Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tools Every Reef Tank Owner Should Keep in their Toolbox

So you think you have your reef tank all figured out?

Just when you have installed the ATO, got your dosing regimen down and your corals are starting to grow in nicely—your return pump freezes up and now your tank is down until you can get it back up and running. 

Maybe you went on vacation for the weekend and your buddy Bobby doesn't seem to grasp the concept of one cube of frozen food per day! You get home to green walls, sucked up corals and a load of frustration you simply did not need.

In these unexpected instances, it is much better to be prepared. Hope for the best but plan for the worst, right?

We put together a list of important tools every reef hobbyist should have on hand at all times. These items will not only help make reef keeping more enjoyable, but also keep you prepared for that unexpected reef tank emergency.


Refractometers are pretty much a staple tool for any marine aquarium hobbyist. They quickly and accurately provide you with salinity readings. Refractometers are helpful for mixing your own saltwater at home and spot checking your aquarium to ensure your ATO is functioning properly.

Coral Propogation Supplies

Fragging is not reserved for mature reef tanks that need a pruning. Many times I have been cleaning my glass and accidentally broke off a piece of SPS. How about those pesky polyps that seem to grow like weeds and kill everything they touch? By having some fragging tools within reach, it makes it easy to quickly mount these extra corals to share with friends or trade with your local fish store.


Seems simple, but most of us fail to keep towels close to our fish tank. I don't know how many times I have removed my powerhead for maintenance and dripped water halfway across my living room to the kitchen sink. Towels also come in handy to quickly wipe down the outside of your tank after some routine maintenance to keep the dreaded salt creep at bay.

Tongs and/or Tweezers

Some nice tongs or tweezers are very useful for reef aquariums. They provide a safe and easy way to move around frags inside the aquarium without harming yourself or the corals. They are also great when feeding large chunks of frozen food and seaweed. I have found them very handy when fragging and pruning back overgrown corals as well.

Distilled White Vinegar

Seems a bit strange, but distilled white vinegar works miracles when cleaning your pumps, heaters or filters. Vinegar is very acidic and after just a few hours of soaking your equipment, the calcareous build-up can easily be scrubbed away with a firm bristle brush. This makes it easy to keep your pumps in working order and avoid an emergency pump failure. Just be sure to thoroughly rinse with RO/DI water before placing the equipment back into your aquarium.

Spare Return Pump and Heater

Just in case the unexpected should arise, having a spare heater and return pump can really save you some headache. Especially if you have a mature reef tank, where the equipment being used may be 2-3 years old. A fully stocked reef tank can crash within just a few hours of losing water flow and/or stable temperatures.

Water Parameter Reference Chart and Log

If you're like me, maintaining stable water chemistry is one of the most intriguing and challenging parts of keeping a reef. By keeping a reference chart handy along with an ongoing log of your water tests, it makes maintaining your reef much easier. A modern aquarium controller can even provide you with graphical displays of your tank's parameters making it easy to spot trends and quickly identify hidden problems in your tank.

Turkey Baster or Bulb Syringe

Spot feeding with a bulb syringe is one of the best things you can do to give your corals an extra boost. While most of the energy corals use to grow comes from photosynthesis, it has been proven that supplemental feeding helps corals grow and maintain vibrant colors. A bulb syringe also makes it easier to feed those finicky-eating fish on the bottom of your tank, such as Mandarin Gobies or Hawk Fish. I use a bulb syringe just about every time I feed my aquarium and my fish have learned to eat directly from the syringe. This makes it easy to get food to all of the fish in the aquarium, reduces the amount of food getting lost inside your rocks or filter and makes feeding time that much more fun and interactive.

Rubber Gloves and Goggles

While I may be the biggest culprit of breaking this rule, it is always a good idea to use rubber gloves and goggles when working with corals. Corals can contain some serious toxins! The use of safety gear will drastically decrease the chances of these toxins entering your body when working with corals.

Test Kits

There is no excuse not to test your water regularly. Many new hobbyists I have mentored over the years have relied on local fish stores to test their water parameters. Having another eye to help monitor your parameters is useful, but should never be the sole source of testing your water conditions. Having a complete line up of water test kits at home will not only help you understand more about your aquarium water, but will also make it much easier to keep a happy, healthy reef.

