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A Trip to Europe
A look back at some reefs on the other side of the pond, by Scott W. Michael.
In December, 2005, I was given a unique opportunity. Leng Sy of Ecosystem Aquariums and Albert Meier invited me to be a banquet speaker at a German aquarium conference at Sindelfingen. During this trip, Leng also took the opportunity to expose me to some amazing reef aquariums. In this article, I will describe and share some photos of the most jaw-dropping aquariums I observed on my European vacation.
Shark Reef Aquarium
The first tank I would like to introduce you to is a unique reef aquarium in the Czech Republic. While many aquarists in this former portion of the Soviet block have kept freshwater fishes, reef-keeping is a relatively new hobby in this part of the world. I was there with writer Tim Hayes of England, Leng Sy, and Jiri Berka to put on a day long marine aquarium conference. The day’s events occurred in a very unusual venue. It was a combination zoo-aquarium-hotel-restaurant and bowling alley! There was fun and food for every member of the family! We had a good turn out, several dozen aquarists, on a cold and wet central European day.
While in the Czech Republic, Jiri insisted that we see this unusual reef tank that he thought would be of special interest to me. It was located at Zoo-Garden Olomoucea (zoo-garden is the common vernacular used for a combination zoo and botanical garden, which often also includes a public aquarium!) in the city of Olomouc. This tank was very unique because it was a shark aquarium that included a community of soft corals. We entered a large building that had a display of smaller marine aquariums and the shark tank on one side and enclosures with lions, leopards, and other predators opposite them.
The shark-reef aquarium was 12 m long and had a volume of 12.000 gallons and was filtered by a huge Ecosystem Mud filter. The tank décor consisted of a low profile reef that was adorned with huge Sinularia and Sarcophyton colonies. The fish community included a number of common reef fishes, including a school of barred flagtails (Kuhlia mugil), golden jacks (Gnathanodon speciosus), longfin bannerfish (Heniochus acuminatus), blue tangs (Paracanthurus hepatus), powder blue surgeonfish (Acanthurus leucosternon), lined surgeonfish (A. lineatus), orangespine unicornfish (Naso lituratus), yellow tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens), brown tangs (Z. scopas), sailfin tangs (Z. veliferum), and onespot rabbitfish (Siganus unimaculatus) as well as smaller damsels and wrasses. But the stars of this show were the elasmobranchs. The tank contained two blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) and a couple of Whitetip reef sharks (Triaenodon obesus). All these sharks were small adults or adolescents. It was a very refreshing look for a shark display tank. Rather than fiberglass/plastic sponges, stony corals, and sea fans, the tank was populated with beautiful soft corals (mainly larger colonies of Sinularia). There are few aquariums that have attempted this concept, but as evidenced by what I saw at Zoo-Garden Olomoucea, it can be done.
After spending a couple of days in the Czech Republic, we raced back to Germany (I mean raced as we were traveling part of the way on the autobahn!) to see a few more aquariums. One of the most amazing of these was owned by one Mr. Tang (that is his real name!). Mr. Tang owns several Chinese restaurants in the city of Frankfurt, which are a favorite hangout for those attending the premier aquarium trade show known as Inter-Zoo. All of the restaurants have very large marine aquariums. My favorite was a 1,500 gallon reef aquarium, which served as a long room divider, that was set-up using the Berlin System (that is, with live rock and a large protein skimmer). The tank had a nicely constructed live rock reef running down the center of the aquarium. The construction was very “open”, with numerous overhangs, caves, and crevices for the fish to shelter in. The reef was also narrow enough so that there was still plenty of swimming room for the fish and growing room for the corals on both sides of the structure. Although there was some coral sand on the bottom of the tank, portions of the bottom glass were bare and the substrate depth did not exceed one inch in any part of the tank. (It appeared to me that many of the German aquarists were steering more towards bare bottom reef tanks or, at most, a light covering of sand or crushed coral.) I was not privy to details on the lighting system over this tank, but both metal halides and VHO fluorescents were used.
The dominant animals in this aquarium’s cnidarian community were large soft corals. Members of the following genera were represented: Eunicea, Lemnalia, Nephthea, Paralemnalia, Sarcophyton, and Sinularia. Some of the Sinularia spp. were as big as shrubs planted around my home’s foundation! There was also a big, beautiful feather gorgonian (Muriceopsis sp.) that waved gently in the current. The tank also included a couple of large tridacnid clams.
One thing that made the display so appealing to me was the fish community. There were at least 15 different species of teleosts in this tank, including a small group of threadfin cardinalfish (Apogon leptacanthus), 20 bluegreen chromis (Chromis viridis), an adult bluegirdled angelfish (Pomacanthus navarchus), a large checkered wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus), a magnificent rabbitfish (Siganus magnificus), and a niger triggerfish (Odonus niger). There was also a good selection of acanthurids, consisting of five yellow tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens), an adult black tang (Z. rostratum), a spotted unicornfish (Naso brevirostris), two large orangespine unicornfish (N. lituratus), a powder blue surgeonfish (Acanthurus leucosternon), and a lieutenant surgeonfish (A. tennentii). The tank was large enough to diffuse any aggression that may occur among these normally territorial teleosts. The most interesting inhabitant of this aquarium was a beautiful and very healthy bluespotted ribbontail stingray (Taeniura lymma). This ray had been in the tank for over five years and looked very healthy!
