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Teens4Oceans: Helping Young Boulderites Protect Our Aquatic Environments

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Photo Courtesy of VIUDeepBay via Flickr - License

Photo Courtesy of VIUDeepBay via Flickr – License

Trevor Mendelow founded Teens4Oceans in 2007 at the Kent Denver School, in an attempt to engage high school students in marine biology conservation efforts. The program later evolved into an advocacy program for teens, and by teens, to recognize the importance of protecting our planet’s oceanic habitats. Continue reading

Man Made Structures: Can They Really Reverse Reef Damage?

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By US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Global warming puts a tremendous amount of stress on coral reefs. Increased water temperatures and ocean acidification lead to a process called coral bleaching, which ultimately leads to coral death.

Luckily, new technologies now allow scientists to keep a close eye on reef ecosystems. The increased visibility of declining reef health has helped drive both the scientific community and the government toward reef restoration solutions.

Ironically, these new solutions are emerging from what environmentalists originally deemed destructive behavior.

Both the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) agree that man-made structures are a viable solution for restoring reef ecosystems. In fact, a study found that oil drilling rigs in California have a greater abundance of marine life than surrounding ecosystems. Researchers attribute the larger population to the fact that rigs provide a large amount of surface area throughout the water column.

In this article, we’ll look at how the Rigs-to-Reefs Program and modular artificial reefs work to replace and restore struggling reef habitats.

Modular Artificial Reefs

Modular artificial reefs have been evolving for well over twenty years. They’re not repurposed material; they are specifically designed to function as substitute reefs. Testing in the 1980s suggested that these artificial reefs have the potential to revitalize reef ecosystems. Continue reading

The Great Barrier Reef’s Hidden Neighbor and Its Role in the Global Ecosystem

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Great Barrier Reef

By Verisimilus, via Wikimedia Commons

In our last blog post, we discussed deep-water coral reefs, their importance to the ecosystem, and the dangers they face. Today, we’re going to build on that and explore a recently discovered reef that lurks in the depths of Northern Australian waters.

What’s The Big Deal?

The reef, which is unnamed, is hidden in the deep water behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It was discovered by a joint effort of James Cook University, University of Sydney, and Queensland University of Technology utilizing aircraft and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) lasers to create a 3-D map of the seafloor. A new reef normally wouldn’t turn many heads, but this one is comprised of over 6000 square kilometers of deep-water corals that were hiding in plain sight.

Unexplained doughnut-shaped mounds measuring 200 to 300 meters across and 10 meters deep make up a large part of the reef, and they have scientists excited about the potential for further discovery and biodiversity. These creatures have been identified as bioherms, or ancient organic reefs made of marine invertebrates such as coral, echinoderms, gastropods, and mollusks. Continue reading

An Introduction to Deep Water Coral

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Deep Water CoralDeep water coral and their impact on our global bionetwork have only recently been studied, so naturally, we don’t quite know as much about them as we do their shallow water-dwelling brethren. They come from a world of darkness located thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface and can only be explored by the most sophisticated scientific equipment. As the secrets of these desolate invertebrates are uncovered, we continue to gain a better understanding of the important role they play in their surrounding ecosystems. More specifically, conservationists have begun to focus their efforts on analyzing the impact that humans have on the deep-water coral that form the backbone of our ocean’s infrastructure. Before we discuss conservation efforts, however, let’s review the basics of deep water coral.

What Are Deep Water Coral?

These coral are much like their shallow water counterparts; they exist in a variety of colors and provide a home for many of the ocean’s other creatures. They share the propensity to grow into reefs that can stretch for miles. In fact, scientists have documented some coral that stand several meters tall.  Their diversity rivals that of tropical coral. Many different species exist with textures ranging from spongey to stone-like, but that’s where the similarities end. Continue reading

We’re Looking to the Sky for Coral Health – And It’s Working

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Photo (Great Barrier Reef from Space) Courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr - License

Photo (Great Barrier Reef from Space) Courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr – License

Scientists have begun using satellite technology to monitor the impact of unchecked climate change on coral reefs in an attempt to stave off damage that may prove to be irreversible.

According to the National Ocean Service, more than half of the United States Caribbean coral reefs were lost in 2005 due to thermal stress; more thermal stress than the past 20 years combined. In 2010, cold water temperatures, possibly due to changes in the jet stream and melting ice caps, bleached coral in the Florida Keys. The extreme susceptibility of these habitats to damage, to the extent that the Australian government prohibits even touching the Great Barrier Reef, makes it all the more important to be aware of reef health. An abundance of marine species rely on the reefs and could be lost forever if  conservation warnings are not heeded. It’s for this reason that we’re taking to the skies to better monitor the state of our reefs.

