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The Antibiotic Ciprofloxacin as a Full Tank Treatment for Saltwater Reef Aquariums.

The Antibiotic Ciprofloxacin as a Full Tank Treatment for Saltwater Reef Aquariums.

I use full tank antibiotic treatments as a last resort. My initial concern was that a full tank antibiotic treatment would wipe out too much of the beneficial bacteria and compromise the microbiome. A healthy microbiome in a reef aquarium is crucial to its health, balance, and beauty. Without a well balanced microbiome, algae and disease are allowed to grow unchecked.  The microbiome exists everywhere in the reef aquarium. It is present inside filter pipes, in the water column, on the rocks as a biofilm, and in between each and every coral polyp. The beneficial bacteria that helps make up the microbiome is paramount to coral health.  For these reasons, it's important to not compromise the microbiome unless the situation is dire. If 50% of your coral are infected with a bacterial pathogen, and individually dipping is not possible, a full tank antibiotic treatment might be required. I wanted to know, if I perform a full tank antibiotic treatment, will it not only help my coral, and reduce the pathogenic bacteria, but also not significantly compromise the beneficial microbiome? My results suggested they would.  I experimented with dosing the antibiotic ciprofloxacin as a full tank treatment in three of my client’s saltwater reef aquariums. I also experimented with it as a dip by itself and as part of a cocktail of antibiotics. This article will focus on the three in-tank treatments.  In each tank, I dosed 0.075 ml of ciprofloxacin per gallon, at a concentration of 10mg/ml of RODI water before the light came on, for 10 days in two tanks, and for six days in the third tank.  I tested the microbiome, using Aquabiomics, of two of the aquariums that received the treatment.  My results showed that ciprofloxacin did have incontrovertibly positive effects on the health of the infected and healthy corals, in some of the aquariums. The results also showed there was at least an average population and balance of the beneficial bacteria that make up a healthy microbiome after the treatment. I would recommend a full tank ciprofloxacin treatment if you have (1) a robust, diverse, and balanced beneficial microbiome, (2) a rampant pathogenic bacterial infection that has affected multiple corals and is spreading, and (3) individual dipping is impractical.  Introduction Types of Pathogenic Bacteria in Corals  Corals host bacterial communities that are phylogenetically distinct, more active and more abundant than the bacterial communities in the surrounding seawater (Tout, et.al ., 2015).  This means we can expect pathogenic and beneficial bacteria to be at a higher concentration within and next to coral polyps. This gives the bacteria a greater influence on the health of the coral, for better or worse.  In the past few years, the scientific community has increased their efforts to identify specific groups of bacteria that cause disease in corals. This could be due to recent anthropogenic (human caused) influences on the increased nutrient load in the coral reefs.  There is still relatively little known regarding which bacterial orders, families, and genera are pathogenic to corals. The few we are aware of include: Vibrionaceae Flavobacteriales Rhodobacterales Peptostreptococcales–Tissierellales (NOAA, 2023) In terms of the hobby, the best we can do is understand how these pathogens interact with healthy bacteria within the coral holobiont (the coral and the community of microorganisms that live amongst its tissue).  Armed with the knowledge of what pathogens we are dealing with, and how they live and affect the organisms around them, we can create a plan to eradicate them, or at least control their population to a natural level.  If we lose balance, and pathogenic bacteria are allowed to take over, this results in diseased corals, usually manifested as tissue necrosis. If multiple corals are infected and the entire aquarium is under threat, drastic measures may need to be taken.  Misdiagnosing Issues as Bacterial Infections A common practice, even amongst the most experienced reefers, is misdiagnosing the cause of poor coral health. I will not attempt to provide a guide on correctly diagnosing coral diseases. Be prepared to misdiagnose.  Often in the aquarium hobby, we falsely correlate and causate unrelated events. This leads to improper solutions to problems. Sprung et. al. 2002, suggested all health issues related to Catalaphyllia problems were the cause of pathogenic bacteria. However, there may also be evidence, albeit anecdotal, that this family is prone to starving in the hobby.  The reality is both the hobbyist and scientific community do not know enough about coral bacterial infections, trace element deficiency symptoms, and the effect of environmental changes to accurately diagnose coral diseases and health issues with perfect accuracy.  However, not all is lost. We do know enough to use a trial and error approach to diagnosing and curing coral health problems. For example, if a coral is losing tissue rapidly, you assume it's the worst case scenario due to the severity of the symptom. You then dip with antibiotics. If it recovers, great, if not, you move on to the next possible cause.  Taking all of this under consideration, you may decide a full tank treatment with ciprofloxacin is the best solution for your problem. Next, I'll detail exactly how I treated my client’s aquariums, and the results.  Materials and Methods The three subjects for this experiment are given the designations Aquarium A, B, and C.  Aquarium A is a 180 gallon mixed reef running 50% water changes every 14 days, alkalinity and liquid carbon dosing, skimmer, refugium light, and two Neptune Skies. Temp is 78.3, pH is 8.13, alkalinity is 8.22, calcium is 385, and magnesium is 1430. This aquarium had five Euphyllia and two Acanthastrea specimens that were succumbing to rapid tissue necrosis.  Aquarium B is a 116 gallon mixed reef running 30% water changes every 14 days, alkalinity and liquid carbon dosing, skimmer, and two AI Hydras. Temperature is 79.0, pH is 7.98, alkalinity is 8.0, calcium is 410, and magnesium is 1440. This aquarium had multiple Euphyllia with shrinking polyps that were pulled in for several weeks in a row. There were three cases of rapid tissue necrosis in this system as well.  Aquarium C is a 110 gallon mixed reef running 15% water changes every 7 days, alkalinity, liquid carbon, AB+ dosing, skimmer, full refugium with light, and two Radion XR15s. Temperature is 79.1, pH is 8.25, alkalinity is 9.35, calcium is 420, and magnesium is 1505. This aquarium had two specimens showing signs of tissue necrosis and two more with shrinking polyps for several days in a row.  I acquired 500 mg capsules of powdered ciprofloxacin from an online retailer. Some hobbyists have had success with acquiring antibiotics from their vet. This procedure works best with powdered capsules, not tablets.  Determining the concentration of the liquid solution and then how much to dose is the first step. Several articles online have suggested different doses. I read through several case studies and found the average of all of them to be 10mg of ciprofloxacin per 1 ml of RODI water. 500 mg of ciprofloxacin would prepare 50 ml of solution at this concentration.  I dosed each tank at 0.075 ml per gallon per day as the lights came on. I dosed for 10 days in aquariums A and B, and six days in aquarium C. I left the skimmer off for the entire duration of the dosing periods (10 days and 6 days).  If you need to double the solution volume to make dosing small tanks easier, without using more ciprofloxacin, be sure to adjust the dosage as well. For example, if you use 500 mg of ciprofloxacin per 100 ml of RODI water to get 100 ml of solution, also double the dosage per gallon from 0.075 ml per gallon to 0.15 ml per gallon.  On the morning of the 11th day for aquariums A and B, and the morning of the 7th day for aquarium C, I dosed 5 ml of Dr. Tim’s Eco Balance per 10 gallons of aquarium water volume. After 10 hours, I resumed the skimmer to normal function and schedule.  Aquariums A and B got a repeat dose of 5 ml of Dr. Tim’s Eco Balance per 10 gallons of aquarium water volume at 14 days. The skimmer was turned off before the dose and resumed to a normal schedule after 10 hours. Aquarium C got a repeat dose of Dr. Tims at the same concentration after seven days. The skimmer was also turned off before the dose and resumed to normal schedule after 10 hours.  Results Aquariums A and B showed marked improvement in coral polyp extension after the 10 day dosing period. One M. digittata  species did not show improvement and continued to die off in Aquarium B. Some specimens from Aquarium B did not return to full extension, but did improve overall.  Aquarium A exhibited by far the best results. Every coral recovered completely with full polyp extension and new growth after 2 months.  Aquarium C had the most middling results. Two specimens (an Echinophyllia and a Euphyllia ) stopped their tissue regression, but one other Euphyllia continued and a fourth was still not fully extended.  Table 1. visual and microbiome results. Aquarium A Aquarium B Aquarium C Tissue Necrosis Stopped Stopped 3/4 Croals Polyp Extension Full 3/4 of corals ½ Corals Overall Recovery A+ B D Aquabiomics Balance 54% 96% X Aquabiomics Diversity 47% 46% X Coral Pathogens None Detected None Detected X As for the effect on the microbiome, I only have data from aquariums A and B for after the treatment regimens. I do not have microbiome data on these systems from before the treatment.  However, the percentages are in relation to every other aquarium tested by Aquabiomics. This suggests some idea of how the microbiome was affected.  Aquarium A is in the middle of most aquariums tested with average balance and diversity. There were no coral pathogens detected after the treatment.  Aquarium B scored in the 96th percentile of aquariums tested for balance, but only 46% in diversity. There were also no coral pathogens detected.  Due to the emergency nature of full tank antibiotic treatments, it is difficult to have data from before and after a full tank treatment unless your microbiome is sampled and tested semi-regularly. If you're considering a full tank antibiotic treatment, send in a sample of your aquarium to be tested before you start the treatment.  Conclusion I suspect Aquarium B’s lesser recovery compared to A had to do with two factors. The first being misdiagnosis of the issues affecting the coral. Antibiotics were a viable solution to only some of the coral. The specimens which continued to degrade may not have been affected by a bacterial infection, but were suffering from a different issue that antibiotics could not solve.  The second factor may have been the consistency of the doses. My clients were responsible for dosing the aquariums each day. I am confident Aquarium A’s owner dosed correctly, as instructed. Aquarium B’s owner may have missed a dose.  I believe aquarium A’s corals were all suffering from a bacterial infection, which is why they all responded so positively to the antibiotics.  Six months ago, aquarium A could not keep a torch coral alive for more than a few weeks. They would rapidly succumb to tissue necrosis. As of the published date of this article, aquarium A’s corals are still going strong and three newly added torch corals are fully extended and could not be happier after being in the aquarium for nearly 2 months.  Aquarium C’s lack of recovery may have been due to misdiagnosis. However, I believe the six day dosing period versus the 10 days had a larger impact on their poor recovery.  In terms of the microbiome, with the limited data I have, I would say the microbiome was not significantly affected by the treatment long term. Corals did not relapse from a compromised microbiome.  It should be noted, the sample for the microbiome tests were taken after two half doses of Dr. Tim’s Eco Balance was added to each aquarium. The samples were taken 14 days after the second dose of Dr. Tim’s, totaling 42 days after the last dose of antibiotic was added.  I would recommend a full tank ciprofloxacin treatment under the following circumstances: You have massive die off or rapidly decaying tissue of multiple corals.  It is impractical to dip all the corals being affected separately.  You have correctly diagnosed the cause of the ailing corals as a bacterial infection.  You have a strong and established microbiome.  You have the ability to dose the proper concentration of antibiotic for the appropriate amount of time to ensure every pathogenic specimen is destroyed, thus preventing antibiotic resistant strains.  Experiment We have to be our own veterinarians when it comes to diagnosing and curing our aquarium’s health problems. Trial and error is a part of this process as is misdiagnosing. The key is to only use treatments which affect the entire system if you're confident there is sound science and low risk behind it.  Literature Cited NOAA. “Researchers Find Key Bacteria in Disease Outbreak”. March 28, 2023 by AOML Communications to Corals, Ocean Chemistry and Ecosystems, Publication Stories. https://www.aoml.noaa.gov/researchers-find-key-bacteria-in-disease-outbreak/#:~:text=Two%20other%20bacteria%20types%2C%20Rhodobacterales,progression%20of%20lesions%20on%20corals . Tout, J. et.al . “Chemotaxis by natural populations of coral reef bacteria”. The ISME Journal. 9:1764-1777. 2015.

Is Keeping a Saltwater Reef Aquarium Difficult?

Is Keeping a Saltwater Reef Aquarium Difficult?

