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How can I take good pictures of my reef tank

Posted on Sunday, November 22nd, 2009 at 1:50 pm

I wanted to write a tutorial about taking beautiful pictures of reef tanks. Let me start by saying that it’s not as hard as some people make it out to be. Nowadays, cameras have come so far, that you can take wonderful pictures of your reef tank and it’s inhabitants, even with a point and shoot camera. I also want to say up front, that in today’s age of digital photography, my first advice for taking better pictures is TAKE MORE PICTURES. You don’t have to wait for these to develop or printed, and you can check them and shoot again all day long; so shoot away. Ok, we’ll start with some basic photography concepts.

The goal of a good photographer is to achieve good exposure. Exposure is a product of 3 main factors: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. These components determine how much light is getting to the film (in traditional cameras) or sensor (in digital cameras). Good exposure is achieved when the desired amount of light hits the film/sensor. Let’s look at each components individually first, and then we will look at how they interact with each other.

Shutter Speed
Shutter speed simply refers to the amount of time the camera’s shutter stays open when you take a picture. Depending on your camera, shutter speed can vary from a thousandth or a second to a few minutes. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light hits the film/sensor. A shutter speed of 1 second lets in twice the amount of light as would a 1/2 second shutter speed. Shutter speed may also effect the sharpness of a photo, especially when a camera is hand-held, or the subject (ex. fish) is moving. Your fish, for example, don’t exactly wait for you to take the picture. If your shutter is open for a whole second, it will record the fish’s movement and you will get a blurry photo. A short shutter speed (maximum of 125th of a second) is my recommendation for shooting a moving subject. If a camera is held by hand, you must take into account your movement as well. Even the slightest movement can create a blurry photo. Ideally, you want to shoot with the shortest shutter speed possible when shooting a moving subject.

So why don’t I shoot at a really short shutter speed you say. Well, because 1/500th of a second, may not allow enough light into your camera, to get a good exposure. Let’s move on.

Aperture (f stop)
Aperture, refers to the size of the opening in your lens. A large aperture means that the opening is large, and more light will go through the lens. A small aperture means that the opening is small, and less light will get through the lens. Aperture, or f-stops, are given a number, for example 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22. The amount of light doubles or halves as you go up one “stop” or down one “stop”. The confusing part is this: a small f-stop (ex. 2.8) means a large opening, while a larger f-stop (ex. 22) means small opening. I’m not going to go into explaining why that is (it has to do with f-stop being a ratio), just remember that as the numbers get bigger, the opening gets smaller. The amount of light that enters the lens also determines something called Depth of Field. Depth of field refers to the are “front to back” that is in focus in your photo. The higher the f-stop, the more “in focus” your picture is. A low f-stop  (ex. 2.8) allows more light it, but will have less of your photo in focus. A high f-stop (ex. 22) will let in less light, but will have more of your photo in focus. I like to draw the analogy to squinting. When you can’t see something well, you squint. By squinting, you are making the opening smaller (higher f-stop), and making more things in focus. Remember, with depth of field, we are talking about focus in terms of front to back,. (I’ll add a few photos soon).

ISO or Film Speed
Film Speed (ISO) is simply a measurement of how sensitive the film, or camera sensor is to light. The larger the ISO, the more sensitive it is. The more sensitive the sensor/film is, the less light is needed to achieve the right exposure. An ISO of 100 will need 2x the amount of light as an ISO of 200, to get the same “brightness”. Why not just shoot at the highest ISO your camera lets you? Well, as the ISO get’s higher, your photos will become more grainy. So as a rule, you want to shoot at the lowest ISO you can. The better your camera is, the higher ISO you can shoot at, and still get photos that are not grainy.

Fill the Glass Analogy
So what does it all mean? I like to look at exposure as a glass of water. Let’s look at a glass of water as a representation of a good exposure. You need enough water (light) to fill the glass, in order to achieve the correct exposure. So, the length of time you pour water is the shutter speed, and the diameter of your hose is the aperture. If you were pouring water into a glass, and were using a small hose (aperture), you would need to pour it in for a longer period of time (shutter speed) in order to fill it. If you were using a large diameter hose, you would fill that glass in less time. Therefore, as the diameter of your hose gets bigger, you need less time to fill the glass. As the diameter of your hose gets smaller, you need more time to fill the glass. Within reason, any combination of shutter speed and aperture that yields the correct amount of light, will result in a good exposure.

Flash
DON’T USE A FLASH!! (sometimes you can, but try not to)

White Balance for a Reef Aquarium
Ok, so I can take, nice, sharp pictures, but the corals don’t look like they do in real life…they are really blue…why? The answer is white balance (or color balance; same thing). White balance simply means that white will look white in your pictures. You camera will most likely have different settings for different types of light (sunlight, fluorescent, auto, etc) referring do different light “temperatures”. In the reef keeping hobby, we are all quite aware of how our tanks look under 10K lighting vs 20K bulbs. The problem is that our camera has no idea what’s going on, and because we normally use lighting that is more “blue” than natural light, the photos come out blue. Our eyes and brain are incredible, and therefore can adjust for this discrepancy, but our cameras need a little help.

To the rescue comes “custom white balance”. This is as simple as telling the camera “this is what white looks like under this lighting conditions”; nothing more. Most new cameras will have a custom white balance setting. The procedure for each camera may differ slightly, but basically, you need to set a custom white balance, while you take a picture of something white inside your tank. This let’s the camera (sensor) re-calibrate the colors based on what you just told it white is. I normally do this by putting a white piece of PVC in then going to “set custom white balance”. I can then save that setting and use it in the future. It is important to remember that your reef tank lighting temperature will differ when you have your metal halides and T5, just T5s, just metal halides, etc.