Handheld TDS Meter

A TDS meter measures the total dissolved solids in freshwater. This comes in handy when maintaining your RO/DI system to ensure your water is clean and free of unwanted elements. All water entering your tank should measure 0 TDS. By having a TDS meter on hand, you can check the filters on your RO/DI system to ensure they are not exhausted. You can also monitor the water in your top-off container. Without regular rinsing, a top-off container can slowly build up measurable levels of unwanted elements known as "TDS Creep."

Long Handle Tank Scraper

Algae magnets are great! They make it easy to quickly remove build-up from inside your tank walls. From my experience, no matter how careful you plan your aquascape, there will always be some area of the tank that cannot be cleaned with an algae magnet and this is why it is nice to have a long handle algae scraper. Whether your aquascape, heater, filter, plumbing or powerhead are getting in the way, a long handle tank scraper will make it easier to clean these hard-to-reach areas of the tank walls. You will also be less likely to ignore these areas of the tank which tend to quickly turn into unsightly algae farms.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Truly Innovative MiniMax All-In-One Media Reactor

If you've shopped for a media reactor, you probably noticed they all seem to share the same basic design.

Innovative Marine recently broke the mold when they introduced the MiniMax, an all-in-one media reactor that is easy to set up, easy to clean and easy to swap swap media out of.

If you've owned a media reactor before and found them to be messy or difficult to maintain, let me assure you that Innovative Marine's one-of-a-kind design puts all your worries to rest.

Media reactors maximize the use of any loose pellet or granular media. Their purpose is simple: pump water through the media (BioPellets, GFO or Carbon) confined inside the reactor chamber. This process puts every drop of water pumped through the reactor into contact with your media, optimizing chemical and biological filtration, thereby improving the water quality inside your aquarium.

The patent-pending design of Innovative Marine's MiniMax gives hobbyists a truly innovative media reactor to consider.

The primary difference between the MiniMax and other reactors on the market is its use of dual chambers. There is an internal chamber that acts as a removable cartridge which slides up and out of the outer chamber with ease. The pump is attached below the outer chamber and pumps water upward through the internal chamber. Water drains through four holes in the top of the inner chamber down in-between chambers, then back into the aquarium through four holes in the bottom of the outer chamber.

The connection between the two chambers houses the MiniMax's unique water flow adjustment feature. There are two slits where the inside and outside chamber slide into one another; simply turning the inside chamber will cause the two openings to cross paths and adjust the amount of water flowing through the reactor. Since different media need varying levels of water flow, this process makes it possible for the media reactor to work at the highest efficiency no matter which media is used.

With only three separate parts in the package, there really is no need to read instructions or piece anything together—you can go straight to installing it in your aquarium.

After a quick rinse in RO water to remove any dust or residue left from manufacturingtake off the top of the internal chamber and pull out both top sponge filters. Pour your desired media inside and place the sponges back into the top of the chamber and push the top back in. Finally, slide that internal chamber into the outside tube and attach the pump to the bottom. You can now place it in most all-in-one aquariums and sumps!

I personally use ROWAphos for my media so I wanted to run the reactor in a bucket of RO water to give the media a quick rinse before placing it into my tank. This also gave me the ability to adjust the reactor to my desired flow which was helpful because when I place the reactor in the back of my 38-gallon Innovative Marine Nuvo, I cannot see the media react to the different flow rates.

Maintenance has never been easier. There isn't unnecessary clutter, turning screws or tools. The internal chamber simply slides out of the outer chamber like a cartridge and automatically drains all the water left inside. Dump and replenish your desired media and slide the inner cartridge back into the outer chamber and you are ready to go.

Even if you wanted to rinse your media, taking the entire reactor out of the tank isn't a difficult process at all. The water drains out as you pull it out of the tank. Then you just place the whole reactor into a quarter full bucket of RO water and pull the internal chamber out to continue the maintenance process. This also gives you an opportunity to clean the entire product of build-up.

