Aquarists Online 2017-12-23T16:13:52Z John Cunningham <![CDATA[My Marine Aquarium, My Interest]]> 2017-12-23T16:13:52Z 2017-12-20T15:54:20Z

I now have just the one reef aquarium, I’ve had others but the day arrived when my wife and I moved home. The original aquariums were closed down. Eventually a new one was opened, which was initially mature on 21st October 2002 (I know this as I have an aquarium notebook).

The photo above shows ‘dusk’ (it could just as well be ‘dawn’). The blue damsel can be seen lower right at the front. The white lights have turned off. The fish react to this by cruising about slowly then disappearing into the rocks, as they would on the wild reef. Or coming out of the rocks cautiously if it’s dawn.

There are three fish, I purposefully keep the aquarium understocked. The boss of the aquarium is a Flame Angel (Centropyge loriculus) which cruises about appearing quite imperial. The Flame went into the aquarium on 1st April 2003. There’s an Electric Blue Damsel (Chrysiptera cyanea) which went in on 2nd April 2014 (I had one earlier but it died, I have no idea why). The damsel darts about and completely out swims the Flame, it certainly gets it’s share of food. The third fish is a Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto) which went in on 2nd April 2014 with the damsel. The Gramma replaced a Flameback (Pseudochromis diadema) which also died, again why I don’t know. There wasn’t any sign of disease or illness or any problems. The Gramma avoids as far as it can the Flame but there is very little trouble between them.

Over the years the aquarium has really developed, I tend to follow the idea that ‘simplicity means success’. This isn’t always correct of course but does apply in my case (no comments please!). Seawater quality is very high with regular partial changes. Lighting is fluorescent and the tubes are changed every 6 to 9 months. Sand is not kept on the bottom but over time growth has covered the glass which showed making it look very natural. Natural growth of large ‘leafed’ algae is beautiful, and surface growth on the rocks has made those look very natural too. The rocks are live and do the biological filtration (the original filtration was two power filters but these were removed one by one over a lengthy period with regular seawater tests for problems. One of the filters is now used for surface agitation and helps with oxygenation).

The stage was reached when some corals were becoming too large and bothering others. So, nervously they were cut as needed, a very clean cut was ensured by a very sharp pair of scissors. The photo below shows a cut toadstool, it’s recovering, the new head can be seen.

The photo above shows a toadstool (near the top). This specimen appeared from nowhere – well, that can’t be true. It’s just that I didn’t place it, it appeared very small and has grown to the current size. The photo below shows a freshly cut and transplanted cutting from a coral (‘frag’), it’s hard to see as it is coloured very similar to the rock, but is just below the whitish coloured rocks near the bottom. These whitish rocks were placed by me to hopefully keep the coral in place until it manages to attach itself.

It’s always a little worrying cutting a coral. The coral shrinks and I always hope it will re-expand before too long – and they do. No doubt designed this way in case of damage on the reef. The photo below shows a few matured rocks. All the rocks in the aquarium look natural with varying colours. They really do add to the naturalness of the aquarium scene. The fish swim in, out and among them and of course it gives them security.

At night snails appear, quite a lot of them. They’re small, approximately 3mm or so in diameter. They are clearly algae eaters so there is enough to feed them going by the numbers. They do not overcrowd the scene by any means and they only appear at night. They do not cause any kind of problem. There is another area where little creatures live – during construction of the tank I created a small triangular area by placing a piece of glass across the back left-hand corner. In this area I constructed a deep sand bed (DSB). Over time little creatures have appeared. The fish cannot get at them as there isn’t any access from the main aquarium. Also, I have difficulty viewing the DSB as most activity is at night so I need a light and this frightens them away. Perhaps a red-light torch would be better.

The photo below shows the Flame Angel making an appearance to see what the strange human is up to. Nosey but ever ready to disappear again. All three fish usually appear if I go to the aquarium, I get the definite impression that I am required to put some food in but – sorry, you’ll have to wait!

Toadstools have been mentioned, the next photo below shows six baby ones growing like the one previously described. In this case I think they have come from the stalk left behind when the toadstool re-attached itself to another rock. When they get big enough I’ll have to reluctantly remove most I suppose, and perhaps transplant one somewhere else if I can find the space.


