Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hydor Nano-Skim Protein Skimmer Review: Great Skimmer for the Nano Crowd!

Have you ever been told you don't need a protein skimmer because you have a small aquarium?

This may be true if you are doing big weekly water changes and have a light stocking level—or if you just have very easy-to-keep fish and corals. Most nano aquariums tend to be more heavily stocked than larger aquariums and very few hobbyists perform water changes as often as what is considered "ideal."

The truth of the matter is that a protein skimmer always makes your water cleaner and is helpful in aquariums of every size.

Having a protein skimmer also gives you more options in nitrate and phosphate control. Both biopellets and liquid carbon-dosing, such as RedSeaNO3:PO4-X and AZ-NO3, require the use of a protein skimmer for nutrient export.

The Hydor Koralia Nano-Skim and Slim-Skim protein skimmers are great options and have been very popular with our customers. The Nano-Skim is rated for aquarium up to 35 gallons while the Slim-Skim is rated for aquariums up to 65 gallons. These skimmers are well-designed, easy to install, easy to adjust/clean and are very reasonably priced: which are likely the reasons for their popularity.

Out of the box, the Nano-Skim has a nice, solid, feel. The Hydor logo cut-out on the outlet is a very nice touch. All acrylic pieces look to be very nicely made and fit together well, which is impressive for a skimmer this size and in this price range. With a small footprint of just 3 1/8" x 3 1/8", it is also one of the smallest skimmers and should make installation easier for many applications.

Once the skimmer and pump have been assembled, simply place the skimmer in your aquarium (with the water level about half way up the outlet) then use the included magnets to attach the skimmer to your aquarium. Next, plug in the pump and you are good to go.

As with all skimmers, it will take a week or two for the skimmer to break in. Once broken in, the only adjustment needed is the height of the collection up: raise it for drier skimmate and lower it for wetter skimmate.

After the initial break-in period, the Hydor Nano-Skim has been working very well in my 34-gallon Solana and pulling out lots of dirty skimmate. Prior to using a skimmer, I constantly had trouble keeping my nitrates below 30ppm—even with 30% bi-weekly water changes. And yes, I am guilty of knowingly overfeeding my fish.

Now with the skimmer in place and carbon-dosing, my nitrates have decreased dramatically, the corals are looking happier and I can freely feed my fish without feeling guilty.

Although protein skimmers are never required, they are beneficial to every aquarium because they remove waste before it breaks down, thus keeping the water cleaner. Many hobbyists consider protein skimmers to be the heart of their filtration systems. With marine fish and corals being as delicate as they are, any equipment that can improve water quality is always welcomed.

If you have a nano or smaller aquarium, the Hydor Nano-Skim and Slim-Skim may be just what your system needs to go from ordinary to extraordinary.

Real Reef Shelf Rock: Recreate the Tonga Look and Save a Reef

One of the most important, yet often forgotten, pieces of any saltwater reef is the aquascape. The ideas behind designing great scapes have changed a lot over the years, but the basics are the same:
  • Provide an amount of rock adequate for filtration.
  • Arrange it in a manner that is visually appealing.
  • Leave proper spacing and height for different coral placement.
But for me there was one more piece that was crucial—I wanted something that had absolutely no chance of harming our coral reefs. Conservation of our reefs (and teaching the same to my kids) is really important to me, so I knew that I had some work ahead in order to find the rock that I wanted.

I had already done an aquascape in my 40 breeder using AquaMaxx Dry Reef Rock (which is harvested on land, from an ancient reef) but I wanted to mimic the rock shelves that we see in the oceans around Tonga.

Unfortunately, many of the reef areas around Tonga have been harvested to the point of destruction. Most of the shelf rock that you'll find today is actually from Indonesia or Fiji, and doesn't do a very good job of replicating the flatter, wide surface of the Tonga rock.

Before: Lots of AquaMaxx Dry Reef Rock
Fortunately the folks at Real Reef have an answer in their Real Reef Shelf Rock. It's real rock, just like you'd find in the ocean, but it's grown in an enclosed environment so it has absolutely no effect on the ocean. It looks and feels just like the "real" thing, because it is the real thing.

I was sent 40 pounds of Real Reef shelf rock for my aqauscaping project, and I was wildly impressed with the quality of the product. It's porous, has great shape and it looks like it's already covered in purple coralline algae. It's also seeded with nitrifying bacteria, so you can use the rock to help cycle a new tank even faster.

And Now, The Design

After gathering some ideas from my local reefing group on Facebook, I decided on a lagoon or cove-style design. I knew that I had some corals that would need space in the sand bed, so I wanted to leave plenty of open space there. But I also wanted a lot of varying height to the main aspect of the aquascape so the lagoon idea worked out very well.

