Investing in coral reef aquariums is a growing trend for aquarists everywhere for good reason. Like a moving piece of art pulsing with the colors of a pastel sunset, these stunning, living biomes, bubble with life and make a great aesthetic addition to any home.
Sometimes characterized as “the rainforests of the sea,” the importance of coral reefs is incalculable. In a July 15, 2010 article released by the States News Service, the University of Virginia revealed that like the rainforest, coral reefs are the pulse of their surrounding environment. Simply put, a coral reef is the gold standard for determining the overall health of the ecosystem that harbors it. With coral reefs on the decline the world over—including 30-percent destroyed in the last half century and 60-percent tinkering on the brink of endangerment—aquarists everywhere are turning to their home aquariums for keeping this amazing species and biome alive.
The lifeblood of any marine ecosystem it calls home, corals are generally divided into two major categories – soft corals and hard corals. Of the phylum Cnidaria, these living organisms effectively create a biome that not only welcomes life, but that catalyzes its development and sustenance. Like any organism, corals have a particular habitat they favor. Tending to tropical and sub-tropical bands that surround the globe in saltwater colonies, these formations can grow to astonishing lengths as demonstrated by the more than 2,000 km Great Barrier Reef. So how exactly does one harness the latent potential in coral reefs and bring it home for their fish to colonize and explore?
Indeed, when given the proper environmental conditions and space to grow, saltwater coral reef aquarium maintenance will be as easy or as hard as you make it on yourself.There are tricks to the trade that when implemented, can yield the ultimate reef system.A good place to start is to explore water parameters such as water quality and water temperature.Tropical organisms by nature, whether in a tank or out at in the briny deep, ocean reefs need to be kept in water no colder than 18-20 degrees Celsius (64.4- to 68-degrees Fahrenheit).
As apposed to classic glass fish tanks, acrylic fish tanks handle temperature changes more efficiently, saving you a significant amount of money in terms of energy consumption. Not only does transparency sit somewhere around 93-percent in acrylic fish tanks—which is far clearer than often green-film-covered glass tanks— but acrylic fish aquariums are molecularly welded at each seam, making the tank one piece and virtually leak-proof. Insulating water up to 20-percent better than glass tanks, not only will you save on your heating bill but you will maintain a healthier and more consistent environment for your fish and coral reef with an acrylic tank. With the temperature safely secured in a favorable range, the next thing to consider is water quality as evidenced by nutrient levels.
Much like the rainforests of the world—where soil tends to be more acidic, and thus, less nutrient-rich—tropical waters offer low nutrient levels.Yet, much like rainforests, coral reefs demonstrate unsurpassed levels of biodiversity.How does this happen?As people often say, ‘life finds a way’ and the true secret for sustaining life in a coral reef is to utilize naturally occurring symbiotic relationships with zooxanthellae, a tiny microalgae with anything but tiny implications.Not only does this microalgae sustain the coral reef, becoming engrained into the actual tissue of the coral, but it gives it the stunning colors that have made coral reefs so famous.The zooxanthellae aren’t totally altruistic, however, absorbing nutrients from by-products released by the coral, and in turn, feeding the coral through the process of sharing nutrients produced in photosynthesis.
Equipped with this knowledge, several things are essential to maintaining any aquarium reef. First, aquarists must bite the bullet on the heating bill by keeping their fish tank at a consistent 18-20 degrees Celsius. Without strictly adhering to this first step—and creating a “Goldilocks zone”, so to speak—you might as well pack it in, because the coral won’t survive. Moreover, a clean tank is a healthy tank, and reefs also require moderate to strong water movement. This will make regular maintenance and monitoring of water pumps and filters crucial. Next, you need an adequate supply of UV-light to feed the zooxanthellae. This can be accomplished by simply situating your tank near an open window or by utilizing UV bulbs. Lastly, by drawing on what we know about the balance of ecosystems, you’ll need to stock your marine aquarium with saltwater, reef-friendly creatures that can coexist.