The last photo above is a general view down the back of the aquarium, at the front bottom and in the distance at the top can be seen the ‘large-leafed’ algae mentioned earlier and various corals.

Keeping a marine aquarium provides good decoration for the home, in my opinion anyway. Fortunately my wife agrees so clearly it’s in the correct place, in our case the hall. There is a lot more to a marine aquarium though besides being decorative furniture. It is a demonstration of the beauty and adaptability of Mother Nature’s creations, also an education for the aquarist into what happens where and why. In depth knowledge is not required as long as the, shall we say ‘basic rules’ are understood. It certainly isn’t difficult. The life in the aquarium is in the aquarist’s care and that is a  responsibility. It’s great fun and it’s very rewarding.

(Photos: John Cunningham)


John Cunningham <![CDATA[Food And The Marine Aquarium]]> 2017-12-02T16:27:14Z 2017-11-26T12:51:36Z

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.


John Cunningham <![CDATA[Saving Electricity In The Marine Aquarium]]> 2017-10-30T16:52:00Z 2017-10-26T12:10:03Z

Saving electricity, now there’s something that everyone is interested in. Usually usage can be lowered to a greater or smaller extent.

With the marine aquarium it starts at the planning stage. Buying the correct size heater(s) is important, buying smaller ones doesn’t help, they’ll either be inadequate to the detriment of the livestock or switch on and off regularly achieving nothing. There is always the potential for an oversized heater to go wrong. It could stick in the ‘on’ position and overheat the seawater quite quickly. A correctly sized heater could stick of course, but the seawater will heat up more slowly increasing the chance of the aquarist spotting the temperature increase. A good idea, although it does increase the setting up cost, is to use an external heater controller, one that has a sensor in the seawater. The actual heater is set two degrees higher than the controlling thermostat unit meaning the heater is always in the ‘on’ position. Thus the thermostat is in full control of the heater. Don’t expect the thermostat unit to be accurate in its settings indicators, always check the seawater thermometer. Accurate temperature is important in saving electricity, too high or low a temperature is a waste or a danger to livestock.

The temperature of seawater should be between 68F (20C) and 86F (30C). Running the temperature at the two limits or close to them is not acceptable because of livestock health and behaviour changes. It is best, for the livestock and economy, to run at a temperature between 75 and 80degF (24 to 27C). Many run at 77F (25C) as an acceptable level. The livestock come first and as this temperature is acceptable to them and not excessive in electrical demand then there’s the answer. Some advanced aquarists up the temperature for specific reasons but most aquarists stick to the normal temperature. It is safe for the livestock and minimises the demand for electricity. To achieve the required temperature use a heater rated at 2 watts for each gallon if the room is heated, if there isn’t any room heating 4 watts for each gallon. If there are doubts then use 4 watts. Remember that the gross gallonage of the aquarium will be reduced when rocks and sand are introduced. The gross gallonage of the aquarium is easily known. To discover the net gallonage either have the rocks and sand in place when the aquarium is filled and measure the seawater as it goes in (not a useable system if ‘live’ items are being introduced), or measure the amount removed when the rocks, sand etc are introduced (not so easy with sand). This sounds a messy way of doing things but it works. A better way is to put the sand into the aquarium and measure from the top of the sand in order to calculate the gross gallonage, then when the rocks go in measure the displacement. The sand allows seawater to penetrate of course so it isn’t fully accurate but it does work. At the very least, use an acceptable percentage reduction as suggested on the net at a reliable source. Heaters, best when controlled by an exterior thermostat, contribute largely to the electrical demand of the aquarium. As said, large and small heaters could be similar in demand, smaller ones staying on longer, but it is safer to use correctly sized ones.

Ok, what else could be done? When setting up the aquarium, consider conserving heat and thus saving electricity. If this is done, there should be less demand on the heaters. At the setting up stage sit the aquarium on a sheet of polystyrene of good thickness. This will cushion the aquarium base and provide insulation. With a new set up or already set up aquarium, use polystyrene on the back and sides. Polystyrene is normally white and this doesn’t look good when viewing the aquarium so before it is put in place paint it, it’s easily done. When put in position it enhances the appearance of the reef or other decorations. The sheets can be cut very easily and put into place with silicone glue. Thus the aquarium has stopped being a radiator, at least on the sides where the insulation has been applied. This should save a good few watts.

