Friday, December 19, 2014

7 ways to be prepared for an aquarium emergency

Almost everyday somebody calls us with an aquarium emergency. Though occasionally we are surprised by an odd fish tank fiasco, we have heard (and helped) callers in myriad situations. A hurricane is about to make landfall. A tree has knocked out a power line. A child just peed in the aquarium. Your prized fish just broke out in spots. The tank has sprung a leak. The dog chewed the pump cord. And so on.

We are here to help, and happy to do so, but in the midst of an aquarium catastrophe there is only so much we can do to help when things have already gone south. This is why we highly recommend that you prepare in advance for something to go wrong. You have invested a lot of time, effort and money into your aquariums. So, why not be prepared?

You don’t have to build a bomb shelter for the apocalypse in order to be prepared for an aquarium disaster. With only a little preparation and a few items you can set yourself up to withstand most problems that will come your way. Here is our list of seven great ideas which will set you up for success when things go south.


Water has rightly been called the elixir of life. The single most vital aspect of an aquarium is water. So, wise aquarists keep water ready at all times, and the more the better. Freshwater systems should have de-chlorinated, oxygenated, and heated replacement water on hand. Saltwater aquariums should also have backup water ready to go in the midst of an emergency. Having extra salt mix on hand is also important. Once I did something epically klutzy during routine maintenance and broke the glass on a full reef aquarium. As water pored through the crack I had made, panic began to set in. The only thing that saved the inhabitants was a reservoir full of heated saltwater and a Rubbermaid bin ready to house everything. Ready water is the single most important thing you can do to be prepared.


Next to water, there are two basic things your aquarium needs to keep the inhabitants alive: oxygen and heat. Nature can be unpredictable. If you want to be prepared for an extended power outage (you do want to be prepared, right?) then you need a way to take care of both of these.

Once the pumps turn off and water stops circulating, oxygen levels will fall quickly. On the high end, some powerheads, like the EcoTech Marine VorTech and Tunze Stream, have optional battery backups. With a battery backup, should the power fail the backup immediately kicks in so the pump keeps running. These can keep water moving for days. On the more economic side, a battery powered air pump can mean the difference between life and death for your aquarium. A battery powered air pump will both oxygenate and circulate water. For larger aquariums, multiple battery powered air pumps are necessary. Be sure to have batteries on hand should the power stay off for long.

Heat is the other aspect you must be prepared for. During warmer months the temperature can quickly rise to dangerous levels during a power outage or chiller failure, sapping oxygen and endangering the fish. Opening up the windows for a breeze may help a bit, but often is not enough. I recommend keeping a few plastic soda bottles filled with water in the freezer. Drop one into the sump (or main tank) to help bring the temperature down. But, be sure to monitor the aquarium. Cycle the bottles out as the ice inside melts.

In colder months, the problem will be keeping the temperature up. The first thing you should do is to wrap the aquarium. Newspaper or blankets wrapped around the aquarium and secured with tape work great to insulate the aquarium and prevent heat loss. Then you can warm up water and put it in those bottles you had in the freezer. Be careful not to make the water so hot that the plastic melts. Then, as the bottles cool off you can heat more water and repeat the process.


There are a few items in your aquarium that are absolutely necessary to keep the inhabitants alive. You can go days without lights, a protein skimmer, or a calcium reactor. But, you should own a backup for each critical item. The backup parts don’t need to be the highest quality. They just need to be serviceable. A heater is necessary to keep the water warm. A powerhead is necessary to keep the water flowing.  For a system with a sump or refugium, a backup pump is a great idea. I also prefer to have backup impellers on hand, since impellers are more likely to break than the pumps. Look over your system, think of anything that would create a serious problem should it stop working, and have a backup. Usually these items won’t be sitting in storage because they can be used for your...


Often, the best way to prepare for an emergency is to prevent an emergency from arising. Nothing should enter your aquarium before being quarantined for weeks. During quarantine, observe your fish for disease and parasites. Check your coral for pests like aiptasia. Should one of your fish or coral need to be isolated, your quarantine tank can be put into use as a hospital tank. A basic quarantine system will include a simple filter (like a sponge filter), a heater, and a light (if you have coral). In addition, your quarantine tank can serve as part of your emergency water supply. Just know that a tank which has been treated with copper should never house invertebrates like coral, nor should the water be used in any tank with invertebrates.