Tank Preparation
Please remember to clean your glass either earlier in the day, or the day before you want to take pictures. This will ensure that you don’t get Coraline spots in your photos.Turn off all pumps and powerheads, so that any floating particles stay still, your corals are not swaying in the current, and your fish come out to see what’s going on.

When taking Full Tank Shots (FTS) make sure that no lights, windows, etc are reflecting off your your tank. Wearing dark clothing will ensure that YOU don’t create a reflection. Turn off the room lights, close shutters and curtains.

Try to stay as still as possible. Using a tri-pod is always a good idea for macro shots and full tank shots, but bracing yourself on a stool or any nearby object will greatly help when holding the camera.

I hope this is helpful for all you reef hobbyists. Please comment below with any questions and suggestions. I will be adding some articles about selecting a camera for reef photography, as well as more advanced tutorials, shortly.

How to Build a Screen Top For Your Tank.

Posted on Friday, November 20th, 2009 at 7:46 am

There is a long list of desirable reef fish that are considered jumpers. Now, why a fish would jump out of an aquarium is beyond me (not really, but let’s let it go).

Often, a “tight lid” is recommended when housing these species. Unfortunately, adding a lid to a reef aquarium has several downfalls. First, it would quickly get covered with salt creepand block a significant amount of the aquarium light. Next, it would not allow heat to escape, and therefore could cause serious heat issues.

One option a hobbyist has, is to place a sheet of eggcrate atop their tank, and by so doing prevent any jumpers from getting out. Another popular option, is a DIY screen top for your reef tank. We put together a quick tutorial as to how this can easily and inexpensively be accomplished.

List of tools and materials:

  • Aluminum screen framing material – You can get this at Lowes, Home Depot, etc.) You will need enough to construct a frame :)
  • hacksaw – or miter saw
  • 4 screen frame corners
  • a spline roller
  • a roll of spline
  • some screening material – there are several options available. For the purpose on this tutorial, we chose deer netting from Home Depot. It was found in the gardening section. You can also use a clear or white netting material.
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Begin by measuring your tank and choosing dimensions for your frame. Next, determine the lengths of each side, making sure to subtract the length of the corner pieces from each side (in this case 3/4 inch each). Use the saw and cut the pieces to size. Next, attach the corner pieces to the each end and assemble the frame. Once completed, your corners should look like this.

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Here is a photo on the completed frame.

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Now, take the mesh material and stretch it over the frame. Take the roll of spline, and starting in one corner, slide it into the groove:

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Using the spline roller, push the spline deeper into the groove. It is best to start at one corner of the frame, and then slowly working your way around. It is important to note, that you want to pull the screening material so that it is taut, but not to hard to where it pulls the spline out.

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Once you are finished, go around and cut the excess screening material, and you are done.

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This is a very easy diy project and it so worth it in the long run. Many times, the screen will fit inside of the aquarium frame and will be almost invisible when looking at the tank. Again, this solution allows for oxygen exchange, allows heat to escape and light to penetrate. It is also easily removable, when any reef tank maintenance is needed. We hope you find this Reef Tools tutorial helpful. Please let us know what you think.

Venomous Tankmates – Just Be Careful

Posted on Monday, November 16th, 2009 at 4:47 pm

As a marine aquarist, we all seek a common goal. That goal is to fill out tanks with the most beautiful and visually appealing marine life that we can get our hands on. I know hat I personally love nothing more than the rush of a potentially venomous sting from one of my beloved pets. I get it. We are all gluttons for reef-punishment. However, with proper precaution and a well thought out stocking strategy you can successfully house a reef filled with the deadly gems of the sea. This article is going to outline the fish-on-fish violence vs. the fish-on-human stings that we will all indubitably encounter with time.

Many fish are marine fish are poisonous, but some carry a deadlier sting than others. There are some fish that are only able to inflict a venomous sting upon other fish and then there are some fish that can release toxic poisons into the entire aquarium. I refer to these fish as “fuckers”. Now that you are aware of the two different attack styles it is time to identify their symptoms. If a single fish has been stung and a large amount of poison has not been released into the aquarium, you will generally only be alerted by the sudden death of that fish. If a healthy fish suddenly dies, there is a strong chance that lurking somewhere within the tank is a predator. The indications of the second type of venomous attack are much more apparent and detrimental to experience. If a poisonous fish has released a fair amount of toxins into the aquarium the fish will begin to swim erratically, potentially loose their sense of direction, breathe in a rapid manner, lay on the bottom of the aquarium, or have a cloudy appearance in their eyes. All of which, will generally lead to a dramatic passing including a convulsion period and ending in death. All of this can happen rather quickly, and depending on the size of the aquarium and the toxicity of the fish your personal experiences may vary.

There are several families of commonly found poisonous fish in the home aquarium. They, along with a few of their venomous characteristics are mentioned below. Although limited, the information should help guide you through any future stocking predicaments that you may encounter.

Box Fish & Cowfish

Characteristics
These fish have a hard, rectangular shaped body, thus giving it its name “Box” Fish. They also have firm plate-like hexagonal scales. It uses a small dorsal and anal fin to propel itself through the water, at which time it curls up its tail on one side or other of the body. It swims in a rowing manner. The mouth region protrudes from the front of the body, looking similar to a snout with a small mouth at the end.

