June 9, 2013
Once the initial interest in owning a marine aquarium has been aroused the natural continuation is what type to have. Some potential aquarists will not realise that there is a choice and this is understandable. When the thought ‘marine aquarium’ arises the reef appears, as seen on television and maybe in reality. Many dealers also display a reef system.
There are choices though, three of them. Two are common, one not so. First is the fish only system, then the corals only reef, then the mixed reef. There are few coral only systems as there are few aquarists who can resist having fish.
The very important thing for a new aquarist to consider is the potential for trouble with these systems. That sounds very negative but the danger factors, inexperience and lack of patience, should be taken into account.
Walking into a marine store the potential aquarist is confronted by beautiful fish and corals and as mentioned earlier often a beautiful mixed reef aquarium. It is perfectly understandable for the powerful magnet to begin to work, giving the visitor a vision of a similar system at home.
The best reaction is to have a look round, ask any questions that come to mind, then leave! Not so easy but necessary.
Leaving the store has activated the first requirement of a successful marine aquarist – patience! If the storekeeper is a good one, the different systems that are available may have been mentioned.
When home the first consideration is ‘where and what size’. Placement is important bearing in mind that a full aquarium is very heavy – it needs proper support. There also needs to be adequate access to the back and sides of the system for maintenance purposes. Now that this has been decided consideration of the type of aquarium can be given.
Fish only does not mean an aquarium with just some fish in, though of course this is the basic idea. Fish only systems can be very attractive with different coloured and shaped fish swimming above a ‘reef’. The reef does not have any corals, it is a number of carefully arranged rocks. These rocks will, in time, change colour and add significantly to the aquarium picture. Importantly, the rocks will give the fish a place to hide when night arrives making them feel secure and not stressed. A fish only system can hold many more fish than a mixed reef, roughly perhaps twice as many (fish load is calculated using the aquarium net gallonage and the length of fish excluding the tail, so if they will grow into larger fish then there will obviously be less of them).
Are there any advantages with a fish only system? Particularly for a beginner there are. With seawater quality being the number one requirement in a marine aquarium there is a real advantage as generally fish are less sensitive to reducing seawater quality than corals and if the beginner has selected fish carefully they should tolerate the mistakes, such as over feeding, that are likely to occur. Also, should the aquarist be unfortunately faced with disease then because there aren’t any corals medications that are effective and easily obtained can be used. Lighting is more simple, with colour enhancing fluorescent tubes being sufficient, basically the need is to see the fish and let the fish see.
A corals only reef system is not often seen as said. However, there is one massive advantage to these systems and that is the lack of fish. Again as said, seawater quality is the number one requirement and as there aren’t any fish and thus there isn’t any fish food being used then the potential pollution of the seawater is greatly reduced. This doesn’t remove the requirement for maintenance of course which includes partial routine seawater changes but it does make life easier. However there aren’t many aquarists who would choose this type of system because it doesn’t give quite such a lovely picture as a mixed reef. Ok, fair enough.
The mixed reef, corals and fish, is the most difficult system to maintain successfully. This is not so much because it is technically difficult because of complexity, but more because of the higher quality requirements that are needed and the more likely that a beginner’s mistakes will have more impact. Generally corals require constant high seawater quality. Every day the new aquarist is feeding the fish and this food goes through the fishes system. That which doesn’t and sinks into the rocks will rot down. Fish waste and rotted food means reduced seawater quality which will in a fairly short period have an effect on the corals. Definitely not wanted! Also, most corals require high quality lighting. A couple of fluorescents will not do. At least there will be a bank of specialized fluorescents. With some corals there will be the need for more high powered lighting and this of course means the mixed reef is a larger financial investment (which it is anyway, the higher powered lighting adds to it). The aquarist could decide that soft corals will be used as these are generally hardier than the hard coral types and require less light, this is so but it doesn’t apply to all.
So there it is, two main choices. Once the choice is made and the fact that patience is required has been accepted another word that is essential for success needs to be introduced, and this word is research. A fish or coral should never be bought because it looks so lovely, that is, bought on impulse. It should be researched so that the necessary requirements such as habitat and feeding are known plus any lighting needs. Also, how big will it eventually get?
Once the type of system has been chosen there is more to do. It’s patience and research again! Find out what equipment is needed and how much it will cost. How much will the livestock cost? How much will the system cost to run?
All of this patience and research is a pain, there isn’t any doubt about it, but by doing the necessary and controlling the impulse to just ‘get it’ the chance of success is increased massively. Once the research is complete the aquarist has the confidence to go ahead as it is known that the initial cost of the system and the future running costs can be afforded. The aquarist also knows the needs of the livestock and will be prepared for their proper husbandry. It could be said that failure to carry out basic research is cruel to future livestock.
