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Author Archives: Dave Acland

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After graduating from Coastal Carolina University with a BS in Marine Science in 1996, I started my professional career in 1997 as an aquarist at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, SC. This was an amazing experience, in which I gained invaluable hands on training in exhibit design and construction, as well as husbandry skills for a wide range of animals. In 2000 I started working at That Fish Place as one of the staff Marine Biologists, with the responsibility of maintaining one of the largest retail fish holding systems in the world. I presently hold the position of Director of Aquatic Science, where I oversee the operation of our 35,000 gallon retail aquarium systems, and provide technical support for our mail-order and retail store customer service staff. As an aquatic product specialist, I also provide support for our purchasing and marketing departments, as well as contribute web content and analysis. As a Hobbyist I acquired my love of aquariums from my father who was keeping a large aquarium in early 70’s, and set up my first aquarium when I was 12 years old. I have now been keeping aquariums for over 35 years, and through this time have kept more aquariums and types of fish than I can remember. I set up my first Saltwater aquarium in 1992, which led me down the path I still follow today.

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Dave’s Bucket list and the Great Barrier Reef

School of Yellow and Blueback FusilierDave here. Most of you have heard of making a “bucket list”, a list of things that you feel you have to do before you die to make your life complete.  Well, I am far too disorganized to have much of a list, but one thing that I would have had on by bucket list if I were to have made one, I have been lucky enough to do:  Diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

Maxima ClamI just got back from a long awaited vacation to Australia, part of which I spent in Northern Queensland, where I was able to make a couple of visits to the outer reefs for some amazing diving and snorkeling fun.  Having been born in Australia, and still being an Australian citizen, there are questions that I have been asked all my life from friends and acquaintances. Have you ever seen a Kangaroo? Have you ever held a Koala Bear? What the heck is Vegamite?  Yes, I have seen a Kangaroo, and held a Koala, and Vegamite is an Aussie thing that defies description, if you know, you know.  The question that I have been asked a million times over the years that I have always had to answer “NO” to, I can finally answer “YES” to. YES, I have been diving on the Great Barrier Reef.  I have been a certified diver for 16 years, and ever since I began thinking about diving, the Barrier Reef has always been one of my target sites.

Tomato Clown in host anemone The reef was everything that I had hoped it would be, truly amazing.  I have done many interesting dives, mostly wreck diving in the Carolinas, and some diving in Florida and the Caribbean.  It just does not compare. The shear size of the Barrier Reef is overwhelming, you could spend a lifetime exploring, and still only see a small portion of it.   The pictures that are posted in the blog are from my trip out to the Agincourt Reef System, which is a portion of the outer Great Barrier Reef system about 40 miles off shore out of Port Douglas, Queensland

You could tell that I was the only reef geek on the dive boat.  While most of the divers on my boat were hoping to see a shark, or a turtle, or maybe a migrating whale (don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to experienced a dive with a whale), I spent most of my time in shallow water, looking in all the nooks and crannies, taking pictures of “nothing” as I heard someone say.  The diversity was amazing, and some of what I saw was quite surprising to me.  There were huge colonies of brown Sarcophyton and Lobophytum leather corals, growing very near the surface, and large colonies of White Pom Pom Xenia on the outer reef.

Fromia sp. starfishA couple of the things in particular that I was looking forward to seeing were some wild Clownfish, and Giant Clams, neither of which I have had the opportunity to see here in the Atlantic.  The reef delivered big time.  I saw some massive T. gigas clams that had to have been at least 4′ long, as well as T. maxima, T. crocea and T. squamosa.  Some of the clams were in fairly deep water, one of the T. gigas that I saw was in about 50 feet of water.

Clownfish litter the reef, wherever their host anemones can gain a foothold.  Common to many of the large coral boulders were clusters of Green Bubble Tip Anemones (E. quadricolor), which hosted mostly Clark’s (A. clarkii) clownfish, and also some Cinnamon (A. melanopus) clowns.  There were also quite a few spots where what I believe were Long-tentacle (M. doorensis) Anemones hosting mostly Clark’s and a few Maroon (P. biaculateus).  The most spectacular anemones that I saw were a few bright blue and purple colored Magnificent or Ritteri (Heteractis magnifica) Anemones hosting Pink Skunk Clowns (A. perideraion).  There were others that I caught glimpses of, but I was not sure of the species.

Soft Corals as far as the eye can seeThe large schools of fish that dart about the reef are equally impressive, one of the more brilliant schools that I saw was one of hundreds of Yellow and Blueback Fusilier (Caesio teres), which are quite common to the reef.  Also seen on the reef were large schools of Green Chromis that dart in and out of the reef formations as they sense danger.

I hope you enjoy the pictures from my visit.  I think that this experience needs to appear on my list a few more times, as once was definitely not enough.

You may check out lots more underwater pictures I took of the GBR at the That Fish Place Facebook page.

