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One Change at a Time

Posted on Monday, November 7th, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Over the years we have been asked exactly 1,343,237,455 reef-related questions, having to do with lighting, flow, water quality, tank size, fish selection, new products, and pretty much any other reef topic. We are going to continue our series of educational articles, that discuss reefkeeping as a whole.

Today, we wanted to discuss making changes to your system. At some point or another, everyone decides that it’s time for a change. It may be bigger/better/newer lighting, upgraded flow, different bulbs, new skimmer, running GFO, not running GFO, using or not using carbon, switching salt brands, running a calcium reactor, running a kalk reactor, or literally any other significant change. This may be a response to an algae bloom, corals losing color or browning out, decreased polyp extension, or just the desire to improve overall system health.

A fundamental principle we want to discuss is the concept of making one change at a time. If you consider all the variables that exist in our systems, regardless of how simple, or complicated we want them to be, you realize that…well….there’s a lot going on. Assuming your system is running and is somewhat stable, any change you perform, will have a corresponding effect on your system. Now, clearly, some changes are more significant than others, but in essence, you are changing a variable in a very large and complex equation (luckily for us, there is not just one right answer to this equations).

The reason for suggesting that you only make one change at a time, is the fact that it’s pretty much the only way to draw any educated conclusions from the modification you made to your system. Lets use an example. Lets say that you notice a bit of algae growth in your tank. You come to Reef Tools, and read what people are saying in the forum, and you decide that you need a new protein skimmer, you’re going to start running Granulated Feric Oxide, and you’re going to start running bio-pellets and may also dose a nitrate reducer. Now, asides from this being an over-reaction, lets examine why it is a flawed approach.

Let us consider just two of the many possible outcomes:

  • 1. Within a few weeks, you notice that your coral health has deteriorated, you have lost several corals, there is cyanobacteria everywhere in your tank.
    What can you possibly conclude from this outcome? Did you use too much GFO? not enough? Are the bio-pellets causing a problem in your tank? are they helping? Did the nitrate reducer help, hurt your system? Did you strip everything out of your water? Is the new skimmer working better or worse than the old one? The answer is, that you really know nothing. You have an outcomes, but too many variable to look at, to really know what was the cause for the effect. Maybe 1 or 2 of the changes you made worked, but the other two conflicted with them, and the outcome was bad. You can’t really decide how to proceed from this point. Do you change everything again? Do you stop using one of the new products? which one? Hopefully you see what we’re getting at.
  • 2. The algae growth has been reduced. Now, clearly, this was your goal, but consider the fact that you still have not really learned a valuable lesson from this “experiment.” You really don’t know what effect each change had on your system, and how they interact with each other. You are likely to draw conclusions that are not accurate, and you simply say “this works” or “this doesn’t”.

Ok, so now, lets pretend you are in the same scenario, but have chosen to just run GFO (just as an example). You start with the recommended dosage for your system and run it for a few weeks (changing it when needed). Since it’s the only change you made, you can make some inferences from the way your system responds to this change. We believe that his is a more effective method at fine-tuning your reef system.

We’re interested in hearing what you think, please comment below.

For Those About to Dry Rock, We Salute You

Posted on Monday, May 16th, 2011 at 11:40 am

Lately a new trend has been slowly creeping up on the reefing world. Using dry rock to start up your new tank or to add interesting shapes to your current tank are both viable ways of utilizing dry rock.  What is so good about dry rock any way? Don’t I want all those little critters, sponges, and hitch hikers and nuisance algae? Let’s take a quick look at what is so rockin’ about dry rock and why people are deciding to use it more and more these days.
To start out, dry rock has many benefits, and a few draw backs. Something else to keep in mind is that there are different types of dry rock


  • No hitch hikers
  • Fully able to aqua scape out of water
  • No nuisance algae that comes on LR
  • Lower cost for the rock
  • Lower cost for shipping


  • Coraline growth takes a while
  • Curing the rock can be smelly (a pain, usually can take a while too)

Now to get the definition of dry rock. There are usually two different types readily available. The first being quarry rock. This is usually mined out of the ground from an extinct reef. This rock tends to have interesting shapes but also tends to be super dense. The other is mined from a real reef, then dried out. This rock is usually super porous but has a good chunk of die off on it (which is great for starting up a stinky cycle).

