Aquarists Online Mon, 21 Apr 2014 16:37:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Spare Heater, It Just Sits There…. Mon, 21 Apr 2014 16:15:39 +0000

There’s quite a list of equipment to purchase when a marine aquarium is being set up and keeping a marine aquarium can’t be called the cheapest hobby on earth.

However beginning aquarists usually follow the guidelines carefully, ensuring the size of this and the capacity of that is adequate. After all, buying a cheap or undersized item is not going to save money in the long or even the medium term. An adequate replacement could be required so economies at the beginning require caution.

Equipment nowadays is generally very reliable though there is always the chance of failure and so it is with a heater. Most marine aquariums run on one heater which includes a built in thermostat. The recommendation is for two, each heater being one half, or close to one half the amount of the required wattage. Two are recommended as if one fails then hopefully the aquarist will notice the problem before serious consequences arise. The heater(s) have a built in thermostat which is normally set at between 75 and 80 deg F (if there are two heaters they have the same setting).

There are variations of course. On my system there are two thermostat controlled heaters which are connected to an exterior thermostat. The exterior controlling thermostat detects the seawater temperature through a sensor and reacts to changes by applying more or less heat. The thermostat continuously pulses power through the other two immersed heaters increasing or decreasing the length of the pulse as required. In this way the seawater temperature is kept very steady. The exterior thermostat is set to 77 deg F. The two submersed heaters have their thermostats set at 80deg F. Therefore if the external thermostat stuck in the ‘on’ position the seawater temperature would rise to 80 and turn off protecting the livestock. If the thermostat totally failed… it would have to be noticed!

So, this external thermostat sat there for over eight years with the indicator light pulse always very regular. As with other equipment, a visual check was made from time to time, no problem, the electronics are brilliant! It becomes normal, ‘nothing wrong’.

But, one day, the temperature had risen for no obvious reason. This was noticed on the internal thermometer on the viewing glass. It was immediately assumed that some external influence was at work, after all the indicator light was still happily blinking on and off.

The seawater temperature however continued to rise so the adjustment knob was moved to zero. Still the external thermostat was not suspected. At zero the light stopped blinking as it should. It was turned on again and the temperature set to normal. After a while, the temperature was clearly slowly rising. Still not understanding, a reliable mercury thermometer was placed in the seawater to check the internal one which could have failed. Same result, rising temperature.

At this point the exterior thermostat did become suspect. The adjustment knob was moved to normal and the indicator blinked as usual. The knob was moved to a lower setting and the length of the pulses increased! The sensor was clean and undamaged. At last it was clear the external thermostat was at fault.

Lying in a closet was a heater/stat which had never been used, pretty obvious looking at some dust and the still coiled wire. The thermostat had been set at 77 deg F. It was a very simple matter to unplug the exterior thermostat, hang the back-up heater in the corner of the aquarium and plug it in. The temperature was monitored more regularly than normal but all was ok.

Has this put me off external electronic thermostats? No. The unit lasted as said over eight years in continuous use. It didn’t cost that much and I now have a replacement of the same type and make.

As the temperature was rising why didn’t I leave it to cut off at 80? I’ve had my fish and corals a long time (the fish with me the longest is a flame angel (Centropyge loriculus), eleven years. The corals mainly are longer than that). I didn’t want to expose them to any potential stress at all even though 80 is not usually a lethal level. Thank goodness the temperature didn’t go unnoticed if it was falling.

So there we are, a piece of equipment that for most of the time had been superfluous to requirements. I was so pleased that I had it.

When the overall cost of setting up a marine aquarium is considered adding a back-up heater isn’t so bad. Then of course there’s the lives of the livestock.



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Using Cover Glasses On A Marine Aquarium Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:51:49 +0000


Some ready built aquarium systems are sold complete with cover glasses fitted, often of the sliding type. There could be two or three, perhaps more on a large aquarium. A standard aquarium would need them added. However, when considering a marine system are cover glasses actually required?

They do have their advantages. The first one and hopefully one that wouldn’t normally be required is that the casual flick of cigarette ash or whatever by say an inconsiderate partygoer would not enter the seawater. This would also apply to accidental additions to the seawater even by a careful aquarist, though perhaps unlikely. Protection against these kinds of events could be desirable to some, but are not really essential because the events are unlikely.

Ok, then what of the aquarium inhabitants themselves? Fish for example, some are known to be ‘jumpers’. A cover glass would protect from the danger of a fish leaving the seawater permanently. However, the aquarist could provide a covering net which would serve the same purpose. Also overall the potential for fish jumping is low.

Are there any other reasons for or against cover glasses? Of course there are, there can be a debate about just about anything!