Saltwater reef aquariums can be a more challenging experience than the typical freshwater tropical aquarium. However, they don’t have to be so difficult that they are impossible to enjoy, even for beginners. If the excitement and wonder of reef keeping sounds like a challenge you want to undertake, here is some insight into what difficulties lie ahead and how to overcome them.  The difficulty of keeping a saltwater reef aquarium is relative to three major factors: Your level of knowledge The types and number of organisms you plan to keep The size of the aquarium Fortunately, you can adjust the second and third factors to accommodate for factor one. As your knowledge increases, so can the complexity of your reef aquarium.  If you’re asking how difficult a saltwater reef aquarium is too keep, you're probably thinking about starting your first one. Let’s look at the components of saltwater reef aquariums that give them the reputation of being more difficult.  Initial Cost Chemical Relationships Biodiversity Maintenance Costs The modern saltwater reef aquarium can require more equipment, and therefore cost, than any other type of aquarium. I say “modern” and “can” because many successful reef aquariums are kept with minimal to no equipment. This however is not generally normal. Most reefers favor adding equipment to make their system easier to maintain and control.  The chemical reactions that occur within a saltwater environment are complicated. There are many facets of saltwater reefing chemistry. Without proper respect or understanding of how these relationships can affect your system, you will find reef keeping to be more difficult than it needs to be. You do not need to be a chemist, however, to keep a saltwater reef. You just need to be an eager learner with a healthy curiosity.  The biodiversity within the ocean is grander than any other ecosystem. Saltwater reef tanks have more biodiversity than most other types of aquariums. Understanding what organisms, micro and macro, live in your aquarium and how they will affect the ecosystem is crucial to keeping a successful saltwater reef aquarium.  The continued maintenance of a saltwater reef aquarium is generally more expensive than other types of aquariums. Regular water changes involve a salt mix, and depending on the complexity of your reef, a number of other products, additives, and media may need to be replaced or dosed on a regular basis.  Initial Cost of a Saltwater Reef Aquarium Most modern saltwater reef aquariums come with a higher   initial cost than freshwater, fish-only saltwater, or brackish aquariums. This is mainly due to the extra equipment required to properly maintain a reef aquarium.  High quality and intensity lights, a protein skimmer, and customizable filtration go a long way to ensure success with a reef aquarium. It is possible to build and maintain a saltwater reef aquarium without much equipment at all. However, a more advanced understanding of the chemistry and biology of the aquarium’s environment is usually required as well.  Berlin style saltwater aquariums, for example, rely heavily on the natural bacterial populations to maintain a balanced aquarium.  Generally, the equipment marketed to reef hobbyists is meant to increase the chance of success with our aquariums, and to make our lives easier. If the equipment you're buying doesn’t accomplish both of these things you should consider whether or not you actually need it.  There is not a single piece of equipment I would recommend “skimping” on, or going with the cheapest option. If you want to lower the initial cost, consider decreasing the size of the aquarium, or limit yourself to animals that have less expensive requirements.  For example, if a 90 gallon mixed coral reef turns out to be too much, starting with a 60 gallon soft coral tank and upgrading as you learn more is an excellent way to begin.  Chemical Relationships in a Saltwater Reef Aquarium The chemical reactions that occur within a saltwater reef aquarium are complex, and affect nearly every aspect of your tank and the life within it. This may sound daunting, but you don’t need to be a chemist to own a saltwater reef aquarium.  While the chemical relationships in saltwater are more complex and numerous than freshwater, the pre-made salt mix you buy does most of the work for you, at least at the beginning.  Performing regular water changes, testing for, and understanding the basic parameters  like pH, nitrate, phosphate, and alkalinity is the most chemistry you will do at first.  If you are enjoying the hobby, you will learn its chemistry quickly.  Perhaps the largest hurdle to owning a successful saltwater reef aquarium is the learning curve. There is an enormous amount of knowledge involved with this hobby. Thankfully you don’t need to know everything, or really that much at all, at least to begin.  What you do need is a mentor. The most successful beginner reef hobbyists are those who found another successful hobbyist and mimicked what they did. They don’t have to be local or in person, maybe it's someone online or with a YouTube channel.  Choose one person who has a successful tank, and just do what they did. An easy mistake you can make is cherry picking techniques, methods, and practices from multiple hobbyists. All aquariums are different. While many of them are successful, they did not take the same path to get there, and using methods from multiple setups can have disastrous effects. .  Biodiversity of a Saltwater Reef Aquarium Coral reefs have the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem on planet earth. When we try to replicate this environment in our home aquariums, we invite hundreds and eventually thousands of species to inhabit and interact with each other inside our artificial ecosystem.  These relationships and interactions become complicated quickly. The high biodiversity itself is not what makes saltwater reef keeping difficult. Not having the patience to allow these relationships and interactions to play out in their own time is what causes frustration in the modern reefer.  For example, when you start a new reef aquarium, there is a series of microbial and algal succession that must occur. Initial organisms like bacteria begin to grow in the tank. They compete with other organisms like algae, and begin to overtake the aquarium at various speeds. The first week you may have brown algae (diatoms) covering your rocks. Eventually, the diatoms may be replaced by another type of algae a few weeks later, then another type, and another after that. The succession of algae and bacteria as the tank ages is completely natural.  Eventually, the aquarium will balance, and your microbiome will establish. This leads to clean looking rock, sand, and glass, with only a minimal amount of algae growing, which your macro grazers like snails, urchins, and grazing fish like tangs and combtooth blennies, can take care of.  To make this natural process happen quickly, you can add living, sustainable, probiotic bacteria blends to your aquarium. This will jumpstart and speed up the succession process by growing your microbiome faster. A healthy microbiome means less algae and pathogenic bacteria.  Maintenance Costs of a Saltwater Reef Aquarium Saltwater reef aquariums are not cheap when done correctly. Maintenance costs scale with the amount of livestock in the tank. The more fish and coral you have the more supplements, food, and media you will need. Maintenance costs of a reef aquarium can come from the following:  salt mix dosing supplements frozen food coral and specialty food chemical media mechanical media testing new or upgraded equipment  When reef aquariums are full of fish and coral, they utilize resources in the tank quickly; sometimes faster than a water change can replenish them. In these cases, extra dosing of supplements in between water changes is necessary. One of the most expensive costs of maintaining a reef aquarium is the addition of the various supplements that must be replenished as they are consumed.  Growing fish and coral also need a quality and varied diet. Fish and coral feeding regimens can be as simple or complex as you want to make them, but scale in cost quickly.  Chemical and mechanical media are utilized depending on your bioload. A well balanced microbiome will prevent the use of expensive chemical media. There won’t be excessive nutrients to adsorb if your microbiome is established.  Testing frequently is important with reef aquariums. Most home tests are fairly inexpensive. However, it is good practice to send your water to a lab for an ICP-OES test every few months. These are more expensive than home tests, but are not used as frequently.  As your aquarium grows and you add more livestock, you will find yourself upgrading your equipment. Automated testers, larger protein skimmers, better lights, and media reactors are a few examples of possible upgrades. Depending on your initial budget, most of this equipment can be purchased initially and adjusted to your bioload as it grows. However, upgrading later to spread out the initial cost is also an option.  Patience  In my experience, the best way to make reef keeping easier is to have patience. Nothing in the saltwater aquarium environment should happen quickly, good or bad. Tank crashes and expensive solutions are usually a result of a lack of patience and trying to force or rush a solution to a problem. When in doubt, be deliberate, take your time, and heed the advice of a trusted mentor.

Cleaning Your Aquarium Part 4: Regular Water Testing.

Cleaning Your Aquarium Part 4: Regular Water Testing.

The regular and consistent water analysis of your aquarium is the most powerful tool for a healthy and beautiful aquarium. Nothing is more effective at forming an accurate picture of your aquarium’s health than accurately and precisely testing your water parameters. Water analysis is only effective if done correctly. To get the most out of water analysis you must: Test the same parameters consistently Test regularly Chase trends, not numbers Use accurate and precise testing equipment and techniques The Importance of Testing Aquarium Water Regularly and Consistently. One of the pillars of the scientific method is consistency. In terms of aquarium water analysis, this means testing the same parameters at the same intervals, on a regular basis. In order to identify trends and patterns, we need multiple data points over a consistent and regular period of time. It is not enough to simply perform the occasional nitrate, phosphate, or pH test. These tests are only useful if you have a data set, taken over time, to compare it to. For example, if you're trying to determine the rate of nitrate build up, you might test nitrates before every water change. Or maybe you test nitrates once a month. Whichever frequency, or regularity, you choose, being consistent and testing at the same time, every time, is key. Being consistent to the time of day can be important as well. Some parameters, like pH, can fluctuate up and down throughout the day. If you test in the morning one day, and in the evening on another, you will see a misrepresentation of the actual daily fluctuation. Aquarium Water Analysis Reveals Trends You’ve probably heard to not chase numbers when it comes to aquarium water analysis. Chasing numbers means picking an “ideal”, sometimes arbitrary, metric for a certain parameter and then constantly trying to hit that target “ideal” metric by altering the chemistry of your aquarium with additives, filtration, water changes, etc. Trying to chase a specific number can result in more harm than good, and oftentimes is an impossible feat. A more effective method is to keep your aquarium parameters within a safe range and only take action when you see your parameters trending outside of that range. Trending can be defined as a parameter moving in one direction over at least three different tests, or data points. One or two tests do not reveal a trend, you need at least three tests to determine a pattern or tend. More data is usually better if that data is accurate. For example, there is no difference in the health of your aquarium between a calcium reading of 420 and 400. That difference could also be a testing error. However, if you test at 420, then 400, then 380, that could suggest your calcium is trending down and action should be taken to correct it. Which Aquarium Water Test Kits are the Best? Aquarium water parameter test kits can be divided up into hobbyist, professional, and lab grade. Hobbyist grade test kits have a wider range of error and rely on methods like colorimetry. Professional test kits are more affordable versions of lab grade tests. They use many of the same methods, but without the scientific grade precision. Lab grade test kits are much more accurate and precise. They use methods like ICP-OES, titration, and spectrophotometry. There is nothing wrong with hobbyist grade test kits. Just be sure to know the range of error when using these kits. For example, Hanna’s calcium test kit has a standard error of plus or minus 15 ppm. If you test calcium twice and the readings are different, but within 15 ppm, your calcium concentration may not have actually changed. This is one of the reasons we chase trends, not numbers. If your budget allows for professional or lab grade test kits, they can be a powerful tool. Some of these kits are more trouble than the sometimes minor increase in accuracy or precision is worth. In these cases, it may be better to choose a less accurate kit that will be consistently used rather than a more accurate kit that just sits on the shelf. Lab grade testing can also be done in actual labs through several companies via the mail. Utilize these resources as often as you like, but at least a couple times a year. This way, you’ll never miss that build up or depletion of an element you can’t test for at home. What Aquarium Water Parameters Should I Test For? There are many parameters which should be kept track of to maintain a healthy aquarium. Not every parameter needs to be tested at the same time. In general, the faster a parameter is capable of changing, such as salinity, alkalinity, or pH, the more often it should be tested. Parameters like nitrate and phosphate can be tested less often. Below is a short description of the most common water parameters to test for. Temperature As one of the most variable parameters, temperature should be constantly monitored. Using a thermometer, adhesive thermal-meter, or temperature probe attached to a monitor, the temperature of your tank should always be readily available and easy to read. The air conditioner being turned up on a hot day, a window being left open, or a busted heater can quickly change the temperature of your aquarium. Having a constant readout prevents dangerous fluctuations. Salinity In saltwater aquariums, salinity can change quickly over the course of just a few days. Salinity can be affected by neglecting freshwater top offs or dosing alkalinity and calcium. You should test the salinity of the aquarium before every water change to determine the salinity to mix the new water to. New water should be tested before being added to the aquarium as well. Freshwater aquariums should not have measurable salinity levels. Sometimes, freshwater aquariums can benefit from the addition of some sodium chloride. In these cases, the part per thousand should still read below one. Equipment Testing salinity can be done with a hydrometer, refractometer, or digital tester. Floating, glass-stick hydrometers are the simplest, most accurate, precise, and never need to be calibrated. Microbubbles can alter the readings of the plastic-lever hydrometers. Handheld refractometers can be precise and accurate, but only if you test multiple times and use perfect technique. Temperature, light angle, and sample volume can affect a handheld refractometer's readings. They also need to be calibrated before each use. Benchtop refractometers are generally more precise than their handheld counterparts. My personal favorite is a digital conductivity tester. These devices are accurate and precise, easy to read, and only need to be calibrated every few weeks depending on frequency of use. Regardless of which is your favorite, it is best practice to measure salinity with multiple methods to be sure your readings are accurate. My favorite combination is a glass,-stick hydrometer and a digital tester. pH In both freshwater and saltwater aquariums, pH can fluctuate throughout the day. As CO2 levels rise and then fall, its relationship with alkalinity causes pH to fall at night and rise during the day. Saltwater Aquarium pH pH fluctuations are important to monitor in saltwater reef aquariums. You need to know what your lowest point and highest point during the 24 hour cycle is. The smaller the fluctuation from 8.3, the better. For example, 7.8 at night and 8.0 during the day is considered a wide fluctuation and is too low from the ideal 8.3. Whereas 8.1 at night and 8.3 during the day, is the same fluctuation, but is much closer to the ideal number of 8.3. Testing however many times is necessary to determine how much your reef tank fluctuates is important. Consider starting with a pH test each morning, afternoon, and evening. For fish-only saltwater tanks, just test before each water change to see if your pH is drastically off from diminished alkalinity. Freshwater Aquariums The pH in freshwater aquariums should be tested before each water change to determine if it has changed since the last water change. Freshwater planted tanks that use CO2 injection should have pH monitored weekly and exactly 24 hours after CO2 levels are adjusted. Equipment Liquid reagent test kits for pH testing are the most common and easy to use. However, they can be inaccurate if the exact, correct amount of reagent isn’t used. Test strips are quick and easy, but can be difficult to read and have a low degree of accuracy. A digital tester that uses liquid reagents can suffer from the same pitfalls as any other liquid reagent test kit. My favorite method for testing pH is a handheld digital probe. While they need to be calibrated fairly often, depending on usage, they are more accurate, precise, and trustworthy. Single junction probes are great for freshwater and double junction probes are perfect for saltwater. Like with any test, I recommend using two different types of testing kits or equipment when determining the initial accuracy of your equipment, especially if you are using kits or equipment that can’t be calibrated with a standard solution. After you're confident the method you have chosen is accurate and precise, then limit the confirmation testing to approximately once a month. Alkalinity Much like with pH, alkalinity also fluctuates throughout the day. In reef aquariums, alkalinity is used up by corals during the day and dips at night. In freshwater, alkalinity remains fairly constant, but can fluctuate slightly when animals, including the microbiome, respire and release CO2. Saltwater Aquariums Alkalinity can be measured in reef aquariums as often as multiple times a day, or only once before every water change. The goal is to minimize fluctuations in alkalinity as much as possible. If you measure weekly, you will be able to correct alkalinity after it's been dipping for a week. This could be quite a large dip. If you measure every hour, you can correct on a much more precise level and the alkalinity in the tank will never measurably dip. The best practice is somewhere in between these two extremes. If you have very little livestock in the aquarium, start by measuring alkalinity before each water change. As you add more corals, your alkalinity will begin to dip more than 1 point in a week. When this happens, it's time to start dosing an alkalinity buffer in between water changes to keep your alkalinity stable. Be sure to test your alkalinity before each dose if you're dosing manually. If you are dosing automatically, begin by testing consistently and regularly. Start by testing alkalinity (1) when your lights come on, (2) half way through your light cycle, (3) when your lights go off, and (4) half way through your night cycle (or as close to it as you can get). These readings will tell you how much your alkalinity changes throughout a 24 hour period. Use this data to adjust how much and when the buffer is dosed in order to shrink the fluctuations as much as possible (preferably within 2/10ths of a degree). Once you have a week of consistent data, and you're confident your alkalinity isn't fluctuating too much in a 24 hour period, then you can pull back on testing to between once daily and once weekly. Freshwater Aquariums Alkalinity only needs to be measured before each water change in freshwater systems where the alkalinity is stable. This reading will inform you of how much alkalinity buffer to add to the new water. If heavy feeding leads to high rates of decomposition and therefore large bacteria populations, testing alkalinity in between water changes may be necessary to determine if dosing is necessary. Equipment For freshwater systems, a basic titration kit is sufficient. For reef aquariums, I would suggest a liquid colorimeter test kit, or a quality titration test kit. There are also automatic water analyzers available in the reef hobby that will automatically test, via titration, alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium on a set schedule, multiple times a day. If one of these testers is in your budget and you are automatically dosing any of these testable parameters, I recommend getting one. Calcium & Magnesium Freshwater Known as general hardness (GH) in the freshwater aquarium, calcium and magnesium are used by plants and animals at a relatively low rate. Best practice is to test for these elements via a titration GH test kit before each water change to ensure new water has been treated appropriately. Saltwater In the reef aquarium, calcium and magnesium are highly important. Depending on how many corals you have, and whether or not you are dosing, it's a good idea to test for these elements, individually, at least once a week, or daily if you have many corals using lots of calcium and magnesium. Follow the same testing guidelines for alkalinity when testing calcium and magnesium. Like with alkalinity, corals will uptake less calcium and magnesium at night. The amount and timing of your dosages are important to monitor. Testing multiple times a day, at the same times initially, will give you an accurate and precise dosing schedule. Calcium and magnesium fluctuations do not affect coral growth as much as fluctuations in alkalinity. While these parameters should remain relatively stable, they do not need to be dialed in to the degree that alkalinity does. Equipment For freshwater, the basic 1-part liquid reagent test kits for general hardness (calcium and magnesium) are sufficient. For saltwater reef aquariums, I recommend either a liquid/powder colorimeter or a titration test kit for each element separately. Like with alkalinity, there are automatic water analyzers available that will take multiple readings per day. Ammonia & Nitrite Ammonia and nitrite are most associated with the nitrogen cycle. Most people don’t bother testing for these compounds after their tank is cycled. This is mostly true for nitrite. As the second stage in the nitrogen cycle, it is the shortest lived and is rarely measurable after the nitrifying microbiome is established. Ammonia on the other hand is a direct byproduct of fish waste, fish respiration, excess food, and even underperforming RODI filters. Some systems even have limited nitrifying bacteria and every time you feed, a measurable amount of ammonia is present. For these reasons, it's a good idea to test your ammonia/ammonium levels every month. If you have ammonia present, it's a good idea to look at how much habitat for nitrifying bacteria you have, if you're feeding too much, or if your RODI filter is letting ammonia or chloramines (which can read as ammonia) through the membranes and resins. Equipment In most cases, a 2-part liquid reagent test kit will suffice for ammonia and ammonium measurements. However, whenever I detect considerable ammonia or ammonium levels when I wasn’t expecting them, I always confirm with a higher quality liquid reagent kit that separately tests for total and free ammonia. Nitrate & Phosphate These two molecules are some of the most debated pieces of chemistry in both the fresh and saltwater hobby. Regardless of where you land on how much of each should be measurable, the principle behind their production, accumulation, and measurement is the same. Nitrate and phosphate are considered inorganic when they are free-floating in the water column. This is when they are measurable by our testing kits. Nitrate and phosphate are organic when they are attached to biological organisms (inside bacteria) or as part of other organic material (fish waste). Nitrogen (especially in the ammonia and ammonium form) and phosphorus are more biologically useful in that they are more easily absorbed by animals and plants than nitrate and phosphate. We can estimate the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the aquarium by measuring the nitrate and phosphate. The exact desired concentration of nitrate of phosphate is different for every hobbyist and every aquarium. However, measuring these nutrients at least once a month will prevent build up beyond undesired levels and allow you to notice trends, whether good or bad. Personally, I test for nitrate and phosphates at least once every two weeks, at most once a week, or once a month if I've been showing stable readings. Equipment For general readings with a desired accuracy less than 10 ppm for nitrate, I recommend a 2-part liquid test kit. For all phosphate readings, and nitrate readings with a desired accuracy less than 1 ppm, I recommend a powdered reagent colorimetric test kit, such as the Hanna checkers. Potassium, Iron and Other Trace Elements Freshwater In the freshwater aquarium, potassium and Iron are important elements for plant growth. If you have fast growing plants, getting a potassium and iron reading every month or two is not a bad idea. If you're not fertilizing a heavily planted or fast growing planted tank, you're definitely low on both of these elements. If you are dosing fertilizers, knowing how much to dose is important. Other trace elements in the freshwater aquarium are ideally replenished when new water is treated with a remineralizer, an all-in-one fertilizer, or trace fertilizer; and therefore don’t need to be tested. These include elements like molybdenum, zinc, nickel and others. Honestly, I would test for these elements if I could. However, a reliable, inexpensive test kit for these elements suspended in a liquid solution is not readily available. In lieu of testing, adding trace elements as directed, then adjusting based on visual analysis of deficiencies is best practice. Saltwater In the saltwater and reef aquariums, all these minor and trace elements are in the salt mix and are replenished to a degree with every water change. If you have growing corals and are dosing alkalinity and calcium, you're probably using trace elements at a rate faster than they can be replenished with a water change. If this is the case, it's a good idea to test for these micro and trace elements right before a water change using an “ICP-OES” lab-grade test. These should be done approximately every three to six months to check if you're deficient in minor or trace elements. They are also useful in determining if you have contaminants in the aquarium. Liquid reagent test kits for potassium and iron are available for freshwater and saltwater aquariums. Test kits for strontium are also readily available for saltwater. Lighting One of the most crucial elements of a saltwater reef or freshwater planted tank, light rarely gets measured the way it should. Knowing the intensity, spread, and quality of your photons will allow you to accurately and safely place corals and plants while avoiding too much or too little light in the tank; leading to bleaching or excessive algae growth. Accurately testing your light’s photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) can be costly; the tools to do it right can cost over $600. However, if you know someone with a submersible, lab-grade PAR meter, or a way to rent one, it is well worth it to measure your PAR and adjust your lights as necessary. If done correctly, you should only have to make this measurement once as you will rarely have to move or change your lights unless the aquarium or the aquascape changes. This may be an expensive measurement to make, but you should only have to make it once. Be sure to record your PAR readings as you make them across your tank. When you add new plants or coral, you will know the best place to put them per their requirements. Photosynthetically Useful Radiation (PUR) is just as important, if not more so, than PAR. PUR is essentially the intensity of the individual spectrums of light, not the intensity of all the spectrums together (PAR). PUR measures the quality of your light, what is actually photosynthetically useful vs just the quantity of photons (PAR). Corals, for example, love bluer light near the 420 nm range, while plants prefer a more intense red part of the spectrum. Unfortunately, there is no hobbyist-grade, readily available equipment as of yet that can test for PUR. The best practice is to research your animals and plants, know the spectrums they need, and adjust your light’s individual spectrum intensities to match that research. CO2 In freshwater high-tech planted aquariums, CO2 gas is injected directly into the aquarium. The rate at which this gas is injected is different for all aquariums. No matter the setup however, the parts per million (ppm) should be between 20 and 30. Once you achieve this concentration, you shouldn't have to re-measure CO2 again unless you adjust the CO2, or just want to confirm your injection rate every once in a while. There are two ways to measure CO2. The first is to take a KH measurement and a pH measurement then use this table to find your CO2 concentration. The only issue with this method is you can get false readings if there are any other factors besides pH or alkalinity (KH) that are affecting the CO2 concentration. For example, some shrimp salts and pH buffers will give you a high, false CO2 reading because they lower the pH without lowering the KH. The second way is to use a two part liquid test kit and measure the CO2 concentration directly. This method is the more reliable of the two, but requires another test kit, although they are fairly inexpensive. Visual Testing Testing kits and equipment are a vital tool to understanding our aquariums. They can also help us diagnose and track problems and solutions we may be experiencing. The easiest, and sometimes most reliable test we can perform, is a visual assessment. It is crucial to set aside all the kits and equipment and visually observe the aquarium regularly and consistently. Take additional time to deliberately observe problems you've been having, and the growth or recession, health, behavior, and color of your livestock. Note the algae growth, the flow, and amount of detritus build up. Go beyond just looking at your aquarium as a normal part of enjoying it. Make intentional observations, note them down, and relate them to the maintenance you have been performing. Experiment Every aquarium and aquarium hobbyist is different. There are a thousand ways to test your aquarium’s parameters correctly. Different regimens, schedules, and testing equipment work better for different hobbyists. In the beginning, don’t worry as much about being perfect, just be accurate, precise, and consistent.

