Opae’ula Breeding at Record Pace in the 10-Gallon

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13 Responses to Opae’ula Breeding at Record Pace in the 10-Gallon

  1. Ann says:

    What a beautiful scene!
    Ann

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    • JimS says:

      Thanks, Ann. I recently cleaned the glass, so I’m able to see the tiny zoeae. They look huge in the videos, but they’re actually so tiny that I don’t see them if the glass is even slightly overgrown or if the lighting isn’t just right. But when the conditions are optimal, they can put on quite a show, slowly bobbing up and down or floating mid-tank.

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      • Ann says:

        I feel that you mix art with science. You’re curious about the fundamentals of their life cycle, but can appreciate the beauty that they provide. That’s wonderful!
        Ann

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  2. Mark Uchino says:

    What a sight to see. Tank looks great. I’ve read almost if not all of your posts. Do you feed your opae or do they just survive off of the algae? Mahalo

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    • JimS says:

      Howzit, Mark. Early in my experiments, I fed them tiny chips from algae wafers as a treat. By tiny, I mean a single button-sized wafer would last a year. But I stopped doing it to return to the original purpose of my experiments: to create a habitat in small containers that mimicked, as much as possible, the opae’ula’s natural anchialine environment. I have colonies in two 10-gallon tanks (one’s an 18-gallon filled to the 10-gallon mark), a 1.5- and 1.0-gallon tank. The conditions are similar in all four. I don’t feed them. They live off the algae that grows naturally in the tank, mostly via indirect sunlight. The 10-gallon (shown in this video), is far from a source of direct sunlight, getting late afternoon rays for about an hour a day. I use LED lighting for periods when sunlight is poor. The smaller tanks are far from direct sunlight, too, but they don’t seem to need artificial lighting. Over the years, I’ve learned that some biological filtering is necessary. In the smaller tanks, I find that a slow-drip hybrid (mechanical and biological) system works fine. In the larger tanks, I use a UGF biological system only. The big difference now is that I turn the system on for only about an hour a day. This limited filtration schedule seems to be revitalizing the 10-gallon tanks. Btw, I also don’t do water changes. I simply top off with tap water. I learned that the tap water in my area is pure with only chlorine gas added. This gas can be removed by letting the water sit overnight in a container. I clean the glass once or twice a year to increase visibility. But these tanks are all works in progress. I’m gauging the health of the tanks daily by the opae activity level. When healthy, they’re very active and they breed. It’s that simple. When either declines, then it’s time to worry and make adjustments. Again, the goal is to create tanks that are mostly self-sustaining.

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      • Mark Uchino says:

        Great to hear back from you. Kike I said your site is a great source for knowledge. Even your other youtube videos makes me miss home. I’m in Ca but born in Oahu like my dad. Mom’s from Lanai. I have a few tanks as well, 6 gallon cube and then a 5.5 and 10 gallon. Cubes been up over a year and doing great. The 5 has been up since November. Seeing little signs of algae. I do feed that one freeze dried spirulina 1x week. Not much. the 10 was started 5 weeks ago. Algae is showing all over. I believe this is due to me cleaning the walls of a 2 gallon and dumping it all in the 10 gallon. The algae seeded well. I stopped feeding that tank this week. If there’s algae on the glass and rocks I think I should be fine?
        I do have a sponge filter turned very low. Do you think that’s ok? or do the opae need still water?

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        • JimS says:

