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Urgent- Possible palytoxin poisoning (corals, not me)


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The day before yesterday, I decided to finally get rid of some Captain Jerks palys that were multiplying far too much on my rockwork. I took their rock out of the tank (with gloves on), cut and scraped as much as I could off the rock, and rinsed the slime off that patch. Then I covered the patch of paly #### in gel superglue, then a layer of aquarium putty. That should seal everything up, I thought. 

I put the rock back into the tank, and put 1/4 cup of Matrix activated carbon in my canister filter, which has no other media in it. I forgot to rinse the carbon. 


The next day, everything looked kinda annoyed. The fish seemed fine, my RFA looked okay, and some of the zoas were open while others in the colonies were closed. But my encrusting montis and starlet corals were retracted so far I could only see pricks of color in their skeletons, and my few LPS were really scrunched. I thought "oh, oops, I didn't rinse the carbon, probably they'll un-scrunch once that dust settles", but they didn't. I did a 40% water change with all the saltwater I had on hand, and that didn't fix anything. 


Which is when I started thinking, oh, wait, that paly grandis looks fine, maybe this is palytoxin. I mixed up 3 gallons of water (this tank holds something like 3 and a half with how much rock is in it), then did a one-gallon water change and a two-gallon water change, back-to-back. I didn't change all the water at once, because one, possibly both, of my fish hide in holes in the rockwork during water changes, and I didn't want to strand them. That was last night. 


This morning, there isn't any improvement, and some things look worse. 

Seems fine: a blenny, a goby, the hermits, some snails, a paly grandis, and my Lemon Crush palys. At least everything that feels pain seems fine.

Seems OK, a tinge annoyed: a RFA, my blue-green syngonium, a feather duster. Open, but open a tiny bit less than usual. Of note: the RFA is on the rock the palys were on. 

Pretty annoyed: most of my zoas and palys. They have one polyp open-ish per colony. I'm not sure if my favia is here or below- it's got color, but it's really, really flat, and looks to be retracting. Ricordeas might be here, might be above.

Bad: A candycane coral, a blasto that was in bad shape before, and my micromussa. All extremely retracted, showing skeleton. Also, they have a layer of clumpy white dust on them, which I think is from stirring the sand a bit as I put the new water in. I tried to blow the dust off, but a lot of it is stuck. Normally they shed that on their own.

Looks dead: both encrusting montis. I can't see any color on them, even in the polyp holes. They're either bleached or basically gone. Starlet corals might be approaching this state.


Possible culprits: 

Un-rinsed activated carbon. I'm reluctant to take this out, in case it's sucking up the palytoxin. Is there any point in rinsing a new batch of carbon and replacing it? I feel like it should be rinsed by now.

I moved a rock, and did stir the sand a little adding water back in. There wasn't a huge amount of gunk under the rock, and my sandbed is very shallow and full of worms and things, so I don't think that was it. I'd think the water change would have fixed it, if it was that.

New water. I don't see any reason this should be a problem? It's tap water through an RODI filter, like I usually use, and a batch of salt I've used some of before. If the filter wasn't working great, I'd expect to see a slow surge of algae, not this. But it's worth throwing in the bin of "theoretically possible". 

Palytoxin. Captain Jerks slime like hell, and I had a general feeling of malaise after scraping them off, so I'm pretty sure these are one of the really toxic ones. I thought I'd covered the whole area they were on, but maybe some slime leaked down to somewhere? Maybe I missed a spot? This seems most likely, considering the only corals that look completely okay are the two toxic ones, and the degree of stressed that everything is.


So, what do I do? Mix up a lot more water and do multiple huge water changes for the next few days? The paly rock has a RFA on it that I don't want to lose, but I could scare my blenny out of it (she lives there) and put the whole rock into a bucket for awhile, hope that fixes the problem. Alternately, I could put the LPS and SPS in a bucket, move a few shells for some useful bacteria, and see if that perks them up a little. 


My current plan is to finish breakfast and start mixing water, do a ton of water changes, and hope I don't stress anything worse by dropping the nutrients to zero. I'll heavily feed any corals that are doing okay, I think, to help with the nutrient thing a little. 


Is there any kind of coral dip that I can use to give my LPS a boost, without stressing them any worse? I really don't want to lose this micromussa, it's a Holy Grail with a bunch of polyps. Or, it had a bunch of polyps, I'm not sure what it has at the moment. It's not dead yet, and I know LPS can generally recover from any form of "not dead yet" if you fix the problem fast enough. 