Until Next time,


Top 10 Aquarium Plants For Beginners

The beauty of a thriving planted aquarium is undeniable; it is like an exotic slice of nature in your living room.  Many people shy away from advancing to a live planted aquarium because they think it is too difficult.  Some folks have tried, and failed, and decided that live plants are not for them.  Whatever the cause for not keeping live plants may be, the truth is that keeping live plants can be easy with a little guidance to help your chances of success.  There are a wide variety of easy to keep aquarium plants available, here are my top ten.  I have separated these into two groups, with smaller plants listed as foreground plants, which are also well suited for shorter aquariums.  The second group is for mid-ground and background plants, which will work well, planted behind foreground plants, and can be incorporated into taller aquariums.


Foreground Aquarium Plants


java mossJava Moss (Vesicularia dubyana) is fairly undemanding. It can be left floating or attached to a surface like wood or rockwork (anchor in place with fishing line or another tie and remove the ties when plant has attached). It will form mats that provide hiding places for inverts and fish fry as well as a low foreground texture to the aquarium.   Java Moss will thrive in low light aquariums, and requires no special care.



Moss BallsMoss Balls (Chladophora aegogrophila) Moss Balls are a truly unique addition to planted aquariums. They are non-invasive structures that are actually made from algae shaped by wave action. Moss Balls are low maintenance, tolerating a wide range of water conditions and tolerant of minimal lighting (though they thrive better in moderate lighting). They may be left in their ball shape or split and attached to a surface like driftwood or rockwork (use fishing line or another anchor until attached, then remove the ties).


anubias nanaAnubias Nana (Anubias barteri ‘nana’)  There are several forms of Anubias Barteri, that have been developed for aquarium use, with Anubias Nana being the most common.  Anubias plants are characterized by their broad, thick, dark green leaves.  Anubias Nana is an extremely tough plant, which can be kept with fish that may eat other more delicate species.  This plant will thrive in low to medium light aquariums, and a wide range of water conditions.


chain swordNarrowleaf Chain Sword (Echinodorus tenellus)   Also known as Pygmy Chain Sword, this grasslike plant is one of the smallest of the sword family, and is an excellent choice as a foreground plant, or for small aquariums.  Narrowleaf Chain Sword is tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, but requires moderate to high lighting to maintain its small size.



micro swordMicro Sword – (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis) Micro Sword is another excellent foreground plant, and is a staple for aquatic gardeners of all levels.  This plant forms dense green mats, which resemble a green carpet across the bottom of the aquarium.  Tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, this plant is a fast grower, but requires strong lighting to keep a short dense appearance.




Mid-ground and Background Aquarium Plants


amazon swordAmazon Sword (Echinodorus bleheri) The Amazon Sword is one of the most iconic aquarium plants used in the hobby, and is probably what most people visualize when they think about aquarium plants.  These plants are tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, and can grow quite large.  These plants can also survive in low to medium light, but will thrive in medium to high light levels.  Be careful not to plant smaller species close to this plant, as it will overshadow smaller plants in a short amount of time.


java fernJava Fern (Microsorum pteropus) Java Fern is a hardy plant that tolerates a wide range of conditions. They can tolerate lower lighting as well as the higher pH and hard water of cichlid aquariums and aquariums with higher lighting. They even may be used in brackish water aquariums with low salinity.  Java Fern can easily be attached to driftwood and rockwork, and can form a dense covering on these structures if allowed.  Mature plants can grow leaves up to a foot in length.


Crytocoryne WendtiiCryptocoryne (Cryptocoryne wendtii) Cryptocoryne wendtii is one of the most popular of the Cryptocoryne plants, which are commonly called Crypts. They are adaptable to most aquarium conditions, although the conditions in which it lives will often affect its form. When grown in lower light, the plant will become taller and narrower.  Crypts grown in higher light will typically remain more compact with broader leaves. The color also varies greatly. Some of the most popular variations in the aquarium trade are green, red and bronze.


anubias congensisAnubias Congensis ( Anubias barteri ‘congensis’) Anubias Congensis is another form developed for aquariums from Anubias barteri plant.   Congensis has dark green, waxy, spear-shaped leaves which grow to an average height of about 15 inches.  Like most of the Anubias aquarium plants, this variation is adaptable to a wide range of aquarium conditions, and thrives in low to medium light levels.



sagittaria subulataSagittaria (Sagittaria subulata) Subulata is a thin, grasslike plant. The leaves are green in coloration with some areas of reddish brown. A “dwarf” variant is often available as well as the “regular” Subulata but height is often dependent on lighting; the plants will grow taller in lower lighting but will stay more compact and spread laterally in higher lighting. Subulata will thrive in a wide range of water and light conditions, and may tolerate brackish water environments with very low salinity.



If you have ever considered trying a freshwater planted tank, but did not know where to start, give some of these plants a try.  Once you see how easy it can be, the sky is the limit, and you are on your way to becoming an aquatic gardener.

Until next blog,


Turbulent Times For The Marine Aquarium Hobby

NMFS Badge

It seems like every few weeks, there is another story about legislation that could possibly have serious consequences to the aquarium hobby.   Most recently, there have been a number of marine fish and coral species that have recently been listed, or are being considered for listing, under the Endangered Species Act.

