Friday, August 15, 2014

COMING SOON: Kessil Spectral Controller


The long-awaited Kessil Spectral Controller will soon be available at Marine Depot. This is the controller that many Kessil owners have been waiting for since the very initial release of the Kessil A360 back in the spring of 2013.

Finally, automated control of your Kessil A360 without needing to purchase a $500 aquarium controller!



Out of the box, I was immediately impressed by the quality of the controller. It is made of high-grade materials and has a very solid feel.  It has a nice-sized color LCD display that is clear and crisp. The capacitive buttons are pleasantly responsive and very easy to use. A nifty and unexpected feature was the magnetic back-plate for installation as opposed to the cheap Velcro that is typically seen.




The Kessil Spectral Controller allows you to control two independent banks of lights through its two 0-10V ports. This is great if you have multiple aquariums, like a display and a refugium, or a large aquarium where you would like to have different programming for the lights. Each group of lights within the bank can then be daisy-chained with Kessil's Control Link Cable.




Programming is easy and intuitive. There are three modes: manual, quick-set and acclimation. 
  • Manual mode allows you to instantly set the spectrum/color and intensity.
  • Quick-Set mode allows you to program the intensity and color through out the six set points. 
  • Acclimation mode allows you to lower the lighting intensity when new corals are added or using the Kessil LED lights for the first time.
You are able to save up to 8 Quick-Set or Acclimation settings and easily change from one program to another. When you go back to the home screen, it conveniently show you which mode you are in as well as the current color/intensity setting for each of the two banks.



While the programming seems basic compared to other more extensive LED controllers, it does have all the crucial features put together in an extremely easy-to-use package.

Personally, I've become quite fond of the thunderstorms and cloud simulation features on my current LED lights. Fortunately, the software is upgradeable, so hopefully Kessil will develop and incorporate some of these "fancier" features in future updates.

We are hoping to have the Kessil Spectral Controller available sometime in September. Pricing is expected to be $99.00. If you would like to be alerted when the controller becomes available, please subscribe to our email newsletter.

Gorgeous reef aquarium at the Aquarium of the Pacific!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How to Set Up a Seahorse Aquarium


Seahorses are one of the most interesting animals you can keep in a home aquarium.

The way they look and swim is fascinating and, whether you have an appreciation for aquatic animals or not, most people will agree they are just plain mysterious and unearthly creatures.

Seahorses embody a mystical symbolism within a number of cultures. The scientific name “Hippocampus” actually comes from a Greek and Roman mythological creature.

Ancient European cultures regarded the Seahorse as a symbol of strength, power and good luck. In traditional Chinese medicine, Seahorses are eaten or made into tonic to help fortify the kidneys; it is popular for elderly men to consume them or drink the tonic to stay young, vibrant and maintain a healthy libido!

Before you even consider keeping Seahorses in an aquarium, you need to educate yourself on the needs of these animals.

Wild Seahorses are highly a threatened species. In the aquarium trade, it is quite unfortunate because 99% of the attempts at keeping these animals end up in failure. Seahorses are delicate, fragile animals that require specific care in order to survive in captivity.

This article will give you a complete rundown on how to create a suitable environment for these mystical aquarium animals and should help increase your odds of success.



First and foremost, where are you going to buy a Seahorse?

I would regard many of the Seahorse specimens available at local fish stores as irresponsible purchases for most of us. Many are not bred in captivity and may carry dangerous pathogens into your aquarium, which will eventually kill your new pet. Wild Seahorses might also reject frozen/prepared foods. Wild caught or ocean-pen raised horses are difficult to rear in captivity. These animals are best left to the experts considering their threatened status in the wild and high demand for care.


Photo Credit: Darren Foreman

It is difficult to find a trusted source of truly captive-bred Seahorses (those born and raised in a clean, sterile environment with synthetic or properly sterilized seawater). It is therefore important to do some research and speak with others in the aquarium community. Joining a forum is a great way to get in touch with experienced horse tamers and find a suitable source. There are a few reputable websites here in the U.S. that sell Seahorses direct to the public. A quick Google search will point you in the right direction.

