Friday, May 22, 2015

Calcium Reactors, Part 2: How to Use a Calcium Reactor

This is Part 2 in a two-part series. Miss Part 1? Click here.

A calcium reactor is a great way to maintain calcium and alkalinity levels for aquariums with high demands. Today we are going to explain how to properly dial in your calcium reactor.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, you should know that each calcium reactor is different and the actual setup may vary. This article and the accompanying video are intended to be a general guideline to show you the key points and provide helpful tips that will help you get your reactor operating properly.

After assembling your reactor and getting the tubing connected, you want to find a secure place to mount the reactor. The reactor can be mounted above or below the water level in your aquarium when using a feed pump. Just be sure you have enough room for the CO2 tank and reactor. The outlet tubing needs to be attached to your sump or aquarium with the end of the tubing above the water level and the adjustment valve wide open for the time being.

Next, turn on the feed pump to start filling the reactor with aquarium water. Be sure the CO2 gas and recirculation pump on your reactor are turned off. Because your reactor is taking water from the aquarium, you will probably need a couple of gallons of extra saltwater on hand to fill up the tank after the reactor is full. It is best to have the feed pump pull water from a calm area of the aquarium to avoid air bubbles from entering the reactor.

Once the reactor is full, water will start pouring back into your tank via the outlet tubing and it is then safe to turn on the recirculation pump on your reactor. Allow the reactor to run for a few hours without injecting any CO2. This will help remove any air bubbles and allow the calcium reactor media to become saturated with saltwater to force out trapped air. Check closely for any water leaks and ensure air is not entering the reactor from your feed pump.

Once all the air has escaped and your reactor is being fed properly with aquarium water, you can set the outlet drip rate. The exact drip rate varies, so follow the manufacturer instructions—we typically recommend 40-60 drops per minute to start. Slowly open up your CO2 regulator to start injecting CO2 into the reactor. Be sure the solenoid valve is plugged in and use the adjustment valve on your regulator to adjust the output of CO2 to be about 10 x CO2 bubbles per minute (about one every 6 seconds).

Allow the calcium reactor to run and break in for a few days at these initial settings. Watch the pH in your aquarium to ensure it is not dropping to dangerous levels and test your calcium and alkalinity every day and record it. Be sure your calcium, alkalinity and magnesium levels are balanced before turning on the reactor. This will make it much easier to see the effects of your calcium reactor and dial it in correctly. It is really important to remember while setting up your reactor that you need to make very small changes and allow time for the changes to take effect.

After a few days, you will need to check the effluent (or outlet water) that is dripping back into your tank with a with a pH test kit, a pH monitor or a pH controller. Most modern calcium reactors have a pH probe port on the reactor itself, which makes things easier, although you can also use a drip cup or just collect some of the water before it enters your tank. Your target effluent pH level is between 6.5 and 6.7. If the pH is too high, you will need to either increase the CO2 bubbling rate by two or three bubbles or decrease the effluent drip rate by 5-10 drops. If the pH is too low, increase the drip rate or cut back on CO2.

After making changes, allow the reactor to run for a day. Then test the effluent pH again before making further changes. A pH controller like the Pinpoint pH Controller, Neptune Systems Apex AquaController or the Digital Aquatics Reefkeeper can be very helpful in operating the CO2. You simply set the controller to only allow enough CO2 to keep your pH within range. It will control the CO2 injection by turning the CO2 regulator's solenoid on and off based on the pH target range you set.

Initially, you will need to test your aquarium daily to see if your alkalinity and calcium levels stay the same, increase or decrease from day to day. We highly recommend keeping a log of your test results.

After about a week of daily testing, you should be able to tell if you need to add more or cut back. If you need more calcium/alkalinity from your calcium reactor, increase your effluent drip rate ever-so-slightly. Keep an eye on the effluent pH to ensure it stays within the 6.5 to 6.7 range.If the effluent pH rises out of range after increasing your drip rate, simply bump up your CO2 rate.