Your house probably has a few basic medicines that you keep on hand. Your fish tank should be no different. Having a few basics in your kit can go a long way in treating diseases and parasites. Often, the difference between life and death is speedy treatment. Seachem Cupramine is great to have in your kit for the treatment of external parasites like Ich and Marine Velvet. You will also need a copper test kit in order to dose properly. API Pimafix is a good medication to have on hand for the treatment of various fungal and bacterial infections. A medicated food, like New Life Spectrum Thera-A, can also assist with internal parasites. Keep in mind that some medications have expiration dates. Follow all instructions carefully and research well before using any medication. At times, the medicine can be more dangerous than the disease, especially in inexperienced hands.


UV sterilizers are a preventative measure that can help you avoid problems in your tank, in particular with parasites. A UV sterilizer is a water filter that blasts the water with ultraviolet rays. Parasites, algae, and bacteria that pass through the filter will either be killed or sterilized so that they cannot reproduce. As a bonus, sterilizers make the water clearer. While a sterilizer will not kill any parasites on your fish, it will reduce the amount of parasites and bacteria in your aquarium water, reducing the chance for an outbreak in your aquarium. Sterilizers are a staple of professional aquariums.


There are a few basics that I keep in my aquarium emergency kit. Silicone glue can be used to patch up small leaks. Teflon tape will solve some plumbing leaks. There are certain plumbing parts that are worth having extras of. Hose clamps wear out. Check valves get stuck from time to time. Ball valves can stop working properly. Bulkhead seals can deteriorate. An aquarium part cleaner, like Magi-Klean, can get a seized pump working again.


There you have it. For everything you have invested in this hobby, these few steps are a small price to pay for a large measure of security. We love to help, but we would much rather you did not have to call because you were not prepared for an emergency. If you have any questions about preparing for aquarium emergencies, please contact us for support.

Friday, November 21, 2014

15% off Site-Wide at Marine Depot until Cyber Monday

Take 15% off your orders now until midnight Cyber Monday with coupon code BLACKFRIDAY2014.

For even bigger discounts, keep checking for updates and subscribe to our email newsletter for exclusive doorbusters and VIP coupon codes.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reefing On a Budget: Adding LEDs to Your T5 Fixture

When the upgrade bug strikes, perhaps the hardest part is realizing that the stuff that you have won't work for your next build. That's exactly what happened to me when I moved from a 40 gallon reef system to a gigantic 120 gallon. I had to upgrade almost everything, including the most painful of all, my lights. My 4-bulb, 36-inch AquaticLife fixture was great, but it simply wasn't going to power the new tank.

Time To Go Shopping

Day 1 - When I realized I'd made a huge mistake!

I knew that I'd eventually be moving to a 6-bulb ATI T5 system, but I needed to make do in the mean time while I saved up the cash. My answer? Take a horticulture T5 fixture and retrofit it with LED strips to give color and a sunrise/sunset feature.

I looked at a lot of different options, but finally settled on the TrueLumen Pro, 48-inch Marine Fusion model. The Marine Fusion is a mixture of 12k white and 452 nm blue lights that would allow me to have a nice viewing light for the tank without having to power on my T5 fixture.

The challenge that I had with adding the LED strip was that the design of the T5 fixture didn't allow a lot of room to work inside of the reflector area. I knew that I would need to mount the TrueLumen Pro to the outer frame, so I started measuring and finding the right place to get the job done. Unfortunately, the included brackets for the TrueLumen Pro were slightly too long to fit where I wanted them, so I had to improvise a bit.

I eventually settled on having the TrueLumen Pro on the outside rim of the fixture, and the brackets matched up almost perfectly. Hooray! With just a couple of pilot holes drilled, and using the included screws, I had the Marine Fusion strip in place in no time.

