Presented by Charles & Linda Raabe
Mactan Island, The Philippines
© 2008 All Rights Reserved

  I have been blessed with having been able to move to a tropical island and fully retire. This gives me more free time and collecting opportunities than any reef aquarium and scuba diving fanatic should be allowed to have. As such, over the course of the last year I have collected and stocked my current reef tank from two local reef areas located on Mactan Island in the Philippines.

  Not being a Philippine citizen and wanting to avoid being thrust onto a plane and told to get out of town for breaking this country's marine laws, the first thing I did was to chase down the local marine enforcement officer, which for me, involved nothing more than approaching the officer on the beach as he sat in the shade watching local collectors return with bag after bag of newly caught ornamental fish, of which he never bothered to get up and check.
  That in itself told me that I did not have much to worry about. When asked what the local laws were governing the collecting of corals and fish, I was told with a wave of a hand that I could "take what ya want". I am sure in other localities you would be told a different answer. So please, if by chance you are fortunate enough to have access to a reef or are planning to visit one, check with the local fish and game department or marine enforcement agency as to what you may or may not collect. Each country or state has it's own laws and regulations as well as specific areas that are protected. Having to call your spouse to come and bail you out of jail because of a coral fragment can have a very negative impact on your spouse's future attitude towards your "hobby".

  It is our responsibility as hobbyists to protect what we enjoy that I must stress the fact that being able to collect your own stock comes with a responsibility, at no time should you ever leave behind even the smallest damage to a reef in your efforts to collect something. If you cannot do this, then do not attempt to catch or collect it. I will be listing the collection procedures as per how a reef aquarium is normally set up as I did with my current 80-gallon reef aquarium.

  I must also stress the importance of personal safety while out collecting, at no time should you endanger yourself or others by taking unnecessary chances in order to collect anything. If the weather is bad, or ocean conditions are unsafe due to strong wave action or tidal currents, then its best to go home empty handed and wait for another day. Collecting should be fun, not dangerous.


  I have found that being able to use ocean water is one of the biggest aides in keeping my reef aquarium virtually trouble free, I already know that is "blended" correctly and do not have worry myself over which salt brand is better than the other or think about the costs involved with purchasing salt mixes and providing a suitable fresh water source other than for replacing evaporation losses.
  I also do water changes as frequently as I desire since there are no "shock" concerns and the simple fact that it is free. There are a few concerns though when collecting your own water from the ocean.
  First, you would want to ensure that as you transport it home, you are not flooding your car with saltwater spillage, saltwater will turn your nice shiny new car into a Beverly hillbilly reject in a matter of a few months. I use five-gallon potable water containers that have a gasket to prevent any leakage, they are also made of a plastic that will not contaminate the water as they are meant to transfer drinking water for human consumption. Do not use a container that has ever held any other liquid at any time.
  When you actually collect the water, you must ensure that it is in an area away from large population centers, factories or wastewater treatment plants to avoid any possibility of taking home polluted water. Harbors or boat dock areas should also be avoided for the same reasons. Do not attempt to store ocean water, use it within a few hours of getting it home. All that needs to be done is to allow the new water time to reach the same temperature as your aquarium water.
  I usually do not store natural salt water (NSW) for future use since it will always contain some planktonic life in it, which will die and possibly pollute the water. Others may state that you can store it, but it must be filtered first. I find no logic in doing so simply because if you are going to go through the time and expense of filtering it, you might as well just buy some salt and make your own water when needed. Defeats the whole "free" and "hassle free" concept of collecting your own, in my opinion.

  Do not collect water immediately after a heavy rain, as the near shore salinity levels will most likely be far to low for our use as well as a chance that pollution from run off may be at dangerous levels. I always wait two days after a heavy rain to give the tidal actions a chance to flush out the area with "good" water. I also check the local tidal charts and time my collection at high tide when the water is "fresh" from the open ocean and has not been sitting stagnant as is found during low tide. It also makes collecting the water much easier since the deeper high tide water is nearer the shore and hopefully, your vehicle.
  I made the mistake once of being determined to get water when the tide was out and ended up walking almost a quarter of a mile to reach water deep enough to fill the containers, then having to walk back carrying ten gallons of water. Half way back, a bag of salt mix started looking really good by then. One last point that is worth mentioning is that the area that I collect the water from is the same area that I collect all my livestock from, including the corals. It is comforting to me to know that all of my corals are in the same salinity and water quality as they grew up in. While most hobbyists may not have this luxury, real ocean water just can not be beat, as hard as the salt mix manufacturers may try.


