Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tonga - Day 10!

Hello everyone. The shipment went off without problems (weather and plane mechanical problems are common in this business). It was time to clean up and prepare for the next shipment. But first, I had to get some breakfast!

I stopped by Friend's cafe and had this great breakfast. Three egg omelette, toast, and bacon with "flat white" coffee. Most of dairy products come from New Zealand, so you can imagine how good it tastes! Back five years ago I ate at this same cafe and ordered the same breakfast. The only exception was that they didn't give any jelly for the toast. I asked the people for some jelly, and soon enough they brought me this brown stuff in a little tiny cup. I put it on my toast and wow! It was the nastiest thing ever. "What is this stuff?" It turned out to be a product called "vegemite". "Called what?" "What's it made from, cow poop?", I asked. Everyone laughed and explained that it is a popular product in Australia, used as a spread on toast and other things. "Crazy Aussies eating crazy things", I thought to myself. But heck, I guess it is an acquired taste, just like durian - the stinky fruit. This fruit is very popular in Southeast Asia and has a terrible smell, like my poop! But people love it and I can't even stand the smell!

Some entertainment from local old timers. Nice island music!

So after the hearty breakfast, I headed to the Fisheries facility to clean up the tanks and organize for the next shipment. I stayed there the whole day and waited for my guys to come back from collecting. "Eddie, check out this fish I caught, what is it?". What the heck! "Dude, you shot a blue lined trigger!" And it was a huge full grown specimen with spectacular colors. Teau also shot himself an octopus too.

Even after being dead for hours, you can still make out the beautiful colors. Check out the pink rim around its fins!

Big nasty teeth can probably take a finger off!

My heart sank as I looked at this dead gorgeous fish. The triggers are known as "chicken fish" in Indonesia because their meat does taste like chicken. It flakes off in chunks like canned albacore. "You are a savage dude, why you shoot this beautiful fish?!" "Hey man, it's food". " Ok man, you stay away from me, you might shoot me and eat me too!" We all laughed. But seriously this was a stunning fish and I wish I could've seen it alive. What many us hobbyists don't realize is that many of the fish available to us in the trade are actually juveniles. Full grown show sized tangs, triggers, angels, and other fish display the true colors of the species that we do not get to see. Big fish like this, needs to be left alone in the wild. First, big show fish like this are breeders, no need to explain how important it is to preserve the big ones that make the small ones. Second, it is too big to ship anyway and probably will die during transit.

The local name of this purple and green anemone is called "malu" anemone. But upon close inspection, it appears to be a Heteractis crispa - a sebae anemone!

So this ugly creature from the deep has been the hype for the past months. It is a sea cucumber and license to harvest these guys was released earlier this year. About ten years ago, a moratorium was set in place by the King, after the locals not trained properly on deep diving, used compressors to go collect these highly prized sea foods. Both collection and compressors were banned in Tonga waters. This is one reason why everyone uses scuba instead of the more safer and less expensive compressors. Talk of releasing licenses to harvest sea cucumbers were buzzing around even five years back when I first started my venture. Finally this year, a set of licenses were released, prompting a mass total destruction of these bottom creatures. Big greedy Asian companies from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, using multiple licenses came in and hauled off tons of these helpless "turds". I hear the next time sea cucumbers can be harvested is in ten years.

As I have said before, wild xenias are extremely hard to ship. Still customers want to try, so I do the best I can to get these sensitive corals to them. Small specimens like this ship better than larger colonies. While I was holding to take the picture, a xenia crab came crawling out!

Here is a closer picture of the crab and xenia. Note the colors are identical to each other. Even the darker stripes on the crab matches the darker stems of the xenia - wow!

Underside reveals that it is a female full of eggs. Unfortunately these crabs eat the xenia that it is living on. I suspect that the actual damage is very little though. The crab probably eats some and the xenia simply heals back. I have seen many xenias before and never had one looked damaged because of a crab.