          CA’s almost like an extension of Hawaii — or is it the other way around. So many locals live there. I have family and friends there. I’m experimenting with photography, too, so I’m shooting stuff that’s around me. I’m glad you’re enjoying them. About your tanks: I can see you’re really into opae’ula. The best part is that we’re all experimenting. Conditions are different for each of us, so what works for one person may not work for others. We also have different goals that dictate the kinds of decisions we end up making. The steps you’re going through are normal. We all have to walk similar paths. When you first start a tank, there’s a series of stages that it has to go through. The first is the diatom stage where this ugly brown growth spreads throughout the tank. This is followed by the green algae stage. Both are extensive. Gradually the growth settles down to a kind of steady state. If you don’t go through the diatom stage, it may mean that you don’t have a lot of coral in your tank. I suspect diatoms are a function of coral, but I don’t know for sure. This may take months. I used sponge filters early on, but I found that they somehow sucked the good bacteria out of the tanks and turned them into dead zones where nothing grows. This happened to a 2.5-gallon and a 5-gallon Fluval Chi — earlier tanks that I no longer use. But that could have happened because I ran the sponges 24/7. If I were to try sponges again, I’d probably run them only an hour or two a day. I think they need still water for most of the day. In anchialine pools, the tides create agitation at only certain times of the day. The rest of the time is quite still. Not completely because there’s always some movement with temperature changes. Good idea — cleaning the glass and spreading algae in the water, then transferring some of that cultured water to seed a new tank. I never thought of doing that. Beats starting a new tank from scratch with raw water. But I did mix old water with new to seed new tanks. As you can see, this hobby is trial and error. Keep us posted on how your tanks are developing. About sponge filters: Be careful when cleaning them. The opae can burrow into the filter core and be trapped there when you take them out for cleaning. Tiny juveniles are hard to see, so if breeding occurred without you knowing it, you may not see them. They’re the ones who will slip through tiny crevices. Also, when futzing with the airlines, the filter will move around on the surface of the bottom strata, and that movement could be crushing some of the opae under the filter or close by.

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  3. mark uchino says:

    Hello Jim,

    I wanted to get your opinion regarding the sale of Opae Ula. As far as “sellers” are concerned there seems to be only 2 places that I’ve found that sell that are from Hawaii. Any idea if most are raising and breeding the opae or collecting from the wild? If collecting from the wild they are supposed to have permits which they may not have. Some say it’s being raised on private lands which is great. But what about poaching from the wild? Is this a big issue in Hawaii?

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    • JimS says:

      Hi, Mark.

      Good questions.

      One of the best sources of information is Diane Ako’s article “New Book on `Opae`ula and Its Natural Habitat Hopes to Inspire Conservation” (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 1 July 2015). She reviews “Hawaiian Anchialine Pools: Windows to a Hidden World,” a book written by Mike N. Yamamoto, Thomas Y. Iwai, Jr., and Annette W. Tagawa (Mutual Publishing LLC, 2015). This book is rare! When available, the asking price is outrageous.

      The preservation of opae’ula habitats is an issue — but not a very big one as far as I can tell. From time to time, it pops up in the news as a side story in conjunction with building permits that encroach on natural environments that include anchialine pools. One that’s gotten into the news lately is on the site of a homeless encampment on the Leeward side of Oahu. The fear is that the “residents” are harming the pool.

      Opae’ula are not considered an endangered species, so they lack that safeguard. My best guess is that for-profits are getting their initial batches from the wild or from wholesale or other retail sources. They’re then using artificial mechanical means on private land (ponds, aquariums) to encourage rapid breeding for the purpose of sales. In a word, they’re “farming” opae’ula.

      Protecting natural anchialine sites is difficult if not impossible. One of the businesses that sells (or sold — not sure if they’re still in business) opae’ula claims that the harvesting and sale of opaeula is strictly regulated, but I haven’t seen those guidelines.

      An underlying issue is genetic purity. Researchers are finding that isolated colonies have unique characteristics. When opae are harvested, bred, and sold with no thought to pedigree, the result is a genetic mix that could eventually eradicate unique subspecies. Ako says, “What I found most interesting was a section discussing the genetic differences between shrimp populations on different islands, likely due to the geographic isolation. Quoting an Auburn University study, the book says there are a total of eight variances*: three distinct lineages on Hawaii Island, two on Maui, and three on Oahu. (*If you consider a 5% mitochondrial DNA difference enough to qualify as a new lineage.)”

      Opae’ula are a mystery. They’re endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, but we don’t know how they got here. Also, how did they spread to the different islands? Ako quotes Tagawa about anchialine pool species: “How did these animals get to the Hawaiian Islands? The distribution of some of these species are a real mystery as to how the same species can occur here and somewhere else as far away as the Sinai Peninsula with none of the same species found between here and there. A lot more research needs to be done on the biology and life history of each of the anchialine pool species to solve the mystery in answering some of these questions.”

