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Coral culturists already have perpetual lighting and water quality issues to contend with. Not to mention parasitic protozoa, parasitic crustaceans, parasitic flatworms… Sometimes it takes everything in you simply to keep aiptasia at bay. And just as the reef aquarium world is facing yet another outbreak of Rapid Tissue Necrosis (RTN), hobbyists are first learning of a completely new and especially vicious coral health threat: Coral Obesity Syndrome (COS).
As marine dietician Dr. Gordy Pingüe of the Potelé Institute of Coral Nutrition (PICN) warns, COS is fast becoming the biggest scourge of coral laboratories and indeed the aquarium industry. “In the not-so-distant past,” says Dr. Pingüe, “the entire field of coralliculture was hampered by a dearth of palatable and nutritionally complete coral foods.” Those few that were available generally yielded questionable results. The jury is still out on the efficacy of many such “coral vitals,” as he charily calls them.
But how things have changed. This is the age of coral superfoods. After years of being inundated with the maxim “zooxanthellate corals don’t eat,” we’re administering feedings and “dosings” of coral-specific foods like never before. As a consequence, Dr. Pingüe explains further, “COS is hitting us like an after-church crowd at the Golden Corral.”
Pingüe and his PICN colleagues are quick to place blame on web-based suppliers of high-quality aquarium fare such as AlgaeBarn LLC. They argue that aggressive feeding orgies induced by food combos like the ever-popular “Ultimate EcoPack” are exacerbating the occurrence of coral obesity.
Phytoplankton, zooplankton, bacterioplankton, even marine snow… All these things are good for corals. This is what they consume in nature. The availability of these items in the trade has absolutely contributed to the expansion of the reef aquarium industry, if not the individual success stories of countless hobbyists. Not only are these newly improved feeds loaded with healthful fatty acids, carotenoids, probiotics and so on–they are either live or offered in a particle size/form that corals will actually accept, consume and properly digest.
According to Mac Tubbs (intake manager, Port Buxom Coral Rescue), the underlying cause of COS reveals a dilemma most aquarists would never have anticipated a short decade ago. “The problem isn’t that these new feeds are bad; some of them are too damn good! Before, coral foods were so useless that even GSPs wouldn’t touch them. Now everything–LPS, SPS, NPS, whatever–can’t eat enough. It just makes them more ravenous. Some of these trachys can mop up a 16 oz. bottle of OceanMagik and still down the entire Swedish Fish!”
Corals suffering from COS experience peripheral symptoms such as hyperpigmentation and spontaneous polyp extension as well as the defining prodrome, Rapid Tissue Growth (RTG).