This talk of patience and research and system choices could put some off, and if that is the case I’m glad it does. If the hopeful aquarist is not put off, then this indicates a reasonable attitude from the start and there is every chance of success. Information is available from many sources on the web. This site has a huge amount of information as can be seen from the contents lists or the site map (there’s also a search facility).
Keeping a marine aquarium and the initial research is not difficult. Once the ‘itchy’ period (I like to call it that as there is an itch to just get on with it) is over then for many years the aquarist should be repaid by a beautiful, educational and fascinating hobby.
May 4, 2013
So there it is, a beautiful marine aquarium. Maybe it’s a fish only system, a coral only system or a mixed reef.
The latter is my system type. Soft corals swaying gently in the seawater currents, decorative algae coloured pink, deep brown and medium green. No trouble from the horrid algae types either. Just a couple of fish cruising about, sometimes arguing but mostly all is at peace. The boss is a flame angel (Centropyge loriculus) and the other a blue Fiji damsel (Chrysiptera taupou). The fish population had been restricted to help maintain seawater quality and, along with regular maintenance including partial seawater changes, seawater quality has always been very high. The reef inhabitants have reflected this.
Feeding the fish daily is never a chore. Out they come, responding to my movement and begging for food. The damsel spent all the time cruising about waiting. The angel hunted continuously for food, disappearing for periods into the rocks. These fish types seldom present feeding problems and there have never been any.
Tests showed that the reef system was mature on 21st October 2002 so after checking a few times to ensure initial maturity had in fact been achieved soft corals were introduced. These various types and shapes went in fairly rapidly as corals don’t have an effect on seawater quality to the extent that fish do.
The system was then left to settle and indicate any problems. There weren’t any indications so on 1st April 2003 fish were introduced. As said, these were a flame angel and a blue damsel. They went in together and settled, feeding well.
The whole system has been fine. Checks of the fish at feeding time have never suggested any problem of any type.
Going to the aquarium for feeding has never been a chore just a pleasure. But then, in mid-March 2013, at feeding time…… ‘Oh, I wonder what that is?’
Both fish were eating normally and swimming normally but the blue damsel seemed to have damaged the right gill. ‘No problem’, thought I, ‘it’ll have caught on a rock or perhaps there’s been an unusual skirmish between the two fish. It’ll clear itself up.’ But it didn’t.
Over the following period the gill slowly protruded more and more. The damsel continued to breathe, swim and eat normally. In early April eating started to decrease though swimming and breathing seemed normal. At this point I considered catching the damsel. As said, it’s a reef system so this would have been difficult. Normal capture would have entailed damage to the reef and very high stress to the fish. There is another method and that is placing a mesh catch net half way down the aquarium in the area where the fish feed. The net is left in place for days and hopefully the fish become used to it. Then, when the fish is feeding the net ascends rapidly and the fish is caught. However, I considered what I could do for the fish – and had no idea. There would be severe stress to the fish which would be very unhelpful and how could I treat something I didn’t recognise? So the fish was left in the reef in peace.
Though the fish continued to come out at feeding time the amount of food taken continued to reduce.
One day the blue damsel didn’t appear at all. I waited hopefully but no, nothing. The angel continued to be fine with no problems whatsoever.
On 11th April 2013 I discovered the damsel lying dead at the very front bottom of the aquarium. The fish was removed with a pair of tweezers. I examined the gill but did not recognise anything though there was an obvious growth there which had been the problem – nothing I could have done anything about.
It was only a little blue fish. Nevertheless, it’s death caused me much sadness. It had been with me for 10 years and had added to the pleasure of the reef. I like to think that it had a good life under my care.
There wasn’t any rubbish bin for the fish. It was buried in the garden.
February 20, 2013
Straight away let’s state that the picture above has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject fish! The truth is that I haven’t a picture of the fish so have used one from the internet, the link is given at the end.
The fish in question is unusual in shape and bright in colour, two of the requisites often looked for by many marine aquarists. It goes beyond that though. The fish is a butterfly and this could put off some aquarists as they are often viewed as probably too difficult. It’s correct that many butterfly fish are difficult and good that aquarists are wary.
In this case we are looking at a fish that is similar in shape to the copperband butterfly (Chelmon rostratus). The copperband is a beautiful fish, there isn’t any doubt about that. There isn’t any doubt either that there is a good chance this fish will be problematic, very often with feeding. Some lucky aquarists have little trouble, many others do. So a copperband is not one to choose when a beginner and one to be wary of even as an experienced aquarist.
The fish being considered is the long-nosed butterflyfish properly called Forcipiger flavissimus. As the name indicates it has a long nose as does the copperband. The similarities end there though. The longnose has a mainly yellow body with a large dark patch running along the upper side of the snout and a little past the eye. This patch then travels vertically upwards and ends just before the dorsal fin, making it more or less triangular. There is also a circular dark patch near the clear tail fin. The overall effect is that it creates a very attractive fish, the dark front patch even suggests ‘Hey man, I’m cool’. The longnose could grow to circa 6 or 7″ (around 15 to 18 cm).