If the reactor is adding too much calcium/alkalinity into your aquarium, decrease your effluent drip rate. It is likely you will also need to decrease the CO2 injection rate. As mentioned earlier, make small changes and allow time for the changes to take effect before making further adjustments. Injecting too much CO2 will cause the media to melt or create a pocket of CO2 gas in your reactor which would then require you to start all over.

Continue with daily testing until you are confident the reactor is supplying your tank with the calcium and alkalinity levels needed. It is a balancing act that will require regular testing and small adjustments until it is operating smoothing. We recommend checking on the reactor and your calcium and alkalinity levels every week or two thereafter. You only need to refill your CO2 cylinder after several months of use and replace the reactor media about once a year. If you added Magnesium media to the reactor, be sure to test regularly so you'll know when to add more. If you did not, you can use a magnesium supplement to keep your levels where they should be.

You may occasionally need to make larger adjustments to your calcium or alkalinity levels. We recommend using an alkalinity buffer or a calcium supplement. A calcium reactor is intended to maintain your current levels, not make large increases. If you try to use the reactor to boost your levels, you may cause large pH swings, which are dangerous to your aquarium and can possibly melt your media, forcing you to start all over again.

Calcium reactors are one of the more complex pieces of reef aquarium equipment. But with a little understanding and the willingness to give it the attention it needs to get up and running, a reactor can really save you time and money—not to mention help you grow breathtaking coral colonies.

If you found this article and/or the accompanying video helpful, please "like" and share them with your reef keeping buds considering a calcium reactor. Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you can stay up-to-date on the latest hobby news and get expert advice from our staff.

If you have questions, leave us a comment below or contact us because we'd be happy to help you out. Until next time... take care and happy reef keeping!

This is Part 2 in a two-part series. Miss Part 1? Click here.

4See all calcium reactors and accessories available at Marine Depot.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cool Reef Tank Gear You May Have Missed in 2015

Many exciting new products have already hit the aquarium hobby five months into 2015.
  • EcoTech Marine updated their award-winning line of propeller pumps with the VorTech QuietDrive, which are quieter and offer greater output than their predecessors without any additional cost. 

  • Aqua Illumination finally released their much-anticipated AI Prime LED, bringing wireless aquarium lighting control to more hobbyist's homes thanks to its affordable $199 price tag. 

  • The smaller version of the Maxspect Gyre, the XF130, once again revolutionized the way we we move water in our aquariums.

  • Neptune Systems released the DŌS at the tail end of 2014 and just dropped the DDR (DŌS Dual Reservoir), which adds a whole new level of intelligence to automated dosing.
In addition to the latest gear from these industry heavyweights, we've literally added hundreds of other new aquarium products to our store this year.

We thought it would be fun to share some of our favorite new items with you today that may have fallen under your radar in 2015. Stay tuned to get the lowdown and get a closer look at some of these items in action.


AquaMaxx has been busy and have actually brought a couple of new items to light. The new WS-1 Protein Skimmer is a slimmed down, in-tank version of the best-selling HOB-1 Protein Skimmer. This skimmer packs the same great performance and features of the HOB-1 but is small enough to fit inside your sump or filtration compartment with its small footprint of 5.9" x 3.2".

AquaMaxx also released their new ROX 0.8 Carbon which is one of the industry's best-performing carbon filter medias as well as an assortment of naturally collected dry aquarium rock. We also have word that AquaMaxx Q-Series Protein Skimmers and Omega BioPellet Reactors will be available within a short time.


Seachem has a nifty new device that makes measuring and mixing economical powder supplements fun and easy. The new Seachem Digital Spoon Scale can weigh up to 300 grams quickly and accurately making it easier than ever to get a precise amount of powder supplement mixed up for your tank.


CaribSea introduced the original Life Rock last year and has just released a shelf rock version of this beautifully decorated dry rock. CaribSea Life Rock Shelf Rock is colored to mimic natural purple coralline algae so it looks great right out of the box and is perfectly shaped to build interesting aquascapes that are unique yet functional for mounting corals.

American Marine

American Marine just came out with an awesome digital thermometer that is truly accurate and affordable with a wide range of calibration capabilities. You no longer have to guess or hope your heater or chiller are operating correctly. With the American Marine Pinpoint Digital Calibration Thermometer in action, you can be sure your temperature readings are true and precise.

Two Little Fishies

Calibrating your refractometer has never been easier thanks to the new AccuraSea Seawater Reference and Calibration Solution from Two Little Fishies. It is made of natural seawater so you can calibrate your refractometer to accurately read the salinity in your tank with no variances. You can also use it to check the accuracy of your hydrometer. Because it contains all of the various components found in natural seawater, it can even be used to check the accuracy of aquarium test kits such as calcium, alkalinity, magnesium and more.

Innovative Marine

Innovative Marine just introduced an innovative line of aquarium feeding tools called Gourmet Gadgets. The Gourmet Defroster is an in-tank, magnetic frozen food defroster that Innovative Marine promises is "well thawed out." The Gourmet Grinder is the industry's very first thumb-operated pellet and flake food grinding system that dispenses food effortlessly with a simple pump and grind. The Gourmet Grazer is a magnetic mounted, snap lock feeder that secures seaweed fish food in place for pickers and grazers like Angels, Tangs, Butterflies and Mollies.

You can learn more about all our new additions by visiting the website. If you found this blog post and accompanying video helpful, please like and share it with your fellow fish nerds. Don't forget to subscribe so you never miss an episode!

Last but not least, we've been doing a ton of giveaways this year, so search for the keyword "giveaway" next time you're on the site so you can enter for your chance to win something cool for tank.

Until next time… take care and happy reefkeeping.

4See all the new aquarium products available now at Marine Depot.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bacteria for Beginners, Part 1

COOTIES? Eeoww! 

Bacteria gets a bad name because of the serious illnesses some of them can cause. But not all bacteria are bad, in fact most are not just good, but critically important for life on Earth. To help understand what role bacteria play in our reef tanks, we are introducing a multi-part series on bacteria written by Adam Spaulding, a PhD in Microbiology and a reef tank enthusiast who frequents a number of forums under the moniker Tibbsy.

Grab a drink, find a bacteria or trillion to cozy up with, find your favorite Snuggie, and let's talk about why you really should be welcoming your microbial overlords.

Bacteria are your friends. Really. But just like friends, sometimes one starts to dominate your discussions and lives, and you need to take a break. Sometimes one kind of bacteria overtakes your little slice of the ocean and that leads to various problems like cyano or cloudy water.

This series of articles will try to explain why some problems occur and possible solutions. The information within will be simplified for the sake of reaching a wider audience, but more information can be found in many texts. Readers who want to learn more are encouraged to find textbooks and research articles to expand their knowledge.

Bacteria: Masters of the Ocean

Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms that are found pretty much everywhere on Earth. Bacteria all have the same general shapes: spheres, rods, and filaments. They are also generally all around 1-2µm in size (500-1000 bacteria would be a millimeter; 25,400 of them would equal an inch). They may be similar in shape and size, but they are extremely diverse in their lifestyles, metabolism, and their roles in the ocean.

To begin, let's clear up some nomenclature in order to understand some of the discussion below. Bacteria can be broken up into 2 major metabolic divisions: the autotrophs, which produce their own food through inorganic compounds (those not containing carbon) and chemical or light energy; and heterotrophs, organisms which cannot make their own food and must obtain their requirements for life from organic compounds (those containing carbon).

Within those two major divisions come another set: phototrophs, which obtain their energy from light; and chemotrophs, which obtain their energy through chemicals, either organic or inorganic.

Another distinction can be made between bacterium that uses inorganic compounds (lithotroph) or organic compounds (organotroph).

All of these pieces can be put together to explain how a bacterium obtains its requirements for life. For example, nitrifying bacteria (discussed later) are chemoautotrophs, meaning they do not require light or organic compounds for growth.

What do bacteria do in the ocean?

There are many roles that bacteria play in the ocean. Bacterial metabolism in the ocean includes photosynthesis, carbon degradation, the reduction and oxidation of sulfur, nitrogen fixation, denitrification, and nitrification. Bacteria can also cause disease and infection in ocean organisms. Truly, microbes rule the oceans.


