In fact, I've already been told or maybe I should say, gently reminded by my significant other that I need to trim my workload. Maybe in some areas, but when it comes to this hobby, there are things I can't live without, e.g., at least one aquarium, a quality protein skimmer, a very good lighting system, an RO/DI system, a quality salt mix, and some of the truly beneficial additives.
Anyway, I do my best to plan out aquarium systems so there will be minimum time spent on the uninteresting and somewhat boring aspects of aquarium maintenance. Nevertheless, its quite clear we aquarists will not have long term success without allotting some time for certain aspects of keeping our systems purring along and looking great. Therefore I've put together some points of interest concerning some areas of general aquarium maintenance you might find interesting and helpful. And whether or not they are daily, weekly or monthly items, or simply items that very rarely need checking is your decision, as you're the best judge of your aquarium needs.
(Please keep in mind all underlined word(s) are linkable files – just click on them and be taken to its content/photo. Also, all shown photos are clickable, which often allows a larger file to be seen.)
There are basically two areas of maintenance, one consisting of somewhat routinely preformed tasks, and one that can be considered 'watch items' that occasionally need to be checked and cared for if necessary. In fact, I've seen some hobbyists developed a written checklist, while others had their list of 'to-dos' computerized. Either way, that's really being organized! In fact, it's a good way to collect system information as time passes, which can help point to certain areas that may need additional attention. And since none of us are infallible, having a list of 'M' tasks to periodically review, simply makes good sense.
These fall into what can be considered 'must do's,' and even though each has its own time schedule, each becomes a link in the chain that keeps the aquarium properly functioning and an enjoyment to behold.
WOW! This is really important! Why would we go through this entire process if we couldn't watch what is happening inside our aquarium(s). And depending upon bioload and light, the inside panels of our aquaria will have various forms of algae and bacteria growth upon them. The most common would no doubt be brown alga, such as diatoms cause by an overabundance of silica, or possibly a light green haze caused by a spike in ammonium from possibly overfeeding. Then there's the possibility of coralline algae growing on the inside of the viewing panels which if not cleaned away will continue to spread and become more difficult to remove as it spreads and gets thicker. Some of these growths come about in hours, while others may take weeks or longer to develop. But sooner or later, it's necessary to remove them, especially on the panels that the system is viewed through.
Where soft algae films are involved, there are numerous brand scrub pads sold for removing these growths. The only drawback with these is that it's necessary to roll up one's sleeve and dip the entire hand or in some cases, the whole arm into the aquarium. Neither a pleasant task for the hobbyist, nor a good one for the water in the aquarium, as the oils in one's flesh somewhat negatively affects water quality and/or protein skimming efficiency. Besides it's messy! Yet there are cleaning mitts/gloves that surround the entire hand/forearm if desired.
To resolve that somewhat unpleasant task of getting your hands/arm wet, magnetic algae removers have come upon the market and are available in two forms; those for glass only use, or for acrylic use. Nevertheless, each has its limitations and could scratch if misused. Each is sold as a two-part unit, with one half having a felt-lined surface that is used on the outside surface of the aquarium panel to help prevent scratches, and the inside portion containing the scrubbing surface. One simply holds and moves the outside unit to move the magnetically attracted inside scrubbing unit.
In the past, if the magnetic field between them were broken the inside pad would fall to the bottom of the aquarium. If close to the aquarium panel the powerful attraction from the outside magnetic pad could attract and reunite them. If too far from the panel, one would either have to reach in and get it or with a long stick/rod push it closer to the panel. But now that is mostly in the past, as the inside portion of some magnetic cleaners will float to the surface if the magnetic field between them is broken making it easy to retrieve and reunite with its outside unit.
Caution needs to be taken with these magnetic cleaners, or in fact any panel cleaning tools when they near the sandbed surface. If they pick up a sand grain, it can scratch interior surfaces, whether glass or acrylic. And keep in mind acrylic panels scratch 'much' easier than glass. Even though there is polishes/buffers for both that can remove very 'minor' interior scratches, the water in the aquarium must be lowered to the level of the scratch in order to work on it. So be extremely careful when near the sand level!
As for those extremely hard algae spots on glass, a razor blade will work well, but keep in mind to use a new blade as old blades often develop burrs and/or oxidation along their edge, which will scratch glass. On acrylic, I've used the edge of a plastic credit card. And if I can't find my one and only credit card, my wife has many to choose from! Nevertheless, it can still scratch acrylic aquariums if used with too much force.