Captain Jerks, indeed. I mean, I guess it's fair to get all poison-y and angry if you're being cut into pieces. 

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I called my LFS and pre-paid for some bottled phosphate and some Polyfilter. Will pick that up in a few hours, when the rain calms down. I'll be using those, and doing a bunch of water changes for the next few days, and hopefully that does the trick. The phosphate is so I don't have stressed corals trying to deal with poisoning and zero phosphate. 

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I will be doing many water changes, in case the stuff continues to leach out. I've done one 60% change, and I'm filtering water for another.


Anyone have any experience with this sort of thing? 


I'd think there would be some improvement from the multiple water changes, but my micromussa is just looking worse.

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I think this micromussa is doing that thing where corals continue to decline after the immediate problem is gone. It's still got a few bits of flesh left, and I'm really hoping it keeps those. It might be recoverable, if so. But you can't recover a skeleton.

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27 minutes ago, Tired said:

But you can't recover a skeleton

You are on the right track so I don't have much to add, but that isn't always the case! I've had two lords return from zero visible flesh, including the nicest one in my tank -  definitely leave it alone for a few months and see if it sprouts a tiny little polyp. My stunner chalice even came back a few weeks ago after having no flesh and being buried under rock for 6 months.


My only suggestions would be to slow down and use less carbon than you are now that anything in there has been mopped up or taken out through the WC. That's a lot of carbon and will strip your organics really quickly and will piss of the LPS more. Definitely don't dip.


Also, I've wanted to experiment sending montis flat rate priority, so if you pay the $8 shipping (after they get there alive, I'll cover it if the experiment fails), I can try sending you frags of any of the montis in my tank you like to replace what you lost. Setosa may not survive, but I think any of the others definitely would.

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I'd argue that a skeleton with some invisible flesh on it isn't quite a skeleton, but yeah, I'm not taking that thing out even if it looks completely dead. Every skeleton I wind up with is staying in. I think my favia is going to recover? It's got skeleton showing, but still has a decent bit of meat. 

I'd bet money (though not much) that the Mystic Sunset monti is gone. I scraped the glass clean a couple days ago, and that skeleton is being colonized by the loose algae already. I know it's a bad sign when exposed skeleton is growing algae. 


I'm going to pull out most of the carbon once I get the Polyfilter in. I'm also going to feed really heavily for awhile, and dose phosphates, to help compensate for the big water changes. And I'm only going to do a couple days of water changes. I figure, as long as the phosphate isn't 0, low/no nutrients is better than palytoxin. At least for a couple days. 


I'd really appreciate that. Though it should really wait at least a month, if you don't mind, it's damn hot lately and will be for all of August and some of September. You have any nice encrusting montis?

It's funny, they're on the back wall, and that's one of the lowest-flow areas in the tank. But I had solid growth and good color from a Mystic Sunset, and decent growth with okay color from a Fruity Pebbles. I'd bet the okay color on one was due to high phosphates. My softies like the phosphate. I would be curious to try something branching, with the awareness that it might get super fragile from the phosphates. 


It's interesting, that big blue/green paly I got from you is one of the more annoyed zoas/palys. It's not acting anywhere near dying, just closed up, but it apparently doesn't tolerate palytoxin very well. Also interesting, my RFA and my blue-green syngonium are largely fine.


This is gonna do murder on my copepod population, all the water changes. I think I'm going to feed my fish daily (instead of letting them eat pods most of the time) for awhile, try to let the pod population recover. I hope the pods haven't all just died.

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I've had these palys before and had problems with them and bio warfare vs other zoa/palys. They are on my short list of does not play well with others.


Mine grew lightning fast and when the colony got to a certain size most of my zoas and palys started acting irritated. Within days of pulling their rock and donating it to the local reef store everything returned to normal. Water changes should resolve this. 

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I don't suppose anybody who's got one of those paly-eating crabs would like a cup full of chopped-off Jerks? I put all the scraped bits in a cup of water, and they actually seem to be doing okay in there. I might keep a small frag plug of them on my sandbed, because I do genuinely enjoy them, but I don't want the rest of the bits. 


They did put off a lot of slime when bothered at all, but that didn't seem to bother anything before now. Heck, my RFA would occasionally mistake one polyp for food, sting onto it, and grip it for awhile, and never got hurt. I almost wonder if that's why the RFA seems fine? Maybe it got gradually exposed from periodically trying to eat the Jerks, and built up an immunity. Or maybe RFAs are just tolerant of Jerk nonsense. 