Toxic Profile
This little fish might look harmless, but when frightened it will release a toxic poison from their skin to protect itself. However, in a closed system, the boxfish can kill everything including itself. This is totally bad news bears.

Additional Precautions
Because of its nature for being toxic, use extreme caution when having one in an aquarium. They get along fine with other fishes, are very non-aggressive, but be sure you don’t mix other fish that will harass them. It is not wise to put two Box Fish of the same sex in a tank together, They will fight right off the bat. This is Dynasty-Style drama that no reef aquarium needs.

Lionfish

Characteristics
The spines of the dorsal fin and the rays of the pectoral fins are unusual, because they are very long and extend far beyond the membranes connecting them. All of the pectoral rays are unbranched and the upper pectoral rays, in particular, are developed into long, feeler-like filaments. These fish are absolutely stunning and adored by many hobbyist, but be weary of anything that can send you running to the E.R. (if a human is stung, the recommended treatment is to immerse the appendage into near boiling water until the pain subsides… OUCH! I say ask the doctor about that before giving it a go)

Toxic Profile
This fish is as painfully venomous as it appears. Extreme caution is highly advised when keeping any members of the lionfish family. They are venomous to other fish and humans.

Additional Precautions
This fish is traditionally a bottom dweller that likes plenty of sheltered hiding places. They will also prey upon many of your aquarium cleaners and smaller fish. Although the fish is not generally aggressive, they do have a tendency to eat fellow tank-mates.

Scorpionfish

Characteristics
Highly compressed body with stout pectoral fins used for “walking” and support. They are found in a wide variety of colors such as red, pink, brown, green, orange, purple, rust, black, and undoubtedly others. These fish also have a true jaw teeth. Not to be overly redundant with my wording, but OUCH! Teeth and venomous spines on one fish!

Toxic Profile
Their spines are venomous stinging tools and therefore should be kept and handled with immense caution and care. Their spines are covered with a venomous mucus that will protect it from any potential danger or serve to attack their loyal caregiver… You.

Additional Precautions
Because it will most often only eat “live foods” in captivity, it does not adapt well to aquarium life. I would recommend doing a ton of research before diving into the Scorpionfish family.

Pufferfish

Characterstics
These fish are primarily identified by their scaleless bodies, ability to inflate. and round edged fins. It has the ability to inflate by inhaling air or water. This is a protective defense that Puffers have which prevents them from being eaten by other fish. When it expands and inflates itself, a predator finds it difficult to swallow or get its mouth around the fish. When inflated, this Puffer’s body has a soft prickly texture, which is harmless to the touch, yet intriguingly attractive and fun to view.

Toxic Profile
This fish will release venomous toxins through it’s skin when threatened causing the second type of aquarium poisoning. Also when this fish dies there is a strong possibility of it releasing poison into the system killing off your other aquaria. In addition, to having a toxic attack method, many puffers are known as “nippers”, meaning they are able to use their teeth to nip at their fellow tank-mates.

Additional Precautions
This fish should be kept with caution. They will nip at your corals, pick off your cleaning crustaceans, and do a bit of damage to any fish that might be easily bullied. They also, depending on species are able to grow to large sizes. Do adequate research before selecting one of these brilliantly entertaining fish.

Sea Cucumbers

Characteristics
They typically have thick, muscular bodies equipped with tube feet used for clinging to the substrate and moving about, and pointed fleshy projections called, papillae often cover the body. Sea Cucumbers come in many varieties and many beautiful color combinations, making them an appealing choice for aquarists.

Toxic Profile
Sea Cucumbers expel poisonous toxins into an aquarium when stressed or after death. Due to the many different toxic natures of Sea Cucumbers it is important that you do research on the specific cucumber you are considering placing within your tank.

Additional Precautions
Sea Cucumbers can grow to exceptionally large lengths. In this case, size does matter, so choose wisely. Also, make sure that your tank will be able to support the dietary needs of the Sea Cucumber.

Nudibranchs

Characteristics
The body forms of Nudibranchs vary enormously. Nudibranchs often have venomous appendages located on their sides which look like some form of exotic orchid. They are as deadly as they are beautiful. Often brightly colored and natural flatworm predators they are selected for the home aquaria without much research. Do the homework. It is better than going in blindly and having sudden mass casualty.

Toxic Profile
Nudibranchs have a trait of excreting a toxic mucus when disturbed. This poisonous excretion can foul up the water and cause a rather quick biological crash that can be deadly to all other reef habitants.

Additional Precautions
Nudibranchs are sometimes marketed as superb algae eaters, but this is false information since all known Nudibranch species are carnivorous. I’m just saying they like a little meat in thier diet and for long term success you will need a well stocked aquarium. Always research your particular Nudibranch species to find out what type of diet it needs. Good luck with these gorgeously toxic critters.

I hope that you found this information on venomous aquaria useful. As always, and clearly overly mentioned throughout this article please be diligent in your own research and be your reef’s best advocate. Good luck and great reefing!

How and Why Should I Quarantine New Corals?

Posted on Thursday, November 12th, 2009 at 5:21 pm

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Is it safe to put a new coral you just got directly in your tank? Absolutely not. Any new introduction to your system may contain any of a variety of pests you don’t want in your reef. So what’s the alternative you ask? Quarantine!!

Although this may initially seem like an inconvenience to the new hobbyist, any experienced reefkeeper will gladly share horror stories that are sure to convince anyone willing to listen. These stories of flatworms, red bugs, zoanthid-eating spiders, mojanos, to name a few, are the result of skipping the necessary quarantine procedure. Compare the prospect of day or sometimes weeks of work against the simple quarantine procedure, and I think you’ll see why it’s the right thing to do.

