Has anyone noticed the tiny bugs scrambling across the aquarium glass after the lights go out? I bet you will now! But, before you get out the flashlight and start posting on social media with questions, Chad Clayton of Reed Mariculture has taken the time to answer the most commonly asked questions and share his knowledge of these interesting little creatures! Known to friends as the “CopeGod” and publicly as the live feeds supervisor at RMI, Chad is definitely qualified to explain what these bugs are doing in your tank, and how they are beneficial in any saltwater application. From large scale aquaculture facilities to a hobbyists first reef tank, we all benefit from these little critters, that are referred to as zooplankton.
Zooplankton first became important to the aquatic community when large scale hatcheries discovered that they were perfect for feeding finicky fish during the weaning process. Fish recently collected from the ocean recognize little moving crustaceans as food and were kept alive by eating zooplankton, during training on to frozen foods. As aquaculture has taken off, and more fish are being farmed versus collected, live feeds have become increasingly important. If fish are not provided the necessary nutrition during larval stages, they will not grow correctly and may not grow at all. Therefore, in addition to all of the work required to raise the fish, hatcheries also have to maintain clean cultures of zooplankton, and cultures of multiple strains of phytoplankton to enrich the live feeds with all the needed nutrition.
In an aquarium, not only do coral and fish get nourishment by consuming microfauna, which includes zooplankton (reef bugs) and phytoplankton (microalgae), but beneficial species help in controlling nutrients and can out-compete or consume unwanted species that can ruin a tank. Even more importantly, seahorses absolutely love zooplankton, so adding enriched copepods or rotifers to a seahorse tank is an easy way for a keeper to boost their seahorses' health!
Unfortunately, collecting different species from the ocean will include too many contaminants and culturing (a term used to describe keeping reef bugs and microalgae alive in aerated containers with light, food and other maintenance) requires a lot of time, energy and money. Tim Reed recognized these problems and started a company called Reed Mariculture, which provides clean, contaminant free cultures of both zooplankton and phytoplankton. RMI makes it easier for everyone to enjoy the benefits of microfauna, without the work or worry.
Tim Reed realized the importance of the term “tank raised” early on in his career and in 1995 started the first bio-secure shellfish hatchery away from ocean water. While this was extremely important to the industry, it did not take long to see that “tank raised” microalgae would be a more lucrative business, that would truly make a difference to the entire aquatic world. So, in 1998, RMI shut down all their hatcheries to concentrate on concentrated phytoplankton. They began supplying all the other hatcheries with clean, contaminant free marine microalgaes in concentrated forms, as single species and as blends of multiple species for a more nutritious feed.
The company evolved as technology and demand increased, expanding to include zooplankton in their product listings in 2003, and then extended their products to hobbyists via the Reef Nutrition line in 2005. Under the Reef Nutrition brand, RMI brings the products that were once only available to the aquaculture giants down to hobbyist level. Their second brand, AP Breed, is centered around providing “hatchery solutions to aquarists, propagators and breeders”. The company’s goal is to become a one-stop shop when it comes to all phyto and zooplankton needs, and I would say they are well on their way.
Clicking on the pictures below will open more information about the company's various products:
RMI PRODUCTS (CLICK THE PICTURES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION AND LINKS)
RMI is most recognized for the InstantAlgae line – products containing non-viable, concentrated forms of marine microalgae. The cells within the non-viable algae concentrates are in an almost quiescent state, in which the cells are no longer living, but still contain all the same nutrition as they did alive. When fed to zooplankton, they give a huge nutrition boost and because they will not decay for days, there is no threat of any phosphate or nitrate spike when adding them to an aquarium or culture. Non-viable algae cannot be used to start new phytoplankton cultures but provide numerous benefits, including completely replacing the need for a hobbyist or hatchery to maintain their own cultures.
SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF USING RMI PHYTOPLANKTON PRODUCTS INCLUDE:
- Supplement or replacement for cultures
- Blends for more nutrition
- Higher density zooplankton cultures
- Avoid culture crashes
- Easier storage
The biggest benefit is obviously eliminating the work involved in maintaining cultures. If you have never tried to culture microalgae before, please take my word that it is not fun. As Chad describes in the video, alga does not take vacations and requires constant care. To be successful, a culture will need the proper lighting, nutrients and regular maintenance, including water changes or harvesting. Some species of microalgae are easier to culture than others but avoiding it all together without losing the benefits and nutrition that phytoplankton provide is a big deal. Especially to large-scale aquaculture facilities who need a lot of algae! Instant algae contain just as much nutrition as live, but do not require upkeep.