It was dark and I couldn't see much. I decided to take a few photos and "get out of dodge", as the mosquitoes were starting to swarm! Nice red lobo with a white rim.

Another red lobo but with green edges!

Cute little chalice with bright green eyes!

Marbled two headed Scolymia vitiensis.

So this is one of the corals that Tonga is famous for, the Acanthastrea subechinata. This particular specimen is totally unreal. The colors are actually sky blue and purple! Wow!!! Like good old MC Hammer used to say "can't touch this"!

Orange green montipora with red/pink polyps are super nice!

Red marbled favia is uncommon even in Tonga!

So take a look at this beauty! Can you guess what it is? At first glance it looks like a Cynarina lacrymalis. But the tissue is not translucent and the skeletal teeth are too small to be a Cynarina. So it can only be its cousin, the donut coral (Acanthophyllia desheysiana). The only problem is that it does not look like the Indo or Australian donut coral. Even the skeletal teeth that protrudes upwards does not look like those of an Acanthophyllia. Perhaps a new Acanthophyllia species? I have only seen one specimen so far, and this is it. I hope to find a red one someday!


Ok guys that is it for today. Tomorrow I will be heading to Jakarta. Just a few more posts and we will be done with Tonga.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tonga - Day 9!

Hello everyone. Today is day nine, and we are packing!

After running around town doing errands, like getting money and paying cargo, I stopped at this cafe to get something to eat.

Pretty nice inside. Back five years ago me and my business partner used to have a breakfast meeting here every morning.

I ordered this pasta with clams and garlic bread. Simple egg breakfast was not going to keep me going all day at packing. So I filled up with lots of carbs!

I got a water to go. You probably recognize this brand from Starbucks and other high end cafes and grocery stores. It is bottled in Fiji and readily available in Tonga. The story goes that once Tom Cruise was seen on TV drinking this water. Afterwards, the demand for this water sky rocketed. Coca-cola soon bought out the Fiji company.

I got to the Fisheries facility and my guys were preparing for the pack. Here natural seawater is being filtered through a micron bag for packing water.

Packing water being oxygenated.

Bags of ice to cool down the packing water. No luxuries as chillers here!

Normally we keep this tank empty, and use just for packing.

The night before, selected corals are floated. Leather corals, acros, and euphyllias are the ones that does best floated.

Assorted soft corals ready to be bagged. We like to collect these early in the week. Tongan softies are very sensitive when it comes to packing, so they must be well quarantined.

Out of 100 softies, only half may be good enough to send. Others will have slight damage or have melted. We like to put the damaged ones in the raceway gutters where there is fast flow from all the overflows from the tanks. Most recover in a week and good to go. Overall, the trick to get these sensitive softies to arrive alive is to quarantine them for a good period of time. The softy pictured is the famous Tongan yellow leather.

This Sinularia sp, locally called spaghetti leather, is the most sensitive among the leather family in Tonga (exception is the xenia). But if it arrives in good condition overseas, they do great in aquariums. Indo softies for the most part are very easy to ship compared to Tongan ones. For those of you that don't know, xenias are really hard to ship. Reefers sometimes refers to them as "weeds" because they grow so fast. But what they don't know is that wild xenias require huge amounts of water and oxygen to be shipped, even then the survival rate is very low. But once again, if they arrive in good condition, they are bulletproof!

The finger leather, this lobophyton is becoming very popular from Tonga. These come in yellow and green with green polyps. Sometimes a total brown with super metallic green polyps will be found. These are insane looking!

I ordered from locals some inverts. I asked for small turbo snails and these Tongan sized ones were brought to me. Too big for aquarium use and my divers ended up taking them home for dinner.

A makeshift packing station.

Plastic bags for packing. The big problem about Tonga is that everything has to be brought in from overseas. Everything from rubber bands to boxes, the costs are high. Not like here in Indo, where everything is readily available.

Corals to be shipped are placed into the packing tank. Here they sit while the water cools down. Good to have the corals get acclimated to the cooler water before packing.