Having cover glasses fitted means consideration of safety from the start, particularly with ones cut and fitted by the aquarist as opposed to the already supplied versions which should already be as safe as possible. The glasses should not fit so tightly that they only just fit, they should be reasonably loose so that removing and placing them is easy. This is helped by gluing with silicone a small handle at the front middle of each glass to give assistance with lifting. A handle can easily be made from two small lengths of rigid plastic glued together at right angles and then glued to the glass. It is also important to ensure that sharp edges round the glass are blunted, this is easily done with emery paper or a sharpening stone which will slightly round the edge.

The major advantage of using cover glasses is the reduction of evaporation. All aquarists know that seawater evaporates (the water content that is, not the salt) and there is a requirement to maintain the level. This is done either manually or with a top up device. If cover glasses are in place then the amount of water required to top up will be much reduced, meaning the required reservoir for topping up will be smaller. Evaporation reduction is the advantage to consider, about the only major advantage.

What of the disadvantages then, there’s obviously going to be some. The first one that comes to mind is that the cover glasses supply another item to routinely clean. They sit above the seawater fairly close to it and are subject to splashes and condensation. With a reef system it is essential to deliver the maximum light and correct spectrum to the corals so the glasses must be clean. After the aquarium night period the glasses are often covered in condensation but this clears after a short period of lights on. Nevertheless there is a slow accumulation of fine debris and/or marking. Cover glasses could also interfere with the dissipation of heat, which is not a good idea when warmer months are with us. Aquarists who use a surface fan to assist cooling would need to remove the cover glasses to increase effectiveness.

Cover glasses and reef systems being mentioned I did an experiment many years ago. I doubt if the experiment would be considered scientific, but at least it was an aquarist checking carefully. For a measured six months I ran my soft coral reef system with cover glasses on (they were properly cleaned throughout the period of course). Then I removed them and after a further six months considered any changes. Apart from the expected increase in evaporation there weren’t any or none that I could see or measure. The corals seemed unaffected one way or the other though soft corals are generally easier than the hard types. This maybe doesn’t suggest anything to anyone but I found it interesting nontheless. The lights in use were fluorescents.

So if there wasn’t any difference in the experiment, why didn’t I put the cover glasses back? Simply because I read an article by a respected marine aquarist and scientist that cover glasses could interfere with the ‘breathing’ of the aquarium. The seawater surface  acts as a large air/water interface where oxygen exchange takes place (provided there is sufficient seawater movement). Cover glasses could impair it. Also, to my untrained mind anyway, cover glasses must have some effect on the light passing through either on intensity or spectrum. Finally – maybe I’m lazy, I don’t have to clean them!

There is another advantage cover glasses provide which should be mentioned. When the aquarist goes on holiday the aquarium is either left to automatics or a family member/friend kindly agrees to feed as needed and also do the top ups. With cover glasses evaporation is greatly reduced as already stated, this makes it easier for the kind person helping out and the required reservoir of top up water is also reduced. If an auto top up is in use then again less water is required in the reservoir and/or it is less likely to run out.

So when I’m at home to tend my aquarium cover glasses are not in use. I’ve kept them though for when I’m not here.

Most of the reef aquariums I’ve seen are open topped and that seems the way to go. Fish only systems could have cover glasses if the aquarist is willing to accept the additional cleaning.




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Marine Aquarium Lighting Is Really Important Mon, 17 Feb 2014 10:50:48 +0000

A well set up and stocked mature marine aquarium is beautiful, even to those who are not interested in having one. Anyone passing by one of these aquariums, be it private or public, will stop and gaze.

Setting up a marine aquarium takes time and patience but when done it is well worth it. A lot of attention is paid to the equipment and quite rightly so. The livestock depend on the correct choices so that the habitat is suitable and healthy. Lighting has long been used in the home and commercially to enhance for different effects. Spotlights are an obvious example, another is colour designed to attract attention or maximise the feeling of comfort. Colour is also used in the marine aquarium but in this case it has to be more specific particularly in a reef system. On the natural reef many corals and other lifeforms are collected from between 15 and 30 feet (not precisely of course!). Because of this depth they have become, over a very long time, accustomed to the light in this area. At the surface of the sea all the colours of sunlight are present. The sea absorbs light as it passes down into greater depth. The first to disappear are red, orange, yellow, indigo and violet. The deeper into the sea the more blue it becomes. At the levels mentioned  the ‘red end’ of light has gone and therefore corals have evolved to make use of that remaining, particularly blue. This is not an overall rule as there are lifeforms that are close to the surface and can make use of other colours, but for the marine aquarist blue is important.