Bleaching 101

Coral reefs undergo a phenomenon called bleaching when exposed to extreme stress, usually from higher than normal water temperatures, but also from cold water temperatures and water acidification. Bleaching is exactly what it sounds like: an absence of all pigmentation in the coral, leaving them bone white. During bleaching, the symbiotic organisms that give coral its color, zooxanthellae, are expelled by the coral’s polyps, leaving it without a food source and unable to sustain life or undergo calcification. Continue reading

Fluorescent Pigments: What Purpose Do They Serve?

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fluorescent pigments

Rainbow Stylo; Grower: Jeff Harris of AquaMart

In our last blog post, we talked briefly about what makes coral fluorescent and what purpose that fluorescence serves. With this post, we’d like to take a closer look at the benefits fluorescent pigments offer to marine coral. The mystery behind the glow has been debated in the scientific marine community for years, but the fact that so many species from widely varying habitats have evolved this capability indicates that it serves a valuable purpose. Recently, advances in measuring the functionality and mechanisms of this behavior have started to bear fruit, with evidence mounting that fluorescence serves more than one purpose. The two driving forces uncovered thus far for fluorescing pigments are protection from the sun’s rays and light generation for photosynthesis.

Protection Against Harmful Light

In order to deal with the high intensity sunlight in their native equatorial waters, corals have developed a photo inhibition, or protection from light, that while sounding intuitive, is actually quite complex. The widely accepted consensus is that bright, high-energy environments pushed coral to evolve fluorescing pigments to deal with harmful UV radiation from the sun. This protection extends not only to the coral itself, but also to zooxanthellae, a marine plankton that lives in a symbiotic relationship with the coral, providing it with glucose, glycerol and amino acids used to produce proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The coral in turn provides the zooxanthellae a safe environment, free from predators. Continue reading

Coral Pigments and the Light Wavelengths That Stimulate Them

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Coral - TrachCoral pigments and their properties are a common topic of debate within the scientific community, with the bulk of our understanding having been gained in the past decade. Recent science has only started to unveil what function these fluorescent pigments serve, and there is debate over how they originate. Unlike terrestrial plants and most other marine life, coral can contain pigments that give off a fluorescent glow. Despite these anomalies, the rest of coral’s pigmentations function much like any other object our eyes perceive with color.

Before delving into fluorescent pigments and the wavelengths that affect them, it is first crucial to have a basic understanding of the color spectrum coral interacts with and what effect it has on the human eye. The human eye is only capable of perceiving wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum between 400-700 nm, and this is also the light we see interacting with coral under natural conditions. The 400 nm end of the spectrum corresponds to the color blue and has a short wavelength, while the 700 nm side corresponds to the color red and has a longer wavelength. All objects absorb some part of the spectrum and reflect the rest, with the reflection being what our eyes translate into color.

“Normal Pigments”

The interactions between a coral’s pigments and light waves are controlled by the depth at which the coral is living. Blue spectrum light penetrates salt water better than red spectrum light, leading to enhanced or dulled coloring, depending on which wavelengths the coral is absorbing. Continue reading

Professionals Love AcroOptics LED Reef Lighting Systems

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Keeping a thriving coral reef aquarium is challenging. Reef-keeping poses unique challenges and requires patience, discipline, and (periodically) hard work. Those of us who do it as a hobby all have our war stories – corals that succumbed to too much water movement, too little water movement, aggressive neighbors, random hitch-hikers, or just decide one day to give up the ghost. Keeping LARS (lazy-ass reefer’s syndrome) at bay when our aquariums are cruising along happily can be tough; keeping a calm head when things go south even more so. I don’t know of any serious reefer who hasn’t at least once considered walking away, perhaps following a healthy dose of catharsis involving a sledge-hammer.

And yet, we stop by the LFS, or get an email from our favorite frag grower, and we are instantly hooked back in. One picture of that awesome A. valida, a brief glimpse of the trophy tank in the lobby, and we are kids in a candy store. Reefs are beautiful, peaceful, and bring us great joy when they aren’t causing us to pull our hair out. So how do the pros do it? The same way good hobbyists do – with patience, discipline, and responsibility – and it sure doesn’t hurt if you have good gear.

