Why Do I Do This?

It’s pretty common to get an odd look when meeting someone for the first time and telling them what I do for a living.   “You’re a what?”  Is the response 99% of the time.  Coral farmer just isn’t something you hear very often.   The next question is usually why?   It’s not an easy answer but I may as well put it in writing.

Some 25 years ago I walked into a pet store and walked through their saltwater displays.  In one of the tanks was a row of these crazy looking “things.”   This was the mid 90’s so it was mostly shades of green with some browns thrown in for posterity.  I asked an employee what I was looking at and he explained they were corals for reef tanks.   He then said it was pretty difficult to do and you need a large aquarium.   Challenge accepted.  I had a 20 gallon tank and determination.     

I went home made every single mistake that could be made, but never gave up on it.   About a year later I was successfully keeping corals alive with a 4 bulb T8 fluorescent fixture and a big hang on filter in my 20 gallon.   That was it, I was hooked.

Fast forward to 2002 and I had just graduated college and moved to Florida to work on a second degree.   Needing a job I applied at the local saltwater specialty store and was hired.   That store really propelled my reefing forward.   I had the privilege of working with some amazing people with a wealth of knowledge.  That store also changed my life forever.   I had a customer that would come see me every saturday.  I taught her how to set up and keep a nano reef.   At this time, reefs under 20 gallons were very uncommon and considered expert only territory.    Through determination and a willingness to learn, she had a beautiful tank.   We’ll be married 13 years this September.  She takes all those pretty photos on this site and is the glue that keeps Chaos together.

Back then since I was keeping smaller tanks I would always scan underneath the racks at work for tiny pieces of colonies that had broken off and the manager would discount them for me.   My best friend worked there, and I remarked multiple times that we should sell these pieces of frags at a discount.   He would laugh and tell me no one is going to pay $15 for a 2 inch piece of coral.   Eventually I brushed off the idea to get a “real” job after graduation and stepped away from the aquarium business for about 14 years.   Corporate life eventually got the better of me and it was my wife that pushed me to quit and do something that makes me happy.   Watching coral grow makes me happy.

2016 Rolled around and I became friends with a guy named Brad that was also addicted to reef keeping.   One day we were talking and he remarked about wanting to open a farm.   I had finally met someone as crazy as myself with the same vision.   We jumped in head first.   January of 2018 we opened for business and we haven’t stopped since.

It definitely isn’t all roses.   Too many people assume that because we do what we do that we don’t have the same issues that hobbyists experience.   Those people could not be more wrong.  Not only do we constantly battle all the same stuff, but it’s magnified 10 fold in a commercial system.   Fragging, selling coral, handling coral, bringing in new coral, it all takes a toll on the fragile ecosystem that is a reef tank.   Afterall, even though they’re working tanks, it’s still a reef tank at the end of the day.   Farming coral is an absolute grind.  It’s 7 days a week.  Maintaining excellent customer service is a 24 hour a day job.   We’ll never get rich doing this.    So why?  Why do I do it?   Watching coral grow makes me happy.  Watching you grow the coral I grew makes me even happier.   Thanks for growing our coral.

-Mike

Our Innovative Marine office 40gal

All good things must come to an end.    Unfortunately for my wife and myself, our 17 year old 90 gallon home display has to come down.    A pipe in our wall was kind enough to start leaking and now our entire kitchen, walls, tile, and most everything else has to be replaced.   So our aquarium, which is older than our son, has to come down.    

That said, what better time to use all the extra equipment we have at the shop to start up a small display in our office.    We have a mated pair of Wyoming White clownfish that have been with us for quite a few years that will very soon be in need of a new home.   It’s been a while since I’ve set up a small display instead of a commercial growout system, and I’ve never actually set up an All In One aquarium of our own.   

Equipment List:
Innovative Marine Nuvo 40
Innovative Marine stand
Innovative Marine Chaetomax Fuge Light 
Ecotech XR30 G4 Pro
Ecotech Vortech MP10
Maxijet 1200 return
Custom Aquascape done by Pristine Rock
Tunze ATO

To be added after the 90 comes down:
Apex
Apex ATK module
3 channel doser

Wednesday, December 16th, I set up the aquarium in our office.   I couldn’t be happier with the aquascape that Jonathan of Pristine Rock designed for it.    I plan on cheating a bit with the cycle by using 17 year old live rock rubble in the rear compartments from our 90 gallon, as well as weekly water changes with aged water from our home display until it finally comes down.    My hope is that it will be ready for our clownfish before the turn of the new year.   Time will tell.    

