Native marine aquaria are pretty scarce. Little information exists on how to be successful in maintaining healthy coldwater marine systems in domestic aquaria.

Hopefully this record of my failures, triumphs and ideas will assist others interested in keeping some of our fascinating, beautiful and often little known sea denizens in aquariums.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Why Go Native?

Perhaps, as a successful tropical reefkeeper stumbling across this blog you might wonder why on Earth anyone would want to keep our own humble native fauna and flora when the tropics offer such stunning colours and diversity. As a convert from tropical to native myself I'll try and explain:
Biotope: As a native marine reefkeeper you can choose to collect only specimens, water, substrate and rock from a specific location at a set depth range. You can be sure that everything you collect will interact in some way with everything else as nature intended. For instance I collect from the south west of Britain at no more than 1.5 metres depth. On a single day of collecting I can easily find a dozen plant species and 10 fish species.
When you keep a tropical tank many of the species offered at your LFS are from a huge range of depths, locations and habitats. Soft corals from Indonesia are on sale next to Red Sea fish and Pacific SPS corals. Many will have no natural relationship to each other whatsoever.
Mortality: With the very simplest and most basic precaution it is entirely possible to collect many different animals and transport them to your aquarium with no mortality. Should they not flourish it is equally easy to recapture them and release them back to where you found them. Many of the native species are very easy to keep in any case, feeding is rarely a problem, most fish, for example, feed readily on frozen artemia or rotifer and freshly opened mussels tempt even the most finicky larger fish. It is a sad fact that for every wild tropical marine fish in the LFS many more have died during the process of collection and transit. Too many more will die in the 1st few months of captivity, through their unsuitability for home aquaria through diet or habitat requirement.
'Total Reef': It is simply not possible to aquire a sufficient biodiversity of tropical reef inhabitants unless you live next to one - in which case it will be a 'native' reef anyway! A box of Fijian 'live' rock may have spent over a week wrapped in wet newspaper before you even see it, maybe longer. Obviously many of the original inhabitants encrusting the rock have succombed. Contrast that with a 'live' rock covered in seaweeds, sponges, anemones and coralline algaes collected from your local rockpool and placed in your tank an hour or so afterwards. Almost everything will have survived, if not everything. I never get bored with watching a new rock and seeing how many different creatures show themseleves.
Its entirely possible to collect a complete range of organisms, each performing a vital role in the chain, and get them home and safe with the minimum of fuss. By using live fresh sand/gravel, fresh seawater and fresh live rock you can be confident that the tank has not just fish and seaweed - but plankton, bacteria, microfauna and microflora - everything that a natural reef needs for any kind of realistic biodiversity.
Fun!: A days rockpooling is something that just about every kid (and many wives) loves. Its immensely satisfying to find, capture, identify and then keep successfully any creature found during a days rockpooling.I always found that buying fish and corals in my LFS was an expensive and solitary pursuit - I loved it, dont get me wrong - but it doesnt compare to piling the wife and kids in the car, heading for the bach with a picnic and a wealth of buckets, nets and jars and catching our own.
Expense: Not the most important reason to keep natives, but surely an attractive one nonetheless. Bearing in mind that mortality should be close to zero anyway with native marines, even if we had to pay for them they would represent a considerable advantage over many tropical fish and invertebrates. The fact that they are essentially free, a by-product of a great family day out even, makes them almost irresistable!
The Challenge: There is almost nothing online or in book form to guide the native marine reefkeeper. Its an unwritten book and everyone who keeps natives and writes something about it is a pioneer! A grounding with tropicals is, at the moment, therefore essential to success. However, there are major and significant differences and thses may not be immediately apparent. However, if you have successfully kept a tropical reef you will certainly enjoy success with a native one - just how natural, dynamic and diverse your native reef is will prove endlessly interesting and challenging. You can be sure that few have trod the same path and much remains to be learnt.
Beauty: Whilst no one would deny that tropical reefs offer unrivalled colour and beauty, many of our own native species of fish and invertebrate are nonetheless extremely attractive to look at. Squat lobsters - crimson and electric blue, cuckoo wrasse are rainbow coloured, beadlet and jewel anemones are a match for any tropical species, branching and encrusting coralline algaes are as pink as anything tropical and both red and green macroalgaes can be fabulously lovely.
In short, native marine reefs are well worth a second look. They are inexpensive, enjoyable, interesting, beautiful and ethical to keep. For the amateur naturalist there is a wealth of knowledge to be imparted, little information is available on many of these fascinating creatures and plants, every native reefkeeper has the potential to add, in a meaningful way, valuable knowledge on our own, little known, native marine flora and fauna.

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