It's worth noting that, when Current USA says that the TrueLumen Pro is 48 inches long, that's exactly what they mean. For some of you, this can cause a problem if you're wanting to use the strip on a fixture that happens to be a bit shorter than 48 inches. If that's the case, I can recommend stepping down a size to 36 inches. In fact, I did just that after having a change of heart about the lighting color.

Points to Ponder

If you're considering taking a retrofit route, there is a lot to think about. We've seen some amazing fixtures that combine high end LEDs with T5, but I was aiming to "fill the gap" on a budget. All in all I'm happy with the results, but there are some things that I'd do differently.
  1. Measure! With better, more careful measurement I would have made a different choice about how I mounted the fixture.

  2. Consider your goals. I thought I wanted full-color sunrise/sunset. What I really wanted was actinic supplement and moonlight. Changing to the Deepwater Blue fixture got me what I wanted, but not before I made a costly mistake with the first choice.

  3. Rip it apart. You're going to be drilling, adhering or otherwise permanently changing your fixture. If you spend a few minutes to tear it apart before making a decision, you'll have a better idea of how you'll need to mount the light, how you can run the cables, etc.

  4. Buy a dimmer. Holy cow this light is bright! Don't underestimate how much power a big strip of LEDs can have. If you're going for anything less than daylight, you'll want to buy an inline dimmer. Fortunately, they're really inexpensive. 

Wrapping Up

All things considered, I'm really happy with the results that I've seen with this modification. If I had it to do over again, I'd change some things, but the end result would still be the same. I have beautiful actinic supplementation, my corals seem to love the extra light and I got the look that I wanted without having to break the bank. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Redundancies and Backups: 8 Ways to Prevent your Reef Tank from Crashing

If you have been in this hobby long enough, you or someone you know has probably experienced some sort of major aquarium disaster.

Whether it is a loss of livestock, failed equipment or damage to your home (hardwood floors and water don’t mix), many of these unfortunate events can be prevented by setting up redundant or backup systems and having spare equipment available.

Although we hope for the best, today we are going to share some of the lessons we have learned—sometimes the hard way—about how to prepare for the worst.

We help customers plan and upgrade their aquarium systems to be more fail-safe all the time. Plus, since we have been through the wringer a time or two ourselves, we felt a responsibility to pass along this knowledge to hopefully help you prevent your tank from crashing some day.


A stable temperature is KEY to a successful reef tank. Fluctuations up or down may cause devastation to your aquarium. Some species are more tolerant to change, but delicate fish and corals need a very stable temperature.

A reef aquarium can be wiped out quickly if the temperature rises too high. Outbreaks of disease may occur and spread quickly when dramatic temperature changes take place. It is, therefore, essential to keep the temperature steady in your tank at all times.

To be mindful of your aquarium temperature, you can focus on three areas: your thermometer (to measure the temperature), your heater and ways to help cool the tank down.
  • Using a controller to monitor and control your tank’s temperature is just one safeguard, but even a controller can fail. Using multiple thermometers in conjunction with a controller can help monitor your aquarium water temperature more effectively. Using a digital thermometer with an audible alarm is even better!

  • Instead of using a single heater (for medium to larger aquariums), using multiple smaller heaters can help prevent overheating or no heating if one fails. For example, if your tank requires 300 watts of heating, using three 100 watt or two 150 watt heaters instead of a single 300 watt heater is generally a better choice. Another option that is more along the lines of redundancy is to have two sets of heaters for the tank with different set points for turning on and off. The “second” set can swing in to action if the first set fails keeping the tanks temperature from falling too low. It is also a good idea to keep a couple of spare heaters on hand, just in case.

  • Having backup fans for evaporative cooling in case your chiller goes down (or if you don’t own a chiller) can help in a bind to keep your tank’s temperature in a safe zone. Another trick is to have your aquarium controller shut off your lights if/when your tank temperature gets too high.


