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    By jeremai, in Biotopes,

    Probably the simplest way of stocking a biotope tank is to choose a specific reef location and stock only corals, fish and inverts collected from that location. This approach is the broadest and least limiting, making it easier to find suitable inhabitants for your tank.
    The waters around Florida and the Caribbean are home to forests of gorgonians, large patches of zoanthids, and swaying seagrass beds. Tanks showcasing Caribbean species often include gorgonians, zoanthids, macroalgae (especially Caulerpa sp.), and colorful Ricordia. Gobies, basslets, grammas, jawfish and pygmy angels are all at home in a Caribbean tank. Stony corals from the Caribbean are not usually available in the hobby, as their collection in and around Florida is restricted. Similar substitutes can be found in Pacific species, however. For example, if you were recreating a Caribbean lagoon and Diploria strigosa was not available, you could substitute the similar-looking Pacific species Platygyra labrinthiformis.

    An example of a patch reef.
    As the motherlode of biodiversity, reef tanks with a Pacific theme can take many forms, ranging from low-nutrient/high-flow tanks dominated by small-polyped stony corals to high-nutrient/medium-light tanks filled with Euphylliids, Acanthastrea and other large-polyped stony corals.
    If you view a typical reef from the air, you will see it segmented into a number of specific zones, and any of these would be a welcome starting point for a budding biotopic tank. Starting from the shore, they are:
    Lagoons and Seagrass Habitats: Lagoon areas are characterized by large patches of sand. The water here is calm and usually rich in nutrients. Plate corals are scattered across the sand, as well as brain corals and Euphylliids. Patches of seagrasses can be sparse or stretch for miles, and act as natural filters for the sediments that wash from the shore. Fringing and Patch Reefs: Surrounding and often jutting into  lagoons are rocky  flats. Many stony corals thrive here, including Acropora, Montipora, Faviids and Porites. The image to the right is an example of a stony coral patch reef surrounded by sand. Reef Crest and Upper Fore Reef: These areas are characterized by very aggressive water movement, high light, extremely low nutrients and abundant planktonic foods. SPS corals like Acropora dominate here, where their thick branching skeletons can withstand the pounding waves. Deep Fore Reefs: This area is generally dark, with strong water movement and plenty of planktonic food sources. It is home to non-photosynthetic gorgonians and colorful Dendronepthya and Scleronepthya. A tank dedicated to these corals requires very little lighting, but lots of feeding and strong filtration.  
    Any of these zones would be simple to recreate and effective as a beautiful reef system.

    By jeremai, in Biotopes,

    Symbiotic relationships, when two different species form close and long-lasting interactions, occur in all of the ocean’s ecosystems. From enormous sharks with their tag-along remoras, to the tiny microscopic zooxanthellae that live within the tissues of corals, many organisms have found that working together toward a common goal is the most efficient way to procure food and escape predation.

    A sea anemone hosting a clownfish.
    There are a number of common and not-so-common organisms that are perfectly suited for aquarium life. A tank dedicated to or featuring these pairs is not only a more realistic slice of the reef, but often provides a more appropriate living environment, leading to healthier livestock.
    One of the most common animals involved in symbiosis are anemones. In the wild, anemones of all shapes and sizes host hundreds of different fish and invertebrate species. Clownfish are probably the most well-known anemone symbionts, but other species of damselfish, namely Dascyllus trimaculatus, are also known to host with anemones in the wild. The anemone provides shelter for the fish within its stinging tentacles, and the fish return the favor by bringing bits of food back to the anemone.
    Anemones also host other types of life. Tiny, translucent shrimp, most commonly in the genus Periclimenes, are the most commonly found, and can be very entertaining to watch as they move in and out of the anemone’s tentacles harmlessly feeding on its mucus. Porcelain crabs, Neopetrolisthes ohshimai, are another popular invert for hosting with anemones. These crabs use the anemone for protection as they wave around their feeding appendages, waiting for food to float by.
    The important thing to remember here is that neither the anemone or the animal hosting it are dependent on the other for survival. Anemones will love long, happy lives without any animals living within their tentacles. Clownfish will often host other types of corals if an anemone is absent, and have even been known to host inanimate objects like powerheads. Periclimenes shrimp are also natural hosts of corallimorphs like Ricordea sp. in the wild, and will mirror that relationship in a biotope tank. In the same way, porcelain crabs will find a suitable coral substitute to provide them with cover. Don’t think that you must have an anemone in order to set up a biotope based on symbiosis – a 10g tank stocked to the brim with Ricordea and ten or fifteen Periclimenes shrimp would be a fascinating sight.
    If you do decide to keep an anemone, however, there are some special considerations to keep in mind regarding their care. Generally, anemones require high light and high flow to survive well in home aquaria. Their requirements are much the same as SPS corals, however anemones tend to wander around their tank stinging indiscriminately, and should only be housed with other corals with caution. A future installment of this series will go into more detail on anemone-only tanks.

    An Alpheid shrimp and its symbiotic goby.
    Another popular symbiotic pair are pistol shrimps of the genus Alpheus and their partner gobies. This combination is truly amazing to observe. The shrimp digs a burrow in which to live. In return for shelter, the goby keeps a keen eye out, and at the first sign of danger alerts the shrimp and both dart into the hole. Because the shrimp is nearly blind, it has at least one antenna in contact with the goby at all times as a means of communication. This would be the perfect pair for a small nano tank, where the interaction can be observed up close.
    When designing a biotope based on a symbiotic relationship, always be sure to take the needs of the both parties into consideration. In cases where one animal is more difficult to keep alive than the other, it is best to design the system with the needs of the more fragile species in mind. For example, Christmas tree worms (Spirobranchus sp.) are beautiful, but depend on their host Porites coral for survival. If you cannot keep the Porites alive, the worms are doomed. Since the worms don’t require any sort of special care, you would design your system around the coral, providing high light and random, chaotic flow.

