DE Publishing - The CMAT Series

Captive Maintenance Advanced Techniques - Volume 2

The Cryptic Zonal System

Expanding the Zonal Reproduction of Tropical Reef Platforms

PDF Edition NOW Available for Direct Download !

Volume 2 of the CMAT or Captive Maintenance Advanced Techniques series is titled "The Cryptic Zonal System - Expanding the Zonal Reproduction of Tropical Reef Platforms". It has been 14 years since Steve Tyree has written and released a new book. Since then the tools available for research and writing have vastly expanded. We think everyone will agree that this new eBook is worth the wait. After reading this book you will understand tropical reef platforms, like you have never understood them before. The book is an operational manual for a complete 100 % natural filtration system that mimics all the new natural processes that science has recently discovered occurring on natural reef platforms. If you are new to the cryptic sponge based filtration system, this book will literally turn your understanding of tropical reefs upside down. This volume 2 book contains 422 pages, has a color plate section with 62 digital images, with ~120,000 words, includes 107 tables and 57 figures. PDF File size is 12.4 MBytes. It contains 15 years of personal research by Steve Tyree and numerous short quotations from related published scientific papers. Retail price for PDF downloadable version is just $14.99. Click on the image below to access our full eContent purchase page. This new book is listed as CMAT Volume 2.

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New pdf Book Release ! CMAT Volume 2 by Steve Tyree !

The book chapters are Chapter 1 - Environmental Gradients; Chapter 2 - Primary Tropical Reef Zones; Chapter 3 - Secondary Tropical Reef Habitats; Chapter 4 - Cryptic Zonal Integration; Chapter 5 - Cryptic Zonal Setup; Chapter 6 - Cryptic Zonal Operation; Chapter 7 - Cryptic Zonal Analysis; Chapter 8 - Tri-Zonal Systems; Chapter 9 - Bi-Zonal Systems; Chapter 10 - Small and Exotic Zonal Systems; Chapter 11 - Advanced Research Notes. We think every single chapter will be interesting to captive aquarists and reef scientists. The first chapter however is an introduction to the basic environmental concepts that reef zonation is based upon. Chapters 8, 9 and 10 discuss specific captive systems we designed and tested which utilized the Cryptic Zonal methodology. Volume 1 of this series was a basic introduction to the environmental gradient concept. That volume described how cryptic sponges and other organisms could be utilized as natural filtration components. It also detailed our early exploration with this system and included the history of our early research. Volume 2 should be considered the formal operations manual for the Cryptic Zonal live sponge based natural system. There has now been at least 10 years of additional scientific research into cryptic cave sponges occurring within natural reef platforms. The cryptic sponges now represent the second largest group of animals in biomass within the reef platform. Stony and soft corals of course represent the number one biomass. Additionally we have had 15 more years of captive research since volume 1 was released. At present we only intend to make this book available in electronic format. The introduction from the actual book is included below.


Chapter 1 - Environmental Gradients
Gradients within Tropical Reef Environments
Light Intensity Gradients
Water Current Gradients
Particulate Organic Matter Gradients
Species Diversity Across Gradients
Historical Captive Reef Environments
Environmental Gradients in Captivity

Chapter 2 - Primary Tropical Reef Zones
The Zonal Concept Defined
Exposed Zone
Semi-Exposed Zone
Semi-Cryptic Zone
Cryptic Zone
Filter Feeder Zone

Chapter 3 - Secondary Tropical Reef Habitats
Algal Turfs and Ridges
Inter-Reef and Cavity Sand
Overhanging Cavity
Upper Twilight or Mesophotic

Chapter 4 - Cryptic Zonal Integration
Establishing Light Zones
Establishing Water Current Zones
Zonal Nutrient Exchanges
Suspension Feeding
Feeding Phytoplankton to Zonal Systems
Zooplankton in the Cryptic Zones
Cryptic Zonal Oxygen Consumption

Chapter 5 - Cryptic Zonal Setup
Installing an Additional Cryptic Sump
Converting an Existing System
Installing a Complete Cryptic Zonal System
Exposed, Cryptic and Filter Feeder Live Rock
Seeding the Exposed and Semi-Exposed Zones
Seeding the Cryptic and Semi-Cryptic Zones
Seeding the Filter Feeder Zone
Determining Sponge Biomass

