Atlanta Reef club helps WAGE war on the Acropora eating Flatworm!

Check out our interview with Seth Peters and Kate Rawlinson.

written by Seth Peters

Providing majority funding (Over $10k) for the Army charged with fighting it.

In late 2013, while an Atlanta Reef Club Board of Directors member was skimming through the Facebook posts of the day, a crusade began. The power of social media has shown its might around the world, credited for outright revolutions and social movements, and now it’s responsible for an all out frontal assault on one of our hobby’s most dreaded and feared adversaries: the Acro-eating flatworm (AEFW). Marc Levenson, a perennial socialite in the reefing community, shared a video from Mark Callahan (Mr Saltwater Tank), highlighting fundraising efforts by Kate Rawlinson and Cat Dybala to conduct research on this little-understood menace. As those keeping Acro-dominated tanks already know, it’s hard enough having success with these fickle corals—balancing parameters, flow, lighting, etc—but the addition of this kind of pest can prove more than even the most experienced reefer can overcome. 

The Atlanta Reef Club is a nonprofit organization of approximately 800 members, dedicated to promoting responsible reef-keeping and ecological preservation through education within the club and through outreach programs. It has made generous donations to projects such as Ken Nedimeyer’s Coral Restoration Foundation, putting reef tanks in surrounding community hospitals, and youth education endeavors. 

Mr. Saltwater Tank's live discusiion with Kate Rawlinson regarding the Acropora eating flatworms (AEFW).

Once Atlanta Reef Club board members watched the interview Mark Callahan conducted with Kate Rawlinson, their next philanthropic mission was clear. And a $10,400 check was soon on its way to fund Kate’s and Cat’s research efforts.   

Much has been written in the past weeks regarding a NOAA report and the ensuing anxiety over corals that might be given new threatened status, which could negatively impact the hobby. While much of that is shrouded in speculative panic, the fact remains that we CAN take measures to protect and safeguard what we already have in our tanks. If not so much as another coral is allowed to be imported to the United States, isn’t it that much more important to preserve what we already have Stateside? It’s the hopes of the Atlanta Reef Club that its $10,000+ donation to the AEFW project will help do just that. 

Photo of the Atlanta Reef Club presenting a check to Kate Rawlinson on 9/13/14 so she can continue her research on the AEFW.

Photo of the Atlanta Reef Club presenting a check to Kate Rawlinson on 9/13/14 so she can continue her research on the AEFW.

Note from Kate Rawlinson

As many of you know first-hand, the Acropora-eating flatworm (AEFW) has been a significant pest to the tropical marine aquarium community for over a decade.

I am a marine biologist, and I specialize in flatworm biology, but I hadn’t encountered this animal until five years ago, when a coral aquarist asked for my help to identify it. We discovered that it was a new species of polyclad flatworm and named it Amakusaplana acroporae. Since then, we have discovered it in the wild on Acropora valida on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, but we suspect that it is as widely distributed in the Indo-Pacific region as itsAcropora prey.

Last year the President of the Marine Aquarium and Reef Society of Houston, Cat Dybala, contacted me to say that she was going to establish someAcropora tanks specifically with the aim of studying the AEFW and finding ways to control it.

We’re currently working together to answer some fundamental questions about its life cycle, such as how long does it take for the eggs to hatch? Do they hatch as larvae or juveniles, or both? How long does it take for the worms to reach sexual maturity? How long can the newly hatched worms survive without food? How long can the adult survive without food? Using these data, we will develop a protocol that will advise coral aquarists and hobbyists on how long to keep their tanks free of Acropora (in order to starve any remaining worms). We will also be able to say whether or not the AEFW can travel (as microscopic larvae) to other tanks that share the same water and a common sump.

This is the first step in controlling this pest. The next step is then to find a way to control them in-tank without having to remove the corals and put them through a series of chemical dips. We are optimistic that our initials experiments will give us some insights into how to proceed to this next step, and we eventually hope to investigate both biological and chemical controls. Thank you for supporting this research.
— Kate Rawlinson - Marine Biologist
Kate Rawlinson - Marine Biologist

Kate Rawlinson - Marine Biologist