The longnose will eat or try to eat just about any food that enters the aquarium, be this flake food, de-frozen food or whatever. It’s important to ensure that the food supplied is suitable for the size of mouth as with any fish. The longnose can surprise with the size it can eat considering the perhaps delicate looking snout. As the snout suggests, the fish will spend a good time poking into rocks trying to find food. Naturally it eats smallish organisms from within crevices etc and of course this means that it should receive meaty foods regularly as part of its diet. On purchase it is best, as with all fish, to see them feeding and to note the food offered so this can be duplicated at home for a short time if needed as the fish settles in.
A reef aquarium is the best home for the longnose as this will provide the hiding places it needs to feel secure. Though not particularly timid aggressive tankmates are not good, this is usually not a problem as it applies to most fish. If another fish shows some aggression towards the longnose it will raise its dorsal spines and tip them towards the other fish.
One point to note is that when aquarium ‘dawn’ arrives (the lights on sequence) the longnose could look pasty coloured or even white. This is not a cause for alarm, the colour returns as the fish awakens. If during the aquarium day the fish looks poorly coloured the seawater quality should be checked. The longnose is not particularly delicate but could show this symptom. In a well managed aquarium with regular partial seawater changes this is unlikely to occur. A colour change could be noticed if there is excessive aggression from another fish, stress in other words. Finally, when being taken from the container for introduction to the home aquarium this colour change could be seen.
The long-nosed butterfly is a colourful differently shaped addition to the aquarium. It usually settles very well with the usual proviso that the seawater is of high quality and there are hiding places, which of course there should be in a reef system that is not overstocked.
Here is the link to have a look:
January 13, 2013
Building a reef aquarium is very interesting and exciting. In the aquarists mind is a picture of the finished article, a beautiful enclosed world created by him/her and, holding hands with nature, all should be well.
It usually is too. The information that is available today is vast and a search on the internet or a modern book on the subject usually gives an answer, particularly to a beginner.
Once the reef has been constructed and the livestock introduced the end result can be seen. Corals that are so attractive and fish that are available in so many shapes, colours and sizes. If the reef has been carefully completed then it will not be overstocked and the aquarist is fully aware of what must be done to maintain the seawater quality. All seems well and as said it usually is.
When the reef has been in existence for a week or two more often than not the aquarist will notice that an adjustment here and there would be beneficial. Maybe a coral would be better placed somewhere else. Maybe a reef rock or two could be moved to increase stability and/or appearance. Not a problem, this is normal.
Continuous fiddling with the reef is not so good though. The fish should be settling down into their new home and finding security and reasonable peace. The corals don’t want to be moved too often so that they too can settle and expand. Corals need sufficient light and correct seawater flow but once this is achieved they are better left alone to grow. Of course the very fact that they grow could mean that in time they will need pruning so that other corals do not lose their seawater flow and/or light. Pruning a coral (usually called ‘fragging’ as frags are produced that can be used to grow new corals) is not required often but when it is needs serious consideration and care.
Routine maintenance is the only other regular requirement where the interior of the aquarium is entered. For example this includes routine seawater changes, cleaning the glass panels of algae and maybe siphoning out any unwanted debris. During these operations many fish will hide though some more bold types often don’t particularly when the reef has been in existence for quite a while and the regular maintenance becomes more known to the fish.
Maintenance operations are necessary for the health of the reef as it is a very small amount of seawater locked in a very small space. A reduction in quality in any area, particularly seawater quality, will soon lead to problems.
So what is this ‘leave it alone’ thing? An aquarium has to be interfered with from time to time as said but excessive interference is not good. Hands in the aquarium moving rocks about time after time is an example. Fish learn where all the holes and passageways are within the reef. Watch them for a while, sometimes one will go into the reef at one end and emerge somewhere distant. This could be part of a security strategy for escape from predators or simply cruising with an eye out for food. Most fish will also have a spot to hide in at night where they feel secure. Often on nearing lights out fish will go into their holes as they have got used to the routine of approaching ‘night’. Perhaps white lights turn off leaving just blue actinics on and then these turn off creating a ‘dusk’ sequence. So the fish get into a routine and any disruption to this will reduce their security, or put another way increase their stress. Stress is definitely unwanted.
Corals are not like fish surely! They seem a bit like plants in the garden, surely stress is not a part of their lives. It seems that it is. Touch a coral and for the most part it will deflate in a defensive way. Keep brushing corals and they too will not have the stability of environment they like. Moving them about too much is bad too as often this means a change in seawater flow and an increase or decrease in lighting intensity. As said, a settled coral may grow to excess and interfere with other corals, which means some fragging has to be done. This is not often though and, like routine maintenance, is part of necessary reef maintenance for health and well being.
