The weekend of September 27-29, 2002, represented a rebirth of sorts for the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA). After last year's MACNA XIII left the Marine Aquarium Society of North America (MASNA) deeply in debt and unable to continue sponsoring the annual MACNA conference, the Dallas/Forth Worth Marine Aquarium Society took a chance and bet that they could make the conference financially viable (and, just as importantly), a popular success with its target audience - marine hobbyists. By all accounts, from exceeding the contractual minimum number of hotel rooms sold, to the sold-out banquet, to the well-attended presentations, MACNA XIV was a great success.

My intention in this article is to provide a brief overview of the conference, with summaries of the presentations and descriptions of some of the other events that occurred. Although you may not have been able to attend, I hope to convey some of the flavor and spirit of the conference.

Trace Metals: The Toxic Time Bomb In Marine Reef Aquaria - Dr. Ronald Shimek

It's Friday at 3 pm, and Dr. Shimek starts the conference with something most aquarists would rather not hear: the water in our tanks has higher levels of toxic heavy metals than EPA-identified "superfund" sites! Dr. Shimek began by briefly reviewing his earlier studies; the food content study (information available at Aquarium Fish Magazine) and the tank water study (information available in Volume 1, Issue 3 of Reefkeeping Magazine). These two studies indicated that hobbyists are adding a great deal more of certain substances, especially potentially toxic heavy metals, than what is found in natural seawater (NSW).

He then proceeded to discuss an analysis of various methods of nutrient export to determine what was being removed. Shimek was provided samples of Caulerpa, skimmate, skimmer sludge (that thick slime that forms inside the skimmer uplift tube), and Xenia by various hobbyists who participated in this study. These hobbyists also paid for the samples to be tested at a laboratory utilizing Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP) Emission Spectrometry to determine the element contents of the export.

The study showed that skimmers are almost useless at removing these potentially toxic heavy metals. Xenia and Caulerpa did a better job of removing these metals, but the average hobbyist would have to remove inordinately high amounts for this to be an effective method of controlling these elements (in the neighborhood of several pounds of Caulerpa per day). Since artificial saltwater mixes also contain high amounts of these metals, water changes would also be an ineffective means of removal.

Since it doesn't appear the average hobbyist is removing these elements, and since every tank doesn't crash, Dr. Shimek proposed the following as possible means of detoxification of the heavy metals: inorganic precipitation in live rock and sediments, adsorption of elements on live rock and sand, iron hydroxide complexes, and binding with organic materials (such as humic acids). The iron hydroxide complexes represent a real possibility for effective removal, since hobbyists add high levels of iron to their tanks (primarily through feeding), and yet none of the tank water samples tested showed iron present.

Dr. Shimek's conclusion was that "old tank syndrome" may be an artifact of these toxic heavy metal levels, either due to the accumulation of so much of this toxic material that the system is no longer able to detoxify it, or through some precipitating event (such as a pH crash). Further study is necessary to answer many of the questions raised by Dr. Shimek's work, and the information gathered in the full study will be released in an upcoming issue of Reefkeeping Magazine.

Sea Squirts in the Reef Aquarium and a Three Zone Natural Filtration System - Steve Tyree

Steve Tyree began the second presentation with a description of tunicate biology. Tunicates have a mucous mesh in their interior with which they capture appropriately-sized prey. Tunicates were found to digest 75-92% of phytoplankton passed through this mucous mesh. Additionally, they uptake particulate matter (around 40% is consumed), as well as large bacterial cells, and have the ability to absorb dissolved organics directly from the water. Tunicates can filter between three and 323 gallons of water per day, and Tyree is investigating using these animals in a biological filtration setup for aquariums.

When attempting to identify whether an in-tank mass is a sponge or a colonial tunicate, he suggested taking a look at the spacing of the openings in the surface of the animal. Equidistant spacing of these openings is indicative that your animal is a tunicate and not a sponge. Tyree discussed various tunicates available in the hobby, and recommended that hobbyists avoid the large Polycarpa aurata - a white tunicate with blue/purple veining and yellow/orange coloration around the inhalant and exhalant openings, as this tunicate is extremely difficult to maintain.

