Oyster Reef Aquarium Project

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Oyster Reef Aquarium Project

Postby Chasmodes » Tue Oct 17, 2017 8:59 am

Concept:
One of my dreams was to duplicate the oyster reef environment of the Chesapeake Bay as best I can without predation on my featured fish. I had a tank and sump built for this a several years back, and almost finished a stand but personal troubles in my life have caused me some delay. The tank is a 101 gallon cube (36"X36"X18"), and the sump/refugium is 36"X18"X17". The tank and sump will have live sand from the Chesapeake Bay. I purchased an LED fixture that duplicates lunar cycles, daylight and nighttime lighting transitions and seasonal variances in an attempt to induce spawning behavior.

Right now, this will be a fish only tank until the tank is established, then I might add an oyster or two, or perhaps mussels, tunicates, sponges, gorgonians etc. although I realize that I'd have to find some way to supplement feeding. The sump will contain macro algae found in the Bay. I also plan to have macros in the display tank.

Animals will be collected from the Bay that live side by side in this environment.

The stocking list is as follows:
Several striped blennies, Chasmodes bosquianus, that will be the feature fish of this tank
Feather blenny, Hysoblennius hentzi, if I'm lucky enough to catch any
Naked goby, Gobiosoma bosc
Skilletfish, Gobiesox strumosus
Hogchoker
Killifish or Sheepshead minnows
Northern pipefish (will live in the fuge but not until the tank is established)

Ghost shrimp, mud crabs, hermit crabs, snails, etc. for clean up crew that live in the Bay, both in the tank and sump, and just about any critter that comes in on the rocks and shells (fish will not be introduced for 6 weeks after the tank cycles).

I may try my luck at some of the other species of fish too eventually, maybe even a spotfin butterfly fish if I'm lucky. Eventually, I'll bring the tank to nearly full salt, but it will be on the saltier side of brackish to start

Biological Filtration:
Live sand and the oyster cultch structure that I built.

Ecological Simulation:
The Chesapeake bay is brackish and the salinity varies based on rainfall and runoff, but these fish have bred in captivity with a specific of 1.015 or so. Temperatures range from winter cold to brutally warm in the shallows of the bay, yet all of these fish thrive in this environment. Chasmodes bosquianus and the other fish are also found in Florida waters, so I don't think that temperature is an issue. Water parameters in the Chesapeake are constanty changing too, making it tough for sensitive species to thrive there. These fish live all year long with temperatures fluctuating from 40's to even upper 80's and salinity ranging from near fresh water to near ocean salinity in the Bay. Even the invertebrate species found in this biotope have to endure severe fluctuations.

Lighting:
I wanted an LED fixture that will grow macroalgae in the display. At one point, I was looking at the AquaticLife Edge, but went ahead and splurged, and purchased an EcoTech Marine Radion XR30w G4 Pro LED light fixture. My goal is to simulate as best as possible moonlight phases and seasonal lighting photo periods to try and induce spawning behavior, so I'm looking for a light that could do that automatically, and this one fits the bill. Plus, it should be a good light for growing macros. If I ever set up a reef tank, then I could also swap this light out for that purpose and buy a cheaper fixture for this set up.

Water Quality:
The sump will be used to cultivate macro algae for nutrient export along with my version of live rock. Eventually, I will bring this tank to near full seawater specific gravity. In that event, I think that most of the invertebrates will be hydroids, hardy anemones, tunicates, oysters, barnacles and mussels, and other filter feeders, but the early stages of the tank probably won't have any of those. Eventually I may use supplemental planktonic feed once the filter feeders are introduced. These inverts don't need as much light. In addition, the bay waters are pretty much mostly murky and filled with nutrients (both natural and, unfortunately, man introduced). Of course, frequent testing and water changes will be in my regimen to make sure that things go well. My main concern isn't so much the inverts here, but getting these fish to breed and thrive. If the biotope works out and I can keep all of these critters successfully, then so much the better Also, my other concerns include making sure that the life in the tank benefits from the amounts of nutrients at any given time (and I will have to chart and monitor what levels are best), at the same time having water clarity good enough to study the inhabitants. Top off water will come via using an RO/DI unit.

Current:
Another thing that I'd like to simulate is the tide and water movements, not lowering the water but currents. I'm purchased a Maxspect Gyre. Not only will this help keep the critters feeling at home, frequent current and no dead zones in the tank should help with algae control. There are plenty of algae eating snails and probably hermit crabs too in the bay. I can keep them well stocked in my tank. They should be easy to collect. Hopefully, the fish will leave them alone.

Other issues:
Another issue surrounds the collection of oysters. In Maryland, I have to be careful to collect in designated areas. Even though they aren't for consumption, I need to make sure that I'm compliant with local laws which change frequently. Another option would be to buy some fresh oysters directly from a waterman, right off the boat. It will cost me some money, but at least I'd know that I'm legal.