Chapter 6 - Cryptic Zonal Operation
Operating the Cryptic Zone
Water Exchange Rates Between Zones
Zonal Nutrient Loop Operation
Feeding the Zonal Based System
Controlling Bacterial Densities
Harvesting Cryptic Sponge Growth
Harvesting Exposed Coral Growth

Chapter 7 - Cryptic Zonal Analysis
Sponge Consumption Rates
Sea Squirt Pumping Rates
Pelagic Bacterial Density
Dissolved Organic Density
Inorganic Nitrogen and Phosphate Levels
Inorganic Silicate Levels
Reef Algal Phase Shifts

Chapter 8 - Tri-Zonal Systems
Basic Tri-Zonal Design
Tri-Zonal Water Exchange Rates
Tri-Zonal Nutrient Loop
Setting Up a Functional Tri-Zonal System
Operating the Tri-Zonal System
Tri-Zonal Accomplishments
Step bt Step Tri-Zonal Setup Guide
Future Tri-Zonal Research

Chapter 9 - Bi-Zonal Systems
Basic Bi-Zonal Design
Bi-Zonal Water Exchange Rates
Bi-Zonal Nutrient Loop
Setting Up a Functional Bi-Zonal System
Operating the Bi-Zonal System
Bi-Zonal Accomplishments
Step bt Step Bi-Zonal Setup Guide
Future Bi-Zonal Research

Chapter 10 - Small and Exotic Zonal Systems
82 Gallon Three Zone Vertical Model
27 Gallon Three Zone Horizontal Model
Heavy Load Hybrid Sump Model
Quad-Zonal Deep-Sea Model
90 Gallon Bi-Zonal Exposed/Cryptic Model

Chapter 11 - Advanced Research Notes
Reef Platform Nutrient Cycles
Bacteria on the Coral Reef
Phytoplankton on the Coral Reef
Zooplankton on the Coral Reef
Suspension Feeders
Tunnels and Cavities
Cryptic Terminology in Science

Epilogue - The Futue of Zonal Filtration
Natural and Captive Filtration Efficiencies
Power Consumption Rates
Research Phase 3
Long Term Colony Growth Test
Discovering Zonal Nutrient Cycles

Appendix - Conversions and Equivalents

Glossary of Terms


DE Publishing - Product Listing
The CMAT Series
The Captive Oceans Series
The Reef Building Stony Coral (RBSC) Series
Audio Visual Slide Presentation Video Series

Color Plates
Plates CMAT2-1 through CMAT2-62


This book is intended to be a standalone manual that introduces and guides the captive aquarist into a zonal based method for reproducing the tropical reef environment. The Cryptic Zonal system was actually developed over 10 years ago in the early 2000’s. It was the culmination of this authors early research into environmental gradients occurring within our captive reefs, and that occur within tropical reef platforms. Environmental gradients are large scale changes in specific physical environmental parameters. They occur across specific distances on natural reefs or within specific areas of captive systems.

This new zonal methodology can help reproduce the entire reef platform from deep dark twilight habitats to shallow water strong light habitats. These distinct natural habitats are defined as zones within the reef platform where significant differences occur in their environmental parameters. Primary differences include: light intensity; water current strength; and suspended particulate matter density. The first volume of this CMAT book series, Cryptic Sponge and Sea Squirt Filtration Models, introduced the aquarist to the concept of utilizing cryptic sponges and sea squirts as natural filters. These filters could replace the protein skimmers commonly utilized in modern captive reefs. That book detailed the authors early research history and also formerly defined the environmental parameter differences occurring across the tropical reef platforms. These differences are known as environmental gradients and we called our initial systems EG systems.

