Andre @ Reef Moonshiner's
18 Sep 2021
As many know the success to resolve this terrible disease is pretty high when all factors are looked at and been applied.
This article shall provide a better understanding of the Treatment and other factors you need to take into account to cure the tank.
Attention Reefing community!
I need you to help and share this article wherever possible to get more support on this subject!
The following method as full Reeftank Treatment has been performed now after years of the original release by many hobbyists, large captive Coral Propagation systems, Coral Sellers and the list of popular names becomes longer and longer!
A Potential candidate against the battle of RTN & STN has been found! The success rate of hobbyists and professional Reefkeeper is very high. I have heard back from many people with great results when all the factors that are described below are been taken care of.
However, the people that did not have success on the first round, which contacted me afterwards had all one single thing in common, which is the fact that they haven't followed any or some of the other requirements, that are strongly to be followed to increase not just the success rate, but also resolve the culprit that did lead to this situation in the first place!
Background that led to the Witchhazel Reeftank Treatment and also a dip for other diseases
In the end of 2018 my tank surprisingly started to suffer from an extreme fast and sudden STN and RTN event that took quite a while of investigation to get it under control and to find some of the assumed root causes. At this point it was clear from discussions with leading scientists and a lot of hours on the microscope that a bacterial pathogen was the root cause for this event. An outbreak that I could not fully explain why but had gotten many ideas from numerous sources, which resulted in an idea to try something, that no one else has done up to this point.
Even after the successful cure of my personal tank, I did not give up to help and investigate other tank systems that actually also suffered from STN&RTN events and other bacterial diseases, and with the help of the Reefing community it was possible to apply the Bandaid of the Witchhazel treatment on numerous scenarios that all led to the same situation and brought so much hands on experience that some (not all) root courses of STN/RTN could been identified somewhat and that allowed to tackle the disease at least with a much higher success rate as many snake oils out there on the market.
Reasons for Tissue Necrosis and varieties
There is typically in our Reeftanks, only a few scenarios that do lead to a TN event, but they all have one thing in common, they all make the Coral so weak that the Corals own bacteria biology in the Tissue layer, can't protect the Coral host anymore from an attack of the bacteria in the water column. Corals do have the capability to create antibacterial compounds and antibiotics within, however if the coral isn't healthy and suffers from insufficient trace elements that do support a variety of internal processes to create and translocate amino acids, sugar, carbon, nutritions etc. the list is long, then the coral has already an issue to defend itself. Another reason can be insufficient nutrients, or a distraction in the carbon household of the coral such as it happens when Alkalinity spikes occur. It is not fully understood what needs to happen to destroy the symbiotic relationship between coral and zooxanthellae in these events, but there are a few things we as Reefkeeper can do, to prevent this, and to try to support the Coral to overcome the disease when it occurs.
Let's summarize the factors that apparently lead often to TN issues in our captive Reef
Again, the key situation is that the Corals self defense mechanism is either too weak, or the disease bacteria (Pathogen) is in a better situation and can populate faster than the Coral can defeat it.
Certain Traces are depleted or excessive.
- There are a few elements such as very low Barium and Bromine in the water, that have been noticed to be linked to TN outbreaks when those are very low. Especially Barium, was and is an extremely suspicious candidate, and has been too often been observed, even while there is not yet a known biological role of Barium in the metabolism of Corals. But keep in mind, there is a lot of things that are not known yet! Don't get discouraged by scientists that do not have pretty Corals!
- On the other side there are some Elements that can be very excessive leading to TN issue. Barium again, above 140-150 microgram/L (ppb), Fluoride over 2,5 mg/L (ppm) and some other traces can lead to TN issues even while mostly a different die off process is observed such as polyp retraction with Tissue that starts to grey (or brown) out and disappears as it happens when corals die from Toxins exposure or excessive Ammonia concentrations.
