Media Review: Ultimate Marine Aquariums: Saltwater Dream Systems And How They Are Created; Reef Invertebrates: An Essential Guide To Selection, Care And Compatibility

by | Sep 15, 2003 | 0 comments

We are fortunate to have two new books, both excellent, with very different approaches to a common goal – providing the information you need to achieve success in creating and maintaining biologically thriving and aesthetically beautiful marine aquariums. Mike Paletta’s technique is to show you what 50 outstanding aquarists, many of them writers for Advanced Aquarist, have achieved. Anthony Calfo and Robert Fenner have chosen to write an up-to-date manual emphasizing theory as well as practice.


Ultimate Marine Aquariums: Saltwater Dream Systems And How They Are Created By Michael S. Paletta

(Co-Published by TFH Publications, One TFH Plaza, Neptune City, NJ 07753, and Microcosm Ltd. 823 Ferry Road, P.O. Box 550, Charlotte, VT05445, Hard cover, $39.95 ISBN 1-890087-74-2

This large format (8.5 by 11 inches) volume contains 192 pages, each illustrated with at least one photograph of a marine aquarium or with details of its inhabitants and/or its construction. The excellent photographs are beautifully reproduced. There is an index of the tanks, their owners and designers.

Mike Paletta’s book of photographs featuring an international group of 50 outstanding, healthy and beautiful marine aquariums proves that the variety of techniques developed by a largely amateur cadre of marine aquarium enthusiasts has proven capable of sustaining coral reef organisms in prime condition. The volume emphasizes reef aquariums but includes fish-only tanks, and shows the outcome of a wide range of approaches, from “low-tech” systems to those relying on ultra high-technology designs.

In addition to the superb photographs, Paletta provides vital information for those seeking to emulate the conditions that maintain these gorgeous and successful tanks. He starts by stating the system’s owner and designer, it’s location, its date of establishment and its location. For each aquarium he then provides an “Aquarium Profile,” detailing its volume and dimensions, its overall construction, water circulation, temperature and other control systems, filtration system, lighting method and photoperiod, and water parameters and chemistry. He also includes details on the system’s livestock and feeding regimens and provides short notes on each system’s major successes and problems.

In the last issue of Advanced Aquarist, August 2003, Mike provided a very useful summary of the information included in the “Profiles,” with basic statistics that attempt to digest and condense much of the information he provides for each aquarium, but we know how much is lost in averages. If you really want to see how far we’ve come in our efforts, and motivate and stimulate yourself to reach for the maximum you can achieve in terms of health and beauty in your aquarium system, treat yourself to a copy of this book.

One is tempted to compare Ultimate Marine Aquariums to Takashi Amano’s Nature Aquarium World books that are devoted to photos of beautifully landscaped freshwater tanks, but the comparison does not hold up. It is my understanding that the Amano photos are based on plant compositions specifically created with new specimens at the time they were photographed. The displays Mike Paletta shows are true living systems with organisms that have been growing and thriving over time. That makes all the difference.


Reef Invertebrates: An Essential Guide To Selection, Care And Compatibility, Volume 1: The Natural Marine Aquarium Series By Anthony Calfo and Robert Fenner

(Reading Trees and Wet Web Media Publishing. PO Box446, Monroeville, PA 15146. Soft cover, $42.95, ISBN 0-9672630-3-4)

This large format (8.5 by 11 inches) volume contains 400 pages, illustrated with many excellent photographs of marine invertebrates, most of them from Fenner’s collection. There is a bibliography, a glossary, a list of suppliers and an index.

Anthony Calfo and Robert Fenner intend this volume to be the first in what they call “The Natural Marine Aquarium Series.” In their opening pages they define the “natural aquarium” as an evolving method of endeavoring to “replicate a small slice of the ocean,” using “living filtration dynamics.” These filtration dynamics “often include live rock, live sand, adequate nutrient export processes, natural plankton and refugiums.” They strongly advocate the use of protein skimming for nutrient export. In addition they stress the creation of “specific biotopic” collections rather than the melange of organisms from different ecological niches that have characterized most systems to date. This approach, including the use of refugia and especially the attempt to replicate specific micro-ecosystems, is not controversial, although many of us who have maintained systems and their inhabitants for long periods of time would certainly be reluctant to cull vigorous and beautiful specimens because their initial origins are ecologically far apart. This book then is primarily for those starting new systems or doing extensive refurbishing of existing set-ups. I should also add that this book’s title should more accurately be “Reef Invertebrates Other than Corals and Their Relatives,” as the cnidarians are not included.