Our first phase of research that went into volume 1 of the CMAT series was called Research Phase 1 and it occurred between 1996 and the year 2000. We setup 4 tanks and one sponge sump that utilized the Environmental Gradient natural filtration method. Sponges, sea squirts and live rock were the main filtration components. During that Research Phase 1 period, the system was still considered experimental and we were testing basic design issues with large aquaria. These large aquaria had extra water volume that would be more forgiving as we addressed and solved specific design issues. We began with a 100 gallon sponge sump that was connected to two 180 gallon Berlin style SPS systems. This was followed by sumpless standalone EG systems that were 475 gallons, 180 gallons, 180 gallons and 600 gallons in volume. We detailed all these systems with design diagrams and research notes in our volume 1 book.

This volume 2 book describes Research Phase 2, where we setup some smaller volume aquaria and also matured the system methodology into a zonal based natural filtration system. The aquariums utilized were Cryptic Zonal systems of 82 gallons, 27 gallons, 125 gallons, 125 gallons, 165 gallons with a 100 gallon sump, 235 gallons, 90 gallons, 160 gallons and finally a 180 gallon system. We started testing with an 82 gallon model called a Three Zone Circular Vertical Model. Water flowed over the top of an exposed flat and than back under the flat through a semi-exposed area. Then we tested a 27 gallon Three Zone Circular Horizontal Model. Water flowed around a reef pinnacle that was exposed on one side and semi-exposed on the other side. Both of these system models were briefly described in volume 1. These systems all contained a walled off non-lighted cryptic zone located within the back or side of the aquaria.

Research Phase 2 continued when we devised the first true Zonal based systems in 2002. Two separate 125 gallon Tri-Zonal EG aquariums were setup and they performed very well. They consisted of an exposed zone, a filter feed zone and a cryptic zone. Hundreds of coral fragments were harvested from these two systems. And dozens of cryptic seed packs were harvested and shipped from the growing cryptic zones. We also made some interesting discoveries and observations in these systems including establishing a large population of cryptic reef plankton and sea squirt tadpole spawning. After about 6-7 years of running, the systems were retired as the old used glass tanks were past their safe periods. We also needed more accessible systems as large amounts of coral frags began moving through our facility. These frags were intended for resale at U.S. coral shows, which were growing fast and would reach their peak around 2008/2009.

While the Tri-Zonal systems were still running, we setup three more research systems. A 235 gallon Quad-Zonal system was established in 2003 that contained a double cryptic zone. We wanted to see what type of animals would proliferate in a deep sea double cryptic zone. We also setup a 165 gallon raceway exposed zone and connected it to a large sump that also contained micron bags and a skimmer. This hybrid system intended to test very high organic loads that are typically found in store reefs or wholesale holding reefs. The cryptic zone animals were just an additional component to this system, but they were intended to be the primary bacterial and dissolved organic control mechanism. And finally we setup the first true Bi-Zonal system utilizing an old 90 gallon acrylic aquarium. The front section contained an expozed zone, while the back section held the cryptic or semi-cryptic zone. The success of this Bi-Zonal eventually caused us to convert the hybrid system into a standalone bizonal with no external sump.

We then finished up Research Phase 2 by further applying the Bi-Zonal system experience to two more raceway aquariums. Raceways are long and wide tanks that are about only a foot tall. A very common tank type utilized in farming and wholesale holding operations. Basically industry style aquaria. One of the acrylic aquariums is 7 foot long and 160 gallons, and the other is 8 feet long and 180 gallons. Both systems have performed remarkably well through some difficult times. We moved them all the way from California to Texas, and during our first few years in Texas, we ran into a few logistical problems. Those problems occurred while traveling for a month or longer back to California. We are very confident now that this new Bi-Zonal implementation works extremely well. A very reliable system with absolutely no plumbing at all. And again we are utilizing gyre flow patterns to produce moderately strong flows with minimally sized pumps. This current Bi-Zonal Model may represent the lowest achievable power consumption foot print for any captive reef system.

In summary of our research history, volume 1 of the CMAT series detailed an experimental new natural filtration system during a period we called Research Phase 1. Volume 2 is now formally defining a known working methodology that was proven during Research Phase 2. Now originally this second volume was intended to be written in late 2005 and released in 2006. It would cover research that occurred between the years 2001 and 2005. Yet here we are, 10 years beyond that time frame and volume 2 was just completed. What happened and why was there a 10 year delay ?

