Friday, February 27, 2015

Aquarium Test Kits: Which Parameters You Should Test For (and Why) in Fish-Only and Reef Aquariums



Today we are going to share which water parameters you need to test for in a fish-only or reef aquarium, explain how these parameters effect fish and coral as well as provide tips on how to choose the right test kits for your tank.



Some hobbyists claim they can tell how good or bad their water quality is just by looking at the tank. The reality is when the water quality is so poor that you can tell just by looking at it, you've already subjected your fish and coral to lousy living conditions far longer than you should have and fixing the problem will now require greater effort.

Keeping your aquarium water parameters stable and at ideal levels is crucial to the health and well-being of the animals in your care. That’s why it’s essential to test your water regularly and log the results. Actively monitoring your water quality helps you identify trends or notice changes before they become problematic, making it easier to resolve any issues that may be develop.


Tests to Perform for Fish-Only Aquariums

For a fish-only system, you should test pH, Alkalinity, Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate.

pH is the measure of acidity or basicity. Fish and coral can fall ill or even perish if your aquarium pH falls outside acceptable ranges. Tank pH can be affected by a range of factors and should therefore be monitored at all times. Stability is the keyword with pH because large swings in pH level can really stress out your aquarium inhabitants.

Alkalinity is somewhat complex, but is perhaps best understood by thinking of it as the measure of bicarbonate in your aquarium water. A properly maintained alkalinity level makes it much easier to keep pH stable and will provide the necessary components for corals to grow and build a skeleton. Testing should be performed weekly in most cases.



Ammonia and Nitrite are two of the basic waste parameters and are products of the metabolic processes of the nitrogen cycle. They are both extremely toxic to fish and corals and should never be present in your aquarium outside of the cycling process. If either is present in your aquarium, it is the result of insufficient biological filtration and/or an overstocked aquarium. Testing these parameters is usually only necessary while cycling your aquarium, but it's not a bad idea to check them monthly or when you suspect something may be wrong with your tank.

Nitrate is one of the final products of the nitrogen cycle and should be tested weekly. This will help you to establish a regular filter maintenance and water change schedule. When nitrate begins to rise, you know it is time to clean your filtration equipment and perform a water change.

API's Saltwater Master Test Kit is one of the most popular and affordable options for testing a fish-only system. They are easy to use and the results are precise enough to help most fish-only aquarium keepers avoid major problems.



Tests to Perform for Reef Aquariums

When caring for a reef aquarium, in addition to the aforementioned parameters, you’ll also want to test the calcium, magnesium and phosphate levels in your tank.

Calcium is used by corals along with bicarbonates and other elements to grow and build their skeleton. When you are adding corals to your tank, you should test your calcium levels daily. Once you identify how much calcium you’ll need to supplement to keep your corals growing, you may begin to do so and reduce testing frequency to once per week.

Magnesium is important because it influences calcium and alkalinity levels and is also used by corals to grow and build their skeleton. Testing should be done weekly to monitor demand.   Supplementation is often required, especially in aquariums that are heavily stocked with stony corals.

Phosphate is another important parameter to test for because it fuels algae growth and inhibits your corals’ ability to utilize calcium. The phosphate level in a reef aquarium should be kept below 0.05 ppm. Higher levels can lead to algae issues and cause corals to brown out or deteriorate. Conversely, having an absolute zero phosphate level can starve corals. You can keep your phosphate level low by using one of the many phosphate-reducing filter media options available or through supplementation. You can help prevent phosphate from entering your aquarium by using RO/DI filtered water that measures 0 total dissolved solids (TDS). Testing for phosphate in a fish-only aquarium can also be helpful to keep nuisance algae at bay.

Getting accurate test results is important when caring for a reef aquarium. Red Sea, Salifert and ELOS are widely considered the most accurate and easy to use liquid test kits by reefkeepers. Hanna Checker Colorimeters are another option and a great alternative for hobbyists that find color recognition-type test kits difficult to interpret. The electronic monitors offered by American Marine are even more helpful because they give you a constant electronic reading, although they must be checked regularly to maintain their accuracy.

Now that you have a general understanding of the key parameters to test for, you can perform them regularly so you’ll know how much to supplement, how often and when to change your water.



Tests to Improve Coral Color and Growth

But the fun doesn't stop there!

Natural seawater contains a variety of dissolved and suspended material that fish and corals need to thrive. Advanced reefkeepers find that testing and maintaining ideal levels of iodine, strontium, potassium, boron and iron helps them not only grow but improve the coloration of their corals.

