Discussion in 'Reef Aquarium Discussion' started by Scott Fellman, Aug 30, 2017.

Bringing the biodiversity...and the creativity. Game on.

We’ve talked so much about the “high-biodiversity” approach to reef keeping that I personally find so compelling (and apparently, so do you), that...
  1. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    We’ve talked so much about the “high-biodiversity” approach to reef keeping that I personally find so compelling (and apparently, so do you), that I thought it might be good to take a moment and give some thought to the kinds of habitats we could actually mimic in our approach to trying to replicate them.

    I mean, sure, you can simply create a tank without a specific “theme” or inspiration from a geographic locale, but I think you might find some inspiration from a few of the reef zones and localities I’ve got in my head..

    Now, trust me…it’s not that I’m suggesting these ideas simply because they are representative of habitats I am obsessed by…Not exclusively, mind you. Rather, it’s about the idea that these fascinating habitats are typically not replicated by the majority of reefers, for a variety of reasons…Not the least which being that they are NOT exclusively coral-based. Rather, they are habitats which lend themselves well to our idea of higher-biodiversity microcosms.

    I almost think we have to embrace a different definition than “reef aquarium”. which, in my humble opinion, describes one type of system…one of many habitats that we can attempt to replicate in the confines of our aquariums.

    We are talking about creating systems that foster a wide variety of life forms, not just for the benefit off the corals, but for all of the animals which reside within them. In the next few blogs, we’ll examine some possibilities for such systems, and hopefully, garner some input and discussion on the best ways to accomplish creating them successfully in our aquariums..


    Mangroves as the “anchor” of a diverse aquarium ecosystem.


    An aquarium designed around mangroves is a great candidate for this type of thing. A perfect way to kick off our discussion!



    Now, hobbyists have been playing with mangroves for a long time. We’ve seen ‘em in refugiums, an occasional reef tank…but almost never as the real focal point of the aquarium. I think that, other than some cool public aquarium displays, the best use of a mangrove as a “nexus” of a biologically diverse and compelling system has been Julian Sprung’s tanks. They are marvels of biodiversity, and mangroves play an important role in them.


    Oh, before we continue our discussion, let me clarify one thing:

    I realize that, for all intents and purposes, that mangroves are NOT a “legit” nutrient export mechanism…that is, unless you have a dozen mature trees for your 100-gallon tank! The reality is, mangroves in the aquarium offer us a unique opportunity to grow corals, anemones, clams, tunicates, sea squirts, etc., etc. in a biologically rich habitat. The roots and branches of mangroves are an ideal “substrate” upon which algal mats and biofilms, can flourish, providing feeding and foraging opportunities for a variety of aquarium inhabitants.



    As the leaves fall into the water, if allowed to decompose (ohh…WOULD you do that? I WOULD!), can foster the growth of significant populations of microorganisms and small crustaceans…the literal base of a “food web” in our tanks. Can you imagine a better place for hard-to feed fishes, like Dragonets, Pipefishes, Seahorses, etc.? In fact, a cool thing about a tank like this is that you could probably manage it effectively with water exchanges and minimal protein skimming…Allowing some nutrient to accumulate within the system for the purposes of feeding the micro algae and population of small organisms which “power” this small ecosystem.







    “Oh no. There he goes about that “mental shift” stuff again.”


    A “pristine” aquatic habitat?


    No, not in the usual sense. You WANT biofilms, a healthy growth of algae, coralline, some detritus accumulation, decomposing leaves…perhaps slightly tinted water (because of the tannins in the leaves…). This requires a serious mental shift for many reefers, especially those of us raised on the “your tank must look spotless at all times” mindset. Don’t get me wrong. Don’t twist it: I’m NOT advocating lax maintenance. I’m not suggesting that you over-populate your tank, fail to test water, execute water exchanges, etc. No.


    I wont let you just “kill by cliche” this idea by suggesting stuff like that. :)

    I am suggesting that we as aquarists free ourselves from the chains of convention that we seem to be clinging to, which suggest that every reef tank is crystal clear water, spotless live rock, and blinding white sand. I’m not the most experienced SCUBA diver out there, but I’ve dove on and surfed over enough coral reefs and lagoons to realize that the reality of many ecosystems is not this sterile utopia that we have in our head in the hobby for so long. Of course, some reef systems are that “desert” that we’ve metaphorically characterized them as over the decades. However, many, many, many fascinating tropical marine habitats fall into the broader category of what we’d call “environmentally rich”….or at the very least, ecologically diverse.


    (pic by Richard Aspinal)

    A mangrove standing as the “anchor feature” of your next “reef” tank is fascinating. What would you use as a substrate? How would you configure the aquascape? What type of substrate would you incorporate?


