The 1st of June saw the first annual conference of the new coral reef aquarium initiative, the Coral Aquarist Research Network (CARN) take place at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
CARN was formed in October 2009 as a network to foster the exchange of knowledge, expertise, and experience between coral reef researchers and those working in the various fields of aquarium related industries such as suppliers, public aquariums, coral growers, and hobbyists. It is hoped that the creation of this network will provide opportunities for the various coral industries to collaborate with the world class coral and reef biology research community in the UK.
This first conference included presentations that were both research and industry orientated, highlighting the status of knowledge, technology and importantly gaps in our understanding of coral physiology, ecology, transport, growth and sustainable harvesting.
A special issue of the JMBA, one of the UK’s leading marine biology centric journals, will be devoted to the proceedings of the conference.
The day started of with an introduction to the conference by Philippa Mansell from the University of Essex, project manager of CARN.
The conference was split into four sessions of talks, each session based around a theme. Although some of the talks were of a scientific nature the bulk of them were easily accessible to the keen hobbyist. Concluding each session there was a period set aside for questions and answers, enabling conference participants to further exchange information or ask questions clarifying aspects of the presentations.
For the purpose of this article, I’m just going to briefly list the presentations with a few comments on their relevance to the hobbyist.
The session on Coral Eco-physiology was fairly technical, looking at: Mechanisms of thermal induced coral bleaching and the implications for reef community structure ( Dr David Smith, University of Essex), effects of trace metals on reef anthozoan pigmentation (Edward Smith, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton) , and the influence of the light climate on colouration of reef corals (Dr Jörg Wiedenmann, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton). The research being carried out here will have a benefit to hobbyists enabling them to keep bright coloured corals and better maintain their colouration.
The second session, Coral Ecology and Biodiversity, included a fascinating talk on Mushroom corals (Fungiidae) and their associated fauna in the Coral Triangle (Dr Bert Hoeksema, Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity), looking at the various animals that live on or in these popular aquarium corals. The Importance of Symbiodinium diversity: implications for the aquarium trade (Patrick Brading, University of Essex), was about the various species of symbiotic dinoflagellates, the zooxanthellae that live within coral tissue. Environmental influences on coral growth – from Indonesia to the Caribbean (Professor James Crabbe, University of Bedfordshire), gave an insight into how the environment affects the way that corals grow in nature and how this might affect their growth in aquaria.
The session looking at the coral industry and conservation examined issues of conservation, sustainability, and management of resources with presentations on the trade in reef corals (Dr Elizabeth Wood, Marine Conservation Society), the UK trade in ornamental polychaetes or Fan-worms (Joanna Murray, University of Portsmouth), and whether the coral industries can play a role in the future conservation of coral reefs (Philippa Mansell, University of Essex). An important issue, greatly affecting the future of the hobby.
The conference finished of on the subject of aquarium based research and workshops and featured a talk on Coralzoo (Dr Ronald Osinga, Wageningen University), an initiative looking at four years of public aquarium research on stony corals, my own presentation discussing Coral Nutrition in the Captive Environment (Tim Hayes, Midland Reefs), and a report on the 5th SECORE workshop, a program investigating sexual reproduction in stony corals (Jamie Craggs, Aquarium Curator, Horniman Museum).
CARN is an initiative that welcomes you, the hobbyist, to join in and share your experiences of keeping corals in your reef aquarium. You can do this by going to the CARN website, http://carnuk.org/getinvolved.aspx, there you can share information about the corals and other reef organisms that you’ve kept, with top reef scientists who are very interested in looking at how these fascinating animals fare in the captive environment in comparison to how they live in the wild. For advanced hobbyists it could also offer the opportunity to ask questions of reef scientists based on observations of your reef aquarium.
Together we can take the reef aquarium hobby forward through the exchange of information, perhaps in the process improving long term survivability of reef organisms and the sustainability of the hobby.