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Copper and aquatic life 5/26/2010
Hi Bob, There are so many hobbyists are so misinformed about the present of copper in fish food that I thought the link below 'might' clarify the misconception. Even among the advanced reef keepers still warn fellow reef keepers the danger of copper in fish food! I thought you might be interested in this info. As well. Little learning is indeed a dangerous thing.
<Heeeee! Indeed>
Oceans, tidal pools, lakes, rivers, and ponds --all bodies of water that sustain life-- have copper present as a vital, naturally occurring element. Its presence as a basic component of the process that spawns the abundant species that swim, scurry, wiggle and wallow in the waters of the world has been established by Nature and confirmed by scientists.
It is, simply stated, indispensable because it is necessary for normal growth in living beings.
"The role of copper in small quantities is essential to marine life," says Dr. Karl D. Shearer, Research Fisheries Biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington.
"It is a key component of enzymes, compounds that act as catalysts in the metabolism of organisms," says Dr. A. G. Lewis, an oceanographer and Professor in the Department of Oceanography and Zoology at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B. C., Canada. "Because it is an essential metal, an adequate supply is necessary for normal metabolism," he explains
"Copper's main role in the body is through metalloenzymes and enzymes catalyze many different chemical reactions," says Dr. Kathryn Michel, Assistant Professor of Nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Michel adds that "the body is full of enzymes and any chemical reaction in the body has possibly enzymes associated with it. Copper is a very important component and absolutely essential to the performance of the enzymes"
She explains that "enzymes are critical to the development of bone tissue and the production of red blood cells. A copper deficiency would contribute to anemia."
Put simply, "enzymes won't function without trace minerals such as copper, which means there's no metabolism," says Dr. Shearer, the National Marine Fisheries Services biologist, who has worked extensively in the analysis and development of food for fish. With no metabolism there would be no energy to fuel the vital processes that sustain life in creatures.
Aquatic plants, which play an important role in marine life, are no less reliant on copper. It plays an important role in photosynthesis and respiration. Like marine animal life, plants get copper from copper that is dissolved in the water, copper that is present in other particles or sediment found in the water and copper in their food.
Levels of copper in fresh water and salt water have been found to be generally low. In the United States studies of raw, untreated surface water have shown copper content ranging from 0.001 milligrams per liter to 0.28 milligrams per liter. The mean was 0.015 milligrams per liter. In open oceans, copper levels ranged from 0.1 milligrams per liter to 0.39 milligrams per liter, with an average of 0.8 milligrams per liter.
These figures show how copper is effective in small quantities. Dr. Shearer says that "the normal level of copper in whole fish tissue is one to two parts per million." To measure such tiny amounts requires a spectro photometer, an instrument that gauges matter by zeroing in all the way down to atoms in molecules. Scientists heat animal tissue to extremely high temperatures until atoms begin to emit light. Different atoms produce light at different wavelengths. So "we measure (light) wavelength to get to know what elements are present in the tissue of the fish and we measure the intensity of the light, which tells us the amount present," says Dr. Shearer.
The amount of copper and other trace minerals in the growth and development of fish, crustaceans (shellfish) and mollusks such as oysters and clams may be minute in quantity but enormous in economic terms. Many of these species are part of the renewable foundation of fishing, a vast worldwide activity that helps meet a growing demand for protein.
Commercial and recreational fishing is practiced just about every where in the world, including such land-locked countries as Bolivia, in South America, and Azerbaijan, in Asia. Bolivians have been fishing the waters of Lake Titicaca for centuries, and the valuable caviar industry of the world is centered in Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimated that in 1997 the world's food fish production reached 90 million tons, an almost threefold increase since 1960. Almost a third of that catch was raised on fish farms in a fast-growing commercial process known as aquaculture. Fish grow under controlled conditions within enclosures and are fed a carefully balanced diet that invariably includes copper.
At Bio-Oregon, in Warrenton, Oregon, a producer of formulated food for fish farms, Dr. Dennis Roley, says that "copper has always been a supplemental trace element." Because copper can be virtually recycled from healthy animal tissue, fish food industries find copper in organic forms such as copper sulfate in the offal of edible fish such as salmon that has already been processed.
By including copper in fish food, fish farmers are replicating what nature does so well in the wild: providing an environment that nurtures life and growth. In this respect marine life is similar to other species.
"The requirements for trace minerals such as copper are pretty steady among vertebrate animals," says Dr. Shearer. Interestingly, he adds, crustaceans, such as shrimp, lobster and crab, are in particularly need of copper because its serves as an oxygen carrier in their blood.
