Coralmania by Eric Borneman

Dual Media Review:
"Proceedings of the Ninth International Coral Reef Symposium,"
and "Ultimate Marine Aquariums"

Sometime last month while I was in Indonesia, the UPS deliveryman left a rather hefty box for me that contained the latest in what may be the ultimate compendium of coral reef knowledge: The Proceedings of the Ninth International Coral Reef Symposium." This conference was held nearly three years ago in Bali, Indonesia, from October 23-27, 2000. Ironically, I was again in Bali even as the volumes were being delivered, and in fact revisiting the conference center at the Sheraton Nusa Dua where I spent a week giving several presentations and listening to presentations by the world's foremost coral reef authorities.

The International Coral Reef Symposia began in India in 1969, and have been held every four years since the initial meeting. The second meeting was held on board the MV Marco Polo while cruising the Great Barrier Reef. To this day, I have never seen a copy of those volumes. However, my bookshelves proudly display all the remaining proceedings that were held, in consecutive order, in Miami, Manila, Tahiti, Townsville, Guam, Panama, and Bali. This most recent conference was the largest to date, with over 1500 people from 74 counties in attendance. The number of presentations was similarly large, with 1,048 scientific papers presented and 353 posters.

The Proceedings itself contains 201 manuscripts that are the final papers resulting from the presentations. This in itself is surprising in that it is a little over half of the number of papers that appear in the previous Proceedings of the 8th International Coral Reef Symposium held in Panama. To be sure, the deadline for submission of articles was fairly soon after the meeting, and I was unable to submit manuscripts by the date requested. I suspect this may have been the case for many others as well, since these volumes are a bit "light" in content. However, many of us are already gearing up for the 10th meeting to be held next year in Okinawa, Japan ( Even as this date looms near, it is only now that these Proceedings have been published and distributed.

For anyone seriously interested in virtually any aspect of coral reefs, these volumes, along with occasional books and the journal, Coral Reefs, are the most concentrated mass of current knowledge on the many subjects regarding these tropical ecosystems. That said, I confess I am more than a trifle disappointed in these volumes. Many excellent presentations are not represented in the proceedings, and although I have seen many of the papers dealing with important research areas published in other journals, it makes it much less convenient for those not inclined to regularly peruse scientific journals (including most aquarists!).

I must also note that although I have scarcely begun to browse through the nearly 1300 pages that comprise this work, the number of editing and grammatical errors should be embarrassing to the editors. I had to correct nearly a dozen mistakes simply to type the summary of the Table of Contents entries below. Quick scans of several articles suggest that such editorial blunders are commonplace throughout the work; an aspect that I have not noticed in any of the past thirty years worth of proceedings. A further complaint I have is that the stitching of the binding has already come free, and the pages of my second volume are already coming out, and I have only opened the volume five times to date. As has been the case for the 5th and 8th Proceedings, the cost of these volumes is $300.00 for those who did not attend the conference. This was understandable for the six-volume, high-quality set from the 5th ICRS in Tahiti, and in the information packed and also well-made volumes from 8th ICRS in Panama (though my volumes of this series still smell like mothballs!). Being fully aware of the cost of labor and printing in Indonesia, I find the errata, quantity and quality of these books disconcerting, to say the least. Still, flawed though they may be, they are still the best summary of current knowledge and research on the coral reefs that are home to the captive reefs with which we are so enchanted. As such, any serious student, and any serious or inquisitive aquarist interested in learning more about the wild reefs which are being emulated in tiny glass or acrylic boxes, should peruse these proceedings in order to better understand and care for the lives for which we take such care and responsibility; and which we find so endlessly fascinating and beautiful.

The following is a list of the book's subsections, each based around 58 Mini-Symposia that were held in numerous concurrently-running sessions.

