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My 90-Gallon Reef Aquarium - Livestock

Overview Equipment Livestock Snapshot History

July 21, 2011

Tranferring My Old Setup:

Once I started up the system system and let it cycle for four weeks, the first thing I did was to transfer over everything from my old 55-gallon system. I had to do this all at once so that I could also transfer over my light fixture, skimmer, and powerheads at the same time. I transferred over all my old live-rock, but opted to use new sand instead of my old gravel. After a lot of reading, I settled on a sand grain size of 2-3mm as a good compromise. I also purchased quite a bit of new live-rock.

From my old setup I was able to transfer over my Flame Angelfish, Scribbled Rabbitfish, Yellow Tang, tiny Neon Blue Goby, Royal Gramma, and two Percula Clownfish. Unfortunately, my Green Coris Wrasse did not survive - in no small part because he hid a full day in the gravel of my old system after I had drained out most of the water. I was also able to transfer over all my coral and two small crocea clams without issue. I had tried to leave behind all of my mini-hermit crabs, but some of them made it over by hiding in the live-rock.

Pulsating Xenia (Xenia elongata) with a Yellow Polyp (Parazoanthus gracilis) colony in the background.

These Watermelon Mushrooms (Actinodiscus/Discosoma striata) were the first corals I ever kept.

After everything was in place, I felt that the tank was already quite full even without any new additions. The only new livestock I added were some new macro-algaes in the refugium and a stupid amount of snails.

Dwarf Mermaid's Wineglass (Acetabularia calyculus).
This colony, and another that I bought to replace it, both slowly faded away.

Turtle Weed (Chlorodesmis fastigiata) that I found at a local fish store.
This specimen grew well, but only on the live-rock fragment on which it came.

A handful of the 100+ Cerith Snails (Cerithium sp.) that I added.

Hurricane Ike:

On September 19, 2008 - just about a month into my new setup - Hurricane Ike struck Houston, Texas. A mandatory evacuation of my neighborhood was announced and I was not able to make any preparations to my system before leaving. The house lost power later that day and it was a full week before I was able to return.

Although the house weathered the hurricane without much problem (other than the garden fence being blown over), the tank crashed sometime during the seven days it was without power. I suspect that some corals went first, releasing a copious amount of slime that created a floating barrier at the water surface. The rest of the livestock probably died as a result of reduced oxygen levels.

The display tank, as I returned to find it after the hurricane.

A large amount of coral slime and dead bristle worms coated the water surface.

This Dark Mantis (Neogonodactylus curacaoensis) had apparantly been hiding in the live-rock.

I lost all of the fish and coral in the display tank. Suprisingly, some of the nassarius snails survived the incident. I suspect that they burrowed deep into the sand and were not affected by the high ammonia content in the water column. Interestingly, the refugium faired much better with absolutely no loss of snails or macro-algae. Since the refugium was separated from the display tank by the power outage, it's water surface was not coated with coral slime.

It took a full day to drain the display tank, remove the dead fish (some of which had already been reduced to skeletal remains), remove and scrub the live-rocks, place everything back into the tank, re-fill the tank with freshly mixed salt-water, and turn the system back on. One thing that I regret not doing was removing and thoroughly cleaning the sand, as I suspect it contained a significant amount of decaying matter. I let the tank cycle in darkness for four weeks before adding anything else.

The Gorgonian Experiment:

After the hurricane, I decided to aggressively pursue my initial interest in gorgonians. After quite a bit of reading, I selected and added about a dozen different specimens from five different sources. I chose a mixture of mostly photosynthetic gorgonians, with three non-photosynthetic specimens thrown in the mix. I began dosing small amounts of DT's Phytoplankton, DT's Oyster Eggs, Reef Nutrition's Oyster Feast, and Argent Cyclo-peeze. The gorgonians appeared to be doing well for the first couple of months. There was only one quick loss, the rest were fully expanded and seemed healthy.

However, the non-photosynthetic specimens eventually began to slowly waste away. None of them made it past the 6-month mark. This was in-spite of them consistently showing a feeding response to the foods I was using. The photosynthetic gorgonians never exhibited tissue necrosis, but two of them eventually lost a slow battle to algae. However, even of the half-dozen that remained in good shape, none of them ever grew. These specimens survived for more than two years before I made the conscious decision to remove and replace some of them with more conventional SPS.