How To Tell If Your Aquarium Needs Cleaning.

How To Tell If Your Aquarium Needs Cleaning.

Every aquarium is different, but for a majority of appropriately stocked aquariums, regular maintenance or cleaning, including a partial water change, should be done weekly or every two weeks. The more often you clean your aquarium, the less you have to do each time. Cleaning an aquarium on a regular schedule includes several activities: Testing the water Performing a partial water change and vacuuming the substrate Cleaning the filter and changing media Cleaning the glass, decor, and external equipment. For example, if you perform a partial water change every week, only a 10 percent water change may be necessary. However, if the aquarium is left for multiple weeks between cleanings, a 40 or even 50 percent water change may be necessary. This is assuming your aquarium is appropriately stocked, and not overloaded. How Often You Clean Your Aquarium Depends on the Amount of Livestock. There is no perfect answer that works for everyone when asked how often they should clean their aquarium. There is a relationship between the amount of livestock in the aquarium, the amount of organics they produce, and the efficiency and scale of the system’s filtration. Balancing this relationship results in an aquarium that should be cleaned every seven to fourteen days. If you have overpowered filtration and there is very little livestock, you will have to clean the aquarium less often. You might go 14 to 30 days before the media becomes soiled and the water’s nutrient levels approach unsafe levels. If your aquarium is overstocked and the filtration is lacking, then regular maintenance may need to be done every few days. The sections below will detail what signs to look for in your mechanical and chemical filtration, on your glass and décor, and in your water chemistry to know exactly how often you should be performing regular maintenance. Armed with this knowledge, you can also determine the appropriate amount of livestock you can safely house in your aquarium. How Often Should I Clean Aquarium Filtration? Mechanical Aquarium Filtration The filter media which removes large organic particles like fish food, waste, sloughed tissue, and other larger excretions is called the mechanical filtration. This media usually comes in the form of a foam or floss pad, cartridge, roller pad, or nylon or felt sock. Mechanical is the first stage of filtration. The best way to tell when it is time to clean or replace your mechanical filtration is visually. By simply examining the media it's fairly easy to tell if it has become soiled. Even if the flow through the media is still strong and undiminished, the organic waste the media is storing is constantly being leached into the aquarium as water passes through and the organics further break down. If the media appears dirty or soiled and the flow from your filter or sump has reduced significantly, it is definitely time to replace or at least clean or rinse the mechanical filtration. Chemical Aquarium Filtration The filter media in your reactors, the carbon in your filter cartridges and media bags, and other forms of media that specifically remove chemicals or elements from the water column are your chemical filtration. This media’s capacity to remove the desired chemicals diminishes as it adsorbs more and more of the chemical. Eventually, the pores, or in some cases, surface area of the media is “clogged” and will no longer function. With most media of this type, like carbon, granular ferric oxide, or zeolite, it is difficult to tell visually if the media is spent or used up. Testing for the chemicals you're trying to remove will give you the best idea if the filter media is still removing those chemicals. If your aquarium water is discolored, usually a yellow tint, and you add carbon to remove it, track the time it takes for the aquarium water to clear up then start to return to a yellow tint again. This will give you a rough visual estimate of when to replace your carbon. I should note, sometimes a yellow tint is tannins leaching from driftwood. Eventually, tannins will be completely leached out and no longer continue to discolor water. If you're trying to remove nitrates, phosphates, or ammonia, test the water before you add the media, then once a week after to see if the chemical starts to trend back up again; that's when you should replace the media. If you can’t easily test for the chemicals you're trying to remove, like heavy metals, most chemical media will have a manufacturer suggested frequency by which the media should be replaced. How Often Should I Clean My Aquarium Glass, Décor, and Equipment? Everyone has a threshold for cleanliness with their aquariums. Some of us allow a thin film of algae to grow over the glass before we take the magnet cleaner to it. Others wipe the inside of the glass every morning. In most cases, the amount of organic and chemical buildup on the glass, décor, and external equipment does not have a critical effect on the function of the aquarium; It's simply personal preference. In some cases though, salt creep, calcium, and carbonate precipitation can have a detrimental effect on electrical equipment and dosing tubing. In these cases, it is crucial to wipe down and clean up the equipment. How Often Should I do a Partial Water Change? How often to perform a water change is the big question. This answer is determined by two factors. How many nitrates and phosphates are in the water How many micro and trace elements have been used up When your tank is overstocked, the nitrates and phosphates build up fast and water changes should be done weekly. For most of us, a 20 to 30 percent water change every 7 to 14 days is appropriate. However, this schedule is extremely relative. If your aquarium is full of fish, live plants, or coral in saltwater tanks, there are multiple elements such as calcium, carbonates, magnesium, iron, potassium, and many other trace elements that are used up and absorbed by the livestock. With saltwater aquariums, many of these are replaced with new, freshly mixed saltwater. With freshwater systems, these elements are usually added separately and don’t rely as heavily on water changes to replace. Elevated Nutrients Nitrates and phosphates are two major elements we measure when deciding if organic nutrients are elevated enough to require a water change. This is because most organic material breaks down into various forms of nitrogen and phosphorus. The end result of the nitrogen cycle is nitrates (NO3) and Nitrogen (N). The end result of phosphorus binding in fresh and saltwater is phosphate (PO4-). In addition to elevated nitrate levels being toxic to fish, these nutrients can also contribute to unsightly algae growth when left unchecked. However many days after your last water change it took for your nitrates to rise above 20 ppm is a good schedule to perform water changes. There are some types of biological and chemical filtration that can reduce nitrates and phosphates, giving you a little more time before a water change needs to be done to reduce organic nutrients. But these filtration methods won’t help when it comes to replenishing elements and compounds used by the animals in your aquarium. Expended Macro, Micro, and Trace Elements Freshwater When I change the water in a freshwater aquarium, I start with pure RODI water. I then add back in calcium, magnesium, and carbonates as necessary for the specific aquarium. In a freshwater system, calcium and magnesium are not generally used up by the animals or plants. However, the carbonates can diminish if there is a strong microbiome. The elements which would need to be replaced regularly are normally the macro, micro, and trace elements used by plants. Nitrogen Phosphorous Potassium Iron Trace Elements These are normally added by dosing the aquarium as needed, usually right after a water change and then halfway before the next one (once or twice weekly). For freshwater aquariums, or planted ones at least, the new water does not normally replace all the other elements, just the calcium, magnesium, and carbonates, which were removed during the RODI filtering process. Water changes on planted tanks do help reset the fertilizer or macro, micro, and trace element levels as well. Saltwater Anytime a water change is performed on a saltwater tank, the new water is always mixed with a “salt mix”. This is a formulated mixture of around 80 or 85 percent sodium chloride and approximately 15 percent calcium, magnesium, carbonates, and other elements. Unlike freshwater aquariums, saltwater animals such as coral, utilize nearly all of these elements (except sodium chloride). In between water changes, all these vital elements are slowly decreasing as the organic nutrients (nitrates and phosphates) rise. Performing a partial water change not only reduces toxic organic nutrients, but also replenishes the vital elements at the same time. Some saltwater aquariums are stocked heavily enough where they need to add even more of these vital elements in between water changes. This is called dosing, similar to what freshwater plants require with their fertilizers. Partial Water Change as a Solution In many cases, but not all, a partial water change can help fix a problem or set your aquarium back on track. Oftentimes we experience a symptom of unhealthy livestock and don’t know exactly what is causing it. When in doubt, a series of small (10 percent) water changes every few days can help bring an ailing tank back to life. Every Aquarium is Different Over time, the optimal schedule for cleaning your aquarium will become apparent. Check for the following signs to determine your aquarium’s maintenance schedule. Is my mechanical filtration dirty, and slowing or clogging water flow from the filter? Is my aquarium water tinted yellow? Are the chemicals I’m trying to remove with chemical filtration trending upward again? Is the aquarium glass covered in algae? Is the equipment inside and outside of the aquarium forming salt creep or hard water stains? Are my nitrates above 20 ppm? Are the vital elements trending down below safe or useful levels? You may have only answered yes to one or just a few of these questions. You don’t need to perform all your maintenance duties simultaneously. Some aquariums need their filtration changed weekly and the water changed biweekly, while others may need everything done once a week. Every aquarium is different.

