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Coral Propagation for Beginners

Dave here. Coral propagation, or fragging as we reef geeks refer to it, is the process of creating new coral colonies from a parent colony. Over the last several years, techniques, products, and general knowledge of the practice rapidly evolved to where it is quite common. As little as five years ago it was something new and exciting, or even scary depending upon your perspective. The thought of cutting pieces off of your prized coral colonies may seem intimidating at first, but it is actually quite safe, and the fragment has an excellent chance of survival if properly handled. Some corals are more easily fragged, and are better suited for the beginner, than others.

These types are what I will focus on for this blog. In general branching stony corals, and Zoo polyps, are among the easiest and most desired corals to frag. If you look around for your local reef or aquarium clubs, many of them will have frag swap meets, so that hobbyists can sell and trade frags with other hobbyists. It is a really great way to promote coral conservation: the more fragged corals you keep, the fewer corals need to be collected from the reefs. Frag swapping is also a great way to share knowledge, and increase the survivability of captive corals. Propagated corals are hardier, and often more colorful, than wild corals. They have been raised in artificial conditions, and will usually keep their color. Wild corals can change color dramatically when adjusting to captive conditions.

There are a few basic items that you will need in order to start coral fragging. First, you need a suitable coral (Duh!). You should try to use only healthy coral colonies for fragging, as it will increase the survivability of both the parent and the cutting. While much fragging is done with damaged or dying corals in an attempt to save something, this is a much less successful way to produce coral frags, and should only be done as a last resort for the specimen. Fragging healthy corals will lead to a much better result.
Second, you will need something to mount the coral to, and there are several options here. Live rock rubble makes excellent, natural looking frags, but can be difficult to get in volume, and can be difficult to keep stable while the frag is securing itself. Commercially available Plugs and Disks, while less attractive initially, allow for quick and easy attaching. Using Plugs and Disks will also allow for easy volume production, as they will either fit snugly into egg crate material, or flat surfaces, so that you can grow out many frags, securely, in a small area. While we are on the subject of eggcrate, for those of you unfamiliar with the material, this can be found any home improvement center in the lighting section. Eggcrate can easily be cut and built into shelves and platforms to mount your frags for establishment and growth.
Next, you will need glue for attaching your cuttings to your rubble, plug, or disk. “Super Glue”,or Cyanoacrylate Gel is the glue of choice. This glue is harmless to the coral, dries quickly, and is easy to use. The glue is available in clear and pink colors, as well as different thicknesses for the job at hand. Your other choice is epoxy putty, this works well for some stony corals, and is well suited for use on rubble rock. Epoxy Putty is also available in several colors.

Finally, you will need cutting tools. Several types of cutters, scalpels, and snips are available on the market. Depending upon the type of coral being cut, different tools will work best, so it is best to have an assortment of tools at your disposal. What you may like to use may not be what I like to use, but if it suits your purposes, go for it. In general snips, shears, and cutters should be used on branching stony corals, and scalpels, razors, or chisels work best for Zooanthid polyps and encrusting corals.
You should strongly consider using safety goggles and rubber gloves, as many of the secretions and fluids that are produced when cutting corals can be very irritating, and even dangerous, to your skin and eyes. Protection is very important.

Once you have all the tools you need, the fragging process is easy. For stony coral, it is as simple as cutting the tips off of one or more of the branches of your parent colony and gluing the freshly cut tip to your plug or piece of rubble. Don’t be shy about the amount of glue that you use, you want to make sure that it stays attached so it can grow onto the plug. You can remove the coral from the water to perform this step. The parent colony will heal over and grow a new tip, or tips. The freshly attached frag will, over a period of weeks or months depending on species, grow over the glue and firmly attach to the plug.

Zoo Polyps can be removed from a parent colony by carefully removing them from the rock they are attached to with a scalpel or sharp chisel. Just a few full polyps are all that you need to start a new colony. With each removed polyp, a new frag colony can be started. Attach the cut polyp to a disk or piece of rubble rock, and then the polyp will attach and multiply on its own. Just as with the stony coral frag, the zoo polyp frag will grow over the glue and cover the disk or rock over a period of weeks to months.

This process can be repeated over and over, allowing you to produce many frags over time. Most people will choose to do this with just a few corals, and use these new frags to trade or sell for different species for their displays.

Interested in a more hands-on and guided approach? Stop by a frag swap! That Fish Place – That Pet Place in Lancaster, PA hosts one with the Reef Conservation Society Bi-annually. If you’re not in the area, Googling ‘frag swap’ is sure to yield one near you.

Until next blog

Dave

An Invasive Species Account: Purple Loosestrife

Please welcome back Brandon Moyer with another entry on invasive speciesPurple Loosestrife

The next species I would like to present to you in my exploration of invasive species is one that is notorious among biologists across the country. Though it is quite beautiful in bloom, it is known as a super invasive plant species that disrupts habitats and displaces many native species of fish as well as insects, birds, and other small mammals.

The species is Lythrum salicaria, and it may be something you see every day without even knowing it.  It is known by over ten common names including spiked loosestrife and purple lythrum worldwide, but is best known by the name Purple Loosestrife in the United States. Purple Loosestrife was first introduced into North America through several different vectors; as an ornamental plant for ponds and gardens, as an herb used in cooking and medicine, and through ship ballast water. The origin of Purple Loosestrife is unknown, although its current range is vast. It is very hardy, has spread across Asia and Europe, only limited by the extreme cold of the upper northern hemisphere.

Purple Loosestrife spreads in two ways. One adult plant (4+ years of age) can produce over two million seeds in a single season. These seeds tend to float which aids in dispersal. Their rhizomes, commonly known as runners, can grow up to a foot a season. New plants can spring from these rhizomes, which compounds the number of seeds produced each season.