Brown Candelabrum Gorgonian (Eunicea sp.), the only gorgonian I bought locally.
This specimen appeared to be doing well for a few months, but then just died literally overnight.

This Orange Spiny Gorgonian (Muricea elongata) lived the entire life-span of the system but never grew.

This Purple Bushy Gorgonian (Pseudopterogorgia sp.) also survived, but just never grew.

This Orange Tree Gorgonian (Swiftia exserta) consistently displayed a feeding response.
However, it slowly wasted away and was gone within 6 months.

The Interim:

Alongside my experiment with the gorgonians, I decided to place a focus on fish. Over time, I added a Yellow Tang, Orange Shoulder Tang, Flame Angelfish, Eibli Angelfish, Majestic Angelfish, Six-Line Wrasse, Black Cap Basslet, and Lawnmower Blenny to the display tank. In retrospect this was probably too many fish for the tank, and they wouldn't have all been able to co-inhabit the aquarium at their adult sizes.

Along the way I added, but later removed, both an Orange Spot Rabbitfish and a Masked Rabbitfish. Both of these fish grew too large for my setup. They were also very timid, and I felt that everytime they darted for cover it encouraged the other fish to do the same. I recently saw a dinner-plate sized Orange Spot Rabbitfish at a local public aquarium and reflected on how naive I was to attempt to keep such a fish in a 90-gallon aquarium.

One of the most interesting incidents to happen with my fish was the 3 to 4 month disappearance of my Black Cap Basslet. I had switched from feeding the tank by hand everyday to using an automatic feeder for daily feedings and manually supplementing with frozen food twice a week. The feeder, however, dropped food at quite a distance from the basslet's favorite hole. I never saw it move far enough away from its hole to reach the food during the first week. Unfortunately, I had to leave the second week. When I returned seven days later the basslet was no where to be found and I assumed it had died. I could not find its body anywhere and I felt badly that I had not re-positioned the automatic feeder in time. However, almost four months later, I suddenly saw the basslet again. It had paled somewhat, but it was now hanging out closer to the automatic feeder. To this day, I am not sure how it survived for so long without me seeing it. I often wonder if it had performed some kind of hibernation.

I initially added this Lawnmower Blenny (Salarias fasciatus) to control hair-algae.
He never took an interest in the algae, but I still kept him for his comical personality.

This Orange Shoulder Tang (Acanthurus olivaceus) was my most aggressive feeder. When I first introduced him,
the Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) above was initially aggressive but mellowed out within a week.

I eventually added this Mandarin Dragonet (Synchiropus splendidus) to the display refugium.
He survived there for the life-span of the system, but never became accustomed to human presence.

The SPS Finale:

After putting aside gorgonians, I moved on to the hardiest of the SPS corals: Monticaps. I purchased fragments of the Idaho Grape Monticap, the LiveAquaria Green Apple Monticap, a local orange Monticap, and a stunning piece from a small online retailer described as "Royal Blue" Monticap. For the most part, the Monticaps were a huge success. The Idaho Grape, in particular, became so large that I utilized its shade for a Sun Coral and small Dendrophyllia colony! Although I had initially intended to frag the Monticaps, I couldn't ever bring myself to do it and instead allowed the pieces to grow quite large. By the time I shut down the system, the Idaho Grape Monticap was approximately 21" long by 14" wide.

Encouraged by my success with the Monticaps, I tried my hand at some of the more challenging Acropora. I was met with moderate success. My pieces kept their coloration, but grew very slowly compared to the Monticaps. Granted, I only had a couple of months to experiment with them before I had to shut my tank down. In that time, my ORA Red Planet fragment grew the most - nearly doubling in size.

Due to a job-related move across the country, I was forced to shut down the system. I felt that it would have just been too difficult to transport both the livestock and equipment and then set them up on the other side. However, I learned a lot from keeping this setup and enjoyed it immensely while is lasted. I sold pretty much everything except for the equipment to a great local fish store.

Side-view of my Idaho Grape Monticap (Montipora capricornis).
My Orange Monticap (Montipora capricornis) is visible in the foreground.

My LiveAquaria Green Apple Monticap (Montipora capricornis).

I didn't get much time with this ORA Hawkins Echinata (Acropora echinata).

ORA Red Planet (Acropora sp.). Note the sorrounding LiveAquaria Green Apple Monticap (Montipora capricornis).

Copyright © 2010-2023 Hamza Muhammad Arain.
Except where otherwise noted, all images on this site are my own and may be used freely with visible attribution.
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