Stability and Increasing Coral Growth in the Reef Aquarium

Stability and Increasing Coral Growth in the Reef Aquarium

Stable water parameters are paramount to coral health, beauty, and growth. Stability is only one of many important factors that contribute to these conditions. After the nitrogen cycle is complete, and all water parameters are within their safe ranges , keeping them stable within those ranges is probably the most important contributor to stress free, healthy, beautiful, and growing coral. Obviously, light, flow, regular feedings, and space are equally as important in their own way. Those multifaceted factors will be discussed in a later article. Here and now, I’ll focus on the benefits of stable water parameters. Why are My Corals Not Growing? The reef aquarium can never be an exact replication of the reefs in the oceans. It's just not possible to perfectly replicate the near infinite elements of that massive ecosystem. Instead, we should strive to make our home aquaria sustainable, artificial ecosystems that mimic the natural reefs as much as is beneficial. The foundation on which we build that artificial ecosystem is stability of accurate water parameters. While we may never exactly match the light, nutrient flow, or grazing prowess of a natural reef, we can build a healthy system on one of the ocean’s most powerful and most easily reproducible characteristics, its stability. There are a million reasons why the corals in our aquariums may not be doing as well as we would like. From disease to improper environment and macro-pests, the specific reason or reasons why some of your animals may be experiencing difficulty are too numerous to delve into in this article, but I'll provide a few examples. Poor water condition Parameters outside of safe ranges Improper lighting Improper Flow Disease Macro-pests (irritation) Lack of Food Aggression While these examples can affect coral growth, my intention here is to discuss one of the major inhibitors of coral growth, unstable, or inconsistent water parameters. What is Stability? Stability is relative, even in this context. Some may consider a daily temperature fluctuation of two degrees Fahrenheit stable. Others classify anything outside of a half degree fluctuation as unacceptable. While half a degree is technically more stable than two degrees, it is more difficult to achieve, thereby making it impractical. Two degrees in temperature is also too wide of a fluctuation and in most cases one degree is just as achievable and more stable. My point is stability is not just about reducing the fluctuation. It's also about what is practical. If you can’t maintain a half degree stability with any consistency or reliability, then does it really qualify as stable? Stability is keeping a parameter from fluctuating outside of a given range in a practical method that results in consistency. Which Reef Aquarium Parameters are the Most Important to Keep Stable? The most important parameters to keep stable in the reef aquarium are: Temperature Salinity pH Alkalinity Calcium Magnesium Lighting Nutrients Flow Why Stability is Important for Increasing Coral Growth Most ecosystems in the ocean are stable. They have the same pH, temperature, alkalinity, macro, and micro element levels. They experience the same lighting, nutrient, and flow regimes daily. In the aquarium, we have seen many examples of the results of stability. Corals that have a stable environment don’t have to spend energy constantly adapting. This results in less stress, better health, immune systems, and ultimately faster growth. There are factors that are not stable as I defined it earlier, such as nutrient flow. The amount of nutrients, the form it comes in, and exactly when it comes can vary daily. However, the fact that at some point nutrients surge through a reef multiple times a day, every day, does remain consistent. When considering consistency and stability, sometimes we need to “zoom out” from a microscopic or minute by minute view to see how stability still applies, just on a larger scale. For example, temperature should be maintained constantly. Coral feedings and nutrient flow, on the other hand, achieve stability by occurring at the same time daily, not every few minutes like the switching on and off of a heating element. Although this is relative to your aquarium. Systems with lots of fast growing corals can be fed multiple times a day with massive nutrient export systems. Achieving Stability Achieving stability is all about knowing the acceptable and practical range you want to keep your given parameter within, and implementing the proper methods and technology to achieve that. The first aspect, knowing the acceptable and practical range, can be relative, like I mentioned earlier, but the key is to know what works with your tank. We’ll get into it with each parameter later, but some aquarists keep their alkalinity at 10, others at 7. Stability would not be keeping it between 7 and 10, but as close to whichever number you choose as is practically achievable. The second aspect, implementation, is extremely nuanced with several viable methods, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. I won’t go into detail on each one. I’ll simply list them so you can explore each one in more depth at your leisure. Playing the Long Game Once you have achieved a consistent and stable range of parameters you are happy with, the rate of coral growth won’t happen overnight. It may still take several months before your corals adapt to stable conditions and begin to grow faster. Don’t forget, stability is but one aspect of Increasing coral growth. Nutrient intake, lighting, flow, and many other factors play a large part in coral biology as well. Stable Water Parameters in the Reef Aquarium Temperature Keeping your temperature stable is probably easier than the other parameters, and just as important. You should strive to keep temperature fluctuation within 1 degree Fahrenheit. If this proves too difficult for your system, 1.5 degrees is still better than 1, but anything over 2 degrees of fluctuation can begin to stress more sensitive creatures. When performing water changes, try to heat up the new water to the aquarium temperature, especially when performing a water change larger than 10%. The easiest way to achieve temperature stability is by utilizing a controller for your heating element. Some heaters are efficient enough to keep temperatures stable using the built in thermostat. However, installing a heating element, attached to a separate controller with at least two temperature probes attached, is much more reliable and consistent. Two temperature probes allow for a more accurate reading of the aquarium's actual temperature. The controller gives more precise control over the on/off reaction times of the element. Choosing a controller that allows multiple elements to be installed also guarantees a more significant, and therefore consistent heat distribution throughout the system. Salinity Animals that live in aqueous environments are constantly undergoing osmosis and diffusion. This means, they are always balancing the concentration of water, and the solids dissolved in it, inside and outside of their tissues. If the concentration of the major dissolved solids (in this case salt) in the water is constantly changing, then the animals become stressed by spending too much energy trying to correct these changes in concentration. Additionally, water moves through the tissue via osmosis, which takes no metabolic energy, but can still significantly affect the concentration of other dissolved solids, causing stress on the animal. However, if the salinity is always the same, the animals can spend their energy on their immune system, growth, and other metabolic functions. There are many solids dissolved in seawater, but salinity is the measure of NaCl, sodium chloride, which makes up nearly 70% of seawater. Keeping salinity stable is far more important than alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, trace elements, and organics. Once your salinity is stable, then you can focus on the lesser concentrated solids in the water. Why Would Salinity Change? Salinity can change for many reasons. The most common and quickest to occur is evaporation of water from the tank, resulting in a rise in salinity. This is easy to offset by adding RODI, or non-salinized freshwater, back to the aquarium, at the same rate it evaporates. This can be done manually, by pouring freshwater into the aquarium from a storage container, which is sealed when not in use, or as you make it. Marking where the top of the water level should always be in your aquarium, allows you to refill to that mark consistently as the tank water evaporates. Another option is to install an automatic top off. This method, once installed, takes care of itself. Some versions still have a reservoir that needs to be refiled. Other versions hook directly up to the RODI system. The latter is not as safe as having a top off reservoir, because if the float valve, water sensor, and its backups fail, the RODI system will continue to feed water into the aquarium indefinitely. A reservoir will only dump the reservoir’s amount of water into the tank if it fails. Salinity can also change when the new water mixed for water changes is not accurate. When performing water changes, always recalibrate the tool you use to measure salinity. Measure the salinity of the aquarium and the new water. If your tank reads high, lower the salinity in the new water and vice versa. For example, if your tank is at 36 ppt and you want it at 35 ppt, and you are doing a 10% water change, then the new water needs to be at 26 ppt. If you're doing a 50% water change, then the new water should be mixed at 34 ppt to bring your tank to 35 ppt. That's just the math though. It is more practical and safer to adjust salinity slowly over several water changes. Another common way salinity can change is if you are dosing sodium bicarbonate or sodium carbonate with calcium chloride. As the animals use the bicarbonates or carbonates and the calcium, the sodium and the chloride combine into sodium chloride (salt), and raise the salinity. There are several ways to go about correcting this, the most common is the method from above. Measure the salinity of your aquarium before your water changes and mix the new water to the correct salinity to bring your aquarium back down to 35 ppt. If your salinity is climbing because you're dosing these two compounds, be sure to research the “Balling Method” for 2 part dosing. There is some interesting chemistry behind what happens to your trace elements and magnesium levels when you are 2 part dosing calcium chloride and carbonates and then correcting for the salinity change. If you don’t add trace elements back into the aquarium, then you will reduce them indefinitely. pH A stable pH helps stony corals maintain a strong, dense skeleton. There have been decades of multidisciplinary research and studies on pH stability in the ocean. pH is a standard metric used to measure ocean stability. In the reef aquarium, we are coming to realize maintaining a pH range of 7.8 to 8.3 throughout a 24 hour period is just the beginning. While 7.8 to 8.3 is the safe range, closing that gap to 8.25 plus or minus a tenth of a degree, or better yet, 8.3 for 24 hours, is exponentially better for coral health and growth. There is still much research left to be done concerning the relationship with pH and coral health in the reef aquarium. Although, what we have discovered recently suggests stable pH as close to 8.3 as possible has a much larger affect on coral health than we thought. pH stability is its own article. However, there are some easy ways to close the gap, all else being equal. First, if you have a refugium or plan to set one up, the photoperiod on your light should be the opposite of the display tank's light. Photosynthesizing macroalgae will absorb CO2 at night, preventing the pH from dropping significantly. Another common cause of low pH or pH instability is too much CO2 in the air around the tank. Running airline from the skimmer to the outside or opening a window can bring CO2 levels down. Stable alkalinity can also help with maintaining a stable pH. Alkalinity The capacity by which a body of water can maintain a stable pH through the neutralization of acids and bases is what we are measuring when we test for alkalinity. For most of us with a reef tank, this means the concentration of carbonates and bicarbonates in the water. Corals and other microfauna utilize carbonates as part of their biology. When they absorb carbonates from the water, their concentration lowers, thus lowering the alkalinity. Alkalinity can also lower when carbonates are combined into other compounds, such as with CO2 gas. The alkalinity is replenished with water changes and dosing carbonates and bicarbonates directly. The key to stable alkalinity is not to just replenish carbonates weekly or every couple weeks in one huge dose, like with a water change, but to add them at the same rate they are used as often as possible. Most of the aquariums I maintain receive a dose of sodium bicarbonates multiple times a day; usually a minimum of two. Aquariums with a relatively high population of stony corals can drop in alkalinity by as much as two or more degrees of carbonate hardness (dKH) in a week. That's nearly 0.3 degrees a day. By adding the appropriate amount of sodium bicarbonate to raise the alkalinity of the tank by 0.15 degrees twice a day, the most the tank will fluctuate is .15 degrees instead of two degrees. In terms of maintaining stability for coral health and growth this is an incredible difference. The easiest way to dose carbonates for consistent alkalinity is to use a dosing pump. These range from simple single headed pumps that can plug into mechanical or digital outlet timers to highly programmable multi-pump dosers. Whether you choose a simple single-headed doser, or a programmable apparatus with a built in computer, they are both means to the same end, stability. Calcium & Magnesium Without getting too much into the nuance of the chemical relationship between alkalinity, calcium and magnesium, the main take-away is calcium and magnesium can be dosed similarly to alkalinity. Corals utilize calcium and magnesium just like carbonates. The more often you replenish calcium and magnesium, the more consistent their concentrations will be. There are a couple things to consider when dosing these elements with carbonates. Briefly, I will mention that when dosing alkalinity and calcium, they should not be dosed at the exact same time. Also, the Balling Method, mentioned in the salinity section above, also applies here as the rise in salinity mentioned is a result of dosing sodium bicarbonate or sodium carbonate with calcium chloride and results in a trace element deficit over time. Light Recently, we have begun to discover that corals are capable of adapting the types and concentrations of their light sensitive pigments and chlorophyll. Even though corals are highly adaptive, this process is biologically expensive. Even if your lighting is not ideal, your corals may compensate over time. However, setting your lights to an appropriate intensity and spectrum for the livestock in your tank, and not altering it after, is paramount to stability. Use a trusted PAR meter and the spectrum information, or available settings, on your light to determine what is the best scheme for your setup. Find a fellow hobbyist with a similar and successful tank to yours with a working lighting scheme, or use the presets in the app if your light comes with one. Intensity and spectrum are both important. Nothing beats using a PAR meter to measure intensity. Spectrum is a little more difficult. All we really have is what the side of the box says or the adjustments available in the app if your light has one. The details on exactly what spectrum to favor is for another article. Suffice it to say, corals prefer a higher intensity around 420 nanometers (blue), but still require a lower intensity across the spectrum (white). Minor adjustments over the course of the life of the tank, even larger ones at the beginning are fine. The constant altering of your light's settings on a weekly or even monthly basis are what leads to instability and coral stress. Remember, even if your lights are not ideal, your corals will adapt. It is adapting constantly from frequent changes that can be detrimental to coral health and growth. Nutrients and Flow Stable nutrients (organic particulate matter) and flow work a little differently than the above parameters. Consistency in schedule is more important than constant stability. Unlike the parameters above, nutrients and flow should fluctuate over the course of a day. Stability is achieved by feeding the same time every day and by having the same flow patterns at the same time every day. For example, with flow, you may have a pulsating pattern at 20% for most of the day, then a feed mode at 7 pm, then a high nutrient pulse for 2 hours at midnight. Stability in flow means keeping this scheme or schedule of patterns the same every day. In the ocean, flow changes throughout the day, but the intensity and pattern is fairly consistent at the same times. The same is true for nutrients. Both fish and coral can anticipate feedings by the “time of day” or the light intensity if you feed at the same time everyday. Coral will extend feeding tentacles and are more receptive to incoming food particles. Slow and Steady Maintaining stability and consistency in water parameters is crucial to coral health, growth, and beauty. While achieving stability is important, any changes made in a reef tank must be done slowly. Unless it is an emergency, like extremely high temperature, salinity, or pH, altering your parameters to the range of numbers you want, then keeping them stable within that range should take time. Aquatic life is particularly subject to the environment it lives in. Changes in the concentration of elements and compounds in the water quickly and significantly impact the biology of aquatic organisms. Making these changes slowly, even if they are for the better, is important to reducing stress on the organisms.

