Would You Have Changed Anything?

When a marine aquarium is first set up the aquarist obviously believes everything is being done effectively – the equipment is thought to be adequate and the cost has been controlled.

‘It would have been better if…’ is a thought that isn’t confined to the novice aquarist, experienced aquarists could go the same way though perhaps it’s not as likely. After the aquarium has been running for a while a presumed advantage turns out to be wrong, a piece of equipment turns out to be inadequate, or a fish which is supposed to be reasonably docile turns out not to be.

Inadequate equipment is usually but not exclusively the domain of the novice. Finding the cost of the new marine aquarium high, equipment is considered as a potential money saver. The number one example of this is the protein skimmer. When the cost is realized for obtaining the intended model an attempt is made to downsize, the magnet being the lower price tag. It is only later when the aquarium has been running a while that the mistake is realized, and then a more appropriate model is purchased. This means the aquarist has spent more than if the proper model had been obtained in the first place. It is to be hoped that equipment that falls into this kind of category can be sold on so that some of the cost is recovered.

My current soft coral reef aquarium has been running for over six years. When I started it I obtained two Eheim Ecco canister filters that were used for bio-filtration. They worked well and to this day both canisters are still running.

I decided not to use live rock from the start as it was (and still is) expensive. I reckoned that bacteria could work just as well in a canister which has proved to be the case. For the reef I used inert highly porous rock, creating lots of small caves and crannies. The import of corals includes live rock – the corals are attached to it. I reckoned that given time the inert rock would become live and I could stop the bio function of the canisters.

The inert rock did become live after a couple of years (I cannot judge the exact period) but I continued to run the canisters for bio-filtration. The reef developed so well and looked so attractive that I feared that if a mistake was made then ruin, or at least a downturn in the fortunes of the reef could arrive. Anyway, after around five or so years I turned one canister’s bio-filtration off. The canister was left running as the outlets of both are used for additional surface agitation. There wasn’t any change whatsoever with the fortunes of the reef, it continued as lovely as ever with good growth and coral extension.

What needs to happen now is for the second canister’s bio filtration to be turned off. This is a more ‘nervy’ action as one canister alone is capable of supplying sufficient bio-filtration. However it will be done in time.

Getting back to anything I would have changed, I would have changed the bio-filtration to live rock. The canisters don’t cost very much to run and, in themselves, nothing at all. However, the money I saved on not buying live rock in the first place disappeared when I took preventative action for nitrate. Canister filter bio-filtration only operates as far as nitrate production and I wished to be ready for its appearance. So I obtained a sulphur based denitrator. This didn’t cost that much as it was a DIY project, but as said it was enough to eliminate the saving from not purchasing live rock.

What is pleasing but irritating at the same time is that there has never been a trace of nitrate. Ok, the denitrator was running, but I began to suspect the device wasn’t doing anything. This was because I checked a good few times the condition of the output from the denitrator. I also noted the visual condition of the rocks which looked like live rock but with more growth on them such as tiny worms in their tubes and the like, plus quite heavy growths in places of calcareous algae. The denitrator was turned off about three years ago and has not been switched back on since and still no nitrate.

As the rocks started off inert there wasn’t any appearance of desirable freebies (and there wasn’t any introduction of undesirables either!). However, no doubt introduced with coral rocks, some lovely red algae appeared which was eaten by the fish (this is an assumption as the fish were never seen eating it!), and currently there is some wonderful algae growing which has the appearance of joined together snowflakes. I have no idea what it is called though I have tried to identify it. At least the fish are not seeing it as food.

So what it boils down to is that I could have bought live rock in the first place and not bothered with a denitrator, which wasn’t required anyway. However, I’m not complaining, it has been interesting watching the appearance of the rocks change.