The book proper starts with a section titled “Living Filters,” stressing the use of cured live rock, live sand and refugia to supplant technology for biological filtration. The authors discuss the additional benefits of this approach – quick nutrient cycling, a natural source of nutritious food production, physical similarity to natural surroundings to provide “behavioral enrichment” and adjunct for mediating water quality. They discuss the curing process for rock in detail and present the pros and cons of using “wild” rock and aquacultured material and have an extensive discussion of sand and other substrate material. They advocate the periodic replacement of some of the rock and sand.

The next section, on refugium culture, provides important information on the functions and types of refugia, their size, placement, and illumination as well as alternatives for substrates and stocking. This is a very valuable guide for those setting up new systems or for the increasing numbers of aquarists augmenting their existing systems with these valuable modules.

The next chapter, “Marine Plants and Algae,” discusses these foundation organisms of marine ecosystems. As a Hawaiian aquarist faced with strict local regulation of importation and collection of coral species, I found the extensive material in this chapter of great interest and an important addition to the usually available information in references such as this. Marine macroalgae varieties play an important part in the aesthetics and function of my aquarium. The authors cover the main groups of macroalgas – the browns (Phaeophytes), greens (Chlorophytes) and reds (Rhodophytes) as well diatoms, dinoflagellates, cyanobacteria and the true vascular plants. They offer a detailed list of suggestions for control of nuisance forms including an illustrated section on herbivores and discuss selection and care of desirable species such as calcareous and other decorative algae and of mangroves and seagrasses. The chapter is organized alphabetically by scientific name, not the most convenient technique for most aquarists with a limited knowledge of nomenclature.

The authors then present three short but informative general chapters on selection, husbandry, feeding and reproduction of reef invertebrates for the marine aquarium. The remainder of the volume is organized by phylum.

The sponges, porifera, are covered first. This chapter, like the others in the book, contains excellent and beautiful identification photographs and solid information on selection and care of aquarium specimens, with sections on placement, water movement, feeding, illumination and general aquarium compatibility. The next chapter covers the marine worms, including the sedentary polychaete feather and fan worms, the errant polychaete bristleworms and fireworms, the flatworms and peanut worms. The photographs are large and detailed, enabling easy identification of troublesome and predatory species. Extensive discussions are provided on maintaining the desirable species and on controlling undesirable ones using predator fishes and mechanical means.

The mollusks are the subject of the next group of chapters, starting with the gastropods and the chitons. A growing number of snails and other gastropod species are being offered for sale and by no means all are suitable for the average aquarium. The numerous identification photographs cover a wide range of species and will facilitate differentiating between herbivorous and predatory species and appropriate and questionable ones. The authors stress criteria for the selection of healthy specimens of aquarium appropriate species and provide information on their care, including acclimation and feeding. The nudibranchs are covered next, this section also containing numerous identification photographs and excellent practical advice. The next sections, on the bivalves, concentrate on the tridacnids. As in the other chapters in this volume it contains very useful identification photos and solid information on selection and care. The section on mollusks concludes with the cephalopods, none of which are suitable for the reef tank or the less-than-expert and devoted aquarist.

The arthropods are the subject of the next group of chapters. The authors start with the mantis shrimp, then cover the reef shrimp, crabs and lobsters. As in the other chapters the identification photos are numerous, labeled well and useful. The text is also valuable and informative. The section concludes with a short but interesting discussion of “crustacean microfauna” and their role in the aquarium.

The next group covered is the echinoderms, starting with the sea cucumbers and then discussing the urchins and seastars. The information is practical and the identification photos are useful, especially in the sections on holothuroids and seastars. The book concludes with a chapter on the beautiful but nearly impossible to maintain tunicates.

This volume has two major qualifications in a single volume. It is an excellent and practical introduction and compendium of knowledge and advice about what the authors term the “natural aquarium” and it is an excellent reference on the species it covers. As I suggested at the beginning of this revue, it is very worthwhile especially for those who are starting new systems or are planning to add refugia to present systems. It is also of practical value for those who want to increase the diversity of the beneficial organisms in their aquariums without endangering important residents or obtaining (and encouraging the trade in) inappropriate or very difficult specimens.


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