Not convinced yet? Ok, let’s try to scare you. You just brought that new coral home from the store, a swap, or a trade with another hobbyist and it looks just fine. It couldn’t possibly have any hitchhiker pests on it right? Well, let’s go over what it “couldn’t” have on it first. Here’s a quick list of some common reef hitchhikers you want to to prevent from being introduced to your beautiful reef tank:

Trust me when I say, that although there are ways to eradicate these pests from your system after they are introduced, you are WAY BETTER OFF avoiding them to begin with.

Now that the scary part is out of the way, let’s get to the topic of how to quarantine corals. A simple coral quarantine tank needs be nothing more than a small tank, light, heater, powerhead, and live rock. There are some hobbyists that set up a new quarantine tank each time they get a new order in, I’ve always thought it’s much easier to just keep my quarantine tank up at all times. I actually use a Solana I had laying around, but of course that is not necessary. Just a note, if you plan on using this tank to quarantine fish as well, make sure that you do not use any copper-based medications when treating fish. Traces of these medications will remain in your tank and will harm future corals you place in quarantine.

When I receive a new coral, my first step is to acclimate it to my tank’s water temperature. This can easily be archived by floating the bag in the tank for 25-30 minutes. Because bright light may stress a new acquisition, it is recommended that this is done with the lights off. Next, I dip the coral in either Tropic Marin Pro Coral Cure (10 – 15 minutes) or Revive (5 – 6 minutes). While the coral is in the coral dip bath, I make sure to either swish it around with my hand, or use a turkey baster to blast the coral. This assists in the manual removal of pests from the coral. I make sure to dip the coral before placing the coral in my quarantine tank, in order to allow the dip to remove any pests that it is able to. Next, I place the coral in the quarantine tank and add a dose of Interceptor in order to kill Red Bugs. I normally leave the coral in the quarantine tank overnight (at least 10-12 hours).

Although there is always a risk that a pest will slip through the cracks, I believe that this simple procedure is well worth the added protection it provides. Maintaining a quarantine tank at all times, makes this process even easier, and soon it will become part of your routine. Because the quarantine tank is stable, it allows you to take your time and inspect a new coral for an added period of time if necessary. If you feel the need to perform an extra dip or dose of Interceptor, you can do so without to much trouble. In addition to maintaining a healthy, pest free reef tank, you are also doing your in preventing the spreading of these pests amongst hobbyists.

Red Bugs Treatment with Interceptor

Posted on Sunday, November 8th, 2009 at 1:42 pm

A friend has recently noticed that there were red bugs in his system, so I decided to outline a red bug treatment plan using Interceptor and add it to the Reef Tools knowledge base.

Tegastes acroporanus, commonly known as red bugs or red acro bugs are copepods that prey on Acropora corals. Red bugs are actually primarily yellow, with a bright red “spot”. They are very small and are sometimes difficult to see with the naked eye.

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Sometimes, you can see tiny bright spots on a coral suspected of being infected by shining a flashlight directly on the exposed branches. I will add another article exclusively dedicated to red bugs, as well as one about treating new corals with Interceptors, but for now, let’s just say that red bugs feed exclusively on on Acropora corals, and are sure to create a less-than-optimal environment for corals on which they reside.

Let’s turn the discussion to treating your reef tank for red bugs, using Interceptor. Interceptor is a given to dogs and cats for the prevention of heartworm, hookworm, roundworms, and whipworms. It is important to note that the Interceptor comes in several tablet sizes, and for the purpose of this article, I will be referring to the large tabs (Dogs 51-100lbs and cats 12.1-25lbs).

Here is a photo of the current packaging for Interceptor:

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And on of a single packaged tablet :

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Red Bug Treatment Basics:
It is commonly agreed on, that a large tablet of Interceptor will adequately treat about 380 – 400 gallon or aquarium water. And although this is sometimes difficult to estimate, do your best, taking into account variables such as your sump, Calcium Reactor, Protein skimmer, refugium, and the amount of rock you have. It has been found that 25mg of Interceptor per 10 gallons of aquarium water is the appropriate dosage for killing red bugs.  Since Interceptor can negatively effect crabs and shrimp, you should remove them from your system for the length of the treatment. Please make sure to remove the air feed to your protein skimmer, so that it continues to run, but does not skim. Please also remove any carbon you have running in the system, and turn off Ozone and UV sterilizers. It is important that EVERY part of your system comes in contact with Interceptor, so if you turn off your GFO and Carbon reactors, please dispose of the water and replace with clean saltwater when turned back on.

Interceptor is known to kill adult red bugs, but it’s effect on the different stages of red bug life is speculative at best. As a result, the outlines treatment should be performed 3 time at a minimum. This will ensure that any adult red bugs remaining after the initial treatment as well as any that were juveniles or at the egg stage, are killed during the second treatment. A third treatment is performed as an insurance policy, as would subsequent treatments. There is some discussion regarding the treatment intervals, with some hobbyists performing 1 week intervals, and others performing the first two treatments a week apart, and the third treatment 2 weeks after that. In addition, some hobbyists wait 6 hours before turning everything back on, and some wait 12 hours. I have experimented and have found them both to be successful.