Along with providing many interesting and beautiful photos of tunicates, Tyree then moved on to the second part of his presentation - Trizonal Tropical Reef Filtration. He showed an aquarium utilizing three microhabitats: 1) the exposed zone; 2) the filter-feeding zone (combining the semi-exposed and semi-cryptic zones of a natural reef); and 3) the cryptic zone. The exposed zone reflects the average hobbyist's tank - heavy lighting and high flow rates. The filter-feeding zone was immediately behind the reef wall created by the exposed zone, and has heavy water flow with little-to-no lighting. Finally, the cryptic zone is a larger area behind the filter-feeding zone, with much lower water flow and finer particulates provide the major feeding input. The sample aquarium was set up with these zones progressing left-to-right across the aquarium, so it isn't the manner in which most hobbyists would set up a display tank, but it was certainly innovative and may represent a step forward in creating a more natural biosphere in our tanks which may possibly allow the maintenance of some of the more difficult-to-keep filter-feeding invertebrates.

Reef Aquarium Lighting - Lighting Basics and Test of Metal Halide Lamps, Ballasts & Reflectors - Sanjay Joshi

Sanjay Joshi closed the Friday evening presentations with a discussion of a subject near and dear to all reef hobbyists' hearts: lighting. Dr. Joshi measured the photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD), also known as PAR, of various metal halide bulbs when combined with different ballasts. The Ushio 400 watt 10,000K bulb produced a low value of 117.3 PPFD on a pulse start ballast; using an HQI ballast from Taiwan, it produced a high of 167.1 PPFD. The Aqualine Buske 400 watt 10,000K bulb produced a low of 94.7 PPFD when combined with a standard M59 ballast, yet resulted in a higher output of 140 PPFD on the HQI ballast from Taiwan. In all cases, higher PPFD correlated with higher power consumption.

Sanjay Joshi, Ph.D.

Dr. Joshi also tested 150 watt DE (double-ended) bulbs. When testing these bulbs without their UV shields, he found that the Aqualine Buske bulb produced the highest PPFD (77.2) with the Sylvania Aqua Arc coming in a close second (77.2). The Ushio 10,000K bulb produced 72.1 PPFD, while the IceCap10,000K bulb resulted in a reading of 63.9 PPFD. When the shields were used, Dr. Joshi found that the shields did, in fact, reduce UV light, but also resulted in an average 20% loss in PPFD. He then combined the various bulbs with different ballasts and presented those results. An interesting note here was that the "Hello Lights" ballast produced the highest PPFD readings, but also resulted in a noticeable flicker with at least two of the bulbs.

The above PPFD tests were conducted without the benefit of a reflector. So, the second part of Dr. Joshi's presentation centered around reflector testing. For mogul reflectors, the Diamond Light Lumen Arc III produced the best results, with the PFO parallel reflector placing second, and the SpiderLight reflector third (out of three tested). An important side-note to the reflector testing was that there was a 50% decrease in intensity when moving the sensor from six inches to nine inches from the bulb, and another 50% decrease when moving from nine inches to twelve inches from the bulb. You can achieve greater coverage by moving the bulbs upward, but you pay for it in intensity!

The complete results of Sanjay Joshi's testing will be presented in the November or December edition of Advanced Aquarist's Online Magazine.

Friday Evening Activity - Book Signing

After Friday's final presentation, MACNA XIV participants were invited to a book signing sponsored by Aquarium Fish Magazine held at the hotel's pool. Free nachos were provided with a cash bar nearby to provide sustenance while hobbyists mixed. Dr. Ron Shimek, Eric Borneman, Julian Sprung, Steve Tyree, Bob Fenner, Scott Michael, Martin Moe, Dana Riddle and Anthony Calfo signed books and chatted. Nature threw a curve at the authors as the pool area was very dark (lit only by the lights in the pool and tiki torches), so I'm sure apologies go out from the authors if their comments and signatures were not as legible as they otherwise might have been.