Aquarium lights are one of the most important pieces of equipment for a reef tank. Many reef inhabitants depend on the light you provide for survival. Although corals can survive without light for a couple of days without trouble, any longer and they may begin to feel the effects. Don’t leave your corals in the dark: stock up on backup bulbs and ballasts so you can turn the lights back on quickly in case of equipment failure.
  • Bulbs: Keeping extra aquarium light bulbs on hand in case one goes out is a must. Having backups allows you to exchange burnt out bulbs without having to wait for replacements to arrive. If you have old bulbs that still work, hang on to them until the next cycle of bulb swaps. You may be able to use one in a pinch. Metal halide and fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, so please recycle your used bulbs to ensure they do not end up in landfills.

  • Ballasts: If you use a single source of light for your aquarium (like a single metal halide bulb, for example) having a backup ballast in case yours fails can definitely help to save the day.


Using aquarium monitoring devices to keep a close eye on key water parameters like pH, nitrate and salinity is a wonderful way to help keep your aquarium water chemistry stable. They give you a glimpse into the overall health of your system and can help identify a rising problem before it becomes disastrous.

A dramatic overnight swing in pH, for example, can indicate a dropping alkalinity level in the aquarium; a change in average temperature can indicate a heater or chiller failure.

To ensure these devices are recording accurately, just use good old-fashioned aquarium water test kits once per month to verify the results. While using a monitor may seem redundant enough, it is always a good idea to ensure the equipment is working properly and is calibrated correctly in order to protect your precious reef. Not to mention a variety of parameters cannot be monitored electronically. Water testing usually becomes routine for any successful reefer.


You might consider your return pump the heart of your aquarium system. If circulation shuts down, oxygen levels can drop fairly quickly. Should the oxygen level get too low, livestock may begin to suffocate. Witnessing your fish gasp for air at the water surface is heartbreaking.

There are many reasons a return pump can fail, from a broken impeller to simple burn out. Regardless of the cause, the important thing to be aware of is an aquarium can crash quite rapidly without any water circulation. It may be outside the budget of some hobbyists, yet depending on how much you have invested in your reef, purchasing a spare return pump can literally be a lifesaver and save you a fortune in the long run.

If your return pump is rather pricey and a backup of the same make/model isn’t feasible at the moment, you might consider less expensive alternatives for your backup pump. Providing a temporary fix while you get your main return pump serviced or replaced offers great peace of mind. Pumps like the MagDrive or Rio are perfect to keep on the shelf for these types of emergency situations.

On the same note, having extra circulation pumps/powerheads to keep the water moving within the tank in the event of an emergency is highly recommended. Our staff uses Hydor Koralia, Cobalt Aquatics MJ or Marineland Maxi-Jet pumps for backup and utility purposes. They are reliable, affordable and can keep your fish and corals content while you repair your main system.


Raise your hand if your ATO system has caused a flood in your home or office. Don’t feel bad: you are not alone!

Sadly, auto top-off systems can and do fail. Whether you are filling your aquarium directly from a RO/DI filter, topping off from a reservoir or simply filling a portable container to mix saltwater, no system is completely foolproof.

Using an ATO system with a redundant float valve or sensor (or picking up a second to add to your existing system) can help prevent flooding. If you are dosing kalkwasser from your top-off water, I highly—and can’t stress this enough—recommend having a redundant float valve running. I have seen some absolutely beautiful reef tanks destroyed by an overdose of kalkwasser because of a failed sensor or valve. Don’t let it happen to you!


I lived in Southern California for nearly a decade and currently reside in the Northeastern United States. Needless to say, power outages are something I have grown accustomed to. From earthquakes and hurricanes to tropical, snow, wind and/or lightning storms, I have faced off with Mother Nature in just about every way possible except for a typhoon (knock on wood).

Power outages caused by these sorts of events generally last only an hour or two. However in 2012, Hurricane Sandy left my home without power for nearly 10 days. Fortunately, I was prepared. My backup generator kicked on and literally saved my fish tank. I did not suffer a single loss during that stressful period.

Even if you don’t have the space or means for a backup generator, there are other more affordable backup devices available that you can use to keep key pieces of equipment running in the event of a power outage.

EcoTech Marine’s Battery Backup can keep your VorTech pump going for up to 60 hours after the power goes out (30 hours for two pumps). You can even add a second Battery Backup to double the run time.