Another reason for not continuously messing with the reef is that it will naturalize well. Assuming that the seawater is of high quality and lighting is as required, the reef will slowly develop on its own. With a bit of luck the aquarist could find that desirable algae has been introduced with live rock and settles into some areas of the aquarium. This could be brown or red shades and some nearly black. In addition the more common calcarous algae, often of a pinkish hue, can spread. This latter can develop some wonderful shapes and forms. The overall appearance of the reef can become so much more natural and beautiful.
Apart from the necessary actions that are required on all aquariums, leaving it alone is a good idea. Though it does take some discipline (which along with patience is a necessary part of an aquarist’s life) the changes in the overall appearance of the reef makes it well worth while.
October 23, 2012
We all know that a ‘small fortune’ means a different amount to different people – it all depends on the size of the wallet. Nevertheless, for someone considering starting a marine aquarium for the very first time the price of the set-up can be daunting.
Television doesn’t usually help. There have been programmes that have shown new aquarium installations as they proceed. These programmes, to attract any interest, have to show unusual installations and these are often huge aquariums and their relevant equipment into obviously very affluent homes. The logical thought of someone watching the programme is that ok that is expensive but smaller ones will also be very expensive on a lower scale. This isn’t necessarily so, aquarium equipment varies and so does the price. Unfortunately some general enquiries at marine shops also put the potential aquarist off because they are advised that they must have this and that, all sophisticated equipment with the expected price tag. The shop owner wants to make a living so fair enough. Not all advice is like this of course, some get to basics about experience and affordability.
The major advice that needs to be given is based on an amount that can be afforded by the potential purchaser. This could include the entire cash price or a payment plan. If the potential aquarist takes on more than can reasonably be afforded then that nasty word failure looms – there is maintenance to be done in the future and if pushed for money routine maintenance could be downgraded or ignored. The marine hobby should be about on-going enjoyment and to achieve this there is no room for excessive skimping. Most potential aquarists are ordinary folk with ordinary wallets which will only stretch so far.
First, the necessary equipment should be adequate for the gallonage of the aquarium. The purchase of undersized equipment in relation to the gallons of seawater in the aquarium (and sump if there is one) is not going to prove financially sound in the longer term as eventually more money will be required to obtain an adequate item, which is obviously going to be more expensive than having the correct one in the first place.
Controlling the set-up cost is not difficult. First of all, decide on the aquarium size that is desired. The aquarium cost is now known. The gross gallonage will be known for this, take off 10% to allow for displacement by sand and/or rocks and equipment. This will not give an accurate figure but is sufficient for the purchase calculations.
As already said for a marine aquarium there isn’t a need for highly sophisticated equipment based on amazing electronics and wizardry. For many beginners simplicity means success. The basic equipment required is a thermostatic heater (two smaller ones are better) plus a stick on thermometer, lighting which can be achieved by using fluorescent tubes (except if the aquarium is deep with some corals), timers to control the lights, at least two seawater circulating pumps for seawater movement (powerheads are fine, more could be needed in a large aquarium – or perhaps more powerful ones), a protein skimmer (this is an item that is often undersized), and very importantly a home for the bacteria that activate the biological filter. The basic biological filter could be a power filter, the better being the cylinder type (two smaller ones are better). Two items are suggested as being better for some equipment for security; if there were only one and it failed it might not be noticed by the aquarist in sufficient time whereas two smaller ones will slow down the problem as one will still be functioning.
So now the very basic price can easily be calculated. If ok, then the next stage is reached, and this is adding the cost of other lesser requirements though they are required to make the aquarium attractive and an adequate home for fish etc.
First of all, seawater needs to be made which means there is the cost of the initial mix based on the estimated net gallonage mentioned earlier. Then there is the decoration required such as rocks. Live rock need not be used as the initial estimate is based on other adequate biological filtration. The amount of rock depends on whether the system is to be fish only or a reef. Is decorative sand required – if so the amount needed to give an inch of coarse sand around the rocks can be added (rocks should not be stood on sand because of instability, and sand should be up to one inch deep for easier cleaning). To enable the aquarist to know the seawater condition, there needs to be test kits – the basic ones are pH, nitrite and nitrate. There also needs to be a hydrometer. Also fish food.
At this stage the overall cost for the equipment will be generally known. There’s something else though, really the point of it all, the livestock.
If the system is to be fish only, then the inches of fish that can be accommodated can be calculated (once the aquarium is decorated the seawater gallons going in can be measured to give a more accurate answer for eventual fish load). These fish should be hardy so they can more easily resist the common mistakes of a beginner.
If the system is to be a reef, then straight away the fish load should be halved or more. This is to give more protection to seawater quality. Again for a beginner the fish should be hardy; there are plenty of small colourful ones available. Corals have much less impact on seawater quality than fish but their numbers need care as once corals are settled they expand and grow. The corals too should be hardy varieties; again there are plenty of soft coral types available (not all soft corals are hardy).