The tank is fed twice a day. We observed one of these feedings, which consisted mainly of mysid shrimp and a frozen preparation. Upon viewing the employee charged with feeding the fish approaching the tank, all the finned-inhabitants of the tank gathered near the traditional feeding zone near the surface of the aquarium. This included the stingray, which left its refuge (a cave formed by a couple of pieces of live rock) and began hovered near the open top. In order to ensure that the Taeniura got enough to eat, seeing it had to compete with some very boisterous feeders, the ray was handfed. It gracefully slurped up thawed smelt from the aquarium-keepers fingers.
Marcus the Butcher’s Aquarium
Leng and Albert saved the best tank until last. It was a 400 gallon reef aquarium owned by Markus Resch, a prosperous butcher in the town of Langquaid. This amazing aquarium was a stony coral and fish lover’s Shangri-La! I cannot begin to list and describe all the different stony corals in this tank to the species level (not only because there were so many, but because I have a heck of time identifying many of the stony corals to the species level!). The thing that made the scleractinian collection most remarkable to me was the color – there were so many vibrantly hued corals! The stony corals included scores of colorful Acropora spp., as well as species from these genera Blastomussa, Cycloseris, Cynarina, Echinophyllia, Favia, Lobophyllia, Physogyra, Plerogyra, Montipora, Seriatopora, Symphyllia, and Trachyphyllia. The stony coral grew so profusely in this tank, that Marcus removed as many as 500 stony coral fragments from his display tank in a six month period. In a spare bed room, he had a holding system where he kept harvested frags that were awaiting transport to other aquarists and aquarium stores. Soft corals were not as dominant in this tank as those I discussed above. The soft coral highlights included a living sea fan (Gorgonia ventalina), which was a focal point in the center of the tank, as well as a large feather gorgonian (Muriceopsis). There were also Anthelia, Clavularia, Dampia and Nephthea.
Second only to the diverse coral community, was the teleost assemblage that consisted of between 50 and 60 fish in all! There were loads of anthias, including some less common as well as more difficult species to keep. These included the diadem anthias (Pseudanthias parvirostris), Evan’s anthias (P. evansi), Lori’s anthias (P. lori), and yellowstripe anthias (P. tuka) (there were approximately 35 anthias in all). Besides the cloud of anthias, there was a pair of lively longnose hawkfish (Oxycirrhites typus), a juvenile bluegirdled angelfish (Pomacanthus navarchus), an adolescent regal angel (Pygoplites diacanthus), a group of threadfin cardinalfish (Apogon leptacanthus), a sixline wrasse (Pseudocheilinus hexataenia), an iridis wrasse (Halichoeres iridis), an orangespotted sleeper goby (Valenciennea puellaris), and several ocellated dragonets (Synchiropus ocellatus). Marcus also had an orangeshoulder tang (Acanthurus olivaceus), a Orangetipped bristletooth (Ctenochaetus tomiensis), and a magnificent rabbitfish (Siganus magnifica) in the tank to aid in cleaning. The magnificent rabbitfish is a popular species in Europe is reported to be effective at helping control bubble algae (Valonia spp.). The tank also contained a copperbanded butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus) to aid in keeping noxious anemone populations in check.
The aquarium’s lighting system consisted of three-300 watt metal halides and 12-40 watt fluorescent bulbs. Marcus’ employs the Ecosystem mud filter. He has a large sump that has a Miracle Mud layer that is a couple of inches thick, on which grows a lush meadow of macroalgae (namely Caulerpa spp.). The filter is illuminated by a row of fluorescent lights, which are kept on 24 hours a day. He said that he originally had the entire water volume pumping through the filter two or three times an hour, but found that the health of his tank greatly increased when he upped this to about ten times an hour! Yes, there is loads of water movement in this tank, as you would might expect for an aquarium housing these stony coral varieties. There are also two Tunze pumps, one in each front corner, to create even more water flow.
Marcus states that he adds two additives to the tank to encourage coral growth. These are calcium chloride (he does not have a calcium reactor) and ammonium chloride. He mixes up a solution of ammonium chloride which consists of 56 gram of ammonium chloride in a liter of RO water. He then adds around 1 milliliters of this solution per 100 liters of aquarium water (in his case, from 10 to 12 ml/per day). He states that if he does not add this solution, the coral does not grow – that is, there are not enough nutrients. Even though, the tank contains over 50 fishes that he feeds five or six times a day. He feeds his fish a mixture he makes up himself that includes a variety of frozen preparations, frozen seafood, mysid shrimps, Cyclop-eeze and flake foods. This frequent feeding and good variety equates to a community of very healthy looking fish, including some very fat anthias!
After returning home from Europe, I looked back with great fondness at both the enthusiastic aquarists I met, as well as the beautiful aquariums I was able to observe. I also had the distinct impression that the Germans are on the cutting edge of the hobby, breaking ground in the area of the husbandry of some of the more difficult soft coral varieties, like the deepwater gorgonians and the Dendronephthya/Scleronephthya soft corals. Happy fish-watching!