Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Back in Bali continued...

Hi everyone.  Before we get into today's topic, I'd like to say that my heart goes out to the families and friends of the missing Malaysian airline.  I can't imagine the hell they are going through not knowing the fate of their loved ones.  Few weeks ago I flew on Malaysia Air from Bali to Kuala Lumper to Vietnam to join my wife and my boy.  What if that plane had disappeared instead of the current one?  I would be missing and my family would be going nuts right now.  I hope there will be a good ending to this story.  I heard today that the plane actually turned around and changed course and possibly flew low to avoid detection from radar. I'm hoping it is a hijacking and the plane and the people are somewhere being held hostage, still alive.  Pray for them guys.

So let's get into today's topic, corals!  Although I only stayed in Bali for a short time, I managed to find some nice corals.  Here are some that caught my attention.  But before we get into this, I would like to share a photo that was sent to me by a friend in Malaysia.  Can you guess what these corals are?

From the photo above, this picture looks like it was taken in the ocean, and not from a captive specimen. Both corals appear to be a chalice (echinophyllia sp.), and the rings on the bottom coral seems to be some sort of a flatworm.  Thank you for sending me the photo Darren.
Although the colors on this red fungia are not so great, it is unique in that it has two mouths!  But of course I've seen this type of less colored reds turn into bright incredible specimens in captive environments under artificial lighting!
Check out this cute little goniopora!  It sports a pink lavender base with green yellow polyps with pink centers.  Certainly a cool color combo that will enhance any reef aquarium!
Can you say blue blastomussa!  This picture was taken under T5 10K lighting.  Can you imagine what it would look like under some cool LED's?  
Another nice blastomussa wellsi!  This one is gold centered with an orange rim.  Note I'm standing in water taking the picture.  Always exciting to find exceptional pieces among the hundreds of norm.
So the same blasto as above but taken under T5 10K lighting.  From this picture you can clearly see that the mouths are green - certainly one of the nicer blastos I've seen!
Super bright orange lithophyllons are fairly rare!
So this unique piece was tucked away among the brown corals, looked totally brown at the supplier's facility.  It has a greenish base with bright red polyps.  For sure this little gem as been sitting around for a long time at the supplier's place.  My best guess is that this is a flat forming deep water goniopora.  
This type of echinophyllia was very popular back in the days.  This chalice is actually a "watermelon" type. You can't see the rim color in this picture but under actinics, the rim color can be seen.  Over time in our aquariums, the rim color brightens and the coral turns into a beautiful piece!
Another coral that is super popular these days.  The gold (or yellow) torch.  I've heard that the Australia version of this coral is very expensive, but again everything out of Australia is expensive!  Note the bright green versions on the bottom left corner.
Picture taken at a supplier's farm (in Indonesia, facilities are called farms).  This bright orange favia type will brighten anyone's day!  Super metallic ones like this are not common, usual color morphs are green and reds and some purples.  Another unique find among many commons. 
Bad picture of a nice red carpet.  This one is a gigantea species.  The red carpet prices have skyrocketed in the last few years.  Prices range from $80 to $200 from the suppliers - yikes! 
Can you guess what these little fishes are?  Hint, they are have little wings!  These are actually baby flying fish! You can see how small they are when you reference them to my left hand.  Cute and colorful but doubt if they can survive in a captive aquarium.  But what a surprise, you never know what you will find at a supplier's place - and that is part of the excitement when hunting for corals! Here is a video of the cute little guys!
One of the nicer bread and butter acanthastrea species, the echinata.  This one is metallic orange green with green centers.  I remember back in the days the craze for the echinatas, one of them called "orange crush" !
Nice echinophyllia chalice.  Even with the picture taken with flash, you can still see the bluish color on this incredible coral.  Can you imagine what it would look like under some LED's?!

Conclusion

Before I went to Bali I was hearing rumors that Indonesia had found a new batch of a new crazy kind of chalices off of Makassar.  I heard this from several people in the trade and heard of rumors of exporters hording these pieces, even buying them at exorbitant (crazy high) prices.  Well I went to Makassar to check out these crazy echinophyllias that were being horded.  Sorry to say that I found no corals in Makassar due to the Cites quota not being released to the exporters at the time and the suppliers were not stocking up. Because of strict regulations in Makassar, even the fishermen are not allowed to collect corals without proper documentations from the exporters.  And the exporters at the time were waiting anxiously for the quota to be released.  Once the exporters get the paperwork, it is sent to the suppliers.  The suppliers have fishermen working under them that collect the corals.  Without this document, everyone is likely to get fined or jailed if caught with wild corals.