Concentrated algae can be blended together in the same bottle. Different species of phytoplankton have different nutritional profiles. This means that each species will have different nutritional benefits, but also that each might be lacking in some areas. One of the more popular algi species that people often grow at home, Nannochloropsis, lacks DHA (an unsaturated fatty acid that is essential for larval development). RMI offers blends that include many different species of algae, so each strains’ benefits are included in the product. Single species products are also available, but the blends make it so much easier to provide the most nutrition possible in a feed.
A culture of zooplankton can achieve a higher density without crashing using concentrated, non-viable algae. Live phytoplankton can create high levels of bacteria. As they die, they can create high levels of ammonia. The intact cells within the concentrated, non-viable algae basically just sit there being nutritious until eaten. Less ammonia and bacteria caused by the feed allows more zooplankton to be within a culture, without the levels rising too high and causing a crash.
Live phytoplankton can “crash” for many reasons. A crash describes when all of the living things within a culture die suddenly. If there is a zooplankton culture depending on the microalgae culture for food, a crash can cause a domino effect of loss. The instant algae products can be kept in the refrigerator, or freezer, for up to two years without losing nutrition and with no worry of crashing.
The benefit of instant algae products being able to “sit there being nutritious” in a refrigerator or freezer deserves it’s own category in the benefits. A product tucked away in the fridge is much nicer than a mess of airline hoses, loud air pumps, lights, and other equipment that takes up space but is required for a live culture. They do not leach soluble components that stimulate bacteria growth as the dried algae products are known to do. Most importantly, the longer shelf life means paying a lot less in shipping to get quality phyto every few months.
For the hatcheries of fish whose mouths are so tiny that they require specific copepods that require live microalgae, RMI also sells live cultures of both zooplankton and phytoplankton. All come with the huge benefit of no contaminants because they are tank-raised. The company really has gone to great lengths to carry a wide array of products to fulfill any needs of their customers. From providing large scale aquaculture with solutions, to educating new hobbyists about the needs of their reef inhabitants, RMI is constantly making waves. Chad and the RMI team continue pushing forward, perfecting techniques, finding new methods, and introducing new products and feeds to assist aquaculture.
Here are a few examples of how they are assisting at every level of the industry:
REED MARICULTURE IS AFFECTING AND ASSISTING THE INDUSTRY ON EVERY LEVEL
From the start, Tim Reed set out to make things easier for large-scale hatcheries and aquaculture in general. He understood the need for biosecurity due to all the problems in our oceans. By providing clean phyto and zooplankton to hatcheries, they would no longer have to worry about their own cultures becoming contaminated or crashing, and instead reinvest the saved money into the hatchery.
Clean phytoplankton and zooplankton that a facility can be assured has no contaminants from the ocean. The RMI name means biosecurity, consistency and cleanliness.
Clean cultures of live zooplankton to feed or culture
Clean concentrated blends of phytoplankton, so a facility could eliminate the need to culture live phyto on a supplemental or complete basis
Recently, RMI began offering frozen versions of their single species and blends of phytoplankton. Now, customers can literally save even more money and become more efficient by avoiding huge shipping costs. The frozen products are good for up to 2 years, so this is a huge deal. Instead of buying every three months, a large-scale aquaculture facility can buy once a year and only need a freezer to keep their larval fish fed. The frozen phyto eliminate the costs associated with culturing the feeds and/or with buying and shipping it constantly.
Clean concentrated and/or frozen single species phytoplankton to hatcheries of fish with specific nutritional profile needs, saving them a ton of money!
Breeders who like using their own cultures can use RMI products on a supplemental basis, if their own cultures fail or are contaminated, or if they are extremely successful and have more larvae to feed than expected. RMI is a million-gallon phytoplankton and zooplankton farm, so even the biggest hatchery’s needs can be fulfilled quickly. Chad passionately explains that “If customer needs 3 million rotifers due to a catastrophe …it’s “done”. And done quickly. Some hatcheries and facilities use RMI products as a complete replacement to live cultures. Imagine how much money is saved by not having to put money, time, and resources into culturing and maintaining live feeds? Knowing that RMI uses ridiculous testing and have biosecurity standards that cannot be matched, hatcheries truly depend on the company for their cleanliness, consistency and quality products.
Supplemental assistance if a hatchery’s cultures crash or they have more mouths to feed than expected.