Even though I now mostly use floating magnetic algae scrapers for acrylic aquariums, I've in the past made my own scrubbing pads. For those of you that prefer to hand wipe the inside panels you may want to try the following. - Go to a local fabric store and purchase white cotton 'wedding veil' material by the yard. This material is found in rolls of various widths, and any needed length of the material can be purchased. I would simply purchase two yards from a 36-inch (90 cm) wide roll and then cut the material into 4-inch (10 cm) wide strips. Each 36-inch wide strip was reduced to 18 inches (45 cm) with each strip then being folded into 4 x 4 inch (10 cm by 10 cm) pads. After each 'pad' was actually used in the aquarium, it would be unfolded and rinsed out under tap water and hung outside to dry. When dry, it was again folded into a 4 inch wide pad, however in a slightly different fashion so that its two outside surface areas were now different than those already used. Somewhat guesswork, but still quite effective, as this material could be used over and over again without showing much wear.
To improve the above, I began wrapping the strips around a 4 inch square pad of ¼ inch Styrofoam, which made the entire pad easier to use as its could be pressed against a surface more easily. After use, it would be unwound and washed and dried as above and as the material wore down, the length of the strip was shortened, thereby providing new surfaces until a new length of material had to be used. This somewhat course material 'never' scratched acrylic no matter how hard it was scrubbed and would also remove difficult hard alga including coralline. Besides being quite effective, it was extremely cost effective.
There are also long handle algae scrapers that come in various lengths having foam ends for acrylic surfaces or more durable scrub surfaces for glass panels. In fact, some have replaceable end pads where metal blades can be attached for removal of stubborn algae spots. And there are liquid cleaning sprays and/or moist wipes for outside panels. Therefore, it appears there are sufficient cleaning tools so it's always possible to have a clean viewing panel. Of course, there's always manana/tomorrow if there's a good basketball game today to watch!
Periodical Water Changes
As aquarium water ages, even in the well-filtered system, two things happen. The first and foremost is that animal waste is deteriorating and nutrients/organic compounds result, some of which constantly work against the pH of the water. Second, various trace elements are being consumed by the system's 'life,' and/or are being generated by its life, some of which may have a negative effect on some inhabitants. And even though there is no question that proper filtration/water chemistry can slow these processes, it does nothing to stop the processes from depleting or accumulating various elements and/or compounds. Therefore the aquarist that boasts he or she has rarely ever changed any of their aquarium water for new seawater should rethink that position, as water changes, and only water changes can help maintain the highly varied ion ratios at more acceptable levels.
Keep in mind, as aquarists we can test for some of the basic elements and compounds, e.g., nitrate, iodine, magnesium, and calcium to mention just a few. But there remains dozens only a laboratory can test for and then at great expense. And some of these are pollutants or valuable nutrients where little is known about their affect on wild life or at what point in their accumulation or depletion they become life threatening.
Yet, there's no doubt we aquarists have more tools at our disposal than we had a decade ago, but even those such as high quality protein skimmers and specialized denitrifying equipment/additives cannot guarantee perfect water quality. Nor can the addition of trace elements, as that remains a hit or miss application as almost all those in these solutions, if known, are not testable with our common test kits. In fact, good animal nutrition will probably supply most of their needed trace elements. In some ways the quality of one's seawater remains guesswork, but fortunately many of the animals kept can get by with less than 'perfect' water quality. In fact, no dry salt mix when added to processed water perfectly matches that of what is in the wild. Therefore, we all begin with seawater having an absence of some elements, even very possibly with bottled real seawater as it has aged since collection. Even if beginning with real NSW, i.e., that which you just collected yourself, once in the aquarium it will undergo changes with the accumulation or depletion of certain elements/compounds.
As an experiment during the late eighties I went two years without a single water change on a 125-gallon reef system. At the conclusion of this experiment it was my opinion that even with low animal load, some trace element additions, very good macroalgae growth and quality filtration equipment, the inhabitants would have done better with periodical water changes. In fact, at the end of this experiment I accomplished five, 10% water changes five days apart and its fish, mainly damselfish and soft corals looked much improved.
Therefore, when one expresses a belief that water changes are not needed I see a person, as good as they may be about other things, somewhat not seeing the wider outlook where their little world exists. Even if they have topnotch equipment and meticulously care for their investment, I still see a system that would be better if some water changes were applied.
