The following article was originally published in Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Magazine more than 20 years ago and is reproduced here with permission from the author, Tony Vargas. This is surely one of the first articles ever on propagating stony corals. It may come across as rudimentary now, but imagine doing this more than two decades ago, when there was no information on doing this kind of thing whatsoever.
Picture this, you have colonized a rock and spent five years growing to just a foot across and about five inches high. You live in the waters off Fiji, on a very pristine red where you are doing so well that you are the envy of every reef enthusiast. Sunlight, water quality and the current are perfect. The color that you radiate is a beautiful red-pink glow. Then, one day out of nowhere, a large chisel and hammer extract you from the rock that you called home for the previous five years. After being bagged up dry in Fiji, you are transported to the United States. In California, you finally receive water after a day and a half of stressful travel, you wind up in a pet shop in New York. And this is where I come into the picture.
A couple of friends and I are standing in front of the tank that is briefly accommodating this very magnificent head of Acropora sp. coral. We are amazed at what we see, in fact, never have the tree of us seen a head of Acropora coral like this one. Between us, we must have at least a hundred colonies of Acropora sp. coral, but not one of us has the room for this large and stupendous piece of Acropora. The majority of the time a head of Acropora such as this one is seen dead in the curio trade. It gives great pleasure to see one coming in alive for the reef trade. However, this coral is the most expensive Acropora we have ever come across. For at least an hour, we debate among ourselves whether or not to purchase this coral. Finally, we decide we could not let this one slip through our fingers if it was completely healthy.
Inspecting the piece in the tank, we notice no signs of recession. In fact, it has the prettiest color pigmentation we have ever seen. We started surveying for crabs, feather duster worms, or other commensal creatures that may have been inhabiting the coral. But this head had no living animals living along with it. The final decision was made and we purchased the coral, I could not believe the amount of water and the size of the bag in which the coral was placed. We left the store with a shopping bag which contained just this one coral. We were still discussing, among ourselves, what plan of action we were going to take concerning housing this coral.
Arriving at Greg Schiemer’s house, we decided to propagate the coral among the three of us, since three smaller pieces would surely fit in our tanks period. There are many ways of propagating Acropora, but this one had a very large base to it. We couldn’t imagine ourselves breaking or clipping branches off of it. So the table saw was taken out and placed in the middle of the garage floor. This table saw has eight inch, 40 tooth carbide tipped blade which would slice through this coral like butter. As I sat on the floor with my legs wrapped around the table saw, I began to question as to whether or not we were doing the right thing. Once again, this is a very magnificent piece. The other guys did not seem to have any objections to what we were about to do. So we proceeded with the plan. We adjusted the blade to the height of the coral base, making sure that the branches would not get cut during the process. The table saw was turned on and the cutting began.
As the cutting started, I got sprayed by wet calcium dust which the table saw was sending directly my way. The smell of burning flesh filled the room as the bald cut through the coral’s living tissue. The first cut is made and the smallest piece is rinsed to remove the calcium dust created by the action of the blade. The first cutting is placed in tank water. Most of the dust comes off with a gentle shake to the coral in the water. The second cut is made and we hurriedly left the garage. The smell was simply unbearable! While cleaning up the other two pieces, we felt where the blade had made the cut. It was so smooth, it felt as if someone had sandpapered and polished the area. Overall, this animal must have been out of the water for at least 30 minutes with water being splashed on it every so often. As we placed one of the cuttings into Greg’s tanks, we noticed it had not lost any of its beauty. The only difference between this piece and the original, was the size. It still resembled the mother colony in full detail.
When I got home, I placed the second piece of the coral in its final location. Craig Bingman took the third piece home and placed it in his reef aquarium – one coral, three friends. It goes to show that almost anything can be done with stony corals. It took about a day or two for the polyps on this Acropora to expose themselves in the light, or come out night to feed.
Today, this coral is doing very well. Its original color has come back to full brightness. It has lost some of its color due to its placement under 10,000K bulbs. Two days after replacing the bulbs with 6,500K bulbs, the coral has regained much of its original color. This coral has actually grown over the area where the table saw had made its cut. That cut area is not as visible as it once was.
We need to remember that these animals are alive when we start to propagate them. Care should be taken, as an enormous amount of stress is placed on these animals. When this process is done correctly, the animals will continue to prosper. After a successful cut, try to place the coral in an area of the aquarium where contact with other animals will be minimized. The least amount of stress will enable the coral to recover faster. I do not recommend the use of a table saw to propagate your corals, as this is a very dangerous procedure. Have a professional do this type of work for you.
Asexual reproduction is the only means by which we can add numbers to this coral. Currently, there are several individuals trying to encourage the spawning of Acropora in captivity by simulating the moon cycle above their aquariums.
Propagation by fragmentation of small polyp stony corals should be done fast and neatly for maximum survival rate. A pair of wire cutters would do the trick. With wire cutters, place the sharpest edge around the base where the cut is intended. Cut hard and fast. With pliers, place the teeth around the branch, hold on snugly, and twist your wrist. This will snap the branches right off at the mother colony. Fragments should be placed in a hole where they fit snugly, or they can be epoxied to live rock. The latter is recommended.
There are three brands of epoxy commercially used in the aquarium trade. Devcon was the first epoxy used by many hobbyists. It comes in two forms; Devcon Underwater Repair Putty is a two-part mix and can be very messy when you try to mix it. Devcon Magic Bond comes in a 4 ounce stick that is hand-kneadable, with less mess when mixed. Both products by Devcon turn a light shade of grey after they are properly mixed. SeaRepair also comes in a 4 ounce stick that is hand-kneadable and which is also a light shade of grey. Aquastik, comes in a two and four ounce stick. The two ounce stick is pink in color, the four ounce stick is dark grey. They are both hand-kneadable. All three work well; your choice would have to be what color you prefer.
As you can see from the pictures, this coral is doing extremely well, and, with proper care, it will continue to prosper.
Let me give you a brief synopsis on what type of care these animals are currently receiving. All of these aquariums dose limewater, add strontium, add trace elements, make water changes, utilize carbon, and have a great deal of water movement. The color differences come from the different bulbs that are being utilized in the aquariums. Acropora number one belongs to Greg Schiemer, number two to Tony Vargas, and number three Craig Bingman. I was unable to obtain a picture of Bingman’s Acropora but I can say it is doing well.