Complete replacement of live cultures needed to feed larval fish
Cultures of both phyto and zooplankton that are constantly tested and analyzed for quality, to ensure that they STAY contaminant free
Using sterile conditions to breed, a tank can miss out on some of the benefits of a natural environment. Most breeders use dry rock or no rock (using media instead) to steer clear of hitchhikers and pests from the ocean. It is awesome that RMI offers clean phytoplankton and zooplankton, that can be used with no worry of the dangers associated with “live” rock. The company uses synthetic salt, constantly analyzing and testing products to ensure that nothing contaminates their cultures. Live pods like tiggers can even be added during cycling!
Synthetic salt raised cultures provide the microfauna that dry rock aquariums lack without adding hitchhikers or contaminants.
Hardy tigger pods can tolerate and even help an aquarium during the nitrogen cycle
Many new or small-time breeders do not realize how importantly those first few weeks of life are in the development of the fish. Without the right fatty acids and lipids, seahorse fry especially will fail to thrive. Most seahorse breeders hatch artemia (or baby brine shrimp / bbs) to feed to fry. Artemia are not nutritious at all, unless they still have their egg cysts, or are fed the correct enrichments. Counting on artemia to all hatch at the same time and still have their egg cysts, or using the wrong enrichment, will not work out well. Nannochloropsis is the species of microalgae most easily cultured, and the species new seahorse breeders use most often as enrichment. Unfortunately, nannochloropsis lacks DHA, which is essential to development. RMI not only provides this information, but also offers alternatives in their blended feeds that contain all the proper nutrition needed by a baby seahorse. These blends have multiple species of phytoplankton in them, so that each species’ benefits are offered, without anything that they lack causing problems! Then RMI adds proprietary supplements to make the blends even more nutritious.
Each species of phytoplankton has a nutritional profile, explaining what nutrition the algae provide. The RMI website outlines these profiles.
DHA, lipids and other fatty acids are essential to development and species like nannochloropsis are not nutritious enough by themselves.
Blends of multiple species of phytoplankton ensure that a feed is not lacking something important like DHA
Copepods store lipids and fatty acids in a different way and are more nutritious to begin with. Enriching a copepod is like adding a double scoop onto an icecream cone! It was awesome to begin with, and then we double the goodness. Just like the second scoop, the goodness also lasts longer (because the copepod stores nutrition differently). Luckily, a breeder does not have to add to their work load by culturing pods and specific phytoplankton, because they can merely buy everything they need from RMI and give the fry super enriched pods to eat in their first week of life.
Copepods store lipids and fatty acids differently, making them more nutritious than other zooplankton.
Feeding enriched copepods to fry during their first week of life will make them more healthy.
They also sell live rotifers and kits that include their nutritious blends, rotifers, and even housing to culture them in. Seriously, this company has covered every need that a new breeder might have!
Provide live rotifer cultures, equipment to help hobbyists continue the culture at home, and information to help with any issues.
RMI products give hobbyists the same advantages as large scale facilities. Now hobbyists can keep difficult fish alive and maintain a biodiverse aquarium.
Feed Finicky fish – if you’ve purchased a seahorse or mandarin that will not eat, RMI can help! Their live zooplankton can keep the fish alive during weaning onto frozen foods.
Biodiversity – the need for microfauna in a reef tank is often overlooked. Even if a hobbyist is not feeding difficult fish, the zooplankton and phytoplankton are part of the complete ecosystem. Everything feeds something else in the natural food chain and trying to duplicate mother nature without including her tiny critters will just not work out well.
Nooks and crannys (I love that Chad used this phrase!). This describes the way that zooplankton will get into the tiny spaces between rocks that even snails cannot fit into. Pods are not big enough to save a tank from a massive outbreak if the parameters are not right, but they can help tremendously with a well run reef that just needs a cleaner in the tight spots.
Biosecurity – when a hobbyist goes to all the trouble of quarantining fish and coral, it is truly awful for a bag of pods or phyto to contaminate their aquarium. RMI cultures are clean, contaminant free, and can be safely used without fear of adding something unwanted.
RG Complete – for newer hobbyists who are either starting a reef or trying to culture zooplankton for the first time, RG Complete is a great “learning” phytoplankton feed. It contains 6 different algae species, along with some extra goodies that the company keeps secret. But, the really cool part is the added chloromax and ph buffer. These two ingredients make up for any learning curve by keeping ph stable and ammonia at bay if any mistakes are made by someone new to phyto.
In addition to all of the products and services the company offers, they go the extra mile by extending help and advice to customers and hobbyists. Chad is very active on social media, and will go out of his way to explain any products, processes or help in any way. The RMI website has numerous tools to help new hobbyist and veteran alike find answers to any question about live and concentrated feeds.
