40+ Years In The Hobby..
Did You know….
I’ve been keeping marine aquaria for over forty years and over that time I’ve come across many things that at the time I thought – ‘that’s interesting I’ve not though of that before, so here’s a few of my favourites.
Condensation – The plague of many hobbyists especially in today’s energy efficient double or triple glazed, draft proof homes. Even without aquariums some homes suffer from high condensation levels ours did, though notably worse in the room with the aquarium. Fresh air helps but in the cold of winter and on damp days you may not want your windows open. A couple of years ago I found a solution with a Positive Air Ventilation (PAV)system which I installed in the loft at a cost of around £300. Basically, it’s a large fan which pulls fresh air in from inside the roof space, filters it and warms it. The fan then forces the air down into the house via a ceiling vent at the top of the stairs from where it circulates round the property. Running costs are a few pence a month and the results impressive for such a simple idea, I just wish I’d installed one years ago. It’s also made a noticeable difference on my tank pH levels due to the increased fresh air and lower Co2 in air.
Kalwasser (calcium hydroxide or Limewater) – It used to be one of the main methods of maintaining alkalinity at the correct levels in reef aquaria. Dissolved in RO water until the saturation point is reached, the solution is slowly dripped into the aquarium, often via the auto top-up or better still using a kalk-stirrer (as I do). However, you may not be aware that dripping kalk also helps remove phosphates from the water. How? It causes the Po4 to precipitate out of the water as calcium phosphate which means its not biologically available to algae.
Nutrients – Perhaps stating the obvious but zero nutrients are not good, though unfortunately many people chase zero levels of phosphate (Po4) and nitrate (No3) unnecessarily. For many people the first time they consider nutrient levels is when they have an outbreak of unsightly algae such as hair algae. As high nutrients are usually associated with unwanted algae growth, people set about bringing the levels down and not wanting the problem to arise again try to get them as low as possible with zero levels often being targeted.
pH – Perhaps one of the first test kits you buy but possibly one of the last you ever use or at least it should be. Whilst you shouldn’t chase numbers for any reef parameters (as long as your levels are in range and balanced) pH is one in particular that you shouldn’t get hung up about. I’d go as far as saying forget about it all together. The reason is very simple - the pH in your reef will be determined just as much by the Carbon dioxide (Co2) levels in your home as it is by the water conditions in your aquarium. The fresher the air you have in your home (ie in summer with windows and doors open) means less Co2 and more oxygen. It’s inevitable that pH levels will be higher than in a house which has the windows closed for long periods of time. Additions of pH buffers will work to raise the pH but usually are only effective for 24-48 hours before the levels drop to their usually suppressed values. Reef tanks pH levels are usually kept within a range between 7.6-8.4 the exact number doesn’t really matter its stability that counts. Using buffers that only last a few days is actually worse than letting your tank run at the low end of the range, say 7.8 permanently. I ran my reef at that level for years with no issues, even now my pH only ever gets up to 8 during the day dropping off to 7.9 overnight. If you really want to increase your base pH level look at leaving windows open more often or keep them on vent, if practical feed your skimmer air intake from outside the house, consider a Co2 scrubber to remove Co2 or run a refugium to grow algae such as cheato on a reverse lighting cycle.
Pipefish – Are relatives of the Seahorse and are often regarded as suitable additions to the Seahorse aquarium. Seahorses are placid, slow moving creatures and with a few exceptions easily out competed by other fish so pipefish make good companions. This association tends to lead people to assume that pipefish can only be kept in similar conditions with slow moving water and equally placid tankmates such as Mandarins. However pipefish can be kept successfully in mixed reef aquaria and in my experience are very adaptable to a variety of aquarium conditions even the high flow rates of sps dominated reefs. Species such as the Banded, the diminutive Blue Stripe and less often seen Jann’s all make good additions to the reef aquarium, all of which I’ve kept in my reef for a number of years. They are very sociable and species can be mixed in the same aquarium, as long as two males of the same species are avoided. Like Madarins they eat copious amounts of copepods so they are best avoided for a number of months after setting up a tank until a sustainable population of pods are established. They can be weaned onto frozen foods such as brine shrimp, lobster and fish eggs. Despite its small size I’ve found the Blue stripe the easiest of the species to keep, readily eating frozen foods, the Jann’s the least likely to take frozen food. Pipefish are unique and great characters and don’t seem to attract the attention of other fish, making them a wonderful addition to the reef aquarium. Despite my reef having much larger and more flamboyant fish, it’s the pipefish once spotted by visitors that gain the most attention.
Water Flow – We all know its importance but just how important is it? Ask many hobbyist’s what’s the most important equipment associated with a reef tank and , the answer is likely to be lighting. In reality however flow is probably more important for a variety of reasons not least that it brings oxygen laden water to the fish and corals. If you’ve even suffered a power cut which resulted in livestock losses it’s likely to have been lack of oxygen in the water as opposed to low temperature or lack of lighting. Whilst not ideal fish and even corals can easily survive a number of days without light. However, the lack of water flow would impact on the aquarium within few hours especially where stocking levels are high or when sensitive corals are kept.