Mixed Reef Aquarium Aquascaping

Mixed Reef Aquarium Aquascaping

When I design a reef aquarium, I think about three things: (1) What is in the best interest of the animals I’m keeping, (2) what looks the best, and (3) what is most convenient and easiest for me to work with and maintain. Whether it’s equipment, aquascaping, filtration, lighting, or the tank and stand itself, these three factors, in that order, are what I consider a priority. Sometimes they don’t mesh well. What is best for the animal may seem inefficient or difficult for me. For example, I may not find it convenient or cost effective to replace filter socks every couple days, but if that is what the animals require for their health, then I must oblige. More often than not, there is a method to maximizing animal health and happiness that also agrees with my convenience. For example, roller mats are available for those with high physical filtration needs, but can’t replace filter socks consistently. Within the scope of aquascaping, I favor a method that maximizes fish and coral health and happiness, and beauty and naturalism, while also efficiently providing convenience and ease of accessibility for me. The aquascaping design I discuss below utilizes Marco Rock to create elaborate, customizable structures which are built separately for ease of movement, relocation, and installation, but when placed together in the aquarium, look to be one entire structure. You can use many different types of rock, but for this article I’ll mainly discuss Marco Rock. Why Build Your Own Custom Aquascape? This design is referred to as Habitat Negative Space Aquascape (HNSA) and provides the following features:. Diverse offering of fish and invertebrate friendly habitats (caves, overhangs, burrows) Plenty of varying spaces for coral placement Customizable Strong and durable Realistic and natural Easily separated These features provide the following benefits Stress free, healthier, and happier fish and inverts Corals can be placed exactly where they will benefit from proper light, flow, and distance from neighbors Can build the scape to fit your tank, lighting, and flow perfectly Will not break or collapse when installing, moving, or rearranging Provides a natural and realistic aesthetic to any aquarium Easy to remove when catching difficult fish is necessary While most commonly used for reef tanks, this style can be adapted to nearly any aquarium. You just have to use the right rock and design the most natural and realistic aesthetic. A river aquascape won’t use the same design as a reef crest. How to build a Habitat Negative Space Aquascape The process of building a Habitat Negative Space Aquascape (HNSA) begins with knowing the dimensions of your tank. Begin by measuring the height, depth, and width of the tank. Next, you’ll need to construct a frame with these dimensions within with you will build the structure. This step is the most crucial. Building your structure without a frame that matches your tank’s dimensions will result in building an aquascape that is either too large or too small. The best frame is constructed by cutting and joining pvc tubing to make a 3d “frame” of the tank, then build your structure within the frame. An alternative is to cut a piece of cardboard with the same width and depth as the tank. Then apply a piece of tape at the correct height to the wall behind your workspace. Plan Ahead Once you have your frame or outline built, consider where your overflow boxes, returns, powerheads, and other equipment will be located. This build is completely customizable. You can build a structure that will allow for perfect flow by designing around your powerheads and returns. Also, keep in mind, with reef tanks, the rocks should not be taller than 50% the height of your tank for SPS corals, and no taller than 70% the height of your tank for LPS corals. This will allow room for them to grow. You can also build one section at 50%, another at 60% and a third at 70% total height, for example, if you plan on a mixed reef. Materials for a Mixed Reef Aquascape The next step is to gather your materials. For this article, I’ll be using Marco Rock as that is what I prefer. It is lightweight, clean, porous, and easy to chisel and shape. I find each piece, or section, of the overall structure to weigh approximately 15 to 20 pounds for medium tanks (50-120 gallons) and 20 to 40 pounds for larger tanks (120 + gallons). Cuts of Marco Rock There are two or three types of cuts of Marco Rock you’ll need for this scape. If you want your build to have a shelf or two, then you’ll need a piece of shelf rock. This is a shape that is nearly flat on both sides and works as a jutting shelf. Not all builds need this shape, I’ve only used it a couple times. The second type of cut is a foundation cut. This is a regular Marco boulder that has been machine cut perfectly in half so one side is perfectly flat and the other is the normal, irregular shape. These cuts are used as the foundation as they lay flat on the ground and they are very stable. You can purchase foundation cuts precut, or you can purchase boulders and cut them yourself using a diamond blade and table saw. I have not found a large enough saw to cleanly cut a medium sized Marco Rock in half without having to rotate the rock. However, it is cheaper to cut them yourself if you have a larger project. The third type of cut is the regular Marco boulder. These are not cut or shaped and come in many shapes and sizes. They are usually sold in a few different sizes or by weight. Unless you are designing a massive project, the medium sized 8-14” rocks work well. They’ll be broken up into smaller pieces later, so get larger pieces than you think you’ll need. In addition to the rock, you’ll need the following materials Extra thick super glue Insta-Set spray Two part epoxy adhesive (Seachem coral crete) General bonding glue (watery, liquid super glue) ⅝ chisel and hammer Wire mesh sieve or colander 1 ml syringe Per 20 pounds of structure, I recommend 2 to 3 ounces of extra thick super glue, 1 ounce of Insta-Set, 1 ounce of general bonding glue, and 16 ounces (4, 4 ounce sticks) of epoxy. Constructing the Hardscape After you have laid out the frame for your tank and gathered your materials, the next step is to start building the structure. Foundation Layer Begin by laying out your foundation rocks. These are the cuts with the flat bottom and normal, irregular top. Arrange these rocks in different combinations. Be sure to turn and rotate each one, move them back and forth, and change them up all together. Do this several times and you'll start to see which ones look good together and which pieces are the most solid. The general shape you're looking for can vary depending on the size of your tank, but generally, you want a wide, arching foundation so you can build overhangs from a single point and the foundation will support the weight. When you think you’ve got the right arrangement, leave it out and come back to it a couple times before gluing. You may find a few changes you want to make, and now is the time to make them. Gluing the Rocks When you’re ready to glue the foundation together, begin by applying the extra thick super glue along the top joints, where each rock joins together. Smooth out the glue with a wooden skewer or similar tool. Smoothing out the glue covers more of the rock surface around the joint. Then, spray the Insta-Set over the glue; just enough to wet the glue. It should crust over and hold within seconds. As you progress along the structure, applying glue, smoothing it, and spraying Insta-Set, do not move the piece. Even though the Insta-Set hardens the glue immediately, it is still soft in the center. The foundation rocks moving away from each other, even slightly, may compromise the structural integrity of the whole structure. Before you glue a rock to the rest of the already glued rocks, you can adjust it slightly to make sure it is a tight fit against the neighboring rock before gluing. Applying Epoxy After the top of each joint has been glued, let it sit for 24 hours. Next, apply the epoxy to each joint. After activating the epoxy by rubbing and folding the two parts together, shape it into a long strand, the length of the joint. Apply a strand to each joint and press the epoxy into the rock. The epoxy needs to make contact with as much rock as possible; use as much as you need for each joint. The epoxy should fill in as much space in the joint between rocks as possible. The epoxy sets within 5 minutes after mixing. Be sure to work fairly quickly when applying it. After you have applied and pressed the epoxy into the rock joints, stamp a pattern into the epoxy using a small piece of Marco Rock. This will blend the epoxy texture with the rock and it won’t look like smooth epoxy, but part of the rock itself. Later, we’ll deal with the difference in color as well. Let the epoxy cure for 24 hours and then carefully flip the entire structure over and repeat the gluing and epoxy process for the bottom of each joint. At this point, you should have glue and epoxy covering the top and bottom of each joint where the rocks connect. This portion of the build takes the longest as you must wait approximately 24 hours for the application of each stage of glue and epoxy to cure, approximately 96 hours total. Chiseling and Shaping Rocks Now that we have a solid foundation on which to build, it is time to shape the rocks that will be used to build the rest of the structure. Gather your regular Marco boulders, a ⅝ chisel, hammer, safety glasses, and a mat, tarp, or piece of cardboard on which to work. Examine the first piece of Marco Rock and look for any areas where a break would result in an interesting shape. If the rock is shaped fairly uniformly, then apply the chisel in the middle of the rock and simply split it in half. Continue to chisel the larger rocks into interesting and irregularly shaped smaller ones. The more irregular, twisted, and arching the better. Depending on the size of your tank, you’ll need pieces of rock that range in size from small to large. You can always glue two smaller rocks together to form an interesting shaped larger piece if you need. As you chisel away, you’ll get lots of very small pieces you did not intend to break off. Keep these as they will come in handy later. It is also crucial to keep any and all dust and particles that are collected by the mat or tarp. Sweep up the dust and smaller particles and save it for later. The Second Layer In my experience, the best way to proceed is to lay out as many of the newly chiseled rocks as you have room for and begin to orient different pieces on the foundation. The second layer should be open, with lots of larger spaces for fish to swim through and span the length of the foundation, allowing lots of space for the next layers to be attached. To accomplish this, I like to use more elongated pieces and orient them upright to create several columns. One of the benefits of this build is the structural integrity. This allows you to build far reaching overhangs which are unsupported under one side, but the foundation allows for the proper weight distribution to support them. Without proper weight distribution, you would have to forgo overhangs and use arches only. Overhangs are more natural, realistic, and downright cool in my opinion. They also provide the surface area on which to put corals and the cover for fish habitat without requiring two support rocks underneath. Having said this, don’t avoid arches all together, a few well placed arches can look good, I would just favor overhangs overall. When trying different rocks and orientations for your second layer, leave at least one of the terminal foundation rocks, if not both, with nothing built upon it. This piece or pieces will serve as a weight anchor, where your largest overhangs will be built above. If you put a secondary layer column on the terminal rocks, the whole build will appear too dense and everything will be an arch instead of overhangs. It is difficult to envision the entire build at this stage. The second layer is more about creating options moving forward than specific design features. By all means, choose cool rocks with interesting shapes to apply to the second layer. However, the priority should be to keep the second layer fairly open for larger fish to swim through, and to create several surfaces for the third layer to build upon. At this stage, whether or not there is a surface there at all is more important than the shape, size, or orientation. When you decide on the rocks and their placement for the second layer, apply glue to the joints just like with the foundation, wait 24 hours, and apply epoxy. Designing the Third Layer In terms of design, the third layer is the most important. The design of this layer determines how the overall structure is shaped. It is also the layer on which the rest of the structure is built upon. When I say layer, don’t picture horizontal layers like a cake. The term stages could be used synonymously with layers in this case. The third layer is such because it is built after the first two layers, but spatially, it can cover the entire structure. Some rocks on the third layer will be at the very top, others will swoop down near the foundation. Designing this layer is all about thinking ahead. You want to attach rocks in locations and orientations that will facilitate the overall shape you're aiming for. Building the Third Layer Gluing during this stage is a little trickier than the others. Some of the rocks will be overhanging and have to be held with one hand and glued with the other. To accomplish this, have your glue and Insta-Set uncapped and ready. Orient the rock where you want it, then apply a layer of glue to the top of the joint, smooth it out, and spray the Insta-Set. Hold for 10 seconds and let go. Apply a little more glue if necessary. Wait to epoxy any joints until after you’re finished building this layer; you may need to remove rocks. Also, epoxy will only be applied to the bottom of joints from this point on. Only glue a few rocks at a time. Take a few moments to step back and look at the structure from a distance. After you’ve done quite a bit of building, come back to it the next day, with fresh eyes. I also found setting the structure upon a turntable of some kind helps with seeing the structure from multiple angles. Keep the structure within the framed boundaries of the tank. When you're finished building and it's time to apply epoxy everywhere, the turntable is incredibly useful. Applying Epoxy After you are satisfied with the shape and build of the structure, it’s time to apply epoxy. The epoxy is responsible for a majority of the structural strength of the build. There is already epoxy applied to the foundation and second layers. The underside of each joint in the entire third layer requires the application of some epoxy. The amount depends on the open space in between the joined rocks. The super glue acts as a binding agent, the purpose of epoxy is to fill in the gaps and provide support where there is none. Anywhere there is empty space underneath, where two rocks are joined, apply some epoxy. Just like with before, apply the epoxy within a couple minutes after mixing, press into the gaps, and stamp it with a rock to create texture. Finishing Touches The final step is to cover the epoxy with Marco Rock dust. This will hide the epoxy’s color and result in a uniform and natural look. Begin by collecting all the dust and small particles you collected from chiseling, breaking up rocks, etc. Place a colander over a bucket and sift until nothing else falls through. Place a mesh sieve or colander, with smaller holes than the first, over a second bucket and pour the first bucket into it. Sift until only large particles remain in the sieve. If your mesh sieve is small enough, you’ll have only dust in the second bucket, if your dust is mixed with particles larger than a pinhead, sift it again through a smaller gauge sieve. You want a powdery, sandy, dusty mixture, not gravel. Next, take a piece of paper and shape a narrow cone tube with a tapered end. This will be your applicator. Dust goes in one end and can be applied with the narrow, tapered end. Then, use the 1 mL syringe and apply the general bonding glue (watery, liquid super glue) to a patch of epoxy until it is covered. Then apply some dust to the glue and press in with a nitrile gloved finger. Repeat these steps once or twice more until the epoxy is covered in dust. Move on to the next patch and repeat until all epoxy is covered. You can apply glue to multiple patches at a time if you work quickly enough, but I prefer to take it one at a time because I apply multiple “coats”. Once your glue and dust has dried, spray the structure with some pressurized air to remove excess dust. Installing in the Aquarium Now your structures are ready to add to your aquarium. If you're installing it to an existing aquarium, remove several gallons of water before adding the structure. If you're replacing existing rock with this structure in an established reef aquarium, only remove a portion of the old rock, not all of it. You’ll want bacteria, microfauna, and macrofauna to transfer to the new rock before the old rock is removed. These structures should be very stable. Orient them in your aquarium how you see fit. If you find some places lacking, add mini structures to supplement the larger one. If you find it is too dense, with sufficient pressure, you can remove individual pieces of rock until the shape is more to your liking. Experiment Don’t be afraid to experiment with the design. You can always break rock off and go back a few steps as you build. Take your time, stand back, and examine your build with fresh eyes periodically. The point of this style of aquascaping is to create sufficient habitat for all types and sizes of fish and invertebrates, while allowing ample surface area for corals, keep this in mind as you build and you can’t go wrong.