An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is another way to protect your aquarium in the event the power goes out. Although typically marketed toward computer users and businesses, large UPS devices can keep a small water pump or air pump running for hours.

Another inexpensive and popular backup device is a battery-operated air pump. Like the aforementioned devices, a battery air pump can help keep the oxygen level in your tank in the safe zone while your main system pumps are inoperable, just be sure to have plenty of batteries!


Storing fresh top-off water and having extra saltwater prepared for emergency water changes are among the best decisions you can make as a reef aquarium owner. You don’t necessarily need to experience an equipment failure or suffer through a power outage for your reserve water supply to save the day. You may simply be returning home from a long day at the office or a weekend away with the family to discover a problem in your tank; such as the untimely death of an anemone or accidental over dose. Giving yourself the tools to rescue your tank at a moment’s notice can truly be the difference between life and death.


Aquarium controllers have come along way in terms of how they can help prevent a disaster in your aquarium. The benefits of monitoring your water parameters and controlling your equipment from a single device saves you time and energy. Integrating leak detectors and float switches to prevent floods or burning out pumps can easily prevent an expensive mistake.

The real lifesaving features of a controller comes into play when you have remote access and alerts set up. Advanced controller systems offer the ability to access your controller via the web and set up alerts to notify you by email or text when changes occur in your aquarium. You can even turn your equipment on and off from a remote location and view all of your water parameters to give you peace of mind that your tank is running smoothly no matter where you are.

With all of the time, money and effort we dedicate to becoming excellent stewards of aquatic life, investing in redundancies, backup equipment and power supplies to prevent and resolve aquarium emergencies should really be a no-brainer.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

How to Set Up a Dosing Pump

In a reef aquarium, elements and nutrients corals and invertebrates use to survive must be replenished by the aquarium owner.

The rate these elements and nutrients are depleted varies from tank to tank based on the organisms inside the aquarium. If a reef aquarium is fully stocked, they may need to be replenished daily.

Setting up an automatic dosing system to administer the proper amount of elements and nutrients for your reef tank can be an enormous benefit. Not only to your sanity, but to the animals that call your tank home.

One of the most reliable ways to automatically dose your aquarium is by using a peristaltic dosing pump.

Peristaltic dosing pumps are perfect for dosing fluids into aquariums because they deliver them at a safe, precise and controlled rate. They are also self-priming and can draw fluids/supplements out of a dosing container, into the pump and then into your aquarium without any harm to the pump itself.

If you have been kicking around the idea of setting up an automatic dosing system for your reef tank, this article is for you. We provide step-by-step instructions and reveal how to set up a dosing pump to free you from maintenance with the larger goal of creating a thriving coral reef in your home or office.

STEP 1: Choose Your Pump

There are a variety of dosing pumps available. All perform the same basic duty of adding fluid to your aquarium at a safe, slow rate. The major differences between them are the number of supplements you can dose and whether or not the pump can be programmed.

Some dosing pumps are continuous duty. They can only dose a single supplement and do not include a built-in controller. These pumps require a standard timer or aquarium controller to turn the pump on and off as necessary based on your dosing needs. The amount of time the pump operates will control the amount of fluid being dosed.

Higher-end dosing pumps often include built-in controllers and multiple pumps to dose several different liquids. These pumps are ideal because no additional equipment is required to control them and you can set up a comprehensive dosing system to cover everything from feeding corals to maintaining calcium and alkalinity. Other cool features like controllable flow rates, aquarium controller compatibility and the ability to integrate float switches or water sensors may also be included.

The programming capabilities of the controller should not be overlooked. Specs vary from pump to pump, so it is important to ensure the dosing pump you are considering is capable of delivering the amount of fluid you need at the correct rate. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask our experts.

STEP #2: Get the Equipment

Even after you select a dosing pump, there may be some additional equipment required to get the system up and running.

Most include enough tubing to run to and from the pump. However, if you have a tall aquarium, you may need to acquire additional tubing that is long enough to accommodate your specific needs.

A tube holder of some sort is almost always necessary because it keeps your tubing in place on the edge of your aquarium or sump. A tube holder not only keeps your tubing organized, it also helps prevent back siphoning water out of your aquarium since it is highly unlikely the tubes will ever accidentally fall into your tank.