There were four primary factors that caused this delay. The first factor occurred when the author learned that a major industry insider had attempted to stop an article about this methodology from being printed in the free newsletter Sea Scope. Thomas Franks told this author that he ended up ignoring the insider intimidation and printed the article anyway. It eventually appeared in Sea Scope Volume 19 Winter 2002. The article was called ‘Introducing a Zonal Based Natural Filtration System for Reef Aquariums’ and was written by Steve Tyree. Thomas informed me about this in the speaker green room during the 2004 MACNA in Boston. Initially it did not seem that important, but it got me pondering why someone would try to stop the article. Then I began to realize that if your company was making artificial filtration devices for the reef market, any viable natural filtration method could be perceived as a business threat. That also got me wondering about some of my reef friends who were making and marketing protein skimmers. These concerns dampened my motivation for promoting the system.

The second primary factor delaying volume 2 concerned the difficulty we were having making these short run books. Our very first self-published book RBSC volume 1 was made in 1998 and the binding for that book was very poor quality. We just could not get a short run US book maker to make a decent binding for our books. So eventually Steve began making the books by hand in his shop located in Rancho Cucamonga California. The process was very labor intensive and that also affected our motivation for releasing another short run book. These hand made books were also bound with a special glue that was an animal free product. There were three metal posts used to hold the binding together. This made the binding on the books virtually indestructible, but again it was just too labor intensive. That was the main reason why we released an audio visual presentation CD at that Boston Macna. It was an easy way for us to get some of this volume 2 research out to the public. That presentation was called Expanding the Zonal Concept to Natural Captive Reef Filtration. Fortunately the new e-book PDF distribution mechanism for books has addressed our problems making physical book volumes. We initially intend to only distribute this volume 2 via electronic format.

Another factor affecting promotion of this system, was the shipping logistics that occur when distributing cryptic seed packs. These packs help aquarists seed their new cryptic zones. What we basically do is ship rocks from our established cryptic zones that have propagated cryptic organisms attached to the rocks. The presence of cryptic organisms requires shipping the rock entirely submersed underwater. The shipping weight of the water and rock began to become a concern. When combined with increasing shipping costs, it became a problem. In some cases we were making little if any money on the cryptic seed packs. Shipping costs were eating almost the entire sales amount. Fortunately we have worked out these issues and have come up with a solution that we began utilizing in the 2013-2014 time frame.

And finally there was the nasty financial crash that occurred in 2008, which had a devastating affect on Southern California. Many people went from partially living off their home equity one month, to being underwater on their mortgage the next month. That affected every California company and enterprise doing business with local Californians. Local walkin retail sales became very scarce. More people were breaking down their captive reefs, than were setting up new captive reefs. From 2008 to 2012, many companies closed, relocated and/or adjusted their entire business models to fit the economic climate of the times.

Now that we are concluding Research Phase 2, we are confidant when we declare this to be a fully functional methodology that can be utilized within a variety of designs or models. We have actually felt this way since about 2005, but feel it is time to officially declare our position of being well beyond the experimental phase. The author has supported himself financially from 2003 to 2015 in part by selling coral fragments and cryptic organisms that have been grown in zonal based systems. Profits from book and CD sales were not significant over that same time period. Another big motivation for getting this book distributed, is the exciting new scientific research on cryptic reef cavities that has occurred from 2005 to 2015. Basically the captive theories and observations we published in 2000 (volume 1 book) and 2004 (audio visual CD), now have supporting published scientific data concerning natural cryptic sponge reef cavities. This is a very exciting time as this new research has even postulated that a proposed sponge cycle on natural reefs could help solve Darwin’s Paradox. Darwin found it paradoxical that rich coral reef ecosystems occurred in nutrient poor ocean water that was basically a desert for nutrients.

The first chapter within this book will summarize the underlying environmental gradients that define the physical zones utilized within this system. These gradients also occur on natural tropical reef platforms. We discussed this topic extensively in volume 1. The three most important natural gradients of light intensity, water current strength and suspended particulate matter (detritus) density will be discussed. The species diversity that occurs across these gradients will be defined in a general sense. The final two sections concern how these natural gradients have also occurred within the captive reef environment.