Basic Plumbing for a 90 gallon Saltwater Aquarium

Basic Plumbing for a 90 gallon Saltwater Aquarium

I recently had the privilege of building a 90 gallon fish-only saltwater aquarium setup from nearly scratch. I found that if you prepare, and perform the appropriate research, it is a relatively simple process. The client already had a 90 gallon tank, drilled with a 1” and a ¾” hole in the bottom with an off center overflow, and a 40 gallon breeder sump with 3 baffles installed. To complete this project I would need to (1) build a stand that could accommodate a 90 gallon aquarium with an 18 inch deep sump. There are no prefabricated aquarium stands for a 90 gallon tank that would fit an 18 inch sump underneath. Next, (2) I would need to design and configure the plumbing to achieve an intake, stand pipe, and return. This would require some extra thought, as there were only two holes drilled instead of the three required. Finally, (3) the remaining hardscape and equipment need to be laid out and installed. Planning and Designing the Aquarium System The key to successfully building a plumbed aquarium system with a sump from scratch is to focus on the planning stage. Nothing is more expensive than purchasing all your plumbing, equipment, and beginning to glue things together, only to discover your sump is too large, the skimmer is too tall, the return pump is too small, and you have twice as many gate valves and half as many unions as you need. As I go through each section, I’ll discuss how I accounted for everything I could think of during the planning stage. For example, when building the stand, I needed to account for where the holes in the tank were so I didn’t install a support right where the plumbing would go. Building a Frame Stand for a 90 Gallon Aquarium I chose the frame only design for this stand to expose the sump, plumbing, and components underneath. This system was installed in a school and every component acted as a teaching tool. I had never built a stand before. So the first thing I did was go online and search for videos, designs, and blueprints of homebuilt aquarium stands. At this stage I wasn’t concerned with any details. I wanted to familiarize myself with the process, gauge the level of difficulty, and estimate the number of tools and materials I would need with approximate cost. After I learned what a well-built, successful aquarium frame stand looks like, I began to dig a little deeper and learned about miter saws, the weight capacity of a 2x4, live vs. dead weight, and the importance of maintaining a level build throughout the whole process. When I was comfortable with the idea of building a stand myself, I started to look into specific plans and blueprints available online. I quickly came across one for a standard 75 gallon which has the same length and depth as a 90 gallon. The plans I settled on were detailed enough I felt comfortable using them to build my first frame stand without fear of missing any important details or materials. I altered two details from the original plan. I moved the cross brace locations in the top of the stand as it would have been directly under where the overflow was to sit and therefore block the plumbing. I also added and adjusted the positions of the cross braces on the bottom. Without plywood covering the bottom, the sump would need to be supported underneath by boards on all four sides, so I adjusted the cross braces so they would rest underneath the two sides of the sump. I then calculated the amount of 2x4s I would need, plus an extra board, and the number and type of screws. I then purchased a miter saw and table, and the materials. It took me about 6 hours to put the stand together. It came out level, minus a few places where I sanded down. At this point, I decided I wanted to finish it with a black exterior paint. After a quick sanding and two coats of paint, the stand was nearly finished. The last component was adhering a strip of ⅛ inch neoprene foam padding onto the top of the stand and the bottom portion where the sump would sit. This acted as a cushion and self-leveling pad. Simple Plumbing for a 90 Gallon Saltwater Aquarium I wanted the plumbing to be as simple as possible for this setup. I forwent manifolds and extra pathways for water changes and just stuck to three main sections. (1) the intake, (2) the stand pipe, and (3) the return. It should be noted, I designed the plumbing before I built the stand. I started by taking dozens of photos of the tank, sump, and overflow. Then I measured, remeasured, and measured again each and every part of the aquarium and sump. I took the normal length, width, and height measurements. I also considered the height of the top and bottom of the aquarium if it were on a 30” stand, and the distance between the top of the aquarium and the top of the sump if the sump was 3 inches (width of a 2x4) from the floor . I measured the length, width, and height of the overflow at the center and on the sides as it had a curved opening. I measured the distance between the overflow and the left and right side of the tank, the distance between the overflow and the cross brace, and even the distance between the pre-drilled holes and the back glass pane of the aquarium. Then I sat down with a whiteboard and used color-coded pens to draw (not to scale) a rough schematic of the plumbing. This drawing included what fittings would be used, their size, thread or slip, and their location. I had two schematics drawn up; they differed in the layout of the return outlets and their placement. One had them on either side of the aquarium and the other had them both coming out of the overflow. I decided to go with the second design as it would mean less 90 degree fittings (higher flow rate) and less materials. I returned to the design several times over the course of a week and followed the flow of water through the schematic and thought about how each section would affect the flow and how each fitting would impact the design. I wanted plenty of unions to facilitate disassembly if necessary. I also wanted a gate valve at the intake and the return to control overflow volume and flow rate respectively. I wanted to make sure threaded fittings were used where possible to ease any disassembly that might be required as well. After I was finally satisfied with the schematic and my materials list, I purchased everything and after it all arrived I double checked to make sure I had everything I needed. I ended up only having to purchase one more female slip x thread coupling; not too bad. When I arrived on site, I measured, cut, and assembled the plumbing according to the schematic without gluing or taping anything. When I was satisfied with the plumbing, I then disassembled and glued or taped each section ( intake, stand pipe, and return). When I was finished, I fastened the return section to the back of the stand for stability and was lucky enough to have everything align perfectly. The return pump was hard plumbed with no soft hosing and it required very little height adjustment after the fact. I waited 24 hours and began the leak test by filling the tank and sump with RODI water without any equipment installed except the return pump. I plugged the pump in and returned in another 24 hours with no leaks or issues of any kind. After the plumbing and aquarium had proven it could hold water without leaking it was time to install the rest of the equipment and add the gravel, rocks, and salt. 90 Gallon Saltwater Aquarium Hardscape As a fish only system, I didn’t want anything too complicated for the rock work. I wanted to create fish-centric habitats with plenty of open spaces to swim. I used approximately 95 lbs of various dry, live rock I had accumulated. I bleached the rock for a week, then rinsed in a RODI + Prime bath twice. Finally, I let it air dry under two commercial blowers to evaporate any remaining bleach or chlorine. The client also wanted a few pieces of fake coral and they were easy enough to come by. The dry, live rock I used also included several coral skeletons. After the leak test, I drained 80% of the RODI water into two 40 gallon Brute trash cans. I then mixed 100 gallons worth of salt in the cans while I layed down a layer of aragonite gravel and placed the rockwork. I used RODI water for the leak test so I could simply add salt and not have to drain out every drop of tap water. I then refilled the aquarium and began to install the equipment. 90 Gallon Saltwater Aquarium Equipment As a fish only system, the lighting requirements were very simple. I chose a 48” LED fixture with dimming capabilities and several color options. I placed a 300 watt heater in the sump and installed the skimmer in the middle chamber. For biological filtration, I added two large mesh bags full of Cermedia Spheres. The physical filtration is a single 4” filter sock nestled in an acrylic sock holder that fastens to the side of the sump. I intentionally lined up the sump, sock holder and intake tube. A refugium could be added later. Fish only systems arguably need more filtration than reefs because there are no higher organisms, other than bacteria, to absorb nitrates and phosphates. This type of system relies heavily on biological and chemical filtration to keep the water clean. Finished 90 Gallon Fish Only Setup And there you have it. The next steps are to begin cycling the aquarium and then start adding livestock when appropriate. I learned quite a bit from this process and enjoyed every step. To acquire new tools and learn new skills by doing and having something to show for all my effort is highly satisfying. It also helped that I kept the design of this system pretty simple. You can easily upgrade by adding extra plumbing, rolling mat filtration, auto-top-off chambers, dosing systems, etc. I hope this article provides some insight into the process of designing and building a simple saltwater aquarium. I also hope it relieves some of the inhibition in your ability to accomplish something like this and inspires you to build a system of your own.

Coral Profile: Rhodactis Mushrooms

Coral Profile: Rhodactis Mushrooms

The Rhodactis Mushrooms are a group of soft, fleshy, polyp animals closely related to stony corals. They exhibit unique and varied colors, shapes, textures, and sizes. Rhodactis are easy to care for and adaptable to multiple common aquarium environments. If you are looking for a colorful, easy, photosynthetic polyp to enjoy almost anywhere in your saltwater aquarium, the Rhodactis mushrooms may be the answer. Nomenclature Common and trade names for species in the Rhodactis genus include but are not limited to; hairy mushroom, hairy mushroom anemone, and fuzzy mushroom. Elephant ear mushroom is usually reserved for the shorter tentacled mushrooms of the genus Discosoma , but are sometimes applied to Rhodactis . Rhodactis is a genus of mushrooms belonging to the family Discosomidae. Another member of this family includes the genus Discosoma (smooth elephant ear mushrooms). Discosomidae belongs to the order Corallimorpharia, which are closely related to anemones (order Actiniaria) and stony corals (order Scleractinia). Most corals are split into two subclasses. The first is defined by having eight tentacles surrounding their polyps (Octocorallia) and the second having six tentacles surrounding their polyps (Hexacorallia). Rhodactis and other Corallimorphs belong to the subclass Hexacorallia. Stony corals are also in Hexacorallia, while soft corals are in Octocorallia. Therefore, Rhodactis mushrooms are more closely related to stony corals than soft corals. While these mushroom-like polyps are classified in the same phylum (Cnidaria) and class (Anthozoa) as many corals, they are classified themselves as Corallimorphs, which are not corals. Take this into consideration when viewing “mushroom corals'' for sale at your local fish store. Animalia (Kingdom) Cnidaria (Phylum) Anthozoa (Class) Hexacorallia (Subclass) Octocorallia (Subclass) Corallimorpharia (Order) Soft Corals Anemones Stony Corals Zoanthids Rhodactis mushrooms were originally described before their family, order, or subclass was officially classified. Specimens collected from Australia were described to western science in the archives of the Museum of Natural History in Paris by Milne, Edwards, and Haime in 1851. Description Rhodactis are extremely diverse in size, texture, shape, and color. They can range in size from less than one inch to nearly two feet in diameter. While most Rhodactis have larger tentacles and appear hairy or fuzzy, the size and shape of those tentacles vary widely. There are hundreds of color morphs of Rhodactis with no two morphs having the exact same pattern. They can come in combinations of green, brown, tan, pink, and purple. Most Rhodactis' body coloration differs from their tentacle color. Rhodactis are an easy option when the goal is adding diverse color in the form of a hardy species. Distribution Rhodactis are found in the Indo-Pacific reefs of Fiji, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, and the Great Barrier Reef. Habitat Rhodactis are found naturally living in bays, lagoons, channels, slops, and shallows in and around reefs. They proliferate amongst dead coral, rubble, and in between living coral colonies. Aquarium Habitat Rhodactis can be placed nearly anywhere in the aquarium where lighting and flow is suitable. Getting them to attach and stay can be a challenge. Usually, mushrooms are sold already attached to rocks or plugs. Mushrooms will detach and float around the tank if they are not happy with their surrounding lighting and flow conditions. Rhodactis range from peaceful to aggressive in terms of territory. Most will be fine with members of their own species. Like with most corals, Rhodactis mushrooms need room to grow. Lighting Rhodactis do well in low (75 PAR) to moderate-high (150 PAR) lighting. Rhodactis adjust to lighting easily. They can live in high lighting SPS tanks and low lighting LPS tanks. Their color is not known to amplify under higher lighting and will still become bleached if exposed to lighting higher than 250 to 300 PAR for too long. Flow Rhodactis prefer low flow, but can handle indirect moderate flow. When adding Rhodactis , err on the side of caution and keep moderate to high direct flow off of them as they may choose to release and move about the aquarium. Feeding Rhodactis receive much of their nutrients from the photosynthetic algae in their cells. However, they are also efficient filter feeders. If you feed your tank microplankton, they will readily feed upon it. You can also target feed Rhodactis when the tank flow is shut off. Water Parameters pH 8.1 - 8.4 Salinity 1.023 - 1.025 sg Alkalinity 7.8 - 9 dKH Calcium 400 - 480 ppm Magnesium 1300 - 1400 ppm Nitrate 5 ppm Phosphate 0.05 ppm Temperature 76 - 78 degrees Fahrenheit Water Flow Low Preferred Lighting Low - Moderate High Maximum Size 45 cm Life Span Unknown Tank SIze 10+ U.S. gallons Dispostion Peaceful to Agressive Aquaculture Rhodactis propagate asexually by developing two mouths then splitting to form two distinct polyps. This process is called longitudinal fission. It is possible to bilaterally lacerate a Rhodactis polyp between its two mouths to speed up propagation. When practicing this procedure, watch for signs of a developing infection where the coral was cut. Also, make sure both halves of the bisected mushroom foot stay connected to the substrate. Acclimating New Mushrooms As with any coral or polyp, be sure to drip acclimate, then dip new specimens. Drip acclimation ensures a low stress transition which prevents infection and sickness later. Dipping new mushrooms in coral dip will remove larger pests like worms, sea stars, snails, and crabs. Dipping new mushrooms in hydrogen peroxide or iodine prevents the transfer of bacteria and algae cells into your aquarium. After you place your new Rhodactis into your tank. Be sure to lower lights to 50% of your normal schedule for 48 hours to acclimate even further. Also be aware of flow,' mushrooms are motile and can move about the aquarium if they find their current position undesirable. All this acclimation may seem unnecessary to some, but my philosophy is why spend the money on these animals and not take every precaution to ensure their happy and healthy survival in your aquarium. For more on drip acclimation, check out this article . Rhodactis Ailments There are not any Rhodactis -specific ailments I’m aware of. However, like with any coral or polyp, infections, pests, bleaching, shrinking tissues, and die-off can become an issue if dipping, proper water quality, lighting, and flow is not maintained. Pests Bristleworms are known to favor Rhodactis mushrooms. If you have an infestation, be sure to check your Rhodactis for signs of predation. The Rhodactis Mushroom Polyp Rhodactis are a great addition to any system that has the room for these guys to grow out and show off their unique shape, texture, and colors. A mushroom colony garden is quite a sight to behold. They do grow quickly and can be aggressive toward neighbors when territory becomes constrained, but with proper planning, Rhodactis can be a great choice. Literature Cited Fautin, D. G. (2013). World List of Corallimorpharia. Rhodactis Milne Edwards & Haime, 1851. Accessed through: World Register of Marine Species at: https://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=267806 on 2022-08-20 Photos Boodleshire LLC 2022 maps.google.com