    By jeremai, in Biotopes,

    Up till now we’ve discussed biotopes in their literal sense — systems built around a specific geographical or spatial location, and systems centered on a specific niche within that location. In this hobby though, there are no hard and fast rules, and the limits of what can be considered a ‘biotope’ are only capped by your imagination.
    If you’ve decided that you want to set up a biotope but aren’t sold on the traditional avenues, here is a sampling of systems that are becoming more and more popular.
    Single-Species Tanks
    Single-species systems are exactly what they sound like: the bioload is dominated by a single species, genus or perhaps family. Systems like these can take many forms; a systems designed around a Fu Manchu Lionfish, complete with a central cave for perching, is an example. Or perhaps a 40 Breeder with six inches of sand and a plethora of Upside-down Jellyfish.

    Rhinopias sp., perfect for a single-species tank.
    The goal with a single-species tank is to choose an organism and then build the system around it. That lionfish is going to need a strong skimmer to clean up after its messy eating, and those jellyfish would benefit from gentle flow and a sump packed full of live rock. People often create systems for a specific species due to their sensitive nature or difficult feeding habits, such as with dwarf seahorses or pipefish. Make sure you understand the needs of your chosen livestock, and meet those needs through your system.
    Marine Planted Tanks
    Macrolagaes occur on all the world’s reefs. In fact, in some reefs macros are the dominant calcifying organism. That means that instead of the reef being built by corals, it’s built by algae. No biotopic presentation can be called complete without the addition of some form of macro algae. The more popular macros in the hobby can be fairly drab, but there are plenty of species out there that would contribute to a spectacular algae-dominated planted tank.
    A system centered on macroalgaes does have a few specific considerations though, the first being pH. Just like terrestrial plants, macros take in carbon dioxide during the day and release it at night. This lights-out release of carbon dioxide can cause pH fluctuations; the more algae in the tank, the higher the probability of the pH changing dramatically, which can cause stress or even death for other inhabitants of the system.

    Halymenia sp. macroalgae, a popular and beautiful species.
    The simplest way to combat this is to have a refugium plumbed to the main tank, containing an algae such as chaetomorpha. Set up the light cycles so they oppose each other — when the main tank lights are on, the refugium lights are off, and when the main tank lights are off, the refugium is on. In this way the cycle of carbon dioxide release is offset and the system will remain more stable.
    Another problem that can be encountered is algae going sexual. When this happens, the algae turns translucent and releases spores in an attempt to repopulate a different location. This spore release is generally accompanied by a nutrient spike, but for a planted marine tank this is of little concern. Simple remove the dead portions of algae and the other macros in the tank will utilize the nutrients released. If you have other livestock in the system, such as fish or corals, and you notice them having an adverse reaction to the algae going sexual, do a waterchange and run some carbon.
    The algaes most likely to go sexual in home aquaria are Caulerpa sp, although all macros have the potential. Halimeda sp also go through the process fairly often, although it is usually just a few ‘pads’ that go and not the whole colony. Algaes go sexual for many reasons, though usually it is caused by being overgrown or not receiving enough nutrients. Basically, the algae does not think it has a good chance of survival where it is, and is trying to move somewhere more suitable. Some algaes will go sexual for no apparent reason however, and because of this there’s really no way of preventing the problem completely. I’ve never heard of a tank crashing specifically due to algae going sexual, so it’s one of those ‘deal with it as it comes’ scenarios. Don’t let it scare you off though, algae-dominated tanks are a beautiful sight!
    While a photo with a dramatic blur can often be artistic, it can also render a subject incomprehensible. Here are some ways to add clarity to your digital photographs.

    Tip 1: Reduce shutter lag. The time between pressing the trigger and the camera taking the picture is called shutter lag, and it can cause blurry pictures. Avoid it by pressing the trigger halfway down until you’re ready to shoot. When the right moment comes, press the rest of the way. This strategy is great when you’re taking pictures of people (especially kids) or animals. Tip 2: Minimize camera shake. Even the slightest camera movement can cause unclear photos. Use a tripod or brace yourself against a stationary object to hold the camera still. Some digital cameras come with image stabilization, another way to help get clear images of moving subjects. Tip 3: Use your digital camera’s Action shooting mode for taking photos of fish. It automatically optimizes your shutter speed to help capture motion. Or manually increase your camera’s shutter speed to achieve the same effect.

    By jeremai, in Beginners Articles,

    Whether you’re looking to add to an existing reef system or you’re designing one from the ground up, one of the most confusing aspects is choosing between a protein skimmer and a refugium. Both can be both a benefit and a detriment to a reef tank depending on a lot of factors.
    Generally, protein skimmers remove organic compounds (among other things) directly from the water column, while refugiums bind those compounds in the form of algae which is then harvested as a means of export. Here’s a quick rundown of the benefits and drawbacks of each filtration type:

    A vibrant, healthy refugium.
    Provides existing aquarium inhabitants with natural food sources such as phytoplankton and zooplankton. Filters water naturally (dramatically lowering nitrate and phosphate levels) and decreases the frequency of water changes that are needed. Stabilizes water conditions (especially oxygen level and pH). Helps control algae growth in the existing aquarium through nutrient competition. Serves as a temporary acclimation tank for new inhabitants. After development, refugiums provide considerable aesthetic value to the system. Some types of algae (namely a few Caulerpa spp.) may ‘go sexual’, or release spores into the tank. This causes a thick green haze that can irritate corals and fish, and would need to be removed with carbon combined with good mechanical filtration. There are many reasons for macroalgae to go sexual, but keeping it pruned and maintaining a set lighting schedule will help to keep it from happening (the exception is Chaetomorpha, which rarely goes sexual and may be lit on a 24hr photoperiod). Protein Skimmers