Why should blue be important? Within the flesh of most corals kept by aquarists are tiny algae cells, millions in a single coral. These algae cells, called zooxanthellae, help the coral to feed and dispose of waste. They are very important to the coral and if something goes wrong and the coral ejects them, called bleaching, there is trouble. We’ve heard of coral bleaching on the wild reefs, a cause for concern. So the lighting that we provide is very important. (There are more causes for coral bleaching than lighting problems.)

Lighting types can be identified by means of the Kelvin scale, simply shown as a K after a number. For example, at the seawater surface natural sunlight is rated as 5,500K, the number representing a very warm white light. 20,000K represents a cold looking blue light and represents deep water areas.

With a fish only system the lighting is not of such great importance as there aren’t any corals present. The fish need to see and the aquarist needs to see the fish, that’s just about it. However, if warm white tubes were to be used there is a danger that unwelcome algae could be encouraged so this is not a good idea. It is suggested that two tubes are used with reflectors, one white and one blue as described for a reef system. This will also enhance some fish colours as a bonus.

The reef system is more demanding with light. Again, it is suggested that two colours are used, one being white and the other blue. As many tubes as can be fitted with reflectors should be used. The whites and blues should be in equal numbers and fitted alternately, or if it is an odd number the extra should be a white. It can’t be any white or any blue though, we need to have specific light output. With fluorescent tubes these should be what is commonly called ‘marine white’, that is tubes that are 10,000K or close. The blue tubes are again commonly called ‘marine blue’ and are often sold quoting ’400 -480nm’ (nanometers) and could also state that the output peaks at 420nm. Why? This is because the range and peak quoted represent the area required in particular by the corals for their tenants, the zooxanthellae.

This all sounds rather technical but for the aquarist it isn’t a problem. Fluorescent tubes are often sold declaring their intended use hence ‘marine white’ and ‘marine blue’. There isn’t a requirement to put on a white coat and look scientific. The manufacturers have designed their lights for specific use and are usually easy to select.

The blue tubes have another advantage and this is that they could make some corals look wonderful because they fluoresce. This is caused by the UV output from the tube impacting the coral and is not a problem. The photo at the beginning shows my aquarium with all fluorescent lights on. The photo above shows the aquarium with blue lights only. The following photo shows the lighting array, three whites and two blues. The aquarium is 24″ deep and contains soft corals.

There are of course lighting systems other than fluorescent tubes. Though more expensive the LED array is the most modern concept. Used a lot on reef systems but possibly declining by now because of running costs is the metal halide system. These mentioned systems have not been covered here as it is more advanced and fluorescent tubes are perfectly suitable for ‘standard’ aquarists. Remember though to have regard to the depth of the aquarium, that is the depth the light needs to penetrate.

Having white and blue lights has the advantage that the aquarist can arrange a ‘dawn/dusk’ sequence using electric timers. It is bad practice to plunge the aquarium into darkness or instantly expose it to bright light. Have the blue lights come on first (dawn) and 15 minutes later the white lights. At the end of the day have the white lights go off first and 15 minutes later the blue lights. Though not matching the natural events it works well. The lights should run between 8 to 12 hours a day. Try 10 hours, then reduce or increase by half an hour over an extended period if wanted (nothing should be rushed).

As time passes there is a requirement to change fluorescent tubes. This is because as they age the light output reduces and the spectrum can shift. If tubes are not changed then there could eventually be a detrimental impact on the zooxanthellae and therefore the health of the corals. The manufacturer should suggest the frequency of renewal. Fluorescents should be changed no later than one year old, I change mine every nine months. My soft coral reef has been running for over 10 years now with the same type of lighting system and has flourished. The fluorescent tubes are T8′s, not the later T5′s. Sometimes the corals are a bit too vigorous and this leads to some ‘fragging’ (pruning of corals where the cut off pieces are grown into new corals). In the first two photos a cut can be seen on the bottom left large coral.

The number one on the list of importance for a marine aquarium, fish only or reef, is seawater quality. With a reef system, a very close second is lighting. Pay attention to both and the aquarium should be truly beautiful.

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So You’re In Charge, Yes? Tue, 14 Jan 2014 18:26:52 +0000


No this isn’t about domestic arrangements! This is about marine aquariums and the persons they belong to.

We, the aquarists decided on having a tropical marine aquarium. We spent a long time deciding on a lot of things, ‘what size should it be?’ and ‘where will it go?’ are examples. Following there are all those decisions about equipment such as filtration, heaters, skimmers, pumps, lighting, thermometer, test kits and others. By the time all this was satisfactorily completed perhaps there was some surprise that the fish and maybe corals stage had actually been reached. All the care that had to be taken in selection of the livestock should be really worthwhile.