I started by washing the Real Reef rock in RO/DI water to remove any fragments or dust that came off in shipping. I then laid out all of the rock and found some pieces that fit not only the size that I was looking for but also the shape.

Once I found the pieces that I wanted, we started moving the base rock into place to form the overall structure. Since all of my base rock was already in the aquarium and cured, we had to do a bit of underwater work with the epoxy and gel adhesive. Overall though, I'm very happy with how the rock stacked together, as well as the shape the it provided.

One thing to note: unlike the "natural" rock that you often find, Real Reef Shelf Rock will not have the trunks attached to it. You will need to build these yourself out of base rock. It wasn't a problem, but had I known that in advance I definitely would have kept some base rock out of the water to help make this process a bit easier.

Top down. You can pretend you don't see those diatoms!
The aquascape that you see here fills about 1/2 of my tank. I used around 15 pounds of the Real Reef Shelf Rock to provide one main shelf, a couple of "bridge" areas and then some smaller shelves toward the top of the structure. The fish seem to love hanging out under the cover that the shelves provide, and the ample flat space leaves me loads of room for coral placement as I find more pieces that I love.

Say hello to P.T. He's such a ham!
So what would I have done differently? As I said before, I definitely would have ordered a bit more rock and kept it dry to help ease the gluing process. I also would have set up my tank with Real Reef Shelf Rock the first time, instead of aquascaping after the fact! Other than that, I'm incredibly happy with the results and I can't wait to do the left side of the tank next. I decided to wait on that side, following my own advice of having some dry rock to work with first.

All said and done, I would absolutely recommend Real Reef Shelf Rock for anyone who wants to mimic that Tonga reef look. I'm still thinking up what I want to do on the left side, but experience now tells me that no matter what I choose, it's going to look great.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How to Hang an Aquarium Light with a Suspension Kit

Lighting for your reef aquarium is one of the most studied, discussed and documented topics in hobby. The reason is because proper lighting is crucial to the success of keeping photosynthetic corals, which are the most popular organisms placed in a reef tank. Much of us spend quite a bit of time researching and discussing the lighting for our own reef aquariums before a decision is made.

One factor that plays a big role in the light fixture you choose is the mounting options. Some fixtures will require a suspension mount while others are suitable for mounting directly onto your aquarium. It is important to ensure the mounting options available will work for your tank.

The idea of suspending an aquarium light can raise alarms for many hobbyists. The worry of falling fixtures, suitable anchors and overall aesthetics can quickly steer a concerned hobbyist away from this option. We are going to shed some light on this topic and show you that suspending a light fixture is actually safe, easy to do and looks great over just about any aquarium.

Some of the best looking contemporary aquariums are rimless tanks with a light fixture or light rack suspended from the ceiling. When done properly, this type of mount looks really great but requires some crucial planning to ensure the outcome is desirable.

First, you will need to decide how to anchor the suspension cables into your ceiling. Most suspension kits supply the cables and adjustment hardware but some also include anchoring hardware, so be sure to do your research while shopping.

You may get lucky and be able to anchor the cables directly into a wooden stud. Chances are though the placement of your aquarium will not match the infrastructure of your home perfectly so an alternate anchor-style will be required.

Using toggle bolts are an easy way to safely anchor the suspension cables into a drywall ceiling. Make sure the bolts are long enough to reach through your ceiling completely. Check the weight ratings to ensure they are strong enough to support the weight of your light fixture.

After deciding on an anchor, you will need to take a few measurements and gather a few tools to install the anchors properly and in the right place.  I have found that using a laser level and chalk line to make a few markings on your ceiling will make it quite easy to find the right spots to install your anchors. This is important to ensure the light fixture is perfectly centered over your aquarium and the cables are perpendicular to your tank.

The suspension mount for the EcoTech Marine Radion LED Light Fixtures over our office aquarium (outlined in the video above) was accomplished in about 20 minutes total.

The use of mounting arms is becoming a more popular option these days and is a great for those of you who want the benefits of suspending a light but cannot tap into the ceiling.

Most of the mounting arms I have seen available are designed to directly mount to the back of your aquarium stand. These arms are also fairly simple to build at home using some electrical conduit. Before deciding on this option, be sure you have enough access behind your tank to properly attach the mounting arms.
With many of us switching to LED light, the use of suspension mounting can make it much easier to acclimate your corals as it gives you the ability to easily raise and lower and your light fixture. It also makes maintenance much easier as the light can be quickly raised up out of the way. Keeping an open-top aquarium increases gas exchange and helps dissipate heat much quicker.
With such a plethora of benefits, it is hard to argue against suspending your light fixture—it's one of the best ways to mount your reef aquarium lighting.