    Skimmate. Trust me, it’s a good thing!
    Skimmers increase the dissolve oxygen levels and redox potential in an aquarium. Remove dissolved organics before they get a chance to breakdown and become a food source for nuisance algae. A photo of the resulting product, called skimmate, is shown above. Can help lead to a more stable pH since less dissolved organics are in the system. Overall improvement in the health and vigor of the animals in the aquarium since their wastes are being removed from the system sooner via the collection cup. Can be very/extremely expensive. They can remove beneficial bacteria as well as phytoplankton and other desirable organisms from a system. They can remove trace elements that may need to be replenished or supplemented, such as Iodine. Other elements are most likely removed as well and if partial water changes are not practiced on a regular basis your system could become unbalanced chemically, i.e. not have the proper proportion or ratio of trace elements to major elements.  
    As you can see, it’s not a simple matter of one verses the other. Each method works in a different way to achieve the same result: a cleaner, healthier system. In the future I’ll breakdown the best way to size and utilize each for your system, but in the mean time here is a general rule of thumb: if your tank matures into an SPS-dominated system, consider a skimmer and possibly a refugium. If it matures into a softy or LPS-dominated tank, consider a refugium and possibly a skimmer. But always remember that neither is absolutely necessary, they only help to increase your chances of success.

    By jeremai, in Livestock Articles,

    Often the first creatures added to a new tank are members of the clean-up crew. These small inverts are supposed to serve the purpose of ‘cleaning’ the tank of algae, leftover food and detritus, making the reefkeeper’s maintenance chores a little easier to manage.
    The new aquarist, anxious about stocking a tank yet excited to see some signs of life, often goes overboard with their first crew. Hermit crabs, along with a host of other creatures commonly included in clean-up crew packages, are not only unnecessarily destructive, but their intended use can better be served by other, more docile inverts, like snails. Place the two in the same tank, however, and any hobbyist will tell you that the hermits invariably end up wearing the snails as homes.

    Cute, but a potential hazard.
    What to Avoid
    While some hermit crab species, like the scarlet variety, tend to be less murderous than others, all will eventually need larger shells to use as homes, and snails are the best target for them. Those same snails are for more efficient at algae and detritus cleanup than the crabs will ever be, so why even bother? Other crabs are often included in crews as well — sally light foots and arrow crabs, in particular, are opportunistic and will often eat whatever they can get their claws on. Even the much beloved emerald crabs (Mithrax sp.) have been known to turn carnivorous for no apparent reason. I would recommend emerald crabs as a last resort in an algae battle, not as a preventative measure.
    Ok, so you’ve been converted away from using hermit crabs. In your search for a clean-up crew you come across a crab-less package, which should be perfect, right? The problem is, many crab-less packages contain sand sifting organisms, namely starfish and sea cucumbers. These animals rely on microscopic fauna in the sandbed as their sole food source, and once that food is exhausted the animal most often dies. Unless you have a very large tank, on the order of a couple of square feet of sandbed for each cucumber or starfish, these are best left alone.
    Coral banded shrimp and peppermint shrimp are sometimes included as part of the clean-up crew, but often they will turn opportunistic, eating coral polyps, other shrimp and sometimes even small fish. All shrimp need to be well-fed or they will make their own meals, often out of your corals.
    While most snail species are harmless algae or detritus eaters, there are a few varieties unsuitable for reef tanks. Murex snails are predatory, feeding on other snails and bivalves. Margarita snails pop up from time to time in shops, but are harvested from temperate locales, making them unsuitable for tropical tanks. Flamingo tongue snails are beautiful and harmless to most motile inverts, but feed solely on gorgonians and so require specialized care. Most conch species are effective algae eaters and scavengers, but grow much too large for most reef systems.
    Getting the Crew Together
    So what’s the alternative? A snail-only crew is the best way to go. Other than the species mentioned above and a few others, most snail species are small and harmless, unless you happen to be a bit of algae or a scrap of food. Let’s take a look at the specific problems you’ll be trying to address with your clean-up crew, and which species are best suited to solving those problems.
    Diatoms on Sand and Rocks:
    Diatoms look like abrown dust coating the hard surfaces in your tank. While most diatom blooms run their coarse, they can still be unsightly. Cerith snails and limpets are great choices for eating diatoms.
    Green Film Algae:
    This is the de facto standard as far as algae goes in reef tanks. It exists in all systems to some degree, and can range from barely noticeable to embarrassing. Astrea snails are amazing film algae eaters (the larger ‘turbo’ varieties are best for larger tanks, as they will knock over small frags in their search for food), along with Ceriths and chitons.
    Hair Algae:
    There are a couple types of hair algae. The standard type is non-branching and grows in clumps. Many snails munch on this type of hair algae, including turbo snails and chitons. For larger tanks, non-snail animals like urchins and sea hairs can be the solution to a hair algae problem. The other type of hair algae is Bryopsis. The strands of this type of algae branch off and look like tiny feathers. Most algae-eating animals stay away from this stuff; your best bet here is to solve the issues that are causing the Bryopsis rather than trying to find something that will consume it. Some people have had luck with turbo snails, sea hares and a couple other creatures however. Your results may vary.
    This slimy, stringy ‘algae’ can often reach plague proportions in tanks with high nutrient inputs. While the best remedy here is prevention, Ceriths and Nerites are both good choices to help with the cleanup.
    Leftover Food:
    If you have a heavy hand when feeding your tank, you’ll want to take advantage of various creatures that will mop up the excess food your fish may miss. Nassarius snails are experts in sifting through the sandbed waiting for a meal, and will pop to the surface at the first whiff of feeding time. For getting into the nooks and crannies of your live rock, it is best to rely on the organisms that hitched in, namely pods and bristleworms. An occasional blast with a turkey baster will also help to keep thinks clean.
    Stocking Your Tank
    Now that you know which types of organisms to avoid and which to use, let’s go over how you should stock your tank with regards to a clean-up crew. You’ll often see so-called rules saying one snail per gallon; these sorts of rules are far too generic to be of any use, and often result in tanks that are overstocked with snails and crabs. Not all reef systems are created equal, and while one 20g may need fifteen snails, another may not need any.
    A much better approach would be more organic. If your tank develops an algae bloom, find out which snails or other organisms have the best track record of handling it, then pick up a few of those. Then, wait a couple weeks to give them a chance to do some work. If the problem does not resolve or gets worse, get a few more and wait another couple weeks.
    Most new tanks start off with heavy algae growth that dwindles over time. If you end up with a large clean-up crew toward the beginning, be prepared to whittle it down as time goes on and algae supplies decrease. Mature tanks with effective nutrient export and a low bioload often require very few if any snails to control nuisance algae.
    To conclude, hermit crabs do have a place in reef tanks, as interesting additions whose antics never cease to amuse. But for a dedicated clean-up crew, the downsides that hermits bring with them far outweigh their benefits. Look instead for a snail-only crew, and stock your tank according to its needs and not according to an arbitrary estimation based on gallonage.

