I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The reef tank: building a world

Because we have too much to do, and because Paul is now commuting between Sydney and Melbourne, we have a new hobby. Yes it takes a lot of time and money. It is both a present to me and a desire fulfilled for both of us.

After several months (ordering, waiting, then installing the saltwater tank, and some live rock and letting that settle) we started observing several little creatures who'd stowed away on the rock (a sea cucumber, a sluggy trilobite-looking thing we saw once and never again), and a few little centipedy/wormy things. Then we moved in the clean-up crew (snails, hermit crabs, shrimp, trochus shells), whose job it is to keep the glass and sand clean.

By sheer chance, I was videoing one of the snails when it decided to procreate on its second day in the tank (0.18, 0.26, 0.37)

More on this later.

Finally, a few weeks ago, we put in our first two corals and an anemone.

The anemone is my favourite. It has a pink/red base and a crown of wavy "bubble tip" tentacles. Sometimes you cannot see the red base; other times this pink fleshy stem creeps up and encloses nearly all the tentacles.  This creature also moves around the tank, though it seems settled for now. There is now another pinkish one, though it sometimes appears green at night. Also, our first two clownfish went in. Little black and white ones, with orange chins.

We have been doing elaborate water testing to make sure everything is ok. Paul set up a small generator so water filtering could still go on when we had a 6 hour power blackout a few weeks ago. Various folk have come and given advice and fitted up more filters and processes, and yesterday Paul also bought a machine that will convert ordinary tap water to RO (reverse osmosis) water for top-ups, and thence to sea water with the addition of (sorry!) salt. So not so many trips to buy water from the aquarium. But yesterday he also came home with another pale pink anemone, a donut coral (glows slightly green in the dark and also pulsates), and this fabulous little red coral tree, which is surrounded by sunburst coral.

During the day these are just little pink tubes: at night they blossom into miniature sunflowers.

Most of these creatures and plants are softly, fleshily seductive as they wave their tentacles back and forward, or pulsate in and out around little slits for the movement of air and water, or as they sheath and unsheath themselves. It is all incredibly sexual. No one really knows whether the corals are plants or animals.

The whole world here is utterly absorbing. We pull up chairs and watch as the snails and shells move around cleaning up the sand. I sit on the little step down from the kitchen and peer in. I wheel my bike down the side of the house and see the green anemone draped beguilingly down the side of a rock, waving and glistening in the dark. The back of the tank is developing a lovely mossy patina that traps silver bright bubbles. Things move and float around in the currents. The two little clownfish (French and Saunders) hover around each other and flirt with settling in the anemones, but not yet.

And today, la pièce de résistance: a tiny white snail, stuck to the front of the tank, a thousandth the size of its huffing parent, starting to make its way across the reef. We have a made a world where snails are happy to breed!