Everything in the world requires food of one type or another and obviously so do marine creatures. It would seem that food is a simple matter but some marine aquariums literally fall foul of it.
Before any kind of sea creature is purchased hopefully the aquarist has done research to learn of the creature’s personality, to ensure compatibility with others, and also to discover the creatures feeding habits, partly to protect other creatures also to provide the correct diet. Research before any purchase is necessary and is a central responsibility of the aquarist. Failure to do this research could mean a short life for the creature.
Feeding is a skill that is learned with experience. This isn’t because it’s difficult but because at the start the aquarist is concerned that enough food is supplied. This concern is a good thing of course but, perhaps strangely, does cause problems mostly with inexperienced aquarists. Why should this be? The fish tend to circle and grab food, and in many cases tend to hang about as long as the aquarist could put more food in. This probably is because in the wild if the food isn’t grabbed quickly when available it will be gone, eaten by another creature. However, sea creatures have a maximum food capacity as with other life. Excess food will drift untouched and settle on the sand or among rocks. Put too much food in and it is likely to settle where it cannot be reached before the creatures can get to it. True, some or maybe all will be used by tiny creatures that came with for example live rock. However, it’s likely particularly in a new aquarium to go unused.
Uneaten food will become food eventually, Mother Nature is not wasteful. The food will rot and dissolve and become food for the much unloved ‘yukky’ algae (a good technical term ‘yukky’!). The very last thing an aquarist wants is layers of unattractive algae covering sand and rocks. Some algae is attractive and welcome but the unwelcome variety is easy to identify. If overfeeding continues the unwelcome variety will appear. This is because of the increase in nitrate (NO3). It’s a good idea to occasionally complete a nitrate test. The kits are easily available and not overly expensive. The best reading is below 25mg/l. Between 25mg/l and 50mg/l algae troubles could start. Above 50mg/l problems are very likely, not just with algae but possibly with the health of aquarium creatures as well. Excessive nitrate can be attacked by completing partial seawater changes. If excess nitrate is detected: If the partial seawater changes are already being done weekly then increase the changes, say to twice weekly. Once the nitrate level has reduced then the changes can revert to once weekly. If there isn’t any effect or nitrate has increased then increase the amount of the change by completing three times weekly or increasing the number of gallons changed. Hopefully the nitrate will be controlled and reduced.
It is of little use doing partial seawater changes if the discipline of feeding remains unaddressed. For example, flake is a very commonly and easily used food. Flake should not be dumped on the seawater surface. Get an egg cup or similar and put a few flakes in even if it seems too little then put some water in to soak the flakes. Using something to grip the flakes (the very small tweezers that ladies use are good) drop a few flakes in the aquarium. Pick an area that is fairly clear of obstacles, where there isn’t a strong current from a pump and where fish can swim easily. The flakes will sink and the hungry fish will take them quickly. Repeat the process until the fish are showing signs of diminished appetite, that is their swimming/chasing enthusiasm diminishes. Then stop. Experience will increase and the amount required will be remembered. A sufficient amount can then be put in the container with water. However, the food should be fed slowly, never just dumped in.
Flake food has a drawback. When initially purchased flakes will be of a decent size. Often, as time goes on, the flake breaks up to an extent, leaving quite a lot or a lot of very small flake fragments. These fragments can be a problem, fish will still eat them but there can be so many that a lot disappear into the rockwork and can cause trouble. So be reasonably gentle with the flake container and remove flakes with care. Some fish such as damsels will dart about seemingly catching a lot of the fragmented flakes but a lot could be missed.
A general rule is that food should be fed for a maximum of five minutes only. This of course is very general, overfeeding can occur in five minutes particularly with food ‘dumping’.
This applies to all the different types of ‘into the seawater’ food that is available. There is the mentioned flake, frozen food (cut the chunk up then defrost a small piece, if necessary followed by another, to ensure the correct amount is fed), fresh food and live food. Live food such as brine shrimp are weak swimmers and pumps could be turned off until the fish have eaten them.
The other necessity is to ensure the fish are getting the food they need. Some fish need algae, others something else. So the food needs to be eaten enthusiastically. So the research the aquarist has completed on the needs of the fish and other lifeforms covering food requirements permits the purchase of food that will not be ignored. In general creatures will eat food when found. Fish generally will eat flake of any type once it is recognised. It is good to pay attention to particular dietary requirements. Beginner aquarists should avoid buying specialist eaters, at least until the word beginner no longer applies.
Feeding time with the marine aquarium is one of the joys of being an aquarist. With a successful marine aquarium, certain actions will trigger the response of the creatures and they will hang about waiting for the food to magically appear. Perhaps the action could be topping up the seawater level, lifting the lid or similar.
Using discipline and patience to learn the correct amount of food, and the correct food, is really well worth while. The period of time involved is not long and once the experience has been gathered the food will be feeding the creatures, not unwanted things like ‘yukky’ algae. The creatures should be healthy and the aquarium lovely.