The autotrophic microbes, both photoautotrophs and chemoautotrophs, lay the major foundations of the ocean's ecosystems. These organisms are the primary producers. They utilize light and other molecules to generate organic material for the heterotrophs and the rest of the food chain. (Note: Photoautotrophs use light and CO2, whereas chemoautotrophs use inorganic compounds to synthesize their needs).

The autotrophs of the ocean include the Methanogens, Sulfur-oxidizers, and Nitrifying bacteria. Methanogens and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria are important for the oceans; however, they have almost nothing to do with our aquariums so they will not be discussed further in this article. Readers are encouraged to find other sources to read up on these fascinating microbes and their roles in thermal vents and the ocean.

Our major focus on autotrophs in our tanks will be on the Nitrifying bacteria, important for their role in the nitrogen cycle. These bacteria and the nitrogen cycle as a whole is discussed in much greater detail in our next article. Nitrifying bacteria are obligate chemolitotrophs that are critical for the conversion of ammonia into nitrate. These are the bacteria involved in cycling a tank and they are the absolute foundation our tanks are built upon. An imbalance in these can yield catastrophic results for our systems.


These bacteria are the bread and butter of the ocean, playing many important roles but largely taking part in the food chain. These microbes utilize organic compounds in the presence of oxygenated water. These microbes grow much faster, with their metabolism generating 10-40 times as much energy as autotrophs. They are not dependent on light or inorganic molecules, which can be in limited supply and as such, heterotrophs can grow like crazy—when you get a bacterial bloom in your tank it is because of these kinds of microbes. They are critical for our tanks, just as they are important for the ocean, however. In our tanks, we care about them because a subset of heterotrophs are responsible for the conversion of nitrate to nitrogen in our tanks, the process called denitrification. This will also be discussed later.

Before we continue, it is very important to emphasize just how incredibly limited our tanks are in terms of microbiology. It's estimated that ~99% of the bacteria in the ocean cannot be grown in a lab or in our tanks. We know, through various techniques, that they exist but we can't grow them or work with them in the lab. We mention this because while bacteria are the foundations of our reef tanks, our reef tanks are artificial. We simply cannot replicate the vast diversity of microbial life (and therefore the full natural ecosystem) of the ocean in our tanks. It’s not possible to do so currently. We must all understand that our tanks are not literal snapshots of the ocean or reefs—they are artificial ecosystems in which we do our best to control as much as we can to make corals colorful and fish happy.

To summarize our introduction to bacteria:
  1. Bacteria are essential to the ocean and our reef ecosystems
  2. The metabolic diversity of bacteria is crucial
  3. Metabolic roles include photosynthesis, organic carbon degradation, sulfur reduction and oxidation, nitrogen fixation, nitrification, and denitrification.
  4. Autotrophs are primary producers, generating organic material, which is then utilized by heterotrophs.
Our goal is to keep our microbial tank inhabitants in balance.

As we mentioned, our tanks are limited in terms of the microbes important for them, so it's important to know just which ones are in our tanks and how to make them happy.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series where we discuss what really happens in the nitrogen cycle, why some people never have a cycle while other have a never ending cycle and more.

About our Guest Authors

Tibbsy: Adam is a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology, primarily studying bacterial pathogens and vaccine development against them. Recently he has switched fields to marine microbiology. He is a pico and nano tank enthusiast, having kept tanks from 5 to 12 gallons. He currently has a 10 gallon Innovative Marine Nuvo mixed reef and is setting up a 3g pico at work.

MetroKat: Kat has been blogging and testing products for Marine Depot since 2014. Her current system is a 50G CADlights Artisan mixed reef with a custom hybrid light and the new Gyre . She was Tank of The Month on Nano-Reef in 2012, featured on Reef Builders, Marine Depot and recently won Most Creative Nano on Reef2Reef.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Calcium Reactors, Part 1: What They Do, How They Work and What You'll Need to Set One Up

While frequent water changes and kalkwasser are sufficient for aquariums with low calcium and alkalinity demands, a fully stocked thriving reef tank will simply demand more.