There are some aquarists in warmer areas who do not need heaters just a cooler. These use electricity as well of course and the same principles apply, making sure the temperature is set to an acceptable level for the livestock and with consideration for saving electricity. The use of insulation also applies, though this time consideration has to be given to whether heat loss is good which it could be, heat loss could mean the cooler has to be active less often. In very warm temperatures, it could be in reverse, the insulation could help stop or slow down heat absorption from the air.

A separate heater is required for the partial seawater change. The same principle can be applied. The amount of seawater for the partial seawater change will be known and this amount is normally the same on each occasion. So again the heater can be the correct size, kept purely for the exchange seawater preparation.

There’s other items that consume electricity but these can’t be interfered with, such as lighting, circulators, skimmers etc. However, as long as the demands of the livestock are considered and the heaters are correctly sized and set up the ongoing running cost of the aquarium is reasonably controlled.

The aquarist should always keep an eye out for advancing technology. This in itself could save running costs. Though new technology can be expensive it often saves electricity. For example, once many reef systems relied on metal halide lighting, now LED systems are available. LED systems electrically are very reasonable to run and also often offer the aquarist extras such as automatic dimming and the like.


John Cunningham <![CDATA[Marine Aquarium Longnose Butterfly Super Fish]]> 2017-10-01T11:46:46Z 2017-10-01T11:40:41Z

There are lots of fish that could be kept in the marine aquarium, some of them for advanced aquarists, some not suitable for reef systems, some over aggressive with care needed in selecting tank mates and others of course suitable for beginners. The fish being considered here is not considered suitable for the complete beginner but for the aquarist who has successfully kept an aquarium, fish only or reef for a year or more. The fish is the Long-nosed Butterfly fish, Forcipiger flavissimus. The appearance is lovely and different.

Any aquarist looking for a fish will be put off by the similar appearance (to an extent anyway) that the Longnose butterfly has to the Copperband butterfly Chelmon rostratus. Having done the initial research before any purchase, as should be done, the aquarist could well be put off by the reputation of the Copperband butterfly. Difficult to feed the usual marine aquarium food to the Chelmon rostratus the aquarist will no doubt wonder if this similar looking fish is the same. It isn’t, basically as simple as that. There is always the ‘odd one out’ of course and this could apply to any fish, absolute guarantees don’t exist. However, the Longnose is a reasonably good bet. It is necessary to check the fish over (as with any fish) before purchase. The fish is generally hardy and should adapt well to a life in an aquarium with the usual requirements: a good diet, high quality seawater and reasonable unaggressive tankmates. Very important to the aquarist, they are usually good eaters and should adapt well to their new diet, which should be varied though they seem to prefer live foods and frozen food suitable for marine life.

The longnosed butterflyfish is suitable for the fish only and reef system, though the fish will probably eat featherduster and tube worms and maybe investigate without damage a coral or two. When confronted by a potential aggressor the fish will probably face on to the other fish, tip forward a little and raise its dorsal fin making it more unnattractive to aggression. The fish is from the Indo-pacific and could grow to 6ins (circa 15cm). The fish is sensitive to seawater quality and high quality must be maintained by regular partial seawater changes and regular check measurements. As usual it is important that there aren’t any overly aggressive fish in the aquarium that could cause problems.

This beautiful fish is not, as said, like the Copperband, but is reasonably hardy and reasonably easy to feed. In a reef system the only danger is it is likely to prey on mobile and sessile invertebrates.
Again the fish is not recommended for the new inexperienced aquarist but those with some experience of success through proper maintenance and care. Once acclimatized and settled the fish will be a super addition to the aquarist’s miniature marine world.


John Cunningham <![CDATA[Coral Reefs, The Big Conservation Group]]> 2017-08-13T11:53:43Z 2017-08-13T11:47:01Z

Did you know that if all the coral reefs in the world were put together they would cover an area the size of France? The coral reefs are under threat we are told. This is because of global warming and also, to a lesser extent, pollution. Reef corals show their unhappiness by, for one, bleaching, the loss of their zooanthellae which turns them white. Some coral reefs are not showing problems, some are.

