I have been keeping marine aquariums now for many, many years and whilst I gain a lot of satisfaction from all areas of the hobby I think that one area where I gain the most satisfaction from is coral propagation.
When I first started propagating corals I did so mainly on soft corals as I was very nervous about doing so and I had read that soft corals were easier to propagate. Taking a scalpel to a living creature is not something you just jump into really!
The coral I started with was a toaadstool leather coral and the reason I propagated it was that the coral had simply become too large. As said I was very nervous but after doing a lot of research I did the deed and propagated my first ever coral. The coral was quickly yet cleanly cut and the cuttings carefully attached to waiting pieces of rock. I can remember being surprised at how quickly the cuttings attached and more surprised at how quickly the mother coral healed itself.
Propagating this coral gave me confidence and over time I moved on to various other corals – I stayed with soft corals for a while eventually moving on to hard corals. For some reason I was even more nervous about propagating these and to this day I still am not sure why – after all they are all alive.
Over the years I have propagated many corals. I have had the pleasure of supplying these corals to other aquarists, local fish shops as well as a local sea life center. It gives me great pleasure that other people have corals in their aquarium or are looking at corals in an aquarium which were propagated by me. I have been to the sea life center a few times and have watched the propagated corals I provided them with slowly grow over time and to see people looking at them, children asking questions gives me great pleasure as I stand silently nearby.
So what is it about coral propagation that fascinates me and why do I do it?
As said when I first started doing it I did so to make space in the aquarium. The corals were growing too large and similar to garden plants needed thinning out. As time went by I became fascinated by the different techniques you can use when propagating and the way in which the propagated corals attach, grow and colour up. Another fascinating thing for me as already said was watching the parent colony slowly recover and start to grow.
Even to this day I get butterflies when preparing to make the cut however I have not lost a single cutting which is something I am very proud of. Basically what I do is select the coral I am going to be cutting and then select a suitable part of the coral to cut. Once this decision has been made like a surgeon I prepare my tools and place some aquarium water in a separate bowl. At this point I always like to double check everything and then I make the cut. Once the cut is made I then remove it and place it into the prepared bowl. If possible I will remove the entire coral and perform the cut in the bowl but this is not always possible. The reason I place the coral into a separate container is that the corals produce a lost of mucus which I do not really want in the display aquarium. At this point I then attach the coral to rock, disc etc and discard the water.
Dependant upon the species of coral I sometimes dip it and then it is placed into grow out where basically the coral is left alone to grow. The majority of corals grow down and attach prior to growing upwards (or outwards in some occasions). Corals are simply left alone at this point until they have grown enough to be able to be moved to someone elses aquarium.
At the moment I use the display aquarium to grow out corals as I do not propagate as many corals as I used to. A short while ago I had a dedicated propagation aquarium which was always full of corals and had shelves in it. Newly cut corals were placed on the bottom area and slowly moved up the shelves. When corals from the top shelves went to new homes corals from lower shelves were moved up. One thing I always do is wear gloves when propagating and I try to leave the corals alone as much as possible. I also ensure that every single parameter in the aquarium is correct prior to making a single cut. When cut the mother coral will concentrate on healing itself and the cut coral concentrates on attaching itself and then growing. If parameters are incorrect then infection could quite easily occur which is something I do not want to happen.
Another thing I do not do is propagate purely for the sake of propagating. There have been times when a fellow aquarist has been around at my house and has asked for a cutting of a coral and I have taken one, grown it out and given it to them but I only propagate when the corals get too large.
One thing I have not done is to try and make money from coral propagation. I am sure that a lot of people do make money from doing so however for I wanted to make space in the aquarium whilst at the same time benefit others by providing them with free corals.
Coral propagation really is an interesting part of the hobby and I sincerely encourage anyone interested to research it and give it a go. Over the coming months I am going to be writing some articles in relation to propagation and how to perform it on various different types of corals, what to look for etc.
Until then I recommend that you take a visit to http://www.garf.org as this is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about coral propagation.