I need to point out straight away that I do not have any supporting statistics for what is to follow, so I’ll use the word ‘probably’.
There are parts of a marine set-up that are essential. One, and the most important, is the biological filter without which there would be failure. Then of course there are heaters, without which, for a tropical system anyway, there would also be failure. These are not the ones that are regularly replaced; arguably the protein skimmer takes this role.
Why this should be is uncertain. Most aquarists including novices, who have taken advice and done some research, realize the importance of the skimmer. It is important for the removal of dissolved organic substances (DOCS). It is, after the biological filter, arguably the most valuable seawater quality enhancement equipment available. There is a considerable array of skimmers to be had from different manufacturers and in different forms and they are easy to obtain.
So if the need for a skimmer is understood why should this piece of equipment be the most replaced? There is a hint in that sentence with the word ‘replaced’, meaning that the aquarist has, a while after setting up the system, decided to obtain a new skimmer. Why would anyone replace equipment when it is still functioning? This would normally occur because the original does not perform as desired and an improvement is required.
Another clue is that time has elapsed before replacement occurs. Time is the requirement for experience. It is improbable that many experienced aquarists replace skimmers – this action may have occurred earlier.
So it is the new aquarist who often employs an inadequate skimmer. Note the word ‘often’, as many to their credit carry out adequate research and consider sensible advice.
It may be that when a system is being set-up there is a budget. The financial demands of constructing a system are not small and the budget may be strained. The price of a skimmer can seem very high when the cost is compared to the actual article – how could that cost so much? It is known that a skimmer is needed and a package is seen that states the device can handle X gallons. The price seems very reasonable. The retailer advises ‘Yes that will do’ and the skimmer is purchased.
Or maybe on a similar theme the novice aquarist is researching and sees two or more skimmers that claim to function equally, but one is considerably cheaper than the others. Well, it’s a skimmer isn’t it; the others must be overpriced so being sensible the cheaper one is bought.
When a newly set-up system is being stocked it is done slowly. There is little live stock in the aquarium for a while and the skimmer has little to do. The aquarist gets used to there being little scum in the collection cup and comes to regard it as normal. It is only much later when comparisons are made with a colleagues system and the scum being collected is noticed, or when evidence of organics is noted in the aquarium, that real doubts arise. Then, after checking the skimmer is working properly, it is replaced with surprising results. The original unit is consigned to the garage to gather dust.
How should a skimmer be chosen? Price is always a factor to consider, of course, but price is controlled to an extent by competition and by shopping around. There are a few other points on the check list.
Perhaps the best skimmer type for a novice to obtain is a ‘venturi’ and it is likely these are the ones most bought. A well designed model of this type has a very acceptable performance. Before even considering purchase, the aquarist must know the net gallonage of his/her system because the skimmer has to handle this gallonage. Note this is the full system which includes any sump. If the aquarist cannot work out the net gallonage then take the given gross capacity of the aquarium and combine that with any sump.
If the skimmer can be seen working all the better. If not, has a colleague got one? If not, once the skimmer is decided do not purchase it but seek opinion on a busy internet forum.
The skimmer will be either a hang-on or stand alone model. The aquarium set-up will decide which is required. The skimmer must be capable of processing at least the gallonage it has to handle. This is where problems can still occur – manufacturers can sometimes overstate the performance of their product. To counteract this possibility, try and over buy, that is, obtain a skimmer that will handle twice the capacity of the aquarium system. It will not do any harm if the skimmer capability given originally is accurate.
A well known and respected marine equipment manufacturer stated that there are three things that really matter with a skimmer: air intake, water flow, and air intake.
A check of air intake and flow can be made visually to an extent. When the skimmer can be seen running, the chamber where the bubbles accumulate should be a milky white colour, indicating that the air intake is adequate and many tiny bubbles are being created. There shouldn’t be many bubbles, if any, returning to the aquarium. In the throat of the skimmer, the bubbles should be rising before they burst (if loaded with organics they will continue to rise).
Purchasing an adequate skimmer in the first place can be expensive, but worth it as it will no doubt be cheaper than the cost of the original and its replacement. The aquarium will be better too, seawater quality will be kept at a higher level and the livestock will show it.
There’ll also be a bit more space in the garage to store something else.