Your next step is to decide which species you plan to keep and educate yourself about that particular type of Seahorse.

While the actual tank set up and care for Seahorses is pretty much identical, the specific dietary needs and ideal temperature range can vary. Seahorses are naturally found in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate environments. More often than not, it is easier to keep tropical species since it is easier to maintain proper temperatures. Seahorses kept in aquariums with improper temperatures are almost guaranteed to perish within a short time of being in captivity—I will touch more on this below.



Seahorse Husbandry

Seahorses belong to the family Syngnathidae and Genus Hippocampus with 54 known species. They live in shallow marine environments in a variety of different locations throughout our oceans. Seahorses are typically found in or around coral reefs, sea grass beds, mangroves and estuaries where water currents are mild and plenty of natural structure/cover is available to avoid predators. They are closely related to Pipefish and are a “Bony Fish,” but have skin (instead of scales) which makes them highly susceptible to infections.

Seahorses are gentle creatures with sensitive immune systems and have minimal natural defenses. Most successful Seahorse aquariums are species-specific because very few animals can be kept in combination with Seahorses. A species-specific tank provides a safe environment that allows Seahorses to get plenty of food and live a stress-free life.

Here is a list* of what I consider safe companions for Seahorse aquariums. As you can see, the list is neither long nor particularly exciting:
  • Snails (Nerite, Nassarius, Turbo, Astrea, Cerith and Trochus)
  • Small Hermit Crabs (Scarlet and Blue Leg)
  • Peppermint Shrimp
  • Feather Dusters
  • Gorgonians
*Keep in mind this is merely a guide. You may experience success keeping Seahorses with a variety of other marine animals. I just prefer to be safe than sorry!

Seahorses are not strong swimmers and will need a low flow environment in order to move about the aquarium and feed at will. Fun fact: the slowest moving fish in the ocean are Pygmy Seahorses! Try to provide mild to moderate water flow and keep a few areas of very low flow in the aquarium where the Seahorses can settle down to rest.

Seahorses prefer a low light environment with a regular 12 on/12 off schedule. Most standard aquarium lights are acceptable. You want to avoid high output reef aquarium lighting as it can stress out your horses. Just another reason not to place a Seahorse in your reef tank!

Seahorses are highly susceptible to pathogens and disease. You should always quarantine new horses for 6-12 weeks before introducing them into an existing aquarium that contains seahorses. Medication and treatment techniques are available and well-documented online. Do a little research before administering any treatment to ensure you have properly identified the ailment.

A Seahorse aquarium should be adorned with plenty of hitching posts or slender decorations for your horses to wrap their prehensile tails around so they can rest in between feedings. Fake plants, kelp, dead coral, live macro-algae and mangroves are all excellent hitching posts.

The coolest Seahorse tanks I have seen are stocked with a variety of macro-algae that act as natural hitching posts for Seahorses. Macro-algae can thrive in an aquarium with minimal care.


Photo Credit: Holden Gehrung

Seahorse Aquarium Size

Seahorses prefer tall aquariums with a minimum height of about 18”. The general rule for tank size is 20-30 gallons per adult pair of horses. The height of the aquarium should be at least 3-4 times the height of the Seahorse’s adult size. Seahorses range in size from ½” all the way up to about 12” depending on the species, which is another reason why pre-purchase research is so important!


Photo Credit: Neil H

Seahorse Aquarium Filtration

Keeping the water clean in a Seahorse tank is critical. Sumps, canister filters, hang-on power filters and even all-in-one aquariums with built-in filtration are suitable for Seahorses.

You will need an effective filter, but keep in mind the flow rate in your tank must be kept to a minimum. Spray bars or flow diffusers can help. Multiple return nozzles can be used to spread flow around without creating areas of high turbulence so that detritus is kept suspended for removal by your filter.

With frequent feedings and waste, Seahorse tanks must have effective mechanical filtration—such as filter socks, sponges or filter floss—to remove particulates from your aquarium water. These mechanical filters need to be cleaned or replaced often to avoid a build-up of nitrates.