Red Bug Treatment Routine:
After you’ve read the previous section, and have performed the basic preparatory steps (skimmer on but not producing bubbles, carbon and gfo out, ozone off, uv sterilizer off), crush one large Interceptor pill with a spoon, until it is completely turned to powder. Take a cup of aquarium water, and mix the appropriate amount of crushed Interceptor (25mg per 10 gallons of aquarium water) until it’s disolved. Note, Interceptor is not the most soluble medication, so just keep mixing :). Once the solution is ready, pour it into your tank in a high flow area. Your aquarium should not cloud up, and should remain looking natural throughout the treatment. Once the desired treatment time has lapsed (6-12 hours), add fresh carbon to your reactor, and turn your skimmer, ozone, uv sterilizer, etc back on. You’re done. Repeat this a minimum of 3 times, and your tank should be red bug free!

FAQ
How can I get Interceptor?
Interceptor is prescribed by a Vet. I have a couple of dogs, so obtaining Interceptor has never been an issue. If you do not have a dog, you can try printing this article and taking it with you to a vet’s office, and tell them what you will be using it for. There are also some mail-order companies in Canada that will ship out Interceptor without a prescription.

How can I weigh the correct dosage?
I crushed the tab into a powder, and then walked into a local pharmacy. After a brief discussion, they were more than happy to use their scale and assist me. (I will say that walking into a pharmacy with a strange powder and asking them to weigh it for you, may not work everywhere, and is sure to get you some strange looks, so be prepared).

Why do I still see red bugs in my tank after the treatment?
Red bugs latch only Acropora corals well into the late hours of the treatment, and sometimes for several days following the treatment. Use a turkey baster to get them off of the corals, following the treatment. Rest assure, than any living red bugs will be eradicated with follow up treatments.

DISCLAIMER
Before we begin, let me say that this is just an article based on my research and experience. I am not telling you to perform this routine, nor do I want to get hate mail about it if your tank crashes at some point in the future :)

What’s With Water Changes?

Posted on Sunday, November 8th, 2009 at 9:16 am

One of the most basic aspects of maintaining a reef tank, is performing water changes. In this article we will cover various aspects regarding the importance of water changes, as well as why and how often they should be performed.

Why Should I Do Water Change?
This is a common question amongst beginning reef hobbyists.  The most immediate answer is that water changes facilitate a manual export of nutrients from the water column.  In this particular case, nutrients refers primarily to nitrates, nitrites and phosphates. These will be discussed in much more detail in another article, but let’s highlight for now that these compounds, at high levels, will be detrimental to the health of your reef, as well as promote the growth of nuisance algae. And although we have other methods removing nutrients from our reef systems (protein skimmers, GFO, biological filtration,  etc), many advanced hobbyists agree that these methods should supplement water changes, rather than replace them. In addition to removing nutrients from the water column, water changes provide an opportunity to remove detritus that has settled in areas with insufficient flow, as well as assist in the manual removal of nuisance algae. Lastly, water changes replenish many important trace elements that are used by your reef inhabitants.

How Much Water Should I Change?
We convinced you that you should do water changes, the next question is when, and how much.  Let’s begin by saying that all we can really do is make recommendations. There is no substitute to watching your reef and responding appropriately to it’s needs. There are many elements that contribute to the how much and how often question. If water changes are used to remove nutrients from the water column, then let’s look at variables that increase as well as decrease these compounds in the reef tank. You can begin by looking at your livestock. Biological waste from the animals  in your tank coupled with feeding practices are the main contributors to increased levels of nitrates, nitrites and phosphates. Therefore, as the number of fish increase within a given tank, more food is used to feed them, and in return, more waste is introduced to the tank. We also need to take into account other methods of waste removal such as protein skimming, chemical removal, and biological filtration.

In most reef aquariums, it is recommended that 5-20% of the water volume is changed every month, with smaller, weekly changes preferred over larger monthly ones.  Again, this is only a recommendation, as there may be instances where larger quantities must be changes.

How Should I Do a Water Change?
I can just hear someone saying “ummm….take some water out and then add new water back in….?”. And while, yes, that is in essence what we are doing, let’s look at it in a little more detail. Let’s pretend that we are doing a 10 gallon water change on our tank. Make sure that you pre-mixed 10 gallons of saltwater, and that the Specific Gravity of the new water matches that of your reef tank.  I personally like to let to solution mix for 24 hours before doing a water change. That insures that the salt mix that I use has completely dissolved in the water.

Rather than simply siphoning 10 gallons from the top of the tank or sump, we recommend that you use a hose and try to reach into corners of your tank and sump. Try to get into areas that may not have optimal flow, and where detritus or uneaten food may have settled.  This intentionally targets areas that are likely to cause problems in the long run.  Once you have siphoned out 10 gallons of water, simply pump or pour the new saltwater into your system, and you’re done.

In summery, we recommend that you :

  • pre-mix your new batch of saltwater for at least a 24 hours, and ensure that it is of the same specific gravity as your tank.
  • perform a 5-20% each month, preferrably in smaller, weekly increments
  • make sure that you siphon out dead zones (areas with little flow)

We hope this has been a helpful article, please let us know if you have any questions.

Aiptasia Removal Methods

Posted on Saturday, November 7th, 2009 at 6:47 am

peppermint shrimp eating aiptasia

I, more than most know the pain of having a gorgeous tank filled with pesky little mini-anemones a.k.a. AIPTASIA. I still remember the day that I brought my first batch of live rock. I was beyond excited and I chose to ignore the ominous warnings of those “well seasoned” reef veterans that warned of parasitic infestations that rock may hold. I threw the rock right into the tank without a second thought about “curing” or “quarantining” that gorgeous Fiji premium! Within hours I realized my stunning new investment was swimming with life. Awesome, or so one noob would think. I had beautiful mini-anemones and little red sponges all over this rock! I was going to grow them and sell them. WOW, my first rock investment was turning out to be a very fruitful one indeed.