But I did talk to the suppliers about the corals, the availability, the prices and such. The prices have gone up overall and supply on some of the rarer stuff has diminished but there was no such thing as new species of chalices that were being horded.  I did see some pictures of the nicer corals from the past on their smart phones, but nothing that stood out.  Even the suppliers said that there isn't really anything new that I haven't seen.  If anything, the nicer stuff has diminished since I was active a few years ago.  Makes all sense as the nicer stuff was already hard to get, and it has been some time since I made Makassar chalices, Makassar zoas, and other corals very famous and highly sought after.  

We as industry supporters (both hobbyists and people in the business) sometimes have no idea what is taking place overseas.  Part of the reason why I started this blog was to educate the public on what is going on, on the beginning supply side of things.  This is one example of how clueless I was before going to Indonesia for the first time.  There was a myth that the Japanese gets the best corals from Indonesia.  And the rumor had it that they have special "jobbers" that cherry pick the best pieces direct from the fishermen before anyone else gets a chance.  Keep in mind that I was not just a hobbyist thinking this, but was a shop owner for many years, besides the huge maintenance company that I ran.  So it was not like I was a newbie thinking this, I was well experienced in the trade.  

Of course when I got to Indo I found things a bit different.  There were no such thing as Japanese guys buying direct from fishermen, or even heard of Japanese people staying in Indo.  So that myth was busted right there.  Rather what was happening was that the Japanese was buying from high quality exporters like CV Dinar.  And Dinar had their own people cherry picking from the suppliers and they were the only one. So of course they had quality stuff all the time.  I made the Dinar guys miserable during my days as they all of a sudden had competition in cherry picking corals in Makassar with me.  But in all due fairness, Dinar never complained about me or tried to stop me from doing business while many other exporters did.  So I have lots of respect for Dinar and they still are the number one exporter of fish and coral.

I am back in the US now on the East Coast.  I live in Southern Maine and it is cold as hell here!  Well not hell but very cold indeed lol!  I already miss Bali and hope to return soon.  Hopefully in a few months my special aquaculture project will be ready for export.  And of course you will hear all about it before hand on my coral adventures blog!

Cheers,
Eddie



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Back in Bali!


Hello everyone!  A miracle has happened and I am back in Bali working on a special project.  I am truly lucky to be able to continue my passion playing with corals in Indonesia.  Tonga really left me in a dark mood and swore that I was done working overseas, but a year later, here I am.  I am grateful to a good friend that invited me to join him to work on a special aquaculture project.  This project is something I wanted to do 7 years ago, but didn't have a license to work with.  I'll explain the details of the project later, along with introducing my Indonesia friend/business partner.  But for now let's have a look at some corals that caught my eye.  I love acros, and to give you a hint, all pieces below will be available as aquacultures in the future. Oh and by the way, I am posting this from a hotel room in beautiful Bali!

This is one of my favorite deep water acroporas from the Northern Bali area.  This is probably a granulosa or a lokani.  It is the "purple monster" species made famous by Steve Tyree.  Steve once came to my shop in the SF area years ago and I showed him "my purple monster" (a Bali cultured piece).  He took a frag back and called it "Eddies purple monster".  But it wasn't this coral that impressed Steve, it was a small Montipora undata colony that I had.  It was green with a purple rim with whitish greenish polyps.  It looked just like the photo in Veron's Corals of the World book.  There were many "undatas" floating in the trade but this one was truly the one from the book.  I gave Steve a piece and he called it the "true undata", a limited edition piece.  In all of the years I spent looking at corals in the South Pacific and here, I have never came upon this particular montipora.  There were plenty of similar undatas but never the piece I had.

