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Reef Aquarium

Herbivorous cleaners, such as this Red Reef Hermit (Paguristes cadenati), are essential allies in fighting algae in the reef tank.

the past. Nitrate is not toxic at low concentrations, but it equilibrium condition is reached. Now consider what hap-

should not be present in the marine aquarium for precisely pens when, let us say, one Royal Gramma Basslet dies un-

the same reason that it is not found in the waters around noticed. The fish's biomass is rapidly transformed. Hermit the coral reef: recycling of nitrogen by biological activities crabs and small bristleworms living in the substrate quickly results in a low level of free nitrogen compounds in the sur- reduce the basslet's carcass to small bits, leaving only the rounding water. Similarly, stability of other water parame- tiny, hairlike bones. Microinvertebrates complete the phys-

ters that are influenced by biological activity — pH, ical breakdown of the fish, and heterotrophic bacteria and alkalinity, and calcium concentration — occurs when an fungi begin the chemical dissolution process. The nitrogen

Chapter Three 103

stored in the gramma's flesh over several years of growth is now released all at once into the system. Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate may all appear in the water, as the bacterial population always experiences a lag in adjusting to the newly available food supply. Organic matter and phosphate are also released, and some of the latter is quickly consumed by algae, which experience a noticeable surge in growth. The inexperienced aquarist may react to these changes with panic, taking all sorts of measures to restore the system to its former state. Removing any undecayed portion of the dead fish, changing some water and persevering with routine care are all that need be done, however. A healthy system will return to equilibrium on its own. Just be patient.

Together with the interplay among all of the living species present, one must also consider the interaction between the organisms and the physical conditions maintained by the aquarist. In my frequent correspondence with marine aquarists the world over, I am surprised at the number of things that are added to, or done to, aquariums with a view toward circumventing natural processes in favor of quick results, or a somehow "better" system. Undefined mixtures touted with vague claims of efficacy against a variety of problems or as miraculous growth stimulants are dumped into tanks by unsuspecting hobbyists, changing the environment in unknown ways and creating a new set of parameters with which the specimens in the aquarium must cope. The result of these interactions is totally unpredictable, because there are so many possible variables. Each system is slightly different in design, each collection of species unique. Thus, while we can describe methods and practices that seem to give us the results we desire, we can never create entirely predictable systems. Mother Nature herself is unpredictable, but all alone, even in a glass box of synthetic seawater, with minimal prodding, she will organize an ecosystem that maintains itself as surely as she delivers plankton to the waiting tentacles of a soft coral with each turn of the tide. But she must be given a chance to work her magic.

That said, evidence is slowly emerging that, given sufficient time for the development of appropriate flora and fauna, natural marine aquariums can be created without the use of large quantities of material harvested from the ocean. For example, systems that rely on a "live sand" bed for biochemical stability are typically built using dry, dead sand that eventually develops into a living community. Given time and the proper circumstances, dead rock and coral skeletons can be turned into cultivated versions of live rock, either via natural or artificial means. In all cases, however, a seed stock of organisms must come either from a previously established aquarium or from the sea, but only a small quantity of such material is necessary to inoculate a system.

A significant component of any ecosystem, whether natural or confined within an aquarium, is a complex, not fully characterized community of microorganisms we introduce with live rock and live sand: bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoans, and tiny invertebrates. Just as certain essential processes mediated by soil microorganisms sustain terrestrial communities of plants and animals, so does an invisible community of microorganisms sustain the artificial ecosystem of the aquarium. We add fertilizer to the garden in the form of manure or compost. Bacteria and other organisms in the soil then transform nutrients that were consumed by the animal that excreted the manure or accumulated in the plants that comprise the compost, performing chemical alterations that make the nutrients available to the plants in the garden. Organic gardeners appreciate this relationship between dead and living organic matter. Fostering this interaction in the natural marine aquarium requires one to become an organic aquarist. Learn to be nice to the bacteria that live in your aquarium, and they will be nice to you. Dr. Mündt, I think, would have been pleased that you learned this.

Reef Aquariums Pictures
The COMPLETE guide to Aquariums

The COMPLETE guide to Aquariums

The word aquarium originates from the ancient Latin language, aqua meaning water and the suffix rium meaning place or building. Aquariums are beautiful and look good anywhere! Home aquariums are becoming more and more popular, it is a hobby that many people are flocking too and fish shops are on the rise. Fish are generally easy to keep although do they need quite a bit of attention. Puppies and kittens were the typical pet but now fish are becoming more and more frequent in house holds. In recent years fish shops have noticed a great increase in the rise of people wanting to purchase aquariums and fish, the boom has been great for local shops as the fish industry hasnt been such a great industry before now.

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