There are forces in the world battling the above problem, thank goodness. An agreement has been reached to fight global warming, the Paris agreement. That seems to be a big step forward. There are other much smaller groups who tackle the coral reefs directly, removing rubbish and trying to reduce areas of pollution. There are those who educate and try to open the eyes of locals who use the coral reefs for their living. This has been successful to a large extent: corals are not normally taken from the reef itself but are grown from frags close by, meaning the reef is not plundered. Also, fish are not stunned by the use of poison which makes them easy to catch but reduces their potential lifespan, instead they are caught by divers or from the surface with nets. Thus other unfortunate lifeforms on the reef are not damaged or do not die of poison.

Yes, we humans do eventually learn. We do eventually advance thank goodness. We must always be very wary of Mother Nature, as she can be very powerful on a large scale and a small one. If we upset the balance excessively then there will be a price to pay and probably not a very nice one.

There is another conservation group who generally do not see themselves as such. They represent knowledge levels from adequate to quite advanced to scientific. They work with Mother Nature doing their best to provide conditions that will please her. The lifeforms that are kept and sometimes studied are provided with the best that can be offered today, this week, this month, this year and onwards. This group makes sure that the demands of Mother Nature are met in order to ensure as far as possible the needs of the lifeforms kept. In return Mother Nature offers satisfaction and pleasure. This group are, of course, marine aquarists.

Marine aquarists are generally world wide. They keep aquariums from very small to very large. Some keep fish only while others keep coral reefs – well, by Mother Nature’s standards very small reefs. Kept properly the coral reefs develop into fascinating life. To keep them properly the aquarist has to make some payment in money and time, but overall it isn’t that much. Occasionally, often weekly, some fresh seawater goes in to freshen things up and partially replace used up ingredients. The lifeforms need food, some is obtainable from within the aquarium but usually the aquarist feeds additionally as required. Conditions are monitored and if necessary corrected.

Are you a marine aquarist? Probably so if you’re reading this. Have you ever considered that you are a conservationist? No. Well, that’s normal. However, when you and your aquarium are put together with all the other aquariums around the world the combined overall size of the reefs and the numbers of lifeforms is immense. The reefs will not cover the area of France no doubt and the creatures will not equal the numbers in the wild. But the marine hobby represents a captive back-up, if you like. All you have to do is your bit which is, as said earlier, to keep the lifeforms happy and healthy by doing the things that should be done for maintenance. You’re not going to put your creatures back on the coral reefs of course, but your responsibility is to be, well, just that, responsible.


John Cunningham <![CDATA[The Sun Coral, A Good Addition To The Aquarium Reef]]> 2017-07-22T15:03:07Z 2017-07-17T11:51:31Z

Keeping a marine aquarium is popular and understandably so, be it fish only or reef. The reef type is the more natural as it has a mix of corals and fish forming a mini reef. Keeping a mini coral reef is not that difficult nowadays (always subject to what life forms are kept) as the equipment available is much more advanced than, say, 20 years ago. What corals to consider is a major question, and one that could be introduced to a correctly aged and mature aquarium is the sun coral, properly called Tubastrea aurea. In the wild it could grow to around 20 ins (circa 50cm).

The natural colour of the sun coral is a vivid orange to yellow. It lives on Indo-Pacific reefs and is a very common species there. In the wild the coral lives at the mouth of small caves or in a crevice. This means there is one big advantage with this coral and that is that it does not rely on symbiotic algae. Nevertheless the aquarist needs to pay proper attention to the lighting system as no doubt there are other corals in the aquarium that do have symbiotic algae.

The sun coral feeds by trapping food particles with its tentacles, these tentacles are around each head. Think of a vase of round flowers with very short stalks, the coral is a little like that. With high quality seawater, proper placing and a reasonable but not over strong seawater flow the coral should be happy. Properly fed and placed the coral is likely to reach a size of around 4 ins (circa 10cm).