The Innovative Marine MiniMax Media Reactor has really changed the face of media reactors. With three different sizes available for tanks ranging from 10 to 250 gallons, there aren't many aquariums that couldn't use this product.

With the simplicity, durability, uniqueness and high functionality of this media reactor, I can't see myself using any other reactor in any of my future tanks.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Get the most out of your carbon and GFO with an AquaMaxx media reactor

As aquarium hobbyists, we are always looking for ways to make our tanks look cleaner and more colorful.

Most of us use activated carbon to polish aquarium water and remove organics and unwanted chemicals. Many of us also use GFO to control phosphate levels, minimize algae growth and maximize the color of our corals.

However, being a frugal reefer—and having splurged on too many corals recently—I have been putting my carbon and GFO in a media bag and leaving it in the sump hoping they do their job just sitting there. 

Unfortunately, water—like myself—takes the path of least resistance. That means most of the water goes unfiltered, flowing around the filter media bag rather than through it.

Month after month (yeah, I'm a procrastinator) I have thrown away hard clumps of carbon and GFO, knowing full well my aquarium is not reaping the maximum benefits of running these filter media.

I finally bit the bullet and purchased an AquaMaxx GFO and Carbon Filter Media Reactor. I wanted a reactor that is well-designed, well-made and durable. The standard sized AquaMaxx media reactor definitely fit the bill.

Constructed of high-quality cast acrylic and nicely machined parts, the AquaMaxx media reactor is about as good as a reactor can get. Thumbscrews and keyhole flanges on the lid allow for easy installation and maintenance. A porous diffuser plate ensures even water flow though the reactor.

A quick rinse with warm water is recommended to clean off any residue from production.

An earlier version of the reactor only came with ¾" fittings, which made selecting a pump for this low-water flow application difficult. However, this issue has since been fixed. The reactor now includes both ½" and ¾" fittings. An optional hang-on adapter is also available, but was not needed for my specific application.

Ideally, one reactor should be used for GFO and a separate reactor should be used for activated carbon. There are a couple of reasons why. First, GFO can last 2-3 months while carbon is only good for one. Second, activated carbon works more effectively with a higher flow rate, while GFO prefers lower flow.

An inline ball valve comes in handy to fine-tune flow rate.

Since I do not have space for two reactors, I decided to place both AquaMaxx Carbon One and AquaMaxx Phosphate Out inside the same reactor. I will just have to swap out the media each month. I know this is not optimal, but it is far better than sticking the media in a bag and hoping for the best.

After only a couple of weeks of running the AquaMaxx media reactor, I already see an increase in the clarity of my aquarium water. My phosphate level has also dropped lower than it was prior to the upgrade. My only regret is not buying the reactor sooner!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Is it Time to Graduate to a Sump?

The clean sump setup inside one of our employee's aquarium stands.

To sump, or not to sump? That is the question pondered by many aquarium hobbyists.

With all the useful gear available for reef tanks, one of the most beneficial pieces of equipment is sometimes overlooked because it is usually kept hidden inside the aquarium stand.

The benefits a sump offers are numerous, although it is important to note that setting up a sump often requires as much planning and consideration as your display tank. Ensuring there is enough room for equipment to be placed—both from the start and add-ons down the road—as well as having proper baffle sizes, spacing and water depth, are crucial.

See more of Brad's amazingly clean stand, sump and 110-gallon reef tank.

Before we dive deeper, if you are not sure what a sump is or want to learn how to plumb a sump into your aquarium system, please take a look at this article to get you up to speed.

Now, let’s find out if a sump is right for you.

Surprisingly, this is an easy question to answer. Most aquarium systems can utilize a sump provided you have the space to accommodate one. Tanks that come pre-drilled with an overflow are your best choice.

However, even if your tank did not come pre-drilled you still have a couple of options to consider. You can drill the tank yourself (there are countless demonstration videos on YouTube you can reference) or you can install an overflow box to bring water from your display tank to the sump.

How big should your sump be relative to your display tank?

In my opinion, a sump can never be too big. In fact, the bigger the better, in my experience. When I first got into reefing, I recall seeing Julian Sprung’s 15-gallon reef tank with a 60-gallon sump (refugium, actually) in a few magazines and in one of his books.