I think that in this system there may not be a wrong way to do it simply because these animals are so hardy. That said, I'd like to find a successful system and give these animals optimal conditions... This system won't have the color and beauty of a reef, but it will have it's own appeal. Actually, the male striped blenny sports some interesting color during spawning! If that happens then I'll know I'm on the right track.

The creation of this biotope is a goal, but having an accurate and complete one might be out of the question. The blennies are the feature fish, so those will be my main concern, and that is creating a good breeding habitat with the simulation of an accurate biotope.

I have no idea what problems I will encounter. Algae blooms are a primary concern, also perhaps parasitism... I've been collecting animals and have them in "holding tanks" that will serve as my QT mechanism for now.

Here are some pics of my build so far:

Tank:
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Stand (unfinished):
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Sump:
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Next up, the aquascaping project...building an artificial oyster reef.
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Re: Oyster Reef Aquarium Project

Postby gminor » Tue Oct 17, 2017 9:35 am

Sounds like you have intimate knowledge of Chesapeake Bay biology. I also noticed your references to Chasmodes blennies and guessing since that's your forum handle, the bay has been a big part of your life?

Very cool project. Sounds like lots to do but will be more and more rewarding as it comes along. Looks like you have some really nice hardware to get started too. Thanks for sharing!
Glenn
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Re: Oyster Reef Aquarium Project

Postby Chasmodes » Tue Oct 17, 2017 9:42 am

The Oyster Reef Build

The first step was to obtain oyster shells. To get a realistic effect, I needed to find matching halves. I was able to get some oyster shells from restaurants. Some restaurants just show you their pile in the back and let you take them. Others recycle and don't give them away. I'd drive by one, stop and ask. I figured the worst they could say was no. But, all it takes is one or two with a good supply, and you're set.

I also purchased some oysters from the grocery store and shucked them myself. I got matches, but after a while, be prepared because they stink. Just keep the matched together and let them dry out. Make sure you keep these separate from the restaurant shells so you don't mix them up.

Matching the oyster halves takes time. But, you can take a systematic approach, and if you are patient, can probably match about 50% of the oyster shells. Here were my steps:

Separate the oyster shells by right (upper) and left (lower) halves. Two buckets should be a good way to start. Put the left halves in one bucket, and the right halves in the other. This is a tedious process, but can be done while watching TV, as long as your family members don't mind the noise and distraction. Oyster shells can be pretty dusty and dirty, not good for living room furniture . I made sure to cover the furniture and sweep up after every work session on the reef.

In Paul S. Galtsoff's 1964 publication (The American oyster, Crassostrea virginica), he observed the following, "In C. virginica the left valve is almost always thicker and heavier than the right one. When oysters of this species are dumped from the deck of a boat and fall through water they come to rest on their left valves."

The left/lower shells most of the time tend to curve to the right when looking at the open side, while the right/upper shell curves to the left when viewing it open. But wait a minute...To make things more confusing, oysters don't always follow their own morphology rules. There are times when they don't curve at all, or now and then, you find some that curve the wrong way!

So, as I matched them up, I used big rubber bands to keep them together until I went back and glued them later.

Matching them up and keeping them together until time to glue:
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After going through a ton of shells, I matched up 37 oysters. I found a few later on too, not sure how I missed them. I added another 30 oysters that were perfect matches that I bought from Wegman's. I'm not going to show pictures of the shucked ones or that process...they're still a bit stinky

So the next steps are pretty basic, wet the halves and glue them together with Gorilla Glue. Now, this is the first time that I've used Gorilla Glue, and I've read and heard about how it expands, and let me tell you that even if you clamp it, it will expand, so use sparingly. I later learned that it's great for filling gaps, but the trick is to keep it from moving from that gap while it's wet.
Image
Image
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Re: Oyster Reef Aquarium Project

Postby Chasmodes » Tue Oct 17, 2017 9:44 am

gminor wrote:Sounds like you have intimate knowledge of Chesapeake Bay biology. I also noticed your references to Chasmodes blennies and guessing since that's your forum handle, the bay has been a big part of your life?

Very cool project. Sounds like lots to do but will be more and more rewarding as it comes along. Looks like you have some really nice hardware to get started too. Thanks for sharing!