Dosing containers are another great accessory. They offer the ability to store supplements for dosing and be emptied without losing prime. Most dosing containers are tapped at the bottom or feature a long downstem to draw fluid from the bottom. This ensures the pump stays primed until the container is empty. Another benefit of dosing containers is they look professional, save space (often stackable) and may even feature a graduated metric scale for easy measuring.

STEP #3: Mount the Pump and Attach Tubing

A dosing pump can usually be mounted discreetly inside your aquarium stand. Since dosing pumps are not submersible and can be damaged by heavy moisture or salt creep, it is important that the unit be secured in some form.

Bubble Magus has a beautiful (sold separately) bracket that works for their BM-T01 dosing pump and BM-T02 extension; others keep it simple and have slots for screws in the back. Your dosing pump should be placed within close proximity of the supplements you are dosing and your tank or sump so you do not have to run long lengths of tubing.

I have observed two types of tubing connections on dosing pumps: standard barb-style fittings and heavy-duty compression fittings. Compression fittings are preferred because they ensure a secure, leakproof connection with your tubing.

Your tubing will need to be cut to length, but be careful not to cut it too short. Allowing a little excess may help you maneuver the tubing in and out of sight, if necessary. Attach tubing to both the suction and pressure sides of the pump, then to your dosing containers. Next, secure the tubing to your aquarium or sump. Be sure the ends of the dosing tubes are ABOVE the water line. This ensures water will not be back siphoned out of your aquarium.

You can actually place tubing directly into your supplement bottles if you prefer. The biggest problem with this approach is the tubing may not pull out all the supplement fluid before losing prime. This can leave you with 1-2” of usable fluid left in the supplement bottle. A good way to combat this problem is to attach a ¼” piece of rigid airline tubing to the end of the dosing tube to reach deeper into the bottle (or just use the nice dosing containers mentioned earlier).

STEP #4: Set the Dosing Schedule

When you first set up your automatic dosing system, expect some trial and error. Basically you will need to dose, test your water parameters and then readjust the dosing schedule so that it fit your aquarium’s needs.

For dosing pumps with fixed flow rates, you can use a simple calculation to estimate the length of time to run the pump. For example:
Let’s say your pump is rated to deliver three liters per hour and you need to dose 100mL per day. You can deduce the pump delivers approximately 50mL per minute. You can then set the pump to run for two minutes once every 24 hours. You can use our handy conversion calculator to help you here.

Keeping with this example, if you wanted to split the dosage in two to avoid larger fluctuations in water chemistry, you could set the pump to run for one minute every 12 hours.
The way the controller works varies from pump to pump, although most work based off a simple program: how long the pump should run and how many times it should run within a period of time. If your dosing pump does not have a built-in controller, the concept remains the same. Set your timer to run the pump for however long you need based on the pump’s flow rate.

Sophisticated high-end dosing pumps, like the new Neptune Systems DŌS or Innovative Aquatics Sentry, offer the ability to adjust the rate at which the pump turns to control the flow rate. This type of precise control may not be necessary for all aquarium owners, but it is certainly nice for those of us who need to micro-dose or create complex dosing schedules consisting of several supplements.

STEP #5: Test and Monitor Water Parameters

Once you have your schedule set up, do trial runs before applying the system to your tank.

The easiest way to do this is by using a couple of inert glass or plastic cups to collect the dosed fluids rather than simply allowing the unit to dose your aquarium. After the first cycle has completed, measure the amount of fluid to ensure you are dosing the intended amount, or close to it. This way you can be sure your program is correct.

You are now ready to allow the unit to dose your aquarium.

I recommend testing the affected water parameters and adjust accordingly. If you are using the dosing pump to feed your aquarium inhabitants, schedule it so you are able to view the tank during the first couple of feedings to ensure the proper amount is being dispensed. Make sure your protein skimmer does not overflow due to the supplements being dosed. If it does, you might consider putting the skimmer on a timer so it shuts off during the times when your aquarium is being dosed.