A mixture of invertebrates, plants and vertebrates not only makes for a more striking aesthetic layout; it increases the biodiversity of the tank. But one needs to proceed with caution here, because not all fish and invertebrates make good roommates. Angelfish take up a good portion of aquarists’ fascination with reef tank aquariums because of their hardiness, beautiful colors and friendliness to the reef biome. Four Angelfish that would make a great addition to any salt water reef aquarium are the Japanese Swallowtail Angelfish, the Coral Beauty, the Fisher’s Angelfish and the majestic Queen Angelfish. This particular arrangement of fish, if introduced correctly, can make for a healthy-functioning coral environment that looks as good as it operates.
The Japanese Swallowtail Angelfish usually gets along with other types of Angelfish, but can get territorial with other male kin. In larger reef aquariums, this zippy little darter will feel right at home, given its quick and active nature. A larger tank of 100 gallons or more is recommended for this open-water loving Angelfish, making it a perfect addition for a large and impressive salt water reef aquarium. The Coral Beauty shouldn’t find it hard to carve out a niche in a tank as large as 100 gallons either. A brilliant play on complimentary color schemes of yellow and purple, this blazing, hardy and cheap angelfish is right at home in a tropical aquarium reef. While it has been known to take an occasional bite out of larger, stony corals, this fish is generally heralded as a good large reef fish for home.
The Fishers’ Angelfish is a generally docile, purple-orange beauty that adds to any aquarium coral reef and that won’t have too much trouble getting along with other community members.Although it too feeds on clam mantles and polyped stony corals from time to time, the more space you give it to work with, the less problem it should pose.Lastly, the Queen Angelfish is the keystone of any properly stocked Angelfish coral reef aquarium, given its majesty in terms of brilliant coloring and stunning size.The crowning jewel on your Angelfish coral reef metropolis, this stately, slender and brilliantly adorned fish can grow as large as 45 cm.When it’s your intent to go all out – this fish is a must have!But introducing this gem comes with a disclaimer, as Queen Angelfish generally look to subjugate their loyal subjects by force.Known to bully new introductions, this fish should be the last addition to the tank to ensure a smooth and fish-fight-free transition.
Make sure to always research species interactions with other fish and the coral reef itself before stocking your tank. There is usually a “right” and a “wrong” way to stock a tank that can be determined by the order, number, sex and size of the fish you are integrating into the tank. Larger Angelfish for instance, like the Emperor Angelfish, will see a reef as a tasty meal and should be avoided. While the Potter’s angelfish has been touted as a good addition to any reef tank, it has also been known to nibble at larger, stony corals. Behavior can always be monitored and nibbling on coral might be an indicator of dipping algae levels in your tank. With the proper assortment of biodiversity, maintaining healthy nutrient levels in the food chain will be far easier. This is where invertebrates, plants and the introduction of other Angelfish-friendly fish species can be a good move.
A simple saltwater compatibility chart will show you that the Angelfish generally play quite well with others. For invertebrates, snails and sponges will add to the biodiversity of your fish tank while cooperating with the hierarchy of nutrient exchanges therein. Another saltwater, reef-friendly fish choice could be the Wrasse. While most aquarists are compelled to jump head first into stocking their tank, it is important here to remember your original objective. If the coral reef is itself living comfortably and healthily, one should carefully consider whether “less is more” when stocking the tank. With the beauty offered by the reef itself and a few reef-friendly Angelfish, you won’t want to push it if you’ve found a comfortable balance.
By carefully regulating water temperature, nutrient levels, and building the food chain from the ground up (with the introduction of zooxanthellae), dedicated aquarists everywhere can hope to create a mini-universe of life within their living space. When in doubt, a good rule to part on is to always try to emulate the natural habitat of the organisms you are incorporating into the tank. Since we’re dealing with tropical and sub-tropical environments, proper water movement, sunlight and temperatures favorable to the region will be crucial in your quest. Through simple trial and error and by employing the techniques explained above, the reef of your dreams is closer than you think.