Aug 1, 2014.  Already in place in the state of Florida are regulations that promote and encourage fisherman to hunt and remove Lionfish, which is the only viable option for hoping to control their growth.  There are no minimum size limits, closed seasons or bag limits for recreational or commercial harvest, and a recreational fishing license is not required to harvest lionfish when using dip nets, pole spears, Hawaiian slings or any spearing device designed and marketed exclusively for lionfish.

Reporting Lionfish sightings is now easier than ever, there is an app for that!  Anglers can report lionfish sightings by downloading the new Report Florida Lionfish app on a smart device or by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing and clicking on “Recreational Regulations” (under “Saltwater”) and then “Lionfish.”

Try a new adventure, and get involved with efforts to remove lionfish.  Fishing Tournaments, charter fishing, or just recreational fishing is both fun and can serve a good purpose as well.

Thanks for reading,

Dave