Pathogens are fueled by Amino Acid Products
-Very often the key issue is that Amino acids are misused to Band-Aid faded or unhappy looking corals. The assumption from most people is that Amino acids are missing. Well, that is not really the case. Amino acids are produced and translocated in the Coral during photosynthesis. Without deep diving into this book filling subject, there are usually traces or vitamins or nutrition missing in the chain somewhere, or the DLI is exceeded, that leads to the situation that in the beginning sometimes the Amino do show improvements but likely it's the nutritional factor in the products that do improve slightly the corals appearance. Then, some Amino acid types in these products have the negative impact on your biology since they literally fuel pathogens. I have worked on the Reef Moonshiner "Megaminos" for long time and tested many individual Amino Acids that are used in all the products on the market and always ran into TN issues where Pathogens quickly took over and started to cause issues on corals. That up to this point did lead me to the decision NOT to release this product due to the very common issue that most of the useful supplemented Amino Acids are having easily this very negative side effect. Bear in mind the issue is that people grab Amino Acid usually when their corals are already not look as happy as they should and will try to resolve it by trial and error of something.
Pathogens are fueled from Carbohydrates in use
- This is extremely complicated and hard to identify. Many people do manage their tanks with the use of Carbohydrates, such as Biopellets, Vodka, Sugars, Vinegars, Wines, Methanol products and many other "Carbohydrate" supplements.
- Each Carbohydrate type will fuel certain good bacteria species more than others in the tank. The problem occurs is when there is a Pathogen fueled much faster than the good bacteria types, then the Pathogenic bacteria are in a much better position and can populate faster than desired and the biology get's out of whack.
- In the past it was always a head scratcher when ULNS systems were impacted by sudden RTN wipeouts, and the theory is that certain carbohydrates will cause the Pathogenic bacteria to thrive, while the good bacteria facing issues not to find enough Nitrate/Phosphorous sources in the tank due to the ULNS conditions, and then can even populate slower than under conditions where food for them is available.
Corals and good bacteria don't have the necessary food sources
- Another issue which doesn't help is the fact of zero Nitrogen and Phosphorous sources for actually the coral and your bacteria biology. Remember the good bacteria need food for populating and the Corals need these essential Nutrients N & P as well to be able to perform photosynthesis to make energy and translocate other compound back to the Tissue so the Corals inner bacterial community can support the defense mechanism!
- Key is to avoid zero nutrients here for a longer period of time. Bear in mind, Phosphorous is the key Nutrient for the Coral, Po4 alone doesn't help the Coral, only partially the bacteria in the tank and your nuisance algae. And weak corals barely consume bacteria, so the supply chain isn't working well in these scenarios.
Healthy Coral in the evening, catching food particles and trace elements with it's Polyps
Low PH issues
- Without diving deeper into this controversial subject, matter of fact is, that if you have increasing Pathogenic bacteria population, then a lower PH is not helping the situation since many Pathogenic bacteria do thrive at lower PH conditions.
- So it's not the PH impact on the coral itself, it's the better environment for the Coral Pathogen that makes the lower PH a problem that needs a resolution.
- What is the lower limits we should look at? Well, the critical lower PH in the morning, where the PH is at it's lowest point anyways, should not be less than 7.8
- If you deal with TN issues, make efforts to find out what's going on in the Water that your PH is so low. The Reef Moonshiner's Handbook has a troubleshooting section that explains a few things how to deal with low PH situations, however forums are full of hints and tips as well. Make sure you have not a low PH from organic Acids such as Nitric Acids and other decomposition acids in your tank. These Acids you usually filter out with a good brand of activated carbon, so that the low PH if it is still low afterwards, is clearly from excessive carbonic acids. The carbonic acids is what apparently is supporting certain Pathogenic bacteria.
- An ideal PH in the morning is nicely in 7.9 range or even higher, however keep the 7.8 as the lowest limit in mind when your tank is sick.
- I personally recommend to keep the Skimmer aeration at maximum, means turn off the skimmer off for a minute every day to get the diffusor nozzles washed out from Salt creep which does reduce easily the airflow by 20-40% within 24 hours. Venturi skimmer ideally can be connected to the top off system so the nozzle is flushed as well, since shutdown of a Venturi skimmer will not cause the nozzle to submerge in water so the salt creep could melt inside.
