Biotopes - Help A Teacher Out!

Prof.Ellie

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Hello Everyone,

I am trying a project in a high school "aquatic science" class. I am constructing biotopes. The freshwater biotopes have been relatively easy and predictable (except one.... but we wont get into that).

I have two salt-water set-ups. A large 125 gallon and a 29 gallon biocube (mind you all I had these donated so.... they are not in the best shape... my biocube doesn't have its original light, not sure if it was upgraded or downgraded).

I need two distinct ecosystems in these tanks. They need to be hardy., or at least newb friendly. We check water quality weekly. We have dedicated maintenance days every other week (this includes water changes/gravel cleaning/etc.). We do small water changes as needed (due to evaporation).

We have had some success with ricordia, but our damsel and clownfish keeps picking at them so all the soft coral we have (not a lot) has been moved to the small aquarium.

Recommendations? I did get a small grant to for the project so I need to spend the money as wisely as I can.

We had microalgae (but they all died... pretty sure they were eaten by crabs.... I really messed up these aquariums everyone).

Help!

What I have right now altogether: 1 adult clownfish, 1 adult velvet damsel, 1 baby clownfish, 1 dwarf angelfish (bi-color), 1 rock beauty, 1 multiple-mouth ricordia, 1 tiny frag of star polyp (they are growing though!), 2 tiny frags of zooanthids, 1 rock of zooanthids (they don't look so good), 3 dying mermaid fans, 1 mangrove jelly (doesn't look so good), 4 rock anemone (they are great!), 1 flame scallop (awesome!), 1 pink-Haitian anemone (angry...). over 150lbs of live rock (many variations, some fiji rocks that are really neat), plethora of large/small snails, astrea, turbo, nerite (which I hate because they lay eggs EVERYWHERE!), 3 types of hermit crags (20 of them), 5 emerald crabs, 1 sea cucumber. 1 pencil sea urchin, 1 black sea urchin, purple **Gorgonian** coral (slowly browning), orange **Gorgonian** coral (doing ok).
*recently deceased: hairy chiton, horseshoe crab, large mangrove jelly, many snails/crabs, 1 butterfly fish, 3 ricordia (we have learned we must glue them down or they will be carried away and lost), 6 dwarf seahorse and all their babies (that was a very sad couple of days in the class).

I feel with what I have I have messed up any opportunity I had of creating two unique ecosystems. Would it be worth giving somethings up and focus on something new?

Cheers,
A frustrated science teacher......
 
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Timbo

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First, let’s address the comment on doing water changes due to evaporation. Are you topping off evaporation with fresh water, not salt water? Evaporation is not a cause for a water changes.
 

Prof.Ellie

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First, let’s address the comment on doing water changes due to evaporation. Are you topping off evaporation with fresh water, not salt water? Evaporation is not a cause for a water changes.

We will check the salinity and calcium levels before.

If salinity is high we will top off with fresh.

If it is where we want it we will top off with replacement salt water (using our regular marine salt mix). This is most of time. (we do get salt crystallization on the lid/protein skimmer, so I am not surprised when evaporation doesn't cause our salinity to rise.

If calcium is low we will use or 'reef ready' salt. (we were trying very hard to keep our macroalgae alive, everyone says they require a lot of calcium). Most of the time we wouldn't have to use this.


This is our big tank, Our biocube seldom looses water to evaporation.

Cheers,
Ellie
 

Blenny&Co.

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Have you considered a converting one of the tanks to a brackish setup? It would be more distinct from the saltwater and freshwater setups.
 

grsfish

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Hi. What equipment are you using to test salinity a refractometer or hydrometer. I refractometer is more accurate if you don’t have one of those. One thing it sounds like the salinity might not be staying too stable. I would mark off a spot on the tank with the water level and just add freshwater (RODI water) every day so that the salinity stays stable. How long has the tank been running? Are you testing nitrates phosphates alkalinity calcium and magnesium? What type of light are you running?
 

Prof.Ellie

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Have you considered a converting one of the tanks to a brackish setup? It would be more distinct from the saltwater and freshwater setups.

We have a mudskipper brackish set-up already. We have 6 freshwater biotopes set up as well.
(I have been working my butt off trying to make this class fun and educational for my students, most of which have never been to an aquarium or zoo).