In the heat of that prideful moment I decided to snap some pictures of my perfect little rock community. I wanted the world to know about the opportunities to pre-order my soon-to-be Bubble Tip Anemones and my burnt cayenne hued sponges. Moments later those pictures were shining like stars within the reef community websites I frequented. I was at my peak of my new found reef entrepreneurism. This hi-lighted moment of glee was to be short-lived. I was slammed with numerous responses filled with “LOL”, “LMAO”, and “You’re an idiot”. Apparently my first round of “automatic propagation” was a huge infestation of Aiptasia and Flatworms! What was a boy to do? That’s the question that I am going to help you answer by exploring my journey into pest control failure.

Step One: BLOG BLOG BLOG.
I posted a series of questions on every website that would allow this nooB to join. I was given a ton of absolutely brilliant information. By brilliant, I meant horribly expensive. I explored tons of options, in fact I explored EVERY option offered. Some where temporary fixes and others just made the problem grow at an alarmingly expedited rate. On to the journey.

Step Two: CHEMICAL WARFARE.
I was told to run out immediately and buy Joe’s Juice, Aiptasia X, Kalkwasser (create a paste), Pickling Lime, Vinegar, & many more. In their defense, ALL OF THEM WORKED…ish. I had some pretty heightened expectations every time I applied one of the compounds upon my tentacle terrors. Time after time, they would disintegrate into the deep blue, and time after time, they would return in greater numbers. Hell hath no fiery like an aiptasia scorned! The trick, which I later learned was to zap the aiptasia with the product and follow it up with the vacuuming effect of a syphon. Skip this step and your effort was hopeless.
I knew that this war would not be easily won, so I brought out the big guns. Bleach. I removed ALL of my live rock and I filled a plastic tote with fresh water and a toxic dose of household bleach. I placed the rock in the tote for days and let the process begin. I was so beyond smart, I was borderline genius. How could this outbreak continue without an ounce of uncured rock remaining in the tank? I am far too simple sometimes for my reef’s good. I rinsed the rock and made certain to only return the most pristine pieces. I was so proud of my work. Awe snap, here comes the kicker. Aiptasia live all over! they were hiding away in my filters, in the sand, even tucked up into the power-heads. They were the ultimate hide-n-seek Nemesis. Within days they were back in full force and schooling me in Reef-Pests 101.

Step Three: MOTHER KNOWS BEST, Mother Nature that is.
I was now ready to seek out more natural solutions. I wanted to watch predator vs. prey, the way mother nature had intended. What was the course of action? There are so many aiptasia-snacking fish that I clearly had to choose based on appearance. I chose the Copperband Butterfly Fish, solely based on aesthetics this fish was the dream solution, Beauty vs. the Beasts in my living room. The Copperband is naturally inclined to eat aiptasia, and mine certainly had a voracious appetite. However, they also have a zero tolerance for any water quality fluctuations and are, as I see it… suicidal. Mine was masochist and decided that he had nothing to live for and began the process of slowly starving himself to death. It was a horribly sad process, but a reef lesson none the less. Among the Copperband Butterfly Fish there are many esteemed colleagues of aiptaisa killers such as the Raccoon Butterfly Fish, certain Nudibranchs, and my all time favorite Peppermint Shrimp. I decided to spare the lives of the before mentioned fish and go by way of the peppermint shrimp.
I was told that the peppermint shrimp would have a 50/50 chance of success. I had Eustacia that were greater than a quarter in size and extended two inches. I had some seriously malicious pests on hand. I purchased three peppermint shrimp, at the less than enthused L.F.S. (local fish store) workers dismay. Even after explaining my journey into this matter, they still wanted me to buy more chemicals. I, the eternal optimist decided to bet on luck. The peppermint shrimp were released onto the battlefield at 7:00 p.m. on a Sunday, and by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday MY REEF WAS AIPTASIA FREE !!! Granted this was a game of chance, but it was a risk I was willing to take. After all of the failed efforts, I chose to take a natural route and found out that this direction was the best fit for my reef-style.

Step Four: LET THE BATTLE BEGIN
I do encourage any readers battling with this jelly-armed nuisance at home in their tanks to do some research. Look into ALL of the above mentioned options, and try to seek five more that I haven’t included. There isn’t a right or wrong approach to managing the pests within your reef, there is only your approach.  I hope that this article was helpful. Good luck and great reefing.

Starting Your First Reef Tank

Posted on Friday, November 6th, 2009 at 1:27 pm

my-fishes-dsps-reef-tank

Venturing into this intense, yet gratifying hobby can leave one feeling overwhelmed by their lack of knowledge and with a bit of a salty taste in their mouth. This is an introductory guide aimed at breaking down the initial steps needed to start your first reef. Beyond reading this limited introduction, you are going to need to research specific brands and suppliers to find the right equipment for your needs at the right price. I encourage you to post any questions about specific products or techniques on this site. With a hobby-specific site such as this you will have plenty of support and opinions to utilize.

You have most likely already selected your aquarium, if not, no worries because you will need to build your components around that specific tank. So remember, size does matter! In this case, bigger isn’t always better! Look into your own personal goals and preferences to find out what you really need out of your 1st tank.

