Once the aquarium is up and running then the aquarist should stand back and admire it. This relaxing period is well deserved, after all a lot of time has been spent in planning and obtaining equipment never mind the cost of it all.
When the aquarium is there in total the aquarist is naturally excited. The beautiful fish and/or corals can be mesmerizing. Time passes easily and not just watching the aquarium. Time just passes and seemingly very quickly. In our busy lives one day can blur into the next and so it is with weeks.
Once livestock are in the seawater changes will occur. Bacteria, the foundation of the Nitrogen Cycle are converting wastes. The protein skimmer starts to get busy as dissolved organic matter starts to appear in the seawater. The seawater is going to deteriorate in quality over time, perhaps slowly or perhaps quite quickly. This seawater quality is the number one requirement for success. So what to do?
The first answer, and the correct one, is to be sure and do routine seawater changes. This will dilute unwanted substances and ‘freshen up’ the seawater. Is this enough?
The initial guideline for the amount of seawater to change is 10% weekly. This guideline is intended for new hobbyists who have to start somewhere, and indeed is for anyone as the baseline. As time goes on the aquarist can check if the change amount is insufficient.
This knowledge is obtained by the weekly testing of seawater parameters in the early life of the aquarium (though the testing regime could be modified later it doesn’t stop). Certain tests should be completed routinely once a week at least, such as specific gravity (SG), ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. A further test that is worthwhile is phosphate. In a reef system additional tests could be carried out, for example calcium. These tests will indicate the state of the seawater. Ammonia and nitrite should remain undetectable, but there could be a slow rise in nitrate and phosphate, which is certainly undesirable as they are nuisance algae nutrients. In a reef system calcium is important and this will decline according to livestock demand.
Is the aquarist going to remember all the results of the tests? I don’t think so. The tests take time and to make them really worthwhile they can be used to determine trends. For this they need to be written down.
As said, testing takes time and it is hardly any effort to write down the results. As the weeks pass the aquarist could be reassured that the biological filter is working well as there is never any ammonia or nitrite reading. The rate of nitrate and/or phosphate increase, or lack of it, could help in determining if the amount of seawater being changed is sufficient – or perhaps if the feeding is being overdone. For the reef aquarist, testing the example calcium can determine the amount that is demanded weekly by the corals and enable the aquarist to arrange dosing correctly.
To make the recording of test results really easy why not obtain a small notebook, such as a small lined notebook that children use in schools. Draw columns on the page and head them with the test name, for example ammonia, phosphate, calcium etc. Leave a blank column on the left side so that a date can be inserted for each row of test results.
It will not take a scientist to work out the trends that will be shown. Increases and decreases week by week will be clear. Over a period this will enable the aquarist to take appropriate action such as increasing the seawater change amount, increasing or decreasing the calcium dose etc.
As said seawater quality is the number one requisite for success. The only real way that the aquarist can determine the quality is by testing. Logging the test results is a big move towards easier seawater quality maintenance and at the same time requires hardly any additional time or work.
To assist you we have created some simple maintenance charts which you can download and use if you so desire. These are: