About the Program
This is a 65 gallon saltwater tank, with dead coral pieces, rocks and crushed coral as a substrate. The tank has both artificial and live marine plants. We have several fish, but our primary focus is on invertebrates. Our web cam was established because we have lots of interesting critters in our tank that only come out at night or that our students may want to check in on from time to time over weekends or vacations. At one time, we had a horseshoe crab and wondered what on earth it was doing in the middle of the night, because every morning our gravel was completely rearranged!
Our reef tank is exactly what its name implies. It's a semi-contained ecosystem (called a microcosm) that has all the elements of the natural ecosystem except the predators (that is, fish and invertebrates that eat other fish and invertebrates!). We have small microscopic algae, larger algae you can see, larger plants, bacteria, invertebrates that live in the crushed coral on the bottom and on the sides and then all sorts of animals that we add, like the anemones, crabs, sea apple and fish. If you were lift a big rock, you would find all sorts of worms and creepy crawly things under the rock that help keep our tank balanced. We only keep the algae off of the front of the tank and the end where the web cam is, otherwise, we try to balance our animals and plants so that we don't have to clean the inside of the tank very often. We follow a weekly feeding schedule that makes sure all our different animals get fed what they need, when they need it. Tank food includes fish flakes, dried red algae sheets, phytoplankton, zooplankton and krill. Many of our animals graze the plants and algae in the tank as well. Our tank is pretty stable and closely resembles what the animals and plants would live in out in the natural marine environment. Most of our animals naturally appear in salt flats, turtle grass beds and shallow reefs near shore along the gulf coast of Florida.
We get our animals and plants from three primary sources. Locally, we get most of our fish and some of our big or macro-algae, and the other invertebrates and sea grass or macrophytes, we got from Gulf Specimen, an education/research oriented non-profit organization located in Panacea, Florida. Gulf Specimen houses a series of special aquariums and touch tanks containing over 30,000 gallons of sea water. They specialize in invertebrates that live along the northern Florida coast in the sea grass meadows and lime outcrops. We also get animals, sponges and macroalgae from SeaLife, Inc (an on-line marine specimen supplier). These are not necessarily the flashy fish you might see in a typical marine collector's tank, but rather the huge variety of animals that actually inhabit the majority of the gulf coast's shallow water habitats. Gulf Specimen has been extremely helpful in guiding us in building and maintaining our reef tank.