Carbon is used to keep toxins at bay. Soft corals especially will benefit from the carbon. A little spoon full is used on the softs, while half the amount is used on hard corals.

After the coral is packed, it is placed in another bigger bag before being placed in the box. During flight the bag will expand and then deflate when the plane descends. It is at this point that the bags can collapse and end up laying on its side (or even burst), spilling the water out. So the extra outer bag helps to keep the water from spilling all over. Note the floating carbon pieces!

Ice packs are used to keep the corals cool during transit.

A scale to weigh the boxes. Our boxes weigh around 27-30 kilos each. In Indonesia, normal weight is 22-23 kilos, but again we use bigger boxes from Tonga.

After a hard day of packing it was time to get some grub. We hit a local fast food place and my guy ordered this barbecue combo - chicken and hot dog with coleslaw and rice.

My other guy got tapioca root with curry chicken. Curry and barbecue are most popular in Tonga.

And for me, "Kentucky" as it is called. As you probably already guessed, fried chicken!


Ok guys that is it for today. I am posting this from Bali.

People have often told me that I should not post certain trade secrets (like packing protocols), that my enemies will take advantage. But my feeling is that if it helps to get corals alive to overseas where the end user, the reefers (you guys) can enjoy a healthy coral, then it is all good. My goal for this blog is to educate and share information on what goes behind the scenes of the aquarium trade. Remember from my first post, I am here to try to make a difference in the industry.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tonga Videos!

Hello everyone. I will be leaving for Bali tonight. But before I go, I have uploaded all of my videos from Tonga. There are fifteen of them and the links are below, enjoy! - Eddie.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tonga - Day 8

Hi everyone. After a week of collecting corals, we took a day off to prep the corals for export.

I used to prep the corals for export in these two fiberglass tanks back five years ago. The rope is for the shade cloth, so the cloth can sit flatly over the tanks.

This time around, we got allocated to the concrete tanks.

An assortment of beautiful montiporas sitting on a plastic crate.

And here are the tools to prep the corals. Prepping means to clean the corals of sponge and other things that can foul the water during transit. Inverts like worms, snails, nudibranchs can die in the bag and foul the water, killing the coral. The ax is to trim unnecessary rock that the coral is sitting on.

We had to work fast as the sun was bright and corals can bleach in matter of hours. Even with the shade cloth, we still had some corals bleach. Deep water corals like Pavona maldivensis were especially susceptible to the sun.

For better organization, each type of coral was grouped together. Basically we collect for certain amount of days and then I pick out the best from the batch for the orders. Afterwards, the left over corals are taken back to the sea.

Today was especially hot, the sky was almost pure blue.

A nice tray of pocilloporas. Some are pink, while others are pink and green. These corals are not so popular in the states, but in Europe, they are much more appreciated.

Tongan Scolymia vitiensis comes in mostly in orange and green. Sometimes a pink one will be found. The multiple headed ones look like the Indonesian versions. The colors don't look so good because of the sun. If you don't believe me, the next time you change water in your tank, take your best looking coral and take it outside in the sunlight - for sure it will look "dooky" brown!

It was lunch time and Teau went to look for some grub. This is what he came back with. Barbecue chicken with rice and macaroni and some strange sausages. "This sausage taste like human, yuck!" That is what I said. "How you know what human taste like?" Tau said. "Well if I had to eat you, then I would imagine it would taste like this sausage, what the heck is this made from?" "You don't want to know". "Okay you can have it!"

Back five years ago when I first got to Tonga, I met these two guys. Teau was a new diver (left) and didn't know what coral was and Tau (the one with the hat) didn't know how to swim and worked as boatman. I got Tau a 7mm wet suit and told him to jump in. He was actually scared of the water, but found out that he couldn't sink with the heavy duty wet suit. I told him that he couldn't be a boatman for the rest of his life and told him to learn to dive and collect corals, so he can make more money. As a diver he makes over 10 times a boatman does. With my training on the corals, both of these guys became superb coral collectors. I am very proud of them.