My Iwagumi Aquascape Journey Part 2: Grow Out

My Iwagumi Aquascape Journey Part 2: Grow Out

In Part 1 , I detailed the beginning of my journey from an idea to a flooded and cycling Iwagumi style aquarium. In part 2, I will cover what I've done since flooding the aquarium. I performed numerous water changes, countless parameter tests, light and flow adjustments, and trimmings. My goals were to have a beautiful aquarium and learn all I could about this aquascaping style. There were only a few things I would have done sooner If I could do it again, but so far, nothing I regret. The final leg of the journey will be adding livestock, which I'll discuss in part 3. For now though, let me show you what I've managed so far. Water Changes After the flooding, I waited 24 hours and did a water analysis for ammonia (NH3), ammonium (NH4+), nitrite (NO2-), nitrate (NO3-), pH, carbonate hardness (KH), and general hardness (GH). 5/6/22 - 4:00 pm - No Water Change pH 6.2 KH 0 dKH GH 3 dGH NH3/NH4+ 8+ ppm NO2- 0.25 ppm NO3- 5 ppm CO2 9.3 ppm I expected the free and total ammonia to be high because nitrogen leaches from the soil readily at first. However, I did not expect it to max out my test kit at over 8 ppm. I added 1.5 grams of alkalinity (KH) buffer directly to the tank and did not perform a water change. 5/7/22 - 5:00 pm - 1st Water Change pH 6.0 KH 2 dKH GH N/A NH3/NH4+ 8+ ppm NO2- 1 ppm NO3- 10 ppm CO2 59 ppm The nitrogen cycle is in full swing, there was no sign of algae growth after 48 hours. With some alkalinity in the water, CO2 shot up to 59 ppm at 1.0 bubbles per second. I added 3 g of KH buffer and 3 g of equilibrium (GH buffer) to the 4 gallon water change I performed. 5/8/22 - 4:00 pm - No Water Change pH 6.2 KH 2 dKH GH 3 DGH NH3/NH4+ 8+ ppm NO2- 1 ppm NO3- 10 ppm CO2 37 ppm On day three, I did not perform a water change. I added 1.5 g of KH buffer directly to the tank (after dissolving in a ½ cup of tank water). I increased CO2 to 1.25 bubbles per second. I measured bubbles per second, by starting a stopwatch and counting bubbles for what felt like about ten seconds. I then stopped the timer and divided the bubbles I counted by the seconds displayed on the watch. I say what “felt” like ten seconds because you don’t want to look away from the bubbles you're counting to check the stopwatch. If you count 18 bubbles and the stopwatch reads 13 seconds, that's 1.38 bubbles per second. The longer you count, the more accurate your calculation will be. 5/10/22 - 5:45 pm - 2nd Water Change ​pH 6.0 KH 2.5 dKH GH 3 dGH NH3/NH4+ 8+ ppm NO2- 5 ppm NO3- 30 ppm CO2 73 ppm The nitrogen cycle is beginning to peak with nitrites at 5 ppm. I added 2 g of KH buffer and 3.2 g of GH buffer to the 4 gallon water change. 5/13/22 - 5:00 pm - 3rd Water Change pH 6.2 KH 2.0 dKH GH 3.0 dGH NH3/NH4+ 8+ ppm NO2- 5 ppm NO3- 5 ppm CO2 37 ppm On day 8 and water change three, I add 3 g of KH buffer and 3.2 g of GH buffer to a 4 gallon water change. No algae and the hair grass is growing rapidly. 5/15/22 - 4:00 pm - 4th Water Change pH 6.2 KH 3.0 dKH GH 5.0 dGH NH3/NH4+ 8+ ppm NO2- 5 ppm NO3- 5 ppm CO2 56 ppm Another water change with 1.2 g of KH buffer and 3.2 grams of GH buffer added to the 4 gallon water change. 5/17/22 - 1:30 pm - 5th Water Change ​pH 6.2 KH 2 dKH GH 5 dGH NH3/NH4+ .25 ppm NO2- 5 ppm NO3- 5 ppm CO2 37 ppm Finally, the ammonia drops to .25 ppm. I completed a 5th water change with 1.5 g of KH buffer and 3 g of GH buffer added to a 4 gallon water change. I also added a half dose (0.5ml) of Flourish, an all in one plant fertilizer. 5/19/22 - 6:20 pm - No Water Change ​pH 6.2 KH 2.0 dKH GH 6 dKH NH3/NH4+ 0.1 ppm NO2- 0 ppm NO3- 50 ppm CO2 37 ppm The nitrogen cycle is almost complete. I added another half dose (0.5 ml) of Flourish and 1.5 g of KH buffer directly to the tank. There is calcium and magnesium in the fertilizer. If the plants are not absorbing it fast enough, this may explain why the GH is increasing. 5/22/22 - 4:30 pm - No Water Change ​pH 6.2 KH 3 dKH GH 6 dGH NH3/NH4+ N/A NO2- N/A NO3- 80 ppm CO2 56 ppm The nitrogen cycle is complete and nitrate continues to rise. 5/27/22 - 3:00 pm - 6th Water Change pH 6.4 KH 2.5 dKH GH 6 dGH NH3/NH4+ N/A NO2- N/A NO3- 80 ppm CO2 73 ppm PO4+ 0.00 ppm Phosphates tested at 0 ppm. Performed a 4 gallon water change with 1.2 g of KH buffer and 4.2 g of GH buffer added. 6/12/22 - 2:00 pm - 7th Water Change ​pH 6.4 KH 3.5 dKH GH 6 dGH NH3/NH4+ N/A NO2- N/A NO3- N/A CO2 41 ppm Waiting two weeks between water changes to allow plants to soak up as many nitrates as they could. I continued to dose 0.5 ml of Flourish twice weekly. Performed a 4 gallon water change with 1.2 g of KH and 3 g of GH buffer. 5/8/22 - 4:00 pm - No Water Change pH 6.4 Kh 3.0 dKH GH 8 dGH NH3/NH4+ N/A NO2- N/A NO3- 80 ppm CO2 35 ppm Continuing to dose fertilizer without a water change increased GH to 8 dGH, higher than I would like. Performed a 4 gallon water change with 1.2 g of KH and 2 g of GH buffer added. 5/8/22 - 4:00 pm - No Water Change pH 6.4 KH 4 dKH GH 6 dGH NH3/NH4+ N/A NO2- N/A NO3- N/A CO2 47 ppm 4 gallon water change with 1 g of KH and 2 g of GH buffer added. 5/8/22 - 4:00 pm - No Water Change ​pH 6.4 KH 6 dKH GH 10 dGH NH3/NH4+ N/A NO2- N/A NO3- N/A CO2 118 ppm After a month of no water change and just adding Flourish twice weekly, the general hardness climbed significantly. I suspect this is the case because the calcium and magnesium is not being utilized by the plants quickly enough and is building up. I will counteract this with weekly water changes to “reset” the unutilized fertilizer elements. In addition, I will switch to a regimen of adding each fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and trace elements) separately. This way, calcium and magnesium levels will be controlled with GH buffer and will not be added by any other source. Light Adjustment I’ve adjusted the lighting on this setup three times so far. With a programmable dimmer installed on a Twinstar light, I’m able to ramp up and down the intensity and timing easily. First Setting 5/6/22 Setting Number Time (24hr) Intensity 1 11 1 2 12 20 3 14 50 4 16 50 5 18 20 6 20 10 7 21 5 8 22 0 This first setting was intended for low intensity as the tank was cycling. It was just enough for plant growth, but was intended to keep algae from taking over. Second Setting 6/23/22 Setting Number Time (24hr) Intensity 1 11 1 2 12 20 3 14 50 4 26 60 5 18 60 6 20 20 7 21 10 8 22 0 After the initial tank cycle was winding down and I had started the first fertilizer regimen, I increased the lighting to a higher intensity. Soon after, I began to get a little hair algae growth. After it subsided, I increased the lighting intensity once more to the third and current setting. Third Setting 7/10/22 Setting Number Time (24hr) Intensity 1 11 1 2 12 20 3 14 50 4 16 70 5 18 80 6 20 40 7 21 10 8 22 0 Fertilizer I began adding fertilizer on 5/17/22. I used an all-in-one formula which included nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, and several trace elements. After the water change on 6/12/22, I noticed the general hardness was increasing between water changes. I suspect this is because the fertilizer contains calcium and magnesium and was not being used by the plants quickly enough to prevent it from building up. To remedy this, I decided to switch to a fertilizer regimen on 7/19/22 that includes all the same elements as before, minus calcium and magnesium, plus a few other trace elements, all added individually. This would give me better control over limiting factors and what was being used up faster during extended periods of no water changes. Trimming Over the course of the two and half months the tank has been flooded, I have trimmed three times. The dwarf hair grass has grown significantly and consistently in the center portion. The corners of the tank are experiencing some yellowing and slower growth. The first two trims were intended to remove the tallest growth and remove much of the hair algae that had accumulated. I wanted to keep the tallest growth trimmed down while allowing the carpet to fill in as much as possible. The third trim was intended to cut the grass to a uniform carpet. It was at this stage I began to see what will become the final “look” or scape of the tank. With Iwagumi setups, it is recommended to let the plants grow for several weeks after flooding. After this period of unfettered growth, you should then start trimming and shaping the plants to their intended final look. I used a pair of 25 cm double curved shears, and a pair of 25 cm 90 degree foreground shears. Due to the size of the tank, the 25 cm shears are too long to reach the center of the tank at a low angle as they bump against the side of the tank. On the next trim, I will also be using a pair of 15 cm curved spring shears to reach the center portions. Flow Adjustment About four weeks after flooding, I noticed the corner of the tank that received the most flow from the filter output was growing the slowest and was not as green or full as the center of the tank. To diagnose this issue, I installed a ball valve on the filter output and adjusted the flow by half. Little to no change occurred in the following two weeks so I increased the light intensity on 6/23/22. After 27 days, little to no change occurred. Next, I tried changing the fertilizers. I originally changed the fertilizer regimen to prevent general hardness creep, but it should also prevent any elemental limiting factors to plant growth and could be the cause for the yellowing corners. If the corner continues to diminish in growth, I will raise the light further from the tank to increase spread, and then increase the lighting intensity again. Because the center of the tank has full color and growth, but the corners do not, I suspect the spread of the light may be at fault. Remember, the key to diagnosing a problem is to change one variable at a time and wait to see a response. If you change two variables simultaneously, you may arrive at your solution faster, but you won’t know which one fixed it and you’ll be back to square one the next time it happens. What’s Next In the coming months, I will continue to diagnose the yellowing corners, trim the hair grass every few weeks, perform water changes on a weekly basis, add fertilizers twice weekly, and monitor pH, KH, and GH. When I’m confident those three parameters are stabilized, I will add freshwater shrimp and celestial pearl danios. Stay tuned for part three.

Coral Profile: Trachyphyllia

Coral Profile: Trachyphyllia

The Trachyphyllia coral, commonly called a Trachy, of which there is one species, Trachyphyllia geoffroyi , is a vibrant and striking, free living, open brain coral. Trachyphyllia are popular pieces amongst beginner and seasoned hobbyists due to their unique morphology, bright colors, and ease of care. Nomenclature All corals are currently undergoing a taxonomic reclassification. Many corals were thought to be close relatives due to their morphological similarities. Recent genetic and molecular techniques have revealed these, once thought, closely related species actually descended from multiple ancestors and their morphological similarities are due to evolving in similar environments. Trachyphyllia and Wellsophyllia are such an example. Wellsophyllia radiata and Trachyphyllia radiata were both thought to be separate species in two separate genera. However, they have been reclassified as both being the same species, Trachyphyllia geoffroyi. There were thought to be seven different species within the Trachyphyllia genus over the years, but genetic testing has revealed there is just one, T. geoffroyi. Trachyphyllia belongs to the family Merulinidae. There are 27 genera in this family including; Australogyra, Echinopora, Favites, Goniastrea, Pectina, and Platygyra. The genus Trachyphyllia was first described by Milne, Edwards, and Haime in 1849. Description Trachyphyllia are classified as secondary free living corals. They don’t normally colonize, and exist as a single or multi-mouthed, large, fleshy polyp growing from one coralite. As secondary free living corals, Trachyphyllia usually begin their life attached to a rock or larger colony, then break off and use their inflated tissues to allow the current to carry them to more desirable locations. Movement like this is uncommon in the aquarium as even high flow aquariums lack the force of currents found in natural reefs. In rare cases, multi headed colonies will derive from daughter polyps (from bisexual reproduction) landing and growing into nearby colonies. These multi-headed colonies are not derived from asexual budding. This phenomenon is most common in the Western Australian reefs. The pattern of skeletal growth in Trachyphyllia can indicate from where an individual was imported. Trachyphyllia can reach up to 20 cm (7.8 inches) and exhibit vibrant and striking colors from monochromatic metallic and lime green to striped rainbows with yellow, red, orange, pink, and green. Distribution Trachyphyllia are found throughout the Red Sea, West African coasts and the Indo-Pacific from Australia to Southern Japan. They’re currently listed as a threatened species due to ocean acidification and overharvesting. Habitat In the wild, Trachyphyllia are uncommon within large diverse reef communities. They prefer the isolated sandy reef slopes around continental islands and lagoons. They are comfortable up to 40 meters in depth. Aquarium Habitat Creating an appropriate habitat for your corals ensures a healthy individual with strong growth. If your lighting, flow, or water parameters are not ideal, corals can become stressed and begin to recede, bleach, or even die off. Lighting Trachyphyllia prefer low to medium lighting at 50 to 100 PAR (photosynthetically active radiation). When your reef aquarium is properly lit, Trachyphyllia do best near the bottom or in the lowest 10-20% of the aquarium. If Trachyphyllia sit under light above 150 PAR, they can burn. This will result in them expelling their zooxanthellae and turning white. They can recover, but it takes forever and their color will never be the same. If they are eating, feeding them can aid in recovery. To avoid stressing your new Trachyphyllia, reduce your lights to 50% for 48 hours to acclimate them. This is good practice for all new corals as well. Flow Like with lighting, Trachyphyllia prefer low to medium flow. You want enough flow to keep the coral free of debris so it does not expend extra energy cleaning itself. Too much flow will whip the fleshy polyp around, causing it to rub and tear on the skeleton. Be sure to reduce flow to 10% or turn off your wavemakers and powerheads when feeding your Trachyphyllia. Feeding Trachyphyllia are voracious feeders. Feeding more often gives them a more rapid response to food in the water in the future. Their feeding tentacles will be more frequently displayed the more often you feed them. Corals get a lot of their nutrients and trace elements from lighting through zooxanthellae, and the water column. They should only be fed a few times a week. This keeps the water clean, and allows time for the coral to expel waste. For details on how to feed your corals, check out his article. Water Parameters There are many corals which prefer trace amounts of nitrates and phosphates in the water column. Trachyphyllia is one of them and likes between 5 - 10 ppm nitrates, and at most 0.5 ppm phosphates. All other parameters are the same as an average mixed reef aquarium. ​pH 8.1 - 8.4 Salinity 1.022 - 1.025 sg Alkalinity 7.8 - 12 dKH Calcium 400 - 480 ppm Magnesium 1300 - 1400 ppm Nitrate 5 ppm Phosphate 0.5 ppm Temperature 76 - 78 degrees Fahrenheit Water Flow Low - Moderate Preferred Lighting Low - Moderate Maximum Size 20 cm Life Span Indeterminate Tank Size 20 + U.S. Gallons Disposition Neutral Aquaculture Trachyphyllia are slow growers. Fragging them out and allowing them to grow takes years for them to take shape, leading to a high price tag. This is why most Trachyphyllia in the hobby are still harvested from the wild and imported. The alternative to fragging is reproducing them sexually, which is also time and resource intensive. However, this form of reproduction can lead to new and diverse color morphs. Advances in this area are on the bleeding edge and happening all the time. Acclimating New Corals Trachyphyllia are relatively hardy and should do fine in a newer or established reef aquarium. It never hurts to take precautions and acclimate your new corals. Acclimating new corals involves dipping them, drip acclimation, and a period of light and sometimes flow acclimation as well. Dipping corals removes unwanted parasites, bacteria, and protozoans which can cause damage to your new and already established corals. Drip acclimating new corals lowers the stress put upon them and decreases the chances of them succumbing to an infection. Drip acclimation usually includes a 30 - 45 minute drip of your aquarium water into the water your coral was transported in. Check out this article on drip acclimation for how to perform one successfully. Acclimation also includes keeping flow and light intensity turned down by 50% for several days after adding the coral to your aquarium. Slowly bring the intensities back to normal over the course of a week. If your coral reacts poorly to the lighting or flow (polyps recede, coral loses color), then find a new placement for them. Trachyphyllia Ailments The most common health related issues with Trachyphyllia are excessive light and gall crabs. Excessive light can be an issue with any coral, but Trachyphyllia prefer low to moderate lighting so it is easy to place them in too much light. Be sure to acclimate under 50% intensity at first and move the coral to a lower placement if you notice bleaching. The most common pest that affects Trachyphyllia are gall crabs (Cryptochiridae). These crabs prefer Trachyphyllia as their host. The females will bore into the corals and form abnormal growths on the coral called galls. They will live inside the galls and feed on the coral's mucus and detritus. The males are free living and don’t bore. The best way to get rid of gall crabs is to mechanically remove them with a needle (puncturing them in the hole), or by prying them out. Close Relatives With 27 genera in the family Merulinidae, Trachyphyllia has many close genetic relatives. Oftentimes, you will see folded brain corals advertised as a “Wellso” or Wellsophyllia. Before genetic testing, Wellsophyllia radiata was its own species in its own genus. Now, There is only Trachyphyllia geoffroyi. So whether advertised as a Trachy or a Wellso, know the care information is going to be very similar for both. If you're interested in how to keep our corals happy, check out his article on proper reef aquarium water parameters. Photos Boodleshire LLC 2022 Literature Cited https://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=204973 Indonesia exported over 60,000 species in 2005. Sheppard, C.; Turak, E.; Wood, E. (2008). " Trachyphyllia geoffroyi " . IUCN Red List of Threatened Species . 2008 : e.T133260A3659374. doi : 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T133260A3659374.en . Retrieved 11 November 2021.

How Much Does it Cost to Maintain a Freshwater Aquarium?

How Much Does it Cost to Maintain a Freshwater Aquarium?