So we are in charge, sounds pretty like it to me. But if we stop to think for a little while, most of the decisions we made are based on the needs of the livestock. Seawater salinity and temperature levels are what they require. Habitat, as far as we’re able, is what they require. So yes, we are making the decisions on what to have but to a large extent those decisions are being dictated to us. So who or what is doing the dictating?

Fish and corals have evolved over a very long time and their requirements are pretty clear. Most corals require the correct lighting, corals and fish require clean seawater in a defined temperature range. There should be an approximation of dusk to night and dawn to day using electric timers. Seawater movement needs to be adequate for the disposal of waste and adequate oxygenation. There needs to be minimised stress which means there needs to be hiding places for fish to enter, acknowledging their in-built instincts. Food needs to be available of the correct type. So it goes on.

Ok, we do all of that so we’re in charge, stop going on, it’s obvious isn’t it? Yes it is. We put the system together, we run the aquarium, we feed the livestock, we maintain the environment by means of test kits and partial seawater changes. The aquarist is in charge.

However, is not the aquarist also an employee? No, not to the livestock though sometimes it could seem that way. We are an employee to a very powerful another, ignore her demands at your peril. Yes, some heads might be nodding in agreement, the boss has to be female! She’s Mother Nature.

If we can keep our aquariums within Mother Nature’s limits then all will be well. The limits are what she defines for our fish and corals. If those limits change, for example seawater quality changes in a particular way, Mother Nature could take advantage and give you a lovely garden of green algae. If a beautiful fish is mistakenly introduced and it grows too large the problems this causes will be clear.

So day to day aquarists are in charge, from the beginning to the end of the aquarium’s life. We should remember however that we are dictated to by another, and as long as we keep Mother Nature happy we should be too.


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Testing Or Testing Patience? Fri, 13 Dec 2013 18:31:47 +0000


Testing is an important part of the marine aquarists routine and includes the obvious one, seawater condition tests. Included though not quite the testing as generally understood is checking powerhead performance and the like.

It took quite a while getting the aquarium up and running. Fish only or reef, patience at times was a test itself as the routines of what and which were completed. Eventually of course all was done and there, a lovely marine system.

The aquarist has to feed the fish of course and this is never missed as it is obviously a necessity and fortunately also a pleasure. This happens daily, though the odd miss is not a problem.

As time passes there is another potential problem. The routine of testing the seawater becomes more of a chore. This is not to say that interest in the aquarium has diminished, simply that doing tests over and over week after week could become boring as nothing ever changes. The basic tests are of course to do with seawater and cover ammonia, nitrite and nitrate plus specific gravity (sg). So the aquarist decides to decrease the frequency of the tests and do them fortnightly. This in fact is fair enough as long as there has not been any negative variation in the test results. Testing is to prove the condition of the seawater and if the tests are positive it is safe after a few months to test less frequently. However at the first sign of quality reduction testing should be increased until all is proved to be quality stable again. A question needs to be asked as well – why has a reduction in quality occurred? The appearance of increased nitrate for example could indicate excess feeding.

It is the same with routine seawater changes, the need to carry these out is essential but the frequency is not written in stone. The changes are required to ‘freshen’ the seawater and at least partially replace lost trace elements etc. The minimum suggested amount of seawater to change each week is 10% of the net gallonage (including any sump). The amount of seawater changed can be varied upwards if for example there is a problem with nitrate. If the seawater tests as mentioned previously are fine then routine changes could be made every two weeks. A further reduction in changes is not recommended. Change frequency is also based on the organic load of the aquarium – the number of fish being the obvious example – more fish, more food, more waste, more seawater quality reduction.

Testing is not confined to special liquids and test tubes. ‘Tests’ include such things as observing the fish when feeding them ensuring there aren’t any abnormalities to be seen, checking the outflow of power heads (very easily done), checking the protein skimmer is properly functioning (again very easily done) and the like. Don’t forget the lights – are they getting a layer of salt on them, if so wipe it off with a damp rag (but beware of bulb heat), a salt layer on the bulbs could reduce the amount of light getting where it’s needed. Do the lights require changing? Fluorescent tubes and metal halide bulbs have a finite life before the output power and light freqency begin to change. Poor lighting will not do corals much good.

So testing doesn’t need to test patience as well. The aquarist should carry out frequent testing when the aquarium is new, however as above if all is well there isn’t anything wrong with a little adjustment in testing practices. Adjustments should never be extreme and the aquarist of course should never put ‘I can’t be bothered’ first!

