Little Brain that Could
My story all started with a coral
donation from a fellow New Jersey reefkeeper. He was donating
a brain coral, some zoanthids, a rock full of Ricordea
and some small-polyped stony coral fragments to the New Jersey
Reefers Club. Our club had been trying to raise money to acquire
non-profit status and raffling corals provided the most income
toward this end. A club officer picked up the donation without
telling the rest of the board. All the fragments were never
documented for inventory; he just mentioned that he had picked
them up already. A few days later the donor asked how they
were doing, and then gave the club an inventoried list of
what we should have received. His list did not match that
of the club's officer. It appeared that the officer may have
taken some of the corals for his personal gain, thinking nobody
would notice. He also made the mistake of photographing his
new acquisition, a large piece of live rock with 10+ Ricordea
specimens. on it. The donor then identified the rock as his.
This so-called "acquisition" was foolishly placed
into his one-month-old 125-gallon tank, thereby leading to
the Ricordea's untimely demise. Under pressure from
the officers and members over what he did, he resigned his
position and handed over what remained of the donation to
me. I received a few fragments, all under one inch high, a
small piece of rock with one Ricordea on it, and a
brain coral which looked like a dead skeleton simply hosting
several small zoanthid colonies.
The fragments were handed to me in Ziploc bags and when I
first saw them, and given the shape they were in, I didn't
think any of them would survive. During dinner that night,
I drip acclimated the corals. The water volume was tripled,
dumped out and tripled again to make sure they weren't stressed
any more than necessary. The acclimation process took a total
of 2 ½ hours. I also took pictures to document their
A Short Description of My System:
My 75-gallon display houses over 40
coral fragments and mini-colonies of small-polyped stony corals.
I have a very light fish load, and I feed them every other
day. Plumbed to this is a 28-gallon custom acrylic tank used
for growing coral fragments. It shares a sump, skimmer and
calcium reactor with the main tank. I started the fragment
tank because I wanted to keep more corals than my main display
could handle. It was also a good place to culture fragments
since it gave them more room to grow, and I usually end up
accidentally breaking a few pieces during normal tank maintenance
in my main display anyway.
The fragment tank houses a SEIO M1100, a Maxijet1200 and
a single 6500K Iwasaki bulb. It also has two tiers of "eggcrate"
racks. The top one sits a mere 12" from the halide, and
the second one about 20" from the light, and is elevated
from the bottom of the tank with 2" PVC legs. The light
in the fragment tank stays on for only six hours as the tank
catches some light from the main display, which sits just
four inches to its left. The main tank uses two Tunze 6000's
for circulation, and both tanks share the same return pump
from the sump. The fragment tank's feed is "tapped"
from one of the returns leading to the main tank and is regulated
with a ball valve. The fragment tank has a turnover rate slightly
under 150 gallons/hour. The calcium reactor is a single chamber
Reef Technologies K2R. It contains ARM media, and its
effluent runs about 50 ml/min at about 60-80 bubbles/min.
All top-off for the system is performed manually with kalkwasser
that is dripped by a modest 2.5-gallon Kent Marine Aquadose
unit. I have also started dosing Turbo Calcium on a daily
basis to see if I notice any growth spurts. I add carbon on
an "as needed" basis, usually 1-2 cups every three
to six weeks depending if I forget to change it. I also run
a small bag of Kent Phosphate granules, just because I happen
to have a gallon's worth of media handy. I also add about
a tablespoon of Kent Marine Essential elements every time
I do a water change or add carbon to the system.
To be honest, I was never a big fan
of testing and checking water parameters. I DO try, however,
to keep up with my husbandry. My routine consists of 10-15%
water changes every two weeks, weekly detritus siphoning,
ensuring that the calcium reactor's effluent drips to my satisfaction,
etc. As mentioned before, I don't have a heavy fish load and
I feed sparingly. The last time I checked my water, ammonia,
nitrites, and nitrates were undetectable, while phosphate
was almost so; the pH was 8.2, alkalinity was 10 and calcium
constantly fluctuated between 350ppm and 410ppm. My salt choice
is TropicMarin Pro.
I feed the fish a mixture of Mysis
shrimp, grated shrimp, clam and garlic, Ocean Nutrition Formula
A, Formula B and bloodworms. Preparation involves defrosting
a pack (or two) each of Formula A, B, Mysis and bloodworms
and then mixing them with the grated garlic, clam and shrimp.
I find that grating the shrimp, clam and garlic provides a
better "texture" that my fish love, rather than
the "mush" associated with using a blender (plus
I don't have one). I leave this concoction in a sieve for
at least an hour or two in the refrigerator. I do this to
get rid of excess moisture in the food, and doing so provides
a more "potent" rather than diluted mix. I feed
the fish via a "feeding tube" to further reduce
excess waste, and to target feed anything that needs it.