A 2-part supplement, such as ESV B-Ionic, is a great way to maintain calcium and alkalinity. However, as your tank matures, it can become quite pricey and will require daily dosing. Joe from the Marine Depot staff, for example, has a 150 gallon reef aquarium and goes through roughly $400 worth of 2-part solution each year.

A calcium reactor is a more advanced method of maintaining calcium and alkalinity in a reef tank. It eliminates many of the common problems reefers experience using other methods. Intermediate and advanced hobbyists alike generally love the advantages a calcium reactor offers and achieve great success using them. However, for new hobbyists and even some intermediate reefers, setting up and operating a calcium reactor may seem intimidating.

This article and the accompanying video encompass part 1 of a 2-part series that will help demystify calcium reactors. We are going to explain how calcium reactors work, show you each of the individual components required to run a calcium reactor and hopefully ease some of the hesitation you may have so you'll feel more confident and motivated to automate your calcium and alkalinity supplementation.

Buying a calcium reactor does cost a lot more up front than other calc/alk supplementation techniques. The good news is that it is cheaper and easier to maintain in the long run. Once you have your calcium reactor dialed in, you simply need to check on it every week or so, refill the CO2 periodically and replace the calcium reactor media annually.

Another cool part about using a calcium reactor is that the media you are dissolving is actually composed of real coral fossils, so you are replenishing exactly what your corals need—and in the correct ratio. One of the biggest benefits of using a calcium reactor is that it will maintain much more steady levels of calcium and alkalinity, reducing the large swings commonly associated with dosing.

We've covered the benefits. Now let's talk about the gear you'll need to get a calcium reactor up and running.


Once you have acquired all the parts you'll need, you're just about ready to piece everything together. But first you'll need a solid understanding of the role each part plays before you dive in.

CO2 gas is needed to fill your CO2 bottle. You want food or medical-grade CO2. Restaurant supply and medical gas vendors can fill the CO2 tank for you.

A CO2 regulator attaches to the CO2 tank which allows you to precisely control the injection of CO2 so the proper pH level is maintained inside the reactor. The check valve is installed inline and prevents water from accidentally entering your regulator.

Injecting CO2 lowers the pH of the aquarium water inside the calcium reactor just enough to dissolve the calcium reactor media and enrich the water. This acidic water is enriched with calcium, carbonate alkalinity, strontium and trace elements. You can even mix in some magnesium media, like Brightwell NeoMag, to help maintain magnesium levels for you.

The calcium-rich acidic water is then slowly dripped back into your aquarium or sump. The feed pump is used to feed the calcium reactor with aquarium water. We often recommend the Tom Aquatics Aqua-Lifter because it is inexpensive and strong enough for most reactors working on a reef aquarium less than 250 gallons. Using a feed pump also makes it easier to dial in the outlet drip rate, called effluent. The calcium reactor itself also has a recirculation pump to recirculate water inside the reactor.

A pH test kit or pH monitor is used to measure the pH of the effluent solution before it is dripped back into your aquarium. This way you can ensure you are maintaining the proper pH inside your calcium reactor.  A pH controller (or full-fledged aquarium controller) is very useful for this job because you can actually attach it to the CO2 regulator with a solenoid and have it automatically control the output of CO2 to maintain proper pH. If the pH is too low, your media will turn into mush. If the pH is too high, the media will not dissolve.

Understanding how a calcium reactor works will really help you to properly operate and dial in the reactor settings for your tank. Follow the manufacturer instructions closely when assembling your calcium reactor and be careful when operating the CO2 regulator. Failure to do so can lead to some serious damage since the CO2 is under a high amount of pressure.

Next week we'll be back with part 2 in our 2-part calcium reactor series to demonstrate  how to dial in your calcium reactor settings and get it working properly. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about calcium reactors, check out our calcium reactor diagram and this archived how to set up a calcium reactor article of ours on this topic.

If you found this article and/or the accompanying video helpful, please "like" and share them with your reef keeping buds considering a calcium reactor. Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you can stay up-to-date on the latest hobby news and get expert advice from our staff.

