Free burgers, bargains, and copepod know-how

ORCA members meet at Top Shelf Aquatics

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(Credit for this photo goes to Ray Wortley, an active member of ORCA and strong advocate for the Coral Reef Foundation.)

Top Shelf Aquatics, the location of Saturday night’s ORCA meeting, was transformed into a zoo with a BBQ as the fishing lure.

Those seeking to start their own coral reef tanks indulged in a symphony for the senses Saturday night at Top Shelf Aquatics as Scientist Adelaide Rhodes, Ph.D. met with an attentive crowd of marine life advocates.

Members of the Orlando Reef Caretakers Association (ORCA) helped her book a flight from Texas to Florida, said Top Shelf Aquatics employee Mitchell Grable, for the occasion.

There were a few regulars and additional newcomers who meandered through the gallery of saltwater fish and coral frags with a burger in one hand and a kid in another.

Florida Reef Aquarium Group (FRAG) brought homemade wine from Divine Wines in Winter Garden.

The knowledgeable staff assisted customers with purchases, while helping ORCA members hand out raffle tickets, the prizes of which were announced after Dr. Rhodes demonstrated her knowledge of copepods.

“She is the top person in the United States on copepods,” says David Hill, secretary of ORCA.

These microscopic creatures are more than just fish food.

In a research study published in the “Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science” journal, scientists from Toulouse, France and Wilrijk, Belgium, have confirmed copepods as being responsible for working as a filtering system in freshwater lakes, which overall improves the quality of life within them.

Dr. Rhodes suggests hobbyists establish a colony of copepods partitioned in a refugium or as part of the sump already equipped to the tank.

“Tiny crustaceans known as copepods are the most common herbivores and make up almost 75 percent of the zooplankton,” writes Dr. Ward.

Dr. Rhodes has found several new species of harpactacoids. These are copepods within the calanoid genus and cyclopoid phylum.

In his book “Questions and answers on saltwater aquarium fishes,” Dr. Ashley Ward writes that a successful coral reef tank boils down to the feeding and mating of the fish that inhabit it.

“Marine food webs are usually more complex than those found on land–none more so than on coral reefs.”

Copepods are essential to the growth of a healthy ecosystem where the colorful species of Mandarin Goby and the rare Platinum Clownfish can feel at home.

Zoologist Ernst Haeckel’s hand-drawn classifications of several species of copepods. (Credit: MBLWHOI Library)

“They’re actually very healthy; like eating the South Beach diet all the time,” said Dr. Rhodes.

Katie Galarza, a member of ORCA, raises clownfish who she has taught to eat copepods.

“I have a few breeding tanks,” said Galarza. “I have Ocellaris Clownfish, Snowflake clowns, black clowns, and Platinums.”

Luis Ruiz, one lucky winner of the raffle, acquired an eight-gallon Nuvo aquarium, which retails at $200. He also won a mating pair of Platinum Clownfish at $300, retail price, two bottles of copepods, which sell for $25 each.

He bought 100 tickets for $50 and wound up with about $550 worth of merchandise from the saltwater store.

One member of ORCA, who is also a member of the Florida Reef Aquarium Group (FRAG,) said that this was a special night, indeed, as they usually sell the raffle tickets at a dollar a piece.

When asked if he wanted to trade something for the harpactacoid copepods he won–that Dr. Rhodes harvested herself–Ruiz gracefully declined.

“We’ve been having barbecues every weekend lately,” said Rachel Burba, who is the wife of the owner. Kevin Burba owns Top Shelf Aquatics.

Saturday, Aug. 25, was the first time that representatives from ORCA and FRAG collaborated to educate the masses at such a local venue in the Orlando area.

In relation to the feeding habits of aquatic animals, both Hill and Ray Wortley are two who attended the meeting and are currently in the planning stages of organizing a trip to Key Largo to build more coral trees.

Members of the Coral Restoration Foundation believe that the community can help save coral reefs. (Credit: Coral Restoration Foundation)

Ken Nedimyer is leading the team of ORCA members as part of the Coral Restoration Foundation’s active mission to return the Molasses Reef to its previous condition, which has diminished over the last 30 years.

“It’s like building a rainforest underwater,” said Wortley.

In the future, ORCA may show up at any local saltwater store when the opportunity presents itself.

Updated bulletins are published on the ORCA website and following the group on Twitter, on the Facebook group page, or company page.

The next meeting will take place on Sept. 22 at either See in the City, The Reef Source, Oceans Direct, Ocean Blue, or Fishy Business.

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