Freshwater aquariums can run the gamut from simple, low-tech, 10 gallon tanks with a betta, filter, and a heater, all the way to 1,000 gallon systems with hundreds of fish and plants, sumps, electronic controllers, app-enabled lighting, and CO2 gas injection. Regardless of which system you have, or plan to build, the formula for calculating how much maintenance will cost you is the same. The only difference is the cost of each variable or component in the formula. The Components of Freshwater Tank Maintenance Aquarium maintenance occurs on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. The associated costs build with each action. Calculating how much it will cost to maintain your aquarium is simply a matter of adding together the components for your system. The components of freshwater aquarium maintenance are water, additives, filter media, carbon, water analysis, food, and new livestock. Water For freshwater aquariums, water is not the most expensive component, but it is the basis on which many other components are built. Whether you use tap or premixed vs. self-mixed reverse osmosis deionized (RODI) water will determine how many additional additives you will use with every water change. Tap Tap water is different all over the world. Some is fairly pure, some is laden with heavy and toxic chemicals. Using tap water is the least expensive source for water changes. After looking at your local municipality’s water report, and determining if your tap water has the correct parameters for your tank, you can expect to spend as low as $.005 per gallon . RODI Water at Home If your tap water is not suitable for aquarium use (most isn’t) you can install an RODI filter in your home and make your own reverse osmosis deionized water. This article gives a quick introduction to RODI filters . Once you’ve installed an RODI filter, you can start making your own pure water for as little as $.15 per gallon . RODI Water From the Store. If your aquarium is small enough and installing your own RODI filter is more than you need, most aquarium stores will sell RODI water. At retail, RODI water will cost you at least $.50 a gallon. Additives Additives are chemicals added to water in order to change its chemistry. The first additives used alter the general and carbonate hardness of the source water to match it to the aquarium water. Optional additives include fertilizers, water conditioners, algaecide, medication, and correctives. Which additives are used depends on the source water and types of filtration. General and Carbonate Hardness The additives that raise and lower general and carbonate hardness are always necessary when using RODI water and sometimes tap water as a source. This article details the appropriate levels of GH and KH for different types of freshwater . Depending on the brand of GH and KH additives you use, or whether you use liquid, powder, or buy in bulk, the cost for these additives will cost you at most $.045 per gallon . Fertilizers Planted freshwater tanks require fertilizers. These can be one of the most expensive recurring parts of aquarium maintenance if you have a high-tech planted tank. A heavily planted aquarium with CO2 gas and high lighting is considered high-tech. Fertilizers for high-tech tanks can cost upwards of $.037 per gallon per week . The other end of the spectrum is a low-tech planted tank with no CO2 and low lighting. These tanks require less fertilization and can cost as little as $.004 per gallon per week. Other additives If you're using tap water, a de-chlorinator will be your most frequent expense for additives at $.014 per gallon . Other chemical additives like bacteria, aquarium salt, and phosphate and nitrate removers will be a little pricier at nearly $.10 per gallon , but are less frequently used. Medication is the most expensive single additive at around $.20 per gallon . However, these are rarely used when systems are maintained appropriately. Filter Media Like with most things, an ounce of prevention is with a pound of cure. Filter media can quickly become an expensive part of your maintenance if you have to keep replacing filter pads, costly chemical adsorbing resins, and refiling reactors every few weeks. With Freshwater aquariums, there are ways to reduce the cost of filter media. Using live plants and creating a healthy aerobic and anaerobic habitat for beneficial bacteria is a great start. Physical Media Depending on your bioload, filtration media will need to be replaced on a regular schedule. This article details how often to clean an aquarium. Depending on the filter type, tank size, and bioload, new socks, pads, or sponges for physical filtration can cost as much as $.04 per gallon or as little as $.02. The average per gallon is $.03. Chemical Media Activated carbon and ammonia, phosphate, and nitrate adsorbers are forms of chemical filtration. As they adsorb their respective nutrients and chemicals they will need to be replaced. Depending on the bioload of your tank, expect to spend, on average, $.04 per gallon for carbon and between $.20 and $.07 per gallon for nutrient adsorbers, with $.13 being the average . Biological Media The main type of biological filter media is a habitat in which beneficial bacteria live and reproduce. This media type should never be replaced and therefore has no maintenance cost. Biological media can also include periodically adding live bacteria, the cost of these supplements is about $.01 per gallon . CO2 There are several ways to add carbon to your tank for plant growth. The first is by adding a liquid carbon supplement. This will cost about $.01 per gallon per week. While liquid carbon supplements are inexpensive, an even more cost effective and efficient form of carbon injection is using a regulator and gas cylinder to add CO2 gas. This article outlines the details for setting up CO2 gas on your tank. After the initial investment, CO2 gas costs as little as $.0056 per gallon per week. Water Analysis At Home If you're testing at home, using color changing liquid reagents, handheld colorimeters, or titration tests, you can expect to spend around $.10 per test . With around 6 tests per week, that is $.60 per week in testing . At The Store Most pet stores will not charge for water analysis if you're a regular customer. I have seen some stores charge up to $2.00 per test when using higher grade testing equipment. Food For most freshwater aquariums, feeding dry food every other day, and frozen food thrice weekly, costs about $.014 per gallon per week . If your aquarium is heavily stocked, or if you're feeding large fish with specialty diets, expect to spend closer to $.035 per gallon per week. New Livestock While I don’t consider this maintenance per say, a recurring cost for most freshwater aquariums is new livestock. This amount is relative and could be as little as a few dollars a year for established aquariums or up to hundreds of dollars a month for new aquariums. I won’t include this in the final calculation, but consider how much adding livestock will cost you. So How Much is The Cost of a Freshwater Aquarium? Component Per gallon ($) Per gallon/week ($) Per Week ($) Tap Water .005 ​ ​ RODI (home) .15 ​ ​ RODI (store) .50 ​ ​ GH & KH .045 ​ ​ Fertilizers High-Tech .037 ​ Fertilizers Low-Tech ​ .004 ​ De-chlorinator .014 ​ ​ ​Misc. Addiditives .10 ​ ​ Medication .20 ​ ​ Physical Filter Media .03 ​ ​ Activated Carbon .04 ​ ​ Nutrient adsorbers .13 ​ ​ Live Bacteria .01 ​ ​ Liquid Carbon ​ .01 ​ CO2 Gas ​ .0056 ​ Water Test ​ ​ .6 Food Light Bioload ​ .014 ​ Food Heavy Bioload ​ .035 ​ Adding all our average costs together, the final total to maintain an average freshwater aquarium per gallon is $.10 per gallon per week, plus $.60 per week for testing. Now, this is the average cost per gallon per week. This average was derived from the individual averages for each component. This total per gallon per week includes the average cost of tap, self-made, and store bought RODI water. It includes the average cost of a heavy and light bioload. For your specific setup, use the table above and add up your relevant costs per gallon then multiply by your tank size, or water change volume. When doing your own calculations, each total is per gallon. However, if you do water changes monthly, then your total will be per gallon per month, not per week. For example, the total cost of GH/KH additives with weekly water changes on a 100 gallon tank (25 gallon water change) would be $1.12 per week, or $58.24 per year. The total cost of GH/KH additives with monthly water changes on a 100 gallon tank (25 gallon water change) would be $1.12 per month, or $13.44 per year. Keep in mind, your additive calculations will be multiplied by the volume of your water changes, not the entire tank volume. Filter media and fertilizer calculations will be multiplied by the entire system volume. Finally, when doing your own calculations, remember, the .60 per week for water testing is not per gallon, it's per week. So the total for water testing should always be ($.60 x 52) = $31.20 per year. Add the $.60 to the end of the weekly total for your system volume, not the per gallon total. For example, a 50 gallon tropical community tank with no plants, a light bioload, and using tap water, would cost about ($.12/gallon/week x 50 gallons) = ($6.33/50gallons/week + $.60) = $6.93 per week, $27.72 per month, or 332.64 per year. A 120 gallon high-tech planted tank with a heavy bioload, using self-made RODI water, would cost about ($.092/gallon/week x 120 gallons) = ($11.13/week + $.60) = $11.73 per week, $46.92 per month, or $563.04 per year. The cost per year for the 120 is higher than the 50 gallon because of the larger tank volume, but the cost per gallon is lower. This is due to the plants providing nutrient removal which reduces the cost through less frequent water changes and fewer nutrient removal chemicals and resins. Keep in mind these are averages. Some people buy in bulk, do less frequent water changes, or only feed dry food. These can change your annual maintenance total significantly. My 38 gallon high-tech planted aquarium, with light bioload and self-made RODI water costs me around $80 a year in maintenance costs. According to the above calculator, it should cost me closer to $168.00. However my bioload is very light, I don’t change the filter media as often, and I only do monthly water changes. Plan Ahead I hope this article helps you calculate the cost of maintenance for your freshwater aquarium, and gives you an idea of what to expect when building your next system.

Coral Profile: The Acan Corals (Acanthastrea)

Coral Profile: The Acan Corals (Acanthastrea)

Acan corals of the genus Acanthastrea, commonly called Acans, are an easy addition for many reef tanks to add color and depth. Acans are hardy and a great option for beginners. They enjoy moderate lighting and flow, and aquariums with a small amount of dissolved organics. While they can be confused with other species in the Lobophylliidae family, Acans are identifiable by their larger fleshy polyps, distinct shape, coloration, and skeletal structure. Nomenclature The scientific classification of corals is always evolving. Recent molecular techniques have shown that many species, previously thought to be related because of morphological (physical) similarities, are only visually similar because of convergent evolution. Convergent evolution is when two species evolve similar adaptations independent of the other because they evolved in similar conditions. New molecular studies have shown many families of coral are actually polyphyletic. This means members of the family are derived from different ancestors, and are actually less related than we thought. The Acan corals belong to the genus Acanthastrea , first described in Western science in 1848 by French Zoologists Edwards & Haime. Before 2009, the genus Acanthastrea was in the family Mussidae. However, in 2009, the families Faviidae, Merulinidae, Mussidae and Pectiniidae were revised because many species were found to be polyphyletic. A new coral family called Lobophylliidae was formed from the closely related species of the Indo-Pacific. This new family includes many popular genera of coral including Lobophyllia, Micromussa, and Acanthastrea. Acanthastrea now includes 13 species. Several species were reclassified in the 1970s and 80s as Micromussa . This article will focus on the Acan corals as a genus. Description Acan corals are large polyp stony corals. A colony can have anywhere between one and several dozen polyps. The individual polyps of Acans are noticeably larger than similar corals, like the M icromussa species. Polyps range in color including purple, red, green, blue, orange, brown, rust, and pale tan and gray. The polyps form inside their individual corallites which, together, form the colony skeleton. Unlike the Euphyllia species, the skeleton does not form a wall or branching structure, but more of a flat, broad, stone-shaped skeleton. Acans have a row of short feeding tentacles that line the perimeter of their mouths, inside each polyp. These tentacles are often visually present, and extended to some degree throughout the day. During feeding and at night, these tentacles extend further. Acans also have sweeper tentacles and can be relatively aggressive. Most reef keepers recommend keeping Acan colonies at least six inches from any other coral, including other Acans. This distance is usually sufficient to prevent corals from stinging each other in territorial disputes. Distribution The several species of Acanthastrea are found throughout the Indo-Pacific region including the coastal waters of the Red Sea, Madagascar, the east coast of Africa, Sri Lanka, southern India, southern Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Australia. Habitat Acanthastrea evolved in depths up to 50 meters. They grow in almost any reef habitat and prefer moderate lighting and flow. Aquarium Habitat Acanthastrea should be placed in moderate lighting and flow. Acans are less likely to open up fully in bright lighting. A photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) level of 30-50 is considered moderate. A PAR closer to 90 is too intense for most Acans. An ideal sample lighting scheme might look something like this. UV 10% Violet 80% Royal 75% Blue 75% Green 10% Deep Red 10% Cool White 40% Flow is important for all corals as most are filter feeders. Acans are large polyp stony corals. These types of corals' polyps are fleshy and more sensitive to damage. Keeping flow just high enough to slightly move the polyps without whipping them around, or bashing them against the skeleton is important. You want just enough flow to allow organic material to flow past the polyps continuously. Because Acans are aggressive and will extend their sweeper tentacles to defend themselves, they should be placed at least six inches from other corals. Be sure to consider the growth of the coral over time when placing them. If you are adding a small Acan frag, leave plenty of room in between corals for them to grow out. Aquarium Water Parameters Acanthastrea consume dissolved organics and do well in tanks with around 5 ppm of nitrate. Aquariums that are too clean can lead to stunted growth in Acan corals. pH 8.1- 8.4 Salinity 1.022 - 1.025 sg Alkalinity 7.8 - 12 Calcium 400 - 480 ppm Magnesium 1300 - 1400 ppm Nitrate 5 ppm Temperature 76 - 78 degrees Fahrenheit Water Flow Moderate Preferred Lighting Moderate Maximum Size Approx. 1 meter Life Span Hundreds of Years Tank Size 10 + U.S. Gallons Disposition Aggressive Diet Acanthastrea , like nearly all corals, have symbiotic algae in their cells called zooxanthellae. These algae photosynthesize within the coral polyps and provide important sugars for the coral’s energy and growth requirements. They are also responsible for most of the color and fluorescence of the coral. While providing light for the zooxanthellae is important for coral health, corals are still animals, with mouths and stomachs. The additional feeding of animal or plant matter (depending on the type of coral) is crucial to coral health and growth. Acanthastrea will benefit from target, or spot feeding. This is a method where food such as animal and phyto (plant) plankton are applied directly to open coral polyp mouths. They should be fed at night, when their feeding tentacles (nematocysts) are visible. Acans will also adapt to feed during the day if you are consistent with your feeding times. They can be fed this way multiple times a week. For specifics, check out this article on coral feeding. Acanthastrea also filters dissolved organics in the water. A small, but measurable amount of nitrate (5ppm), and phosphate (.01 ppm) is important for Acan coral health and growth. Acclimating New Corals Acanthastrea are hardy corals and won't easily succumb to some of the common coral ailments. They can still become stressed from high lighting and transport. Acclimating Acans with a dip and lowered light intensity will insure their successful addition to your aquarium. Dipping corals removes unwanted parasites, bacteria, and protozoans which can cause damage to your new and already established corals. Acclimating new corals lowers the stress put upon them and decreases the chances of them succumbing to an infection. Acclimation usually includes a 30 - 45 minute drip of your aquarium water into the water your coral was transported in. Check out this article on drip acclimation for how to perform one successfully. Acclimation also includes keeping flow and light intensity turned down for several days after adding the coral to your aquarium. Slowly bring the intensities back to normal over the course of a week. If your coral reacts poorly to the lighting or flow (polyps recede, coral loses color), then find a new placement for them. Acanthastrea Ailments Acans are generally hardy corals. However, some of the problems you can come across are polyp nipping from non-reef safe fish and invertebrates, no dissolved organics, and high lighting and flow. If your coral does not fully extend or begins to recede and expose its skeleton, or starts to bleach (loose color), these are signs of stress. You should take steps to determine which of the above stimuli are causing the stress. Start by measuring your nutrient levels and determine if your organics are too low. Next, you can change the flow or lighting by adjusting equipment or moving the coral to a new placement. Try to only change one variable at a time. If there is a change in behavior, you will know which variable caused it. Close Relatives Acanthastrea is commonly confused with the Lobophyllia, Micromussa, Favia, and Moseleya corals. Scientists even grouped some of these generas’ species together before molecular testing was possible. Some specimens just look too similar to be 100% sure, especially when their polyps are not fully extended. It is important to know which genus you’re buying because the care requirements are different and you don’t want to put a coral that requires pristine water in an aquarium with elevated organics. However, as long as you're confident in the genus your buying, the care requirements of species within that genus are usually fairly similar, and specific taxonomic identification can occur later, when the coral is plump and happy in your home tank. Photos Boodleshire LLC 2022 http://www.coralsoftheworld.org/species_factsheets/species_factsheet_summary/acanthastrea-hemprichii/ https://www.sealifebase.ca/summary/Acanthastrea-echinata.html Literature Cited IUCN Red List. Acanthastrea - Genus. https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?taxonomies=131459&searchType=species. Accessed 6/27/22. Corals of the World. Acanthastrea echinata. http://www.coralsoftheworld.org/species_factsheets/species_factsheet_summary/acanthastrea-echinata/. Accessed 6/27/22 WRMS. world Register of Marine Species. Acanthastrea. https://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=206405#notes. Accessed 6/27/22

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