aquarium update 12

It has been a while since I last posted an aquarium update; I have been a bit busy and have not done much with the tank recently. I have not done any water changes, never use the skimmer but have had zero algae because I have kept the light level low. I have experimented a bit with various seaweeds but nothing thrived. The Chrysemenia was doing well growing on the Tunze pump but disappeared overnight. Kelp always does well when attached to the pump. The tank is still a bit bare so no ‘full tank shot’ but some inhabitants below. I collected some Parasitic anemones Calliactis parasitica attached to an empty shell figuring that a not so pretty species might be actually quite hardy. Turns out they just stayed a bit limp and I therefore returned them to the sea.IMG_9139The Tompot blenny is a real character, very alert and always hungry. If you stick your finger in the water he immediately comes and nips it. The small scallop remarkably survived over the summer (remarkably because there is almost nothing to filter from the water) but the hungry Tompot ate it in the end (like most other snails). As the snails were not going to last long anyway, I introduced two small Common starfish Asterias rubens and two small Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis. They are usually hidden but that makes it extra fun when you spot one. The Cushion star Asterina gibbosa of course remain unperturbed and are always on the prowl. I noticed a tiny offspring (<2 mm).IMG_9759IMG_9391IMG_9752

aquarium update 11

The aquarium was in desperate need of a make-over (again…). I hauled a ton of rocks over from the beach and stacked them up. (I thought at first that I would need something to stick the rocks together (epoxy, superglue or waterfall foam) but that wasn’t really necessary). I also removed most of the gravel and replaced it with sand. So quite a big change but it really looks a lot better. However, my nice burrowing Red-speckled anemones suffered a bit when putting the sand in, and even after siphoning it off again I could not really find them anymore….hopefully they turn up again!IMG_7849 The aquarium is still a bit bare and I have to go out and collect things that will live on the rocks, such as anemones and seaweeds. However, there is some progress on the seaweed front. There is a bit of Irish moss Chondrus crispus growing spontaneosly from the back wall. There are also some patches of pink corraline algae; which must be Coral weed Corralina officinalis judging from one outgrowing patch. Having this species grow would be great, but they do not seem like fast growers. Chrysymenia wrighti is still thriving on the circulation pump; I remove a bit every now and then, so it acts as an ‘algae scrubber’, removing nutrients from the water. I have placed a couple of other seaweeds in the aquarium, a bit risky as they can die off and start trouble, but I can’t help it. The red Soliera chordalis below has done well before but unfortunately has started to die off a little already (first pic). I have a big piece of a flat red species that has started to grow from nowhere as well (second pic).IMG_7908IMG_7652One day, the aquarium was full of strings of Painted topshell eggs. I noticed when feeding a day later that the water was not very cold: I had forgotten to switch the pump/chiller back on two days previously! So the trick to breed this species is to increase the temperature, although I am not expecting much to happen with the eggs. Either the Thick-lipped or Netted dogwhelks are also occasionally sticking their egg masses to the glass. I placed a chunk of orange Estuarine sponge in the aquarium; this was devoured by Painted topshells and Cushion stars, so it is a good bit of live food to add. I had planted a little washed-up eelgrass plant to see if it would survive and indeed it has grown more roots. (If you want to try this yourself, please always use washed up plants and don’t dig out any, as eelgrass beds are vulnerable habitats.) It would be great to have a second tank dedicated to eelgrass….The little scallop is still happy (see close-up). I have added another filter feeder: a Leathery sea squirt Styela clavata. Butt-ugly, but that is actually fun too. I am trying it out as they are an invasive species and so probably pretty hardy. A Sting winkle seems to like it (but not eat it). I have never seen my two Sting winkles eat anything actually. They move about very slowly, but they have grown.IMG_7651IMG_7914Now the snakelocks anemones are gone, I have added some more fish. I have caught some juvenile Pollack Pollachius pollachius with my net. At first I caught ones that were less than an inch, but they did not survive. Of the six two-inch or so ones I caught, three dissappeared after one day, but the remaining three are going strong. Very nice looking fish! I also caught a little Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine (by hand at low tide). It is quite shy, but is increasingly showing itself. A beautiful little fish! I have one remaining Two-spotted goby. The Common goby is doing very well and eats from my hand. I think I’ll go for another little tompot, more Pollack and Two-spotted gobies. Ideally I would catch some Leopard-spotted gobies with a trap when diving, let’s see….The other fish I would like to have again is the Goldsinny wrasse: very pretty and not as nervous as Corkwing wrasse. IMG_7887