Once the above have been added to the cost of the system the estimated (but clearly not accurate) total price will be known. If this is ok then great. If not, then great care needs to be taken if anything is to be downsized. If the aquarium selected initially was large then downsizing could be the answer as everything will cost less. If the total cost is well within limits then perhaps some equipment could be upgraded – the obvious one is to leave out the biological power filter(s) and perhaps use live rock. Or perhaps add a sump to increase the seawater net gallonage.
Oh, it goes on and on doesn’t it! One more stage and that is the future costs. Not so much replacement equipment needs, though this can happen, but more routine costs starting with electricity. Add up the wattage of the electrical equipment. The cost of a kilowatt (1000 watts) will be known per hour. To get the electrical running cost of the aquarium use the aquarium total wattage (all electricals). Assume the lights and heater(s) will be active 50% of the time (this isn’t accurate but fine for estimate purposes). Next, routine weekly seawater changes are required (the guideline indicates 10% of the net system gallonage). The amount of future sea salt can be estimated.
It could seem a long bothersome road following such a guideline, but if costs are known, equipment adequate and stocking correct then basic problems are generally avoided. All that is then required is research and patience. It really is worth it.
August 25, 2012
Wrasses are a well-known group of fish. There is one type in particular that has received a lot of attention from science and TV. These are the cleaner wrasse. There are five types of cleaner wrasse but the one most known is the common cleaner wrasse, also known as the blue streak cleaner wrasse (properly called Labroides dimidiatus). The blue streak is the one most commonly found in marine stores. The fish could grow to around 4 inches.
On the wild reef the cleaners have a particular spot to which other fish go in order to be groomed, for example parasites and dead skin are removed. The fish wishing to be cleaned can be seen waiting patiently for their turn. The wrasses are seen to swim into apparent serious danger with for example groupers, larger fish to which the wrasse would seem a tasty morsel – one quick gulp! But no, the groupers allow the cleaners access to their gills, mouth and body. Science suggests that it is the swimming motion of the wrasse that makes them recognisable and affords them security.
Science advises that on the wild reef the cleaner stations are extremely important. This has been proven by the removal of cleaner stations and keeping them absent in a known area. The health of the general fish population is monitored and has been found to decline. Once the cleaning stations are permitted to re-establish the health of the population rises again.
‘Aha’ thinks the marine aquarist, this could be useful. Wrasses are a fairly hardy group and if they are cleaners then they could do my aquarium reef fish good. Not so.
As with other reef fish once the cleaner wrasse is introduced to the aquarium, after a settling in period it will resume a natural living pattern. This means that it will treat the aquarium, or in a very large one a good part of it, as a cleaner station. When fish pass through the cleaner will swim up inviting the fish to be cleaned…. as it is an aquarium this happens over and over and over again. It could be that a fish or two will accept cleaning. However, after a while the fish in the aquarium will avoid the wrasse by swimming rapidly away either to show they haven’t any interest in cleaning or because the continued attention of the wrasse is an irritant. The wrasse does not gain any food or certainly insufficient.
Another idea sometimes arises with an aquarist. As the wrasse deals with parasites perhaps the presence of one is a guarantee against for example white spot. Not a guarantee that it will not occur but that it will be dealt with if it does. Unfortunately again not so, it seems that the wrasse does not deal with these types of parasite. In fact the cleaner is liable to succumb to the outbreak in the same way as the other fish unless the aquarist is successful in eradication efforts.
So there isn’t any point in keeping a cleaner wrasse for cleaning purposes. However a cleaner wrasse is attractive maybe it would be a good addition to the aquarium just as a fish. There is the potential problem that other fish could be irritated by the cleaner, as already said. However the major problem is with nutrition.
There are some fish that are definitely hit and miss with feeding. For example the beautiful copperband butterfly (Chelmon rostratus) has caused many an aquarist severe frustration as it refuses food which is perfectly acceptable to other types. Sometimes these fish do feed but very many times not, they starve and the beautiful fish is lost. This is so with the cleaner wrasse. With the clear lack of food available in a natural way the fish faces starvation. On the reef the fish could deal with very many cleaned fish in a day, gaining nutrition from each one. It could be that in the aquarium the cleaner will take artemia, flake or frozen fare. At the same time it may not and will die. An aquarist shouldn’t want to take a chance with this. Advanced aquarists maybe would to see if a method of dependable feeding can be found, but most aquarists not. So overall the fish is best left on the wild reef.
Here’s a picture of the blue streak cleaner fish, then run a series of extra pictures by clicking to the right:
June 11, 2012
Seawater quality is the number one requirement for a marine aquarium. The close number two for corals is suitable lighting. Given that both of these needs have been met where both fish and corals are present then the aquarist should have a beautiful healthy aquarium population.