      As these nature-formed pools disappear, are overharvested, or are contaminated, the opportunities for study are reduced.

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      • Ann says:

        I have that book. It’s fascinating! I often wish that I had the room to be a long term Opae Ula breeder.
        Ann

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        • JimS says:

          Hi, Ann. If you haven’t yet, google the title. You’ve got a small fortune in hand! I planned to but never got around to ordering one. I’m hoping that a 2nd edition is in the works. Lol!

          About breeding. In nature, opae’ula breeding is determined by the sustainable environment. They’ll breed to fit the circumstances. They’ll stop or die off as circumstances wane. So in a small but healthy “natural” tank, breeding probably won’t be as frequent. Just enough to fit the space and resources.

          This means that you could probably start and sustain a 1-gallon tank that’ll breed as long as it’s healthy.

          I’d suggest a gallon jar (the round type) with a small undergravel filter (UGF) filter and small air pump. You could find a jar at a thrift shop. A small UGF that will fit through the top (with a bit of bending) of the jar will cost a few dollars at most. A small air pump would cost around five bucks.

          Lay a stratum of small stones over the UGF, just enough to cover it by about a half inch across the bottom of the tank. Next, lay about an inch of fishtank gravel. These should be fine enough to discourage the opae from tunneling into the UGF — but not so fine that they clog the open spaces between the bottom layer of stones. Next, lay a stratum of slightly larger uneven stones over the gravel, about 1.5-2.0″ inches in depth. The spaces between these stones would serve as the hypogeal (subterranean) living area. These three strata should take up about half the space in the tank. The remaining half, filled with brackish water, would serve as the epigeal (surface) area for grazing and swimming. The roundness of the tank allows the opae to swim non-stop in either direction. They love to swim at full speed.

          Run the pump for about an hour each day. No longer. This should create a biologial filtering cycle. Once the tank settles — about a week or so — introduce about a half dozen opae’ula. They’ll introduce bacteria that will complete the ecosystem. Once a healthy balance is achieved, no feeding is required and maintenance is minimal: top off the evaporated water with fresh water, run the pump for about an hour a day, and clean the inner tank glass (the epigeal portion) two or three times a year for better visibility. Re feeding, I’d suggest not feeding them at all from the get-go. The algae that forms naturally will be enough.

          Place the tank in an area where it receives indirect sunlight or some direct sunlight at the opening or close of day. In other words, try to simulate the natural conditions of anchialine pools. This tiny setup should sustain the opae indefinitely as long as periodic breeding occurs. Use level of activity and periodic breeding as a sign of a healthy tank/ecosystem.

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  4. mark uchino says:

    I have Diane Ako’s book. Read it and passed it on to a friend to read that I had set up with a small opae tank. I’ve also read the article that came up in the Star newspaper.I think any pond on Oahu would not last unless it was protected under private or Government/State land. I have read as much as I could on any finding from Dr. Santos. It seems like the Big Island has the most ponds. Just curious on the “poaching” issue when it comes to Opae Ula. I would assume the ones that are in the business have the permits but who knows it they actually do. I knows there’s a couple of fish stores on Oahu that sell the opae. Colors are what seems to come from Oahu.

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    • JimS says:

      Wow, you and Ann are far ahead of me in the reading department! That book and the article are a great starting point for any opae’ula enthusiast. The upside is that these ponds are in out-of-the-way places, for the most part. This isolation is a buffer against collectors. I read that opae’ula can be found in the Ala Wai canal where mountain streams meet up with sea water. The canal is basically brackish water. They can also be found in streams close to the ocean. Again, these are tough-to-get-to areas, and that’s a good thing. The implication is that these sites are plentiful throughout the islands, and I wouldn’t be surprised if opae’ula are found there.

      About breeding for sales: I don’t think these business people need to continually gather from the natural ponds — if they do so at all. Once they have a starting stock, they can optimize breeding conditions to multiply their colonies quickly. This artificial farming process is probably the one that’s supplying hobbyists today.

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