What kind of an aquarist are you? Are you a ‘hands-in’ tinkerer or a watcher, or perhaps a mixture of the two?
There’s nothing wrong with tinkering as long as it’s within reason. Constantly changing the reef for example is not going to do a lot for the security of the fish. There’s often an improvement that can be made, usually small. The early months in the life of an aquarium is when most tinkering is likely to occur.
Me, I’m a watcher. That’s not to say that I don’t tinker on occasion, but it isn’t very often. It is necessary to deal with the overgrowth of corals and the like or the display quality would begin to deteriorate because of changed and reduced seawater currents, and also the loss of light to lower corals. Normal routine maintenance often requires ‘hands-in’ for various reasons, usually powerhead intakes that have debris present.
What the living captive reef needs is stability of seawater parameters, lighting quality and time to develop. Seawater parameters are easy, routine checks confirm the situation. Lighting just needs a little maintenance and changes of bulb and/or tubes from time to time.
On the wild reef, barring storms and disasters, sometimes man-made, there isn’t any over-interference, there is stability of habitat.
My soft coral aquarium has been running for 6½ years. I do regular maintenance once weekly, so hands go in the seawater then if necessary. Apart from that the reef is left alone though it is of course monitored.
Closely looking at the visible reef rocks it can be seen that they are covered with various marine growths. On the surface is much coralline, though to be truthful there isn’t much rock surface to be seen. In addition are many, many short hard growths that look like sticks, about 1 inch long and 1/8 inch thick. At first I thought they might be small tube worms or anyway some kind of worm, but despite close observation I have not seen any evidence of any type of worm. I’ve tried reference books to no avail, also the internet. Being honest I’m not too bothered about identification as they are clearly not malignant and interesting enough.
On the underside of rocks when viewed at night (it seems easier to see them then) are lots of tiny tubeworms. This time they are clearly tubeworms as the tiny feathery heads can be seen, not the same shape as the big showy ones but a small fan about ½ inch or so in diameter, usually considerably smaller. I find these tube worms in my canister filter as well, during maintenance I do my best to protect them but a good few meet their doom.
When cleaning the canister filter I always have to rescue tiny shrimps, about ½ an inch long. They usually float on the seawater surface apparently trapped by the meniscus. I return them unharmed to the display aquarium, avoiding the attention of the fish. If the shrimps in the canister filter sink they are lost, I can’t retrieve them. There are growths that appear in the canister filter that are repeatedly destroyed during maintenance, though they re-appear. I have been unable to identify them.
I have one worm that lives at the top of the reef. It was not there when the aquarium started but appeared a year or so later, or that’s when I noticed the small tube anyway. The tube is now around 2 inches long maybe a little more, and around 3/8 of an inch in diameter. It is definitely a worm as it can be seen at the mouth of the tube, though it doesn’t come out. It is not a feather duster. What it does to feed itself is trail a sticky thin thread in the seawater current, when food becomes attached to the thread it winds it in and consumes it. At feeding time when brine or mysis shrimp are on the menu the thread looks like one of those commercial fisherman’s long hooked lines with a good catch. I’ve again been unable to determine what the worm properly is, so it’s called ‘Fisherworm’. Very technical!
Things appear in areas of the aquarium where they are not expected. Button polyps appeared well down the reef, not put there by me. I have ‘transplanted’ the odd few button polyps and they have developed into healthy groups. A coral or two appears out of the rocks, sometimes they thrive but often they disappear again. Strange creatures wander about mainly noticed at night; one in particular looks like a leading candidate for an alien movie. I’ve no idea what it properly is. There isn’t any damage on the reef in any part so it isn’t one of those unwanted pests.
One of the most beautiful appearances is a calcareous type alga that’s growing on the glass quite high up. Fortunately it’s not one of the viewing glasses that I clean. It is a whitish growth that is very similar to snowflakes joined together. The first time I noticed it the size was about ½ inch or so across, which increased to around 2 inches. Then it fell off and disintegrated. However, I note that it is back and growing, this time it is a little lower down and, hopefully, will remain attached.
There are many life forms that use my captive reef as home. I introduced the fish and major corals. Others have just appeared. Well, ‘just appeared’ cannot be correct can it!
When I set up the aquarium I didn’t use any live rock at all, but inert porous rock. Over a lengthy period this rock has become live, permitting me to close down the canister filter used for bio-filtration (I still run it but there isn’t any bio-media inside, it’s purely for surface agitation and additional seawater). The inert rock was interspaced with rocks attached to purchased corals. It is these coral rocks that must have been the entrance avenue for the life that has appeared. Coral rock is live rock after all.
So, I’m a watcher. Things appear and disappear, grow slowly or quickly. Little life forms scurry about, fish cruise quietly always ready for more food, corals sway in the currents, ‘dawn’ and ‘dusk’ come and go. I try and leave it alone.
Diminutive as it is, it’s a real living reef.