Introducing the sun coral to a mature aquarium is simple. The spot it is to be placed in has already been selected of course, an area lower down with reasonable seawater flow. The coral should not be removed from the bag, but let the bag hang in the aquarium seawater. Remove a small spoonful of seawater from the bag and discard, replacing with a spoonful of aquarium seawater. Repeat this slowly until the whole bag has been refilled with aquarium seawater, the number of spoonfuls can be reasonably guessed. On completion, the coral can be placed in the aquarium again ensuring there isn’t any exposure to the air.

It is likely the newly introduced sun coral will remain closed for a week or more. If it appears to be closed for an excessive amount of time (disregarding any impatience of the aquarist!) feed the fish with some de-frozen food, brine shrimp or the like. This could tempt the coral to open. Another way is to squeeze a shrimp in the seawater.

The coral could well feed when the fish are fed as above, though not every time. However, if not, then it can and should be fed using a ‘small-grip’ pair of tweezers. Consider each ‘flowerhead’ as an individual and place a small piece of food, such as a bit of shrimp, in each flowerhead. Fairly large bits of food can be used. Feeding the coral is essential and should be done each day or every other day, this presumably is because of the lack of symbiotic algae. A well fed coral could well produce new heads, which appear at the base of the existing ones.

The sun coral is something a little different for the captive reef. As said there aren’t any symbiotic algae and therefore it can live in an area of no use to other corals. The coral is not fully an ‘easy option’ as it needs feeding attention regularly. The colour is lovely and once settled it will add colour and a difference to a lesser used area of the aquarium.


John Cunningham <![CDATA[Seawater Movement In The Aquarium]]> 2017-06-12T10:36:29Z 2017-06-11T11:03:41Z

One thing that fish and corals are very used to is seawater movement. The fish are well adapted to it and corals also use it for the capture of food and the disposal of waste. It follows that there should be reasonable circulation in the marine aquarium, particularly so with a reef aquarium. Seawater movement is also important for oxygen. Fresh water holds less oxygen than air, heated fresh water less and seawater even less. Oxygen is taken in at the seawater surface, so adequate movement ensures that seawater at the surface is changed continually maintaining adequate oxygen content.

There are three types of movement, turbulence, laminar flow and surge. The first, turbulence, is the random movement of seawater in all general directions. The second, laminar, is flow in one particular direction. The final type, surge, is where the movement is forward and then back again repeatedly.

Considering the least used first, surge, this is created by using special pumps that are designed to switch on and off repeatedly, thus the seawater is forced forward and then naturally flows back. On the surface of the aquarium this can cause a wave effect. Pumps could have built in direction change up to a point, so on each on period the seawater is pushed in a different direction. The direction ability is limited of course. The movement is fairly natural but more strictly rhythmic than nature’s own. These pumps are not used by many aquarists.

Turbulence is a useful type of movement and is created within the aquarium reasonably easily along with laminar flow. The most common pump, the power head, is used. Basic power heads are submersible electric pumps that constantly pump seawater in one direction. They are sold in different strengths being capable of pumping different amounts of seawater, often stated in litres per hour. So how is the strength of the power heads determined? The general amount for movement in the aquarium is 10 times per hour of the net gallonage excluding any sump (more for hard corals). So a net 40 gallon aquarium would be around 400 gallons per hour, the 400 being divided by the number of pumps, eg. 4 pumps would be around 100 gallons per hour each. This is not a strict rule but a guideline. As said, pumps often have their output stated in litres per hour so the answer is easy (though not exact, one gallon = 4.5 litres). Excessive pumping power needs to be avoided. Wait though, these pumps produce laminar flow, not best for the aquarium. Power heads are the most popular with aquarists so lets have a look at placement to produce laminar flow and also turbulence.

Power heads are easily placed anywhere in the aquarium, high, low, in corners on flat surfaces. The output direction can be adjusted. In a smaller aquarium two would suffice, one in each rear corner. As said, the flow leaving the power head is laminar and corals won’t appreciate this, so the output flow of both pumps is broken by pointing the pump at a reasonably close flat glass surface so the flow output hits the surface at an angle, the front glass is often used. The flow bounces off the glass and changes into a wider more multi-directional movement. The flow from the other pump does the same being altered in the same way on another flat surface. The two flows interact with each other and create a multi-flow, or turbulence. If the pumps are of adequate power, the seawater movement throughout the aquarium is effected. There will still be a few areas of low movement but this is unavoidable. The important thing is the flow is suitable for the corals and comfortable for the fish. Once reasonable positioning of the power heads has been achieved then placement of corals is easier, making sure the corals have sufficient light and seawater movement that is adequate but not excessive.