We aquarists much of the time think we’re in charge. Well we are to a considerable extent, we put the aquarium together, we introduced the livestock and we decide what the fish get to eat and how often. The truth is, however that we are in fact supporting the one really in charge, Mother Nature. For example, fish have evolved over a very long time and require appropriate food, some even specialized food and failure to provide it will bring reduced health or worse. If we slacken our observations of the aquarium environment too much and seawater quality reduces then Mother Nature could take the opportunity to introduce more life. How about some of that green stringy algae that grows everywhere? Maybe another type could appear to vary the scene a bit, a carpet of reddish brown algae covering rocks and sand. Getting rid of these could really test patience. No aquarist wants that.

As experience increases routine testing and seawater changes can be varied on a reasonable basis without mishap. Applying patience is part of this routine. For the most part this produces a happy aquarist and that’s what we all want!


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Avoid Overfeeding Mon, 18 Nov 2013 13:00:02 +0000


Feeding marine fish is very enjoyable, an interaction between the aquarist and his/her livestock. Some fish are usually easy to feed such as damsels and others could be more difficult such as some butterfly fish.

Feeding is so enjoyable that there is the danger that too much food will be given and this is very easily the case particularly for the beginner. Fish require sufficient suitable food to remain healthy and active as do all living things. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to tip the scales towards trouble though.

What trouble? To answer this requires another question – what happens to uneaten food? Excess food will sink into the reef and become inaccessible. There isn’t a ‘living reef’ in a fish only system but many of these systems have rocks installed. In a very mature system, particularly a reef aquarium, there could be many tiny organisms that could consume some of this food, but this cannot be relied upon. So this lost food rots and eventually produces nitrate, a definite undesirable. The guideline nitrate level for a reef system is 10ppm nitrate or less and for a fish only 30ppm or less, excellent if lower levels can be achieved. Overfeeding is likely to cause nitrate levels to go in the wrong direction. Nitrate levels are helped by weekly partial seawater changes but the amounts involved would need to be significantly increased if nitrate rises excessively. The problem with excessive nitrate is that it can cause corals to negatively react by not opening properly. It can also lead to that yukky, horrible encrusting and/or stringy and clogging nightmare called undesirable algae. Once undesirable algae has a foothold it can be difficult to eradicate though steps can be taken to do this – one of these being the reduction of nitrate.

‘Ah’, says the more experienced aquarist, ‘reef systems mostly, sometimes fish only, contain live rock and this can help with nitrate reduction’. That’s correct, some of the bacteria involved in the nitrogen cycle do utilise nitrate. With a strong presence of nitrate the numbers increase but there is a limit and this can be seen by the aquarists with live rock and elevated nitrate levels. The hardworking bacteria do a fine job but should not be overly relied upon. Why do systems using live rock get nitrate problems?

So overfeeding is abusing the system. Is it cruel? Well, it could be argued yes from the purely livestock point of view but in this case usually the answer is no. Why? The aquarist involved, very often inexperienced, is rightly concerned for the welfare of the fish, wanting to be sure they are adequately fed. It is the opposite of cruel, a good concern that the fish have enough food and are not stressed in this way.

The fish don’t help though. Go near the aquarium and some fish may rise and beg, cruising in the food area of the aquarium. Naturally the less experienced will wonder if they are hungry and could put some food in for them. Resist additional feeding.

Fish will usually grab available food to ensure they get it and not another even if they are not particularly hungry. They take advantage when the chance is available. They could grab some food and force it down. This could mean that some earlier food is expelled semi-digested to make room. Of course this will rot down and assist with the production of nitrate.

Fish should obviously be fed suitable food so they are likely to take it. Then it is the method of feeding that should be considered. Flake food for example should not be dumped on the seawater surface for the fish to get as it sinks. It could sink in too large an amount and much of it could reach the rocks or bottom. Some of it could go over a weir or be taken into piping and be lost and rot. Auto-feeders can cause trouble as they dump dry food on to the seawater surface.

A good way to feed (assuming the fish kept are not specialist feeders but the ‘easier’ fish the less experienced are likely to have and should have) is to use some small tweezers and a very small container. At feeding time put some high quality marine flakes in the container, not too many. Add some fresh water (or seawater from the aquarium if preferred), enough to cover the flakes, this soaks them so they will sink. With the tweezers, drop two or three flakes into the aquarium and watch the fish take them. The feeding area should be generally away from pump outlets and weirs. Provided the fish take them, continue to drop flakes in. Some fish will lose interest, or start to, before others. When they all seem to be losing interest stop feeding, even if there are flakes left in the container. Throw the excess away.

The above method does not solve the problem of fish overeating as described earlier. It does massively reduce the lost food though there are always one or two flakes that escape. Of course, flake should not be the only food fed – occasional brine shrimp etc will be enjoyed. The control of the food should be adhered to whatever the food type.