In several biology and ecology courses I had taken at Millersville University, L. salicaria was a popular example of an introduced species that has taken a strong foothold in a new environment. The dense clusters of roots and rhizomes choke out the roots of other plants around the loosestrife, increasing the area in which it can spread and smothering native plants. Their leaves decompose in the fall when the weather begins to cool and detritivore activity decreases, leading to nutrification of infested waterways. Its thick undergrowth deprives native animals like turtles of areas to bask, but is not dense enough to protect other animals from predation.

Today you can see purple loosestrife almost anywhere you see water in the eastern United States including bogs and drainage areas around warehouses and malls. It can be found in every state except for Florida, Hawaii, and Alaska. Conventional methods of eradicating the invasive, including herbicides and burning, are ineffective. One interesting method of control, considered biological control, is introducing other non-native species that prey on the invasive species. In the case of Purple Loosestrife, leaf beetles, root boring weevils, and flower and seed eating weevils have all been introduced to help stop the spread of the weed.
In any case, control is necessary to protect the complex ecosystems of the wetlands that Purple Loosestrife dominates.  You can help by first learning to identify loosestrife, then using methods to control the spread of this invasive species if you find it on your property by digging, pulling, spot spraying or cutting the plants while they are in bloom and before they seed, usually June-Early August.  Remove the plants and cuttings in plastic bags so they degrade, or incinerate the remains of the plants in a contained area.  It is not recommended that they be composted.  Also, avoid certain cultivars of garden loosestrife and their seed, though they may not be invasive varieties, many may be able to cross pollinate with the invasive species.

For more information on Loosestrife visit the following sites:
http://www.invasive.org/eastern/biocontrol/11PurpleLoosestrife.html
http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/plants/loosstrf/index.htm
http://dnr.wi.gov/invasiveS/fact/loose2.htm
http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/ais/purpleloosestrife_info

Image referenced from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Purple_loosestrife2.jpg, first posted by Megger and used under the GNU Free Documentation License

Thanks Brandon,

Until Next Time,

Dave

 

Artificial Reefs – Reconstructing Coral Reefs Worldwide

Please welcome back Eileen with some insight into artificial reefs.

 

construction of artificial reefWhen most people think of coral reefs, they picture crystal clear water, colorful corals and active schools of fish like those in places like Hawaii and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. As pristine environments like these are becoming more and more threatened however, the face of the traditional “coral reef” is changing. Artificial reefs are becoming more popular as methods of saving the reefs, protecting the beaches they neighbor, increasing recreation and tourism and even creating more “farming areas” for those fish popular in the aquarium trade.

 

 Although artificial reefs are becoming more and more advanced as we learn more about what the marine life needs to thrive, the creation of reefs is nothing new. Ancient civilizations like the Persians and the Roman Empire created their own underwater barriers to help defend their harbors. Ancient fishermen were attracted to shipwrecks for the fish that would live in and around the wrecks. Japanese farmers created their own underwater farms to grow kelp in the the 1500’s and fishermen in South Carolina sunk unused timber to attract more fish to the coasts before the Civil War.

 

The “Osborne Reef” was one of the first efforts in the United States to create an artificial reef for recreational uses and to preserve and expand the existing coral reefs. This reef was used as the final resting ground for well over a million tires off of the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and was considered one of the most ambitious and environmentally-friendly projects. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Marine life couldn’t grow in the tires and the tires themselves weren’t firmly anchored enough to save nearby natural reefs from damage during Florida’s active hurricane and tropical storm seasons. Though the original project had good intentions and the right idea – using items that would normally fill a landfill or have no other purpose – a multi-million dollar project is now underway to remove the tires from Osborne Reef.

 

Other projects have learned from the mistakes made with Osborne Reef and are now working to bolster the struggling coral reefs worldwide. The Rigs-to-Reefs program uses obsolete, unused or retired oil rigs to create new underwater reefs. The old rigs – most of which already have healthy reef populations around their bases from years of use – are either tipped onto their sides on the ocean floor or are cut in half, leaving the base intact and moving the top of the rig to a nearby location. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is also doing their part to save the reefs by sinking decommissioned, outdated subway cars. The stainless steel cars are cleaned, decontaminated, stripped of anything unsafe for the marine life, and then sunk to a new home in the Atlantic Ocean. Numerous decommissioned boats and ships of all sizes have also been scuttled and sunk to create new reefs, some of the most notable being the USS Oriskany and the USS Spiegel Grove, two naval vessels.

 

While projects like these are recycling structures that may have never normally seen the bottom of the ocean, other organizations are creating new structures designed specifically with marine life in mind. Reef Balls is an organization that creates structures for artificial reef use. They have over 20 styles and 10 sizes for various uses like coral reef and mangrove rehabilitation, oyster reefs, aquaculture farming, recreational purposes like fishing and snorkeling, erosion prevention, and scientific research. Companies can sponsor and build their own reef balls and government and private grants are also available. So far, over 59 countries have reef balls sunken off of their coasts. Companies like the Neptune Memorial Reef in Florida and Eternal Reefs, a Reef Balls’ sister company, are even creating artificial reefs using cremated remains to create underwater cemeteries.

 

Artificial reefs are becoming more and more common. They give new life to structures that would have been scrapped in the past and are helping to revitalize struggling reef communities worldwide. SCUBA divers, fishermen, surfers, and marine scientists are all already making use of these new reefs and as the aquarium hobby grows and expands, artificial reefs will become more important in sustaining populations for our own hobby. With the support of aquarium community and marine-loving citizens worldwide, we can turn terrestrial trash into new homes to brink some of the animals we love back from the brink.

 

 

Thanks, Eileen.  This is a really interesting topic.  Looking forward to your next article.

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Image 2 attributed to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Artificialreef.JPG