But you can go too small. A 10-gallon sump on a 55-gallon aquarium is unlikely to provide the space you need for equipment. It is also a good idea to have a sump large enough to accommodate some extra water in the event your return pump fails and water is back-siphoned from your display tank into the sump.

 Learn more about Leo's sump and the equipment he uses to keep his reef healthy.

A sump discussion would not be complete without covering the major pros and cons of running one, so let’s dig in to help determine if a sump is right for you.

The Pros of Running a Sump
  • Increased water volume. Greater water volume generally provides a more stable and forgiving environment for livestock, which are always good for a reef aquarium.

  • Hide aquarium equipment. Not having to place your heater, probes, protein skimmer and other equipment in (or hanging-on) your aquarium will make your display tank look cleaner and more natural.

  • More protein skimmer options. The number of in-tank and hang-on back protein skimmers available is limited; in-sump skimmer options are plentiful.

  • Sumps are great vessels for dosing supplements. This can help prevent high concentrations of chemicals from coming into contact with your prized coral collection.

  • Constant water level in your display tank. When you have a sump, water lost from evaporation will only drop the water level inside the sump and not in your display tank.

  • Automatic top-off systems are more reliable. Auto top-offs tend to work best in sumps.

  • More filtration options. With more space to work with, you can strengthen your filtration system by utilizing filter socks, sponges, a refugium, protein skimmer and/or media reactor.

See more of Charles' 180-gallon reef aquarium and sump setup.

The Cons of Running a Sump
  • Your aquarium may be louder. An increase in noise caused by water splashing into the sump or overflow is possible. Additional equipment you add to augment your filtration system may also increase noise.

  • Possible flooding if installed incorrectly or piping detaches. When the return pump is de-energized, the water level in your display tank will drop to overflow levels and water inside tubing will drain and fill the sump.  If the “dry” area of the sump (the area between the running water level and the rim of the sump) is not large enough, this could cause excess water to overflow the rim of the sump.

  • You will spend more money. There are some increased costs to using a sump, especially if you have one custom made (although it is well worth the cost, in my opinion).

  • Not all sump setups are created equal. If your aquarium is not drilled for a sump, you will need an external overflow box. While certainly a great substitution for a drilled tank, they are not as ideal as a built-in overflow. There is a higher chance of flooding due to failure in comparison.

The 34-gallon NextReef NRS-36 Aquarium Sump available now at Marine Depot.

At this point in my hobby career, I would not even consider setting up a reef tank without a sump unless it was an all-in-one (AIO) style aquarium. The benefits of a sump far outweigh the risks.

If you are planning a new reef aquarium, spend a little extra to get a tank with a built-in overflow. If you already have an aquarium up and running and are looking to add a sump, consider using an overflow box or drill* your tank for an overflow. I am confident you will be happy with the results of adding a sump to your aquarium system.

*Before you begin drilling your aquarium, do some research. Get the proper tools. Note that tempered glass cannot be drilled. Please also take into consideration that drilling an aquarium generally voids any store or manufacturer warranty the tank may carry. Questions? Contact us!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Will it Fit? Video Series: JBJ 45-Gallon RL Rimless Cube

This is the fourth installment of "Will it Fit?", a new Marine Depot video series!

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive from hobbyists is "Will this skimmer/reactor/etc. fit in my aquarium?"

We felt this presented us with an opportunity to make a fun new video series to demonstrate whether some of our newest and most popular aquarium equipment will fit in a particular tank.

In this episode we take a look at the sleek JBJ 45 Gallon RL Rimless Cube Aquarium.


You may discover that some of the equipment featured in this installment and future episodes could fit if modded or changed in some form or another. Our intention with this video series is to highlight equipment we know will fit without having to make any significant changes to the item itself or your aquarium, which may potentially void a product warranty.

If you discover another piece of equipment that will fit in the back chambers of a JBJ 45 Gallon RL Rimless Cube Aquarium, please let us (and other hobbyists) know in the comments.

Here's a link to the products shown in this video.

Thanks for watching! Don't forget to subscribe to be notified when we post new videos.