The Marine Multi Environment Aquarium System - Martin Moe

On the following day, 8:30 A.M. came far too early, but Martin Moe revived the interests of the conference participants by presenting the details of his own multi-habitat aquarium design. The diagram below shows the basics of Mr. Moe's design. Water enters the right side of the containment area through a surge system. This side of the tank remains filled and is much like an average hobbyist's tank. Water from this side of the tank overflows a diagonally placed solid glass plate. Live rock is stacked against this plate to form a wall. Water flowing over and through this wall from the containment area fills the variable level area.

A U-shaped siphon tube drains this area. This U-shaped siphon tube is formed by filling a length of PVC pipe with sand, capping it, then heating the middle and bending the pipe. The sand prevents the pipe from collapsing completely at the point of the bend. The "U" portion of the pipe is flattened and made narrow. This allows the siphon to start automatically via water pressure. The recurring sequence of events within the system is thus: water from the containment area overflows into the variable level area with each surge; the variable level area fills and eventually rises above the level of the "U" on the siphon; water pressure starts the siphon; water drains from the variable level area at a steady rate, and is replenished by the surge. If the surge inflow is slower than the siphon outflow, the variable level area water level drops in a step-wise fashion until it finally reaches the open end of the U-tube and breaks the siphon; with the siphon broken, the surges slowly fill the containment area until it again reaches the top of the U-tube and restarts the siphon. This variable level area provides a rocky shore habitat, and can include containers to simulate tide pools. Additionally, Mr. Moe included a horizontal glass shelf (covered with rockwork) to simulate a cave habitat.

Early Developmental Stages of Soft Corals: Crucial Adaptations for Survival - Dr. Yehuda (Hudi) Benayahu

Dr. Benayahu gave participants a review of octocoral biology, then discussed his research with Dendronephthya hemprichii and Heteroxenia fuscescens. Areas explored included: modes of sexual reproduction, settlement of planulae and methods of zooxanthellae transmission; either directly from the mother colony (known as vertical acquisition), or acquisition from the environment (known as horizontal acquisition).

Dr. Benayahu then showed a National Geographic documentary on his work investigating the timeline for the development and growth of man-made reefs by researching shipwreck sites in the Sinai with known sinking dates. Israel controls less than a two mile stretch of the Red Sea, yet this area receives several million visitors a year, placing a severe strain on this natural resource. He hopes to develop longitudinal data on man-made reef development that may help ease human pressure (primarily tourism) on the natural reefs in the area, and which may be applied to impacted reefs in other areas of the world as well.

New Directions in Understanding What Makes Corals "Tick" - Eric Borneman

Eric Borneman spent the first portion of his presentation "straightening out" the classification of some corals. It seems there has been quite a bit of restructuring going on in the name game: a new family was created, Euphyllidae, to contain Euphyllia, Cataphyllia, Plerogyra, Physogyra, and Nemenzophyllia; Colt Corals are now Klyxum (Alcyonium now only contains sub-tropical and temperate species); and Star Polyps are now Briareum (Pachyclavularia is no more).

The second portion of Borneman's discussion concerned zooxanthellae. Recent investigations have shown that some corals are more flexible than others and have (or can have) more than one species of zooxanthellae. There are currently six clades of zooxanthellae and many species. He then discussed pigmentation in zooxanthellate corals. Numerous non-green pigments, called fluorescing proteins (formerly known as pocilloporins), have been discovered. These fluorescing proteins appear to perform a dual role: providing photo-protection in high light situations (blocking light transmission to the zooxanthellae); and photo-enhancement in low light environments (reflecting light back to the zooxanthellae).

"Aquarist of the Year" - Eric Borneman.