Before experience is gathered there could still be a concern about the fish having enough food. Quietly stay at the front of the aquarium and observe the fish. Each one will eventually present a head to tail view, that is down the length of the fish with the head foremost. The shape should be rounded and flow from head to tail, not thin.

After a short while the aquarist will learn the amount of food that is likely to be taken by the fish and will probably be surprised that the amount is quite a lot less than expected. If a fish by unlikely chance didn’t get enough at one feed then the fish will be fine until the next feed. Many fish find additional food in the aquarium, particularly a mature reef system.

Along with ongoing adequate maintenance which includes partial seawater changes, careful feeding will contribute immensely to the health and well-being of the livestock.


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So, Some More Fish Then Sun, 27 Oct 2013 13:13:45 +0000


Having a stocked reef aquarium is wonderful in many ways. I’ve had reef systems for many years. The latest one has been with me for 11 of these.

How do I know the period I’ve had the tank? I keep a notebook and when I opened the record I called it ‘John’s Box with Water In (and some rocks)’! The system was mature on 21st October 2002.

I don’t fully stock the system with fish intentionally keeping the number low for the sake of seawater quality. There were only three fish, a Flame Angel (Centropyge loriculus), a Flashback (Pseudochromis diadema) and an Electric Blue Damsel (Chrysiptera cyanea). The first two went in on 1st April 2003 and the last on 15th April 2003.

All went well until March 2006 when I had to accept that the Flashback had died. How or why I don’t know, one day it was there and eating well without any signs of problems (if a little fat!) and then it wasn’t. I assumed it had got stuck in the rocks somewhere though this seems questionable.

On 11th April 2013 the blue damsel died. There was a problem but nothing I could do anything about. The fish had been in the system 10 years which is a good life in captivity (I believe).

So now there is just the Flame Angel. It looks all wrong, just the one though the fish shows no symptoms of loneliness! The fish is a little more nervous when it appears for food probably because it hasn’t the reassurance given by the presence of others. It looks to be in top class condition.

I’ve considered whether to leave things as they are or introduce a couple of newbies. If newbies are to be introduced then consideration is needed.

There isn’t any chance of over stocking as any introductions will be two small fish (both introduced together to divide the angel’s attention). There is the question of compatability which is very important. There is also the question of disease, it would be awful if the new fish brought this type of trouble to the Flame Angel. Would I feel guilty! Care is very much required. A quarantine tank is needed unless there is 100% certainty that the dealer has done a proper job.

The first fish being considered is the Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto). This is a beautiful little fish that shouldn’t present any trouble on introduction. It is undemanding and without doubt a colourful asset to the reef.

The second potential introduction is…. I still don’t know! I’ve always been attracted to the Long-nosed Butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus). They are not the gamble that the Copperband Butterflyfish is as they usually eat well and are not as finicky. However, they have the potential to grow to circa 5.5ins (14cm) and I’m concerned about the swimming space – though the fish is not an open water species the corals in the system reduce the space a lot.

The considerations being given to new introductions to my system are so important. These considerations were given 11 years ago and despite one loss that is not understood (the Flashback) the fish and corals have had a long healthy life.

I want that to continue.


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It’s Been Going Quite A While, Now What? Sun, 22 Sep 2013 16:13:24 +0000


When it all started it was exciting, also frustrating and patience testing. A new marine aquarium can test patience and discipline fairly severely if procedures that are necessary are followed.

These procedures are based on research - what is needed for the type of marine aquarium that is to be constructed and how much will it all cost? Of course that’s after the decision has been made on whether to have corals and if fish are wanted. It seems very confusing at first but with patience it becomes clear and the aquarist is usually rewarded with a lovely display.

The aquarist finds it fascinating, beautiful corals with colourful fish moving among them. A real mini ‘natural reef’. It was all worth it! Feeding is not a chore, for a long time this and routine maintenance is interesting and enjoyable.

Strange as it could seem to most aquarists, as time passes the excitement diminishes and interest gradually wanes. How can this be? A properly maintained marine aquarium is a microsystem of Mother Nature, surely there is always enough to interest and entertain. With a few aquarists this is not so.

As time has passed and the initial excitement has reduced, the fact that the aquarium is so lovely has maintained interest. As more time passes the ‘sameness’ starts to bite. Routine maintenance is repetitive week to week. There is little change within the aquarium though corals and fish could have grown. Even feeding the fish becomes a repetitive ‘need to do’ rather than ‘want to do’. The aquarist needs a stimulus to continue.

