I really like my soft coral reef – all the time it developed over the last 5½+ years and how it is now. It is really full of a diverse range of corals coloured various pastel shades, the tall ones swaying in the currents. There is hardly any rock to be seen as it is nearly all covered. The rear glass and one side are decorated with varying shades of algae, purple, dark and light green, brown and, thankfully, not a trace of the nuisance stuff.

Three fish were originally housed, a flame angel (Centropyge loricula), a flashback dottyback (Pseudochromis diadema), and a blue devil damsel (Chrysiptera cyanea). They were all chosen as they would be able to stand up to each other’s aggressiveness. This proved to be the case; the flame angel became boss quickly. They were all introduced to the tank at the same time.

The dottyback at 2½ years disappeared and I have no idea why. The fish was well fed with rounded body, good fins and clear eyes. Perhaps it got itself stuck in the rockwork somewhere? As said I haven’t a clue as to the reason. To date it hasn’t been replaced as the other two are really well settled healthy and happy. I don’t want to upset the equilibrium, and am also afraid that two quite aggressive fish, well established, could pick on a newcomer with sad results.

The system started off with canister bio-filtration (yes, I know, but I’m coming to live rock). There’s a skimmer (of course!) and also a home-made reverse flow anti-phosphate reactor. There’s also a home-made anti-nitrate sulphur based reactor.

As time passed I wondered if there would be a need for the de-nitrator any more. It was originally attached because of the presence of canister filtration and the consequent production of nitrate. The seawater never showed any trace of nitrate. The rocks that had been used for the reef were not live but inert hard porous types, locally called Grotto rock. I don’t know the proper geological name. Anyway, the rock became covered with all sorts of growths and looked after time had passed very much like live rock. I decided that the nitrate was being dealt with by the now live rock. So switch off the de-nitrator then. This was done but only after I’d dithered for another few months, and after the device had been switched off I needed to do nitrate tests regularly to assure myself all remained well. It did, and to date there hasn’t been any nitrate detected.

The anti-phosphate reactor is still running and will not be stopped. There has never been any phosphate detected.

Originally I ran two Eheim canister filters containing bio media. One has had the media removed and now runs empty – I am considering what to do with this, if anything. The other still contains bio media and I am considering removing that too. The rocks will contain sufficient bacteria, but I am always cautious. Once the second canister is empty ammonia checks will be done for a while, again to confirm that bio filtration is adequate. The livestock, all corals and two small fish, is not exactly a heavy load.

I sit and look at this system having seen it develop and continue to develop and feel really pleased overall. It’s so interesting, corals and fish as said, but also tiny life that darts about on the rocks and deep sand bed particularly at night.

Being so pleased, what’s the big ‘Sigh’ about? Well, it’s about defeat. At least, defeat up to now.

I’ve had two problems. One was those little green balls, known as Sailor’s Eyeballs, properly known as Ventricosa ventricosa. It is a green algae that is thought to be the largest single-celled organism on earth. It’s also quite attractive, at least it is until it begins to spread. Inside each ball are spores – if the algae is broken the spores go all over the place and new algae grows. In time the algae can overwhelm an aquarium. However, I obtained a length of rigid airline and some flexible airline, and went round at seawater change time bursting the algae. The seawater running down the tube to a bucket carried the spores with it. The algae was defeated – occasionally two or three appear but meet the same fate. No problem – very happy.

So! Explain the sigh. Yes, to date I am defeated. Well, not entirely to be truthful. I’ll mention the words Aiptasia and Manjano and there are so many aquarists who will no doubt say ‘Ah’ sympathetically. The dreadful anemones, weeds of the reef. They seem to grow so easily and often pick a spot that is really awkward. They don’t have intelligence do they?

I have never made the mistake of squashing them or scraping at them, this will only spread them around. I’ve considered the natural possible remedies – the Copperband butterfly (Chelmon rostratus) and the peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni). I won’t try the Copperband for the reasons stated earlier, but I might try the shrimps. Reports on the internet, anecdotal not scientific, suggest that they could eat the anemones not that they will. It is quite likely that I’d get shrimps that turned their noses up at them.

So to date I’ve used Joe’s juice. This is successful and clearly destroys the anemone quite quickly. So how do the things keep re-appearing? When they do re-appear they are small, so they are new growths. Wandering around on the internet I found that apparently the anemones recognize the Joe’s Juice application as deadly. It is said that as they are attacked they release what could be termed ‘emergency’ spores – and hence new anemones appear. There is a new application available which apparently the anemones do not recognize as dangerous. Perhaps I’ll try that after a time so that effectiveness can be judged.

I said that I hadn’t been fully defeated by the anemones. There aren’t that many in the tank as periodically I attack them all when they are small – they are not allowed to grow (except one or two that have lodged in very difficult places, letting them grow a bit provides a bigger target). They don’t spoil the appearance of the reef at all. It’s just…well…they’re there and I know they are and they shouldn’t be! Why don’t they comply the little perishers.

A gardener doesn’t give up because there are weeds to be dealt with. There is no way I’ll allow the anemone to get too far under my skin. I tell myself they are part of nature; they’ll be on the reef. On the reef of course will be an efficient predator.

I enjoy my reef immensely and will continue to do so. The anemones are the only thing that I’ve not had success with. Sigh. But one day!