What of the bigger aquarium? It’s the same thing but because of the greater distances involved the power heads would need to be more powerful. However, it isn’t that straight forward! If the power is too high then seawater movement could be excessive even if the pumps outputs were directed as in the previous paragraph. So an alternative is to use more normally powered pumps but have additional ones located in the middle of the aquarium. These could have their outputs directed forwards to the front glass or whatever is required to achieve turbulence. Again, once this is achieved the corals are placed ensuring they have suitable flow and light.

Placing the power heads does not have to be as described, it is a matter of practicality and then checking. The aquarium could be temporarily filled with tap water and the flow checked, remembering that when any rocks are placed the flow could alter. Whatever the size of aquarium, once the power heads are delivering adequate seawater movement the livestock can begin to be placed (assuming the aquarium has been properly initially matured). In the early weeks a check needs to be kept on the seawater movement making sure that corals are not being over exposed. Generally fish should be comfortable.

An example has been described using the cheapest option, power heads which are readily available. Once the power heads are correctly positioned the fish and any corals should be happy and settle. Given time, a lovely natural looking aquarium should evolve.


John Cunningham <![CDATA[Substrate Selection For The Marine Aquarium]]> 2017-05-14T11:26:11Z 2017-05-14T11:21:49Z

Substrate of some description is more often than not used in the marine aquarium, be it fish only or reef. This gives a more natural appearance at the same time as requiring more effort in maintenance. Some aquarists don’t use anything on the aquarium bottom, simply waiting for natural growth to cover any naked glass. So it’s obvious that a bottom covering is not a requirement in the same way as a heater or protein skimmer.

Sand is the obvious choice for the substrate and the decorative type needs to have a depth of less than 2 inches (circa 5cm). Dirt could build up quite quickly in the sand bed and it needs to be reasonably easy to maintain. As said, if there is no desire for more maintenance, then don’t have a substrate and wait for natural growth to take care of things – some patience is required. If not using sand then rock decorations can be placed more closely to the vertical viewing glasses, ensuring that there is plenty of room for an algae scraper and siphon tube.

So a substrate is required, it’s been decided. First thing is to get the sand and the obvious place is the local store. Bags of suitable sand are sold so there’s not a problem. Make sure the sand is coarse grained, not the very fine stuff. However, the sand is not ready for immediate use. Though it could be stated to be pre-washed, it’s worthwhile cleaning it again to be sure – it’s possible that a bit or bits of metal or other debris could be present. In easily managed amounts give the sand a wash, just tap water will do. Keep the eyes open and ready for anything that doesn’t look like sand! Let the washed sand drain and if it dries out it doesn’t matter. In case any bits of metal have been missed, perhaps a fairly powerful magnet could be passed over it, this will take time as the sand has to be spread out somewhat. Obviously ensure that dirt can’t get in it.

The clean sand can be placed in the aquarium but rocks must not sit on the sand, they must sit on the base of the aquarium. If on the sand the rocks could move and cause trouble. Place the rocks in the aquarium first directly on the aquarium base. Then place the sand, it will be necessary to push it into the crevices that can be seen from the viewing panels, use a small stick, spoon etc if needed. When seawater is put in the sand could wash further causing incorrect and unsightly depth or gaps, so further sand should be placed. It won’t be long before the sand bed is satisfactory. The aquarium will be looking good already!

Once the aquarium is matured then fish will be slowly introduced (unless it is a corals only reef which is not likely). Once settled, the fish or one or two of them could decide to re-model the sand. Fair enough, after all it’s their home. Any changes in the sand appearance caused by fish won’t last because of cleaning, unless they’re well inside the rock formation (another reason for having the rocks on the glass base).

