Re:H. Reidis are sick, H. Erectus are fine

Pete Giwojna

Dear Tom:

I’m sorry to hear about the breathing problems that your Hippocampus reidi and juvenile Hippocampus ingens have developed, sir.

I completely understand why you have administered the medications and treatments you mentioned, Tom – respiratory distress and labored breathing are often the result of protozoan parasites, gill flukes, or other ectoparasites which typically invade the gills first and foremost. But after hearing that you have had negative results after treating for parasites with metronidazole and praziquantel, as well as with formalin baths, I am thinking that you may be dealing with something other than a parasite problem, sir.

Most of the time when there is an outbreak of parasites – particularly the rapidly reproducing protozoan parasites – all of the fish in the tank are affected to one degree or another, and clownfish are typically even more prone to such problems than other fish. Secondly, you are using ozone in conjunction with your protein skimmer, Tom, and ozone can effectively control many pathogens and protozoan parasites when it is used properly. In any case, the formalin baths should cleanse the seahorses’ gills of parasites, including Uronematids, yet the affected seahorses experienced no relief from their symptoms following the baths.

So I am unsure whether or not hyposalinity would produce any better results, Tom. Is there anything else that you can think of that may have stressed your Hippocampus reidi and H ingens? Is it possible they may have received a sting from one of the corals? Have you noticed any of the other fish harassing the affected seahorses, or have any of the erectus or comes been attempting to assert dominance over the reidi and ingens? Have you noticed any headbutting or tail wrestling among the seahorses?

Whatever it is stressing the ponies, Tom, it may be no coincidence that only the Hippocampus reidi and juvenile ingens have been affected because those two species are very close relatives.

In fact, I usually think of H. ingens as a giant version of the Brazilian seahorse (H. reidi), which is it’s closest evolutionary ancestor. Hippocampus ingens is the only seahorse in the eastern Pacific, and it is closer genetically to the Atlantic H. reidi than any of its western Pacific counterparts (Dames, 2000). As a result, the two are believed to have diverged from a single ancestral species as a result of the formation of the Isthmus of Panama three million years ago (Lourie et al 1999).

The two species are very similar in their behavior and aquarium requirements, and both follow the same reproductive strategy, delivering huge broods of very small fry following a short two-week gestation period, after which the newborns must undergo a prolonged pelagic period of further development amidst the lipid-rich planktonic soup.

So I am wondering if this could be some sort of an environmental problem – some factor that is unfavorable to the closely related reidi and ingens, but which does not bother the unrelated Hippocampus erectus and Hippocampus comes seahorses. The problem is that I have great difficulty in coming up with an environmental condition that would affect only the reidi and ingens, since their aquarium requirements are very similar to those of erectus and comes…

One thing that did occur to me, however, is that it could be possible that excess ozone may be escaping into the main tank from your ozonizer, Tom, and residual ozone can be irritating to the gills of the affected fish.

As you know, Tom, ozone – the triatomic form of oxygen (O3) – is highly unstable and a powerful oxidizing agent. Excess ozone escaping into the aquarium water can have several harmful effects on the aquarium inhabitants. The safest way to use ozone is in conjunction with an ORP controller, which can automatically shut down the ozonizer when needed, and when using it in conjunction with a protein skimmer, the outflow from the protein skimmer should be diverted through a large bed of activated carbon to allow the ozone to degrade and to remove residual ozone before the water is returned to the aquarium.

Even when all the necessary precautions are observed, problems can still occasionally arise if the protein skimmer, associated airline, tubing, valves, and gaskets are not made of ozone-resistant materials. The use of improper materials can result in the erosion of the plastic itself or key components, resulting in leakage, and the residual ozone that is released can be harmful in a number of ways. Even when ozone is used properly, there are a few risks to be aware of, as explained below, sir:

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Materials used in an ozone treatment system must be highly resistant or inert to ozone. Use of improper materials can lead to erosion of the unit and cause dangerous and costly leakages. Such systems are not suitable for the long-term application of ozone and require on-going, high replacement costs. The generation of ozone in systems with substandard materials is also less efficient as ozone is lost as the materials of the reactor are oxidised. The use of some plastics, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polycarbonate is not recommended for long-term applications for this reason. Galvanised steel is also not recommended.
Stainless steel contact chambers and piping are recommended for use with ozone. Valves should be made of stainless steel, with gaskets and membranes of Teflon® or similar.

