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What Scuba Diving Has Taught Me About Keeping Marine Aquariums

Rules and best practices of scuba diving can teach us some lessons about keeping saltwater aquariumsWhile sitting here contemplating how long it’s been since I’ve gone scuba diving (answer: way too long), it occurred to me that one can draw many parallels between the avocations of scuba diving and marine aquarium keeping. I’m not referring to the observation of marine life here—though that’s unquestionably a major element of both activities—but to certain rules or best practices that apply to both. Okay, right now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Maybe it’s a good thing this guy hasn’t been diving in a while—he’s obviously skipped one safety stop too many or really bungled his dive tables!” But fear not, I’ll bring it back around. (In other words, humor me!) So, with no further ado: Plan your dive and dive your plan Diving is safest and presents the fewest unforeseen contingencies when you plan ahead of time who will be diving with whom, how deep you’re going to go, the path you’re going to follow, when you’re going to ascend, etc.—and then adhere strictly to that plan. To my (nitrogen-addled) mind, the marine aquarium analog to this is carefully planning and researching the animals you want to keep, as well as the order in which you’ll introduce them, and then sticking with that stock list. This doesn’t mean you can’t make sensible substitutions if necessary, but it will help you avoid making impulse purchases that can throw your whole plan into chaos. Plus, knowing which animals you’re going to keep will help you make the most appropriate equipment purchases.
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5 Signs of Inadequate Water Movement in Reef Aquariums

Proper water circulation is one of many elements that are key to maintaining a healthy reef system. While there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all water-flow scheme (you really have to tailor the flow to the unique needs of the invertebrates you keep), there are certain signs that will tip you off to inadequate circulation. Among them: 1) Detritus buildup in “dead spots” Some settling of detritus is unavoidable in a reef system, but excessive buildup tends to occur in tanks with inadequate water movement or “dead spots”—specific areas in the tank with poor to nonexistent flow. A good level of water movement will keep most particulate matter in suspension long enough to be captured by mechanical filtration media (socks, sponges, etc.), so this is a sign that you need to either boost the overall flow in the tank, by adding more or stronger sources (e.g. powerheads), or redirect existing water-flow sources to greater effect. 2) Corals fail to expand When coral specimens remain in a prolonged contracted state—with their tissues/polyps withdrawn—one possible explanation is inadequate water movement. Now, many different environmental factors can cause this behavior, so failure to expand is by no means diagnostic, but that symptom coupled with others listed here may be a good indicator that better circulation is in order. 3) Leather corals have trouble shedding Along very similar lines, if your livestock includes leather corals (e.g., Sarcophyton and Sinularia spp.), which occasionally go through a natural process of contracting their polyps, developing a waxy coating over their surface, and then eventually sloughing off this layer, inadequate water flow may make it difficult for them to shed.
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Perfect Aquarium Nerd Christmas Gifts 2014 Edition

With Christmas about three weeks away and closing in fast, we’ve decided to compile our annual list of aquarium goodies that you can get the aquarium nerd in your life. This is a diverse list that represents different price points and different types of gear. Of course, this list isn’t all inclusive, but we tried to represent the most popular and most useful products available.
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Deep Sea Stars, Linckia sp. Echinoderms

Good afternoon one and all, sorry about the late post but I have been in the deep-water labs all morning photographing a bunch of new specimens found by the Smithsonian Institution on their submersible dive yesterday. I spent the morning shooting a juvenile four inch toadfish found at around 800 feet, a beautiful hermit crab, two more slit-shells and this giant 12 inch tall sea star you see above. We think this is a Linckia sp. but until we know for sure I will just say “don’t quote me on that”. Unlike brittle stars that are so fragile and can move so fast, this sea star is hard and moves super slow
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5 Ways Holiday Parties Can Be Perilous for Marine Aquariums!