Volume 1

Plenary Sessions

A1. Large scale ecology of coral reefs: linking biogeography, meta-communities and local ecological dynamics - 5 papers

A2. Planktonic food webs in coral reef waters: trophic structure, functioning, and interactions with benthic and pelagic communities - 3 papers

A3. Molecular phylogeny and population genetics in coral reefs - 6 papers

A4. Zooxanthellae in animal hosts: a symposium honoring the lifetime contributions of Len Muscatine and Bob Trench to algal symbioses - 2 papers

A5. Biodiversity, ecology and biogeography of zooxanthellae in coral-algal symbioses - 2 papers

A7. The East-Indies Triangle of maximum marine biodiversity, definition and origin - 4 papers

A8. Lessons from the past: reef palaeoecology and its applications - 4 papers

A9. Reef response to rapid climate and sea level change during the late Quaternary - 3 papers

A10. Coral reefs in turbid environments: geological and ecological significance - 5 papers

A11. Reef bioerosion - 5 papers

A12. Hydrodynamics of reefs and modeling of circulation in lagoons - 3 papers

A13. Geoscientific contributions to understanding of coral reefs - 2 papers

A14. Caribbean reefs 17 years after mass mortality of Diadema antiallarum - 2 papers

A15. Functional roles of sponges on coral reefs - 2 papers

A16. Environment and general papers - 1 paper

A17. Proxy records of climate in coral skeletons - 2 papers

A18. Reproduction, recruitment, and effects of stress on reproductive success of corals and other reef invertebrates - 10 papers

A19. Ecology of local-scale environmental perturbations on reefs - 4 papers

A20. Fish ecology I: life history and reproduction - 4 papers

A21. Fish ecology II: assemblages and structure and disturbances - 2 papers

A22. Coral-algal interactions, marine plant dynamics and roles and phase shifts of reefs - 2 papers

A23. Coral reef symbioses and interactions - 5 papers

A24. Coral growth - 2 papers

A25. Response to disturbances and impacts - 1 paper

A26. Reef metabolism and nutrient cycling - 1 paper

A27. Tridacna and other molluscs and gastropods - 1 paper

A30. Coral reef community structure - 5 papers

Volume 2

B1. Designing effective coral reef Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): lessons learned from across the sciences and from around the globe - 7 papers

B3. Conservation biology of coral reef fishes - 1 paper

B4. Global priorities for coelocanth research and conservation in the 21st century - 1 paper

B5. Worldwide example of coral resource management - 3 papers

B6. Managing the world's largest coral reef ecosystem - 6 papers

B7. The interface of science, management and policy on local, national and international scales - 2 papers

C1. Bringing social sciences and economic issues into coral reef management - 8 papers

C2. Building capacity for tropical marine biodiversity conservation: case studies and lessons learned from different approaches to tropical marine ecosystem management - 7 pages

C4. A sustainable trade in marine ornamentals - 1 paper

C5. Coral reef fisheries - 1 paper

D1. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef Check: joint symposium on education, monitoring, and management - 11 papers

D2. Central questions, experimental design and methods of long term monitoring programs: a synthesis of ecological concepts and data - 2 papers

D3. Coral reef biodiversity: assessment and conservation - 5 papers

D4. Coral reef restoration in the next millennium - 7 papers

D5. Remote sensing and GIS in the study of coral reefs - 7 papers

D6. Monitoring and assessment of coral reefs: studies from around the world - 6 papers

E1. Global climate change and coral reefs 1: the science behind the prognostication of gloom - 3 papers

E2a. Global climate change and coral reefs 2a: systematics of bleaching - 7 papers

E2b. Global climate change and coral reefs 2b: bleaching status of reefs - 6 papers

E4. Global climate change and coral reefs 4: understanding and responding to projected sea level changes - 3 papers

E5. Pathways for land based sources of pollution and subsequent impacts on coral reef environments - 4 papers

E6. Coral disease: pathogens, etiology and effect on coral reefs - 8 papers

E9. Acanthaster and Drupella on reefs - 1 paper

The Proceedings of the 9th International Coral Reef Symposium should be more readily available in the near future, but can be ordered from the bookstore at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
Name: Proceedings of the 9th International Coral Reef Symposium, Indonesia: World Coral Reefs in the New Millenium: Bridging Research and Management for Sustainable Development
Bali, October 23-27, 2000.
Editors: M. Kasim Moosa, Subagjo Soemodihardjo, Aprilani Soegiarto, Kasijan Romimohtarto, Anuderah Nontji, Soekarno, Suharsono
Published by: Ministry of Environment, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, International Society for Reef Studies
Year: 2002
ISBN: 979-8105-97-4
2 volumes,1279 pages


The next book which arrived at my doorstep within the past few days is the latest book from Mike Paletta, published after the long absence of Microcosm/TFH Publications and their five year run of excellent aquarium books. Entitled "Ultimate Marine Aquariums," this book is a "photographic tour-de-force" of 50 aquariums from around the world. Alf Nilsen and Daniel Knop have also engaged such projects, and several similar books exist covering freshwater aquariums. Included in each section covering a contributor's reef tank are the owner and/or designer of the system, their location, how long the tanks have been established, and who did the photography. The specifics of the tank design, including size, equipment, system parameters, livestock, maintenance regime, and personal remarks are found in sidebars of text aside Paletta's personal review of each aquarium that forms the basis of each small "chapter."