Ozonation of brackish or seawater results in the production of different by-product oxidants to freshwater. Ozone reacts with bromide and chloride ions in saltwater to produce relatively stable oxidants that are toxic to aquatic organisms. Use of ozone in saltwater systems is usually restricted to batch treatment of water separate to the main recirculating flow. Activated carbon filtration can be used to remove residual ozone and other oxidants from ozonated saltwater.

The reduction of nitrite levels by ozone, which directly oxidizes nitrite, carries a risk. The biofilter receives less nitrite and the population of bacteria responsible for processing nitrite to nitrate diminishes. If any disruption to ozonation occurs, dangerous spikes in nitrite concentration can subsequently develop.

High residual ozone concentrations are a risk to cultured fish stocks causing gross tissue damage and stock mortalities.

High residual ozone concentrations are a risk to bacterial films on the biofilter. Disruption to biofilter performance can cause large fluctuations in ammonia and nitrite levels. This can have a lethal effect on fish stocks or at the very least reduce stock health and growth performance. <;
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Among other effects, residual ozone can be irritating to the gills of fish that are exposed to unacceptable levels, causing tissue damage. It could be that you may have had some residual ozone escaping into your tank in one manner or another, Tom, and that the Hippocampus reidi and juvenile Hippocampus ingens are more sensitive to the residual ozone (or its oxidation products when it reacts with bromide and chloride ions in saltwater) than the other fish in the tank.

That is one possibility for an environmental factor that could account for the symptoms you have noticed, sir…

If you feel that could be a possibility, you may want to doublecheck the materials used in your protein skimmer and the associated airlines, etc., to make sure that their ozone resistant, and to make sure that the outflow from your protein skimmer is filtered through a dense bed of activated carbon before it is returned to the aquarium. Consider administering the ozone in conjunction with an ORP controller.

Otherwise, Tom, I would also suggest that you consider administering daily doses of Sanolife MIC-F probiotics to your seahorse tank on the off chance that you may be dealing with bacterial gill disease, as explained in more detail below:

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The Use of Probiotics for Disease Prevention and Control

The use of probiotics has long been regarded a promising area for future research in aquaculture. Simply put, probiotics are mixtures of specially cultured microbes and microflora that are known to be beneficial to the aquarium and its inhabitants. When added to the aquarium, probiotics populate the aquarium substrate and filter media, as well as colonizing the gastrointestinal tract of the seahorses. Probiotics that colonize the digestive system of the seahorse with beneficial microflora can offer protection against certain pathogens by means of competitive inhibition, and there is also good evidence that suggests they may improve immune function by increasing the number of IgA-producing plasma cells, increasing or improving phagocytosis as well as increasing the proportion of T lymphocytes and Natural Killer cells.

At the same time, other beneficial bacteria in the probiotics mixture colonize the sand and gravel, live rock, and filter media, where they specialize in breaking down waste products, detritus, and other organic matter. This helps to maintain optimum water quality by reducing organic loading, stabilizing the pH, improving the clarity of the water, and reducing the levels of nitrates and phosphates in the aquarium.

In short, probiotics can prevent seahorse diseases by three mechanisms: dramatically improving water quality, boasting the immune system, and outcompeting pathologic bacterial, such as Vibrio. This is important for the seahorse keeper to know because Vibrio is the genus of bacteria that are most commonly associated with infections such as tail rot, snout rot, and marine ulcer disease or ulcerative dermatitis. in addition, probiotics are also known to markedly reduced the incidence of gas bubble syndrome (GBS) when seahorses are kept in small, closed-system aquariums, probably by virtue of their ability to promote optimum water quality (Dan Underwood, personal communication).

