This sounds like a crazy concept, but hang with me for a minute. We see corals both in the worlds oceans as well as in our coral reef tanks be subject to a variety of stress factors. In the oceans, these stress factors include the common headlines of increased ocean temperatures, pH lowering, and pollution. In captive systems, we find many of these same stress factors, but they are usually a direct result of something we the reef aquarium owner have done. In the five main reef tanks that we maintain, we’ve noticed that corals in certain conditions exhibit a better resistance to stresses than do some in other environments. If it turns out corals can indeed be conditioned over time and ultimately adapted to environments that normally would pose a hazard to their survival, this would be huge news. In this 2 part discussion, we will explore some examples of super coral behavior in the wild as well as in captive reef aquariums.
Super Corals in our own Facilities
In the 15 years we have been keeping corals I’ve learned quite a bit through making mistakes just like every other coral reef aquarists out there. Whether it was having a piece of equipment fail or having some water chemistry parameter go awry, in the end we learned from these events and made the systems more resilient. In the tanks that we keep here at Reefnation, there are 5 main display tanks that are connected to one large sump. Our main display is an Oceanic 135 that has a Tunze wavebox on it along with 2 3500GPH power heads that provide an enormous amount of water flow to the inhabitants of that tank. This main display tank also has the strongest lighting with a set of 400w HQI metal halide lights just an few inches above the water. All of the tanks in our system are connected to the same sump and share the same water. The other 4 tanks all have t5 or LED lighting over them and while they do receive ample light for growth, these fixtures are not situated to deliver the PAR of the HQI’s today. The flow in the other 4 tanks is mainly through power heads and again is a good amount less than that of the main display. What we have noticed over and over again is the, every time the water chemistry, temperature, or any other measurable stress factor has occurred in our tank systems, without exception, the corals in the main tank have shown less color loss, tissue necrosis, and overall visual health effects than corals in the other tanks that were exposed to the same stresses. These same corals also recover quicker from any ill effects that they do suffer in these stress conditions as well. Why is this?
Can the Coral Reef Aquarium act as a Gym for our Corals?
Overall our observations lead us to consider that there is some sort of strengthening or resilience that is developed by the corals when their everyday environment includes some level of minimum stress or condition which promotes vigor. In the case of our main display, the enormous flow and lighting could be the source of this minimal daily stress. The simple analogy is that the conditions in our main tank are like a person who goes to the gym and the conditions in our other tanks are more like someone who sits on the couch. Given the same food, and environmental conditions, science has proven that people who participate in the physical activity will exhibit better general health and vigor as well as a resilience to becoming ill. If this ability has evolved in the natural world for humans, what makes us think that the same might not be possible for other organisms like corals in the marine environment? I believe there are things that we can learn not only for our captive reef tanks, but possibly some of this could translate to the natural world as well.
Time will tell if there is something that we can learn from this, but we would love to hear if you have had a similar experience in your tanks. If you have, please tell us about it.