A protein skimmer is highly recommended to remove dissolved waste and keep nitrates at low levels. Micro-bubbles can lead to health problems in Seahorses, so be sure your skimmer is running efficiently and effectively to avoid any issues.

Remember, clean water helps keep Seahorses stress-free and will promote healthy, strong immune systems.


Photo Credit: Matt Chan

Seahorse Aquarium Water Parameters

The water temperature in a Seahorse tank needs to be set according to the particular species in your care in order to recreate their natural environment. I have outlined the temperature ranges of Seahorses’ native environments below.
  • Tropical: 71-74° F
  • Sub-tropical: 67-70° F
  • Temperate: 64-66° F
You probably noticed these ranges are cooler than most tropical aquariums. When kept at higher temperatures, Seahorses can become stressed and fall victim to pathogens or disease they might otherwise be able to fend off.

In warm captive environments, certain pathogens can reproduce faster and be found in higher concentrations, putting your Seahorse at greater risk of infection. It is therefore essential to keep Seahorse aquariums within the proper temperature range and always practice proper quarantine techniques.

A fan blowing across the surface of your aquarium water can help keep the water temperature within ideal ranges for a tropical species. Be sure to monitor the aquarium’s water temperature prior to introducing Seahorses to the tank. A chiller may be required to keep temperatures stable depending on the tank’s location in your home and your local climate.

Typical marine aquarium water chemistry is suitable for Seahorses. I have outlined each of the major water parameters below. Be sure not to let your pH level swing too dramatically and keep the salinity level in check.
  • pH: 8.0 to 8.3 
  • Specific gravity: 1.020 to 1.024
  • Ammonia:
  • Nitrite:
  • Nitrate: <20 ppm
  • Phosphates: 0
  • Ca: 420ppm
  • Alk: 8-9ppm
  • Mg: 120

Photo Credit: icelight

Feeding Seahorses

Seahorses are naturally ambush predators and feed on a variety of small crustaceans in the wild.

In captivity, Seahorses should be fed at least twice a day. Be sure to offer food slowly to give the animals time to consume what you put in the aquarium before it gets lost in the filter. Turning off your pumps and protein skimmer during feeding time is helpful; a device like the CPR Smart Feeder that helps distribute food to less aggressive eaters, like bottom-dwellers and seahorses, can also be beneficial.

Most captive-bred Seahorses readily accept frozen foods but will require a varied diet. Below is a list of frozen prepared foods suitable for your Seahorse. It is a good idea to fortify these foods with vitamins and/or HUFAs to ensure complete nutrition. American Marine Selcon is a great product to use for this purpose.
It is safe to feed a variety of live foods as well. Here is a list of live foods that will help you raise strong, healthy little horses. They also help satisfy natural predation behavior—which is quite entertaining to watch.
  • Brine Shrimp
  • Ghost Shrimp
  • Copepods
  • Amphipods
  • Rotifers

Seahorse References

Thursday, August 07, 2014

HM Digital Triple Inline TDS Monitor: 3 IS better than 2


Excessive algae growth is one of the most common and most frustrating problems that that many hobbyists face.

Once algae growth gets out of hand, it can be quite a tough battle. While water changes, adding GFO and other filter media helps to lower those nutrient levels, the source of the problem is often overlooked.

Most hobbyists will assume that just because they have an RO/DI system that their water source is pure. However, regular cartridge changes and water monitoring are often neglected and that fancy 4-stage RO/DI filter now has the effectiveness of a wad of cotton in your water bucket.



Tap water quality can vary significantly from city-to-city and the amount of water used can also vary greatly from one hobbyist to the next. The general 6-8 month replacement rule doesn’t always apply.

The three measurements that are important in monitoring your RO/DI system is the input water, the water produced by the RO and the final water output through your DI cartridge.

The measurement of the input water allows to your monitor how dirty your tap water is (which can actually vary significantly throughout the day).

The second measurement of the water produced by the RO allows you to see if your TFC membrane is doing its job. The TFC membrane should remove at least 95% of the TDS from your tap water. High-end TFC membranes can remove up to 99% of TDS, such as the SpectraPure SpectraSelect Plus. For example, if your tap water measures 100ppm, water should exit the RO at 5ppm or less. An exhausted TFC membrane can ‘burn’ through your DI cartridge in a matter of hours.