Until recently, the use of probiotics in aquaculture has been confined primarily to livestock intended for human consumption (e.g., food fish and edible shrimp), rather than for ornamental fish intended for the aquarium industry, but that’s beginning to change, particularly in acknowledgment of the growing problem with drug-resistant strains of bacteria.

Fortunately, for the first time in the history of the aquarium hobby, probiotics are now becoming widely available to home hobbyists and at a very economical cost. They are inexpensive, extremely easy to use, and can often be real lifesavers for fish maintained in home aquariums.

Anything that can help protect seahorses against Vibrio and other pathogens is certainly worth investigating and I strongly recommend that the home aquarist use probiotics in any aquarium that has suffered an outbreak of disease, especially bacterial infections such as snout and tail rot or marine ulcer disease (ulcerative dermatitis). Adding probiotics to the main tank at the first sign of such a problem will inhibit and help eliminate pathogenic bacteria from the aquarium. This can prevent your seahorse tank from becoming a "sick tank" that harbors a disease reservoir that will continue to take a toll on the remaining seahorses in the aquarium over time.

It is crucial to prevent this unfortunate situation from developing, because a sick tank that has suffered an outbreak of disease and now harbors a reservoir of pathogenic bacteria can continue to strike down new victims in the weeks and months ahead. At first, healthy seahorses may be able to successfully resist the opportunistic invaders, but small numbers of the pathogens will nonetheless remain, lurking silently in the background, ready to take advantage of any pony that should become stressed or weakened for any reason in the interim. What often happens under such circumstances is that the hobbyist will continue to lose individual seahorses to the same sort of disease symptoms even though all of his aquarium parameters look good and his herd appears to be perfectly healthy. For no apparent reason, one of the healthy ponies will suddenly sicken and die, so that the beleaguered hobbyist is losing additional specimens, one at a time, every few weeks or every month or so despite every precaution.

Adding probiotics to the main tank at the first sign of a disease outbreak can disrupt this deadly cycle by outcompeting the limited numbers of the pathogenic microbes and displacing them from the aquarium itself as well as the aquarium fish. At the same time, the probiotics will enhance the immune function of the seahorses, strengthening their immune response and making them more disease resistant. So please be aware of this fact and take full advantage of the benefits probiotics can provide if your seahorse tank should suffer a disease problem.

Best of all, the probiotics are equally effective in helping to prevent disease outbreaks in a healthy marine aquarium. They can prevent pathogenic bacteria from gaining a toehold in your seahorse tank in the first place via the phenomena of competitive inhibition, and will boost the immune system of the healthy seahorses, further enhancing their disease-fighting abilities. Savvy seahorse keepers can thus help prevent disease problems by routinely adding appropriate probiotics to their healthy seahorse setups.

When a seahorse has been healthy in an aquarium for a year or two with no problems, and then suddenly dies for no apparent reason, the culprit is often a gradual deterioration of the water quality caused by the slow but steady accumulation of detritus, waste products, and other organic matter over time. This is particularly true when the seahorses are maintained in small, closed-system aquariums. Even though you are diligent in cleaning the aquarium when performing regular water changes, the organic loading of the aquarium system inevitably builds up over time. Along with the increase in the detritus and organic wastes, undesirable bacteria are also building up as always happens when conditions begin to become unsanitary.

In a small home aquarium, the water quality can go downhill quickly, and what typically happens in such a scenario is that the organic loading and associated undesirable bacteria build up until the aquarium system reaches a tipping point, after which the water quality declines, stressing the seahorses. Eventually, prolonged low-level stress weakens the seahorses and suppresses their immune response, allowing opportunistic bacteria to gain the advantage, and the seahorse develops an infection as a result.