Borneman next moved on to discuss toxic secretions of corals. However, what was most remarkable was that he wasn't discussing soft corals, but stonies! Newer research indicates that stony corals produce a wide variety of potent metabolites similar to those found in soft corals. Goniopora was found to be particularly toxic. These chemicals are believed to function as antibiotics, anti-predation agents, anti-fouling agents, reproductive cues, allelopaths important in space competition, and fulfill a role in the self-recognition and immunity mechanisms of corals.

Borneman then discussed the bacterial symbiosis between corals and their surface bacteria. Bacterial colonies on a coral's surface may act as an antibiotic, help maintain metabolic homeostasis, assist in nutrient acquisition or act as food. Unfortunately, bacteria can also have a role in coral diseases. Recent research indicates that there are far more types of bacteria present in diseased coral tissue than was originally thought. Past bacterial culturing techniques used to determine what bacteria were present missed the vast majority of bacterial strains which were not culturable, and more research is definitely needed in this area. Finally, he discussed briefly the recent aquarist issues of Montipora-eating nudibranchs, dyed corals, red Acropora-associated amphipods, and asexual reproduction in aquarium corals by tissue flows.

My Favorite Fishes! - Scott Michael

Scott Michael provided beautiful photograph after beautiful photograph of his favorite fish. These fish included Dragon morays, frogfish, scorpionfish, Ghost pipefish, Anthias, dottybacks, hawkfish, Fairy and Flasher wrasses and gobies. He even showed a picture of Banggai cardinals, but only because they seem to be everyone else's favorite fish. After the wealth of information provided in Eric Borneman's presentation, it took many in the audience a long time to realize that Scott was introducing each and every fish as his absolute favorite, but eventually they came to realize that any fish that was "fuzzy" or "funky" looking, or included the term "devil's" in its common name was going to be included in the list. For the fish lovers in the audience (and who isn't one at a marine aquarium conference?), this wonderful eye-candy presentation was not only very entertaining, but also highly informative.

Lighting and Water Movement For Closed Ecosystems - Round Table Discussion

Dana Riddle, Eric Borneman, Julian Sprung, Martin Moe and Sanjay Joshi were present for what was supposed to be a discussion of lighting and water movement. However, after the first question or two, the discussion swirled off into a discussion of plenums vs. deep sand beds, hydrogen sulfide - dangerous or not, and the long term impact and sustainability of our hobby.


Saturday night's focus was the banquet, where the participants were treated to good food, good company, and hobby-related conversation. Eric Borneman was presented the 2002 "Marine Aquarist of the Year" award, and he seemed genuinely surprised and deeply touched by the honor. After the meal, Walt Smith presented an outstanding slide and video show entitled "Coral Farming For Our Future," which illustrated many of the steps he has taken to make coral fragment farming and aquaculturing live rock, a viable and valuable industry to the Fijian people. A candid question and answer period was followed by a giveaway of several of his hand-picked aquacultured SPS corals.

Nano-Nano: Physical, Chemical, and Technical Aspects of the Modern Micro-Aquarium - Julian Sprung

Julian Sprung discussed the physical limitations in dealing with nano aquariums. For purposes of this discussion, Sprung considered tanks smaller than 20 gallons as falling into this category, and addressed issues such as temperature maintenance, gas exchange, and evaporation. Suitable livestock for nanosystems, as well as a number of specimens that Sprung has personally maintained, were shown. Extensive pictorial examples of nanosystems from around the world, including public aquariums, were presented.

Coral Farming… Home Grown Jewels of the Sea - Anthony Calfo

Anthony Calfo

Anything you ever wanted to know about fragmenting corals was discussed in Anthony Calfo's entertaining presentation and follow-up question and answer session. Tips presented included: light acclimation of new arrivals using and then slowly removing multiple layers of fly screen, attaching newly separated stony frags tip downward (growth tip down promotes faster encrusting of the base, and having the newly cut area facing up promotes quicker healing), and performing all fragmentation in a separate container of tank water to avoid contamination of other corals by excess mucus (caused by the stress of fragmentation). If you have any coral propagation questions for Anthony, he can be reached through the Wet Web Media website.