Thanks Glenn! Yep, exactly. I fell in love with these fish when I was in college many moons ago. One of the researchers there was studying them. I caught a feather blenny and added it to my tank back then, and was hooked ever since.
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Re: Oyster Reef Aquarium Project

Postby Chasmodes » Tue Oct 17, 2017 9:52 am

Continuing on constructing the reef:

After you glue up a bunch of matched shells, use those rubber bands to bind them together. Gorilla Glue will stick a little bit on the rubber bands, but it usually comes right off. Here are a bunch of them bound, and then ready to make a cultch:
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After gluing the oysters together, the next step is to create cultches (clusters of oysters) and arrange them into a realistic reef. Here is a cultch:
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And here is the inspiration pic of my reef. The picture below is from another oyster restoration site and is the one that inspired my aquascaping quite a bit, how the oysters grow in a shallow environment: https://www.naplesgov.com/naturalresources/page/oyster-reefs It doesn't matter that it's in Naples, Florida because they're the same species of oyster, and the natural reefs along the bay grow in much the same way, a shallow water environment. I've studied this quite a bit since I began this project, and have learned quite a bit about oysters, oyster reefs, and the wide variety of marine and/or estuarine flora and fauna. The only difference between oyster reefs in Florida vs. the Bay is that they're in deeper water in the bay. Why? To avoid freezing and ice damage.
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Starting a cultch, gluing matched sets of shells together...I love when there are barnacles and remnants of other invertebrates on these shells, gives it a realistic look:
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Last edited by Chasmodes on Tue Oct 17, 2017 10:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Oyster Reef Aquarium Project

Postby Chasmodes » Tue Oct 17, 2017 10:10 am

But that isn't all. This is only the beginning. What about the little caves and crevices for the fish? The oyster reef as a reef will provide plenty of hiding places for all critters. But, if you want the fish to breed, they have preferences for their amorous activities. They breed in dead or broken oyster shells, as do some of the other species of oyster reefs.

So, back to matching oyster shells again. This time, I matched what I called "near matches" since I wouldn't be gluing them totally together. Basically, i wanted them to look like they'd match if they weren't together, but they didn't have to be exact. So, another night or two of clanking oyster shells to make my family annoyed was in order. The next step was to glue them together and create spawning habitat.

As it turns out, there was a study in 1982 bu Roy E. Crabtree and Douglas P. Middaugh, titled, "Oyster Shell Size and the Selection of Spawning Sites by Chasmodes bosquianus, Hypleurochilus geminatus, Hypsoblennius ionthas (Pisces, Blenniidae) and Gobiosoma bosci (Pisces, Gobiidae) in Two South Carolina Estuaries,", and in that study, they found that the widest preferred oyster shell gap that they found with eggs that the striped blenny preferred for the spawn was 11.9 mm. And, as it turns out, that is the same width as the end of the clothes pins that we had, and they were the perfect form for creating matched spawning oyster caves. Feather blennies also spawn in similar sized oyster shell gaps, so if I catch them, these would be just fine for their exploits.

For the naked gobies, the gap was 7.1 mm, about the measurement of the end of the plastic shims from Home Depot. And the clingfish will spawn in just about anything that they can defend from the others.

Gluing near matched halves together to make fish breeding habitat, using clothes pins as gap forms:
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But, would the Gorilla Glue hold? Yes, it did:
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So, over the course of a few days, I drilled holes in oyster shells (man, they are tough), using zip ties, and Gorilla glue to make cultches. I used PVC pipe as kind of a skeleton to zip tie them together. Ultimately, once a core skeleton

Using clamps, zip ties, and rubber bands to form cultches:
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Here you can see the PVC pipe spine:
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The tedious part is waiting for the glue to dry and hold, so you can keep building. I imagine that there are faster ways of doing it, but I'm kind of learned as I went, almost like building the reef as if oysters are doing it...and it takes time. Plus, I wanted it to look perfect, like the picture above on that mangrove oyster reef.

By the way, once Gorilla Glue cures, it's inert and harmless in the tank. The glue is really strong, and the shells break before the glue gives way.
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Re: Oyster Reef Aquarium Project

Postby Chasmodes » Tue Oct 17, 2017 10:26 am

I made stands for the cultches initially that I evenutally didn't use out of cpvc pipe. The plan was to embed them in concrete DIY reef rock. I laid them out on the side of my stand to finish gluing the oysters on, so I could get a sense of how it will look in the tank, since the plywood is the same dimension as the base of the tank. The tank is 18" tall, so the water level might be a half inch or inch below that. The oyster cultches should reach the top of the water level at least when finished and installed.

You get an idea of what the scape might look like at this point in the pic below. The front of the tank is to the right. I just kept filling in the gaps with matched oyster shells. When I needed more matched shells, I went out and got them from other restaurants and repeated the process. One of the issues with Gorilla glue is that it runs, so I will use my longnose pliers and any other tools that I can to clean excess glue off the oysters. In some places, I don't care if it's there, and maybe I don't need to do anything because eventually, algae and stuff will grow over it. It actually looks almost like a tunicate or a sponge from a distance.
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After that pic above, I went out and obtained more oysters. I spent quite a number of days out on the porch (my wife forbade me from doing it in the living room) matching oyster shells and rubber banding them together. After that, I took them downstairs and glued them together. I wanted to keep the sediment on the shells there, but for the glue to work, I had to clean off the surfaces that accept the glue. Here is a bucket full of matched and glued oyster shells:
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I tried to glue 10 oysters a day to the reef. While doing that, I was able to complete theaquascaping in a few weeks. I probably had at least 100-150 oysters that were ready to add to the reef at this point.
Each oyster once glued takes about 2 hours for the glue to set, and about five more before it is really sturdy. The hard part is positioning them the way that you want while also having a realistic fit to the reef. So it takes a fair amount of time. I'm not just slapping them together. My dream is to have this as realistic as possible once done.