-Cheers!
Ellie
 
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Prof.Ellie

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Hi. What equipment are you using to test salinity a refractometer or hydrometer. I refractometer is more accurate if you don’t have one of those. One thing it sounds like the salinity might not be staying too stable. I would mark off a spot on the tank with the water level and just add freshwater (RODI water) every day so that the salinity stays stable. How long has the tank been running? Are you testing nitrates phosphates alkalinity calcium and magnesium? What type of light are you running?
We have both a refractometer and hydrometer. Surprisingly they give us pretty consistent readings between the too. BUT our salinity does not stay too stable... I cannot afford something that will set it an automatic, we do interact with it daily (except weekends!), so I know I need to stray away from things that require very specific temperature and salinity parameters.

We do full chemical checks weekly on our salt-water tank. (Every other for our freshwater).
The tank has been running for 7 months. Most of the animals came 4 months ago. We are seeing a slow die-off. (seahorse I knew would be a gamble), but the horseshoe crab and chiton came as a surprise.
We may check calcium/salinity a couple times a week (when we have to add water).

We have a DI machine (probably not the best quality because this is a public high school), but we also have water purifier (specific for salt-water). I did get an RO machine donated, it will take this summer for the school to set it up (it is more complicated than what my room allows).


Would poor lighting kill off these things? I do know the lighting for our big tank is NOT great. We have 1 good quality reef light, but for a tank our size it should have four of the same light. (I will be using my new grant money on upgrading our lights).

Cheers,
Ellie
 

Prof.Ellie

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The macroalgae is all dead. The coral polyps don't come out anymore. The cucumber, urchin, scallop, anemone are all fine, the zoanthids were doing good and now are doing poorly (they are supposed to be the most hardy zoa). All the fish are fine.

I am very confused because I don't see similar species dying, and things I thought would be hardy (like the horseshoe crab/chiton) die and things I thought would be less hardy (flame scallop/urchin) are thriving!
 

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ichthyogeek

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Can you break down what you have in each of the tanks? And can you detail what your intention is when you mean biotope? The vernacular I'm familiar with is that a biotope is usually devoted to a very specific area (ex. the Rio Negro in Brazil). I'm seeing Caribbean species (Haitian anemone, ricordeas, the attempted dwarf seahorses), as well as Pacific species (clownfish, bicolor angelfish).

Poor lighting could definitely be an issue. What are you running on them?

Those purple and yellow *Gorgonian* corals are most likely photosynthetic.

Additionally, urchins like eating macros, so keep that in mind.
 

ichthyogeek

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So if I'm reading this stocklist right, you were aiming for one Atlantic tank, and one Pacific tank. Not bad for a first attempt. That being said, there's room for improvement.

Unless the east coast gets more atlantic fish than the south and the west coast, majority of the fish you're going to get, are fish from the Pacific ocean. I would recommend you keep your 125 for a Pacific Reef type environment. The biocube I think would be better detailed as an Atlantic Macroalgae tank. Both would need improvement. You'd start off by making a list of what species would go where (ignore recommended tank sizes for now). Then you figure out what can work and what can't work. For example: rock beauty angelfish, an Atlantic fish. Not suited for a 29g Biocube. So it won't work in that tank.

Once you've narrowed down what you have, go to the local fish store, and give it a walk around. DO NOT BUY ANYTHING. Take note of species that catch your eye, and then do your research. Or, even better, outsource to your students and get them to research the fish for you (extra credit for a page on whatever species you assign!). By research, I mean google the fish or invert's requirements, location, if there's incompatibility between two species (ex. urchins/dwarf angelfish and macroalgae) and any special needs. For example, dwarf seahorses need to be fed baby brine shrimp two times per day or more and should be kept in a 10 gallon or less to maintain proper food densities throughout the day. Horseshoe crabs eventually need a lot of space to roam.
 

ichthyogeek

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Now, the fun part. Here's a potential stock list for biotopes that could work.

Atlantic macroalgae tank:
Keep in mind, macroalgae in the wild are pretty variable with where they grow. Seagrass (what I'd prefer) has special requirements that few people can meet (12"+ of substrate, fertilizing, lots of light and space). That being said, you can make it work.