  While I am not going to discuss in this article the importance of sand grain size, I will suggest that when you collect your sand that you try to find as small a grain size as possible. There are two locations that sand can be collected from, out of the water, and in the water. If you decide to collect dry sand, do so from a beach area, to take sand from inshore areas such as a quarry or even your own backyard can pose some concerns with contamination from pollution as well as the actual mineral content of the sand. Keep in mind that sand is nothing more than ground up rock or coral skeletons.
  If you collect from a public beach, the same laws that apply to collecting wildlife may apply to sand also. Most beach communities spend a lot of money in keeping their sand beaches "sandy" by dredging the offshore area to replace the beach that has eroded away or may bring in sand from inshore areas, as such, its a good idea to know if your sand collecting area is natural or man made for these reasons.
  If you collect dry sand its very important that you rinse it very well a few times to rid the sand of any debris that may be mixed in with it, if you add the sand straight to your tank, do not be surprised if you find a cigarette butt or two floating on the surface along with a lot of wood chips and other small debris items. If you are building a deep sand bed and wish to have a "live" sand bed, which I strongly suggest you do. Then you will need to seed this sand with sand dwelling infauna, which can be bought at many online stores or have your local fish shop order it for you. If you are looking to collect your own live sand, then you will need to get your feet wet.
  Before you wade offshore with bucket in hand, learn the tidal movements of that area. Sandy spots that are exposed to the air at low tides usually do not contain the multitude of life forms that we would want or those life forms are to deep down into the sand to properly collect. It is actually better to collect during a low tide so that you can see the sand areas that are still under water and makes scooping the sand a lot easier. When you do actually collect the sand, do not dig down into the sand more than an inch or two to avoid any dead zones within the sand bed, if as you dig or scoop the sand, you notice dark "mucky" mud or sand, then you have gone too far down. Also keep in mind to not get carried away with getting all your sand in one trip out. You will have to carry that sand back to your vehicle, and believe me, a bucket of sand weighs a lot. It will be much easier on your back if you plan to make a few trips back and forth within that day. You should also know in advance just how many pounds of sand you should be collecting to give you your desired depth within your tank. This link will provide a calculator for that purpose.
  If you collect your sand from a distant location and will have to drive more than a few hours, I suggest that you use dry sand instead of wet, live sand. Sand in a bucket will compact and drive most of the water to the surface, which does not give the life in the sand much breathing room. After a couple of hours, those life forms could die off and just add a water-polluting source to your tank. The quicker you can get the sand home and into your tank the better. It is also a good idea as I do, to spread the sand out on a shallow tray before adding it to your tank to check for any obvious and visible life forms that you would not want in your tank, some of the snails found hiding in the sand can be predators of the livestock in your tank, along with some of the large worm species. It also gives you a chance to pick out any large unwanted bits of rock or rubble.


  Once again I must stress the importance of checking local laws concerning collecting, there are not many areas left that still allow the taking of even rocks out of the ocean. If you are fortunate enough to be able to do so, it is just as with the sand, best to collect from areas that are not exposed to air at low tides, rock that is found near shore and in the shallows will tend to be encrusted with hair and micro algae only, while containing predatory type creatures within the holes/crevices of these rocks.
  I have only used this type of rock as a base rock, but only after a very good scrubbing and intense scrutiny of any holes for mantis shrimp, predatory snails, hermit crabs and other non-reef safe crabs. At all times when handling rock it is a good idea to wear thick gloves, I use soft leather gardening gloves which are cheap and easily replaced, nothing will make you drop a rock faster than to have your bare finger cover a hole that a mantis shrimp is hiding in and it gives you a painful thump to ward you off. There is also a good chance that there is unseen life on the rock that can give you a good sting along with some good cuts or abrasions from sharp edges.
  It is best if you can snorkel or scuba dive rocky areas in search of live rock that is covered with the types of life that you wish to keep. It also gives you the benefit of looking for the shape and sizes of rocks that will fit your aquarium's landscape. Once collected, I treat any live rock as I would a coral, it is kept underwater and not subjected to heat extremes on the way home. Once home, I do not cure the rock at all, for me it would defeat the whole purpose of taking all that life that is on the rock home.

  Upon arrival at home I give the rock a good look over for any obvious unwanted algae and predatory creatures that may be hiding in the rock's holes and remove them. Even with my best efforts to ensure this, there will always be a few creatures that manage to escape detection and is the reason why I have a few small holding tanks that I use as a quarantine for everything. After a few days of being in quarantine, you should be able to feel confident enough to place the rock(s) within your aquarium. When placing your live rock in your aquarium, you should be aware of what types of life is on the rock and place it so that any special item such as a coral fragment will have the chance to grow.

  Hopefully I have been able to give you some good tips on how to make collecting a benefit to your reef aquarium. Besides the obvious "freebie" aspect of collecting your own items, it will also give you a much stronger sense of ownership of your aquarium, along with some fond and maybe not so fond memories that you can laugh at in the future from your collecting adventures. Next time in part two I will discuss collecting fish, corals and inverts, until then, Happy Reef Collecting Adventures to you!

Link to Part Two, Collecting Fish, Corals and Inverts

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