    By jeremai, in Biotopes,

    Most of the earth’s reefs are centered in the tropics, a narrow band on either side of the equator. Conditions in this band are relatively constant: long days filled with sun and predictably warm water temperatures have led corals and their relatives to evolve into light worshipers. But the further north or south of the equator you get, the more the oceans change. Days become shorter, water temperatures drop, and water clarity decreases. Benthic animals along temperate shorelines evolved to meet their needs without the sun, mainly by capturing foods that float by.

    A temperate seahorse hitching to Zostera marina, a seagrass.
    This difference in behavior is the main factor separating tropical biotopes from temperate biotopes. But even though their setup, feeding and maintenance requirements differ, both still rely on the Elements of Reefing.
    Almost all of the water parameters of temperate tanks are the same as for tropical tanks. The main thing that sets temperate tanks apart is the water temperature. The temperature range in the wild can be astounding – from close to freezing at areas of arctic upwelling, to isolated pools approaching tropical temperatures while waiting for the tides to return. The average temperature along most temperate shorelines is 50–60°F. Shooting for a temperature in this range is ideal; which end of the range is right for you depends on livestock, which we’ll discuss later.
    In order to cool the water to the desired temperature, you’ll need (appropriately) a chiller. The name may be a misnomer however. A chiller does not create cold, but actually removes heat. The ability of a chiller to remove heat is measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units). One BTU will raise one pound of water (approximately one pint) 1°F. A unit with a higher BTU is more efficient and will remove heat faster than one with a lower BTU. A chiller operates similar to a refrigerator or air conditioner. The refrigerant gas picks up heat from the aquarium water and then delivers it to the radiator as the gas pressure is dropped. A fan then dispels heat from the radiator.
    In order to choose a chiller, you will first need to calculate the amount of “pull-down” you will need. To do this, subtract the temperature at which you want your aquarium to be from the maximum temperature you think will be produced in the aquarium. Here is an example on how to determine pull-down:
    (Est. max temp) – (desired temp) = (req. pull-down)
    So, let’s say you have a 20g tank that normally sits at 75°F. For your temperate tank you need the temperature to be at 55°F:
    75°F – 55°F = 20°F
    Now that you know you have a required pull-down of 20°F, you can work on finding the correct chiller size. Remember earlier when I mentioned that chillers were rated in BTUs? Well, that rating will help determine which chiller you need. One BTU will raise the temperature of a pound of water by one degree. A gallon of salt water weighs roughly 8.5lbs., so for our example, 20g of salt water weighs in at 170lbs. Since you need to pull the water temperature down by 20°F:
    170lbs x 20°F = 3400BTUs
    There you have it, you now know that you need a chiller rated at least 3400BTUs to get your tank to the required temperature and keep it there. Now, you will most likely have to settle for a chiller with a BTU rating slightly above or below your measurement. If that’s the case, always go for the more powerful unit. The less the chiller has to work, the less electricity it will consume, and the less often you will hear it running.
    Since water temperature is so critical to the health and success of a temperate reef tank, this is an area in which you should not skimp. A quality chiller is necessary to bring the temperature down and keep it there. Chillers are generally expensive, but since other costs associated with temperate tanks are much lower than their tropical counterparts, it all evens out.
    In tropical tanks, the majority of the filtration duties generally fall on live rock and on water changes, with supplemental filtration systems such as protein skimmers and refugiums added as needed. A temperate system has to be approached a little differently, however.
    The rock found in temperate zones is smooth and incredibly dense, like large pebbles or river stones. Unlike tropical rock with its porous surface, temperate rock has no nooks and crevices in which beneficial bacteria can reside. Add to that with the slower metabolic processes caused by lower temperatures and the heavy feedings that are required with the largely non-photosynthetic livestock, and you’re left with a biological filtration system that just can’t cope.
    For this reason, temperate tanks must rely heavily on mechanical filtration to maintain water quality. No matter how small the system, a quality protein skimmer is a must for a heavily stocked and heavily fed tank. While most temperate livestock is incredibly hardy and can tolerate excess nutrients in the water column, without strong filtration nuisance algaes will begin to capitalize on the higher nitrate and phosphate levels. A well-skimmed tank is a happy tank.
    In the wild, anemones and other intertidal temperate species are subjected to the constant pounding of waves and tidal surges. While they are more than capable of withstanding the same unrelenting flow in a home aquarium, they will not open to their fullest. Random and chaotic flow is still important in a temperate system, but a medium flow level suitable for tropical soft corals and LPS is about what should be aimed for. With this medium flow level, anemones will expand and become more full.
    There are two approaches to take when lighting a temperate aquarium. If the system is just to house corals, most anemones, fish and other non-photosynthetic livestock, then simple low-wattage lighting is sufficient, say a single PC bulb.
    If, however, the system will contain macro algae,  Anthopleura sp. anemones and other photosynthetic livestock, then more traditional reef-type lighting is appropriate. The sky is the limit here depending on your preferences, although high levels of light (such as from metal halide or T5HO fixtures) are generally unnecessary.