- Do not recirculate your skimmer cup air, that is a really bad idea to begin with, doesn't matter if a company sold it that way. Unless you don't want to have a nice Coral Reef ;-)
- Be aware that in most cases where Hydroxides of any kind were used to increase the PH, the results were not good. Since the Hydroxides are causing a huge chemical chain reaction on the Seawater buffer system and equilibrium, the theory is that this huge reaction on the carbonate/bicarbonate household in the water does stress the corals even too much at this situation that it is not recommended to band aid a low PH with Hydroxides such as Kalkwasser or Sodium/Potassium Hydroxide products. Try to find the reason for bad degassing, excessive Co2, too much agitation, skimmer air recirculation etc.
- There are a few more reasons for Tank outbreaks or local small TN situations that require your observation on the Corals and Tank.
- These are Temperatures reaching very high limits where the coral are loosing the symbiotic relationship, or the Pathogenic bacteria just show accelerated growth such as many Vibrio species.
- Parasites have also been observed to be the reason why corals have been subject to TN issues, likely due to the fact of been weakened by the parasite while Pathogens are infecting the Coral from the surrounding waters.
- Detritus accumulations locally in the Colony do cause local bacterial infections.
What are the steps to do in case of a serious RTN or STN outbreak ???
Here is the list of activities you should work off in sequence with the knowledge from earlier in this article.
Bear in mind, you have to consider all these steps, and don't try a guessing game, since the tank can be gone quickly !!!
The longer you wait the worse it becomes usually.
1- Perform an ATI Lab ICP Test and use the Reef Moonshiner's ICP Assessment tool to assess the test results you will get! This website does explain the Reef Moonshiner method in case you are facing issues on your water chemistry. Have a look. A Triton Labs ICP test is ok as well but won't show your Fluoride levels unfortuantely. Go with the ATI test, but no other ICP tests from my experience
2- Perform the Witchhazel Tank Treatment immediately as described further down in this article. You can also perform the Dip procedure on frags, but bear in mind the disease is in your tank and can spread quickly.
3- Maintain your PH as described earlier not to be lower than 7.8 in the morning.
4- Keep temperature at or below 77 Fahrenheit, this is to avoid common Pathogens to populate faster from warm temperatures.
5- Avoid any Amino Acid products, ANY !!!!
6- No use of liquid carbohydrate products. The use of Bio pellets isn't helpful either, so you may want to remove temporarily any pellets, make sure to take them out and dry them. Do not shut down them only and leave them in the reactor!
7- No use of any Bacteria feeding products such as enzymes etc.
8- Leave any Vitamin products off the tank until after the success of the Treatment.
9- Do not use any activated carbons while you do the Witchhazel treatment.
10- Watch your Nutrients, don't let them zero out, but also don't increase them dramatically by more than 0.5ppm No3 and not more than 5-7ppb Phosphorous per day!!!! Stability is important and nutrients are feeding the bad guys too.
11- Keep Alkalinity levels stable. Measure ALK once a day at least, every day at the same time of the day to ensure the ALK level remains stable.
12- Keep skimmers running 24 hours, shut down once a day as described earlier, and ideally use as much as fresh air as possible, don't recirculate and skimmer cup air etc.
13- Do not use Ozone or UV while on the Witchhazel treatment. This will destroy the Tannins we need.
14- Do not dose Witchhazel while light is on, read the description how to administer it below carefully!
15- Do not deviate from the Witchhazel product brand!!! If you do, no other products have been reported back to me!
16- Dose a clear Probiotic bacteria such as Biodigest at 3x4 times the regular recommended dosage the day you start the Witchhazel Treatment, and dose every other day, or even better, every day, the manufacturers recommended maintenance dosage that normally is used weekly or biweekly. Dose Biodigest in the morning or afternoon. I would not use any other brands honestly, especially if the other liquids are whitish and not clear. Simply because some other bacterial products have enzymes and other compounds included that may have caused issues during the treatment. Honestly even attempts to mix all sort of available probiotic products have shown reverse results as what we are looking for. I personally have turned around many screwed up biology situations by dosing excessive Biodigest. For example I use to overdose a fresh filled tank with Biodigest at 50-80 times the recommended maintenance dosage to kickstart a tank for a simple nitrogen cycle to become active quickly.
17- Read all this again and make notes and work off the list!!! Don't just use the Hazel, it likely won't work then.