Did I mention that these two guys are from the US? They got deported after getting in trouble with the law - selling drugs. Teau even has multiple bullet wounds! The island really has made them humble though, and of course they regret what they did, could of had a good future in the good old USA. But then again, who would I trust to get good corals if they weren't here? I always tell them that things were meant to be, that three of us would be working together in Tonga - it is destiny!

My laptop to check up on the orders. And my favorite Tongan drink, a pineapple fanta! It is made in Fiji and tastes incredible!

Couple of strays looking for a handout.

This old man was around back five years ago. I used to share my lunch with this chap! Five years on the island really had taken a toll on him though. He was all beat up and scarred and even had a limp. Poor guy, should have ended up in Bali where the dogs are well taken care of.

Here are few corals that I took pictures of.

A very cool looking Acanthastrea subechinata. The cobalt coloration appears blue in the wild.

A cherry metallic orange Scolymia. Even under the flash, you can see the metallic color. Wish had my lights, like I do in Indo.

Yellow green pink eyed marbled favia - nice!

This favia is actually very red with strange markings. Really need halides!

I have heard that these acans can turn baby blue under halides. This little one definitely has a chance to turn blue!

Finger leather with a scolymia on one rock. Many of these type of leathers come with bright green polyps - very popular!

Superb lobophyllia with white mouths!

Check out this funky acan. Two morphs actually have fused together - very cool!

Another nice favia. This one is pink purple blotched!

Killer green and pink Acan maxima!

Nice purple and green acropora. Looks similar to a rosaria species with white polyps.

Thick branch tenuis. The colors are intense on these popular acros.

A big "frag" of Acropora nasuta. The colors are ultra green with purple tips. This is one of the harder to keep colored acros from Tonga. In aquariums, it will turn brown first and then color back up, need to have patience with this species.

I have had requests for yellow milleporas in the past. We are not talking about green ones that have bleached, but true yellows. Tonga has them, and I don't see too many of them in Indonesia.

Nice cluster acropora, purple with purple polyps!

Green and pink pocilloporas are always nice!

A cute nano teal colored sized acro!

This little chalice looks like an oxypora. Most of the chalices from Tonga have been echinophyllias. The other two chalice species is the mycedium and echinopora, which I haven't seen too much of in Tonga.

This maze brain is either a goniastrea or a platygyra. The Tonga species of these two type of corals are very similar. In the ocean floor, this coral was glowing blue (that is what the diver said).

People don't know it but Tonga has some nice gonioporas too!

This strange looking soft coral is locally called "speckled leather". When the polyps come out, it looks like little speckles. Comes in green and brown, but the polyps are always brown. Not so popular in the trade.

A green scolymia vitensis. Tongan scolys look similar to Indo ones, but you will never find a small scoly like this in Indo.

A pink and green tabling Acropora hyacinthus. A sensitive acro, reserved for the advanced sps keepers. Indonesian counterparts are much more hardier, really don't know why as the corals look identical.

The famous pink Acropora millepora!

One of the easier acros to maintain from Tonga, the Acropora sarmentosa. This one is dark green with orange tips.

One of the most beautiful sps (short polyp stony) coral species, the stylophora. Note the brownish areas, these are actually green polyps!

A cute little pink stylo, looks almost aquacultured!

Nice yellow stylophora with green polyps!

"eddie lobo" as it is called in Makassar! The Acanthastrea maxima, not quite as nice as the Indo ones, but hey we'll take it!

Gorgeous plate sized Echinophyllia aspera! Green blue base with pink eyes!

Orange bluish Acan subechinata. The eyes of the bluish side is pink in color!


Ok guys that is it for today. I have returned to the US a few days ago. Tomorrow I will be flying out to Hong Kong. I will stay there for a few days and then off to Bali. I will continue to post on Tonga until all the days are finished. Coming up next, I will post the videos I took from Tonga from HK.


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