When planning a holiday party, we tend to worry about things like an undercooked main entree, running out of “spirits” before the evening is over, lacking adequate seating for all the guests, little Billy’s tree nut allergy, etc., etc. What we may not fret over—but probably should—is what bizarre eventualities might befall our marine aquariums while the party is underway. Here are just some of the hazards holiday parties can pose to aquariums. Some of these may sound familiar, and you can probably add a few more based on your personal hosting experiences. #1: “Uncle Ed” Whether it’s Uncle Ed, Sister Susie, Brother John, or Auntie Gin, we all have that family member or friend who, after drinking too much eggnog, may decide to do a little freelance “vodka dosing” of the aquarium (and not in that good nitrate-reduction way, either) because, the fish and/or corals “look thirsty.” #2: Airborne toys For some reason, young kids don’t feel as though a toy has been truly played with until they’ve tested its aerodynamics. Once while hosting a Thanksgiving dinner party, I looked on in helpless horror from across the room as my then four-year-old nephew launched a hard plastic toy into the air, the arc of its trajectory ending right where my 125-gallon tank began. Watching this unfold in slow motion, all I could do was yell, hoping the shockwave of my voice would somehow alter the toy’s flight path. What came out was an incomprehensible “Myyyaaaaaa!” (My wife said she thought I was doing an Edward G
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6 Holiday Gift Ideas for the Marine Aquarist in Your Life

It’s only natural for family members and friends of marine aquarium hobbyists to want to buy holiday gifts that support their loved one’s briny habit. But choosing an appropriate hobby-related gift is sometimes easier said than done. Giving actual fish or invertebrates as a gift is a really bad idea for all kinds of reasons—not the least of which is the problem of salt water soaking through the gift wrap and giving away what’s inside (I kid!). Certain equipment can be dicey too. Depending on the hobbyist’s unique system and goals, an item that would seem to be a good fit may prove to be inappropriate, inadequate, or redundant. Plus, if you have to ask all kinds of questions about what to buy, you lose that fun element of surprise.
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You Can Help Discourage the Sale of Hard-to-Keep Marine Species

The Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus) is notoriously hard to feed and has a high mortality rate in home aquariaRegular Saltwater Smarts readers might wonder why we often post profiles of fish or invertebrates that are very difficult if not impossible to keep in home aquariums. After all, if we want to discourage you from buying these animals, why on earth do we go to all the trouble of describing them? Well, the answer is simple: because you’re going to encounter them for sale on the marine aquarium market anyway. One of our biggest frustrations as long-time hobbyists is the fact that, for whatever reason, many dealers out there continue to trade in species that have no business in hobbyists’ tanks. It’s wise to be armed with information about these animals so you’re in a better position to make responsible purchases. If you want to help discourage the sale of off-limits livestock, here are some simple steps you can take: Educate yourself In order to recognize animals that don’t belong in the aquarium trade, it helps to do some research on the various species you’re apt to come across when shopping at your LFS or online. That way, you’ll know what to buy and what to avoid so you don’t unwittingly support unsustainable practices with your dollars. The various species profiles posted here at Saltwater Smarts (which are increasing all the time) are a good research starting point.
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3 Misconceptions About Small Marine Fish

A juvenile three-spot domino damselfish (Dascyllus trimaculatus)As human beings, it’s in our nature to assign certain traits to small animals—cute, dependent, harmless, defenseless, etc. Perhaps we think this way because when it comes to animals, people included, smallness is usually correlated with infancy. However, if applied to marine fish, this type of anthropomorphic thinking can lead to some rather significant compatibility issues in our aquariums. So let’s dispel a few of the misconceptions we may have with respect to smaller marine fish species: Small fish are peaceful While many smaller fish species seem to know they’re vulnerable to predation and bullying by larger fish and so have learned that their best defense is beating a hasty retreat whenever danger threatens, some species apparently never got the memo. For example, as mentioned in my previous post on humbug damsels, certain damselfish species, including many representatives of the genera Dascyllus and Stegastes, can be explosively belligerent despite their small size, making it very difficult to house them with other fishes (though “Caribbean Chris” claims he can calm dusky damsels into a tonic state and lead them away from the reef like an aquatic Pied Piper by playing soothing tones on a conch shell). Many of the dottyback species also pack a fairly powerful territorial punch for their size, e.g. the irresistibly colorful royal dottyback (Pictichromis paccagnellae) and the gorgeous magenta dottyback (Pictichromis porphyrea), both of which reach only 2 to 3 inches in length.
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