Eventually the sand will begin to show dirt and discolouration, this could be after a few weeks or a good bit longer. The sand is cleaned with a siphon, the straight tube needs to be long enough to reach the bottom without difficulty. Seawater is siphoned with the flow rate controlled so the sand rises in the tube but then falls back, dirt being light continues to rise and is extracted. Obviously a good time for this exercise is at a partial seawater change. If the amount of seawater to be extracted is complete before the whole available sand bed has been done, then do the remaining part at the next partial seawater change. Once a little experience has been obtained siphoning the sand is very straightforward. Also, it’s best to siphon the sand before dirt has penetrated to the bottom, the top layers are easier to deal with than the full depth.

Given time, the aquarium is enhanced by the use of a substrate. The overall effect is natural looking. However, as said, the alternative is to allow Mother Nature to do the decorating though she does want to take her time.


John Cunningham <![CDATA[Disease, A Threat To The Marine Aquarium]]> 2017-04-17T17:13:12Z 2017-04-17T16:53:59Z

     Disease, the word is enough to make an aquarist shudder. However, though the threat remains, disease is not so likely nowadays because of the increase in containment quality with capture, transport, sale and final home. The threat is still there though.
     The first action to combat disease is in fish selection. Observe the fish very carefully, all of the fish including breathing. Fish obviously vary but something untoward usually stands out. Watch breathing rate, check scale covering and fin quality. Do fish other than the ones of interest show signs of trouble? Any clear doubts? Don’t buy until satisfactory answers have been obtained. If there isn’t a satisfactory answer, don’t buy even if the fish of interest appears ok.
     To reduce the threat even with apparently healthy fish, don’t put them straight into the display aquarium, use a quarantine aquarium. This is a smaller system with a little very basic rock decoration (so the fish can hide and reduce stress) where any disease problem can be dealt with without danger to the main display system. This applies particularly to the reef aquarium as diseases are very difficult to deal with because of corals etc. This is because some disease cures, copper for example, will kill coral life. Definitely not wanted! Put the purchased fish into quarantine for a minimum of two weeks, much better four. If all is well they can be transferred. If not then a cure can be applied without endangering other life. Quarantine for new purchases is necessary when the final home is a reef system and is highly recommended for a fish only system. The purchase of a quarantine tank isn’t that expensive. Of course there needs to be a heater and a circulation pump, plus adequate biological filtration. Protection of expensive purchases, remembering that natural life is being protected, is really worthwhile. When not in use the quarantine tank can be put away out of sight, but it’s there just in case.
     Some believe that the use of ultraviolet (UV) light in the display aquarium is good. It is though not a necessary piece of equipment. A pump moves seawater at an appropriate flow rate past a UV light. Any small life forms that are hit by the UV light are killed or damaged. This reduces the danger of disease, but it doesn’t remove it. Obviously for the organism to be put out of action it must pass the UV light and there are plenty of places, particularly in a reef system, where seawater flow is low and organisms will not be dragged into the input of the UV unit. UV unit use is good but not a sure fire anti-disease method. It will also damage or kill beneficial organisms. (Biological filter organisms will not be harmed as they are static in the biological filter media.)
     Let’s have a look at just three disease types. There are others and advice can be found on the internet or in hobby books for them.
     Marine Ich. The fish look as though they have tiny white spots all over them, or partly so. The spots start with just a few, perhaps one or two and look a little like grains of salt. The fish could well scratch itself on decorations as the spots are an irritant. Treating this disease is reasonably straight forward using copper, but again not in a reef system and preferably not in a fish only system. There are alternatives remedies available but research is required to ensure they are effective. Dose the seawater according to the manufacturer’s instructions, follow the instructions carefully. With this disease it is best to treat all the fish not just those that show spots. This is because the parasites are for a time free swimming and if apparently healthy fish are left in the display aquarium they could be infected thus negating the curing process. The life cycle of these parasites is that they grow on a fish, fall off, reproduce, then become free swimming looking for a host. After reproduction they’re more numerous. If the parasites can’t find a host in four days or so they die. So it’s clear that a quarantine aquarium for new fish – from the very beginning – is worthwhile protection from serious risk.
     Velvet. This is very similar to Marine Ich except the spots are much smaller. Eventually they make the fish look as though they’re covered in fine dust. The treatment is by copper. Again, alternative treatment may be available but checks on effectiveness are required.
     An important point is that none of the medicated quarantine seawater, definitely with copper and a reef system, must enter the display aquarium. So when treatment is complete the fish must be removed from the seawater completely and re-introduced to the display aquarium. If temperature and salinity are kept the same in both systems then problems shouldn’t occur.
     Fin Rot. This problem can be identified by noting fins which appear whitish in colour and maybe have die back. This could be caused by one of two things. First, seawater quality. As has been said on other occasions, seawater quality is the number one requirement. If the quality has fallen, put it right by seawater changes and keep it correct. The second possible cause is fin nipping by another fish. This can only be proved by patient observation. If fin nipping is noted then the offending fish will have to be removed, protection from this quite drastic action is to ensure all fish are compatible before purchase. If the fin rot continues then fungal rot could have started, this is very contagious and the suffering fish will need to be removed for treatment in the quarantine tank.
     The disease problem is always a possibility, it hasn’t gone away. Happily disease doesn’t rear it’s ugly head too often nowadays and there are many aquarists who never have a problem. The maintenance of high quality seawater, appropriate quality feeding and ensuring as far as possible that all fish are healthy and compatible before purchase are essential. Having a quarantine system for incoming fish and the ability to separately treat discovered disease problems is also good.
John Cunningham <![CDATA[Chemical Filtration And The Marine Aquarium]]> 2017-03-14T11:06:57Z 2017-03-13T12:00:36Z