Put the yellow and purple *gorgonians into the tank. For our intents and purposes we can treat them as potentially photosynthetic corals. It's best that you double check what type of gorgonians you have, as some of them are non photosynthetic and require different care.

Ricordea* mushrooms also go into this tank. You most likely have R. florida and not R. yuma, which means Florida/Atlantic ocean.

Your flame scallop will also be moved here. As will your upside down jelly (aka Mangrove jelly). Make sure that they both get enough food throughout the week.

Fish: when I think Atlantic ocean fish, I think seahorses. In a biocube, a pair of Hippocampus erectus would work. However these require twice daily feedings every day, something I'm not sure you want to do as it means also coming in on the weekends. Luckily for you, there's a certain fish that fits in a 29, and displays a pretty cool behavior with macroalgae: the royal gramma, Gramma loreto. Males will make dens by pushing macroalgae into caves, enticing females into them in order to breed.

Other fish you might wish to consider are flame cardinalfish, and neon gobies which display interesting cleaning behavior as well as breed easily.

 

ichthyogeek

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Part 2: Pacific Reef Tank:

At a 6'x18" footprint, you qualify for not pissing off the tang police. That being said, I'm not sure you can afford a yellow tang on a grant. However, Tomini tangs exist, and I think they're plain adorable fish. Make sure you're running a protein skimmer.

You never mentioned what species of clownfish you had, so I'm assuming you're running with Amphiprion percula, or A. ocellaris. Unfortunately, their natural host (Stichodactyla haddoni) gets 1) massive, and like all anemones is 2) not hardy. The fun thing about clownfish though, is that in the aquarium, they don't actually need an anemone. They'll try to see if any coral will host them (probably what's happening with your other corals tbh), but will most likely have a localized spot that they claim as their own.

As for other fish: again, head to the LFS and research what you see. My preferred recommendation (Banggai cardinalfish) is out because they aren't really a reef dwelling fish (more seagrass flats and in a symbiotic relationship with sea urchins). Most people like wrasses, gobies, and other angelfish.
 

grsfish

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Check out kpaquatics.com. All the fish corals and inverts they sell they collect locally in the Florida keys if you want a tank focused on the Atlantic. If not to buy from you can get an idea of what to look for locally. For the macro algae I would definitely watch that urchin. I have seen them eat through some macro algae I have in my tank pretty quick. Also for the lighting it’s definitely important for the corals and macro algae to grow. (Some of the mushrooms/zoas might survive in very low light but doesn’t mean they will thrive and grow). For a 125 you can get away with just 2 strong black box lights from eBay/Amazon like the viparspectra You can get them for around 200-300 for the 2 of them or cheaper used. Where are you/ the school located.
 

Geraud

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When it comes to dwarf seahorses, they are so sensitive to aggression that they should probably be left alone in a separate tank if you wanted them. One issue that is easily transferred to a tank like theirs are hydroids for instance.

Something that would be useful for the MR community to help you out, is to make a list of the equipment you have on each tank. Lights, water movement, filtration. And then what you have as far as livestock is concerned into that tank.
 

Prof.Ellie

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Now, the fun part. Here's a potential stock list for biotopes that could work.

Atlantic macroalgae tank:
Keep in mind, macroalgae in the wild are pretty variable with where they grow. Seagrass (what I'd prefer) has special requirements that few people can meet (12"+ of substrate, fertilizing, lots of light and space). That being said, you can make it work.

Put the yellow and purple *gorgonians into the tank. For our intents and purposes we can treat them as potentially photosynthetic corals. It's best that you double check what type of gorgonians you have, as some of them are non photosynthetic and require different care.

Ricordea* mushrooms also go into this tank. You most likely have R. florida and not R. yuma, which means Florida/Atlantic ocean.

Your flame scallop will also be moved here. As will your upside down jelly (aka Mangrove jelly). Make sure that they both get enough food throughout the week.

Fish: when I think Atlantic ocean fish, I think seahorses. In a biocube, a pair of Hippocampus erectus would work. However these require twice daily feedings every day, something I'm not sure you want to do as it means also coming in on the weekends. Luckily for you, there's a certain fish that fits in a 29, and displays a pretty cool behavior with macroalgae: the royal gramma, Gramma loreto. Males will make dens by pushing macroalgae into caves, enticing females into them in order to breed.