    Corynactus californica.
    Corals – Temperate corals are not only hard to find, but can be very challenging to keep alive. Be aware that by having these on your wish list you’re committing yourself to a high current environment and to providing an ongoing supply of zooplankton. One notable exception to this is the so-called strawberry anemone, Corynactus californica. This corallimorph is beautiful, relatively hardy and has been known to reproduce in aquaria.
    Anemones — You should avoid getting “lots of anemones”. Generally speaking, anemones get poor grades in ‘gets along well with others’ and, depending on species, may employ a number of means to discourage competition. In some cases anemones sting each other as a way to prevent encroachment. That’s probably no big deal so long as you keep them sufficiently separated and take advantage of their individual lifestyles to avoid having two species migrating into each other. I’ve personally witnessed that various Urticina sp seem to go into decline if put into a crowded situation, this in spite of the fact that the facility uses a flow through system that changes the water a the rate of several hundred percent per day.

    Anthopleura elegantissima in the shallows.
    Your best bet with anemones, and other cnidarians as well, is to start small and add animals very slowly. Pick one or two species and resist the urge to expand until you’re sure that they are thriving. Keep in mind that many anemones are incredibly long lived; Urticina sp are thought to live for 500 years or more, and Anthopleura elegantissima is essentially immortal!
    Macroalgae — The main consideration here is probably one of scale and that the species of macro which will stay small enough for a home aquarium are generally found in surging intertidal areas. Keep these requirements in mind when choosing from available species.
    Fish — Temperate fish occasionally come into the trade unawares – Catalina gobies (Lathrypnus dalii) are one notorious example. Australian boxfish are also occasionally available, but are costly, sensitive and large. Another option would be to catch your own fish, if you are close to a temperate shore and your local laws allow it. I highly recommend adding FishBase.org to your favorites/bookmarks. Once you get used to it, FishBase can give you all sorts of information about a given species. Another good resource is the book Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest by Andy Lamb & Phil Edgell, if you can find it.
    Nudibranchs — Most people recommend against nudibranchs for several reasons. First, they tend to have very specialized diets and if you can’t supply exactly the right thing they will starve. This is complicated by the fact that in many cases “exactly the right thing” is either unknown or is misreported. For example, if you look at most books on Pacific Northwest marine life you’ll be told that the White Lined Nudibranch (Dirona albolineata) eats small snails in addition to other things. Yet according to Dave Behrens, D. alolineata exclusively eats Bryozoans. Second, they’re pretty short lived even if you can feed them correctly; most nudibranchs seem to have a life expectancy of about a year. Finally, visibility can be a problem. For all their beauty most nudibranchs are quite cryptic on their preferred prey. It’s entirely possible that the only sign that you have a nudibranch will be that its food item is being munched.
    There are a couple of exceptions though. The Opalescent nudibranch (Hermissenda crassicornis) has quite a wide diet including hydroids, anemones, and even carrion (if the books are to be believed). Another possibility would be to consider the sacoglossan sea slugs Placida dendritica or Elysia hedgpethi. Strictly speaking, these aren’t nudibranchs but herbivorous slugs that specialize on Codium fragile and Bryopsis corticulans algae. Elysia is especially interesting since some of the chloroplasts that it eats continue to photosynthesize and provide the animal with nutrition. These are sometimes referred to as “solar powered sea slugs”.
    Sponges — Sometimes sponges do well in aquaria but, since they’re filter feeders on very small phytoplankton and bacteria, I wouldn’t try collecting any until your tank has been operating for quite a while and the sand bed is well established. When you reach that point you’ll need to be careful in your collecting technique. Many species of sponge are extremely sensitive to being exposed to air; even a brief exposure can start a chain reaction that is ultimately fatal to the entire colony. An exception to this is the Purple Encrusting Sponge (Haliclona permollis) which is intertidal and seems able to handle exposure with impunity. If your aquarium turns out to be sponge friendly there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll find out by seeing sponges ‘magically’ appear in the tank — I suspect that it’s virtually impossible to collect other stuff without also collecting some sponge or sponge larvae.
    Tropical reefkeepers generally recommend that an aquarium be developed slowly. For a coldwater reef you should probably go even more slowly just because the lower temps tend to make most other processes slower. Besides, by going slowly you can wait to find the best possible specimen of a given animal.
    The Tank
    Lastly, we come to the tank itself. In humid environments, standard glass tanks will tend to ‘sweat’ and form condensation when holding water at lower temperatures. The simplest solution to avoid condensation is to use an acrylic tank, the thicker the better. Acrylic insulates better than glass does, which helps to cut back on condensation. The extra insulation also means your chiller doesn’t have to work quite as hard to keep the water temperature stable.
    I recently sold my DSLR system to fund a new camera (but ended up putting that money toward a new car — long story). In its place I picked up a cheap little point and shoot from Canon, and I’ve been discovering it’s versatility ever since. Here’s a few tips to keep you from feeling hindered by your point and shoot:
      Select Macro Mode
    This is a fairly obvious first step but I’m always surprised by how many digital camera owners haven’t explored the shooting modes that their camera has. Macro mode is generally symbolized with a little flower and when selected it will tell your camera that you want to focus on a subject closer to your lens than normal (the minimum distance allowed will vary from camera to camera – consult your instruction manual to find yours). Macro mode will also usually tell your camera to choose a large aperture so that your subject is in focus but the background is not. Learn To Prefocus
    The best-composed photographs don’t usually have their subject dead center. However, that’s where the focusing sensor on a P&S camera is. Since the best photographs usually do have their subject in sharp focus, what you want to do is point the center sensor at your main subject, hold the shutter release halfway down, then move the camera until you like the composition. Virtually all P&S cameras work this way but not everyone knows it because not everyone is willing to read the owner’s manual. Turn The Lights Off
    Not the tank light, but the ambient light in the room. A source of light coming from behind the camera will often reflect in the front pane of the tank, basically turning it into a mirror. The object is to photograph your tank, not to photograph a reflection of yourself. Also, if there is a window directly opposite the tank, try shooting at night to avoid reflections. The darker the room the tank is in, the better off you are. Avoid Digital Zoom
    If you are using a digital point and shoot camera you probably have something called “digital zoom”. In order to preserve maximum image quality you should avoid digital zoom whenever possible. If it is your only option, use it — some manufacturers have modes that will only allow digital zoom, like Canon’s Super Macro Mode. If you have the option of optical zoom, use that instead. If you feel you need to get closer, you can always crop the image later on your computer. Turn Off The Flash