If you have questions, leave us a comment below or contact us because we'd be happy to help you out. Until next time... take care and happy reef keeping!

4See all calcium reactors and accessories available at Marine Depot.

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Friday, May 08, 2015

How to Control Phosphate in a Reef Tank

Phosphate plays a big role in reef keeping. Understanding how it works in a reef aquarium will help you grow beautiful corals and keep a pristine tank.

With too much phosphate, you will have algae problems and your corals will suffer. On the other hand, if you get overzealous and maintain zero phosphate for an extended period of time, your corals and other important organisms in your reef aquarium will starve.

Today we are going to explain the various causes and methods of controlling phosphate in a reef tank.

The most popular (and MD staff preferred) method of lowering and maintaining phosphate levels is using Granular Ferric Oxide (abbreviated as GFO) in a media reactor. GFO is a type of filter media that slowly absorbs phosphate. Using GFO inside a media reactor ensures even water flow, prevents clumping and provides maximum contact time with the media.

In aquariums with high phosphate levels, GFO media can quickly become exhausted—in as little as 2-3 weeks or even faster. However, once the phosphate level is under control, GFO media can last up to 3 months.

What makes GFO so great is that it absorbs phosphate slowly and will not shock your system or the animals living inside it. It is important to note that using GFO can increase precipitation, which may cause a drop in alkalinity as well as a small drop in calcium, so be sure to test your water parameters regularly.

Another popular phosphate removal media is Aluminum Oxide, which is present in media like SeaChem PhosGuard. This white-colored media is fast-acting and very effective at removing phosphate. It also does not need to be placed in a reactor; simply drop a media bag into your sump or filter.

Because of its fast-acting nature, you must use Aluminum Oxide with extreme caution as you can shock your corals by lowering your phosphate level too quickly. PhosGuard filter media will usually exhaust within 4-5 days. This type of phosphate removal media is great for fish-only aquariums and cases where phosphates have gotten out of control. Just be sure to use it conservatively.

The third method of phosphate removal are liquid phosphate removers that are added directly to your aquarium water. A few examples are Brightwell Phosphate-E, Ultralife Reef Liquid Phosphate Remover and Blue Life Phosphate Rx. These liquids are extremely effective and fast-acting but must be used carefully. Many public aquariums use liquid phosphate removers because they are so economical.

When added to aquarium water, the chemicals in liquid phosphate removers permanently bind to phosphate and then precipitate out of the water. To use these liquids properly and safely, you must first test your phosphate level. Once you've got your reading, you can calculate how much you want to lower your phosphate level so you'll know how much liquid to dose.

Adding too much can lower phosphate too quickly and will severely stress your corals and the biological balance in your aquarium. It is best to dose slowly, one drop at a time into an area of high flow. Temporary cloudiness is normal so dosing at night is your best bet.

In addition to using media and liquid phosphate removers, there are a few other ways hobbyists have discovered that help control the phosphate level in a reef aquarium.

First and foremost is identifying and eliminating the possible sources of phosphate in your aquarium. Overfeeding, high TDS (total dissolved solids) in your RO/DI water and overstocking your aquarium are some of the biggest contributors to elevating the phosphate level in an aquarium.

Ensuring your protein skimmer is properly sized, performing consistently and kept clean will ensure steady removal of organic waste, in turn helping to keep phosphate at bay. A refugium with macro-algae or using a turf algae scrubber are also excellent ways to remove phosphate because plants and algae utilize phosphate to grow and will remove it from your aquarium water.

If you have a nuisance algae or red slime problem, identifying the cause and implementing a solution are your first steps toward getting things under control. With your newfound knowledge of all the various ways to control phosphate, you now have the power to keep your tank clean and free of these aquarium scourges!

If you have questions about the products or phosphate control methods discussed in this article, feel free to contact our customer service team for the aquarium industry's best support. If you found this article and the accompanying video helpful, please like and share them with your fellow hobbyists.

Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date with all our latest videos. Thanks for stopping by and until next time... take care and happy reef keeping.

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