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I have banished the favia to a 2-pint container of clean water. It had brown slime on it. Probably just slime from honest enough stress responses, but "this LPS has thick brown slime on it" is a good enough reason to banish something. It's now in a large cup of water, next to an LED plant light. Should keep it... well, not happy, it's not exactly a happy coral at the moment, but that should keep it not worse. 


On the off chance I've gotten extra unlucky and that is brown jelly disease, how long will it take to be obvious? 

If it is brown jelly, I'm reading that the only thing to do is cut away the affected area (can't do that, it's the center) and dip in iodine. How strong of an iodine dip do I use for a small-polyped favia? I've got Lugol's iodine somewhere. 

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I've now done my... 3rd? 4th? 2-gallon water change of today. I put some Polyfilter in the works, and I took out most of the carbon. I have also moved my larger starlet coral to its own Banishment Cup, as it was also showing a brown slime. Thaaat's not a good sign. I hope it's just sloughing flesh. 


The micromussa doesn't appear to be getting any worse. 


I've dosed phosphate, and also phyto and an undersized dose of Chaetogro. I'll do that after every water change, in hopes of not plummeting the nutrients. I'm also going to feed heavily. The phyto is an effort to help my pod population a little. 


How long should I keep doing the multiple-times-daily water changes? Until everything that's currently scrunched has un-scrunched as well as can be expected? My zoas and whatnot are still mostly closed, and I don't know if that's residual stress, or because there's still something wrong.

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How do I tell if continued unhappiness/decline is due to further present palytoxin, or leftover stress? Things look a bit worse than they did this time yesterday. The micromussa now doesn't have any visible flesh on it at all. 


Do I keep doing multiple 50% water changes a day, and hope that works? 

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The blenny moved out of the trouble rock, so I have now banished that entire rock (and its attached RFA) to a bucket. Clean water, a couple pads of Polyfilter, a freshwater aquarium LED light, and a pump for water movement. I'll do water changes and RFA feedings on that for awhile, maybe a month? And I figure that should give things time to calm down. 

I also did a huge water change, so I should have gotten the rest of the nonsense out.


I might try and keep an eye out for a great deal on another Holy Grail micromussa this Black Friday. If this skeleton (now slowly turning white) doesn't revive, I'll have a replacement. If it does revive, sweet, I have two Holy Grails. 

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Wild, wish I had something productive to add, but I just don't have any experience past a few locals near-killing themselves with protopaly's over the years.
I guess in the future just covering them up isn't enough to keep things from leeching out in small volume systems, incredible that they caused that much damage. 

Honorable mention to the epoxy putty, I believe it was @Tamberav who had some epoxy curing in the tank cause serious issues.

Edit: Here's another recent problem with it, quite a few R2R threads as well, hard to say what exactly goes wrong.

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I've used this putty before, though admittedly in smaller volumes, and not had any problems. I didn't see any water clouding or anything. It's also a bit suspicious that two of the four completely unaffected corals are palys. 


Either way, the rock is out of the tank now, so hopefully things will recover. I probably should have scared the fish out of the rock and done this in the first place. Really, I should have put it in a bucket in the first place, not put it back in the tank at all. I just have to figure out how long to leave the rock in the bucket. Maybe I'll wait a month and put a frag of something I don't care about too much in there, see if it gets annoyed. 


An odd addition to the casualty list: my eunicids. I have some sort of pink eunicid worm that lives in my sandbed, which I've left alone because they haven't touched anything. They've now come up out of the sand and died, which is actually a shame- they were neat, and probably good scavengers. Also, one tiny limpet has died. My tiny chitons seem more active than usual, but are all alive. The fish and hermits continue to seem fine, except that my tiny blenny seems to be house-shopping, and is stressing me a bit every time I can't see her. I worry she's gotten scared by all the disturbances and jumped. She's so small I can't guarantee there's no gaps for her to find and jump through, and I have been doing a lot of upsetting things to this tank. 

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It always sucks when something we can't test for is off since all we can do is use best judgement and keep what we can test for in line without totally changing the things we can't test for. I think getting the rock out of there was a good choice. If you want to get the RFA off the rock and back into the DT, dangle the rock upside down over the bucket with the RFA just submerged and the bottom of it's foot out of the water and it'll eventually let go. You won't be able to re-use the rock without cycling it, but it'll get the nem off. Way safer than any of the other methods of getting them off.