The book is a welcome addition in that it allows aquarists to view the aquariums of some very famous names in the hobby, as well as some persons that may not be so familiar. I was pleased to note that I had seen no small number of the tanks in this book personally, and was enthusiastically looking forward to revisiting them, if only on the pages of a book. Many tanks I had never seen personally, but were familiar with either the owner or the system by reputation or by photos I had seen elsewhere. Truly, there are some beautiful aquariums in this book (as well as some that are quite ordinary).

There were several aspects of this book that I found surprising. There is a notable absence of some very well known names and aquariums in this book that will be apparent to most readers. Also absent, though probably because Paletta is perhaps unfamiliar with them, are many staggeringly beautiful aquariums I have seen across the country, and across the world; some of which are very near to the author's home. I have found many aquariums featured in Advanced Aquarist and Reefkeeping magazine to equal or surpass many of those featured in this book. However, it was certainly a daunting task to decide which tanks to feature, and the selection of some over others was undoubtedly one that left the author, publisher and readers with the unfinished question, "Well, what about _________'s aquarium?"

Another omission in my mind is that virtually all the featured aquariums are from the United States. Reef aquariums have achieved staggering levels of what? and often with very different looks and methodologies in different parts of the world. Europe (and especially Germany, France, and Italy) and Japan are notably absent, along with any other country except England. A single British aquarium is featured in the book's 192 pages. In fact, of the 50 "world class aquariums," almost half (23) are in either New York or California, another 7 in Pennsylvania, and 5 in Ohio. Several are "mud-filtered" aquariums, systems that both Paletta and Microcosm publisher James Lawrence use and endorse. My point is that the aquariums selected seem a bit skewed and not necessarily representative of "world class aquariums" at all.

To critique this volume further, two other aspects are notable. Virtually every tank is a "garden tank" comprised of collections of species with seemingly little thought as to establishing habitats. Scores of small "bonsai" Acropora, Anthias, and ubiquitous yellow tangs adorn so many of the generally large-ish tanks that it's often hard to know where one tank begins and another ends. But what surprises me the most is the quality of many of the photographs. Microcosm has been legendary in producing books with photographs of consistently and extremely high quality. This book, in contrast, features countless blurry photographs of tanks, some bad enough that species are hardly recognizable. In several cases, an entire aquarium profile lacks a single focused photograph. Although there are far more high quality photos than blurry amateurish snapshots, the number that fall into the latter category is surprising, to say the least.

Finally, the promotional material accompanying this book suggests that his book will "tell others how to replicate their success." Anyone who has been keeping reef aquariums for any length of time will quickly realize that no two tanks, even if set up and stocked identically will ever be replicants of each other and, in most cases, will be dramatically different. For those newcomers to this hobby, I fear that far too many will fail to achieve anything resembling the aquariums shown in this book, having invested time, money and effort in trying to carbon-copy some of the aquariums, lacking the experience, dedication and knowledge that many of the masters featured in these pages have achieved.

This book will serve as a reference guide to compare and contrast various methodologies used by aquarists in the United States to achieve successful reef aquariums. It also offers a pictorial "How am I doing?" for those so inclined. Most importantly, it shows the world just how good we have gotten at keeping many coral reef species thriving in comparatively minuscule containers of seawater, and introduces the personal tanks of many persons whose names have become familiar to aquarists throughout the country (and perhaps the world?).

Oh yes…my personal favorite?, baby.

Name: Ultimate Marine Aquariums
Author: Michael S. Paletta
Published by: TFH Publciations/Microcosm Ltd.
Year: 2003
ISBN: 1-890087-74-2
Retail Price: $39.95
192 pages

If you have any questions about this article, please visit my author forum on Reef Central.

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Dual Media Review: "Proceedings of the Ninth International Coral Reef Symposium," and "Ultimate Marine Aquariums" by Eric Borneman -