View Full Version : Bruce Carlson


wildemon
01-19-2005, 9:35 AM
11 Jan 2005
Atlanta Reef Club guest speaker:
Dr. Bruce Carlson

We are lucky to have Dr. Carlson in Atlanta to oversee the reef habitats being created at the GA Aquarium. Piedmont Hospital Physicians Alan Sunshine and Steve Shindell arranged for the conference room and Steve announced his gift of Falcon playoff tickets for a raffle benefiting Tsunami relief efforts. Even the CEO at Piedmont has a 55 gallon Marine tank. Dinner afterwards was at the Brio Italian restaurant in Buckhead.

Dr. Carlson has a PhD from Hawaii, has a dump-bucket surge device and 3 species of fish named in his honor, and apparently has not written a book [yet], but has published articles in the scientific journals. The GA Aquarium lured him to Atlanta 3 years ago and has kept him very busy with very little time. When it opens late in 2005, he will have deserved a vacation to the Pacific Ocean Reefs he clearly loves so much. The Wakikki Aquarium under his supervision made many advances in simply keeping corals alive on display, to breeding success with ornamental fish, watching the global changes leading to Coral Bleaching, and sharing so much knowledge with the scientific and hobbyist cultures.

He begins with DVD footage of the reefs he has filmed since the late 1960's. He mentions that using a rebreather, his Hawaiian friend Richard can dive to depths of 400 ft and using decompression on the fish with a hypodermic needle, is able to retrieve new species regularly. The Hawaiian ornamental fish industry is restricted out of many preserves but since they do use monofilament nets, their fish are first class survivors in captivity.

Cephlapods are of interest because they are so difficult to maintain and fascinating to study. One lab in Galveston Texas has been able to raise the young of Squid. The Squid has an epidermis so sensitive it is only a single cell thick and is easily abraded. They consume up to 20 live fish every day, all 24 hours of the day. After all the nurturing effort, they only live 6-8 months.

In 1977 Bruce Carlson had Cuttlefish displayed and mated in an aquarium for the first time. They lay transparent eggs with a 30 day development period and the adults live 2 years. The "cuttlebone" spine is buoyant with air [equivalent to the swim bladder] and underfed cuttlefish will float high in the water. The Japanese Flamboyant Cuttlefish is about 3" in length with beautiful varied colours.

The Chambered Nautilus lives 600-1000 ft down so when capturing these animals in 1995 at Fiji and Palau, net traps were baited and lowered. The Nautilus is a rather dumb [no brain] and primitive cephlapod. This animal has the familiar swirl of an external shell and is neutrally buoyant. They like it dark and colder than 68 F. They probably live 6-8 years but actual study is not practical at their preferred depth. It took 12 years and an overlooked hatchery tank to discover the eggs take 12 months to mature. An adult lays a couple of eggs each month which slowly hatch as the shell breaks open the capsule. When finally free, they are the size of a walnut and feed on fish immediately. By using an oxygen isotope analysis of the shell correlated to the water temperature they have derived the depth of natural birth.

Karen Britain at Wakikki has been successful in breeding and raising angelfish. These plankton feeding fish tend to be generalists and can adapt to aquarium conditions. She used an 8 ft circular tank, well stocked with rotifers and copepods, to keep the fry healthy. The fry at 32 days were only 1mm long. The pygmy/dwarf angelfish Centropyge are felt to require far too small a food particle to be raised without ocean plankton. Bruce Carlson mentioned having several beautiful angels from Johnston Island which died in captivity just a little too soon for Karen to try breeding. Regrettably, that location is now contaminated with nuclear testing plutonium and can not be visited. Many species of tropical fish are very local and limited in range.

Palau has coves cut in the reefs where jellyfish live isolated from the rest of the ocean. This dead calm shallow lake is ideal for the fragile jelly [which is not a fish] and they are collected and shipped in special plastic bags without air. This plastic can respire through the membrane without the water splashing and causing injury. Jellies start out as larvae which settle out as polyps on the shallow ocean bottom. They bud and float free as adults. Their lifespan is usually only 6 months.

In 1978, Bruce Carlson had the first coral exhibit and in 1988 had the first Acropora colonies at Wakikki. A Blue Acropora Youngii from the Solomon Islands was the first coral to spawn. His coral farm was a large outdoors tank under the natural Hawaiian sun utilizing the siphon surge tank to replicate ocean currents. When collecting frags off the reef he would wrap in strips of polyethylene plastic and then seal in Tupperware. If shipping, it was damp only [no water] with Oxygen added.

Later an indoor exhibit was built using a huge amount of live rock, industrial fiberglass grating and I-beams, cable ties, epoxy paste, and two 250 gallon surge devices on the roof. It has a 3" aragonite gravel substrate, natural sunlight and Metal Halide lamps. He moved a giant clam, acquired in 1982, from the original tank to the new location using four people to lift it's 167 lb weight. Twenty years is a long time for anyone's animal in captivity!

The soft coral Dendronepthya is gorgeous but unsuccessful in captivity. Dr. Carlson has tried circular tanks with tidal flow and hung the soft coral upside down from PVC pipe racks. Feeding response was limited to shrimp juice with no interest in phytoplankton. At best they live 6 months and shrink and die.

A boat anchor can leave total destruction behind on a coral reef and looks like a desert of bare rocks. By using portland cement squeezed from baggies like a pastry chef and lots of frags, an attempt at repopulation was performed but considered impractical. It took a very large effort and many hours to seed a small patch. The best solution is to ensure water conditions are right and then let the ocean reseed the vacancy.

1998 and 2000 were major Bleaching events. Coral colonies disappeared and like a forest fire, entire archipelagos disappeared. The only survivors were in a major water flow which helped with the over 90 F. too hot water. Central Fiji was missed in 1998, but surrendered in 2000. Fortunately for those that study reefs, Dr. Carlson was able to fly out overnight during the second event and record the snow white corals during that brief moment they expelled all their zooxanthelae and their death. Hard and soft corals, table corals, were all gone. The actually coral tissue is transparent with hints of pink and purple and quite remarkable closeup, but within days, algae had taken over. Below 60 ft there were some survivors but for the fish that depend on the reef for food and sanctuary, they passed away as well. Off shore reefs in pristine water are recovering slowly after 6 years, but turbid near shore reefs are very slow coming back. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] tracks surface temperature at night but no one has a solution to these warming events.

The future generation of aquarium hobbyists will need to focus on breeding to sustain the hobby. Every night, on the reef at dusk as most people settle down to dinner, the fish on the reef are breeding. They are obviously willing to help us in making captive raised fish the normal aquarium occupants.

William Fisher [scribe]