    I’d use a substrate of fine eolithic aragonite, and a mix of…muds, like commercially available stuff: Walt Smith’s “Fiji Gold”, CaribSea’s “Marine Biosediment”, Brightwell “KoraLagoon Substrat”, “Miracle Mud”, and even some freshwater planted tank materials, and terrestrial muds and soils. I’d use both live mangrove seedlings/propagules and dead mangrove root pieces… I’d throw in dried mangrove leaves and allow them to decompose on the bottom of the aquarium, and/or be utilized by the resident snail/crab/invert population. Full disclosure: Yes, my company, Tannin Aquatics, offers dried mangrove leaves for sale…


    I’d even grow some seagrasses in this mix…Halodule, Halophila, or, if your substrate is deep enough- Thalassia. Yes, I’d encourage a bit of calcareous macroalge in the mix as well. I’d attach some of the macro algae to the dead mangrove root sections. I’d use a daylight flavored lighting spectrum- LED all the way, but you could get away with T5 or even NO florescent, for that matter.

    Coral-wise, I’d go for corals like Goniopora, Catalaphyllia, Discosoma, Fungia, Trachyphullia, etc. Oh sure, I’d even use some Pocillopora and Seriatopora as well, for added color and interest… Oh, maybe some Faviids, too! To me, that’s a varied enough coral “menu” to keep me happy for a long time. A system this diverse would be anything but “boring”, even if it only incorporated a half-dozen different varieties of coral. The idea is to create and maintain a diverse, actively-evolving microcosm of life, not to create a “used car lot” of expensive coral frags.


    And for fishes- well, it can run the gamut. I’m not even going to get into specifics here, because there are just too many possibilities!

    I’d love to go with some significant water movement in this tank…like 50-70 turns an hour- utilizing your personal fave “weapons of choice” for the job. With a shallow, wide aquarium (that’s what I’d use!), you could rock some very cool “ebb and flow” in this tank to get the seagrasses and LPS swaying.

    And of course, as always.. utilizing technology to not only help us manage systems better, but to help create more realistic representations of the specific characteristics of this habitat. There has never been a better time to re-visit some older ideas than now- with a was to amazing technology and an array of experience that abounds in the ever-expanding reef community. I think it's really a super time for us to examine niche biotope reef aquariums! There is ample room for study, interpretation…and creativity.

    I leave you with a great quote from Steve jobs on the creative process, which might just get you started:

    "Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after awhile.”



    Well said.


    Discuss. Dream. Scheme.



    Coming up soon…food for thought:


    Lembeh Straight Muck


    Rubble Zone (Back Reef)



    Stay adventurous. Stay creative. Stay bold.


    And Stay Wet.



    Scott Fellman


     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 30, 2017
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  2. vlangel

    vlangel Seahorse whisperer R2R Supporter 3RMAS Member R2R Excellence Award Reef Tank 365 Article Contributor Build Thread Contributor

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    I actually like this idea Scott. I keep seahorses now and all conventional wisdom dictates that the enviroment in the tank be as sterile as possible to compensate for the seahorse's lack of immunity against infection. For that reason I am not brave enough to try it out with them BUT someday I may not have seahorses and I was wondering what I would do instead.

    A mangrove biotope could be a lot of fun. I am not one to buy a new tank so I would stay with my 56 column with the seahorse mural (which is one way to incorporate seahorses) on the back. I would have a very deep sandbed, 7-8" of a mixture like you suggested. My tank is deep so there will still be room for aquascape and coral and such.

    I already have a 4 bulb t5 fixture so I will definitely be using that and maybe I will add an LED fixture as well since my tank does not have full coverage.

    A pair of jawfish could be fascinating and I also like royal grammas and basselets. Ricordias might be nice along with some of the coral you suggested. I have quite an array of macros already and I love them as much as coral. I also love inverts and I would very much enjoy having them again as well, like an atlantic cucumber, shrimp and crabs.

    You have given me food for thought for the future.
     
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  3. ubasu

    ubasu Member

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    Awesome idea. Actually I have been toying with making a reef pond in my basement. My parents have a fiberglass pond that has been pulled out and is free for the taking. Put some mud in the deep and plant some mangroves in the deeper side and use the shallow side to grow some some coral. Uh oh the wheels are spinning...
     
  4. mdbannister

    mdbannister Ahh...the Reef Life Staff Member Team R2R R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Photo of the Month Award SCMAS Member Article Contributor Build Thread Contributor Partner Member 2018

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    Man! I love the way you always think outside the "box"! Great read and cool way to get some thoughts going. Now I'm thinking...
     
