Media Review: Book of Coral Propagation: Reef Gardening for Aquarists; Aquarium Plants: The Practical Guide by Pablo Tepoot

by | Nov 15, 2002 | 0 comments

I have two aquarium books on very different topics for this issue.

To introduce the first, a book by Anthony Calfo on coral propagation techniques, I’ll open a recent communication from the U. S. Coral Reef Task Force. The Task Force recently met in Puerto Rico, on October 2-3. It substantiated previous reports that the U.S. is the number one consumer of live coral and marine fishes for the aquarium trade and of coral skeletons and precious corals for curios and jewelry. It stated:

“International trade continues to drive over-exploitation and destructive fishing practices and that more reefs and species are threatened by these activities, as reported by recent findings of the World Resources Institute and Reef Check.

The international aquarium trade continues to increase by 10-30% annually with the trade in live corals increasing 400% and the trade in live reef rock increasing 1700% since 1988.

The U.S. continues to import 60 to 80% of the live coral, over 50% of the curio coral, and 95% of the live reef rock and reef substrate in international trade each year.

Over 400 coral reef species have been identified as inappropriate species for the aquarium trade, such as those that do not survive well in aquaria or are highly poisonous.

International trade in coral and coral reef animals continues to be largely unregulated, unreported, and illegal.”

The Task Force concluded, “American consumption of coral reef products are inadvertently contributing to the worldwide decline and degradation of reefs” and although they “applaud” the marine aquarium industry for its certification efforts, there is a need for “key authorities” to close gaps in enforcement of CITES and strengthen enforcement.

You can find a full summary of the meeting and resolutions at the Task Force web site, ; and the particulars of the report on trade at

Clearly increased regulaion is in the offing and U.S. aquarists have a responsibility to be in the forefront of propagating the specimens we already have so we can minimize new collection from wild reefs. The following book may help.

Book of Coral Propagation: Reef Gardening for Aquarists By Anthony Calfo


(Reading Trees Publishing. BOCPI, PO Box 446, Monroeville, PA 15146. Softcover, $38.95, ISBN 0-9716371-0-5)

This spiral bound volume contains 450 text-dense pages, illustrated with a few black and white line drawings and a color section with six pages of small photographs. There is a bibliography, a glossary, a list of suppliers and an index.

Anthony Calfo, who spoke on techniques of coral propagation at MACNA 2002, is not a man of few words. The title of his volume is an example of his generous use of language. Starting from the top of the cover, we see “Book of Coral Propagation,” “Volume One, Version 1.0,” then “Reef Gardening for Aquarists,” and finally “A Concise Guide to the Successful Care and Culture of Coral Reef Invertebrates.” In some sense then, the major title emphasizing propagation is a bit misleading (as is the term “concise”) – the first three quarters of the book primarily covers general issues of marine aquarium operation and equipment along with information on innovations the author has explored, followed by a chapter on coral groups and tridacnids. There is, however, a definite bias throughout the book toward factors involved in setting up a mariculture system for propagation, with plans provided for coral farm greenhouse construction and operation (based on the author’s own experience operating
such a greenhouse in Pittsburgh, PA), and sections on shipping and handling specimens. The specific sections on propagation techniques comprise the last 100 pages.

The book proper opens with introductory material and the admonition, in the face of increasingly restrictive, and in my opinion, necessary legislation, “one of our highest goals should be the establishment of a self-sustaining hobby,” a sentiment that many of us share. He also states that he tries to write in a style he considers “a humorous and less scientific approach” that is “quirky and bizarre” – and he often does.

Calfo’s perspective is interesting and timely. He starts with what he calls the “multi-level gradient system,” in which a refugium drains into the main display tank, which in turn drains into a lower level containing a hidden sump in back and a visible “lagoon” area in front, from which the water is pumped back to the refugium. He shows a schematic drawing for those who might want to try this design and discusses intriguing possibilities for the lagoon area, including mangrove cultivation and the creation of a “tidal pool” with a simple surge device. (The notion of creating mini-zones in an aquarium system which attempt to mimic reef zones was one of the few new ideas that I saw arise at this year’s MACNA. If memory serves me, Martin Moe presented a somewhat parallel idea for a complex microreef.) Calfo even discusses the creation of Aiptasia “scrubbers” as mechanical filters for food particles and areas in which to train butterfly fish to become “reef safe” glass anemone
controllers! There’s quirky and bizarre for you. This first quarter of the book concludes with important information and specific details for those interested in setting up a coral greenhouse in temperate climate zones.