     A marine aquarium requires high quality seawater, be it fish only or reef. A reef aquarium presents the highest demand but in any system it is irresponsible to allow quality to fall. One method of increasing seawater quality is by the use of chemical filtration: activated carbon and/or phosphate removal media. To be more accurate, phosphate removal is really a weapon against nuisance algae, but generally this algae is an indicator of lowered seawater quality.
     Not everyone needs to use activated carbon or anti-phosphate media, I have never used either and count myself fortunate. There are ways of trying to ensure that chemical filtration is never needed. First, when mixing seawater is the tap water of good quality or should a reverse osmosis (RO) unit be used? Then there are regular partial seawater changes. Then there is the use of an efficient protein skimmer. Following this is the knowledge of the feeding demand and not overfeeding. Of course in the first place the aquarium should not be overstocked. Unfortunately there are those aquarists who do everything correctly but still have problems.
     How should carbon be applied? This is easy if an external canister filter is in use as a layer of carbon can be placed inside. The carbon can be in granular form or in a manufactured carbon mat. If a canister filter is not in use then the easiest way is to obtain a small one. There are other ways, for instance a fluidised reactor, but the external filter is the easiest.
     Activated carbon should be used over a limited period of time, the reason for this is that dissolved organic compounds (DOC’s) in the seawater are absorbed by the carbon. This means the carbon has a limited life span and as a guideline it should be changed every three weeks, check the manufacturer’s advice. The used carbon should be thrown away. Normal checks of the seawater should be made. Hopefully the activated carbon should demonstrate its usefulness.
     Why is phosphate a problem? One of the indicators of lower than required seawater quality is the appearance of nuisance algae. Some algaes are welcome but not the stringy overgrowing or soggy mat stuff, usually green. Once this algae appears it can be slowly removed, one of the weapons is to remove a food source, phosphate.
     Test the seawater. Phosphate is usually measured in parts per million (ppm) and a good reading is 0.03 or less. If the reading is 0.10ppm or higher then action needs to be taken. Phosphate removal media is usually in a small granular form and can also be used in a canister filter. It generally lasts longer than activated carbon. Because this media is smaller there is more likelihood that the seawater will create channels in the media reducing its effectiveness. This can be overcome by mixing the phosphate media and the activated carbon together. This obviously demands more space in the external filter, so if the filter is used for biological filtration it could be better to obtain another small external filter. Ensure that pads are placed before and after the media. Mix the activated carbon and phosphate media together in the amounts recommended by the manufacturer. The media should be changed when the one with the shorter life demands it, this is usually the carbon.
     Testing should continue and, hopefully, improvements should be measured and seen. Patience is necessary as with most things in this hobby. If partial seawater changes continue, equipment such as the protein skimmer are maintained and feeding carefully done, plus the filter media is changed when required, then in time hopefully thumbs up!
     (Photo: John Cunningham, part of aquarium)