The information presented in this article is based upon my personal experience. MarineDepot.com is not responsible for damages that may result from installing your aquarium lights. Each situation is different; please contact our tank tech team directly for one-on-one support if you need assistance.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hydor Smart Level Control ATO System: Simple, Inexpensive and Effective

As aquarium automation marches toward being the norm rather than a luxury enjoyed by few, more and more products have been made available to make maintaining your reef aquarium easier than ever before.

Numerous new automatic top-off systems have been introduced recently to meet the demands of the modern aquarium hobbyist. Not only do ATOs save you the trouble of topping off your aquarium daily, it also helps to maintain a stable salinity level that is better for your aquarium inhabitants.

Among these new ATOs is the Hydor Smart Level Control ATO System. This new ATO from Hydor is just about as easy-to-use as can be!

It uses an advanced thermal sensor to accurately maintain the water level in your sump. With no moving parts, you do not have to worry about mechanical floats getting stuck or issues caused by calcium deposits, bacterial film, wave action or snails climbing on to the sensor.

Green LED indicating low water level

The compact sensor easily mounts in your sump with magnets. The three-prong sensor has sensors for minimum water level, maximum water level and alarm. A 6-foot cord connects the sensor to the main control unit and there is another 6-foot power cord that plugs into the wall, so you have plenty of cabling to work with.

Red 'Alarm' LED and an audible alarm indicating water level raising to high

A two-prong plug is provided for you to attach any pump of your choice for top off (up to 50W). An ideal pump should slowly top off your aquarium and take 25 seconds to 10 minutes to go from the minimum to maximum level, which spans 8mm-12mm (1/3” – ½”) from minimum to maximum. The Cobalt MJ-Series or Eheim Compact powerheads work nicely for most applications.

Updated polarized plug

When the Smart Level was initially released, Hydor had included a non-polarized socket, which made pumps with polarized plugs incompatible. Customers were limited to using Hydor pumps or would have to get an adapter. Fortunately, this has since been corrected and now a polarized socket is included so you can use just about any pump up to 50W.

On/Off switch with a thoughtful water-resistant cover

If the water level reaches the “Alarm” level, the Smart Level will illuminate all LEDs, cut off power to the pump and trigger an audible alarm. Operation goes back to normal once the water level drops below the “Alarm” level.

The alarm will also trigger if top-off takes longer than 10 minutes, which can occur if the top-off reservoir runs dry or the top-off pump fails. In this scenario, the system will shutdown to protect the pump and will need to be restarted by pressing the on/off button.

Another great aspect of the Hydor Smart Level Control is its price. At less than $100, it is the only ATO in this price range that does not rely on a mechanical float. With its practical design, great safety features and affordable price tag, the Hydor Smart Level ATO makes a great case for itself.

If you have been waiting for an economical and easy-to-use top-off system, the Hydor Smart Level Control may be just what you are looking for.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Every fish has its own personality and will often behave differently than what we expect.  Sometimes it is a good thing, like a typically-aggressive clown tang that is the most peaceful fish in the aquarium.

Other times it is a bad thing, as in my case here where an ocellaris clownfish recently transferred from a different tank decided that he needed to beat up a new Wyoming White clownfish. I did anticipate some aggression, but definitely not to this degree.

This is where a quarantine tank, fish trap or specimen container comes in extremely handy. I was able catch the trouble-maker and isolate him in the new CPR CITR PRO In-Tank Refugium.

The new CITR PRO looks much more robust than the standard model. Instead of the small round drilled holes, it has nicely-machined slots to allow for better water flow.

The small suctions cups are also replaced by a versatile bracket that can be mounted to either a horizontal or vertical surface. This bracket is very thoughtfully designed and accommodates different aquarium rim widths (for standard aquariums, rimless aquariums or euro-braced aquariums) as well as allowing adjustment of the height of the container.

The CITR PRO is offered in two sizes. The small version is 7.5" x 4.25" x 7.25" and the large model measures 12" x 6" x 8". They are also offered with and without pumps. Shown here is the smaller of the two models.

With the aggressive clownfish in the ‘time-out box’, the new clownfish now has a chance to get established without being harassed.  In a week or so, the troublemaker will be released back to the aquarium and will hopefully get along with the now-established Wyoming White clownfish. If not, the trouble-maker will be relocated to a different aquarium.