Ok, sorry got off the topic I tend to do that when talking about corals.  I have so many stories that can relate, forgive my absent mindness.  Anyways the picture of the granulosa-lokani was taken under 10K T5's. The base color is much more green than it shows.  As many of the deepwater acros do, the colors will change under artificial lighting in our aquariums.  The purple tips can turn into an intense purple, thus the term "purple monster"!  
Nice little colony of Acropora plana.  The picture was taken with flash under natural dim lighting, but you can still make out the gorgeous colors.  Another gem found in deeper waters of Northern Bali!
Of all the acropora species, the milleporas are among the most popular.  They come in all kinds of cool colors and mixtures.  This one is an oldie but goodie, red with yellow tips.  Again this photo was taken with flash under normal lighting conditions.
I took this picture out of the water with flash.  This raspberry green milli is insane!  
A large frag of another Acropora millepora.  This one is purple blue with whitish tips, super nice!
Take a guess at this deepwater bottlebrush acro.  If you said echinata, you're going to Disneyland!  In the ocean, the colors are green blue with sky blue tips.  In our aquariums, many will turn sky blue.  Like many of the delicate deepwater species, this coral can bleach quickly if not careful.  Oh and did I mention it has blue polyps?  Nice!
So this is what a wild "red dragon" acropora looks like out of the ocean.  Under 10K T5s, the coral looks brown.  In the wild, this coral shows off its true colors as red!  In our aquariums, with the correct lighting, this coral can turn into a dark burgundy to a real red color.  The actual species is a guess, and I'll cover more on this later when I build a database for my Northern Bali collection.
This brown coral was sitting in a corner getting no love in my supplier's place.  At first glance, it appears to be a brown thin branch granulosa or a lokani.  But the growth pattern on the tips was unusual, in some parts the corallites were growing fused together kind of like a simplex.  The body color was a bit unusual and I kept staring at it.   Something was different about this piece but couldn't figure it out.  Finally I asked the diver if this coral was orange in color when collected.  He responded by saying that it was red!  
I went back to my hotel and grabbed this little blue LED flashlight in a hurry!
And behold, the coral was indeed red!  Notice the green tip color on the corallites?  Looks like green polyps that is withdrawn.  Just like the red dragon, this coral has the potential to turn real red in our aquariums.  It turns out that this coral is kind of rare in the wild.  The diver confirmed only seeing it from time to time.  I had this coral immediately chopped up into pieces and mounted onto cement bases to be kept as broodstock for the future.
This is a picture of the red dragon under the blue LED.
And here is the typical bottlebrush type of acro that is not red.  Actually all the non red corals look this color under the blue LED flashlight.

CONCLUSION

I cannot tell you in words how excited I am about being back in Bali.  Not just being here, but to be able to work on a project that I've been saving for years.  I thought I would never get the chance but guess God is looking after me, or maybe he just likes corals too LOL!  I have lots of stories to tell and corals to talk about, so please stand by.

Also I will be updating on my facebook page, so if you would like to become friends, please send me a request.  Eddie Hanson is my name and you can reach me at   joylucktp2000@yahoo.com for any questions or suggestions.

Cheers everyone,
Eddie

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year 2014!

Hello everyone, it has been quite a while since the last post.  I'm sorry I have not updated in over a year, but honestly I had nothing to write about.  Well, I take that back...have plenty to write about...the demise of my Tonga operation and betrayal from a trusted friend.  Have you heard the saying "fool me once, shame on you" "fool me twice, shame on me" fool me three times - well I guess I'm just plain stupid.  For the third time I got screwed out of my Tonga operation and I went through some dark times in depression afterwards.  I thought about leaving the industry but honestly I really don't know how to do anything else, well maybe go back to working at McDonald's like in my high school college days.

I ended up moving to the east coast last winter from California to start fresh in life. I'm writing this from the great state of Maine, let me correct that... great "very cold" state of Maine!  Holy crap it's cold here!  How cold?  Well the weather forecast says that the high will be 10 degrees F and the low will be -10 in the next few days. Nevertheless the cold weather woke me up from the depression I was in, and a year later,I have something new to introduce to you all.

Welcome to my next adventure, the Aqua-Theatre Entertainment System. AquaTES for short, is basically a fish tank that houses a TV as the background. The whole point is to be able to control the background of the aquarium using DVD players and an LED TV.  This way the look of the aquarium can change with different videos or pictures.  To fully understand the whole concept please go to my website.  I'm actually quite proud of my site, considering that I had no idea how to build a webpage a few months ago.  It did take me two months to build and I got help from friends and good old Youtube.  Check out every page of the site as I have embedded videos on each menu.



Aqua-Theatre Entertainment System single TV.

Aqua-Theatre Entertainment System single TV blue back.

Aqua-Theatre Entertainment System dual TV.



Sample video of my AquaTES.  "Auld lang Syne"

For more videos, please visit my youtube page.