June 28, 2005.
After finally admitting that he may have misunderstood
the intended donor, the corals were returned to the club and
directly to me. The brain coral arrived at my place in a half-pint
Ziploc bag and I almost threw it away. Not only did it look
pretty bad, it also was producing quite a bit of mucous, probably
as a reaction to the zoanthids that were growing on its skeleton.
I thought to myself, "This coral probably isn't going
to make it. I'll just throw it into the tank since I don't
have time to pick the zoanthids off tonight." I was actually
intending to save the zoanthids that had encroached upon its
dead coralline-encrusted skeleton. "So much for saving
this coral," I thought; "let me drip acclimate all
of them in the same bucket while I have dinner."
That same night, I performed a 10% water change on my whole
system. The process took almost 2-3 hours, as I drained the
tank slowly with a piece of airline tubing, the other end
of which was in the bucket with the new acquisitions. The
water in the buckets was tripled, dumped out, and the whole
process was repeated. I took my time since I did not want
to stress them even more; besides, I was having dinner and
watching a movie. I finished with the fragments around 2:00AM
that night, as can be seen in the following thread on New
Jersey's Reefers Club:
The brain was placed in the fragment tank 8" in front
of the SEIO powerhead with its back towards the stream of
water. The tissue had so receeded, I just wanted to make sure
that water circulated through its semi-lifeless skeleton.
I also placed it just under the second-lowest rack, under
very low light.
Here are some pictures:
July 4th, 2005: Finally, the
brain coral showed polyp extension after two weeks. I noticed
the polyps would extend every time I fed my fish. Only 4-5
polyps came out, and I was astonished to see it responding
to organics in the water column (most likely the shrimp and
clam residues). I decided to try to feed it some excess "juice"
the brain liked it! I guessed it was going to try and take
a shot at life after all.
July 30th, 2005: The brain had
made an absolutely phenomenal comeback. It had also started
splitting in two. The attached zoanthids were also making
a comeback. I could see a few of them encroaching closer to
the front of the brain, which the brain responded to by withdrawing
I left it alone for a few days, in the meantime contemplating
what to do with the zoanthid hitchhikers. The feeding continued
on a daily basis at this point, and I started giving it larger
chunks of food, up to 1/8" pieces. I wanted to experiment
with improving the colors of my corals, since they have always
looked little pale. A few threads on Reef Central had mentioned
a possible correlation between dissolved organics and color
in small-polyped stony corals, so I figured I'd give it a
try. I purchased three Anthias at my local fish store,
and they gave me an excuse to feed the tank every day. So
Feeding the brain for fast recovery...
August 11th, 2005: I asked permission
(from the board of the NJ Reef Club) to relocate the zoanthids
on the back of the brain, to give the brain more room to expand
when it fed. The smaller brain fragment had also completely
separated from the main colony, and removing the zoanthids
(later on) seemed to make it perk up. I had to manually clear
the grooves of the coral by squirting water on them with a
turkey baster, as they seemed to collect detritus on a regular
basis. Cleaning the grooves resulted in much better tissue
extension, so I figured that the coral was getting insufficient
current flow over/through it.
September 5th, 2005: The brain
was on its way to a full recovery. The flesh that was receded
in the original pictures was now all thick and expanded, and
the second fragment was also sporting some very healthy flesh
as well. Both corals were fed on a daily basis with the same
fish food concoction, and I would also occasionally throw
in a piece of mashed shrimp as a treat. They definitely loved
that stuff. The brain coral was moved a little higher up to
the second rack, but still kept away from under the Iwasaki
September 21st, 2005: The brain
coral was back! It had recuperated nicely under the 6500K
lighting, so I decided to throw a 14K bulb over the fragment
tank to see if it would change color at all. Whether it was
due to the new lighting or the increased health of the coral
is unknown, but its reds became more pronounced under the
14K, and after two weeks it looked even better than it did
when I acquired it. We decided that the brain was to be raffled
off for the October meeting, and I made preparations to keep
it in good shape. I moved it a little closer to the light
source and fed it sparingly twice a day. I think it responded
better to two feedings than one big one, but due to my work
schedule, the feedings were necessarily inconsistent. I did
see a marked improvement in the smaller of the two; it was
definitely trying to re-occupy the calcium skeletal structure
it had once covered. The polyps extended further now as well,
and the colors were definitely starting to get deeper. My
tank was also exhibiting deeper colors, attesting to the fact
that dissolved organics (in the appropriate amount) did elicit
eye-pleasing color even in a tank dominated with small-polyped
October 12th, 2005: The brain
coral was raffled off and won by Steve68. Long Live the Brain!
When I received it.
A few months ago.
If you have any questions about this article, please visit
my author forum
on Reef Central.