Thinking about Reefapalooza and Orlando

While sitting here in the gray of Pittsburgh, it has rained or snowed almost every day this Spring, I started thinking about my trip to...
  1. Thinking about Reefapalooza and Orlando

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    A happy camper about to attend her first Reefaplaooza.

    While sitting here in the gray of Pittsburgh, it has rained or snowed almost every day this Spring, I started thinking about my trip to Reefaplaooza in March and went back and looked at my notes. Yes, I take notes when I go to a show to remind me of what I saw that I found interesting as well as what products or corals I wanted to follow up on, i.e, buy, and the people I talked with. Probably a sign I am getting older, but I prefer to think I am getting wiser as at shows like Reefapalooza there is so much to keep track of that remembering everything is almost impossible. I know lots of people write or stream or shoot video at these shows, but after a short time we all seem to forget what happened and move on to the next thing. Such is life in our world, where almost constant stimulation is needed. Fortunately for us, this hobby provides almost constant stimulation as there is always something new on the horizon in this hobby and a lot of it comes out at these shows.

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    Never to young to get started in the hobby.

    Having been to RAP in Orlando since its inception, and having only missed last year’s edition, I have been impressed by not only how it has grown, but also, like it’s big brother MACNA, has become not only a social event and an orgy of coral frags, but it has also become more akin to a family or class reunion, than simply a show for everything reef. Having had over 5,000 attendees over it’s two-day run as well as almost 100 vendors, it is impressive not only in that regard, but also in how everyone there gets along and just has a good time. And to me at least, I find it as enjoyable to attend as MACNA. I know that may sound like sacrilege, and maybe it is just a function of my being able to get a direct flight there, which is not always possible for MACNA, as the airlines no longer make air travel not only not fun, but not even enjoyable, but it just seems that everyone is more relaxed and just enjoys being there. And it is always great to get to a warmer climate while winter was still ravaging us in the North. In my opinion, Vic, Lou, Josh, Ryan, Chris and Kristine along with the rest of the staff of Worldwide, sorry if I forgot someone, have gotten good at doing this after putting together so many, that it is now a really smooth and seamless operation. As someone, who has attended and spoken at many shows, I really appreciate the effort they put forth as well as my not having to worry about anything, other than my tanks back home, while I am there.

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    Jack Kent giving a great lecture on testing and water quality.

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    The new Reef Kinetics automated water testing system.

    So what did I see or do that made my trip to Reefapalooza and Orlando worth it so that I would attend it again. I could not fit everything into this article, so I will just list the high points of things I found unique or that I want to try. First and foremost, like I said, it is like a reunion of sorts, as I got to see a lot of old friends like Julian, Mark Scott, Bob Stark, Joe, Jason, Tullio, and Joy, most of whom I have known for at least two decades. I also got to meet Jack Kent and David Hammontree in person after all these years as well. In addition to them, I got to meet face to face and talk with many of the coral vendors and equipment manufacturers who I have bought from over the years and whose stuff or corals I have placed or used in my own tanks. As I have noted on numerous occasions, one of the things that still impresses me about this hobby is how open most people are and how willing they are to share their successes and even their failures. In this regard, I was also interested to hear feedback from my friends out there who watch my videos and read these articles so I can help provide what they need to help make the hobby more fun and them more successful and make what I do better. I always learn from these discussions and I appreciate all of your feedback. From seeing all of you and talking with old friends I want to stress that if you go to these shows one of the best things you can do is to make friends either while there or online before you go and meet up with your friends there. I say this, as it is always more fun to go to these shows when you have friends to enjoy it with. Seeing my old friends and catching up, is at least to me, is one of the high points of these shows and the hobby.

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    Meeting with a long time friend in person for the first time.

    If that was all I did at Reefapalooza, and it seems like that is how I spent the bulk of my time there, that would have been enough, but there was much more. First and foremost, there was a lot of equipment and products that I found interesting and worthy of looking at more. Ricardo of CoralVue walked me through the many new products that they have brought to market or are bringing out hopefully soon, I still remember when they brought out the gyre. These new products included the Klir Fleece filter, which is designed to replace filter socks as the mechanical filter, in a much more efficient manner. I have played with socks off and on and always found that while efficient they plugged up quickly and were a hassle to clean. This type of automatic cleaner has been around for a number of years and I have seen it in use in Europe for a number of years, but I always thought that the units I saw there were too large to be practical here except on the largest tanks. I look forward to trying out these units when they become available this summer. They also showed for the first time an automatic water testing device called Reef Bot by Reef Kinetics, that utilizes the testing kits that we are already using, various sensors to turn equipment on and off, another programmable powerhead and to me the two most interesting products: a new food for supposedly getting finicky fish to eat and stay alive and an “automatic”/ semi-automatic plankton incubator. These latter two items are especially interesting to me as I hope that the next aspects of the hobby that we will endeavor to understand better are both coral and fish nutrition.