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  5. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Always happy to plant seeds...And it's funny, most of the Seahorse people I know were, for the longest time, absolutely adamant about any sort of setup utilizing natural materials for fear of disease, parasites, etc...It's a philosophical "toss up", I suppose...I mean, the fish DID originally come from the ocean, with all of it's "challenge"s...If they're SO delicate that we can't risk exposing them to more "natural" conditions, should we even be keeping them? (That's gonna get me flogged for sure, but you get the idea, lol). These are some of the most talented and dedicated hobbyists I've ever seen, but the underlying "cultural" philosophy about sterile tanks always makes me curious...I mean, I understand their unique lack of immunity, but I can't help but wonder if we have the ability to "toughen them up" a bit with more natural conditions...Of course, I might be missing the whole point... :confused: Still worth at least THINKING about, right?

    -Scott
     
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  6. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Yeah, and I just saw a pic of a display from MACNA last night that was right along these lines...very cool stuff! Hope to see more and more reefers at least looking at and contemplating the idea!

    -Scott
     
  7. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Thanks for the kind words...I think we all do sort of think "outside the box", but we are sometimes unintentionally myopic in that we have this definition of exactly what we think a "reef tank" should be...and as the insanely cool technology comes out to help us keep more "nature-like" conditions, why do we tend to still embrace this "minimum diversity/sterility" thing? I mean, we have the foods. We have the water movement. We have the lighting. We have skimming, filters, etc...I say push on!

    -Scott ;Happy
     
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  8. Bouncingsoul39

    Bouncingsoul39 Well-Known Member

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    Mangrove Biotope tanks are not new and definitely not "outside the box". It's just a different box. They're not popular either because they tend to be boring and mangroves grow slowly and are problematic long term. How many people cant accommodate and actually want to have large mangrove trees (that need daily misting btw) in their living space? Managing sea grasses is also problematic and most people will end up with an algae covered mess.
    I say boring, and of course that's totally subjective, but people like color and movement. Things that these setups tend to lack unless brown and green are your thing. They are just as expensive as a reef tank to setup with little hope of recovering costs because you've got nothing to sell of value (frags). I don't see not needing a skimmer as a benefit, or not needing regular water changes as a benefit either. I LIKE to buy stuff for my hobby and LIKE to spend time maintaining it which is also part of the hobby. There are plenty of other hobbies where you can "just watch" stuff.
    The other thing that I want to mention, is that the future of the hobby is in new things that are backed by scientific research resulting in data that can be replicated and proven by real world testing. Just throwing out a bunch of words about bio-films and the like is not really helping the hobby advance nor is it helping your niche that you're trying to promote.
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2017
  9. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Thanks for jumping in the discussion! It's important to have many different points of view.

    First off, I think the "boring" thing is purely subjective, as you suggest...and one could easily make a case that a tankful of slow-growing Acros or Montis" is "boring." That being said, what excites ME is not what excites others. Having spent a lot of time exploring mangrove habitats in the wild, and playing with them in tanks over the years, I feel they're interesting and actually quite dynamic. Oh, and I think you'd be surprised how "sellable" seagrasses could be. That being said, I hope we agree that one doesn't engage in the hobby simply to recover costs by selling frags. And, I'd argue that Julian Spung's tanks (which I've seen in person many times) are featuring mangroves anything but "boring." Nor are they "problematic." While I DO most certainly agree with you that Mangroves and Seagrasses require a deal of devotion and care, I'm not sure how daily spraying and perhaps the occasional pruning and fertilizing of seagrasses is any more difficult or demanding that maintaining a significant reef tank, with calcium reactors, protein skimming, nutrient export, and a lot of important and potentially problematic (if you let them get out of control) parameters. I've seen plenty of reef tank over the years which have become "algae-fileld messes" when not dutifully maintained.

    I agree that it's FUN to buy stuff and be active with your tanks...ALthough I may have some views on the need to constantly "upgrade" and such, it's purely my opinion (as expressed here and in each instance where I mention that kind of stuff). Again- subjective. Some people DON'T like to constantly buy stuff, can't afford it, and don't find it the best part of the hobby. And that's totally okay. And I have a hard time thinking that a diverse, well-manatined mangrove or seagrass tank is "just watching stuff..." We're talking about including corals and such, so...

    And of course, the future of the hobby is definitely based i na large part on science backed research,. Never would I ever dispute that. And I'm not just throwing out "jargon." Biofilms are called "biofilms"- there is a lot of scientific information out there, and a lot of interesting stuff that can be learned from embracing them. They occur in many , if not all aquariums. They're probably more prevalent in these types of systems, but hardly novel. I don't see why using proper language to describe something is detrimental to promoting the understanding of something. And the "real world testing" is in part , the act of hobbyists studying this kind of stuff in our own tanks. Also, I am trying to promote a different attitude about some of the things that we in the broader hobby have looked at as "and" or "undesirable"...I'm talking about being open-minded...something I think you and I can both agree is important. Dogma and opinion are two different things.