What often happens is the aquarist goes off to the local store and purchases another fish or another coral or both. Introducing another fish puts a higher load on the filtration system (biological support). If the aquarist has loaded the aquarium with fish to the suggested maximum then there could eventually be consequences. Another coral doesn’t represent much of a higher load but there could be space consequences. If there is room for another suitable fish and/or coral then fair enough.

These new additions can hold the aquarist’s interest for a while, but eventually the same thing is probably going to happen – interest wanes.

There are ways that could re-stimulate interest. First, perhaps a deeper study into the occupants of the aquarium, fish and corals, could be made. A better understanding can sometimes generate interest. Where do the fish and corals come from? How do they breed/multiply? What natural predators are there? Also, an expanded trawl of the internet for comments about how other aquarists keep the same fish and corals could be interesting, bringing up different foods and/or feeding methods.

Despite declining interest, perhaps an attempt at breeding the ‘easier’ fish could be attempted, though it must be stated that waning interest and breeding do not mix well at all. How about corals? Much to the surprise of many aquarists, the delicate corals are not that difficult to propagate. Again, a trawl of the internet should enlighten the aquarist about the ‘how’. Producing new corals (commonly called ‘fragging’) can be very interesting and could even produce some income if they are sold to a dealer. They can of course be given to other aquarists.

Perhaps the aquarist feels that there isn’t any point in trying to stimulate interest. If that is the case, there isn’t! Keeping a marine aquarium isn’t only a joy (or should be) it is also a responsibility. The life in the aquarium has been put there by the aquarist and the responsibility is to maintain a high quality environment. This isn’t going to occur if there isn’t any interest at all. Routine maintenance will start to be skipped and the aquarium environment will decline with eventual sad consequences.

In the case of the last paragraph, the best thing is for the aquarist to cease owning an aquarium. Steps such as advertising, web forums or conversations with other aquarists/potential aquarists and local dealers could lead to the aquarium as a whole going to a new owner, or it could go in parts. Whatever, the routine maintenance of the system should continue until all the livestock has gone.

It is unusual I would say for a marine aquarist to lose interest. Personally, I have kept these systems for around 40 years and they still interest me and I do my best to achieve a long life for the inmates. However we are not all the same and for those few who do lose interest, protect the livestock using discipline. Once they have gone to a new owner, there is the satisfaction that the right thing has been done.

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Why Not Add A Shrimp? Mon, 19 Aug 2013 18:06:22 +0000


Once the reef aquarium is up and running, the fish stocked and the corals settled, many aquarists feel that everything is finished. It could well be finished and the aquarist satisfied and if that is the case all is well and good.

However it can sometimes happen that the aquarist gets that ‘itch’, that desire to add something to the aquarium. Often this could be a fish but this should not be done if the aquarium is fully stocked, it’s bad practice. However, if the aquarium is understocked then provided all is well another fish could be the way – but it is another fish even though it is likely to be a different colour and/or shape. Why not take the opportunity to add something ‘reefy’ and definitely different such as a shrimp.

There are quite a few shrimps which can be obtained, however some are shy and not seen a great deal and some are a bit less than fully sociable. One shrimp (ok, it happens to be my favourite!) is the cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis). This shrimp is very attractive, doesn’t hide much and is sociable with its own kind.

As the name implies, in the wild these shrimps will earn a living by removing parasites, dead skin etc from fish as well as eating anything else generally available.

The shrimp could grow to about 3″ (8 cm) which is not excessive for most reef aquariums.

Obviously it is important that there aren’t any other mobile invertebrates that could cause the cleaner shrimps trouble. Most reef aquarium fish are compatible, though if there is any doubt research needs to be done. In addition when shrimps are being transferred from the transport container as usual the seawater needs to be equalized by adding very small quantities of aquarium seawater to the container every 10 minutes. Float the container in the aquarium if possible to maintain and equalize the temperature. After an hour transfer the shrimp to the aquarium, but never expose them to air make sure they are under water all the time.

As said cleaner shrimps are sociable and two in the aquarium make a great sight. They could attempt to clean fish and maybe succeed occasionally though my experience is that the fish are generally not really interested. The shrimp will take any eatable odds and ends and quickly learn that food intended for the fish is just as palatable to them. They’ll position themselves on a high rock as soon as food is detected in the seawater and attempt to grab some, and even swim into the seawater column in pursuit though when swimming they are not as adept as fish. The shrimp can make feeding time even more interesting as using a small pair of suitable grips a flake or whatever can be delived to them which they’ll accept with gusto. They can even be fed from the fingers once they are settled and used to routines.