The next two chapters discuss and define known zones and habitats that occur on natural reef platforms. We have taken the liberty to refine the zonal scientific research slightly. This makes it more relevant when establishing captive reefs that mimic nature. We have also defined a few new zones that we think are important for captive reefs. Chapter 2 will discuss the large scale primary zones, while chapter 3 discusses smaller scale secondary habitats that occur within zones.

Chapter 4 covers the topic of integrating the primary zones into the captive reef environment. Establishing proper light zones and water current zones will define and help establish zonal boundaries. Zones are connected together in nature and these connections establish nutrient exchanges that occur between zones. Those exchanges will be defined in a general sense. Methods that the captive aquarist can utilize to replicate and encourage these nutrient exchanges will be discussed. The final section covers the topic of oxygen consumption within Cryptic Zonal Systems.

The next chapter covers setting up a Cryptic Zonal based filtration system. Aquarists will be introduced to basic setup concepts and how they are applied to the different Zonal Model implementations. Seeding a zone gets the whole process started and proper techniques that are unique for specific zone types will be discussed. Determining the proper sponge amount or biomass is covered in the final section.

Chapter 6 is all about operating the Cryptic Zonal system. Aquarist will not have to clean stinky skimmer cups, but there are some basic chores and adjustments that need to be performed. These will ensure that the Zonal system is operating properly. The aquarist will also be introduced to the new sponge loop. Science has made some amazing discoveries since 2005 that concern the importance of sponges as both a natural filter and a major component of the reef nutrient loop.

Analyzing the Cryptic Zonal based system is the topic of chapter 7. Aquarist will need to be concerned with some new principals. Are my sponge consumption rates proper for my bioload ? Are sea squirts pumping adequately ? Is pelagic bacterial population or density getting too high ? What are the dissolved organic concentrations in my system ? Some of the older principals are still important, such as monitoring inorganic levels for nitrogen, phosphate and silicate. High nutrients can cause a shift to an algal dominant reef phase.

Chapters 8 and 9 discuss two specific Zonal models (Tri-Zonal and Bi-Zonal) in great detail. Their basic design specifications will be given as well as the important suggested water exchange rates between zones. The nutrient loop occurring between each models zones will be discussed. Guidelines for setting up a functional model are detailed and specific operational procedures are defined. Some of the noteworthy accomplishments we have achieved with each model are listed. Then a step by step setup guide is given. Both chapters then finish with some discussion about future research. Chapter 10 then briefly discusses some of the minor Cryptic Zonal models we researched during research phase 2. A total of 5 other model types were designed, setup and operated during Research Phase 2.

The final chapter contains summaries of scientific research that is vital and important to the Zonal filtration methodology. This research is either new or was over looked when volume 1 was published. The data and material within chapter 11 is often referenced or cited from within the first 10 chapters. Following the final chapter there is an epilogue section where some loose ends are addressed. We also discuss the goals for the next Research Phase 3. A long term colony grow out show reef tank needs to be setup, analyzed and documented. And finally there is a brief discussion on where the Cryptic Zonal based methodology will eventually take the aquarist.

And it should be noted that going forward we will be referring to this methodology as a Cryptic Zonal based filtration method. Or for short, a Zonal based system. We are dropping the Environmental Gradient or EG terminology. Those gradients however are still important to establishing the zones within the Cryptic Zonal based method.

Tyree, S., (2000) The Environmental Gradient - Cryptic Sponge and Sea Squirt Filtration Models. Volume 1 of the Captive Maintenance Advanced Techniques Series. DE Publishing 290 pp.

Tyree, S., (2002) Introducing a Zonal Based Natural Filtration System for Reef Aquariums. Volume 19 Winter 2002 SeaScope. Published by Aquarium Systems Inc..

Tyree, S., (2004) Expanding the Zonal Concept to Natural Captive Reef Filtration. Audio Visual Presentation Video Presented at 2004 MACNA in Boston. DE Publishing.

Copyright © 2015 Steve Tyree All Rights Reserved.