Dr. Lewis, the University of British Columbia oceanographer, notes that "copper concentrations in crustaceans may be elevated compared with other groups since many crustaceans use copper in a blood pigment"
That is why, if you look closely, blood on an uncooked shrimp looks bluish, a typical color of certain forms of oxidized copper. Copper in marine invertebrates plays the role that among humans is performed by iron, which is present in blood as hemoglobin.
It doesn't take much copper to perform its critical role in marine species. Data supplied by Dr. Shearer shows that Atlantic salmon and Channel catfish require 3 milligrams of copper per kilogram of feed. Rainbow trout and carp make do on 3 milligrams per kilogram of feed.
Although requirements have not been determined for every marine species, scientists do know that copper deficiencies in certain species can result in reduced growth and cataracts, among other symptoms. Conversely, scientists have observed that overly high presence of copper in natural waters, due to pollutants or produced experimentally, may badly damage gills, adversely affect the liver and kidneys of fish or cause some neurological damage."
Scientists are frequently frustrated in their efforts to study more closely the effects of too little or too much copper on aquatic species in the wild because it is unusual to find whole fish that have died slowly as a result of malnutrition. "In the wild animals with deficiencies get quickly eaten or decompose," says Dr. Shearer.
Dr. Lewis, who every year prepares a review of copper in the environment for the International Copper Association, says that copper plays an important role in other aquatic environments, too. It is a key component of marine plant life. It is commonly used to purify and distribute drinking water. It combats the growth of unwanted organisms that foul water intake lines, aquaculture facilities and the hulls of vessels.
In another link: http://www.copperinfo.com/health/aquatic.html
The requirements for copper is fairly steady among vertebrate animals. Crustaceans, such as shrimp, lobster and crab, are in particular need of copper because its serves as an oxygen carrier in their blood.
Some scientists believe that copper concentrations in crustaceans may be elevated compared with other groups since many crustaceans use copper in their blood pigment. That is why, if you look closely, an uncooked shrimp looks bluish, a typical color of certain forms of oxidized copper.
<Thank you for sending this along Pablo. As we discussed at last week's Interzoo, some Copper is indeed a good thing... An essential micro-nutrient, and useful as a preservative at times. Not harmful. I will gladly post this about on WWM for others edification. Be seeing you, BobF>

Trace Element Questions Dear Bob, I have an 810 gallon tank with variety of soft and hard corals, but not as many as I would like. I also have cleaner shrimp, filter feeders and two rock urchins plus plenty of algae. I presently feed the corals trace elements which the pet store recommended. I feed 140ml of Tech M, 140ml of Tech I, 70ml of strontium and molybdenum, 80ml of coral-Vite, MicroVert, and calcium. All these are Kent Marine products, since that is only available to me. Could you tell me if these are enough? Could you also tell me why these elements are important for the corals or where to find out this info ? I would desperately like to know about these so called "trace elements" and any other recommendations you may have. Thank you very much for your assistance. >> Thank you for writing. This is quite some tank... and yes to the various chemical additives you are placing... if two conditions exist: You are boosting your photosynthetic animals growth with intense light as well, and you have a desire to do so. It's important to be clear here, so allow me to state the above in a different way. In such a large system, you may well be under-illuminating the corals... less than they can take up the supplements you're adding (here's where the real value of test kits come in)... And/or alternatively, you may have little interest in boosting their metabolism/growth. If indeed you do have a LOT of lighting (as measured by a PAR meter, or a lumen meter at the animals placement, or by bioassay... the animals' growth)... then the cost of supplementing, versus supplying "enough" minerals, alkalinity, trace elements, vitamins... exogenously (via supplementation) might well be "worth it". On the other hand, if by the measures listed, and your desire (maintenance, slow growth versus something more robust)... the light issue and supplementing question are irrelevant... You don't "need" much of either.  Now, on the issue of "where to find the info." on coral husbandry, scientific topics of nutrition/growth... in the hobby literature, start with Fossa (Sven) and Nilsen (Alf), Modern Coral Reef Aquarium series... two volumes in English currently (more in other languages if you can read them). For science... start with "subscribing" to the Coral List Servs... and following their threads, information sources listed there: coral-list@coral.aoml.noaa.gov (type in the word subscribe in the text area and send)... And, we'll be chatting. Bob Fenner