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    Something I am very interested in to help provide better nutrition for our corals a plankton reactor.

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    One of the impressive new Goniopora corals showcased at Unique corals.

    So what exactly are these “new” pieces of equipment and foods and why am I excited about them. The first of these items I will discuss is the Reef Bot by reef kinetics that utilizes the liquid tests and their indicators to automatically test whatever parameters we want as long as a commercial test kit is available to do it. What impressed me about this unit is that not only could it be programmed to run the desired tests as frequently or infrequently as wanted and then report the results via a phone app, but it was designed to use the tests from whichever manufacturer the owner desired. So if your preferred test kit is Elos for some tests, Nyos for others and Salifert or some other manufacturers for a third, it doesn’t matter to this machine. When watching the machine in action and and its robotic like precision I could not help but see the similarities to it and the machines that are used in my own industry of genomic diagnostics and marvel at how not only has the hobby advanced, but also at how other industries are now recognizing how big it now is so they are now making equipment using their technology specifically for our hobby. When I was looking at this device I did not take at face value how accurate it was while it was running a test, so I also did a couple of tests manually to compare the results. I would love to say they were in total agreement, but they only differed slightly. However, I must admit that even when I ran my manual tests more than once they did not always agree 100% either. So given the variability and lack of perfect accuracy I have seen in most test kits, I think this unit may be worth investigating further. In talking about this with some of my friends that were there, we all agreed that it really did not matter if one test showed for example an Alk reading of 8.3 while this machine showed 8.5 or 8.1. More importantly we all agreed that if it was consistent and that its results stayed in a close range to our desired values and that it did so regardless of which test kit manufacturer we chose or which test we ran that it was a machine at least worth investigating.

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    An expensive anemone alternative in Caspar's tank at World Wide.

    While I was impressed with this device, I really wanted to learn more about their new and as yet unavailable plankton reactor, as well as their new foods. As I mentioned, I am looking forward to getting better at understanding coral and fish nutrition and think it will go a long way in keeping our fish and coals alive, colorful and possibly spawning in the future. Coralvue showed this equipment and provided me with enough information that I am looking forward to using this equipment on my tanks when this equipment comes out. In the mean time, I spent a great deal of time with Phil Gilbert of Reefroids and Jeremy Olsen of Benepets discussing their coral foods. Both of these gentlemen are zealots in regards to their products and the benefits they provide for our tanks, so it was interesting and educational to talk with them. I was fortunate to get samples of both of their products and look forward to seeing if using them improves the health of my corals or even better, provides them with enough energy to be able to spawn. I am using both, because as a result of what I learned from Jamie Craggs paper, we still need to provide a wide variety or foods in both size and type in order to provide for all of our coral’s needs. So hopefully, using these foods along with some others and possibly live cultivated rotifers I hope to replicate at least to some degree what Jamie is doing.

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    Just a small example of the frags available at RAP.

    Obviously there were many other interesting pieces of equipment on sale that I won’t go into due to space limitations, that will hopefully continue to advance the hobby. However, I must point out that I did buy one non-reef piece of equipment for my new wife, which when I describe it may indicate that I got her hooked, pun intended, on the hobby. A company called Brio, had on display an interesting little tank that is a small freshwater tank on one side and houses terrestrial plants that are grown hydroponically on the other side. These plants and the design of the system are such that the plants are supposed to act as the filters for the freshwater tank. The entire unit is lighted by two small LED pendants that can be moved around and that also can have the light they produce changed to several different colors. The entire unit is small and compact and well-designed, and is aesthetically pleasing. So since Rosanna liked it we got it and are hoping to finally have time to set it us this week. I’m sure a picture or tow of it will sneak into these articles in the future so you will be able to see what I am talking about. To me, this showed there was something for everyone At RAP, even a total newbie with previously no interest in the hobby found something. And truth be told, when I started making suggestions for what she should do to set it up, she told me to stay away, this tank was hers and she was going to learn and make mistakes on it on her own. So this should be interesting.