Will the fish really care? Probably not. But, I figured they'd feel right at home. Where it really matters is when I look into this tank, I see my cut of the Chesapeake Bay.

Front View overhead:
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Front view:
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From the left front:
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Re: Oyster Reef Aquarium Project

Postby Chasmodes » Tue Oct 17, 2017 10:28 am

Here's the almost completed reef...

Front, top view:
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Front view:
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From the left front, above:
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From the right front, above:
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Here's a video showing the almost completed oyster reef. Imagine the tape measure being the height of the tank, while the stand dimensions, 3'x3', are the tank walls.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0d8HfyIGMg
Last edited by Chasmodes on Tue Oct 17, 2017 10:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Oyster Reef Aquarium Project

Postby Chasmodes » Tue Oct 17, 2017 10:46 am

I finished the oyster structures about 9 months ago. I haven't worked on them since. However, I set up two tanks and decided to get the cycling process done early. I added some of the oyster cultch structures to the tanks along with play sand from HD, then cycled both tanks. These are my "holding" tanks for fish and critters that I've collected. They've been up and running for several months. All of the fish, the oyster structures, shells and sand will wind up in my main tank above, to aid in cycling of that tank.

I still need to finish the stand, and that is my main hold up right now. I also need to have new electrical lines installed in my basement for the sump, and in the rec-room for the display tank. At the very least, I need to have the line in the basement done.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying these fish. The two 20g tanks are like mini version of the system that I've planned. I'm really pleased with the oyster cultches. They've held up great and the fish love them. I've also collected a couple dozen complete dead oyster shells that simply fit in the gaps of my structure well. These add more hiding spots for blennies. The way that I figure, the more hiding spots, the less stress and competition for them and that will lead to healthier fish.

I am going to bring the salinity down in these tanks this weekend as a hyposalinity treatment. The fish are scratching a lot, and I don't want to have a saltwater ich infection. Since these fish can tolerate a low enough salinity, I'm confident that the hyposalinity treatment will work. My only worry is that the macro algae might die off. I guess I can always go get more.

Here is an FTS of the 20g long that contains juvenile and sub adult blennies, gobies, skilletfish and killifish. In addition, there are grass shrimp and mud crabs living in this tank. I really like the rockscape of this tank:
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This is the 20g high. It contains adult fish of the same species above, plus, more macro algae. I am going to add more oyster cultches if they fit on the left side of the tank. There is some competition for hiding spots that may be stressing some of the fish, and I think that adding more hidey holes will eliminate that stress.
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Here are some cool videos of the fish. You can see from their behavior why I love these tanks so much.
20g long:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBe7XgwgZ-M
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dc_YRaTyF0s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWN32SSwcAw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASgWBiNHzb4&t=7s

20g high... great feeding time vids. The adults are much more active and out.

Feeding time:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVJM6R5Y0Yk&t=21s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBYJGaUc_Q0&t=10s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iz9iLiCqUNE&t=31s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTOJrQa9uRM&t=32s

I'll post future updates on this build and news of the critters. I'll also post more about my livestock collection techniques and experiences. In the meantime, there are more videos on my YT channel if you're interested.

Hope y'all like this project!
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Re: Oyster Reef Aquarium Project

Postby Chasmodes » Tue Oct 17, 2017 12:31 pm

Quick update:

Both tanks seem to have an increase in itching/scratching behavior. I don't see any visible parasites, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. It's hard to get a good look at them anyway because they move around so much. In fact, I'd say that there likely have been parasites in these tanks all along. All of the fish have scratched a little since the beginning. It's just more frequent now. So, what to do.

My assumption is that the culprit is Cryptocaryon irritans simply because freshwater ich doesn't seem to tolerate any salinity. From what I've read, C. irritans doesn't care for freshwater, so my initial plan is to reduce the salinity and perform a long term hyposalinity treatment.

Currently, the sg is 1.016. I plan to reduce it to about 1.009 and keep it that way for several weeks for each tank. I'd like to have these fish healthy by the time I get the big tank set up.

These fish are very hardy, so I don't anticipate any problems. The shrimp should be OK, as they are commonly caught at a lesser salinity than what I'm doing. My guess is that the mud crabs will be OK too, but I'm not 100% sure. I doubt the Ulva will make it through the process, but we will see.
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