Seems simple, but did you check for ammonia during this? That's a LOT of stuff changing all at once, sand being disrupted, and lots of die off. I personally wouldn't keep doing big water changes and would have just relied on the big initial change(s) and carbon then went back into wait and see mode with an ammonia badge and prime on hand for the next week or two while backing off on the GAC. I always try to do the bare minimum to correct problems and then just let time do it's thing and while it works for me, I can't say it's never bitten me in the ass. All I can say is think through both the benefits of any action and any possible detriments for your particular tank since you know it best.


In terms of montis - I've only got one encruster and got it a month or two ago so not big enough to frag, but I can toss a frag plug next to it and in a few months it'll probably cover it. My confusa is probably the most encrusting monti I've got. Just PM me any time if you want to give it a try - I've always got stuff ready to cut.

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I think the RFA will be fine in there, it's one of the ones that hasn't really been affected. I thought about trying to get it off via that trick, but it's in a difficult position to do so. It's in a crevice where it doesn't really dangle out if the rock is picked up. I figure if I make sure to feed it frequently to compensate for the low nutrients, and do plenty of water changes, it should do fine for a month.


I'm not sure I even have an ammonia test kit, honestly, I've been using the "well, my corals are open, so there's no ammonia" method. I guess it's possible there was some ammonia involved? The dying/dead corals aren't particularly large for the most part. But I think the 90+% water change will have fixed that, if so. I've been doing water changes in case the toxin was continuing to leach from somewhere, but now that the rock's out of the tank, I definitely don't need to do that. I've stopped, and will be trying to increase the nutrient levels (slowly) back to where the corals seem to like. 


You're right about the test kit thing. Not being able to just test if there's still palytoxin present (or even confirm it in the first place) is really not helpful. I can't wait for the future, when we can get little Star Trek tricorders, dip 'em in the tank, and find out all the chemicals that are in there. 


I really do appreciate the offer, thank you. Sending a PM. 

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Everything that's not skeletal is opening back up, except these big blue-green speckled zoas/palys. They probably just need a bit longer. 


The favia still has flesh, and is still banished. I'm making a specific thread about that one, so people who know about LPS with brown slime on them will see it. The candycane (banished) looks completely skeletal. The larger starlet (banished) has a tinge of color to the skeleton, and the smaller one, which is in my tank still due to not having slime, also has the tiniest bit of color. 


The micromussa is completely skeleton, but was slowly turning white yesterday, and is no longer turning white today. I'm hoping that means the non-white portions of the skeleton have some viable cells in there somewhere?  It doesn't show any glowing under a blue light, but I'm still not moving it at all. That thing's staying in there until/unless it grows completely over with coraline. If it grows completely over with coraline, I'll write it off. 


The RFA seems fine in the bucket. It's not as puffy as it's been in the past, but looks okay. I should probably transfer the bucket contents to a glass tank, so I can put a heater in. I assume RFAs don't like to be mid-low 70s. Do they care? 


Don't scrape palys off a rock and put the rock back in your tank immediately. Banish the rock to a banishment bucket for awhile. 


Here's something a bit lighter: my blenny, extremely skeptical of the water's surface a couple millimeters over her face, when I was doing that final giant water change. Also a couple of chitons nearish the top, and the paly grandis that's been basically unbothered this entire time. Maybe it'll finally grow. 


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Pretty much everything in the main tank has opened back up. My big blue-green palys and my pink something-or-another palys still have some polyps closed, but there's a few polyps open on both colonies, and the rest of the polyps are open. 


I think I got the slime off the favia. It might go back in the tank soon. 


When I put the rock in the bucket, it had a few small limpets, a couple tiny chitons, and some small clams on it. The bucket now kinda stinks, and every mollusc I can spot is dead. Looks like I'll be doing frequent water changes on that for awhile. I want to keep that rock, and preferably the algae on it, including some macroalgae that's popped up lately. I'd also very much like to keep the anemone, for obvious reasons. 

I think I spotted the problem. There's a tiny bit of the rock that's gone fuzzy, like how decaying things look sometimes, right at the edge of the putty. I think I missed covering a tiny bit of paly flesh. Should probably try and cover that over during the next water change. Might seal off some of the toxin, and also, I don't trust it not to regrow. After all this trouble, I'm not having those palys pop back up on my rockwork! If it wasn't such a nice rock, I'd chuck it. 


Piece of advice: any rock you want palys off of needs to be banished afterward. It was fine the first time I did this, but that time I'd chiseled the rockwork off that had the palys on it, with minimal actual disturbance to the palys. That works fine. 

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Considering nearly everything else on the rock is dead, I've placed it over the bucket, with the anemone hanging downward, to try and get the nem to let go. It's been hanging off that rock for 45 minutes, barely touching the water, and hasn't gone yet. It'll come off eventually, right? 