The first type of rock is supposedly reef safe, just a quick wash and it is ready to go into your tank. This rock looks fairly clean, has no die off, so I wouldn’t think it would hurt tank chemistry too much. The other rock has a ton of die off, it is suggested you wash it off, and cure it in a separate container before adding it to your DT (unless you are cycling a tank, more die off the better).

So here are my results. I decided to go with dry rock for my new tank. I personally liked the Pukani dry rock from BulkReefSupply. It was super porous and was fairly easy to aqua scape with rods along with being very organic/platform shaped. The BRS Eco Rocks, was too dense for my taste, very hard to drill, and I used them more for small sections or omitted them completely from my tank.

Here is what you all want to see:
40lbs of BRS Eco Rocks

40lbs of BRS Pukani Rock

Side by side (This pic is deceptive, there was a considerable size difference but the angle messes it up a bit)

An Idea of how the rock scaped and fit together (no rods in yet)

Scaped with a a good amount of the Eco Rocks out

All in all I am happy with my decision. Splitting up the order to 40lbs of each gave me options, and at a portion of the price of live rock, it did a great job. My suggestion is, if you don’t mind waiting a bit for your rock to cure, getting dry rock is a great option to avoid problems down the line.

Right now there are few major distributors of dry rock for the reefing world. Check back for part two of in this series.

Taking it Old School, Scrubber Style

Posted on Thursday, May 12th, 2011 at 11:00 am

What do you think when you hear “Algae Scrubber”? If you would have asked me a about 6 months ago I would have said some antiquated way people used to filter their tanks that turned their tanks piss yellow. One day after I was reading around I stumbled across, I started reading and reading, and thought hey this is a viable way to filter a tank as well as help remove unwanted nuisance algaes.

Before I get into the new way of scrubbing, let’s take a look at how they used to do it in the past. Before, these screens of roughed up plastic, were set over a large flat area, which has water run over it, filling up and eventually emptying out, all while being bombarded with light. For all who are a little unsure of the process, below is a video about how they work (although a bit old). If you want to be lazy and not watch the entire video, fast forward to 4:25 and watch a bit.

Ok so now you must be asking yourself, how can I do something like this on my tank? I don’t want some huge system dumping water in my tank all the time. Other systems include hanging a huge screen above your tank where it drains eventually into your tank (causing a gazillion bubbles to go into the tank, not gonna work for my tank any way).

Most of us in the reefing world have sumps, and here is where I implemented my scrubber. A simple pump on the bottom, pumping water up and through PVC pipe, which eventually drains out of a slotted piece of PVC, and down the screen which is lighted on both sides, into the sump. This is just one of many ways to get a scrubber attached to your system.

My first scrubber:

Another scrubber style which is taking popularity lately is the scrubber box. This is a small acrylic box which has lighting on both sides, similar to the screen in the photo above, but contained to keep it cleaner and more efficient. It also promotes 3D growth in the sense that water accumulates just enough to get hair algae growing on the screen and provide great nutrient export as well as oxygenate the water (just as a side note, algae growing on the screen won’t make its way to your display tank).

Here is what a matured scrubber box looks like:

If you are thinking of setting on up, it isn’t as simple as grabbing a plastic screen and putting a light over it with some water. There are many factors. The size of screen one needs, would obviously depend on the size of tank. Ultimately a wider screen, is more efficient than a tall screen 1 square inch of screen per gallon of your DT. Lighting needs to be adequate enough to out compete the algaes in your DT (if you have any). Doesn’t need to be stronger, just the right spectrum aka 3000k ish bulbs. Finally the right amount of flow, 35gph per each inch of screen. If the numbers seem random, it is the formula that works best. If you want more information check out

Candid Talk About Water Changes and How to Increase Their Effectiveness

Posted on Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I hear complaints from many hobbyist (who maintain their own aquariums) that they were told by their LFS that all they have to do is set the system up and do x amount of water changes and their aquarium will thrive with minimal problems arising. The customer says OK, that’s easy enough! They get the aquarium set up, 10% water changes are done bi-weekly, and six months later they notice their aquarium is just not looking as healthy. The reason: often a poor quality of salt is chosen, the newly mixed saltwater is never tested, dosing is done blindly, and the water changes were not in the ideal manner. In order to break this down properly, we will discuss salt, RO water, and ideal mixing practices in order to maximize your water changes.