    Your eye needs shadows to make out shapes. When the light source comes from the same spot as the lens, your tank will look flat and dimensionless — not to mention on-camera flashes tend to throw an ugly yellow cast over everything. Virtually all point and shoot cameras allow you to control the on-camera flash. What you want to do most of the time is press the tiny lightning bolt button until the “no flash” symbol is displayed. The “no flash” symbol is usually a lightning bolt with a circle around it and line through it. Now the camera will never strobe the flash and will leave the shutter open long enough to capture enough ambient light to make an exposure. Support The Camera
    Generally the easiest way to do this is with a tripod, although lately I’ve taken to resting the lens of my little camera directly against the glass. This accomplishes two things: it steadies the camera, and it ensures the lens is parallel to the tank glass, which minimizes distortions. Keep Shooting
    If a memory card is lasting for months without filling up, something is wrong. You aren’t experimenting enough. An ideal memory card has 50 pictures of the same subject, all of them bad. These prove that you’re not afraid to experiment. And then one good picture. This proves that you’re not completely incompetent. No one ever gets it right on the first shot, so keep shooting till it’s perfect.  
    Follow those simple steps and your photos are guaranteed to improve!
    Nothing can be more frustrating than spending all that time and money on your beautiful reef, but not being able to get quality photos to email to your family or to show your friends online. Hopefully with the help of this guide you’ll be able to show the rest of the world what it is you get to enjoy every day!
    Most of this primer is written for DSLR and advanced point and shoot (P&S) users. If you use a basic P&S, keep in mind that a firm grasp of the following concepts will improve photography from even the most automated of cameras.
    First and foremost, READ YOUR MANUAL (cameras, lenses, and all other equipment you’ll be using). You cannot possibly hope to take great photos if you do not understand the features available to you. Also, understand the basics of your camera’s settings and how they interact with each other. Here’s a quick rundown of the basics:
    Shutter Speed
    The shutter speed is kind of the stopwatch of the camera. It sets how long the camera stays open. On most cameras, all the shutter speed numbers indicate fractions of a second; that is, the setting “500” means the camera will stay open for 1/500th of a second. Commonly available shutter speeds are 1000, 500, 250, 125, 60, 30, 15, 8, 4, 2, 1 and “B”. Note that each speed is half or twice as much as the speed next to it. 1000 lets in the least amount of light (camera is open for a very short time) and is called a “fast” speed, while 1 lets in the most amount of light (camera is open for a relatively long time) and is called a “slow” speed.
    What shutter speed you choose can have a big impact on your photos. If you’re taking pictures of things that move like active fish, you can decide to “freeze the action” and shoot at 1000. This will stop all but the very fastest fin twitch. On the other hand, somea little blur can help to convey a sense of movement, like in a swaying coral. Experience and practice will help you decide what you’re trying to do, and which shutter speed you should use. When in doubt, try the same photo a few different ways. Taking notes helps you learn, too.
    The aperture is like the pupil in your eye. It’s a mechanical “iris” inside of the lens that opens and closes to varying degrees to control the amount of light that passes through the lens. When an aperture is “wide open”, it’s gathering all the light the lens is capable of. When the aperture is “stopped down”, or closed down to a pin-hole, it’s letting pass the smallest amount of light possible. This is just like your eye: in a dark room, your pupil opens wide to gather light; in bright daylight, your pupil closes down to cut back on the amount of light entering your eye.
    In addition to controlling the amount of light that passes through the lens, the aperture controls something called “depth of field”. In technical terms, depth of field is the expansion of the plane of focus into a zone of acceptable sharpness. A wide open aperture like f/2.8 has very narrow depth of field, while a “slow” aperture like f/22 has very broad depth of field.
    Take a look at the photo of the Fungia sp to the right. Notice how only part of the coral is in sharp focus? Selecting a large aperture (small number) lets you choose what part of the photo you want the audience to focus in on by isolating it and blurring the background or foreground. The best way to ensure the correct exposure is to set your camera to Aperture Priority mode. This will let you choose the aperture setting you want, and the camera will automatically select a shutter speed for you. This takes half the guesswork out of the equation and lets you focus on the other aspects of getting a good shot.
    The “correct” exposure for a given scene is a function of at least 3 things: shutter speed, aperture and film speed. A basic rule of thumb is to start with a given aperture, say f16, and choose the shutter speed closest to the ISO setting of the camera. Once you have this basic starting point, you can adjust the shutter speed or aperture for effect and modify the settings to get a good exposure.
    All exposure meters, including the one in your camera, are basically stupid. They’re calibrated against some standard, and if your photos aren’t standard, then they might tell you the wrong exposure. Let’s say you want to photograph a coral under metal halide lighting. If you point the camera at the top of the coral where it gets the most light, the camera will adjust the exposure for that reading the the parts of the coral in shadow will be rendered an unrecognizable black. In contrast, if you direct the camera at the shaded parts of the coral, the camera will expose correctly for the shadows and the brighter parts of your image will ‘blow out’ to a flat white. You, as a photographer, are charged with getting around this by composing a tighter shot with less contrast, or by adjusting your angle (or the coral’s angle) to the light. Experiment!
    The Fundamentals
    Ok, so that was a lot to digest. Here’s a quick run-down of the most basic tips, plus a few specifically designed to get great aquarium shots:
    Turn off all pumps and powerheads that provide water movement in your tank. Put your camera on a tripod or other sturdy support. Clean your tank, inside and out. Shoot parallel to the front glass (point the camera perfectly straight into the tank). Shooting at an angle will cause distortions. Settings
    Shoot at the highest, finest, largest setting possible. For P&S cameras, that means the largest JPG set to Fine. For DSLRs and advanced P&S cameras, shoot in RAW. Start with auto white balance, it will often yield acceptable results. When you gain skill (and if your camera is capable) you can use a custom white balance setting. Shoot on the lowest ISO setting available on your camera. Turn off your flash, as all it will do is create a flat, dimensionless, yellow-tinged photo. Use either a remote shutter release or your camera’s timer function when taking photos. This will help to eliminate camera shake caused by pressing the shutter button. Post-processing
    Most images will need some adjustment after you take the photo. This can include contrast, brightness, sharpening, color saturation and white balance adjustments, as well as other more advanced adjustments. The basics can be done with the software included with your camera or a program like Google’s Picasa; the more advanced adjustments will require a more advanced program like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Pixelmator, or GIMP.
    Christopher Marks