The use of probiotics prophylactically can disrupt this process by degrading waste products and excess organics, preventing them from accumulating in the aquarium. At the same time they are improving and stabilizing the water quality, they are helping to displace and eliminate harmful bacteria within the seahorses and within the aquarium by outcompeting them and boosting the seahorses’ immune response.

Using probiotics prophylactically can be especially helpful under the following circumstances:

(1) you are having difficulty stabilizing the pH in your seahorse tank;
(2) you are having a problem with nuisance algae in your seahorse tank;
(3) you are having trouble controlling the nitrates and/or phosphates in your seahorse tank;
(4) you cannot operate a protein skimmer on your aquarium to remove dissolved organics;
(5) the water in your aquarium is not as clear as it should be.

And, of course, the use of probiotics in your aquarium is always indicated whenever there has been an outbreak of disease in your seahorse setup.

One probiotic that I can recommend for disease prevention and control in the seahorse tank is Sanolife Mic-F from INVE AQUACULTURE, Inc., a Belgium-based company. Sanolife Mic-F contains special strains of Bacillus aimed at degrading organic matter in the aquarium and inhibiting pathogenic bacteria. It is inexpensive and costs $17 for half a kilogram. It can be obtained in the United States through Teri Potter, INVE’s Utah distributor, whose contact information is as follows:

3528 W 500 S
Salt Lake City
UT 84104
Tel. +1 (801) 956 0203
E-mail: [email protected]

The Bacillus bacteria in the Sanolife probiotic will reduce nitrates and improve water quality by degrading waste products and organic matter. They will also colonize the digestive tract of your seahorses with beneficial microflora that improve their digestion, so your ponies will produce less waste even though they may be eating the same amount. The Sanolife beneficial bacteria also help make your seahorses more disease resistant by helping to eliminate opportunistic pathogenic bacteria through the phenomena of competitive inhibition and by enhancing the immune response of the seahorses.

Dosing Sanolife Mic-F for home aquariums:

The Sanolife MIC-F probiotic can be administered in two ways — either by direct application of the powder to the aquarium water in the main tank on a daily basis, or it can be administered orally by mixing the powder with frozen Mysis or with live adult brine shrimp (Artemia), which are then fed to the seahorses. For best results, both methods should be used simultaneously. Administering the probiotics with the seahorse’s feed will help the special mixture of beneficial microbes to colonize the pony’s digestive tract, allowing the microbes to better stimulate the seahorse’s immune system and outcompete harmful bacteria such as Vibrio. Meanwhile, adding the Sanolife powder directly to the aquarium will encourage the enzymatic activity that breaks down excess organic matter and helps to assure optimal water quality.

Here are the instructions for both methods of administering Sanolife MIC-F:

Procedure for Direct Application of the Sanolife MIC-F To the Aquarium Water

The recommended daily dose is 5 grams of the probiotic per cubic meter of water in the aquarium system. Since 1 cubic meter of water equals 264 gallons, the proper dosage of the Sanolife powder is therefore as follows:

5 g per 264 gallons of aquarium water
2.5 g per 132 gallons of aquarium water
1 g per 53 gallons of aquarium water
500 mg per 26 gallons of aquarium water
250 mg per 13 gallons of aquarium water

[Note: 1 ounce equals ~28 grams]

When you have measured out the proper amount of the Sanolife MIC-F Powder, scoop up a little water from the tank, mix it with the powder and disperse the mixture evenly throughout the tank. Repeat daily.

Procedure for Administering Sanolife MIC-F Orally

Mixing Sanolife Powder with Frozen Mysis

The recommended dosage is 150 mg of Sanolife MIC-F powder per ounce of frozen Mysis. Thaw out 1 ounce of frozen Mysis. If the thawed Mysis is not sufficiently moist, sprinkle no more than 3 mL of water over the frozen Mysis to moisten it. (The added moisture will help the Sanolife powder adhere to the Mysis.) Gently but thoroughly mix in 150 mg of the Sanolife powder with the thawed, moistened Mysis. Then feed the prepared Mysis to the seahorses immediately or store it for a maximum of 24 hours in the refrigerator. Repeat this procedure for each day’s feedings.