Not all salt for making aquarium water is the same. Like gasoline, there are different grades and qualities which span a large price range. The salt you choose is the diet and baseline for your aquariums stability and health. The better quality you use, the better overall results you will have. When you use a salt with less than ideal content, the water change ends up replacing depleted water with less than sufficient “new” water. Over time water quality will slowly degrade until you have some type of “crash”. I am not going to dive deep into the topic about specific salts and differences at this time, that will come in another article. I recommend that you get the best salt you can with the budget that you have.

The large majority of hobbyist buy water from a store which uses an RO system, or have an RO/RODI unit at home that is used for making saltwater. This is great for getting pure water to mix with, however it strips the oxygen out of the water during the filtration process. Oxygen is important for the respiration of aquatic life in the aquarium. What most new hobbyist do: RO water is made/bought, salt is added and mixed in with a pump until the water is clear and then a water change is done. From the stand point of your aquarium, you removed stable oxygenated water and replaced it with unstable, de-oxygenated water thus creating stress. Let’s fix that!

So you have a high quality salt and some RO water and are going to do a water change so you can remove Dissolved Organic Compounds (DOCs) and replace depleted elements in your aquarium. Here are the best practices that I and nearly every experienced hobbyist I have spoken with uses… with great success!

1. Get you water and mix your salt in with a pump and an air stone. Why the air stone? to replace the oxygen that was removed by the RO unit. Then

2. Let the salt water mix and aerate for a minimum of 24 hours. As a general statement advanced hobbyist let their water mix and aerate for 24 to 72 hours before doing a water change. Why? you want the water to properly aerate and stabilize. When you mix salt water you are mixing chemicals that require a balance of ions. It takes time for the stabilization to occur, the majority of that process takes about 24 hours to occur. If you buy salt water from the store, aerate it for 24 hours before you do your water change.

3. Test the water and do your water change. Always test for temperature and salinity. If you are using a new brand of salt test the water parameters before you do a water change. The only way you are going to know how you are going to impact your aquarium with a water change is by knowing what is in the water you are using for the water change. Cheaper salts usually have less buffering (lower pH), lower calcium, and lower magnesium content than higher quality salts which can make a big difference. I recommend testing 5 things: salinity, pH, alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium. There is a huge accuracy difference between high quality and cheap test kits. Test kits and our recommendations will be covered in another article.

Lastly the frequency of water changes: Most people like to do large water changes however, for your aquarium doing smaller water changes keeps things more stable and balanced. For example, on my 185 gallon aquarium I do two or three 5 gallon water changes per week. This also allows easy maintenance because I am not messing with 20 or 30 gallons of water. I make some RO water, add salt and let is sit in the closet and mix for a day or two. I pull it out, test, do my water change and get 5 more gallons going. I never spend more than 10 minutes at a time maintaining my aquarium unless I want to get in there for fun. That correlates in more time to enjoy the tank and have a cold one!

Remember is it you vs the water and we are here to give you the edge.

Good luck and enjoy your aquarium.

For more information about water changes, check out What’s With Water Changes?

Building a Light Rack from Conduit

Posted on Thursday, February 18th, 2010 at 11:33 am

I Just built my 2nd light rack out of 3/4″ EMT Conduit, and wanted to post some pictures and say that if anyone is looking for an inexpensive/clean way to hang lights without utilizing a canopy or hanging something from your ceiling… this is the way to go.

I think each 10′ length was like $3.00 or something and it took 2 lengths for my current project. My last one only needed one length. What made this current project a little more expensive than the first one was the use of conduit fittings, instead of bending the entire bar (which can be a little difficult for a beginner).

Here was my first light rack… pretty much made to support only 1 pendant. I painted the bar black and used zip ties to hide the wires. Once again, this rack was bent (no fittings were used) so it’s all one piece.

Here is the rack I just constructed. I used a hacksaw and cut the 2 lengths of conduit into 5 separate pieces. Then the 4 conduit fittings were used to connect everything. Metal conduit straps were used to attach the main vertical bars to the back of the stand.

Photos and Content graciously provided by Tswifty

Killing Aiptasia with Lemon Juice

Posted on Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

If life deals you lemons, why not kill some aiptasia with them. About a month ago, we added an article about Aiptasia Removal Methods. Well, hopefully, you don’t have any left, but just in case, here’s great way to rid yourself of this nuisance anemone. Basically, what’s involved is injecting each aiptasia with lemon juice. The acidic nature of lemon juice will kill the anemone, and prevent it from further reproduction.