WATER
Your water is the single most important factor of the tank. Without quality water you will begin this process with a ton of headaches. Listen wisely to the following statement: SET UP YOUR TANK USING RO/DI WATER. How you get this water is up to you. There are several options including buying your own RO/DI Filtration Unit, Purchasing it at your LFS (Local Fish Store), or buying it online. RO/DI water is pure enough to eliminate many of the chemical/element related issues a new tank is ridden with. I promise it is worth the investment. Once you have selected the RO/DI source that is right for you, a testing is in order. An electronic TDS (total dissolved solid) meter will let you check the quality of the RO/DI. If you do not have this piece of equipment don’t panic, a trusted Saltwater Specialty Store will not sell you bad water. Also keep extra water on hand to top off the tank. The water that is evaporated is salt free and you should replace it with salt free water.

SALT
You have already selected your water and unless you have selected a pre-mixed saltwater you are going to need to buy salt. Not all salt mixes are created equal. You need to select a salt that is from a “reputable” company. Look for a Nitrate and Phosphate free salt mix that is also correctly filled with the essential trace elements needed for reef sustainability. If using RO/DI water there will not be a need for an additional de-chlorinator. You will want to pre-mix your saltwater prior to adding it to your aquarium. You will also need a device to test the salinity. There are three types of testers in which you can use.

1) A temperature correcting refractometer (most accurate)

2) A float type hydrometer with temperature correction chart

3) A swing arm hydrometer (least expensive and accurate)

Depending on your reefs needs, you will want to choose a salinity that works for you (also find out what your fish provider keeps their tanks at). I recommend keeping your salinity between 1.023 and 1.025. This is merely my opinion and there will be times when different levels are need to accomplish different things. Do your homework and research your type of tank. Fish Only with Live Rock (FOWLR) tanks and Reef tanks have different salinity needs.

WOW we just broke off the tip of the water iceberg, but do to the wealth of knowledgeable friends on this site you can ask tons of questions and get great answers. The water is truly the most fundamental, yet exhausting part of this hobby. The rest will be a breeze.

TEST KITS
You will want to test the water to ensure a safe place for your fish. There are hundreds of tests available, but to start off you only need a few. I always recommend using higher quality tests vs. the cheaper in-the-short-run alternatives. You will understand why after your first nitrate caused tank crash. You will initially want to test for the following:

1. Nitrates
2. Nitrites
3. Ammonia
4. Phosphates
5. Calcium
6. Alkalinity
7. PH

Once you are seasoned reefer you will be able to spot issues and test accordingly. I will say that regular water changes can really go a long way and prevent a ton of casualties. Test away! These tests are not all needed for FOWLR tanks, so purchase only what you will need and save some green. Do your homework and find out what other people with similar set ups are testing for and with.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

You now know what tank and stand you are going with, so now is the time to select it’s location in the home. This is a very important decision and one that should not be taken with a grain of salt…get it? Anyway, if you are going with a large tank, consider the strength of the floor underneath it. There is nothing as exciting as structural damage to the home when that gorgeous reef of yours come crashing down. Be smart about that. Also make sure that the location is supplied with an adequate amount of electrical access. You will have several items that need to be plugged in at the same time. You should avoid placing the tank next to a window that gets a fair amount of direct sunlight, due to some unpredictable light-based conditions that may occur. Avoid placing your tank near a heat source, such as a heater vent to prevent any temperature instability. The choice is yours, but choose wisely. It is rather hard to moved a fully stocked tank across the room or up a flight of stairs.

FILTRATION
Keeping your water pristine is the ultimate key to having a controlled tank. The level of cleanliness within the water has a huge direct effect on the longevity of the livestock. In addition to having several forms of natural filtration (i.e. Clean Up Crews, Chaeto, Dentrifiers), you will most likely want a Protein Skimmer. The protein skimmer removes the impurities and proteins (which create ammonia and such) and makes your life much easier. Not all tanks use a protein skimmer, but the more advanced reefers would recommend it to eliminate unneeded harmful waste. This category is far too broad to really dive into on here, so once again ask as many questions as you can. There are people who have been in the same shoes you are now in and that are just dying to share their experiences with you.

LIGHTING
Your lights are a very important part of the saltwater ecosystem. The lights will be mimicking the sun and moon, providing you with the best hues for viewing your corals, and keeping all of your aquatic life healthy. There are so many options in lighting, so be certain to read up on the fixtures and their heat/light outputs (a chiller may be in order), the bulbs and their spectrum of color, and the different functions that each lighting company may offer. It is important to be an educated buyer when it comes to lighting. Lighting is on the more expensive side of this hobby and poor light quality will only cause issues down the road.

SUBSTRATE and ROCK
Once you have established the plan of action for setting up your aquarium you will want to select a substrate (sand, bare bottom, or crushed coral). Sand is ideal in aesthetic appearance, but might be problematic for your goals, bare bottom is great for many tanks, but lacks in visual appeal, crushed coral is inexpensive, but is known for harboring nitrates and other harmful toxins within its pockets. Choosing the correct substrate for your needs will be a tough decision. I advise you to check out lots of photo galleries of members tanks and see what they have done. This should give you an idea on what is the preferred matter in this. Your substrate will be filled with living organisms that help keep the ecosystem within in balance. It is a unique and undervalued factor in the reef.

Live Rock is a fundamental safety net for the saltwater aquarium. Within the porous cavities of the rock live many beneficial creatures that will scavenge the reef searching for food. These little scavengers will help remove detritus (non living organic matter or fish crap) keeping you tank safe. There will be more information of the importance of live rock and substrate in the CYCLING YOUR TANK section on this site. Your live rock also needs to meet your visual demands. It is so important to select a rock that is pleasing to your eye. Browse online or visit a few stores to see what they have to offer you. HELPFUL TIP: Dry rock costs less to ship than live rock and will eventually become live with very little work on your end.