How can such a general statement be made? Surely there is more to success than just seawater quality (and lighting). There is and some of these are seawater movement, correct feeding, correct stocking, properly functioning equipment such as the protein skimmer etc. Think about it a little and it’s realised that the measure of the adequacy of stocking, the equipment, feeding etc is the seawater quality. Overstocking, overfeeding, an inadequate protein skimmer, insufficient seawater movement – they’ll all tend to show up in seawater quality reduction.
There are three types of marine aquarium – fish only, corals only and mixed reef. The latter seems to be the most popular and this is understandable as it comes closest to Mother Nature’s own though with a massively reduced size. All these aquarium types have their advantages.
With a fish only system stocking can be to a higher level. Seawater quality is still important but there is more tolerance. For example, the guideline suggests nitrate at 30ppm (parts per million) or less is acceptable, the lower the better. With a coral only system the picture changes as the guideline suggests 10ppm is the maximum again with lower being better. The same goes for a mixed reef, 10ppm or less.
If a fish only system is fully stocked then the effort to keep nitrate (for example) low is still a challenge. Fish demand food and the more fish the more food. This produces nitrate so the same effort to avoid overstocking and overfeeding is needed.
A corals only system is, all things being equal, the easiest to keep. Why? Corals do not put the same level of bio-load on the system that fish do, it’s much lower. Therefore the effort to keep nitrate low (for example) is considerably less. This means that seawater routine changes could be of a less amount, though they are still required. It should also be remembered that with some corals it’s likely to be particularly necessary to add supplements to the seawater to maintain adequate levels. An example of a supplement is calcium. More than one supplement could be required depending on the coral’s needs.
The mixed reef system is the most difficult. This is because the guideline suggests the needs of the corals as regards seawater quality is the target, not the fish. Therefore the guideline suggests that the stocking level limit is around half that of a fish only system. Some aquarists put in less fish than the guideline suggests purely for the benefit of seawater quality. Even so, great care needs to be taken with feeding, and there could still be the need for supplements such as calcium. Depending on the corals kept, the aquarist could be required to provide several supplements for a mixed reef aquarium.
Though the acceptable pollution level is different, all of the aquarium types require high quality seawater in relation to their population. It can clearly be seen that the higher pollution potential is with fish. That is why the mixed reef system seawater is likely to be more difficult to maintain as the quality target is for the corals with fish present.
Provided a coral has the room to expand and has the necessary requirements included in seawater quality (eg. calcium and seawater movement) plus adequate lighting, it will be happy in an aquarium that is only just big enough to contain it. Pollutants will not increase rapidly though they will increase over time – routine seawater changes would still be required.
A fish cannot be placed in an aquarium just big enough to contain it. It would be cruel as the fish would have an inadequate area to move in. As far as seawater quality is concerned, the fish would need feeding and pollution would increase rapidly. This is why the ‘fish per gallon’ guidelines exist for both fish only and mixed reef systems.
Going back to the real world, it is important that stock is carefully selected for fish only or mixed reef systems. (The same goes for corals only of course but as pollution is less of a problem the system will be excluded.) Not only should fish be selected for type and potential size bearing in mind the size of the aquarium, fish should also be selected that will not damage each other or corals. Corals also should be selected so that their potential size (remember expansion) will not cause them to touch, particularly unrelated corals. Despite their beautiful appearance, corals can be aggressive and could fight which causes considerable damage. Selection, particularly of fish with regard to seawater quality, should include feeding type so that food is known to be available and offerings are less likely to stay and rot in the aquarium. It’s impossible to ensure that all food particularly flake types are taken as some finds its way into the rocks. In very mature systems the little life forms that have evaded predation could well reduce this pollution but nevertheless lost food is not desirable.
So seawater quality is not affected to the same extent by fish and corals. Fish have a much higher impact than corals. With fish present the bacteria factory so essential to aquarium health which operates the nitrogen cycle has to work harder with more workers. The potential end result of this is more pollution.
So next time the urge comes to add ‘just one more fish’……don’t!
May 14, 2012
Recently, Google decided to do an ‘overhaul’ of it’s system. Why?….well, that’s a good question! The change has caused considerable consternation to many many websites including this one. For some reason, Aquarists Online has disappeared onto page I don’t know what. It is still there, type in the proper title and there it is, straightaway - www.aquaristsonline.com. Or, and easier, just type in Aquarists Online.
If problems continue, then try the search engines Bing or Yahoo – type in Aquarists Online, or Marine Aquarium Blog, or www.aquaristsonline.com. There it is, no problem.
Eventually the Google thing will be sorted out. In the meantime, I’ll just continue to growl!
Yes, I know, here I am trying to give assistance on Aquarists Online to those who can’t find Aquarists Online…….say no more!
April 22, 2012
The marine aquarist builds and stocks the aquarium to produce a beautiful and absorbing picture, lovely fish gliding among wonderful corals. It seems simple enough.
After a while when the aquarium is well established, stable and particularly where live rock has been used algae appear. This is hopefully decorative and desirable, of various colours and shapes. The leaves themselves can be interesting, some soft and small and others large and rigid. It all adds to the overall picture.