These materials are all considered minor or trace elements and each plays a role in the survival and growth of our reef inhabitants.  Iodine helps soft corals and invertebrates grow. Strontium is important for stony corals and clams to build skeletons. Potassium helps with blue coloration in corals and boron helps with red. Iron is crucial to the growth of macro algae and is great to test for if you are keeping a refugium.

Salifert and Red Sea offer the best test kits for minor elements.  If you are testing for these levels, a weekly regimen is probably best. A log of your test results is also helpful. For most hobbyists, these levels can be maintained by simply performing regular water changes. In heavily stocked and mature reefs, supplementation may be required and is possible using a comprehensive trace element additive or a parameter-specific additive offered by brands like Red Sea or Brightwell Aquatics.

Having a list handy of ideal reef tank parameters is always helpful. That way when you test your water, you'll be able to easily tell if your parameters are out of whack.

We could talk for hours about water chemistry, but hopefully we've packed enough information into this video to help you grasp the basics. If you'd like to learn more, please leave us a comment with your questions or contact our aquarium experts for free advice by phone or email. We certainly appreciate you tuning in! Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more helpful tips and until next time… take care and happy reefkeeping.



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Species-Specific Aquarium Build: Clownfish and Bubble Tip Anemone Tank


Setting up a species-specific aquarium is something I have been wanting to do for some time. With the recent purchase of a new home, I finally found the room I needed for another tank and decided to set up an aquarium dedicated to Bubble Tip Anemones and Clownfish.

The tank I chose is the Innovative Marine 30L NUVO Fusion Aquarium. The long rectangular shape of this tank gives me plenty of space for a creative aquascape and easily fit into the desired location in my home.



Being impatient, I used live sand to help speed up the cycle process and decided to use the AquaMaxx Eco-Rock because it has copious amounts of crevices that are perfect for anemones to anchor into.

A single EcoTech Marine MP10wES will provide plenty of flow throughout the entire tank so I installed one dead center on the end of the tank. I kept the filter media that came with the aquarium which consisted of a coarse sponge, carbon pad and a phosphate pad in one of the media baskets. I dropped in some Chemi-Pure Blue and Kent Marine Nitrate Sponge into the opposite media basket. For a protein skimmer, I used the CAD lights PLS-50 Elite as it fit perfectly in one of the rear compartments and received rave reviews online.



I know my lighting choice may seem a bit of an overkill for a tank of this size but a single Radion XR30w covers the tank well and will surely provide enough light for the 'nems. Plus, the EcoTech RMS Tank Mount fits perfectly on the aquarium and looks pretty slick, too.

I let the tank cycle and later added the first inhabitants: a Rose Bubble Tip Anemone, a colony of Palythoa, and a clean-up crew.

Then I started to research clownfish. I definitely wanted something different for this tank: designer clowns, clarkiis, skunk, tomato, maroon—I changed my mind 100 times until a rare opportunity arose. I found out ORA had some Gold Nugget Maroon Clownfish on sale and I jumped at the opportunity. A rare clownfish that is sure to impress—and I could actually afford two!



The ORA order arrived in perfect shape. I was really happy because they actually provided two different size clownfish to help increase the chances of creating a mated pair without me even asking. A+ work, ORA!

As soon as placed them in the acclimation container, the smaller nugget swam right over to the larger one. I drip acclimated them for an hour then slowly scooped them in my hand to place inside the tank.

While I have not had luck getting them to eat flake or pellet food, they really seem to enjoy mysis shrimp and EZ Pods. The clowns are now paired up and getting along quite well. With a little luck, I am hoping to report back soon about their first clutch of eggs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kamoer Slave Dosing Pump Product Review


Having used the Kamoer 4 Channel Dosing Pump unit for six months now, I've been eyeing the Slave module to go with it for quite some time.

For the time being I had a Bubble Magus 3 Channel Dosing Pump used for dispensing amino acids to my tank.

While Bubble Magus was doing its job, I had a few months to run them side by side and compare the two. The Kamoer dosing pump was the clear winner based on a few different criteria:
  • It is much quieter. I could hear my Bubble Magus doser every time it would run even with my aquarium cabinet closed. The Kamoer pump, on the other hand, is simply inaudible.
  • It has calibration. I can calibrate the unit from time to time to ensure incredible precision. Different liquids have different viscosity and even your tubing configuration may affect how much liquid you are adding to your tank, so being able to calibrate it is an indispensable feature.
  • Tons of scheduling options. I can choose to dose only between certain hours of the day.
  • Power outage memory. Even when unplugged for a period of time it does not forget its settings or current time.
All of the points above influenced my decision to purchase the pump from Marine Depot. The package arrived soon after in a well-packed box.



The Kamoer 4 Channel Slave Aquarium Dosing Pump includes the main dosing unit, 4 dosing heads, 4 flow valves, some tubing, tubing connectors and a cord to connect this pump to the master unit.