If you would like to follow along with the build, we have started a build thread on Reef2Reef.com   

You can find it here:  https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/the-chaos-office-aio.785410/

Our 90 gallon

What Corals Should I Start With? Chaos’ top 5 Beginner Coral Picks

We get asked this question a whole lot, and it’s a very valid question.   The world of reef aquariums are full of beautiful, and fragile species.    In this day and age of forums and social media the advice coming from strangers can be so conflicting it’s enough to confuse anyone.   I decided to write this up as my personal top 5 picks for great beginner corals.

Mushrooms.    Talk about an easy coral to keep, these low maintenance softies are absolutely perfect for the beginner.    Some people fall in love with them and are perfectly happy keeping a tank fully stocked with mushrooms.   They are extremely low requirement pieces.    We recommend low to medium light, and medium flow for success.    One of the great thing about mushroom corals is there seems to be and endless variety with every color of the rainbow.   They can range from extremely inexpensive to the most expensive specimens such as bounce mushrooms.     Low cost or pricey, they’re all easy to keep.    Pick your favorite color and have at it.

Zoanthids and Palys.   Our number 2 pick is another coral that comes in such a variety and many people set up entire tanks as zoa gardens.    These polyps come in hundreds, if not thousands, of patterns with new morphs popping up in the hobby all the time.    Zoanthids are extremely tolerant of varying aquariums.  High light, low light, and all types of flow will be just fine for the majority of them.   As with everything, there are exceptions, but for the most part you can plop them wherever you like in the tank and they usually grow.    For best results, give them some space to grow a bit rather than stacking frags right next to each other.    In my home display, I have them growing across the sand as a carpet.    

Leather Corals.    Last of our softie picks are leathers.    While not quite as popular as zoanthids and mushrooms, they are just as easy to care for and offer unique shapes and contrast to the mostly round zoas and mushrooms.    In our experience, leathers love them some light.  They can tolerate low light aquariums fine, but to really see them shine give them a bit more light and more flow.    Toadstool leathers are some of our farm favorites.    They are low maintenance and easily fragged with scissors when they grow large enough to shade their neighbors.

 Euphyllia Corals.   Torches, Hammers, and Frogspawns are among the most popular corals on the market, and for good reason.   Take anyone that has never seen a reef tank and chances are one of the first corals they will point out in the tank is a euphyllia.    With their tree-like stalks and flowy tentacles, they look simply amazing in the home reef.   Some corals go in and out of style,  but euphyllia is always a contender for top pick.    After over 20 years in the hobby both personally and professionally, I have yet to see them go out of fashion in a reef.    Euphyllia prefer medium light and moderate flow.    While they are an LPS coral, they can tolerate a wide range of calcium and alkalinity levels.    Like everything else, the most important parameter is stability.    As long as you keep things steady, these gorgeous large polyp stony corals will thrive.

Brains such as trachyphyllia and wellsophyllia.   Brain corals are and will always be one of my personal favorites.    These big mouthed LPS corals look amazing in the sand when all puffed up.   Low to medium light and low to moderate flow and they are generally happy campers.    They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and there is a color pattern for everyone.   Many beginners with large reefs are looking to fill space without spending a fortune and these guys are a great way to do it.   True, some can get extremely pricey, but even the commons are beautiful additions to any reef aquarium.

I’m sure some experienced reef keepers will disagree with this list, but that’s all part of the fun of the hobby.  In our experience these 5 corals are perfectly suited to the beginning reef aquarist.    They are all low maintenance corals that are extremely tolerant of mistakes.    As always, maintaining stability should always be the goal in a reef.   Having corals that can put up with some mistakes can be great peace of mind when starting out.     Happy Reefing.

Mike

Help! My tank looks terrible!

I receive messages every day of every week that start out like this from reefers.    Usually it’s some combination of various types of nuisance algaes, cyanobacteria, or a combo punch of the two.    On the other end of the message is a defeated hobbyist frantic for a switch they can flip to right the capsizing ship.

The only way to help is to gather as much data as possible about the afflicted aquarium.   Unfortunately, more often than not, the questions that are critical to determining a course of action are answered as vaguely as possible helping absolutely no one.   Here are some prime examples:

What are your parameters?

