When an aquarist or anyone for that matter start to think about an aquaculture farm they will probably think of huge establishments with exceptionally large volumes of water. From this ‘farm’ hundreds of corals and fish are grown and eventually sold.
I think that this perception is due to the word farm. When you think of a farm you think of acres upon acres of land upon which various animals are kept or various crops are grown.
But as said this is a perception.
In truth an aquaculture farm can be any size whatsoever. As mentioned the word farm is confusing however when growing corals, breeding fish etc you are effectively farming.
There are various huge aquaculture farms all over the world some of which are exceptionally huge and I commend the people who operate these farms as effectively they are providing the aquarium trade with corals which are not taken from the wild. These such farms come in all shapes and sizes. The majority are in-doors and are lit by artificial lighting however in the areas of the wild where the climate is warmer the corals receive natural lighting and the water has to be cooled rather than heated quite often by piping the water underground! There are also others where the corals are underwater in the wild.
For these people and for those that can afford then this is a great idea then is ok however for the majority of aquarists, including me then this is something that is only a dream.
For the home aquarists then there are various options available and they certainly do not have to be to the same scale as briefly described above. In this article I hope to cover a few of the options available to the home aquarist.
This option is where the aquacultured corals are placed in a separate aquarium to the display aquarium but it is connected via an overflow, pump etc. As the water quality in the display aquarium ‘should’ be at an optimum level then the water in the ‘fragging’ aquarium will be at the same level. A good thing about this option is that the corals ‘fragged’ from the corals in the display aquarium will be grown out in exactly the same water. This option is very easy to accomplish as long as you have the space to locate another aquarium. This aquarium does not need to be large and only requires lighting to be added as well as water movement. You do need to watch out for a few things with this option though. You need to ensure that the protein skimmer in use has enough power to be able to skim the new, larger volume of water – the same goes for the heaters. Another thing to consider is that the fragged corals are going to attach and grow. This will present an extra pull on the relevant parameters in the water so these will need to be monitored carefully and the relevant actions taken. A good example of this is calcium
This option is my preferred option however it is probably not an option which other than the dedicated ‘fraggers’ will decide to continue with. This option is where a dedicated setup is implemented and used for the sole purpose of aquaculture. This option can be as large or as small as required and could even be a small aquarium with a heater, powerhead and internal filter installed as well as lighting. This is exactly what John did when he had a lot of corals which were getting to large. He created a temporary small aquarium with an internal/powerhead in one, a small heater and some lighting. Once the corals grew out he gave them to other aquarists as well as our local retailer. Once the corals were all gone he simply shut the small aquarium down. On the other end of the scale is the larger aquarium or even aquariums. In this type of setup more filtration will be required as will lighting, heating etc. A lot of people decide to use shallower aquariums as this allows for the maximum amount of light into the aquarium and due to the shallow depth of the aquarium these aquariums can effectively be stacked on top of each other and connected together using pipework and pumps.
I have seen one of these in action and in this setup the very bottom aquarium was used as effectively the filtration area where a deep sand bed was installed as well as live rock. In this area the heaters were also installed and also a couple of pumps which fed the aquariums above with water which were returned down to the bottom aquarium via overflows. Various animals in this instance called this area home. The aquariums which were above this all held racks where corals could be placed and moved up throughout the growout process. To me this was a very good setup and allowed for a maximum amount of corals in what was quite a small amount of space.
There is one item in this option which does need to be decided upon and that decision does depend upon what is being kept in the system. The protein skimmer. It is of my opinion that if fish are being kept, bred etc then a protein skimmer should definately be utilised. The reason for this is that fish require to be fed and when things are fed food is missed and food is processed. All of this needs to be removed and a protein skimmer is the best device to perform this. If only corals are being grown then these have very little biological load and I don’t believe that a protein skimmer needs to be used. The water parameters can be maintained by water changes. If no protein skimmer is used then water parameters will need to be carefully monitored, additives applied in response to water tests and a protein skimmer installed if the need arises.
There is a downside to this option though. This is that the system will require it’s own individual care and maintenance. The water will required changing, parameters will require checking etc. If you only have the one system and it is the aquaculture farm then this will be ok however if you have both an aquaculture farm and a display aquarium then this could, over time, become a bit of a chore and when things become a chore things start to get missed.
This option is where the display aquarium is used to house the corals. In this option a special device can be made out of acrylic, egg-crate or similar and attached to the side of the aquarium quite near to the surface. In/on this device the corals are placed and left to grow out. When grown out they are made available for other aquarists.
These device are very simple to create, the tricky part is attaching it to the side of the aquarium.
It does need to be noted that if fish are being bred then these should not really be done in the display aquarium. In this instance options 1 or 2 should be followed where an environment is created where the parent fish feel comfortable enough to breed. Once the fish hatch there will be limited or no predation and more fish should survive.
The final option is the easiest to create and basically the home display aquarium is used with no modifications whatsoever. In this instance once the corals are cut and attached they are either grown out directly in/on the substrate or placed on the rocks in the aquarium but not attached. Growing out on the substrate does depend upon the type of light used in the aquarium therefore if the aquarium is quite deep or lighting which is not strong enough for the type of corals being grown out then the secondary type should be used where corals are placed on the rockwork after they are attached to the coral plug.
This article does not cover how to frag corals as there are various methods and techniques which can be employed as well as various care tips to be followed once the corals are in growout. I will cover fragging corals in more detail at another time but I just want to point out at this point that corals when cut need to be attached to something for them to grow onto. If you are keeping the coral(s) for yourself then they can be attached directly to your rockwork, however if you want to grow them out and make them available for other then you need to attach them to something. These are normally called frag plugs and various methods can be employed. If you do decide to perform a spot of aquaculture then take these plugs into consideration as both the new owner of the coral will want to attach the coral into their aquarium using the plug and you will want something to stand them on whilst they grow out. As said though I will cover this in more detail in another article.
Aquaculture is important for numerous reasons of which finances, nature, enjoyment, interest are just a few of them. From the outset you do not need to plan any type of aquaculture system as the various options above can be added to numerous types of systems.
There are some people who decide to try and make abit of money out of doing this – and why not. The money they earn can be used to pay for the lighting, the maintenance, mother colonies etc. I am sure that you have probably seen websites on the internet where home grown corals are for sale. The people who operate these website are effectively running a business out of this side of the hobby, how much money they make I don’t know but even if they are making some money then in my opinion so what – good on them. They are selling corals, fish etc cheaper than larger sized corals, protecting the reefs perhaps even distributing these corals via their local dealer.
It also needs to be noted that aquaculture is not something that the beginner is recommended to consider until more knowledge is gleaned as well as more time and experience being gained. Whilst Aquarists Online is aimed towards beginners to the marine aquarium hobby I believe that it is also important to consider aquaculture for the future.
On another note if you are ever interested or have the opportunity to be able to purchase aquacultured corals then I highly recommend that you at least consider it. The reason for this is that a huge amount of different corals can be introduced to the aquarium for effectively the same price as a large mother colony. I can remember in one of my previous aquariums I decided to populate it from nearly all aquacultures corals. I did purchase a couple of larger corals just to have some corals in there with immediate impact however over the time I slowly added aquacultured corals and as these grew the amount of different corals in the aquarium was simply amazing. Even to this day I still regret closing this aquarium down to open a larger one as it really was a great aquarium.