Due to the less
than stellar performance of a few of the alleged "reef-safe"
treatments in my previous
experimental trials, I thought it would be worthwhile
to continue my trials and delve into the performance of some
other claimed "reef-safe" treatments. For this next
set of experiments, I chose Aquarium Pharmaceuticals' MelaFix
and PimaFix, as well as No Sick Fish's Ich Treatment. All
of these medications claim to be reef-safe and yet, to the
best of my knowledge, none has been proven either safe or
effective. It is a shame that manufacturers don't routinely
release to the public the details of their own in-house experiments.
If they did, I am sure they would gain greater acceptance
and foster far less skepticism and cynicism among advanced
Methods and Materials
For this experiment, I reused the
acrylic cubicle system that I had built for the previous round
of testing (Pro, 2005). Its outside dimensions are 49"
long by 16" wide by 19" high, and it is split into
12 equal compartments, although for this experiment I used
only 10 cubicles. Each compartment can hold almost four gallons.
In contrast to most cubicle display systems at retail or wholesale
facilities, each of these small tanks is completely separate
from the others; no holes or overflow grids allow water to
flow from one tank to the next.
To clean and sterilize the experimental system after the
previous round of testing, I bleached all the cubicles. After
being bleached, each cubicle was rinsed repeatedly with freshwater
to ensure the compartments lacked any possible contaminants.
Additionally, the sponges, as well as the airstones in the
sponge filters, were replaced with new parts.
Filtration, aeration and circulation for each cubicle were
provided by 12 ATI Hydro III sponge filters. Each sponge filter
was powered by a White Water model LT-19 linear piston air
pump capable of producing 2.2 cubic feet per minute of air
through a 1¼" PVC manifold. Due to the cubicles'
tall, narrow design, the airlifts created a strong rolling
circulation within each compartment.
Lighting was provided by an IceCap 660 electronic ballast
powering two 48" 110-watt URI Super Actinic lamps, one
48" 110-watt URI Aquasun and one 48" 110-watt URI
Actinic White. In addition to the URI lamps' internal reflectors,
the lamps and waterproof end caps were mounted on a standard
polished aluminum VHO lamp reflector. The ballast was connected
to a common household appliance timer to maintain a consistent
I do have to admit that
I am somewhat curious about what problems hobbyists
are using MelaFix and PimaFix to combat. MelaFix
is marketed for bacterial infections. In my experience,
most bacterial infections are caused by something
secondary, such as poor water quality, physical
damage, shipping trauma or inadequate diet, for
instance. Once those underlying conditions are addressed,
often the infection clears up with no additional
treatment. And when it doesn't, my first instinct
is to use a true antibiotic, not an alternative
is marketed for the treatment of fungal infections.
I have always been led to believe that true fungal
infections are an uncommon ailment for tropical
marine fishes (Fenner, 2001), and that corresponds
with my own experience. True fungal infections are
rare and are usually misidentified bacterial or
also feel compelled to comment on the odor that
these two products produce. I was dosing only two
3-gallon tanks with each of the products, for a
total of 12 gallons treated, yet they produced a
significant smell throughout the better part of
my downstairs. I would describe the smell as similar
to Vicks VapoRub. All I needed to add was the scent
of moth balls, cedar and garlic, and I would have
successfully converted the aroma of my home into
that of my great grandmother's, and likely ended
up in divorce court. I can't imagine the stench
created if I would have dosed a 100-gallon or larger
Each of the test tanks was initially filled with 3½
gallons of freshly mixed saltwater. The water was produced
using an Aquatechnik separate stage two-resin deionization
unit (Kati-Ani) and Tropic Marin Pro Reef salt mix. The water
was measured to have a salinity of 35 ppt, or approximately
1.026 specific gravity at 78°F, with a Sybon Opticon Series
FG100sa refractometer having automatic temperature compensation.
The refractometer was calibrated prior to taking measurements
with a reference sample of pure water (< 18 MΩ-cm
and 0 ± 0.01 ppt). The saltwater's initial quality
was checked with Salifert test kits and was recorded as follows:
For this experiment, I also wanted to improve upon my previous
trial. In that test I used only one Xenia sp. fragment
per cubicle. This limited my number of replicates to two per
experimental treatment. For this trial I obtained 48 specimens
of what is commonly referred to as Pom-Pom or Red Sea Xenia
from fellow aquarist Scott Busche (aka loui on Reef Central).
(I did not attempt to identify the Xenia to species
level and hereinafter will refer to it simply as Xenia
sp.) Because of this, I could place four samples per cubicle
and use two cubicles per treatment. This provided eight specimens
Each freshly produced fragment was placed into the cubicles
and permitted to roll around for several days so that its
cut edge would heal. Unfortunately, as many of the readers
likely know, Xenia does not ship well, particularly
if it is newly propagated. It is best shipped either dry or
from a suspended, floating Styrofoam raft, not simply tossed
in the bottom of a bag submerged (Calfo, 2001). So, of the
48 samples that Scott provided, only 28 were alive after two
weeks. By this point, the remaining specimens had recovered
and were healthy by gross appearance. I redistributed some
of the remaining Xenia and cut the largest two specimens
in half so that I had 30 fragments, with three specimens per
At this point, I also placed the Xenia fragments into
PVC collars to keep them all in the same approximate location,
to reduce flow and lighting variations. The PVC collars were
made from ½" schedule 40 PVC cut into ¾"
I then held the Xenia for one additional month prior
to any treatments to ensure that the remaining specimens were
healthy and had adapted to their new environment. At the end
of the acclimation period, all the specimens were exhibiting
good color, regular polyp expansion and were pulsing regularly.