“They’re good”
How much do you feed?
“A little”

I’m sorry but this just isn’t going to cut it.   In order to get to the solution we need to know what is causing the problem.  The only way to do that is with as many specifics about the aquarium as possible.   The following are the minimum questions that need to have answers before a reasonable course of action can be chosen to fix a problem tank:

Tank Size?

Age of aquarium?

Parameters?
Ph
Ammonia
Nitrite
Salinity
Nitrate
Alkalinity
Calcium
Phosphate 
Temperature

What type of lighting?
Light Spectrum?
Light Schedule?
Filtration type?
Flow type?
Maintenance schedule?
Feeding schedule?
Amount fed and type of food?
Does the tank get sunlight?
Does the temperature fluctuate?
Where do you get your water?

This may at first seem like a lot, but I can assure anyone reading this that 90% of the algae and cyano problems in today’s reefs are caused by the answers to one or more of those questions.   By being ready with those answers when seeking guidance from an experienced reefkeeper you increase chances of success immensely.

Aquarium Tech. A love hate relationship.

We live in the space age of aquarium keeping. Many of us can operate our tanks from our
smartphones. Check in on them via apps and aquarium specific cameras. Our lights are as
advanced as ever. Minute changes in specific color channels are possible, built in timers, wifi of
course, acclimation modes, storms, moving sun, and more. Gone are the days of listening to
the hum of a magnetic halide ballast and having ozone bottles refilled. So, what’s to hate?
Well, keep reading.

I fought automating my home display for many years. I watched products come and go and
simply stuck to my old faithful stuff. In my mind, biology hadn’t changed and that tank grew as
much coral as any other, so why fix something that isn’t broken? Then I had the opportunity
to see the colors other reefers were pulling with their fancy set ups. Sure, my corals were
super healthy and happy, but none of my acros were rainbow colored. My stuff was bright, but
these other guys had corals that Glowed. I needed that glow, and that required upgrades.
First on the list was to upgrade my old metal halides to T5 bulbs. At first I angered every coral
in the tank but after a few months things started getting used to the light and I started to color
up some stuff. The thing is, they still didn’t glow. For that I needed LED. Blue LED to be
exact. So I went out and purchased the fanciest blue LED strip I could find to add to my t5
lighting. Unfortunately the combination put out so much more light that I bleached everything
in the tank, again. Now they required 2 separate timers so I could achieve the dawn and dusk
effect without raining PAR down that not every coral appreciated. So I bought separate timers
and waited a few months and things started to color. I started getting great growth like my
halides, and started to get those sought after rainbows.

Then I read about the need for increased nitrates to pull the really crazy colors. So I decided
to reduce the amount of time my refugium light was on from 24hrs to 12hrs running opposite
my display lighting. This required another timer. I was also over-skimming apparently, so
needed to put that on a timer.

For a while everything went great, corals grew, colored, even Glowed! As corals grow, just like
plants in a healthy garden, they need pruning so they don’t shade or sting their neighbors.
Now I need a frag tank. Which required more lights, and more timers. Soon my electrical
cabinet looked like something wired by Clark Griswold.

Enter the controller. I had read about aquarium controllers for years but always steered clear.
Even in my upgrading process I told myself that was way too high tech and wanted nothing to
do with it. That is until I basically made a fire hazard of box timers next to the tank. It was
time. After many interesting words that thankfully no one was around to hear, lots of
googling, and trial and error, my system was automated. This single control and corresponding
power strip took care of all my timing needs. Not only that, but it controlled my heater and
automatic top off. Pretty neat.

Everything was fine and dandy. Until it wasn’t. About 9am on a Thursday morning I heard a
bang and our power went out. Turns out a landscaping truck hit a power pole on the street.
No one was hurt and electrical crews were on the scene fairly quickly. Power stayed out until
about 4pm that day. When it was restored, all my pumps kicked on properly. Skimmer,
powerheads, everything except the lights. It seems the controller wasn’t happy about the
sudden restoration of power and decided right there to give up the ghost. Our beautiful
display sat dark and there was absolutely nothing I could do to fix the controller. Extension
cords were ran and box timers emerged once again. Clark would have been proud.

The point of this post isn’t to scare anyone out of upgrades, or controllers. The point is to
ALWAYS have a back up plan. Do not for even a second think your fancy stuff won’t just quit.
Warranties are definitely nice, but they won’t help you in the moment. Remember to always
keep some of that old school tech tucked away in a drawer somewhere. When you need it,
you really need it.
-Mike