    By Christopher Marks, in Advanced Topics,

    Step 1: Equipment
    Since I literally lived on the coast, I had additional equipment that most hobbyists would probably consider unnecessary, but could find helpful should they ever experience an outage. Common items that you should have, or may already have:
    Battery Operated Air Pumps
    Available from most hardware stores, sporting goods stores, or online from various pet vendors. I purchased a waterproof version that ran for 36 hours on 2 D cell batteries. Don't forget extra batteries, or even better and more environmentally friendly, rechargeable batteries and a charger. A battery operated air pump shouldn't set you back more than about $15, although there are some that will automatically turn on in the event of a power failure that cost more. A battery operated air pump is invaluable, both for oxygenation and water movement, and they're very efficient.
      Uninterruptible Power Supplies
    Often used to prevent computer data loss during a power outage, a UPS will provide AC power via a battery for a limited amount of time. Very handy for periodically running pumps, filters, heaters, or running low wattage air pumps for days or weeks. They usually run $50 to $200 depending on the size of the battery in the unit. A UPS will be useful every day for protecting your computer or other sensitive electronics. Keeping your aquarium pumps on UPS battery backup can also help prevent brief power outages from disrupting your system or overflow siphon.
      Less common items that will help in the event of a long term power outage:
    Gasoline or butane powered, a generator (depending upon the size and wattage) will run anything from a small aquarium system to your entire house. Their downfall is they are expensive to run (especially with gas prices these days), require fuel (something that was in such short supply I usually couldn't run one), are usually quite expensive ($400+), and have to be run outside to prevent dangerous carbon monoxide buildup. For me, it turned out that it simply wasn't practical or possible to keep my nanos powered by a generator due to fuel shortages and other necessities. Generators can be purchased at hardware stores or through online vendors.
      Portable Power Supply
    These nifty items are usually sold for cars, and often have a built in jump-start capability, tire inflator, emergency radio, or some combination thereof. However, many also have AC plugs and function identically to a UPS. I discovered their usefulness to aquatic hobbyists during the hurricane outage by using one to power two small water pumps in our nano reef aquariums, and it could be recharged via our solar charger. I bought my portable power supply from Wal-Mart for $100 for auto emergencies, and have seen them for sale in other warehouse departments and at hardware stores.
      Solar Trickle Charger
    A small solar panel that trickle charges up to 12 volt batteries. I used this to charge the portable power supply, and an extra car battery I had. Best $20 purchase I've ever made, and they can be found from specialty battery and electronics vendors online. 
      Many of the above items, or combination thereof, can be used to charge D-Cell batteries for your air pumps, which is generally the most efficient use of your limited power.

