With just about every endeavor success breeds new challenges. As I have already noted in several articles, with the improved success we have now achieved in keeping just about every type of coral and invertebrate long-term we are now seeing another truth of the reef: there is something that eats just about everything.
Unfortunately my experience along with that of many other reefers is that once these coral predators are introduced into a tank it is very difficult to remove them. Fortunately, unlike fish, which often require a long quarantine period in order for any parasites present to be removed, corals can be cleaned in a much more expeditious manner. And while I actually have a quarantine tank for all of my new fish and corals, I realize that most of us, for whatever reason do not.
Initially the quarantine tank was necessary for corals in that prior to my coming up with this dipping/cleaning process for new corals I constantly found new pests. Fortunately after talking with Brett at Cherry Corals, Jason Fox, and Ming from Atlantis, I have used their ideas and practices to come up with a process that has seemingly eliminated the likelihood of introducing pests into my tanks. I know this process may seem a bit time consuming and elaborate, but it is significantly less of a hassle than trying to get a pest out of one of my tanks. I once spent 9 hours trying to get an angelfish out of one of my tanks.
I’m from Pittsburgh, the place where The Deer Hunter was filmed, so I have a strong aversion to Russian Roulette and unfortunately that is what we are playing every time we add a new coral, rock or invertebrate to our tanks. So rather than taking any kind of chance, I try to kill or remove anything that potentially could cause harm to my tank, except the corals of course. My rule is if I do not know what it is, I remove it. And if I cannot see inside it remove it, or treat it. So the first rule of this method of treatment is everything gets treated, no exceptions.
All it takes is for me to let one nudibranch, one Asterina starfish arm, one flatworm or one parasitic copepod into the tank and then I have to try and not only find it, but also then have to figure out how to remove it. So every coral, whether it’s a maricultured piece or coral frag from my best friend’s tank, and no matter how small, gets treated as do any other invertebrates that I plan on adding to my tanks.
First the corals are acclimated to the tank’s water that they are going to be added to for an hour or so. The next step in the process is that the coral is removed from any substrate that is it attached to. Frags are detached from their plugs, maricultured pieces from their cement plug and small colonies from any live rock or other material that they are attached to. This may seem drastic that I am cutting them off even if they have encrusted, but to me making sure there is no chance of an infestation is worth it.
Even though frag plugs and most cement blocks seem solid I have found flatworms, eggs and other creatures in the tiniest holes in these structures. This was especially true in the mariculture plugs that are made of gravel bound with cement. Once you remove the coral from this, if you break it up you will be amazed by how many creatures can make this their home. Once the corals have been removed from their plug or substrate they are then dipped in CoralRx.
I use a slightly higher dose than that which is recommended of 25ml per gallon versus the 20ml, but the coral(s) are only kept in this solution for 5 minutes. Once this is done they are rinsed with clean tank water, I use a turkey baster to blow off any hitchhikers, and then they are placed in a bath containing Bayer Complete Insect Killer (the blue bottle). Again I use a slightly higher concentration than most of about 400ml per 2.5 gallons of water.
The corals are then allowed to rest in the bucket, which contains a small powerhead for 15 minutes. I have had corals stay in this solution for several hours, both intentionally and unintentionally, with no ill effects. The coral is then removed and allowed to rest again in clean tank water. The reason for using two different dipping solutions is I have yet to be convinced that any one solution is able to remove everything, so the two I am using have both been noted as effective and safe by people I trust.
It should be noted that both of these solutions kill things, so I strongly advise that gloves be used when handling them as well as protective eyeware as I’m sure either of these solutions might be harmful if they get in your eyes. Also when disposing of these solutions afterward read and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for how to dispose of them properly.
While these corals are being dipped and treated they are kept in clear glass or plastic containers that are set on white towels. I use the white towel to see what comes off of the coral. Most of the pests we are looking for are colored or beige or gray so against the bright white towel they really stand out. Once the coral is in the final clean bowl I do one other test to make sure it is clean.
With all of the lights out a shine a blacklight flashlight on the coral. By doing so most corals will glow uniformly showing their health, however if there are eggs or dead tissue or something else on the coral this usually shows up as colorless spot. So by shining this light I can make sure that I have not missed anything.
Once all of this has been done the coral can be mounted on its new clean plug, I microwave old plugs after they have been used, and placed in its desired spot. It is interesting that today when the maricultured pieces are removed from their plugs they are now not much bigger than frags used to be, so they are treated the same as frags.
For the most part I have noticed little stress on the corals that go through this process as long as they are not exposed to air for any length of time. I have however noticed that they do seem to be a bit light sensitive in that if they are not gradually acclimated to the lighting in my tank they tend to bleach more than were the corals that were not treated, so keep this in mind when placing them in the tank.
This may seem like a rather elaborate process to undertake to reduce the likelihood of adding unwanted pests to your tank, but in the long-term, and you really should not be in this unless you are in it for the long-term, it is simple once you get used to doing it. I have spent countless hours caring for sick corals and removing pests, some of which I introduced to kill other pests, so I feel it is time well spent. As a result, I am now able to spend much more time just relaxing and watching my tank rather than constantly worrying what is going to eat my corals next. And that really is the best part of the hobby.