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May 13, 2021
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Title Reef Tank Essentials

Ralph Cabage

Last Updated



There are four main components to any successful reef tank. The filter, the protein skimmer, the lighting and purified water. Here is a brief explanation of why these things are important if you desire a thriving reef tank.

Reef Tank Essentials

There are four main components to any successful reef tank. The filter, the protein skimmer, the lighting and purified water. Here is a brief explanation of why these things are important if you desire a thriving reef tank.

The Filter
Trickle filters and Sock filters with protein skimmers are by far the best choice for a reef tank. They function by creating surface area for bacteria that break down fish waste. Once established, a trickle filter creates incredibly stable water quality. With most filters your water quality is the best right after a water change, then it slowly degrades until it is time for another water change. Although it is still necessary to do regular water changes, a trickle filter facilitates a constant of state good water quality. This is crucial for maintaining sensitive invertebrates such as corals and clams.

There are also many economical and functional advantages to these types of filters. First, since it primary use is a biological one, there is virtually no maintenance on the filter itself. Second, you no longer have to pour top-off water and chemical additives directly into your tank, they can be added directly to the filter for safe dispersion into the aquarium. Another advantage is that your yearly operating cost is well below what it would cost for other filters. You might spend ten dollars replacing padding and a sponge in an entire year. Compare this to what you may spend replacing carbon and specialized filter pads in a canister filter. One more benefit is that virtually all your equipment can be contained in the filter. The days of staring at obtrusive equipment in the tank, such as heaters, are gone. All that is left is what you choose to create.

The Protein Skimmer
A protein skimmer remove many different harmful substances from the aquarium before that build up. It works by filtering the water through a cylindrical chamber full of tiny air bubbles. As these air bubbles rush to the surface they attract certain particles out of the water. To use an analogy, it is similar to the effect of static electricity. If you rub your feet on the carpet and then touch a balloon, it sticks to your hand. The same thing happens to the air bubbles. They make their way up the column where a specially designed lid allows the impending foam to overflow into a collection cup. The dark liquid that is eventually deposited in the collection cup is all the bad stuff in your tank concentrated into a small cup that can then be disposed of. In addition, protein skimmers oxygenate your water, eliminating the need for unsightly air stones in you tank.

The Lighting
Standard flourescent lighting is neither desirable nor economical for lighting a reef tank. A brief explanation of what a coral is will explain why. A coral is a plant and an animal living together. It is not something that you would notice just by looking. The coloration of a coral is actually the pigmentation produced by the microscopic algae living in the tissue of the coral. The animal generally requires food of some kind to supplement the energy it acquires from the algae. The algae requires light, and a lot of it. Do not let your eyes fool you, they are not well equipped to judge the quality and quantity of light from various sources. Just because it blinds you, does not mean it is enough light for a coral. Therefore, the best option for lighting a reef tank is power compact flourescents. You are probably already familiar with the technology, for it is the basis behind the unusually shaped bulbs designed for your home or office that last seven years and are three times as efficient. For your fish tank there are several designs and many sizes. Choosing the right one depends mostly on what you want to keep in your tank and the dimensions of your tank. Always remember, it is better to have more than enough light as opposed to an adequate amount of light.

The Purified Water
Your tap water is not good enough for corals and other invertebrates. There are a number of detrimental elements in it that make a healthy beautiful reef tank impossible. One of the main problems is phosphates. This particular nutrient will do two things: it will cause massive outbreaks of hair algae, and it can inhibit the growth of coral at concentrations of .25 ppm. Tap water can have anywhere from 2-4 ppm of phosphate. You may be bold enough to drink the stuff, but your corals are not. They need pure water. There are several ways to go about providing it. One, you can purchase water from Aquarium for 50 cents a gallon for freshwater or a dollar a gallon for pre-mixed saltwater. Second option, and the most economical one, is to purchase an RO unit and make the water yourself. It is quite easy, you just screw it onto a faucet and turn on the water. With this method you will spend roughly 13 cents a gallon and won’t have to haul the water all over town. The third option is to buy RO water from the grocery store. This is definitely the most expensive way to do it. One additional note, if I scared you when I was talking about the quality of our tap water, there is an optional drinking water reservoir that can be attached to a RO unit.

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