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November 05, 2017

Zoanthid Collection

My native Solomon Island host and guide, Paul, picked me up early the next morning to begin the real reason for my trip, to revitalize an abandoned coral farming project gone bad from the previous civil unrest.

MAC TERZICH, DVM, ACPV

My harrowing trip to the Solomons had gotten off to a shaky start, but there I was and had to make the best of a rapidly deteriorating situation!

My native Solomon Island host and guide, Paul, picked me up early the next morning to begin the real reason for my trip, to revitalize an abandoned coral farming project gone bad from the previous civil unrest. Paul owns a coral and fish export company and is eager to get the coral farm back up and running. Sensing my discomfort with the turbulent situation, Paul advised we get into the water and start our work as soon as possible and forget about the unfortunate political situation. So, off we went to collect zoanthids because they are plentiful in the shallow waters within walking distance from Paul’s facility.

Here I was finally, in a tropical paradise with palm trees and grass shacks, collecting every imaginable color of zoanthids in 2 foot deep warm waters just 20 feet off shore as I could see smoke rising from the still smoldering ruins of a casino and restaurant burned by rioters the night before that would have employed 600 locals on an island with 60 plus percent unemployment, quite a weird situation! I knew this was going to be a memorable trip!

I explored the underwater zoanthid garden with James a local coral collector. He showed me a wide array of colorful polyps including red, green, pink, orange, and the rarer blue zoos. James showed me how he collected zoanthids by using a small hammer and chisel and chipping off small sections of the rocks that were completely covered with polyps for as far as my eyes could see.   The rainbow of colors filled my senses and washed away the land based troubles. Soon the political turmoil was forgotten, Paul was right!

"The rocks were not only covered in zoanthids, but also hair algae. This area we were exploring was so close to the local village that waste water and raw sewage was being dumped and pumped directly into the ocean and collecting in this small lagoon. "

The rocks were not only covered in zoanthids, but also hair algae. This area we were exploring was so close to the local village that waste water and raw sewage was being dumped and pumped directly into the ocean and collecting in this small lagoon. The waters were a toxic soup of organic waste with rapid wave and tidal surges near the shore and the zoanthids were loving it! They were growing like crazy and later in my trip I realized that I never saw zoos growing anywhere else on the reefs. This zoanthid haven was inhabited by many algae eating blennies and the occasional brown or green colony of Pocillopora and Acropora. The easy accessibility and dazzling colors were a great introduction for me to the world of tropical coral reefs.

It’s worth noting the hardiness of zoanthids in captivity and that some colonies experience fungal growth soon after being imported. The fungus problem is due to the organic rich waters they grow in the wild and the sediment rich waste that accumulates between the polyps. Sponges grow readily on these rock and between the polyps and die off quickly once collected and then shipped in bags with the zoos. All this organic waste and dead and decaying material causes the fungus sometimes seen soon after arrival. Careful cleaning of each colony and rapid water flow upon arrival are key to preventing loss. Despite this, zoanthids are very hardy and easy to keep in captivity because of where they are found in the wild.

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