Michael Park is an owner of Aqua Imports, the preferred LFS here in Boulder, Colorado. He is actively involved with ocean and reef protection, despite living in the land-locked mountain state through great organizations such as Teen4Oceans, who bring physical visibility of reef and other marine environments directly into the classroom. By creating such a tangible link between the students and their environment, Teens4Oceans is shaping a new generation of ocean and reef stewards. Park also works with View Into the Blue, who build and install underwater webcams to provide continuous live IP-based streaming video and data for use by researchers, resorts, governmental agencies, educators, non-profits, and the public. One look at this glorious tank and it is easy to tell he is no novice. This isn’t a color-saturated Photoshop job, either – Matt Arvidson took this with his cell phone.

Incredible coral reef under AcroOptics LED lights

Mike Park’s incredible SPS wonderland is a testament to what a reef aquarium can be.

With a store full of the latest technology, Park has his pick of the best available. In 2015, he pulled out three Ecotech Radions and replaced them with one AcroOptics 48″ Reef Slope fixture. The powerful uniform light field keeps his livestock thriving and happy. “We have definitely seen great changes“, says Park, discussing the tank since upgrading the lights, “Coral growth rates and coloration are far superior to the…fixtures previously on the tank. Shading is also greatly improved.

And Park is not alone. On the other side of the country, Harry Hooper, owner of Harry’s Frags, uses a 24″ Reef Flats fixture over one of his SPS propagation tanks. (If you haven’t seen Harry’s stuff, it is definitely worth a look at Harry’sFrags.com.) Harry, a retired computer scientist, and his wife Ruth moved from hobbyists to retailers due to the shear success of his reefs.

Acropora Valida GARF Bonsai from HarrysFrags.com, courtesy of Harry.

Beautiful colonies of Acropora valida “GARF Bonsai” from Harry’s Frags, courtesy of Harry.

When his SPS had grown to the point of overcrowding, he opted to sell them online.  Focusing primarily on SPS, the Hoopers are not “chop, stick and ship” operators. Harry allows his corals to mature on the plug, so his “frags” are really more like small colonies – beautiful, well-formed, and vividly colored. That patience, coupled with a desire to promote healthy aquaculture as a way to contribute to reef protection, has earned Harry’s Frags a rabidly loyal clientele. Despite his success, Hooper still strongly identifies as a hobbyist.

Hooper recognized the advantages LEDs offered over metal halides early, and showing the DIY spirit that is so prevalent in this hobby, set about building a custom LED rack for himself in 2012. By 2013, he had fine-tuned his system and expanded the foray from the original 50g tank  to include a 120g and two 180g aquariums, running his fixtures with Arduino boards. In July of 2015, he installed a CRAVE24 Reef Flats over one of his propagation tanks.

He spoke about the AcroOptics fixture in December: “After the last several months…my coral has responded well in displaying color and growth. I am very satisfied with my fixture…no one who buys one will be disappointed!” Hooper really appreciated the evenness of the light field, “without the disco-ball effect” prevalent in other LED fixtures.

So that is how the professionals do it. AcroOptics fixtures are now available to hobbyists too, so that we can provide our corals the strong, uniform light fields that professionals love. You can take a look at them here.

Lights can’t make water changes, monitor calcium and carbonate hardness levels, or apologize to spouses/landlords for the occasional plumbing issues, but they can ensure our corals have the healthiest and most stable food source possible. In return, our corals will continue to bring us the joy that a healthy reef provides to those willing to make the effort.

Don’t forget to support pros, like Mike Park and Harry Hooper, who work hard to bring healthy, vibrant reefs to us, in an ecologically responsible way. Take a look at what Aqua Imports has to offer here. Visit Harry’s Frags here. You will be glad you did.

In-Situ chooses AcroOptics LED Reef Light System for 540g Install

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In-Situ Chairman Chris McKee takes his reef-keeping seriously; not a big surprise given the business he is in. The Fort Collins-based company makes water quality testing and monitoring equipment, including an innovative line of products targeting aquaculturalists.

Chris has installed a 540 gallon custom aquarium at the company’s Fort Collins facilities. To create a robust reef that requires minimal maintenance, McKee enlisted the help of AquaMart owner Jeff Harris. Harris’s impressive design provides spectacular views of the reef both from the shop floor and the main lobby. Measuring 8 ft. x 3 ft. x 3 ft., the stunning tank is being stocked with a wide variety of coral species.

540 gallon aquarium for a coral reef

AcroOptics’ Mike Hurowitz gets perma-grin when he sees the size of the aquarium.

Lighting a tank of this size to meet the requirements of the Acropora, Montipora, and other SPS corals that McKee plans on keeping is no small feat. To address this challenge, Harris and McKee chose a 6 pendant Reef Slope lighting system from Boulder-based AcroOptics.