Attaching the heads to the main unit is a breeze, you just need to click them in. Pay attention when inserting the tubing connectors to make sure they go with the narrower side in. The wider side will be used for the clear tubing.



You can see the unit it will be replacing. This Bubble Magus dosing pump has been with me for a good three years. I'm certain that the new doser will last even longer.



One thing you will have to do is to cut a hole for the "Group B" port on the back of the master unit. I've used a knife for this purpose.



A couple of minutes and the new doser is now fully hooked up.

Once plugged in you will need to change your Master settings from 3 or 4 channel to 7 or 8 channels, respectively. Make sure to write down your current settings since this change will reset your doser.

All in all it took me about a half hour to get everything going. Now the unit is plugged into the system and seem to be functioning exceptionally well.

The only criticism I have about the Kamoer 4 Channel Slave Aquarium Dosing Pump is the cord on the back. It does not have a low profile and sticks out a lot so both of my units had to be moved by an inch from the back wall. Small price to pay for an otherwise superb setup!


About Our Guest Blogger

Dmitry Tumanov is the founder of AquaticLog.com, an online service used by aquarium hobbyists around the world to track water parameters, log changes, schedule tasks and share info and photos to enrich and empower aquarists to keep successful aquariums. Visit AquaticLog today to register for a free account and join the Marine Depot customer group.

Maxspect Gyre XF130: Unrivaled Flow, Quiet Operation and a Bevy of Cool Controllable Settings




The Maxspect Gyre is one of the most exciting new aquarium products to hit the market in recent years.

The first Gyre pump, the XF150, was released late last year and basically changed the way we produce water flow in our aquariums. The unrivaled flow it produced has allowed many hobbyists with large aquariums to reduce the number of powerheads in their tanks to create a more natural reef environment.


Now Maxspect has released a smaller version of the Gyre called the XF130, which will allow even more hobbyists to experience this revolutionary water-moving technology.

The Maxspect Gyre XF130 is 10" long, which is a whole 2" shorter compared to the bigger XF150 model. It produces a maximum flow rate of 2300 gallons per hour (GPH) and can be set to run at lower flow rates so you can dial it in perfectly for your nano tank—or pretty much any aquarium from 25 to 100 gallons in size and up to 4' in length.



All of the same capabilities and features found on the XF150 are present in the XF130 including the same strong waterproof magnet mounts, programmable controller with mounting cradle and spare rotors for reverse flow operation. Once cool difference is the new rubber suspension mount that helps minimize noise.

The controller is pretty simple to use. It has two buttons and a control dial that allow you to adjust the various settings and switch between different modes. Four modes of operation are programmed into the controller: Constant Speed Mode, Pulsing Mode, Alternating Gyre Mode and Feed Mode. To see how each of these modes work, just watch the video which accompanies this blog post.



Mounting the Gyre in your tank can be done two ways. You have the horizontal mount which is good for long tanks with open rock work. It will move water across the top and then roll back across the bottom in constant speed mode.



Vertical mounting is nice for the back of your tank to help push water around the front of a peninsula or in cube-shaped aquarium. It can also help get water moving behind a rock wall or to a specific area of your tank that naturally has a dead spot.

The XF130 works best in standard 55, 75 and 90 gallon aquariums but would also be a great choice for  many of the popular nano tanks starting at 25 gallons and up. Multiple Gyres can even be used together for larger aquariums or to create some very interesting wave effects.

Having adequate water flow is one of the keys to having a successful reef aquarium. If you have questions about flow, the new Gyre XF130 or any other aquarium-related topic, please don't hesitate to contact us for expert advice from our friendly staff of fish nerds.

Until next time... take care and happy reefkeeping.



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Friday, February 20, 2015

Filter Media Guide: Carbon, GFO and BioPellets




With all of the different types of filter media available for our aquariums, choosing the right kind can be extremely confusing.

When keeping a reef aquarium, it is especially important because using the wrong media or using it the wrong way can have some pretty nasty effects on your tank.

Carbon, GFO and BioPellets are currently the most popular types of filter media, and for good reason: they are inexpensive, easy to use and proven to help keep your aquarium water clean, clear and free of impurities. Keep reading to learn precisely how these different types of filter media benefit your aquarium and how to use them correctly.


Carbon

Activated carbon is the most widely used type of filter media and the benefits of using it are pretty amazing. Carbon effectively removes medications, organics, chemicals, color contaminants, odors and other impurities from your tank.

Most hobbyists use activated carbon at all times, but it can also be used situationally to remove medications or chemicals. In fact, many of the medications and algae treatments on the market recommend the use of activated carbon to help remove any residual chemicals from your aquarium after the treatment is complete.