The primary reason for these species being listed under the Endangered Species Act is a result of Climate Change, Habitat Destruction, poor land use practices, pollution and destructive commercial fishing.  Collection for the aquarium hobby may not be a primary factor in needing protection, but regulations to protect these species will most certainly be felt by the industry.  These threats to the hobby are real, and need to be taken seriously.   It is easy to get involved, and the hobby needs people to get involved to make sure that any decisions are based on the best possible information.

hammer coralIn September 2014, The National Marine Fisheries (NMFS) listed 20 species of Coral as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), several of which are found in the aquarium trade.  You can read in more detail about these listings HERE on a previous That Fish blog.  Listed as “Threatened” there was no immediate impact to the hobby, and no restrictions were placed on collection, trade, or ownership of the protected corals.

In a move that was foreseen by some, and feared by others, On January 13, 2015 National Marine Fisheries published an Advanced Notice of Public Rulemaking (ANPR) seeking public comments regarding the need for further protective legislation for these 20 newly registered corals.  You can read the entire publication here on the Federal Register

Section 4(d) of the ESA gives the NMFS considerable flexibility to enact additional regulations in the name of conservation.  Up to an including full no take protections of species that are listed as endangered.

That means everything is on the table for these corals.  Full Protection would essentially remove these corals from the hobby, they would become illegal to collect, transport, own, sell or trade.  There is no difference between wild caught and captive bred in the eyes of the Endangered Species Act.  The reach of such protection would certainly be felt in many other species, as anything that looks similar to listed species is going to become a problem for inspectors, importers, retailers and hobbyists alike.

What can you do?

First of all, give them your public opinion, make your voice count.  What is best for these corals, and for the aquarium hobby, is for the best information to be used in making these regulations.  While the aquarium industry itself may not be the target of these regulations, the effect of possible restrictions to the industry could be serious.   If true scientific data shows that wild populations of these corals need further regulations for protection, then the hobby should support those restrictions.  Where the hobby needs to voice a strong opinion, is for allowance of coral aquaculture to remain legal in the US.   Coral aquaculture can and should play a vital role in furthering our understanding of coral biology, and conservation.  The aquarium industry, and aquarium hobbyists, can play a valuable role in protection of these coral species, but only if future policy allows.

The Public Comment period is open until March 16, 2015, you can post your public comment HERE.  Please take the time to submit your own comment. Use your own words, share your experience or expertise.

Secondly, you can contribute to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council  (PIJAC).  PIJAC is an advocate group for the pet industry, providing legal and lobbying support for the industry.  PIJAC’s mission is to promote responsible pet ownership and animal welfare, to foster environmental stewardship, and to protect your rights to own pets.

Visit www.pijac.org to educate yourself about issues that affect pet owners, and to get the latest information about pending legal issues, and to contribute to the Aquatic Defense Fund.

Until next blog,



Blue LEDs: The Invention That Revolutionized Modern Lighting

Blue LEDIsamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuki Nakahmura are three men you have probably never heard of.  If you were Cliff Clavin, you would probably refer to them as three men who have never been in your kitchen.  Their work however, you are most certainly aware of, and probably use it in some form or another every day.  These three men were responsible for inventing the first blue light emitting diodes (LED) in the early 1990’s, which revolutionized the way we light our world.  For their efforts, they have been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for physics.


For aquarists, the use of blue LED Aquarium lights has been widespread, especially reef aquarium keepers who are keenly aware of the stunning ability of blue LEDs to promote fluorescent colors in corals.  Nothing makes coral colors pop like they do under blue LED light.  The amazing growth in the genetically engineered GloFish craze, is largely due to the ability of blue LED lights to really bring out their amazing glowing coloration vs. traditional blue light sources.


Nobel prize winners

Why are Blue LED lights important enough to win a Nobel Prize?

LED lights had been around for many years, with the first patents and commercial products showing up in the 1960’s, starting with red LEDs used as indicator lights.  Other colors of LED were developed in the following years, including green LEDs, but the Blue LED development would elude scientists for decades to come, until Shuki Nakahmura demonstrated the ability to produce blue LEDs in 1994, and then with Hiroshi Amano and Isami Akasaki developed a high efficiency, high output blue LED in 1995. This started the modern LED lighting revolution.


The Blue LED was the missing ingredient for creating white LED light.  Mixing red, blue and green light produces light that appears white to the human eye, which can be seen in many modern applications of RGB LED light fixtures.  With the foundation of the newly invented Blue LED, scientist quickly developed a white LED light with the use of a phosphor coating on the Blue LED chips.  The White LED has changed the world, they are energy efficient, environmentally friendly and long lasting.  As production costs have decreased, and efficiency and output have increased over the last 20 years, LED lighting is rapidly replacing other forms of light in just about every application imaginable, from your homes, to your cars, to street lights to your cell phones.  The combinations of white and blue LED lights now dominate the aquarium lighting market.


Thank you gentlemen, the world is a better place for your efforts, and our aquariums look nicer too.

Until next blog,


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 of 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.






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.