Re:seahorse sick?

Pete Giwojna

Dear Tracey:

I’m very sorry to hear that you lost the remaining female as well — all my condolences on the loss of your Hippocampus subelongatus! The bacteria most often associated with marine ulcer disease (a.k.a. ulcerative dermatitis, hemorrhagic septicemia, or flesh-eating bacteria) are Vibrio and Pseudomonas, which are highly infectious and very difficult to eradicate from an aquarium.

Since you have had an outbreak of a highly contagious infection that was transmitted from one seahorse to the next and eventually killed all of the ponies, Tracey, I think it would be prudent to sterilize the tank and all of the equipment in it, and then recycle the aquarium from scratch again before you consider keeping any new fish in the aquarium. And I would be very careful not to spread the infection from the contaminated tank to any of your other aquariums.

Do NOT disperse your live rock, substratum, macroalgae, equipment or accessories from the infected tank to your other aquaria, Tracey, or you risk inoculating them with server your/Pseudomonas and spreading the infection to all your tanks! And you must be extremely careful to avoid accidentally cross-contaminating your other tanks from your infected seahorse tank. Any nets, hydrometers, or other equipment used in your seahorse tank should be sterilized after every use and not placed into or used in any other tanks. Avoid working in your seahorse tank or your hospital tank with your bare hands, scrub/disinfect your hands and arms thoroughly after working on your seahorse tank, and do not place your hands in the seahorse tank and then place your hands in another aquarium. These bacteria can even be transferred from one aquarium to another by splashing water droplets or as an aerosol via the mist generated from a protein skimmer or an airstone. Be careful!

Sterilize the seahorse tank and all the equipment it contains by using a strong bleach solution and then air drying it completely. You can attempt to recycle the live rock by sterilizing it, converting it to dead rock, reseeding it with beneficial bacteria, and then allowing it to be slowly recolonized by healthy sessile life. Once the rock has been sufficiently killed (Bleach/Vinegar/Air dry) it can be placed in a sump to regain its bacteria bed and time will do the rest.

Here is the method that Paul Anderson (Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, University of Florida) recommends for sterilizing systems with stubborn Mycobacteria infections (mycobacteriosis is another very stubborn infection that is contagious and difficult to eradicate):

"Effective disinfectants against mycobacterium include spraying with 70% Ethanol and allowing the equipment to air-dry, and bleach baths (I use 50ppm bleach baths with a minimum contact time of one hour, this has been reported to be effective against M. marinum) followed by sodium thiosulfate neutralization baths. Ultraviolet light sterilization is also recommended in myco-positive systems. If you’ve got myco-positive tanks among other systems, common sense suggests performing husbandry on these systems last in your rounds.

"A note on ethanol: I have found in my experience that seahorses are very sensitive to ethanol, so I advise being very cautious to avoid overspray into adjacent tanks (Paul Anderson, pers. com.)."

So if you want to be really sure you are eradicating any disease organisms in your seahorse tank, Tracey, you might first disinfect the affected tank and all of its equipment with 70% ethanol, allow it to air dry, and then set it up anew and fill it with freshwater, start everything operating again, and administer a good stiff dose of chlorine bleach for as long as it takes for you to feel confident of the results. That will assure that the bleach solution is circulated throughout your protein skimmer, filters, and all the other equipment, thus sterilizing them early both inside and out. I can’t imagine any marine pathogens or parasites that could survive the ethanol disinfection process, followed by prolonged immersion in freshwater treated with an effective dose of beach.

Once you had run the aquarium with freshwater and bleach for long enough to be quite sure that any disease organisms had been eradicated, you could use sodium thiosulfate to pull out the bleach, and add artificial salt mix to achieve the desired salinity/specific gravity. With this method of sterilization, you can keep your skimmer, ultraviolet sterilizer, pumps and powerheads, etc., since all of the equipment gets sterilized thoroughly along with the rest of the tank.

One note of caution: whenever you are using significant amounts of chlorine bleach, it’s very important to work in a well ventilated area and avoid inhaling the fumes. Also be sure to take whatever precautions are necessary to prevent those fumes from entering any nearby aquaria with live specimens via air pumps.

And, as Dr. Anderson noted, when you’ve had a disease outbreak that warrants breaking down and sterilizing the system, it’s a good idea to install and maintain UV sterilization on that tank in the future when it’s up and running again.

Best of luck sterilizing your seahorse tank and equipment and getting it running smoothly again, Tracey.

Just semi-a quick note off list ([email protected]) if you would like to receive the sea horse training program, including the lesson that is to avoid it to disease prevention and control.

Pete Giwojna

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