I've peeled a fuzzy yellow sponge off the rock, hopefully with only an amount of damage that's survivable, and rescued a few collonista snails. I also removed a tunicate from the rock, intact as far as I can tell. Those are back in the tank. 


There were a bunch of little and medium thorny oysters on the rock that are all dead, so that bucket's probably got ammonia now, in addition to everything else. At this point, I'm pretty sure the only stuff alive on the rock is algae and bacteria, since I've removed everything that didn't die. Or, will have removed, I gotta get this anemone off. I'm still keeping the rock, it's a nice-shaped rock that's a good 1/3 of my tank's rockscape weight, but I think it's gonna need to age awhile. Hopefully I can put it back in the tank by November, I'd like to try and pick up a couple things during Black Friday sales. 


Once I get everything back in order, I'll see if my LFS has any tiny bits of rock in its live rock bin. I'd like to pick up a small thorny oyster if I can find one, and hopefully reintroduce some of the biodiversity I'm guessing I've lost from this. Normally they sell rock by the pound, but I'd wager if I go pick out a couple golf-ball-sized rocks and ask 'can I buy these for like $2", they'd be fine with it. 


The favia is starting to inflate its polyps again! So that's another stony coral, besides the blasto, that's definitely alive. It should recover, I'd think, unless the brown jelly comes back. 

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@jservedio How long do anemones normally take to let go? It's been hanging over the bucket for something on the order of 3 hours now, just slightly touching the water, and it's still not coming off. Does it need to be further in the water? 


If it doesn't come off in an hour or so, I'll try putting it further in the water. 

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50 minutes ago, Tired said:

@jservedio How long do anemones normally take to let go? It's been hanging over the bucket for something on the order of 3 hours now, just slightly touching the water, and it's still not coming off. Does it need to be further in the water? 


If it doesn't come off in an hour or so, I'll try putting it further in the water. 

I've never had one hold on more than a couple hours upside down like that. I wouldn't leave the foot exposed in air for super long. If you can suspend the rock off the bottom while totally submerged, do that and leave it overnight (or longer). If not and it's buried in a hole and won't come out after more than a few hours, you can always try to force it to move by turning the rock slowly in the bucket over the next few days since you've got time (assuming it's been open while in the bucket). Basically just turn the rock 30-45 degrees a day until there anemone is basically upside down and it should walk after a few days of being in a crap spot. If you can't suspend it, I don't like doing it all at once to prevent it getting trapped.


Has it been out and opened up while in the bucket? If it hasn't, it might just be hunkering down in its hole. Last resort if you can't get it out of there after a few days is to just chisel or dremel the chunk it's foot is attached to. It sucks, but it isn't too bad on little nems. I've only done that for big RBTAs, and it's a mess for them.

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49 minutes ago, Tired said:

@jservedio How long do anemones normally take to let go? It's been hanging over the bucket for something on the order of 3 hours now, just slightly touching the water, and it's still not coming off. Does it need to be further in the water? 


If it doesn't come off in an hour or so, I'll try putting it further in the water. 

Turkey baster or high volume syringe can help blast it off. You could also irrigate the foot with chilled not freezing tank water for a short period of time to irritate it to let go. 

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2 minutes ago, chaostactics said:

Turkey baster or high volume syringe can help blast it off. You could also irrigate the foot with chilled not freezing tank water for a short period of time to irritate it to let go. 

I've never had luck with either a powerhead (mj1200 1" from the foot for hours) or ice cubes on the foot if it's a mature nem that's been in place for a long time before. That's always what I try first since its so easy, but never once had success. Though it works super well for babies that love letting go. Flipping it over has worked every time except once - that required a dremel and sacrificing a hunk of rock. But, that one had been in place for like 5 years, so extenuating circumstances.

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It was open in the bucket, yes. Not fully, but close enough. 


I think maybe it was continuing to hold on because it was just slightly touching the water. Maybe it didn't "think" there was any benefit in letting go. 


The rock is now on top of a measuring cup, with water in the cup. The anemone is roughly halfway submerged, with its foot out of the water. I squirted some water on the anemone in case it was getting dried out. I'll leave it like that for a couple hours. If it hasn't moved into the cup by the time I have to go to sleep, I'll put the rock back in the bucket. Maybe if I put the anemone at a wonky angle, it'll wander out and I'll get lucky and see it moving. 


At least everything else on the rock is removed or dead, so I don't have to worry about the rock dying off. At this point, the main thing I want the rock for is because it's a nice shape and I want its bacterial holding capacity. 

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