As such, I deemed them to be healthy and ready to begin the
Every day during the acclimation period, I topped-off the
cubicles with deionized water from the Aquatechnik Kati-Ani
unit, to account for water lost to evaporation. Also, once
per week I conducted a one-gallon water change in each of
the compartments. The corals did not receive any feedings
at any time, as Xenia is thought to be nearly autotrophic
(able to produce all necessary energy from light) (Borneman,
2001, Calfo, 2001, and Calfo, 2004) and to reduce additional
variables affecting how well the individual Xenia fragments
At this time the tanks were labeled
so that the experiment could begin. Two of the cubicles were
to be positive control tanks and would receive no treatment
whatsoever. Two of the compartments were labeled as negative
control groups and were to be dosed with Mardel's Coppersafe
at a one time dose of ¾ tsp. The reaction of the Xenia
exposed to copper would give a baseline for comparison to
their reaction to the "reef-safe" treatments, as
copper is toxic to invertebrates and this dosage appeared
sufficient to kill Xenia in the previous experiment
(Pro, 2005). Six of the cubicles were the treatment tanks.
They were divided into three pairs. Each pair of experimental
compartments was to be treated with one of the following "reef-safe"
medications: Aquarium Pharmaceuticals' MelaFix and PimaFix,
and No Sick Fish's Ich Treatment. The two remaining cubicles
went unused and were simply filled with tap water to maintain
a consistent back pressure on the air delivery manifold.
Additionally, I also changed the order of the cubicles from
my previous experiment such that the ones that were used last
time as negative controls went untreated this time, while
the cubicles that were positive controls last time were exposed
to copper. I did this to see if there would be any trace amounts
of copper left over from the previous round that would interfere
with the Xenia sp. Since the untreated, positive controls
grew and behaved normally, it seemed that if there was any
trace amount of copper remaining in the cubicles, it was negligible
and had no effect.
In contrast to my previous round of testing, the dosing schedule
for these treatments was relatively straightforward. Both
MelaFix and PimaFix had a recommended dosage of one teaspoon
(5 ml) per ten gallons, repeated daily for seven days. This
converted easily to 1.5 milliliters per three-gallon cubicle.
At the end of this period of time, it was recommended that
a 25% water change be performed according to the directions
provided by the manufacturer.
The cubicles were also alternated to account for differences
in the light intensity. Fluorescent lights are strongest in
the middle while weakest at the ends (Delbeek & Sprung,
1994 and Riddle, 1995). This difference in light intensity
can have a dramatic effect on growth rates in experiments
such as this (Holmes-Farley, 2003). To compensate for this
effect, the cubicles were arranged in this manner:
In this way, each treatment would have specimens under varying
In comparison, dosing the No Sick Fish Ich Treatment was
slightly more complicated. It called for adding one drop of
the product per 25 gallons of water daily for seven days.
Because the test cubicles were topped-off at only three gallons,
this called for the medication to be diluted. One tenth of
a milliliter was extracted from the dropper bottle. This was
added to a test tube, to which 2.5 ml of deionized water was
added. This should have resulted in a concentration such that
one drop would be adequate for one gallon of water. Three
drops of this dilution were added daily to both of the No
Sick Fish cubicles. Additionally, a fresh batch of this mixture
was created every day for the experiment, with the unused
portion of the dilution discarded.
Untreated, Positive Control:
All of these specimens continued to thrive
and grow during the entire testing period. This demonstrates
that nothing was wrong in the environment that caused obviously
detrimental effects to the control specimens. Results show
that Xenia can and, in fact, did do well under the
circulation, filtration and lighting conditions in the experimental
setting. They all exhibited a healthy color, regular polyp
expansion and pulsed regularly throughout the experiment's
Copper-Treated Negative Control:
All six specimens of Xenia exposed to
copper were dead in less than 24 hours. After the first two
hours they stopped pulsing and contracted. By six hours they
had changed from their normal light pink color to a light
gray, and remained contracted. After 12 hours had elapsed
the corals in these cubicles had turned mostly white and were
no longer contracted, but instead were what I can best describe
as listless. They did not seem to be able to right themselves
and their polyps were blown around by the water's movement.
By the next morning, the specimens had largely disintegrated
and appeared to be completely dead with nothing more than
a nondescript blob of tissue remaining inside the PVC collar.
MelaFix, PimaFix and No Sick Fish
Ich Treatment Groups:
All of the specimens exposed to these
various "reef-safe" treatments appeared unaffected
by the medications. They exhibited no change in behavior,
color or general appearance. They all were indistinguishable
from the untreated control groups.
Even though all
these treatments passed this round of testing, I still am
not prepared to declare them totally safe or to recommend
their use. I believe a lot more testing is still in order.
Particularly, I would like to see similar testing conducted
on some worms, sponges, crustaceans, echinoderms, and perhaps
a few other cnidarians. To me, a reef tank is much more than
corals and fish, and I would like to see what effects, if
any, exposure to these drugs has on these other important
parts of a mature reef environment.
Additionally, it is important to note I have done no testing
to ensure that these treatments are actually effective for
their designed purpose. Once I am convinced that they are
truly safe, their effectiveness would be assessed in the next
stage of testing. Until such time, or until their manufacturers
release their own in-house studies, I am reluctant to recommend
any of these treatments.
I would like to thank Gene Schwartz
(aka zhenya) for buying and sending me the No Sick Fish treatment.
While all the other treatments were purchased off the shelf
at the local fish store, the No Sick Fish treatment had to
be purchased directly from the manufacturer. Since I didn't
want them to know that I was the one buying it, Gene was kind
enough to help me out, buy it for my use and reship it to
me in its original packaging.