Aquarium Update 6

Time for a quick update on the aquarium. I could not resist trying to see how a school of mullet would fare with the sea scorpion around. Actually, the prawns formed a bigger immediate danger: one fish was grabbed and killed straight away, another fish I could save just in time, so I decided to remove the bigger prawns from the tank. The Sea scorpion picked off a bunch of the mullet in the first night and a couple in the week after but the number has stabilized at eleven, natural selection in action! Also added two Strawberry anemones. The Chrysymenia seaweed is growing very well and I have had to remove quite a bit already so it is forming a good nutrient sink. I have added more Cushion stars and Grey topshells to keep the algae and detritus in check.IMG_3310

Aquarium Update 5

It was high time to get some rocks in the aquarium; always a bit difficult to do this aesthetically I find. Perhaps I should add some more but for now there are at least surfaces to hide under or attach to. I removed all seaweeds except for the fast growing Chrysymenia wrightii (I have had to prune parts of it already so it might act as a good nutrient sink). It is bright red and there are very few algae on it now I’ve placed it downstream of the Tunze pump. I will not add anymore seaweeds but instead wait for them to naturally settle and grow from the rocks. Tired of die-offs and algae problems! IMG_3193I replaced the first Sea scorpion with a smaller individual. I’ve decided to go for more sea anemones, which means it would be cruel to have small fish (juvenile Corkwings or Two-spotted gobies) around, so I might as well have large predatory fish in there as well. I hope to catch one or two more Sea scorpions (they’ll have to be similarly-sized otherwise they will devour each other). I will make sure I always have some shrimp in the tank to serve as live food (they are fun to watch in their own right of course). I will also add another Snakelocks anemone. It would be nice to also add a commensal Leach’s spider crab but I am afraid it might get eaten by the Sea scorpion so I’d better not. I have added a couple of white and orange Plumose anemones Metridium senile (I found them on a pontoon, more on that in a next post).They are quite small and sometimes shrivel up, so I have been handfeeding them pieces of defrosted shrimp and they already look better. I will try some Strawberry or Beadlet anemones too; other anemone species are hard to find when not diving (although that hopefully wil happen soon too!).

Aquarium Update 3

The aquarium is still looking OK. The water is very clear and there are no algae on the glass whatsoever, but the brown algae still spread on the seaweeds, even with frequent skimming and the use of Rowaphos. There is some snail mortality, partly because of the Corkwing (who is not that keen on frozen food). I have added some Dulse Palmaria palmata (front left) and also some Chrysymenia wrightii (right, back), which I had growing in the aquarium succesfully before. This is an invasive species from Japan, first spotted in the Mediterranean three decades ago, spotted more recently in Galicia and now also appearing in the British Isles. (So the ‘back row’ of the tank consists entirely of invasive species, Wireweed, Harpoon weed and C. wrightii). In the Mediterranean it occurs in shallow water whereas in the Atlantic it seems to be a deeper water species (see here). It occasionally washes up in Flushing, see the pictures below of a very large plant I found last week (wellie top left yor scale). I hope to go snorkeling some time soon to try to see how much of it is there.IMG_1574





aquarium update 2

The large mop of Harpoon weed has been added to the tank (tied to a large pebble). I also added Grey topshells Gibbula cineraria, several hermit crabs, two Sting winkles Ocenebra erinacea and five shrimp. Although being potentially dangerous to fish, I could not resist putting in a green snakelocks anemone and it looks stunning under the blueish light . It is quite hard to take good pictures as the blue comes out too strong (using a camera and adjusting the white balance does not really work either, as the photos turn too reddish).IMG_1100The Corkwing wrasse is doing fine but is a bit too obsessed swimming up and down one end of the tank (as in this picture). The Purple top shells Calliostoma zyzyphinum are doing well, as they have laid long strings of eggs several times already. (They are a bit weird though; sometimes they lett go of the glass and just lie still down on the sand for one or two days.) The Tunze pump is switched off, as the Harpoon weed catches too much of the current.  I’ve had to remove some seaweeds as there is a brown algae that is slowly but surely covering them (remarkably it does not grow at all on the glass). I will do some water changes, but I do not expect this to help too much, and it definitely is not a permanent solution. I need to dunk a bag of Rowaphos (and activated carbon) in the filter compartment, I had forgotten about that actually….I am also thinking of trying out the ‘wodka’ method, more about that later…

aquarium update 1

With the aquarium back on track, it is time for some more tank-related posts. I released one of the two Corkwing wrasse I caught, as the slightly bigger one was quite bullish. The Corkwing is very beautiful, although it has the nervous habit of chasing its reflection in the glass sometimes. I caught two small (4 cm) Fifteen-spined sticklebacks Spinachia spinachia as well that I wanted to observe. One disappeared without a trace and the other I did not see feeding on frozen artemia so I released it again. Most if the time these fish were facing the seaweed, probably to pick off any tiny crustacean that would appear. IM_0554

