The protein skimmer assists in the removal of dissolved organic compounds (DOC’s) from the water column. The protein skimmers manufactured nowadays are normally exceptionally efficient – as long as they are kept clean!
So what do I mean by running your protein skimmer full time or part time?
Well basically a protein skimmer which is run full time is turned on 24 hours a day 7 days a week whereas a part time skimmer is on for less hours in the day – 12 for example.
So why would anyone consider this?
You have to look carefully at what you are keeping in your saltwater aquarium. If you are keeping fish only then I would recommend without hesitation that the protein skimmer be run fill time. Fish produce a lot of waste and we have to feed them so the protein skimmer assists in the removal of these items as well as others from the water.
If you keep a coral only or a mixed reef tank then perhaps it could be different. I say the word perhaps as you need to look very closely at what you keep in your aquarium. The reason for this is that we are interested in the load on the aquarium i.e. how much waste is being produced which the protein skimmer can then process. In a coral only aquarium then very little bioload should exist as corals put very little strain on the system. This does not mean that you do not need a protein skimmer as I personally would never have a saltwater aquarium without a protein skimmer installed.
In a mixed reef aquarium then you obviously have corals and fish, therefore like the fish only aquarium the fish are being fed, due to the feeding waste is produced which could easily impact water quality. Yet, how many fish are in the aquarium? How large are the fish?
What you can do is review your protein skimmer over a couple of weeks. Ensure that you have optimum water quality and then check your collection cup at the end of the period and see how much waste has been produced. If the cup is over half full then realistically you probably need to keep the protein skimmer running full time to ensure that everything is removed. If the cup is less than half full then faesibly you could potentially use a part time skimmer.
Of course this is not set in stone as each aquarium system is different. The decision ultimately comes down to you based upon your particular setup.
So why do it?
There is a lot of debate as to how much good is removed by a protein skimmer as well as bad. As protein skimmers have evolved over the years they have become more and more efficient. Due to this efficiency they can remove a huge amount from the water. This is great in one way as it assists us in both creating and maintaining the water quality which our aquarium inhabitants require however what else is removed?
Personally I have absolutely no idea. I am not a scientist and do not have the tools, skills or knowledge to be able to analyse the output from a protein skimmer and see what it contained. All I know is that it is brown and exceptionally stinky!
It is believed that some of the items potentially removed by the protein skimmer is used by corals as food. Corals receive the majority of their energy from the lighting which is provided to them, however they do receive a good amount from food captured in the water. This could be the likes of phytoplankton, zooplankton etc. Have you ever watched a documentary on the television about natural coral reefs? Have you seen how many particles are floating about in the water? Loads aren’t there – in the aquarium we do not have this amount as we have to use man-made devices in order to keep the water clean.
So potentially if you run the skimmer part time some of this life will not be removed and can be used by the corals as food.
There have been reports that when this is performed it has been noticed that the corals appear to have better colour and better polyp extension.
Another method is by actually feeding the corals yourself. You can purchase various ready made containers full of coral food which you feed to the aquarium. There are also various methods you can follow to make your own coral food. I will cover coral feeding in a future article.
Would I do it? – maybe but only if I was absolutely positive that it was not detrimental to water quality and I would be testing the water all the time.
Would I recommend the beginner do it? – Probably not – not just because they are new to the hobby but the aquarium is also new and needs to age a bit. Perhaps if only corals were being kept but even then I think that it should be run full time until the aquarists gains experience.