Note: Please make sure not to overdose your tank with lemon juice, as it will will drop your tank’s pH, and the dead anemones may add some ammonia to your water. As a safety measure, please watch your pH monitor, and run some carbon (which you should be doing anyways :))

How to Euthanize a Sick Fish

Posted on Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 at 11:36 am

At one point or another, most hobbyists encounter a time when a fish is suffering beyond the point of possible revival. The question as to the most humane method to euthanize this fish often arises.  While there are several acceptable methods, we prefer using clove oil.

Clove oil is used as a fish sedative when performing procedures such tumor removal or general wound care. Clove old can be  purchased through many pond suppliers and health food stores.  A bottle should last you a lifetime….and if not…you should be reading many different articles!! 😉

The procedure is as follows:

Place the fish in a container of tank water at room temperature, and place the sick/suffering fish in this container. In a separate, smaller container, mix a solution of a bit of water and 3 to 4 drops of clove oil for every pint in the holding container.  Add this mixture to the holding container; this will be used as an initial dose, and will begin the process. The addition of clove oil to the water, slows down the fish’s breathing, and slows places the fish in sleep-like state.

At this point, you may add 3 or four more drops directly into the holding container. This will continue to slow down it’s breathing. After a about 30 minutes, you may add 3 or 4 more drops of clove oil to the container and continue to observe the fish for up to an hour or two. The fish should continue to slow down, until ultimately passing away painlessly.


  • Please take care with the doses and be patient in order to allow the clove oil to slowly perform it’s task.
  • Please keep Clove oil out of reach of children as it can be toxic.
  • Please dispose of the fish properly since clove oil can be dangerous to other animals if consumed.

Tracking Reef Tank Parameters with Reef Tools Live

Posted on Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Maintaining stable water parameters is something every reef hobbyist strives for. Many hobbyists use various test kits to measure parameters such as calcium, alkalinity, magnesium, etc. But now what? You’ve got the data…where do you put it? This is where Reef Tools Live Reef Parameter App can help. For the purpose of this tutorial, we will use Alkalinity as an example. We also assume that you have register for a free Reef Tools Live account here.

Begin by click My Apps–>Tank Parameters.


You will be taken to the Tank Parameter main screen. You will see Alkalinity, Calcium, pH, Temperature, Magnesium, Specific Gravity, Log, etc.


Since we are entering Alkalinity, you can just enter your Alkalinity Test Kit reading in the VALUE box. Then click SAVE.


You will immediately see the value you entered below.


To view your parameters in graph form, click on PROFILE.


On your profile page, click on the TANK PARAMETERS tab.


You will see a chart with the data you entered. By default, the chart will show the last 30 days, but you may use the calendars to select any other date range.


Over time, you will be able to see trends and identify whether your parameters are stable, whether your tank’s demand has gone up or down, etc.


We hope this free reef tool will be of use to all hobbyists. Remember to sign up here and enjoy using our app.Happy reefing.

How to Re-size Photos with Paint (pc)

Posted on Sunday, December 13th, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Often in the hobby, we want to add photos to a forum, blog, or Reef Tools :). Most hobbyist websites, will enforce some sort of a limit with regards to the file size they allow you to upload. Even in situations where there is no file size restriction, photos should be re-sized to accommodate most screen sizes (without distorting the website).

There are many pieces of software that allow you to perform such a task, but we thought we would start with one that is free, and comes with all PC’s, Paint (I hear the Mac contingency in the background, and I promise we’ll get to iPhoto soon). Resizing a photo with Paint is very simple, and should take no longer than a few seconds.

Open Paint

Step 1:Open Paint.

Open your photo file.

Step 2: Open your photo file. Click on File–>Open, and open your original photo file. You will see that the photo is quite large, 3024×2016 pixels in this case (which is why you can only see the top-left corner).


Step 3: Click Image–>Stretch/Skew (or control-w).

Select a percentage

Step 4: Select a size. Paint does not allow you to choose width/height by number of pixels. Under the Stretch section, type in the same number for both horizontal and vertical %’s. You are starting with both at 100% and are telling the program how much smaller it should make the photo. In this case, we selected 20% and then clicked OK. You can, of course, select a different percentage. It is important to note that by default, Paint will show you the photo on the screen at 100%, so you can immediately tell if you made it too small (or not small enough). You can always click Edit–>Undo (control-Z), to undo your last step.