Why does algae appear that is not desirable when all the equipment was carefully chosen?
The basic answer is food. All living things require food and if it is not available or is insufficient the life form will not survive or even appear. Algae, particularly the undesirable stuff, requires nitrate and (maybe ‘or’?) phosphate – if this is sufficient then the yukky stuff will prosper. It usually takes the form of long stringy or bushy green clumps that attach everywhere and/or dark blue green mats that spread over nearly everything. The latter is often referred to as slime algae.
So food has been mentioned. Removing the food should remove the algae. This is correct though the algae, particularly the hairy green stuff seems to be particularly resistant and hangs on a while. It has to give up eventually though.
First, two test kits should be used to determine the level of food, a better word is nutrients, in the seawater. The two tests are nitrate and phosphate. Some just use the nitrate test and, if overfeeding is avoided, phosphate hopefully will not be a problem. If problem algae is present then it is likely that the test reading will be high. The guidelines suggest nitrate should be less than 10ppm (parts per million) for a reef system and less than 30ppm for a fish only system. Phosphate should be hopefully shown as zero on the test, or not more than 0.03. The levels should always be as low as possible.
So how is the nutrient supply controlled? First checks need to be made. Is the aquarium overstocked with fish? If there are too many fish for the seawater gallonage then fish wastes along with the necessary fish feeding are not going to be helpful. Overstocking must be avoided. Feeding the fish is pleasurable, but excess feeding must be avoided – when the fish start to lose interest, stop feeding. Unused fish food adds nitrate and phosphate to the seawater. Additionally there is the practice of routine seawater changes – in this case the guideline suggests 10% of the net gallonage (including sump) of the system per week. The amount of seawater change can be increased to speed the arrival of good nutrient free seawater but should never exceed about 25% of the net total volume except in an emergency. Excessive ‘raw’ new seawater can sometimes have an adverse effect on corals and sensitive fish.
When preparing seawater for a routine change it’s worth considering using reverse osmosis (RO) water. RO water is produced by running tapwater through carbon and then a very fine filter. Pollutants are nearly all removed and the water is as clean as possible, usually 95 to 98% pure. Using RO water for evaporation top-ups is also worthwhile. RO units are not particularly expensive and can be purchased in various ‘gallons per day’ sizes so that demand can be matched.
Once stocking, seawater changing and feeding are considered acceptable then the aquarists’ watchword ‘patience’ comes into play. Clumpy and stringy green algae can be removed to an extent by wrapping it round a stick by twisting but care needs to be taken that damage to the reef structure is not caused. This practice needs to continue until there is no more removal possible. Smear algae does not like excessive seawater movement so it follows that seawater movement needs to be checked and increased if found insufficient. The guidelines suggest 10 times per hour the net volume of seawater (excluding sump) for a fish only or soft coral system, and at least 20 times per hour for a reef of hard corals. If smear algae seems to be mostly in one area then seawater movement could be increased to that area by the careful adjustment of powerheads, always being careful not to directly point a powerhead at corals. When partial seawater changes are being done then some of the smear algae could hopefully be siphoned out and disposed of.
Some of the algae that is present could well become loose and float about or lay on the bottom. As this algae rots it releases nutrients back into the seawater so it should be siphoned out and disposed of.
Another item to check is lighting. Lighting should be regularly changed, be it fluorescent or metal halide. The manufacturer’s recommendations should always be noted, but generally one year is enough for a tube or bulb. Particularly with tubes, changes are required because of power loss (meaning less light penetration) and spectrum shift. Corals in particular require a certain spectrum of light to prosper, as the tubes/bulbs age the spectrum alters and this starts to be lost. Tubes could begin to emit more light in the ‘red’ area which would be of benefit to problem algae.
Consideration should also be given to the amount of time the lighting is on. Generally, the lighting seems to be on between 8 and 12 hours a day with marine aquarists, particularly those with a reef system. The lighting time should be minimised to the time that equates with healthy corals. Having lights on say 15 or more hours so that the aquarium can be viewed for longer is not good. It’s better to alter the lighting timing so that the aquarium is viewable without excess lighting hours.
Though there will be a protein skimmer in operation (there should be!) double check that it is adequate for the amount of seawater it has to deal with. The skimmer should be regularly checked and cleaned of the brown scum that collects particularly in the throat. An adequate and correctly functioning skimmer removes much of the disolved organics in the seawater.
There are methods of combating excessive nutrients in seawater using apparatus or using algae itself in a controlled environment. However it is far better to control the nutrients by good management practices.
So the battle against unwanted algae is a question of management. If the areas suggested are targeted then in time the algae will surrender. ‘In time’ is important because nuisance algae will not go away overnight – the aquarist needs to give time in the battle and be patient.