Other fish you might wish to consider are flame cardinalfish, and neon gobies which display interesting cleaning behavior as well as breed easily.


Ok!
I will have to find our 'local pet store' because from the sounds of it our petco isn't going to cut it.
We initially ordered from a store out in Florida, so most if not all the species are wild-caught and aquarium acclimated from Florida (which is whey we opted for seagrass and coral).
I was a little nervous about putting fish in with the seahorses, would gramma bother them?
Our flame scallop has already attached himself with byssal threads is he still movable?
We were able to get a pretty stable pod colony that our dwarf seahorses fed upon... I do think the upkeep is going to be too much for our class though. But, moving the jelly in the small cube can make that aquarium a bit more exciting. I will reconsider the biocube as a seagrass (now I just need to find seagrass for sale). We already have 6 inches of live sand and some clams (not sure what type I forgot about them because they stayed underground) live inside (I was told it was good for deep sand beds).
We feed our corals with reefroids (because I read I could). (Ill take pictures of both to get a better diagnostic on them).

That being said.... my macroalgae (brushes, fans) are NOT growing in the biocube. I finally got some caulerpa to start (I took out all but 3 crabs), the fans are turning brown/black/grey and crumbling. Would seagrass be easier to maintain?

The gramma, neons and cardnal fish all sound great (will they be ok with little mangrove/upsidedown jellies?)

Cheers,
Ellie
 

Prof.Ellie

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Check out kpaquatics.com. All the fish corals and inverts they sell they collect locally in the Florida keys if you want a tank focused on the Atlantic. If not to buy from you can get an idea of what to look for locally. For the macro algae I would definitely watch that urchin. I have seen them eat through some macro algae I have in my tank pretty quick. Also for the lighting it’s definitely important for the corals and macro algae to grow. (Some of the mushrooms/zoas might survive in very low light but doesn’t mean they will thrive and grow). For a 125 you can get away with just 2 strong black box lights from eBay/Amazon like the viparspectra You can get them for around 200-300 for the 2 of them or cheaper used. Where are you/ the school located.
I LOVE KP aquatic Philipp is the nicest! I got most of inverts/fish from them.

I got my macroalgea from REEFTOPIA (another Florida based store).

Buying from a school is a giant paper mess but both of those stores worked with me, I just wish I could have done their organisms justice.

I was able to exchange labor (draining and moving) aquariums in exchange for their donations. Someone else donated 100lbs of live rock. It had some beautiful purple coral... but I proceeded to bleach/kill it. Very sad. My 125 has barely any green algae or coral. I am definitely upgrading my 125g lights with our new grant.

I was told we would need a LARGE clean up crew so I ordered a BUNCH but they work so well I don't ever see algae anymore. My pencil urchin is huge and pushes the smaller crabs/snail out of his way (which is why I think he is the only one to survive). I never saw the urchins/chiton off the rocks so they were not around the macroalgae.


We are Central Texas. (not sure how I ended up here.... but the forums here seemed very helpful).

Two weeks after getting our large shipment of algea/inversts/fish we had a freeze and I my tanks were left alone for a WEEK, most of my macroalgea and corals became fish food, which I am not mad about. Most of my aquariums even the salt-water survived unscathed. Not the seahorses.... but we didn't have high expectations that they would. We only had 1 tank crash (it was a grow out holding little sliver dollars), but our 7 other biotopes survived pretty much unscathed, even our amphibians and reptiles survived for a week.
 

Prof.Ellie

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Part 2: Pacific Reef Tank:

At a 6'x18" footprint, you qualify for not pissing off the tang police. That being said, I'm not sure you can afford a yellow tang on a grant. However, Tomini tangs exist, and I think they're plain adorable fish. Make sure you're running a protein skimmer.

You never mentioned what species of clownfish you had, so I'm assuming you're running with Amphiprion percula, or A. ocellaris. Unfortunately, their natural host (Stichodactyla haddoni) gets 1) massive, and like all anemones is 2) not hardy. The fun thing about clownfish though, is that in the aquarium, they don't actually need an anemone. They'll try to see if any coral will host them (probably what's happening with your other corals tbh), but will most likely have a localized spot that they claim as their own.