Trace Element Toxicity/ Safe Additives Hello there, I am writing with some concern. Please feel free to direct me to the appropriate link regarding this question so that I may read for myself...I could not find it on my own, searching your site with key words "additive toxicity; supplement toxicity." I just read (or did my best to read and comprehend) an article in the most recent issue of an online reef keeping magazine. The topic was in regards to Trace Element Toxicity (?). This gentleman (a PhD) warns that the trace elements that reef keepers add (I assume in forms of commercial additives) to their tanks create a ticking time bomb.  <thank you for your discretion about the author, etc... rest assured that I do know exactly who you are talking about. Many industry professionals have an interesting perspective on this chap's views. My opinion is that much (even most!) of what he has to say in general is very important and useful for the hobby. However, enough of it is so ridiculous and far-fetched as to be patently inaccurate if not harmful to aquarists that do not have enough experience or knowledge yet to make an informed decision. My criticism of his more controversial opinions (additive toxicity, high aquarium temperatures, telling new aquarists to feed shovels full of food to their tanks before they even know how to work a skimmer, etc) is based on one crucial argument: he hasn't lived the practical and commercial side of the industry to fairly make such statements. He hasn't been a wholesaler, retailer or merchant in charge of tens of thousands of gallons of livestock systems. Hasn't been a fish farmer, or a coral farmer... hasn't spent years collecting fishes and navigating them through import... any of the previous would impart considerable experience and wisdoms on the practical aspects of aquarium husbandry and water quality dynamics by virtue of the volume of water and animals held (and done so with great care for how much $ is involved!). Are any or all of the previous necessary to speak on the topic: absolutely not. But by the same token... tossing around a PhD earned on the field study of temperate species decades ago has little to do with tropical aquariums today.>  He states that in NSW, the trace elements are significantly lower than what would be found in hobbyists' reef tanks. This addition/abundance of unnecessary trace elements in aquaria in time will ultimately kill everything.  <20 years of reefkeeping stands in stark contrast to this theory> Am I making sense...I am not even sure how to phrase my question.  <you are understood clearly> My understanding is that excess elements can be absorbed by the algae, coral, and inverts to a point, but when they die, they release the trace elements back into the system, causing a spike in the amount of elements to the system...a dangerous thing.  <are you planning on massive die offs?> This is why it would be advisable to siphon out detritus and non-coralline micro-algae, besides for aesthetics. The writer contends that anything above the amounts/levels found in NSW is responsible for premature death to the inhabitants.  <heehee... he also suggests keeping reef aquariums at 86F because that's what the water was like in Fiji the when he dived there (he also uses skewed NOAH data)... of course, the following year Fiji experienced the worst bleaching event in history for those high temps as filmed and documented by Dr Bruce Carlson who has more dive time logged in one year than the PhD author, you and me combined will in a lifetime> According to the writer, the corals we purchase are either pollution tolerant or have mutated into a species that can sustain the excess trace elements  <that's funny... so they have mutated on an evolutionary scale of 10 -20 years but 2000 years of domestication with the cat and we still can't get the little bastards to some when called. His theory is too convenient> (I was also reading a debate he was having with chemists in an online forum...ReefCentral I believe... this previous statement was not in the article). Anyway, I am considering stopping the intentional introduction of trace elements into my tank.  <whoa! partner...lets reconsider this if you actually want your corals to grow> The writer also stated (I think in his forum debate) that all commercial salts include trace elements and that these are much higher concentrations than found in NSW.  <that is true by necessity because if they were AT NSW then every tank would need daily 100% water changes to stay at NSW levels. By mixing high... we start at little above NSW and end a little below NSW and that serves the greater good for most aquarists that don't want to be a slave to water changes. For what its worth... if I was going to stop supplements... I would simply do large weekly water changes for supplementation. A fine idea IMO... just laborious and not for the same reasons that the Dr professes> My only additive is called Oceans Blend, which contains 70 elements (on the label)...it's a two-part additive with the trace elements added to the Ca part, Alk part is just Alk/Ph mixture. Maybe I'm sounding like I don't understand what's going on, but I am concerned about the life in my tank.  <a knee-jerk reaction caused by an author that knows how to keep himself employed with controversy perhaps :p> Am I doing more harm than good? The writer stated that corals and other life can be sustained in such polluted environment (i.e., our tanks) for about 5 years at best before succumbing to "old tank syndrome," when the system/life ceases to function at all.  <hahahahahhahha......Hehehehehe......hahahahahhahha. Ahhh... maybe we should buy him a ticket to Germany to see Stuber, Olsen, Knop, etc tanks with 10, 15 and 20 year old "poisoned" corals. > Should I add just plain calcium and ph/alk buffer???  <indeed the foundation. Iodine has a stable life of about mere hours in SW... I would add a small amount of iodine too> If I'm getting trace elements in the salt mix and food,  <but not in the ratio that they are consumed in the tank...> plus from the LR and other unknown sources, then why should I add additives?  <good heavens... can you test for all trace elements and know what those sources are actually contributing if any at all? Better yet... can you test for your own dietary trace element and vitamin input OR does your body take in more than it needs and safely excretes the rest... understand my friend? Anything to excess can be toxic but nothing has suggested that aquarists are adding too many trace elements or iodine, strontium, etc. The suggestion is causing unnecessary fear!> Can you suggest some products that are just plain calcium with no trace elements?  <why is it that excess or supplemented calcium is not a poison but trace elements are? Dubious logic IMO> How will this affect the balance of elements; that is, aren't some elements toxic or useless without others? Can calcium be used alone or does it have to react with magnesium or that other long word that I can't spell (begins with an "S"; strontium or something like that)?  <strontium OR calcium combine with carbonates to make aragonite> This was just one study he initiated, and it is my opinion that its conclusions may not justifiably be generalizeable... <I'm not sure that they are fair if they are even sane...heehee> I question his methodology (didn't see a lot of info) and would have liked to of read more about his controls for confounding variables, reliability measurements, etc.  <yep... I'd like to see a year of his hard science against twenty years of anecdotal evidence from aquarists. And by the way... aquarists have spent millions of dollars on the private keeping and study of such organisms in the process and it hasn't been in vain. We have a lot of corals in captivity that are well over 10 years old. Some much older!> Several of his points were countered by "chemists" in the debate in the forum...but I don't know if these people work for additive companies.  <I assure you that they have no more ulterior motives than he does> He does state that aggressive protein skimming and water changes reduces the amount of trace elements, but is, as I understand, not enough. He goes so far as to advise the use of NSW in tanks, for those who can get it...unwise IMO,  <WOW...staggeringly dangerous advice for most new aquarists. He can take credit for killing a lot of animals with that advice> as I agree with this sites concerns for the intro of parasites/pests and man made pollutants.  <big time> My apologies if this has been addressed in a previous FAQ. <nope...thank you!> Thanks a bunch, Randy M. Yniguez, MA <---who wishes he had paid more attention to his Research Methods instructor in grad school! <no worries. Even after the above dialogue I will tell you that I do not use trace elements myself. I simply don't agree that supplements are toxic the way that most people dose. My preference is indeed for aggressive protein skimming and frequent water changes (weekly or more). With kind regards>

Re: Trace Element Toxicity/ Safe Additives Hello there, <cheers, my friend> Thank you for your comments.  <my pleasure> My skepticism and reassurance from your response will prevent me from doing potential harm to my tank inhabitants.  <good healthy skepticism, indeed.> I will continue to treat my tank as I have been doing so far with weekly water changes and careful husbandry/maintenance, as I have so far found nothing but success  <exactly my friend! We don't need to be chemists to enjoy the hobby... instead we can follow simple established recipes for success or just look at our animals and tank health to know that what we are doing is good> (i.e., everything is still alive/happy/healthy looking; LR has cycled as expected; and water test parameters indicate a safe environment for my livestock) . In the future, I will consider just switching to a Ca reactor,  <indeed your best long term solution when used correctly... a little Kalk supplementation too wouldn't hurt> or supplement with Ca Chloride and Ph/Alk supplements only,  <there are documented problems with Ca Chloride regular and extended use (skewing ALK dynamic and precipitating ALK). Simply using Calcium hydroxide and buffer will be fine (mostly Kalkwasser alone in truth)> without the additional trace elements mixed into the two-part additives; perhaps additional Iodine as you suggest. The doctor's article did strike me as peculiar in light of the testimonials of "successful" reefers on various websites/chats/forums, many of whom state keeping corals/fish/inverts for many years under regular/frequent addition of trace elements.  <indeed it is the crux of criticism of our colleague who hasn't lived the industry and application of the aquarium hobby to the extent that many other successful folks have. His points may be valid... but theirs are equally strong or greater IMO. Aquarium science on paper and tested through clinical trials with sea urchins and their eggs, for example, doesn't always translate accurately to the real hobby. Heehee... scientists!> Thank you for your time and insight. Your site's info/input is crucial for making informed decisions. Thanx a bunch, -RY <---with more questions/comments to come, in the near future I'm sure <looking forward to it. Do continue to keep an open mind. With kind regards, Anthony>

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