The next section of the book reviews material on systems and hardware, including aquascaping, basic equipment for filtration, temperature control, lighting and water movement, as well as water quality, feeding and nutrition. The text is detailed and up to date.

Next, Calfo looks at coral groups and tridacnid clams as specimens both for display and possible propagation. This middle section of the book contains the six pages of color photographs. Most of the husbandry information is available from other sources and there are certainly far better identification photographs available, but the emphasis here is on reproduction and propagation, with a number of useful tips.

The section on propagation techniques starts with a discussion of the differences between reproduction and propagation, emphasizing naturally occurring asexual reproduction. He then goes on to describe what he calls “imposed” techniques such as constriction or severing that are used to force asexual propagation, and “passive” techniques such as incising and anchoring on substrate that encourage it. A section on practical applications follows, starting with requirements for a work area and a tool and supplies list, then discussing handling and securing coral divisions and increasing their survival rates. The book concludes with a section on “Pests, Predators and Diseases” and a plea for ethical and responsible action by aquarists to protect the reef environment.

The production quality of the book places its origin somewhere between a home desktop and an inexpensive publishing house. The spiral binding can make it difficult to flatten pages for easy reading, but then once flattened the pages stay in place better for reading than conventionally bound ones, and the pages of inexpensive paper won’t stick together when wet like some glossy pages do. The book’s desktop character also makes possible an innovative offer. Calfo encourages registration of the books – each one is numbered – and intends to provide free updates and revisions to registered owners.

If you are thinking of starting to make your “fragging” more systematic, or even of trying to profit from your ability to grow corals, this book contains a wealth of practical information compiled in a single volume. If you’re interested in some intriguing innovations like “multi-level gradient systems,” I don’t know where else you’ll find them.

Aquarium Plants: The Practical Guide by Pablo Tepoot


(New Life Publications, 25855 S.W. 193 Ave. Homestead, Fl 33031. Hardcover, $53, ISBN 0-9645058-4-3)

This 8.5 by 11 inch volume contains 216 pages, profusely illustrated with excellent full and half page color identification photographs, beautifully reproduced. Also included is an index of scientific and common plant names.

I’m sure that Greg Schiemer and I are not the only marine aquarists who continue to maintain fresh water tanks also. In my case, having held on to my father’s beautiful, chromed stainless steel, 55 gallon Metaframe tank for decades – I even had it crated and shipped here when I moved to Hawaii – makes working with fresh water a necessity. Salt water would make short work of the chromed metalwork.

For those who do run fresh water tanks, an identification guide to aquatic plants and information on their husbandry is critical. One of the most useful as well as loveliest of these is Pablo Tepoot’s volume.

The first part of the book, about 50 pages, covers the fundamentals of maintaining a healthy, heavily planted aquarium. It concludes with a section on aquascaping and a series of photographs showing the difference between plants grown under the author’s recommendations and those grown under ordinary commercial aquaculture conditions. Like those in the rest of the book, the photos are clear and beautifully detailed. (It’s hard to avoid the use of “beautiful” when discussing this book!) The actual information contained is less than the 50 pages suggests. The book is intended for an international audience and the text in this section is presented in English, German, French and Dutch.

The remainder of the book is made up of more than 150 pages of stunning, near perfect identification photographs of at least as many species and varieties – there are often more than one color or shape morph in each photo – each of which is headed by an “Information Bar,” which includes the scientific and common trade name for the plant shown, its geographic distribution and general aquarium hardiness. The bar also includes a host of other important information in a compact format, including light and temperature requirements, optimum pH, copper sensitivity, plant size and aquascaping uses, and reproduction methods. In cases where most purchased specimens have been grown only partially submersed, or where plants may send up emergent processes, these are shown along with photos of the growth habits of fully submersed specimens. The book concludes with sections on floating plants, bog plants appropriate for the terrarium and true terrestrial plants sometimes sold as aquatics.

If you need a single volume that covers the basics of starting and maintaining a planted fresh water aquarium and concentrates on providing a comprehensive identification guide with critical, species-specific husbandry information, especially if you appreciate excellence in photography and print reproduction, you can’t go wrong with this one.


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