Enriching Live Food with Sanolife Powder

Add 500 mg of Sanolife MIC-F powder per ounce of water in the enrichment container directly to the live adult brine shrimp (Artemia sp.) enrichment container. Apply at least two hours and no more than six hours before harvesting the enriched adult brine shrimp. Feed the enriched adult brine shrimp to your seahorses immediately thereafter or keep the enriched adult brine shrimp in cold storage for a maximum of 24 hours before using. Enrich a new batch of adult brine shrimp with the appropriate amount of the Sanolife powder for each day’s feeding.

If treating seahorses for a health problem, continue to administer the Sanolife MIC-F probiotic orally until the symptoms have completely disappeared and the seahorse is back to normal again.

Otherwise, if using Sanolife probiotics prophylactically in your main tank, add the appropriate dose every day for 14 days and then discontinue adding the probiotic powder temporarily. After one month has passed, repeat the two-week regimen of the probiotics, adding daily doses for 14 days. This pattern can be repeated indefinitely in a healthy aquarium, following monthly waiting periods: add daily doses of the probiotic powder for two straight weeks, discontinue using the probiotic for one month, re-dose the tank with probiotics daily for two weeks, rest the aquarium for one month, and so on.
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Okay, Tom, that’s the quick rundown on the use of probiotics. On the off chance that you may be dealing with bacterial gill disease rather than some sort of parasites or a problem with residual ozone or its oxidation products, daily doses of Sanolife MIC-F probiotics could help your seahorses to recover by boosting their immune systems and driving out pathogenic bacteria via the phenomenon of competitive inhibition. The probiotics would also help to prevent any of the other seahorses or fish from being affected.

Finally, if you would like to administer the modified form of hyposalinity that would be compatible with your corals, Tom, it certainly wouldn’t do any harm, as long as you observe all the usual precautions:

Modified OST for Reef Tanks

Reefers generally run a modified version of OST in which they maintain a somewhat higher specific gravity, usually around 1.017 (Thiel, 2003), for a longer period of time in order to control protozoal parasites. Most corals are safe at even lower salinities, but 1.017 usually provides adequate protection and provides a margin for error. In any case, as a rule, reef keepers DO NOT take their systems lower than 1.015 for safety’s sake (Thiel, 2003). (This is also a good option for hobbyists who have only a typical pet-store hydrometer for measuring specific gravity, or anyone with many invertebrates in their seahorse setup.)

Corals typically close slightly immediately after the salinity is lowered, but are open fully again by the next day, and suffer no harmful long-term effects from hyposalinity at 1.017 whatsoever (Thiel, 2003). Reefers who practice OST report that it has no long-term detrimental effects on the growth rate of their corals.

According to Thiel, corals that are know to be sensitive to hyposalinity, and which are thus not well suited for OST, include Seriotopora hystrix, Montipora digitata, Pocillopora species and other similar hard corals with a fine, dense, polyp structure (Thiel, 2003). Acropora species, however, handle hyposalinity well and soft corals are also generally fine, including such sensitive softies as Xenia, Lemnalia, and the like (Thiel, 2003). As long as the pH and alkalinity are maintained at normal levels, most hard corals are not harmed at a specific gravity as low as 1.017.

Remember, it is safe and effective to reduce the specific gravity relatively rapidly when administering hyposalinity, but when raising the specific gravity to the normal levels again, you must proceed very gradually, taking a week or two to return the salinity to normal in order to avoid the danger of dehydration to the aquarium inhabitants.

Also, you can certainly use probiotics in conjunction with hyposalinity if you wish.

Best of luck resolving this baffling problem, Tom!

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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