The final measurement of water exiting the DI cartridge allows you to monitor the final quality of the water you are adding for top-off and water changes.


Click here to see a larger version of this diagram.

Up until now, only single-point or dual-point monitors have been available so it is often a big hassle trying to determine how your RO/DI system is performing or trying to troubleshoot what may be wrong.

The new Triple Inline TDS Monitor from HM Digital is the perfect tool for monitoring the performance of your entire RO/DI system. It allows you to easily and quickly see the TDS of the water at each of the three key points in your RO/DI system—water in, RO output and DI output—so you will know exactly when your filter cartridges need to be replaced. Quick disconnect push-in fittings are included for you to easily splice in the sensors to your RO/DI system and a simple switch allows you to easily view the readings at each point.

With the new HM Digital Triple Inline TDS Monitor installed on your RO/DI system, there should never be a reason for adding dirty water to your aquarium again!

How to mix-and-match reef aquarium light bulbs to achieve the right look and optimal coral growth


You want or have a saltwater aquarium, but you have a lot of questions about lighting.

You would love to know which bulbs will bring out the beauty of your fish and coral, but also want to promote their health and growth. We are here to help with those questions. Reef lighting is a big decision with a lot of variables. We’re hoping this article will help you understand how to choose the best lighting for you.

You have a wide variety of bulbs to choose from. You could buy bulbs, mixing-and-matching until you find the right combination. But, we’d love for you to get those results the first time. While everyone has unique preferences, our hope is that this guide will assist you in finding the look that is most pleasing to you.



There are many ways to describe saltwater aquarium bulbs.

Perhaps the most important term for our purposes is color temperature. This rating has nothing to do with the physical temperature of the bulb or the heat it produces. You have probably heard something like this to describe household lighting. You might use a ‘warm’ bulb in your living room and a ‘cool’ bulb in your kitchen. These terms describe the color temperature, or Kelvin rating of the bulb. The lower the Kelvin rating on a bulb, the warmer it will be. A warm bulb will be somewhere around 3-6,000 Kelvin. As the number increases, the bulbs become ‘cooler’ in appearance. So, a 10,000 Kelvin bulb (10k for short) will be bright white with a hint of blue. As the color temperature rises, the bulb becomes bluer.



When choosing reef tank lighting, it is helpful to think about an actual ocean reef.

Right under the surface of the water, the color temperature is around 10k, a bright white with a touch of yellow from the sun and a touch of ocean blue. This oversimplifies the science, but is a helpful visual. As you look deeper in the ocean, yellow and white light is filtered out by the water. So, the deeper you look under the ocean the bluer everything appears. This happens because certain wavelengths of light are filtered out as water depth increases.

The first question you should ask yourself is “what sort of reef do I want to replicate?” If you go with a 10k, reef top look, your tank will have a full range of colors, but less fluorescence. If you go for a 14k, mid-reef look, some colors will be muted but there will be more fluorescence and vibrancy. If you choose a 20k, deep reef look, you will get a ton of fluorescence and deep coloration, but certain colors will be muted. Most hobbyists choose something between the 14k and 20k look, but go with whatever pleases you.

Before we proceed, there is something very important to understand about using color temperature to choose a bulb.

While measuring Kelvin sounds scientific (and really ought to be), there is a lot of variance in the industry. What one manufacturer calls deep blue 20k looks just like another manufacturer’s 14k. While this can be frustrating, there is a general rule that might help you choose. Bulbs from American and Asian manufacturers tend to be bluer than bulbs from European manufacturers. This makes sense, because American and Asian hobbyists tend to prefer bluer tanks than their European counterparts. So, what is really blue to a European’s eye is moderately blue in America.



Fluorescence is another factor to consider.

There is a special type of bulb, called an actinic, which you might compare to a ‘black light.’ An actinic bulb focuses light in the wavelength at which many corals and fish fluoresce. ‘Pure,’ ‘true’ or ‘super’ actinic bulbs peak at the 420nm wavelength, which renders a dim purple, barely perceptible to the human eye, that produces the most fluorescence. Blue actinic produces more visible light, but cause less fluorescence. While these bulbs do help some with photosynthesis, their primary use is to make the aquarium livestock pop with vibrancy. LED actinics are particularly effective at this.