The six CRAVE24 pendants, mounted 14” over the water surface, provide unparalleled light uniformity with enough punch to keep the SPS inhabitants of the reef happy and healthy. AcroOptics’ custom TIR lens arrays allow ample room for access to the aquarium while keeping the light in the tank. Opting for LEDs over metal halides, the duo have created a set up that ensures stability for the livestock, negligible heat transfer to the aquarium, and drastically reduced energy consumption.

Along with the AcroOptics system, the custom tank from Planet Aquarium includes a sump with the return driven by Aqua Medic’s Eco Runner 12000. The sump contains an ATB Deluxe Internal 12.5 skimmer, and Aquatop MR-30 media reactor. Water movement within the tank will be provided by a pair of EcoTech Marine’s MP 60 Quiet Drive powerheads.

Custom reef tank installation AcroOptics LED lgihting

Jeff Harris installs overflow and sump plumbing. The return is driven by an Eco Runner 12000.

AcroOptics’ control system is fully integrated within the fixture and accessible from Chris’s computer over his wifi network.

AcroOptics Reef Slope pendant set over 540 gallon reef

Jeff’s live rock masterpiece gets a brief moment of light before being allowed to cycle.

With the substrate, rock and water loaded into the aquarium, Harris has begun stocking. It’s a tough call at this point who is more excited about the process, Jeff or Chris.

Strawberry Shortcake Acro under AcroOptics LED reef light

Strawberry Shortcake (A. microclados) – this one should really color up well.

A. gemmifera

Large a. gemmifera thriving.

What is clear is that AquaMart and McKee have created something special. Keep an eye out for updates as the reef comes to fruition. The drive up from Boulder to observe the progress is worth the trip to AcroOptics’ Steve Tappert:

“This is a really exceptional installation, and I’m intrigued with how it develops – there aren’t many opportunities to work on a set up as nice as this one from the ground up. Plus”, he adds with a smile, “the Poudre is a stone’s throw away – no reason not to enjoy a little fresh water as well”, referring to the excellent trout water just upstream from Ft. Collins. “Win, win.”

Reef Flats LED Brings Out Coral Growth, Colors

Aqua Imports’ Display Tank Thrives under the AcroOptics Reef Flats

In November of 2014, AcroOptics installed a Reef Flats fixture over the 120g display tank at Aqua Imports, Boulder Colorado’s premier LFS. Since that time, the growth rates on the resident Acros, Montis, and other SPS has jumped significantly, and the coloration has markedly improved in some specimens.
Beautifully colored Stylophora at Aqua Imports, Boulder CO
Bright pink/purple Stylophora thriving in the Aqua Imports display aquarium.

The Reef Flats incorporates NUV/UV diodes with peaks at 395nm, 405nm and 415nm, reintroducing spectrum seldom used in aquariums but present on coral reefs. Much of the vibrant coloration of shallow water SPS and clams is caused by pigments whose function is to photo-inhibit these wavelengths, and bringing them back into the aquarium can reinvigorated some of the eye-popping colors seen in nature. These wavelengths are highly utilized in photosynthesis, and assist in the calcification process. The change in growth rates hasn’t gone unnoticed.

We have definitely seen great changes. Coral growth rates and coloration are far superior to the Radion fixtures previously on the tank. Shading is also much improved.

-Michael Park, Owner, Aqua Imports

The fixture also pushes a cool white and broad-spectrum amber in addition to the blue and red channels. The results have been impressive.
Acropora forest, Aqua Imports, Boulder CO
The main display tank at Aqua Imports is a forest of beautiful Acros, Montis, Stylos and more.

Placing a UV-enabled fixture from the local start-up was a bold move by Michael Park, one of the owners: the aquarium was stocked with exceptional SPS corals, and the light set up replaced by the AcroOptics system did not utilize this band. Corals photo-inhibit to protect themselves from what could otherwise be damaging light. Mike mitigated this risk by gradually ramping the NUV/UV channel slowly over a period of several months. His patience was rewarded with the brilliant coloration seen in these photos.

Beautiful purple-bodied Acropora with neon green polyps
This beautiful Acro frag was placed in the tank several weeks ago, and has been growing rapidly.

The success of the display tank earned the owners’ confidence; since the initial placement, Aqua Imports added a Reef Slope pendant set over their 60” cube. The deeper-water Slope fixture’s heavy blue (including a custom 430nm diode), cyan, green and “Sunglow” channels makes the colors really pop.

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Variety of hard and soft corals show excellent coloration under the AcroOptics Slope fixtures.

I will continue to snap pictures periodically and post, so the development can be seen over time. I’m not the greatest photog, but the corals’ beauty cover up any shortcomings on that end.