Sunday, July 22, 2012

Making Liverock Part 2!

Hi everyone, hope you all are having a great summer.  Let's continue on in making artificial liverock!

After lunch break, we got to start actually making rock from the cement mix.  As you can see the first trial didn't turn out good.  We had too much water and too much of the volcanic rock and really couldn't hold any shape.  We just ended up playing around with the mixture to get a feel for it.
The next day we tried again.  We got smarter this time and made small batches to the get consistency correct.  We even found pink grout color at one of the hardware stores, not quite the same as cement color but will have to do.  The color turned out to be pink, don't know why I expected to be more reddish when the label said "pink" - ha! ha!  Nevertheless we were excited to try again.
So it was starting to look better, still not the shape I wanted.
 No matter what we did, the form would just kind of sag down - frustrating!
One of the guys got creative and made this "pig" shape!
 Then we got the hang of things.  The trick was to not to touch the mix with hand, rather just kind of let it fall on its own forming the shape it wants to.  After this piece drys it would be turned over and the flat side would get formed.  Then it would have to sit out in the ocean probably for at least 4 months for the coralline and other things to grow to make it look like natural rock.  At this point we were confident that we could shape larger various pieces using this technique.
The next thing  I wanted to do was to find a way to produce the rock quick and easy.  Perhaps a mold would do the trick.  Like all things, have an idea, must experiment to try to make it happen.  So we were going to attempt to make a mold for the rock out of cement.  We poured loose cement into this form to start.
Got a piece of rock already made, better looking than ours but with more practice we could make awesome pieces I'm sure.
We used cooking oil to help the cement from sticking onto the rock too much.  Don't laugh, remember we were at the experiment stage, so anything goes that we might think it would help.

Then we placed the rock into the cement and waited.  Well, waited too long and it got cemented in!  Couldn't pull the rock out - ha! ha!
We tried again and kind of success.  Here is the mold and we applied lacquer so the rock being made would be easier to pull out.  The flat side then could be formed with loose cement to make it more natural looking.  This whole mold idea was promising, just have to experiment with it more.
Another idea we tried was to make a simple mold out of styrofoam.  Again brainstorming for ideas!
So here it is drying, kind of ugly shape but like I said, only an experiment.  
The idea worked, the shape now could be mass produced easily.  Using our technique of letting the cement falling, we could form nicer natural looking formations on the top of this rock - both sides that is!
When I get tired of working on one project, I like to start meddling around.  In this case, we had a bunch of single loose mushroom heads (left overs) in one tank.  For fun I glued the single pieces onto an artificial rock!  I trimmed down the rocks on the mushroom heads just big enough to be glued to the man made rock. I used regular cement so you can see the grey.  If I had access to the same color dye as the rock, then it would really look good.  Anyways you get the idea, and this is something that I want to produce in big quantities in the future.  Indonesians are masters at making these kind of things!
Just messing around:)!

Conclusion

So I hoped you liked this topic.  I got to experiment with ways of making artificial rock.  It was a good start, unfortunately I ran out of time and had to come home back to the US.  But, I am confident that we could produce premium great shaped man made rock in the future.  I hope you have learned something new from this post, and if you have other ideas or suggestions, please let me know I would love to hear them.  You can post a comment here or send me a message at joylucktp2000@yahoo.com

Cheers,
Eddie

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Making liverock Part 1!

Hello everyone.  Today we are going to have some real fun, going to make artificial liverock!  Man made rock is crucial to the future of this industry.  After all, how long can we keep taking wild liverock from our reefs?  There must be a sustainability factor to keep our hobby going.

Years ago Anthony Calfo came out to Tonga to do some consulting work for me.  We talked about making artificial liverock at the time, even when we had quota for wild rock.  But I knew in the future wild rock quota would be taken away and I wanted to have something to replace.  Of course my predictions came true and few years ago, export of Tonga rock was banned.  And due to corrupt partners, I got screwed on my investments and hard work and never was able to fully work on any projects, including the  cultured liverock.  But things are different now as I have good partners and even have my own license to work with!

In my opinion four things need to be considered when making artificial rock:

1.  Must be made from readily available materials on the island.
2.  Must be made from materials that do not come from the sea, to avoid Cites issues.
3.  Must be light to make landed cost effective (very important).
4.  Must be appealing, good shapes and sizes to compete with wild rock.

