It has been a great reefing year for me, in that I have set up two new tanks for myself, been to MACNA and all three Reefaploozas and the topper, I have been to the facilities of the four enterprises that I think are at the forefront of propagating corals on a large scale for the hobby.
Before I mention their names, I apologize in advance to the many other coral propagators out there, but I just did not get the chance to visit you. When I talk of the four I refer to Jason Fox, Cherry Corals, World Wide Corals and the last one for me to visit Unique Corals. I have known Scott Fellman, and Joe Caparatta for a long time and have even been to David B, their manager’s house to visit his tanks. While all of them have been in the hobby seemingly forever, this was the first opportunity for me to visit Unique Corals.
As is the case with many of you, getting the opportunity to go to a place like Unique is awe-inspiring and it fuels the addiction. While I was waiting for them to arrive for my visit I got to look over their tanks and did a quick estimation that they currently have approximately 35,000 frags and colonies in their facility right now. So for a coral junkie like me I was quite content. So besides the obviously large numbers of corals what other factors make Unique Corals, unique?
First, as with the other three facilities mentioned, everyone at Unique Corals is a hobbyist first, and they were able to convert their love and enjoyment of the hobby into a business. This commitment to the hobby and their understanding of what hobbyists want and need, shows in how they do things. Even though their operation is on a larger scale than most of the propagation facilities I have visited, it still is done in an organized and for lack of a better word, the obsessive way most successful hobbyists operate.
The first thing I noticed when I visited was how clean the facility was. Everything was organized and there was no “aquarium smell” or water on the floor or anything that would make me think they didn’t know what they were doing. After noticing how clean it was I then realized how big the propagation tanks were. Six large fiberglass tubs approximately 30 feet long containing over 2,000 gallons of water each were filled with virtually every type of coral imaginable.
Besides seeing how many corals each vat contained it was just as impressive what they did not contain: algae. Despite the bright lights and the regular feedings that the corals are given in these tanks, none of them has even any hair, thread or nuisance algae in them of any type. The only algae present, was a healthy amount of coralline algae, which covered some of the surfaces underneath the egg crate containing the coral colonies and fragments. This lack of any significant algae showed their hobbyist’s commitment and understanding of how to maximize their coral’s growth.
Their tanks are now so clean in fact, that they now run their protein skimmers for less than 12 hours each day (often times less), lest they remove all the nutrients from their tanks. The hobbyist side of them also came out in how they light their tanks. Their tanks have some of the widest assortment of lighting options I have ever seen in a propagation facility. Not only do they have the usual metal halide fixtures and bulbs of various types, but they also have t-5s, many types of LEDs as well as hybrids of all of these over their tanks to try and analyze and optimize which corals do best under which lights.
Since we have found it is not necessary to blast our corals with the brightest light all day, they have found a way to use this to their advantage by having many of their halide fixtures on tracks that move from side to side across the tanks all day long. This not only allows them to use the halides to cover a larger area of tank than occurs with one fixed lamp, but it also a more efficient use of electricity.
All of this is well and good, but to be honest it would not matter if they did not have interesting corals in the tanks. To put it into perspective, at MACNA I did not bring home a single coral from the show, a first for me and proof that the therapy may be working, But from their vats I saw no fewer than 15 must-have corals for the new sps tank I will soon be setting up. Yes I will try to get my money back from the therapist. They have corals from virtually everywhere including Indonesia, Australia, Fiji, the Solomon Islands as well as some places lesser known like Kwajalein, Vietnam and Tonga.
Unique Corals also collects frags and small colonies from hobbyists’ tanks that are especially brightly colored or unique, sorry for that. These include their own Bali shortcake, Pink shortcake, a new crop of 2015 Purple Monster, and their blue Azureus Aculeus. Unique Corals takes this obsessive coral collection a step further than almost anyone by organizing specialized coral scouting and coral collecting trips together with Reef Builders, with the first such of these occuring in the Solomon Islands earlier this year, and another one going on now with Jake & Co. in Indonesia.
As with most propagators they bring in mother colonies, see how they do and how well their colors hold, and if they are suitable candidates they then start propagating them. When they do start propagating them they tag when the frags were made and place them under different types of lights to see how they do, because as we discussed even a small difference in light or flow can change a coral’s color rather dramatically, so it was interesting to see that even as successful as they are, they are still experimenting and trying to optimize growth and coloration in their corals.
One thing I really appreciate about the corals they are propagating is that in order to sell them they are not photoshopping them. When I have ordered corals from them they looked like their online pictures. Now having the opportunity to see these corals in person, it was nice to see that this is also how they look in their tanks.
As with other coral farmers it was also interesting to see that they not only knew the names of most of their corals, as one would their children, but they also knew where they were in this huge facility.
As I have said before OCD is something that most serious hobbyists possess at least to some extent. This obsessiveness also is shown in how closely they monitor the parameters of their water. Each vat is linked to a huge Apex array and displayed in their offices so that the condition of each vat can be assessed at a glance. Like them, many of us can be texted or notified if there is a problem in a tank. But it made me feel good to see that I was not alone in worrying about my corals and that they too had been texted at the most inopportune times that there was a problem that needed to be solved.
As many of you that know me understand, I am probably a bit jaded in terms of still getting excited when I see new corals. Luckily this year I have been able to stir that fire again by visiting some of the places where I knew I would see something I did not have and that would keep my fire going for the hobby. Luckily the corals that Joe and Scott have cultivated are available online and at just about every show across the country. Even though the success at keeping corals has never been greater, it is still good to see guys doing it right on a large scale just in case the availability of these corals from the wild diminishes. Thanks guys for letting me visit.