Water changes, therefore, to what degree is a good question and the answer depends on bio-load and equipment in use. In the average system, fish-only or reef aquarium, small water changes of 5 to 10% once a month or smaller bi-weekly changes would be sufficient in my opinion. In more specialized systems containing corals that require high water quality, 10 -15% monthly changes are my preference. And in systems that are obviously overcrowded and overfed/highly fed, consider 25% water changes on a biweekly schedule. Keep in mind some invertebrates require heavy feedings of nutritional foodstuffs on a frequent basis and in such systems, large water changes help maintain overall system health and longevity.
As for ways to accomplish water changes, there are many to consider. One must keep in mind if, e.g., 20 gallons are removed and then 20 gallons of new water is added, a 20 gallon water change has then been accomplished. But if 20 gallons were to lower the level in the aquarium to an extent that would negatively effect some piece of equipment, and only 10 gallons were removed, then 10 gallons replaced, then repeated so the total replaced were 20 gallons, 20 gallons of the aquariums water was 'not' replaced with new water! It would be more like 12 gallons of old water were replaced (of course this depends upon aquarium size), but hopefully you get the point, as the second time you removed water from the aquarium, you were removing some of the new water just previously added.
Where to add the incoming water is another factor. If the system is equipped with a sump that would be the ideal place for the new incoming water to be added, as this gives it an opportunity to mix with remaining system water before directly impacting organisms in the main system thereby reducing possible temperature and chemical related effects. If there is no sump, then add the new water if feasible in the vicinity of the inlet side of the system's main water pump.
Remain skeptical of anyone who recommends not performing periodical water changes. Furthermore, adding trace elements is certainly not a good substitution for periodical water changes. Therefore, periodical water changes "are" highly recommended. And keep in mind its specific gravity and temperature should match that already in the aquarium so not to shock its inhabitants.
Mechanical Filtration Pads
Whether in my aquariums or yours the cleaning of its mechanical filter media, whatever and wherever it may be, is one of its important and frequent chores. In fact, it's one of those 'M' things that should be accomplished at least once a week. Keep in mind nitrifying and decay bacteria will quickly break down particulate matter collected on and in these type materials within a short time, e.g., within a day or two, with resulting compounds simply adding unwanted nutrients to the bulk water. Therefore these filter 'pads' should be washed 'at least' once per week with plain tap water and/or replaced with new material.
In fact, going to a local fabric shop can save much money by purchasing similar material you often see sold in small packages in most pet supply shops. Because of the money that can be saved by separately purchasing this material, you can easily change this mechanical filtration media twice a week, thereby possibly saving quite a lot of money on ready-made pads or filter fluff 'and' saving some time by not having to wash out the old material.
One further comment if making your own pads, be sure the material used does not contain any anti-mold or fungus coatings, as some of these furniture stuffing type materials are sprayed with these compounds. The large label on the majority of the material in the store should have this information, and if not, ask the store clerk. But be sure its safe for aquarium use.
Testing Water Parameters
Chapter 10 discussed this topic at length, yet I want to at least reiterate its need, since it's an important aspect of general maintenance and must be periodically performed. Again, without testing you're playing a guessing game with the health of the aquarium's organisms and the system in general! Return to Chapter 10 and reread the topic titled 'Test Kits & Record Keeping,' as it pertains to one of the most important 'M' Word tasks!
Air Pump Air Filters
How many of you have ever changed/cleaned the little air filters found on higher quality air pumps? Probably not many, which would include myself! My WISA 300 went a year before I thought about replacing the small wad of cotton located at its air intake. Whether it is a small screen that needs to be dusted off or the replacement of a small wad of cotton, it could be something over looked or seem to never have the time to get done. But we should all place this small chore on our 'M' list. For those of us who may never want to bother with cleaning air pump air filters, try enclosing the air pump in an old sock. The sock will act as a giant air filter and the time may never come to change the sock!
There's no doubt fluorescent and metal halide lamps become less effective with age. The fluorescent lamps possibly used in your kitchen light will probably last ten years before they burn out completely. Those used in aquarium lighting hoods may last almost as long. Yet, in about eighteen months or less those lamps will have greatly reduced spectrum and intensity when compared to a new lamp and that makes them unsuitable for most aquarium use.
For those using fluorescent lamps refer back to Chapter 5 for replacement schedules, and as for metal halides most will last for about five years before burning-out. Yet, their original spectrum and intensity will deteriorate in the first twelve to eighteen months of use and should be replaced according to manufacturer recommendations.