Many bulbs (and particularly LED fixtures) are combinations of different types of bulb. For example, a 60/40 actinic is 60% blue and 40% actinic. LED fixtures achieve similar results by combining different color LEDs.



Another important factor is photosynthetically available radiation (PAR).

Most corals are photosynthetic animals. In order to thrive, they need plenty of light energy to take in nutrients. The higher the PAR rating of a bulb, the more energy is being transmitted to the coral for photosynthesis. This is important because yellow and white bulbs tend to produce the most PAR. So, even if you want a very blue tank, you need to ensure that you are not starving your corals by your bulb choice. Thankfully, these days blue bulbs tend to produce a fair amount of PAR, making the task less worrisome.

As far as the type of bulb you choose, there are three main choices: metal halide bulbs, fluorescent tubes and LEDs.



Metal halides are an older technology that use more electricity and produce more heat. But, they also produce a lot of PAR. Furthermore, they are great for very deep tanks because the light penetrates so far. In most applications, you would want 1 metal halide bulb for each 2 feet of tank length.



Fluorescent bulbs are described according to their thickness. T12 bulbs are the thickest, T8 is the average size you are probably used to, and T5 bulbs are about as wide as your finger. Fluorescent bulbs are categorized as normal output (NO), high output (HO) and very high output (VHO). You will also see some bulbs marked V-HO, for variable high output. Be sure to purchase the right output and diameter bulbs for your fixture. The higher the output rating, the more energy the bulbs can take. This increases brightness and PAR. T5 HO bulbs are the most common in the hobby. Their thin diameter makes it easy to put reflectors behind each bulb, greatly increasing efficiency.



LED bulbs are a newer technology that has rapidly grown in popularity. There are several advantages to LEDs including energy efficiency, low heat emission and long bulb life. However, the startup cost tends to be higher and some LEDs are not suitable for very deep tanks.

Now that we’ve given an overview of bulb types, let’s go over bulb combinations.





LEDs

With most LED fixtures, it would be pointless to speak about choosing bulb combinations, since they are chosen for you. Many LED fixtures on the market today allow you to individually dim different parts of the color spectrum to create an unprecedented level of customization. In fact, if you are looking to purchase a fixture rather than just choose bulbs, this may be the best bet for you. If you are using LEDs to supplement your primary lighting, you will want to focus on blue strips/bulbs to take advantage of the wonderful fluorescence they produce.



Fluorescents

There are several great bulb manufacturers whose bulbs can be mixed and matched to create a great looking tank. We have put together some reference charts below for the most popular T5 fluorescent bulb brands to help you get an idea for how you might mix-and-match yourself. We have focused on T5 fixtures, which are the most popular. If your light fixture has multiple plugs to simulate dawn/dusk, put actinics and blues all on one plug to create the best effect.


Metal Halide and Supplemental Lighting

Most hobbyists choose a metal halide in the color they are looking for and then supplement with actinic or blue fluorescents/LEDs.
  • 10k reef top: 10k metal halide supplemented with pure actinic and blue plus.
  • 14k mid reef: 14k metal halide bulb supplemented with pure actinic, or blue and actinic
  • 20k deep reef: 20k metal halide supplemented with pure actinic
We hope this information is helpful in choosing lighting for your tank. These guidelines will help you wade through the many possible combinations you have to choose from. We are, of course, always happy to answer any questions you have about the choices before you.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Save 10-50% off EcoTech products during August


EcoTech Marine products are on sale? NO WAY!
YES WAY, dudes. Get 10% off Radion lights, 15% off VorTech pumps and 50% off Frag Kits during the month of August, no coupon code required.
Better still, you can stack this deal with EcoTech's "Get one ReefLink for 50% off" offer to save even more!
EcoTech Marine products rarely, if ever, go on sale... so we definitely encourage you to take advantage of these offers before they end midnight EST on 8/31/14.