As for other fish: again, head to the LFS and research what you see. My preferred recommendation (Banggai cardinalfish) is out because they aren't really a reef dwelling fish (more seagrass flats and in a symbiotic relationship with sea urchins). Most people like wrasses, gobies, and other angelfish.
Tangs... HORRIFY ME! I have read too many upset tang owners.
We have a small A.percula and a large A.ocellaris (I am assuming, he has what I can only describe as bells-palsy because half his face doesn't really move...). He came with the 125g and the owner didn't have much information about him or the velvet damsel (we had to google that one to find out what it was). Stichodactyla haddoni looks expensive as well. He has been in love with a pink Condylactis Anemone (who I later realized would love to eat him, but the clown is too big at the moment, which I think bother the Condylactis Anemone because it keeps moving around the aquarium). The clown LOVES that anemone though. My rock anemones are really hardy! I just adore them (the clown doesn't though).

I have a redsea protein skimmer that appears to works great! My biocube had one added (can't close the back lid, but I figure its better to have it).

I only have 1 additional wave maker (I couldn't have too much flow because my jellies were NOT happy with it. We lost 1 of 2 to the current.

Which is hardier Butterfly, Tang, Angel? We have a budget for 1 'expensive' fish.

Students wanted an eel, but I think I can get away with using a engineer goby (it is a public school after all).

Should I attempt any coral in the large tank? Or should I stick with Fish and try to grow some coraline algae. I may just cover the tank in rock anemone... they love reef-roids.

Thank you SO MUCH for the input.

Cheers,
Ellie
 

Prof.Ellie

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When it comes to dwarf seahorses, they are so sensitive to aggression that they should probably be left alone in a separate tank if you wanted them. One issue that is easily transferred to a tank like theirs are hydroids for instance.

Something that would be useful for the MR community to help you out, is to make a list of the equipment you have on each tank. Lights, water movement, filtration. And then what you have as far as livestock is concerned into that tank.
They were the only fish in the tank. We even had a fairly healthy copepod colony growing in there. It was really fun to watch them eat the copepods, hanging like monkeys on the caulerpa. I even took out the Gorgonian coral because I was worried the little polyps might burn them.


I will try to find all that information out about my filtration/lighting and post it up tomorrow.

Thanks!
Ellie
 
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Prof.Ellie

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Another Question:

Out of the two tanks which would be best to host bristle worms (I have a colony of normal, non-fire, bristle-worms in my own aquarium …. they make my arrow crab happy). They are the only aquatic annelid I have, so they are a really handy specimen to have when we talk about animal phyla.

Cheers,
Ellie
 

Geraud

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Tangs... HORRIFY ME! I have read too many upset tang owners.
We have a small A.percula and a large A.ocellaris (I am assuming, he has what I can only describe as bells-palsy because half his face doesn't really move...). He came with the 125g and the owner didn't have much information about him or the velvet damsel (we had to google that one to find out what it was). Stichodactyla haddoni looks expensive as well. He has been in love with a pink Condylactis Anemone (who I later realized would love to eat him, but the clown is too big at the moment, which I think bother the Condylactis Anemone because it keeps moving around the aquarium). The clown LOVES that anemone though. My rock anemones are really hardy! I just adore them (the clown doesn't though).

I have a redsea protein skimmer that appears to works great! My biocube had one added (can't close the back lid, but I figure its better to have it).

I only have 1 additional wave maker (I couldn't have too much flow because my jellies were NOT happy with it. We lost 1 of 2 to the current.

Which is hardier Butterfly, Tang, Angel? We have a budget for 1 'expensive' fish.

Students wanted an eel, but I think I can get away with using a engineer goby (it is a public school after all).

Should I attempt any coral in the large tank? Or should I stick with Fish and try to grow some coraline algae. I may just cover the tank in rock anemone... they love reef-roids.

Thank you SO MUCH for the input.

Cheers,
Ellie
Centropyge angels stay small and have cool personalities. They will prevent corals from fully opening, but not to the point of killing them.
 


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