    Step 2: Prepare
    Forewarned is forearmed, so they say, and this is no exception. If you know a power outage could be immanent, it's time to prepare! Our goal is to minimize waste buildup, keep oxygen levels high, prevent temperature swings, and in the case of marine invertebrates, provide at least some water movement.
    Prepare your nano for a power outage if you know it's likely to occur (storm, blizzard, hurricane, etc.):
    Clean all filters thoroughly and vacuum detritus if you can. Perform a large (50%+) water change with water of the same pH, temperature, and salinity. Set aside freshly mixed saltwater in case you need it.
      Stop Feeding
    Most healthy aquatic animals can go a week or more without eating with no ill effects, and usually longer. Less food means less pollution, more oxygen for your animals, and less fish waste.
      Temperature Control
    If possible, insulate your aquarium with household insulation available at hardware stores before the outage. Blankets work well too, especially during an unexpected outage. You may not be able to prevent temperature changes, but you should be able to prevent rapid temperature changes, which is essential if you want your animals to survive. Depending on how the temperature will shift, prepare with ice or frozen water bottles, battery or gas heaters, oil lamps, or fans if you have a generator.  
    Step 3: Outage
    During the outage there are a few things to watch for, and steps you can take (besides nail biting) to prevent loss of life. Consider the following:
    The amount of dissolved oxygen will depend on a number of factors, including surface area of the aquarium, stocking level, temperature, dissolved organics, and activity of the inhabitants. One battery operated air pump should be more than enough for all but larger or more heavily stocked systems. If your fish are 'gasping' at the surface, oxygen levels are critically low.
      Water Movement
    Water movement is very important in a reef aquarium. The simplest way to accomplish this, and the least power hungry, is to use battery operated air pumps. In a nano, you should be able to provide enough water movement to keep the inhabitants alive with an air pump or two. A little elbow grease and a pitcher should work on corals that are overly 'sliming'. If you have any of the nifty power supplies listed above, turning on a circulation pump or powerhead for a few minutes every hour will help greatly. Small pumps could possibly be run for the entire outage, depending upon the duration.
      Water Quality
    Ammonia neutralizers like Seachem's Prime or Kordon's Amquel will go a long way towards keeping your fish and inverts alive, especially if an evacuation is necessary. I managed to keep large marine and freshwater pufferfish alive in 5 gallon buckets by dosing Prime every day, and feeding very little. If your fish are still in the aquarium, refrain from feeding, and perform water changes frequently if necessary. Remember, these additives will drop oxygen levels, so be careful!
    Not necessary for fish, but eventually necessary for photosynthetic animals. If your outage lasts less than a week, you have nothing to worry about. If you're without power longer than a week, try for opening a window (even indirect sunlight carries a lot of energy) or plugging in fluorescent lights into a battery backup for a few minutes to an hour a day. This is when a small solar charger and portable power pack can save your corals, as I found out.  
    Step 4: Recovery
    Let's hear it for power! I'm sure you're ready to bask in the newly restored air conditioning, or heat if you're up north, but take a few minutes for your aquariums first. You should clean out the filters again and perform another large water change. After that you should be good to go! Hopefully all your animals survived, maybe in part from the information you learned here.
    - Mike Maddox

    By StevieT, in Livestock Articles,

    Step One
    Gather your materials for this project. You will need the following:
    Super glue gel, I prefer Loctite brand to any others, but it must be the gel kind and have Cyanoacrylate as the active ingredient. AquaMend putty, or any other kind of underwater stick putty. Sold at Home Depot for around $3.00 a tube. Paper towels Your coral frag!  

    Step Two
    Find the correct location in your tank for this frag. Take into account the flow and lighting the area provides, match that with the requirements of the coral frag. The area I chose for this frag has a large divot, so I will be using more AquaMend putty than would be needed for a more smooth surface of rock. The putty is used to fill any holes between the live rock and coral frag. The glue is what actually does most of the bonding.

    Step Three
    Trim your frag plug if necessary. For this plug I cut off most that I could without compromising the coral. Frags are also sold on live rock pieces or on their own. You will only need to trim to match the type of aquascape you are looking for.

    Step Four
     Mix up a small ball of AquaMend putty. This can be done before you bring the frag out of the water, but it is a quick process, and most coral will be fine out of the water for a short time. Make just enough to fill in any holes or areas that are on the live rock you are attaching to. Using too much here can make your frag look ugly in the tank, since you will see the white putty.

    Step Five
    Apply the super glue gel to the frag or plug. I generally dab dry the coral with a paper towel, or blow off water with my super strong lungs. Use the correct amount to make a secure bond for the next step, but try not to add to much that it will ooze onto the coral itself.

    Step Six
    Apply the putty ball to the super glue on the frag. You don't need to push very hard, just secure it to the glue.

    Step Seven
    Apply another layer of super glue gel to the top of the putty. You can dab dry or blow again. Super glue gel will cure to a wet surface.

    Step Eight
    Stick it in! Dunk the frag and all the glue and putty in the water. Secure it to the placement point you picked out earlier. Give it a firm push, turning the frag plug slightly to get the putty and glue in all holes and divots. Be careful to position it to best hide the white putty.

    Enjoy! You now have a coral that is secure on your live rock. The putty and glue will both cure and harden under the water. Some applications will require you to turn off the pumps, but for this demonstration I had all my pumps on. If gluing a polyp with glue only, it is recommended to turn off all flow and allow the gel to cure.

    Good luck!
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