IMG_0660Very difficult to photograph these restless fish with a phone! I am not attempting to decorate the tank with rocks etc just yet, as I first want to experiment with trying to keep different kinds of seaweeds alive (I hope to have more luck now I have the LEDs and chiller). I plucked some of the seaweeds but for some I chiseled off small pieces of the bedrock they are attached to. (I might try to use superglue to attach small pieces of rocks to a rack, similar to frags in reef tanks.) I have a whole bunch of seaweed species, but it seems that the more I learn about them the less I know….False Eyelash weed or Beautiful Eyelash weed? Red rags or Starry liver weed? Irish moss or Grape pip weed? Of course I also collected a small Bushy rainbow wrack (see the first picture). It is very fuzzy, partly due to epiphytes, and hardly iridescent but it hasn’t seemed to die on me just yet. (Note that as this is a perennial, slow growing and usually not abundant species which harbours a lot of other life on it too, it is important to pick as little as possible.)IMG_0590

the aquarium: an unveiling of the wonders of the deep sea

I just received an interesting facsimile ordered from Amazon: ‘The Aquarium: an Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea’ by Philip Henry Gosse, first published in 1854. In it, Gosse describes his rock pooling and dredging trips around the Devonshire coast and his experiences with keeping animals and seaweeds in his marine aquarium. I actually do not know of any other book on temperate marine aquariums, so although it is a century-and-a-half old, it might still be the most current source available (not counting writings on the internet of course). It’s a very interesting read; in the early Victorian era, scientists had only just began to realize that plants and seaweeds produced oxygen for instance.


Of course I first looked up his description of my favourite, the Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia. He was able to have this seaweed survive ‘for some time’ in the aquarium, tying branches of dredged up individuals to pieces of rock. He describes how submerged ‘their pale olive branches become invested with a most brilliant flush of iridescent light hue varying in intensity according to the play of light that falls upon it’, but that this remarkable gorgeousness of colour is not visible out of water (although it kind of is):

“Thus, it may be compared to some Christians, who are dull and profitless in prosperity, but whose graces shine out gloriously when they are plunged into the deep floods of affliction.”

They sure don’t write like that anymore! Gosse’s aquarium was small (2*1.5*1.5 feet), with glass plates set in grooves in a slate bottom and corners of birch-wood. He used ‘white-lead putty’ to fasten the glass, which meant that when he first started up his aquarium, everything died within the first day (except for the mullet fry and beadlet anemones). Lucklily, after proper rinsing, lead poisoning could be prevented in the remainign attempts. Of course he had no pump, filter, chiller or lighting. He however had deviced a means to ‘purify’ the water: a ‘drip-glass’ hung above the aquarium, dripping down two or three gallons a day thus aerating the water. All in all his experiences of which organisms do well in the aquarium and which do not, descriptions of rock pooling adventures and animal behaviour and even musings on the spiritual use of natural history make for a very interesting read.

tropical seaweed aquariums

The focus of the blog has recently been on rock pooling a lot more than on my aquarium, as unfortunately it has been in a state of limbo for months now. I received my new LED retrofit kit a while back, but have been caught in the unholy triangle of being busy, hopelessly technically unsavvy and prone to procrastinate. Although the LED kit was solderless (easy), the dimmer to go with it was not (not very easy). I asked my local sparky but he managed to only make it halfway through the installation and I am now waiting for someone else to drop by to help out. I am really curious what the LEDs will look like and desperate to go from the current unlit disgrace in the living room to a nice tank again (especially now I have a chiller as well).

So in the mean time this post about tropical seaweed aquariums I found whilst trawling the internet. Although there are few aquarium blogs, there are many aquarium diaries on forums. Just a couple of those are devoted to seaweed aquariums (for examples see here and here). The first one I found on this thread (not much information on species) is a stunning looking tank mixing corals and seaweeds:

tropseawead1 I found a similarly impressive tank on the nano-reef forum, which has a special section on macroalgae, eelgrass and mangroves:IMG_3874Absolutely beautiful seaweeds (follow the link to see many more pictures and a species list). Apparently, there are several aquarium retailers that sell tropical seaweeds; the ones in this aquarium came from LA Reefs and Gulf Coast Ecosystems, which have large collections of many very interesting species. (See for an amazing, unidentified, iridescent seaweed this picture and this video.) Gulf Coast Ecosystems has an especially large collection of seaweeds from Florida with good descriptions of their requirements, see for example this page on the very distinct green alga Acetabularia. It even has a short guide on how to keep seaweeds in the aquarium. After some more browsing, including on the marine plants and macroalgae forum at Reef Central, I found that there were actually quite some suppliers of tropical species, for instance reefs2go, aquacon and reefcleaners. Another stunning tank:

