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One Change at a Time

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

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.

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