British reefkeepers haven’t had a lot to get excited about lately. An exponential rise in the cost of electricity had loomed over many hobbyists to the point of shutting their tanks down, with few people shopping for new corals and the hobby lacking enthusiasm in general. That was until we walked into Signature Frags for the first time in Ripley, Derbyshire, and our enthusiasm for all things coral went from 0-100% in about 15 seconds.
Signature Frags was started in 2018 and is owned and run by Christian Pond. A passionate reef keeper and collector he was frustrated that he couldn’t get the quality of Acros that he saw in the US and online, so says he was forced into sourcing his own corals. He learned the hard way first how to keep them and then how to color them up and after a few years of trial and error his European corals started to show some of the colors and promise of the named and famed corals on sale in America. He started like many others selling frags from his private collection at home, and when an opportunity came to leave his white-collar job in the City he wanted to see if his home tank and its produce actually had a business case. It did, so he took on a second and third tank, got some shiny new retail premises during the Covid-19 pandemic and the rest is history. After visiting hundreds of stores around the UK and further afield, Signature Frags coral farm is no ordinary aquatic store or even reef store. It’s a high-end coral-only boutique, the likes of which we haven’t seen before in the UK. That’s why we’ve given it a special mention.
Walk through the glass, sign-written door, and you are greeted by white walls, clean, modern lines, and plenty of open space. There is no dry goods section, sundries, or even clean-up crew section, for Signature Frags sells coral and coral only, and Christian has a personal connection to each and every one of them. Dance music plays in the shop, with seating and a table where customers can chill out, have a hot drink, and take it all in. There’s a newly set up display tank, a tv, and white counters and the decor and ambiance could easily suit a fashionable clothes shop or posh hairdresser. But Instead of clothes on hangers or barbers stations and mirrors, the main event on our visit was three flat coral trays. Decked out with multiple rows of Radions and Gyres the tanks sparkled with movement and color and we knew we were in for a treat as two of the trays were filled with Acropora colonies and their frags, while the third tray pulsed rhythmically with high-end torch corals and fields of rainbow-colored Goniopora. Our heart racing, we were keen to find out more:
“Signature Frags was born from the fact that we could not find corals like those available in the States in the UK,” Chris told Reef Builders. “I wanted to demonstrate that corals can look like they were pulled straight from a comic book and over time we have developed techniques to produce some of the beautiful corals available today.”
We have visited hundreds of aquatic stores over the years but none (so far,) have produced colors of this caliber or number in the UK. We put this down to both dedication and specialization, and the opportunity to be able to solely focus on the end goal of producing colorful corals. As we said there are no dry goods on sale, no aquariums, not even any fish (apart from those performing cleaning duties in the coral trays,) and noticeably, no other customers. This is a high street store in a bustling little town, but you can’t just walk in, and this extreme form of customer control again helps to prevent mishaps, accidents, sabotage even, and instead permits the rigid coral care protocols necessary for this boutique coral collection, as well as one-on-one, much more focused customer interactions. The corals on sale looked different from many we see in other stores. As we said they were super colorful, but they were also based out, growing, and thriving. That’s because Signature Frags has the luxury of not having to “flip” newly imported livestock and instead takes a much longer-term view on every import and acquisition:
“From the moment a new coral enters the store, it receives a six-month, rigorous quarantine process. All corals receive an initial dip and inspection with a magnifying glass or sometimes even a microscope. Any areas that cannot be inspected are cut apart, and only living flesh enters the QT system,” Christian told us. “Corals are inspected every few days for potential problems, and they receive dips and in-tank treatments weekly to fortnightly to eliminate predators. Corals also receive ongoing anti-bacterial treatments with many types of medications both in-tank and in separate baths to reset and cleanse corals at a microbial level, to prevent potentially harmful pathogens from entering the farm systems.”
“Even clean corals can show pests at the 1-month mark so after 3 months, and when I’m sure they are clean, they will enter the farm systems and are acclimated to lighting slowly. Light acclimation for us takes around 6 months in total from first entering QT to being released for sale, and only when significant color development and upward growth have been observed whilst maintaining optimum health. We continue to propagate broodstock mothers for as long as we are able to, many of our corals have been in our care for years, and some for over a decade. We do all of this to ensure customers are buying risk-free colorful corals that are well-adapted and proven to grow in aquaria.”
Signature Frags is a shining example of a British coral retailer and farm that left a lasting impression on us. Few of the corals looked as good when Christian first took them in but his vision, skill, husbandry, and dedication have created some real masterpieces. We consider ourselves reinvigorated.