So, You Want To Be A MACNA Speaker? - Dana Riddle

Dana Riddle gave the participants an idea of exactly what it takes to bring a subject to the MACNA table, including experiments destroyed by a hurricane and the time and money (to the tune of $12,000) spent doing the research for a one-and-one-half hour presentation. Although Riddle's original topic was meant to be water motion, the obliteration of his experimental man-made reefs by the hurricane forced him to change his discussion to a lighting-oriented experiment. In February's edition of Advanced Aquarist's Online Magazine, Riddle presented his data showing that lamp spectrum does not affect the amount of photosynthetic activity in Fungia corals. His experiments showed reflectance of light at 453 nm (blue), and absorption of light near 680 nm (red), and that water motion had a greater effect on photosynthetic activity (more water motion resulted in greater activity).

Newer experiments with LED lights showed that a red LED light caused localized bleaching in a Pocillopora meandrina, while a blue LED caused localized coloration. More research is necessary in this area.

Coral Farming In Situ & In Home Aquariums - Round Table Discussion

Steve Tyree, Eric Borneman, Walt Smith, Anthony Calfo and Dana Riddle discussed coral farming methods and projects, both in the U.S. and abroad. This time, however, the discussion stayed mainly on topic!


The raffle is usually one of the most anticipated events at every marine conference, and MACNA XIV's raffle was no exception. Thirty-three items, including additives, foods, skimmers, calcium reactors and lights, went on the block for the meager sum of a dollar a ticket. This year's top prize was a fully-stocked 120 gallon Oceanic starphire glass tank. By fully-stocked, I mean it came with a cherry wood canopy and stand, six PC light fixtures, a sump, an EcoSystem Aquarium Reefugium, a large skimmer, an assortment of tank-raised clowns and dottybacks from ORA, several nicely colored clams, some coral frags, and about two inches of sand. It was valued at over $4,000! Chuck Greene was the lucky winner who took the whole package home. Luckily, he had a full compliment of friends/club members with him, who efficiently tore down the tank at the conference's end and loaded it into Chuck's truck.

The Oceanic 120 gallon starphire glass system offered in the raffle.

The Atmosphere & Comradery

After reading my descriptions of the various presentations, I realize that possibly I have made the conference sound an awful lot like school. Nothing could be further from the truth! Yes, the speakers provided a great deal of information, but you can get most of that in books. What makes MACNA stand out is the interaction between the hobbyists, the speakers, and the vendors. Many attendees were overheard making the comment of how great it was to connect a face to someone they had met only over the internet. Not surprisingly, the vendor's room was a hub of activity every minute it was open (even when speakers were giving their presentations). At one booth you could look at the newest D.A.S. aquarium or calcium reactor, at the next check out the latest Tunze stream pump, at the next buy a clam or aquacultured coral, a few steps away ask Anthony Calfo a question about propagating a coral, and in the evening talk to the Editor of Aquarium Fish Magazine.

Where else, but at MACNA, could you sit down and personally discuss marine topics with such noted authors as Dr. Ron Shimek? Here Dr. Ron has an interesting discussion with Sandra Shoup, a new author for Reefkeeping Magazine.

All of the speakers, all of the vendors, and all of the hobbyists were there for one purpose - to talk about marine aquariums. It was this open attitude and willingness to share information that ultimately made the conference a success. Thanks to the efforts of the DFWMAS, MACNA has been saved as a national conference and will continue in 2003. Next year, MACNA XV will be in Louisville, Kentucky, on September 5th, 6th, and 7th. For further information, visit If MACNA XV is anything like MACNA XIV, it will be an event not to be missed.

    Delay:   Loop: [stop] [reverse direction]

Photos and captions by Skip Attix.


Reefkeeping Magazine™ Reef Central, LLC-Copyright © 2008