Saratoga County

Pieces of coral sold for growing

Ryan Stewart is bringing part of the ocean to Mechanicville.

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Ryan Stewart is bringing part of the ocean to Mechanicville.

Stewart works at his family-owned Mechanicville Country Living Center, where he has been selling coral and saltwater fish for the last three years.

For anywhere between $15 and $100, customers can buy a fragment of coral that grows about an inch every year.

“Reef — being as in trouble as it is — the big effort now is to try to not take coral out of the reef and try to propagate it at home,” Stewart said.

Coral polyps are small, soft-bodied organisms that are related to jellyfish, according to the National Geographic Society. At their base is a hard limestone skeleton called a calicle.

Coral reefs begin when a polyp attaches itself to a rock on the sea floor, often dead coral. It then divides into thousands of clones.

“The coral reef supports more than you could ever imagine possible,” Stewart said. “It is such a crucial part of the ocean, which is a crucial part of the world.”

Stewart buys living and dead coral from suppliers that obtain it from areas such as Australia, Fiji and Hawaii, but most of his coral comes from tank-grown species or his own supply, he said.

He uses super glue to attach the living coral to dead coral, which it bonds to and expands on over time.

According to the National Geographic Society, coral polyps can live hundreds of years.

Coral is kept in closely monitored saltwater. Stewart monitors his tanks to maintain the proper levels of elements such as calcium and magnesium. The water is kept at between 78 and 82 degrees.

On Tuesday, Al Montgomery of Ballston Spa was at the store purchasing coral and fish. He owns a 65-gallon tank with coral polyps and five saltwater fish.

“It’s having the ocean in your living room, growing it, making it thrive,” he said. “I’ve always had saltwater tanks.”

Montgomery and Stewart are members of the Capital District Marine Aquarist Society. The group’s treasurer, Dave Young, said that there are about 40 full members and 175 less active members in the group.

“The idea behind the Aquarist Society is for us to try to educate each other as best we can,” he said. “If the wild does disappear, I think the hobby is big enough that they almost could come back to us to repropagate for the wild.”

Young said that at least a dozen stores in the area sell coral, and most pet stores that sell saltwater fish also sell coral.

“The technology for marine reef-keeping has really blossomed in recent years,” Young said. “It’s been around for a long time, but it was always difficult to keep the animals alive.”

Coral is also available online. One Web site, www.liveaquaria.com, sells all types of aquatic life over the internet.

According to its site, the company supports suppliers that invest in tank-raised species to protect natural resources.

Laws regarding coral vary by country, but in the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a program that aims to identify and protect endangered coral reefs.

Some other countries also have regulations regarding the number of species that can be taken from reefs and where coral harvesting is allowed.

Young said that his group would support a certification for suppliers and retailers that indicated a commitment to natural preservation and tank-raised species.

“We can share these corals back and forth together,” Young said. “They’re available all over the place, which is why there’s that big push for regulations.”

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