One of the hardest things to figure out is how to make the rock not so heavy.  The basic component of the man made rock is cement, and cement is heavy.  Something must be mixed in to make it light as possible.  Things like pasta, fruit, plant leaves, etc.. can be  mixed in and later to rot out in the ocean to eventually make it light.  I even used styrofoam particles once but ended up being too light and floated! - yikes!.  Anyways the best material to use are normally available on the beaches of islands.  These are volcanic lava rocks that are extremely light and porous.   They float on water and  get washed up on the shores of far away islands by the currents.  So since volcanic islands are common in the South Pacific, these rocks are normally readily available.  In the above picture I am holding two of these pieces.  This picture was taken during one of my adventures in Indonesia.
As you can see, they actually float!

This Indo guy was chopping up the bigger pieces into smaller ones at one of my coral suppliers.  It looks like bags of cement are standing by to make artificial rock.  I never got to see samples of these liverock but I did see the ones made on Turtle Island Bali.  I looked for the pictures of those pieces but couldn't find it in my zillion picture database.  The rock was beautiful in color, solid purple coraline and everything.  But the rock was too heavy, the locals had used river stones to give it shape.  Also all the pieces had a flat bottom making them look unnatural.  But the main problem was that the rock was not able to be exported!

I got the full story and couldn't believe my ears.  After making tons of this rock and putting it into the ocean and taking care of it, the exporters that contracted out the local Balinese fishermen couldn't get permits to export the man made rock.  The reason was that although the rock was man made, it sat out in the ocean and things grew on it.  And these "things" need Cites to be exported.  So the exporters were told that the rock could be exported but under wild Cites for liverock.  Since the quota is very small for wild rock, there was no room for the man made stuff, customers of course chose natural over artificial.  So at the time, about 5 years ago, there were literally tons and tons of this rock sitting out in the ocean bottom.  I believe there must have been some sort of a misunderstanding with the government and the exporters.
Anyways that was Indonesia, but we are in Tonga now.  For a fact we could get permits to export man made rock, but first got to make some!  The above rock was made some time ago but never ended up in the ocean.  Note the color is red.  A red cement dye was used to make the base color more appealing.  Evidently while I was journeying around in Indo, the South Pacific Commission (SPC) had come to Tonga to aid in making artificial rock.  They had come and worked with the Tongan Fisheries in conjunction with the exporters to encourage cultured rock for export.  Unfortunately after the training was done, no one ended up moving on with the project. 

But I am back in Tonga and will start the aquaculuture liverock back up, along with a very special secret project that I've been wanting to do since the Indo days.  I'll let you know when the time is right on that!

Ok so let's try to make liverock.  First thing we need are those volcanic stones.  We drove about an hour from town to get to the other side of the island to this beach to look for the volcanic lava pieces!

First it was a pain since the small stones were mixed in with the sand.  We had to sort through the huge amounts of sand to get the little buggers out!
Then we hit jackpot!  We found patches some ways down the beach that were easy to pick up!
We brought back the stones to our facility at the Fisheries building.  We had collected a whole garbage can full!
A close up of the volcanic rock pieces.  These are small but I heard on another beach we can find bigger ones.  No worries as we were anxious to try to make and see how it comes out anyways.
We  mixed up cement and sand from a quarry first.
Getting the perfect mixture of sand and cement takes time to figure out.  This was our first time doing this so it was exciting.  The volcanic stones are thrown into the mix!
Finally water is added.  We didn't have a wheel barrow to mix the mixture, so it was harder to make the compound.
Here are the guys clearing a table to "make" the rock pieces!
Then it was lunch time!  My favorite is barbecue chicken for $5 Tonga Paanga ($3 US).  You get the surprisingly tasty chicken with manioke (cassava) roots.  Other barbecue options include lamb and hot dogs - woo hoo!
Another favorite food is curry chicken or lamb.  Tongans love curry and real cheap too, about $2.00 US.
Time to take a break before the fun begins!

Conclusion

Ok guys that is it for today.  I will have the second part of this thread in the coming days.  I hope you like this topic as I feel it is one of the more important subjects that I have covered on my blog.  Until next time...

Cheers,
Eddie

Aquaculture Northern Bali

November Corals Collection Part. 1

November Corals Collection Part. 2

Aquaculture - November Shipment

Coral Showcase - September 2008 Inventory

Holding Facility's Corals Collection Showcase 2007