My particular favorite parts of their website are: 1) the guide indicating which phytoplankton species and feeds are recommended for different types of fish, and 2) the calculator that determines how much of a product to use in different situations. The site lists the nutritional profiles of every species of phytoplankton, zooplankton and blends that they sell and make it very simple for a facility or person breeding fish to figure out and purchase everything they need to be successful, with the security of knowing the feeds are clean and contaminent free.
Actually, they go beyond mere assistance, and teach hobbyists how to culture, keep and enrich their own phyto/zooplankton. Many companies will withhold their processes, to ensure that customers keep coming back to buy more products. But, RMI actually WANTS to see their customers succeed and do everything they can to help! The rotifer information section on their website is a literal step-by-step guide and provides all the extras needed to follow the instructions.
Chad made time to do a video interview with me. After describing his own journey and how he wound up with the company, he shared some of the ways the company’s products are impacting the hobby. He also described their latest copepod, Apocyclops Panamensis, and how it can be used in multiple applications. Finally, he provided culture tips and answered questions from social media. After reading this article, be sure to watch the video too, and enter the company’s generous contest for free pods and phyto!
Chad provides the following two tips for those wanting to culture zooplankton at home:
- Harvest daily
- Feed correctly. Phytoplankton blends like RG complete for new hobbyists and rotigrow for advanced aquarists will provide the most nutrition to a zooplankton culture and not leave anything important like DHA out of the diet.
Tips for those wanting to keep a population of zooplankton in a reef tank:
- Keep a culture in the refugium (so that fish can only eat them as they are sucked up a pump or added to the tank) and a second culture in a separate container as back up.
- Buy the right species of copepod. Two of the common species of copepods sold in the reef hobby are calanoida and harpacticoida. Harpacticoida are benthic, meaning they will dwell in substrate and rocks. Calanoida are typically palegic, drifting around without clinging to surfaces. In a reef setting, a harpacticoida is better because it will hide, and not be eaten as quickly by fish. Tigriopus and apocyclops are harpacticoida, whereas parvocalanus are calanoida. Buying the wrong species or a mix that will eat each other is pointless.
- In the case of tigger pods, you can add some pods to a container of clean saltwater, and refrigerate as a backup.
- Bug bomb method: Add tigger and apocyclops copepods to a tank the moment it is set up with dry rock. The pods can handle the “cycle” and actually help the process along. The end result is a faster cycle and a decent copepod population established before adding fish.
- Rock switch method: Add a rock in the sump or refugium at the same time as the copepods. Once the copepod population is established, switch the rock for one in the reef. The copepods on or in the rock moved to the reef will feed the fish and clean the nooks and crannys. The reef rock moved to the sump or refugium will be the new breeding ground for remaining pods.
Tips for specific zooplankton cultures:
ROTIFERS (BRACHIONUS PLICATILIS and BRACHIONUS ROTUNDIFORMIS) – Use the RMI Compact Culture System and the Rotifer Kit to set up properly. Rotifers "are what they eat", so feed with an RMI blend to get the most out of them.
TIGRIOPUS CALIFORNICUS – Do not keep the culture too clean. These pods are from really dirty areas and are used to bad water. If the water is too pristine, the culture will not thrive. A culture can be as easy as a 10g bucket, 1 bottle tiggers, and non-viable algae like RG complete! Batch style (setting up the culture, feeding for months and then harvesting the entire batch) will work, but daily harvest (harvesting 20-30% daily) is always better. Never let a culture go longer than 60 days.
APOCYCLOPS PANAMENSIS – Continuous feeding is the key with these pods. Chad outlines his method of using a dosing pump, chiller and small fountain pump in his culture set up to ensure that chilled phytoplankton is continuously fed to the culture.
PARVOCALANUS CRASSIROSTRIS – A clean live culture of Isocrysis is required to keep these copepods happy. A person should be comfortable and efficient in culturing live phytoplankton before attempting to keep a parvo culture.
Chad, and the rest of the RMI team are very quick to help anyone with questions and constantly post interesting information on social media. Be sure to check out their facebook page in addition to the website: REEF NUTRITION. The company is always at every trade show in the US, giving out free pods and explaining their new products. They work with schools, aquatic associations and reef clubs teaching techniques, sharing information and contributing to aquaculture in every way possible. The products, services and assistance that Reed Mariculture contribute to the aquatic industry are extremely important and make a huge impact in every area.