The Witchhazel Reeftank Treatment Dosing and Dip
Witchhazel dosing has to be done in the following way and is on your own risk.
- Use the specific Brand and Bottle as shown on this picture! Do not deviate.
- Dose 20ml of Witchhazel per 100gallon Watervolume in the evening after lights are out.
- Dose this amount every day, for 5-7 days at least.
- It has been reported a double dosage the first day has been shown faster results while rapid die offs occurred. I personally have done the double dosage as well on the first day.
- Make sure you dose in the evening after lights are out.
- Simply dose into the DT
- Keep off Ozone, keep off UV and don't use activated carbon.
- Skimmer and other equipment can operate as usual.
- Skimmer is not affected, invertebrates, clams, fish and corals did not show any adverse effects. Actually many corals seem to open up much better next day after first treatment.
- T.N Dickinson’s Blue label Witch Hazel was used in all treatments, available in grocery stores, Amazon, Pharmacies etc.
What to expect and to look out for :
- Watch Alkalinity level, the PH will be slightly reduced in the daytime.
- The Witchhazel will slow down the Bacteria biology in the tank, hence ALK consumption will be a bit less.
- Don't expect the TN progress instantly to stop. Depending on the infection of the corals and bacteria species that is haunting your tank it can vary signifiantly when you see improvements. Sometimes it stops next day, but mostly a few days after.
- In case you see no TN improvements, the WH tank treatments have been extended to my knowledge numerous times already to 2 weeks treatment time.
- The Hazel product contains Alcohol from the distillation process and is equivalent to a dosage of Vodka to your tank, which would cause a bacteria bloom if you dose it during the light phase.
- Usually no Water changes are done afterwards, and the very sensitive tank may not benefit from a "shocking" water change.
The Witchhazel Dip
- Witchhazel can also be used as a dip, to clean corals from already affected tissue and brown jelly as well on Soft corals.
- Use the specific Brand and Bottle as shown on this picture! Do not deviate.
- Mix a ratio of 5ml to max of 10ml of Witchhazel per 1 Liter (1/4gallon) Tank water in a jar or container.
- Bath the particular frags of heads in that mix for 30 minutes. Swirl occasssionallly. Don't be scared you may see jelly and tissue fall off the coral. But this is only tissue that is almost gone off the coral anyways, you can see that under the microscope before this happens.
- Then afterwards you rinse and bath the coral in another jar of tankwater. Dispose the dip solution and rinse water after each dip and coral do not reuse.
- Do not mix coral frags in the dip, unless the frags are just been fragged off the same colony anyways!
Don't expect all frags to make it, since the infection is spread out into the corals a lot of times. I found it more effective to dip an entire colony in the dip than frags of it. The colony looses it's tissue on some areas for sure, but very often stops at some point.
You can notice a clear border between tissue and white sceleton builds up, when the TN in the colony really stopped.
NOTE : If you just dip corals but do not perfom the Tank treatment, a lot of times Corals get reinfected from the dip.
I usually do the Tank treatment right away and skip any dipping processes. But hey, who knows.
Andre's final notes:
- Witchhazel can be a very helpful tool to combat this disease in our tanks. I hope it will help many more of you as it did already. Yes, there is not a 100% guarantee it will cure your situation but it's a start.
- Work yourself through the List above and ensure you take ALL the given steps into account, I know some are hurtful to your wallet. Take this list serious, you need to find the root cause for this, otherwise it will not go away or is quickly back where you are right now while reading this.
- I had one case in U.K where a Reefer has 4x overdosed the Witchhazel for 3-4 days and then a bacteria bloom occurred, and the tank became whitish. We found his issue since he mixed Gallons/Liters in the instructions. So watch out. Tank was fine afterwards, but a large Waterchange was done, and the treatment was continued. Tank at the end was healthy. Numerous issues were resolved on the tank setup.
- Have a look at the Reef Moonshiner's method which could have saved so many tank system from stupid issues that killed and crashed so many tanks and a stressful life doesn't help to keep things under control.
- Share the Witchhazel Reeftank Treatment with your hobbyists and friends.
- Many other methods and products have been followed and tried and I may add in future some of the Antibiotics procedures and why they are not useful at all at the end for an enclosed Reeftank in your home.