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    The new tank I bought for my wife at RAP, now I have her hooked.

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    What it looks like to be setting up a tank before the rush at RAP as Jim from EyeCatching is getting things ready.

    RAP does not have a lot of speakers, but I learned a lot from both of the talks I attended. Jack Kent gave a great talk on water chemistry, additives and testing. Like e, he is a strong advocate for water changes and the benefits they provide. But he also provided lots of data regarding the inaccuracies of most test kits as well ICP testing and why it may not be as accurate as it has been portrayed to be. I found his talk quite well thought out and thought provoking as I have seen a wide degree between some of the test kits I use and always attributed it to user error, my mistakes. However, he did point that while most of these test kits were not especially precise, they are at least accurate enough to at worst give us a baseline to work with. Hopefully, just as with most things in this hobby, talks like this will motivate manufacturers to develop more accurate test kits that enable more reproducible results. Julian’s talk was pure Julian, as in it he discussed how we all need to be better prepared when tragedy strikes. In his case, it was after last year’s hurricane struck and his home was out of power for over 5 days. Julian downplayed what he lost, I saw his tank six months earlier and I can say he lost a lot, but he said he was fortunate and compared with others considered himself lucky. But even though I live in the north out of the hurricane zone, his ideas on preparedness and the steps we should all take hit home, and as a result on returning home I bought another emergency generator. I hate when a talk is so good it forces me to buy something that I hopefully will never need.

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    Most hobbyists never get to see the mad rush to get things put together before the show.

    The last thing about Reefapalooza that made RAP interesting is that it was the first “big” show that I brought my new wife Rosanna too. And no I did not have to bind and gag her. But I did find some of her observations interesting for someone who did not really have much of an interest in this hobby and who was taking it all in for the first time. First and foremost, she was impressed by the size of the show and by how friendly and nice everyone was. She was also amazed by how many coral vendors were present and how most of them were pretty happy with how things went. She did make one observation that would make Sanjay proud as she asked me why every coral vendor only displayed their corals under blue lights and not the white light that most of us run for at least part of the day on our tanks. She said that after looking at all of these corals under this light they all started to look alike. After looking at the corals with her I can’t say that I disagreed. So at future shows maybe someone will be different and show off their corals under the color of light that we usually use. Away fro the show we also toured some of the great shops in Orlando including World Wide, Living Reef and Top Shelf and she was grateful that all of these shops aren’t in Pittsburgh, as she told me that if they were she knew we would be poor owing to the amazing corals they had. She actually seemed to enjoy seeing the wide variety of corals and also how different each shop was. In addition, the coral “farm” at WorldWide convinced her of just how big this hobby has become as she could not believe how many beautiful corals they were growing for the hobby. She also gave me some other insight that I had not thought about before. When I asked her impression of things and what struck her, what she said stuck with me. She said that while she was impressed by the corals and the equipment, and the talks, she was amazed that despite this being a saltwater hobby, there was no discussion and very little attention paid to fish. Further she said after being at at least half a dozen shows and frag swaps this was pretty much the case at all of them. She went on to say that because of me she knew fish were important, could be problematic, produced waste and affected water chemistry, but for the most part at least at the shows she went to with me, they were totally neglected. After discussing this I have to agree. While looking at online threads, advertisements, discussions and sales, I found that this is pretty much the case everywhere. I am not saying if this is bad or good, simply interesting that someone new to the hobby noticed this right away. Considering how many problems I and many people I know have had with their tanks as a result of “fish issues” it reminds me that there is still a lot to learn and discuss about the fish we keep and not just corals. My discussion with her has also giving me several ideas for future articles related to fish, that hopefully will fuel greater discussion and success everywhere.

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    About Author

    Mike Paletta
    Michael Paletta’s actual career is working in genomics in breast and colon cancer for Genomic Health. He has been an avid reef keeper since 1984. He has kept personal reef aquaria ranging in size from 20 gallons to 1200 gallons and has helped set and build other reef aquaria up to 4,000 gallons in size. He currently maintains several reef aquaria including a 300 gallon sps dominated tank and a 75 lps tank. He has also consulted for The National Aquarium in Baltimore as well the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium.

    Michael has published over 100 articles on various aspects of reef keeping in SeaScope, Aquarium Fish Magazine, FAMA, Practical Fishkeeping, and Coral Magazine. He has also published two books: The New Marine Aquarium and Ultimate Reefs. Michael has been invited to speak at various venues around the world and across the country and has given over 200 such talks.