Many of the corals we keep inside our reef aquariums release toxins into the water as a form of defense. Carbon removes these chemicals from the water column which allows hobbyists to successfully care for a variety of corals. With regular use, carbon can help you achieve crystal clear water. With better light penetration and less dissolved organic waste in your aquarium, fish and coral are more likely to thrive. Carbon also keeps your tank from stinking up the house—which should make your family or roommates happy.

The best way to use carbon is to fluidize it inside a media reactor with moderate water flow. Adjust the flow so the carbon is tumbling and slowly "boiling" on top. Carbon can also be effective when placed inside a filter media bag and dropped into a media basket, canister filter, sump or hang-on power filter. Just rinse before putting it into your tank and place it where water will constantly flow through it.

Under normal circumstances, carbon should be replaced every 3-4 weeks. When used to remove medications or chemicals, you'll want to swap out the carbon after only a few days since it will become exhausted rather quickly. It is important to note that leaving carbon in your tank for too long can cause problems. It is important to change your media regularly. If you do not have extra carbon media available, just remove the carbon from your tank in the meantime until you do.



GFO (Granular Ferric Oxide)

GFO, or Granular Ferric Oxide, is pretty magical stuff. GFO filter media is one of the best defenses against algae outbreaks and lasts a surprisingly long time when used properly.

Phosphate is the leading cause of nuisance algae in aquariums. It also inhibits the growth of calcareous corals. An elevated phosphate level may even cause your prized SPS corals to brown out or perish.

Phosphate enters your aquarium mainly through fish waste, but also via supplements, food and even top-off water. GFO binds to the phosphate in your aquarium water making it unavailable to fuel algae growth or adversely affect your corals.

You can use GFO filter media at all times in any reef tank. Fluidizing the media inside a reactor yields the best results. It helps prevent clumping and ensures maximum contact time with your aquarium water. Adjust the flow inside the reactor so the top layer of GFO is "simmering." You do not want it to tumble or move too fast. Higher flow may turn the media into a fine dust which could potentially be released into your aquarium.

GFO media must be thoroughly rinsed before it can be placed inside your system. Testing your phosphate level regularly will let you know when it is time to replace it. In short, if you see your phosphate level begin to rise, it is time to swap out your GFO for fresh media. In an aquarium with elevated phosphate, GFO can become exhausted in a matter of days. Once phosphate has dropped to an acceptable level, a single batch of GFO can last for months.



BioPellets

Last but not least, we have BioPellet media.

BioPellets have become more and more popular with reef aquarium owners in recent years. They work in conjunction with a protein skimmer to remove nitrate from your aquarium. They have a small effect on phosphate, too, but you should still run GFO since BioPellets are not really an effective way to control or reduce your phosphate level.

The way BioPellets work is pretty cool. The pellets are made of an organic-based plastic that acts as a food source for bacteria. As bacteria grows on and consumes the pellets, nitrate in your aquarium is also consumed. The bacteria colonization on the pellets soon creates a "biofilm." As the BioPellets tumble inside a reactor, the biofilm sheds off the pellets carrying with it the bacteria and nitrate. The film is then removed by your protein skimmer and the nitrate along with it.

You can't use BioPellets without a BioPellet reactor. Adjust the flow into the reactor so the pellets gently tumble. Place the effluent or outflow from the reactor in close vicinity to your protein skimmer intake or plumb it directly to the skimmer intake for best results. This allows the skimmer to remove the biofilm immediately after exiting the reactor. When running BioPellets, you will likely need to empty your skimmer cup more often and clean your mechanical filters more frequently as well to prevent them from becoming clogged.

It is important to note that it takes time for the bacteria to grow, so be patient and be sure to keep the pellets tumbling. It generally takes 4-6 weeks for a BioPellet reactor to start working effectively. You should slowly introduce your system to BioPellets, starting with a ½ or even a ¼ of the recommended amount for your aquarium size. As time goes on, you can slowly add more pellets until you reach the full recommended amount. This will minimize the shock to your system from dramatic changes in nitrate levels. You will need to replenish the pellets as they become consumed over time. Using a full dose right off the bat can cause a sudden change in water chemistry and really shock the animals in your aquarium. It is crucial that your protein skimmer is working properly because without it, the nitrate and bacteria film cannot be removed from your aquarium water.

Filter media is fundamental part of keeping a healthy reef aquarium. If you questions about filter media, please leave us a comment or contact us! Our staff of experts is always happy to talk tank and share our experience with you. Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date on all the latest aquarium news.

Until next time, take care and happy reefkeeping.



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