reefThis one is a bit more conventional with many corals and seaweed species that are quite often encountered in ‘normal’ reef tanks such as Caulerpa. Caulerpa species can actually turn into a nuisance as they can grow very fast. Moreover, it can enter the sexual part of its lifecycle causing cloudy water (lots of threads are dedicated to these problems). This aquarium also features a little mangrove seedling, which is often used in sumps (as are green seaweeds such as Caulerpa and Chaetomorpha) to remove nutrients from the water. Looking at these pictures I am almost tempted to go for a tropical aquarium, as it allows both corals and seaweeds. However, I’ll stick to my native beasties that I can collect (and put back) myself, which is half the fun. Perhaps I’ll post another time about eelgrass aquariums. I have seen a bunch of tropical examples but it would in theory be possible to have a cold water seagrass aquarium as well. Hopefully my LEDs will soon be fixed so I can post about my own aquarium instead though.

Seaweeds in the aquarium part III

A final post summarizing my experiences with seaweeds and writing this, I have regained my enthusiasm for trying to grow seaweeds in my aquarium. My New Years Resolution will be to get a proper marine planted tank going again! (The fact that the aquarium, currently devoid of seaweeds, looks less than great at the moment has made the decision to change it around easier as well…)

5. Some seaweeds establish naturally in the aquarium

I mentioned in the first seaweed post that it can be hard to ‘plant’ seaweeds in the aquarium but sometimes they just settle by themselves. One of my favourites, Chrysymenia wrightii (consistently misidentified as Dudresnay’s whorled weed throughout this blog…) started growing spontaneously from a rock:


This is currently happening with bright green Sea lettuce Ulva and what is probably Devil’s tongue weed Grateloupia turuturu. The outlet grid of the Tunze nanostream is a good place for seaweeds to settle it seems; I have currently a little pluck of Flax brick weed Chaetomorpha linum growing and had a couple of other species there in the past too. Spontaneous growth is of course the best way to get a seaweed aquarium going.

6. A list of Seaweed species I had in my aquarium

Perhaps of interest to a handful of people… I have tried to list all seaweeds I managed to identify and remember, and whether they did well (YES) or not (NO) in my unchilled aquarium (lighting spectrum and intensity used varied somewhat over time). Why some species did not do well I have no idea (see previous post); in some cases, seaweeds were eaten. I have not tried larger species such as Kelp as my aquarium is not that big.


Above: Green (Velvet horn), Brown (Wireweed) and Red (Harpoon Weed) seaweeds in the aquarium.

Red Seaweeds:

Solier’s red Stringweed Soliera chordalis – YES

Chrysymenia wrightii (no common name) – YES

Dulse Palmaria palmata – NO (eaten)

Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata – NO

Common coral weed Corallina officinalis – NO

False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata – NO

Dumont’s tubular weed Dumontia cortorta – NO

Clawed fork weed Furcellaria lumbricalis– NO

Red grape weed Gastroclonium ovatum – NO

Bunny ears Lomentaria armentata – NO

Devil’s tongue weed Grateloupia turuturu – YES

Iridescent drachiella Drachiella spectabilis – NO

A tangle of different Red Seaweeds:


Brown seaweeds:

Estuary wrack Fucus ceranoides – YES

Serrated wrack Fucus serratus – YES

Bushy berry wrack Cystoseira baccata – NO

Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia – NO (still my holy grail)

Wireweed Sargassum muticum – YES (this proved to be the easiest one of all to keep)


Green Seaweeds:

Common green branched weed Cladophora rupestris – NO

Flax brick weed Chaetomorpha linum – YES

Sea lettuce Ulva (lactuca) – YES

Velvet horn Codium tomentosum – YES

So 9 out of 21 species did OK in my aquarium which is actually not too bad (although I have forgotten a number of species that did not do well). Unsurprisingly, the invasive species were easiest to keep (5 YES in 16 natives, 4 YES in 5 non-natives; the difference is not statistically significant though).

Finally, I just wanted to mention that I have been updating the ‘links’ page recently. Regular commenter Marius has recently started a great blog about his new native marine aquarium with organisms collected at the west coast of Ireland: Irish Rockpool Aquarium Adventures, go check it out. A very nice rock pooling blog also is The Salty Scavenger which features loads of seaweed pictures. From now on, I will also register my rock pooling finds online here; with lots of volunteers doing that a great resource will be created that can be used for protecting marine habitats which of course is very important! I have also added a bunch of really useful links to facebook pages, for instance the ‘Coldwater Marine Aquarium Owners‘ group page.