WAGENER — When Steve Donlick first started to learn about coral two and a-half years ago, he never envisioned that his initial interest would grow into something that would rival his passion for freshwater and saltwater fish. It gave him a chance to bring a piece of the ocean into his home.


“It was totally overwhelming learning about all of the different types of coral,” said Donlick, who initially only knew about four specific types of coral. “I just submersed myself in the whole coral idea, through magazines, reading the Internet, and constantly talking at the store. I’ve learned a ton from the guys at Fishy Business. There are so many different varieties. Now, I feel I have a well-rounded knowledge of everything.”


However, it was Donlick’s interest in fish that led to his making the transition from freshwater to saltwater with many of the tanks he owns. The tanks range in size from one gallon to 125 gallons. Coral provides the fish with a more natural environment, and it’s aesthetically pleasing, he said.


“There’s no comparison to the beauty and majesty of a reef tank,” said Donlick, whose business is named East Shore Coral, and he works at Fishy Business in Columbia. “It’s just a whole different world, and growing up on the coast, part of me misses the ocean. And now, I have a little piece around me. It just feels like home.”


Donlick grows both soft and hard coral, and the difference is the skeleton of the animal, he said.


“The hard corals use calcium and carbonate to basically build a skeleton as they grow,” said Donlick. “They leave the dead skeleton. The soft corals are going to be loosey-goosey limp. The hard corals are going to have some type of base to them.”


It’s those same hard corals that are the reef builders in the ocean, and it’s their skeleton that surrounds the polyps.


“I knew about freshwater plants, but I didn’t understand that most coral, about 98 percent of coral is photosynthetic, and has a symbiotic microorganism that lives inside of it called zooxanthellae. It basically photosynthesizes and feeds, eats the coral, and the energy is produced from photosynthesis. Some coral doesn’t have to eat. It’s an animal, and all of them can eat. You can feed them meaty foods, little shrimp and microorganisms.”


Coral fragging propagation has also provided Donlick with another way of successfully adding to his growing population. Fragging is the act of snapping a piece off of the coral.


A great deal of work goes into the maintenance of a tank, and it can provide a challenge as one has to be vigilant in making adjustments to insure the reef tank water parameters are correct.


“You have to check your parameters to keep the tanks clean and free of algae,” said Donlick. “The main things you look for in a coral tank are your nitrates and phosphates, and those are going to affect coral growth. They are fertilizers for plants, and algae is a type of plant. If you have high nitrate and phosphate levels, you’re going to have algae everywhere. Keeping your fish stocking low is also a big thing in a reef tank. It makes a big difference.”