Image is resized

Step 5: Image is re-sized. You can see that the photo was re-sized to 20% of the original resolution (size).

Save As

Step 6: Save the Image. Click File–>Save As. We recommend that you save the image with a different name than the original, and therefore preserve the original file (in case you made a mistake). You can always just add the word “small” to the file name, and click Save.


You’re all set. You now have a file that is smaller and is ready to be uploaded. As you can see, it’s really simple and quick. Please let us know if you have any questions.

Green Hair Algae Control

Posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 at 8:57 am

If it’s green, stringy, and overtaking your tank, chances are it’s Green Hair Algae. Green Hair Algae is the marine equivalent to our lawn’s summertime dandelion explosions. I mean that in the sense that it’s oddly attractive, yet completely a nuisance. Once Green Hair Algae has shown up in your reef tank, it can rapidly spread and create an aesthetic nightmare. Not to worry though, there are a few quick fixes and preventative measures that can keep this green beast at bay.

The first part of any good war strategy is to get to know the enemy. Green Hair Algae is a simple minded opponent that needs very specific things in order to survive and thrive. If you cut it off from its resources it will surely surrender. Green Hair Algae needs Nitrates, Phosphates (PO4), and Light to expand its empire. If you cut off access to these you will have it waving a white flag in no time.

Now that you understand Green Hair Algae, let’s look into ways to eliminate its food sources. The root of all evil in a marine aquarium is generally your water. If one uses anything other than RO/DI (reverse osmosis/deionized) water in their marine aquarium they risk adding numerous potential chemical and mineral nightmares including phosphates and nitrates to the system. It is essential that you use RO/DI water for both top-offs and water changes. Your success is directly affected by the quality of water that you introduce to the system. Other causes of Phosphates and Nitrates include the natural nitrogen cycling process, overfeeding, and waste within the tank. Below are a few ways to knock out these menacing sources.

  • Do water changes. Chances are if you are having Green Hair Algae issues you’re using tap water. I get it, it’s cheaper (in the short-run). Spring for an RO/DI unit or find a commercial source. It will save you hundreds in livestock losses and many headaches.
  • Add mangroves to your sump system. The roots of the mangroves absorb phosphates and are a unique natural solution.
  • Add some form of Macro-Algae to the sump system. Chaeto is an excellent choice. Chaeto will remove a lot of the unwanted excess nutrients out of the system, thus lowering the nitrates
  • Use a chemical weapons! There are several chemical alternatives such as GFO (Granulated Ferric Oxide), Nitrate Sponges, etc. Do your homework and find your own chemical warfare comfort zone. I suggest running GFO in a media reactor.
Ideal Reef Tank Water Parameters
Specific Gravity 1.024 – 1.026
pH 8.0 – 8.4
Alkalinity 8 – 12dKH
Calcium 400 – 450 ppm
Magnesium 1300 – 1350 ppm
Ammonia 0
Nitrites 0
Nitrates 10ppm or less
Phosphate .03 or less

You now know a few different ways to combat Green Hair Algae, but you still need to do some work to understand the most likely cause of your outbreak. Your ideal water parameters are as outlined in the table to the right:

Using your test kits you should be able to see where your problem areas are. However be warned, your Green Hair Algae may be absorbing the nitrates and phosphates giving you a false reading of near zero. If the Algae is there, you can be assured that you water quality is not up to par. Testing your water with quality testing kits is also a huge stepping stone to success.

You have now tested your water, chosen a plan of attack, and have started doing adequate water changes. You are on the right path. You need to do a few more things to eliminate the Green Hair Algae.

  • Remove all access clumps of the Green Hair Algae as carefully as you can to avoid splitting it up and sending fragments of it around to settle on your rock and build new colonies.
  • Clean all of your pumps and skimmers thoroughly. Be certain to eliminate any build up of algae that might be hiding within the sump chambers.
  • Stop over-feeding your tank!
  • Purchase a good cleaning crew. Many snails and crabs will eat the Green Hair Algae. I prefer Turbo Snails due to their demanding appetite.

With these methods you should be able to watch the Green Hair Algae disappear in a matter of a few weeks. You will hear this mantra often: Nothing good ever happens fast in this hobby. Just remember, keeping stable and acceptable water parameters in your marine aquarium is the single most important step in preventative and reactive Green Hair Algae defense. It will be a challenging battle, but a sure victory none-the-less. Good luck.

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