OTHER ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT
Powerheads (create movement in the water)
Thermometer (accurately keep you within the safe ranges for your tank)
Safe Temperature Ranges FOWLER 75-78◦F REEFS 78-82◦F
Heater(s) (choose the correct size of heater for the total number of gallons of water)

There is so much more information that a NooB should have, but this guide should serve as a very basic introduction into your new endeavor. My strongest piece of advice is to ask as many questions as you can. Do not be intimidated by the web of reef lingo that is tossed around between the seasoned reefers. They will all gladly guide you through this process. I know that I was beyond clueless when I jumped into this hobby and I failed as an advocate for myself, so don’t follow in my footsteps, ASK QUESTIONS. Good luck and great reefing.

RO/DI (reverse osmosis)

Posted on Thursday, September 10th, 2009 at 8:57 pm

What is RO/DI?
RO/DI stands for Reverse Osmosis and Deionization which is a multi-stage water filter used by most hobbyists to convert tap water into the purified water used in reef tanks.

Why should I use RO/DI in my reef tank?
Ordinary tap water may contain various impurities such as nitrates, phosphates, chlorine, as well as various heavy metals (including copper). The RO/DI water filter will remove essentially all of these impurities and will help with many of the problems that may occur when using tap water (high nitrates and phosphates, green algae, cyanobacteria, etc).

How does an RO/DI filter work?
The basic four stage filter uses a sediment filter, carbon block, reverse osmosis membrane, and deionization resin. A three stage RO filter, will simply be one that leaves out the Deionization stage.

Typically a foam block, the sediment filter will physically remove small particles from the water. It is the first “line of defense” and it’s main purpose is to prevent these particles from clogging or interfering with the carbon and RO membrane. Sediment filters are rated by their micron sizes; the smaller the micron rating, the more effective the filter will be.

The carbon filter, typically comprised of activated carbon, will filter out smaller particles, and absorb several dissolved compounds.  Additionally, the carbon will deactivate the chlorine present in our tap water. These is essential as chlorine will destroy the RO membrane in the next stage.

The RO membrane is comprised of a thin semi-permeable film, through which water is forced under pressure. Molecules which are larger and heavier,  do not pass through the membrane as easily as the smaller and lighter water molecules, and are typically left behind.

The optional DeIonization stage, uses the DI resin to exchange the remaining ions, removing them from the solution.

Do I really need the DI stage for my filter?
We want to start by saying that anything you do is better than using regular tap water. Reverse osmosis will typically remove between 90-98% of the impurities existing in your tap water. The true answer to the “what is enough” question is the amount of impurities existing in your tap water. Use a TDS meter to measure the amount of dissolved solids remaining in your system after the RO stage. If you are happy with the results, then that is all you need. If you need to further purify the water, than the DI stage is for you.

Which Gallons Per Day (GPD) model should I get?
RO/DI capacities are typically listed in gallons per day. Most units range between 25-100 GPD, where the most common differences are either the permeability or size of the membrane. Units that product higher GPD are generally more expensive and are useful when initially setting up larger tanks, or in emergencies where large amounts or water are needed. Typically, hobbyists will not need more than 25 gallons per day in the long run, as long as an appropriately sized reservoir is used for the storage of purified water.

Keep in mind that listed RO/DI capacities are projected given “ideal conditions”, such as a water temperature of 70°F and water pressure of 65 PSI.

Quarantine Tank

Posted on Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 at 1:13 pm

What is a quarantine tank and why should I use it?
A Quarantine tank is a topic most noobs might skip when starting out. However, there are many good reasons to use and maintain a quarantine tank. Major reasons for the using a quarantine tank are the prevention and treatment of diseases, acclimation of new livestock to your feeding habits, and the ability to prevent pests, predators and pathogens from entering your display tank.

Although many hobbyists may claim that Marine Ich is always present in their system, the truth is that it is a a parasite that must be introduced to your tank. If you prevent it from ever being introduced, no amount of stress or poor water conditions can make it magically appear.

So, why don’t more hobbyists use a quarantine tank?
I’m confident that “inconvenience” and “cost” would be the two major reasons. However, maintaining a quarantine tank shouldn’t be expensive, and as far as convenience, how about having to break down your display tank in order to catch a fish that is sick…?

Quarantine Tank Size:
I have always used a 20 gallon long tank as a quarantine tank, as it provides plenty of swimming room. A larger or smaller aquarium can be used depending on the number and size of fish you plan on QT’ing.

Quarantine Tank Setup:
Once you have selected a tank, you simply need to add some basic lighting (fluorescent is just fine here, nothing fancy), a heater, powerhead and pvc tubes/fittings as hiding places. Most QTs are bare bottomed for easy maintenance. As far as filtration goes, a sponge filter will do.

You can either keep the tank up at all times (if you are constantly adding livestock), or break it down and set it up as needed. If you choose the latter, you can keep a sponge filter in the sump of your display tank so that it is colonized by nitrifying bacteria.

How long should I QT my fish?
2-4 weeks is the generally accepted time. Many hobbyists will use copper treatment during this time, although some experts would say that there is no reason to treat if you do not see any symptoms. If you do use medication with Copper Sulfate in it, DO NOT put the sponge back in your display tank, as the copper will harm your corals. Regular water changes, about 10% every 2-3 days should keep the water parameters in your quarantine tank right where they should be.

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