    The reality is that I think we both have similar attitudes; we just come from different points of view, and that's perfectly cool- in fact, I'd insist on it. Thats the stuff which drives advancements in the hobby! And yes, the idea of mangroves is not necessarily in and of itself outside the box (and I never suggested "new"-been done for decades). However, the idea of looking at them as the basis for a system; perhaps even designing the system around them, and embracing the algae and life and such, which are a collateral part of the habitat, as a vital and fascinating part of the system- is sort of outside the box, in this world of "ULNS" and chemical filtration, etc., etc. (oh, and I LOVE skimmers...). Again, we may disagree on the nuances, but I think we are kind of on the same page on many things!

    I truly appreciate your feedback, and look forward to more discussion on these interesting topics.

    -Scott
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2017
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  10. Flippers4pups

    Flippers4pups Fins up since 1993 R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Reef Squad Leader Build Thread Contributor

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    Bio diversity is what I'm currently working on at the moment. Micro bio diversity that is. For the first time in my years of this hobby, I'm culturing phytoplankton and copepods. Starting my cultures today!

    There's so much out there about micro diversity and it's importance in the food chain for all living things in our "sterile" boxes! So I'm stepping up to the task and adding in what's been lost.

    These animals have been taken from that bio diversity and are adapting to our inadequacies in understanding and lack of proving everything that they would have had in nature. It's up to us to see that through for them.

    Yes Scott, game on!
     
  11. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Exciting to hear!

    I think it's easy for us as a hobby to overlook this stuff. When you really think about it, all of the gear and technology that we embrace is designed to replace or replicate what occurs naturally in the oceans, so both utilizing the technology and embracing the diversity and such is, I think, what will continue to lead to many advancements in the hobby. It's nice to hear of your experiments! I believe that from this kind of stuff, the hobby can only benefit!

    Best of luck and keep us in the loop!

    Scott
     
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  12. Tahoe61

    Tahoe61 Moderator Staff Member Team R2R R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Showcase Editor Build Thread Contributor Partner Member 2018 Partner Member

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    I remember a long long time ago when I saw an image of Julian Sprung's Mangrove tank, well that was it I had to have a complete reef but I have never been able to balance the requirements of Mangroves with the systems I have set up thus far. So thanks for the motivation.
     
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  13. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    It's always a challenge!

    I mean, you can start mangrove propagules by simply keeping them in the water...You'd don't have to "root" them. On the other hand, utilizing any of the number of cool "refugium" substrates and perhaps even incorporating aquatic plant or terrestrial soils could be interesting stuff to play with- particularly with seagrasses in the mix...

    And yes, challenges abound! Isn't that the coolest part? :p

    Scot
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2017
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  14. Flippers4pups

    Flippers4pups Fins up since 1993 R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Reef Squad Leader Build Thread Contributor

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    [​IMG]

    And so it begins! 3000+Tisbe biminiensis have gone through acclamation and have been fed. Swimming around like they have never been fed before! Good sign! Small culture at first, with intentions to go bigger later into five gallon buckets.
     
  15. Tristren

    Tristren Active Member Build Thread Contributor

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    Lots of scientific research on Biofilms. This one that discusses "the actual and potential applications of phototrophic biofilms in wastewater treatment, bioremediation, fish-feed production, biohydrogen production, and soil improvement" is an example of one that seems on point.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2668646/
     
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  16. Tristren

    Tristren Active Member Build Thread Contributor

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    Ok, so following some of your other articles, and threads from @Paul B and @Lasse , talking about natural systems and how using them may often be the best way to recreate these slices of life got me thinking. Wouldn't it be interesting to tie some of these systems together. Meaning have a freshwater planted system that is designed to add life and trace elements and oxygen running off, in a controlled way kind of as an auto top off, into your marine system.

    This kind of liminal mangrove (or maybe brackish) system could be a perfect intermediary stage. Kind of a natural extension of a display refugium. A complete system where the whole set-up (ie tank, sump/fuge, top-off) is display tanks...

    Would that be possible?
    I know even less about freshwater systems than I do about saltwater systems with my few months experience.



    Tony
     
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  17. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    That's really great stuff! A lot to absorb and interpret, but really interesting- and shows you the potential! Thanks for sharing!
     
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  18. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    I know people have toyed with the idea before, and honestly, I don't see how it wouldn't be possible...I mean, a lot of problems to tackle, but in theory, I'll bet it can be accomplished! I know a lot of reefers with the talent to try it!
     
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  19. Tristren

    Tristren Active Member Build Thread Contributor

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    Hopefully someone will and I can follow along the thread from the comfort of my home.
     
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  20. Ashish Patel

    Ashish Patel Valuable Member

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    Scott, You have inspired me to trash my marine pure and replace with a Cryptic refugium
     
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