At aquarium cleaning times the shrimp will sometimes rise to a high rock (maybe expecting food) and if the aquarist’s hand is placed in the seawater the shrimp could move onto the hand and explore. Maybe the hand is seen as a strangely shaped fish.

It isn’t unknown for a suitable pair of cleaner shrimp to breed in the aquarium with the female carrying the eggs under the abdomen. Once the shrimps hatch however they’ll soon be gone becoming just an extra feed for the fish. If breeding is intended there shouldn’t be any fish or other potential predators present.

As always it is important that the seawater is of high quality and the reef has places where the shrimp can hide. Don’t worry immediately if a shrimp disappears for a while then a seemingly dead shrimp is noticed. The shrimp could have moulted. Given healthy aquarium conditions cleaner shrimp will live long and are easy to care for. They provide something different and are also colourful, endearing and sometimes amusing.

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Heat And The Marine Aquarium Sun, 14 Jul 2013 11:27:40 +0000


We all know that the occupants of a marine aquarium for the most part (there are cold water marine aquariums) come from warm areas of the world. It follows that these creatures have evolved to live within temperature limits and so the seawater within the aquarium has to be warm.

Maintaining the temperature of the aquarium is easy nowadays as there are available reliable and reasonably accurate submersible electric heaters. One heater is sufficient of course but it is better to have two smaller ones in case of failure, if one fails then the heat is not entirely lost.

The generally acceptable temperature range is between 74 and 80 deg F. This is not to say that a variation between these temperaures is acceptable, it isn’t. The heaters or controlling device needs to be set at a temperature within the range. There will be some variation but it will be a degree or two only which is acceptable as the change will be over a reasonable period. A thermometer needs to be in use so that the temperature can be monitored. Most use a stick-on type which adheres to the outside glass of the aquarium and gives an immediate indication, some keen types check the accuracy of these with a glass one which they dip occasionally into the seawater.

There is more to heat than electric heaters and temperature settings and it is applicable to all marine aquarium types. In the winter and other cooler months the heaters will work to maintain the set temperature. In the warmer months as the natural air temperature rises, the aquarium seawater will heat up and the heaters will have an easier life. This warming will increase during the aquarium’s daylight hours as the lights will come on. Some lighting, for example metal halides, have an impact as they heat the seawater and, in combination with the natural air temperature increase, the rise can be substantial. The seawater could heat up way past the design temperature and into the danger zone. What temperature does the danger zone start at? 84 deg F is the often given figure. This doesn’t mean that as soon as the temperature reaches this figure the fish will keel over and the corals shrivel up! They will however be subject to unacceptable stress and it is possible that overlong exposure could be fatal. Higher seawater temperatures mean a higher metabolic rate for the life in the aquarium. It also means a reduction in oxygen levels.

So it’s obvious that unacceptably high temperatures need to be avoided. There are a few ways of doing this and they are not all ‘high-tech’. For those with medium or large aquariums particularly where metal halide lighting is in use, the chiller is useful. These cool by use of an electric pump taking the seawater through the chiller. The temperature is set say 2 deg F above the heater setting. When the heaters turn off and if the seawater continues to heat up the chiller controls it, switching off when the temperature setting is reached. A chiller is only useful to those with an aquarium where overheating is regular and needs regular attention, either all year round or in the warmer months.

Many aquarists only face temperature problems occasionally and there is a way of dealing with this reasonably effectively. Any cover glass in use should be removed. Then all that is needed is a fan, one of those electric room fans with a fan blade diameter of perhaps 12″ plus (remembering that larger fans move more air for larger aquariums). These are easily obtained and often have a switch which permits the fan to move back and forward covering a larger area. Two types of fan are available, pedestal and desk. There obviously needs to be an electric plug conveniently nearby (watch out for persons tripping over the cable). I use a desk fan which is stood on the ground and angled up, it’s easier to store. The fan is switched to its highest speed and the back and forth motion switched off. The fan is aimed at the front corner of the aquarium so that a cooling air stream flows along the front glass panel and the shorter side one. This causes the aquarium to act like a radiator and shed heat. The important thing with a fan is to bring it into play early and not leave it until the seawater temperature is way overheated. Heat reduction with a fan works but is slow compared to a chiller. It should be stated also that there are those who prefer a pedestal type, this is aimed over the seawater surface to cool. There is an increase in evaporation and this has to be monitored, though automatic systems will deal with this anyway as will the aquarist when the seawater is topped up manually. An electric fan should always be kept well away from any position where seawater – or any water – could contact it.

Looking ahead to counteract problems nowadays is much easier as we have weather forecasts which are fairly accurate or the temperatures of the warm months are well known. Being prepared to protect our delightful marine aquariums is really worthwhile, avoiding any potential disaster.

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