April 1, 2012
There are many parts to a marine system and much time is spent researching to get the equipment right. Once the system is together more time is spent trying to ensure that the livestock is compatible with the aquarium size and system type and also they’re happy with each other. There is one part of the system that creates more trouble than any other and that is the seawater.
Assuming that the system is well thought out and set up and also that stocking is correct it could be thought that everything will now be relatively straightforward. There’s routine maintenance to be completed and everything should be rosy. So it should be and there should be many an hour spent watching the aquarium. This is proper progression but unfortunately there could be problems, even major ones that arise particularly with newcomers to the marine hobby. Much of this trouble is with the seawater.
High quality seawater is the number one requirement whether the marine system is mixed reef, corals only or fish only. The need for high quality is because the livestock are constantly in touch with it, breathe from it and depend on it. If the quality reduces excessively then corals will close and fish will begin to lose their bright colours and vitality.
The highest seawater quality is required with coral only and mixed reef systems as corals will not tolerate reduced quality well. The coral only system seawater is fortunately the easiest to maintain, followed by mixed reef and fish only in that order. So there’s the clue. It’s mainly to do with fish.
Corals do not have a major impact on seawater quality but fish do and the higher the number the greater the impact. Once fish are placed in the aquarium the seawater begins to deteriorate. This is because of the natural bodily processes of the fish. Therefore it’s important not to overstock and the reason maximum fish stocking guidelines exist. The stocking guidelines suggest a lower fish loading for a mixed reef system than a fish only one to protect the needs of the corals.
Fish also have another requirement that brings pressure to bear on seawater quality. Like all living things they need food. This food can be anything from de-frozen fish to flake. Many beginners overfeed as they are concerned that the fish get enough. This attitude is to be applauded of course, but sadly it often leads to trouble. There could be excessive algae or even an algae invasion where everything becomes coated with the stuff. Some algae are good and decorative and welcome, but not the ones that cover with a green hairy coating. It is probable that the great majority of marine aquarists, experienced or not, overfeed their fish to an extent because it is nearly impossible to ensure that every morsel is eaten. Some of it goes into rocks for example. However, particularly in very mature aquariums it’s likely that the tiny life forms that dwell in the rocks benefit from this small overfeed and reduce its impact on the seawater.
So the aquarist wants a vibrant healthy and colourful aquarium. The livestock want high quality seawater (corals of course want suitable lighting which is a close second to seawater quality). A happy aquarium and aquarist are quite easily achievable.
Whatever type of seawater that is used in the aquarium – natural or mixed from dry powder – it will deteriorate. The first action to combat this is to carry out routine seawater changes. The guideline suggests 10% of the net gallonage (including any sump) weekly. This can be varied once the aquarist knows the seawater trends but routine changes should continue even if decreased. Completing routine seawater changes removes some unwanted nitrate for example and freshens the seawater introducing some replacement trace elements.
The second action is to test. The major tests are:
pH to ensure the alkalinity of the seawater is stable and as it should be. The natural trend for seawater in an aquarium is to acidify which means the pH goes down. The pH should be checked in daylight, meaning the lights are on, and produce a reading of between 8.0 and 8.4. The readings shouldn’t vary with these figures but should be reasonably stable on one.
Salinity should be stable and have little variance. The measurement could change because of salt creep or evaporation. With small systems manual daily top-ups should suffice. Larger aquariums could make use of automatic topping up mechanisms. The guidelines suggest for systems containing corals a measurement of 1.024 to 1.026 and for fish only systems 1.020 to 1.022. The lower one for fish is because it’s believed that some fish parasites do less well at these lower figures. However, fish will not suffer at the higher figures given for corals.
Ammonia and nitrite are very dangerous and can kill. Therefore the readings for both should always be zero. It’s important the bio-filter is properly matured to ensure the bacteria are able to deal with these toxins.
Nitrate in excess is bad as it is a known nutrient for nuisance algae – the horrible hairy green stuff and others. The guidelines suggest 30ppm (parts per million) or less for fish only systems and 10ppm or less for those containing corals. The nitrate levels should be as low as possible.
Temperature has an effect on the metabolism of the livestock in general. The reading should be stable and the guideline suggests between 75 and 80degF.
Feeding has already been mentioned. Feeding the fish is a pleasure and it’s good that it is. However, the fish will eat more than they need – in the wild they don’t know when the next meal will be found so they will stuff in as much as they can. It’s believed that they could even excrete half digested food in order to do this. Once fish are settled in the aquarium they will often rise begging for food and the inexperienced could believe they need more. Excess food is going to lower the seawater quality so overfeeding needs to be avoided. Resist any begging and cease to feed as soon as the fish show signs of a reduced desire to eat.
Seawater quality could include other tests particularly in some coral only and mixed reef systems. Consideration of these has been excluded as the aforementioned forms the major basis for high quality unpolluted seawater. The aquarium and aquarist should be happy once the discipline of seawater quality maintenance has been achieved.