Having a set schedule for lamp replacement is probably the best path to take as it helps prevent 'light shock' to those animals that have tuned their food making processes to the degree of available light, thereby preventing a negative response to the increased intensity. Furthermore, lamp spectrums usually shift into a higher range of wavelengths, e.g., red spectrum as they age, something that promotes algae growth!
All protein skimmers need periodical maintenance. Without it they lose effectiveness and become a consumer of energy with no pay back. One of the most overlooked areas of maintenance is cleanliness! Skimmers lose some of their ability to produce stable foam when slime or microalgae build up on their inside surfaces. Placing the unit in an area that receives little light will help reduce or eliminate algae growth. Yet slime, a combination of fatty matter and bacteria will form on all surfaces of the unit that continue to be wet. And even though the unit may look fairly clean, this fat-like protein and bacteria slime decreases the unit's ability to remove pollutants. Cleaning with a large bottlebrush, especially inside the reaction cylinder, will help keep it running at peak efficiency.
Furthermore, I find it odd some say it's not necessary to clean the insides of the protein skimmer. Don't they see a reduced level of efficiency every time their animals are fed a meaty food? Of course they do, and that is caused by the fat content in those foods, which now spreads throughout the water and reduces foam production, possibly for hours to come depending upon the amounts in the water because adsorption/water tension has been reduced. And fat buildup on interior skimmer surfaces continues over time and slowly reduces its overall efficiency. Therefore, cleaning these areas 'is' important to the on-going effectiveness of the processed water.
How often that should be is like asking how often should the car be washed. I guess the answer would be when it's dirty. Nevertheless, at a minimum recommend the skimmer's inside column area receive a cleaning once a month and the neck area where the foam starts to collect, a weekly cleaning. Some people recommend not cleaning the skimmer because, as they put it, they work better when dirty. That is not true. Yes, immediately after cleaning, which is simply a brushing/wiping of the areas (not a cleaning and drying of the areas) foam production may seem somewhat low. But a short time thereafter, there will be very efficient foam production. Another good point in the favor of cleanliness is the export of phosphate. The aerosol spray collected in the skimmer collection cup, especially on its inside top cover, may be high in phosphate. Frequent cleaning of the cup and its cover is a very good way to export some of this nutrient.
Some of the skimmers that completely dissemble have gaskets between their mating surfaces. These mating surfaces tend to allow a very small amount of moisture carrying dissolved salts to seep past the gasket for a few days after reassembling. This creates a damp, salt-like deposit called 'salt-creep' around the outer edge of the gasket. To stop this, coat the gasket with a little talcum powder or a lubricant used in ice cream dispensing machines.
Airstone equipped protein skimmers need to have their wooden airstones changed when bubble size starts to get larger than 1 mm. Some wooden airstones last only about one month, less if ozone is being dispensed through them. Much less in fact! Recommend always connecting the air supply to the new airstones before they get wet. If they are wet before supplying air the air pump may experience some initial backpressure and possibly break the pump's diaphragm. Old airstones are probably still good as aerators in fish-only aquariums.
There's no doubt protein skimmers remove a wide variety of elements and possibly replenishing some trace elements is a good idea. Yet little thought is given the fact they also remove small amounts of seawater, therefore, new seawater must be added to the aquarium as necessary to maintain proper salinity.
As for venturi equipped skimmers they probably makeup the majority of skimmers in use today and their venturi, where air and water is mixed, may occasionally clog with salt creep. If so, it blocks airflow to a certain degree and causes changes in the size of the air bubbles it renders. Getting this deposit of salt out of the venturi is sometimes extremely easy. Simply turn off the skimmer for five minutes once every few weeks and allow the water to dissolve the salt. When restarted the skimmer's water pump pressure pushes the now dissolved concentrated salt solution out of the venturi. It's now again clean. Unfortunately there are occurrences where stubborn cases of calcium deposits build up in the venturi. For these type calcium deposits removal of the venturi is required, which is usually a fairly simple procedure. First try placing it in a solution of white vinegar, as a mild case of build up will dissolve with a short bath lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. In real stubborn cases Muratic Acid, a common acid used in swimming pools can be used. This type acid will have it clean in a jiffy!
Be sure to read the Muratic Acid label before use, as much personal care needs to be taken when using this product. Since the venturi is made from plastic, an acid solution will not harm it. The same is not true for your eyes, skin or clothes. Take the necessary precautions - use gloves and a faceshield when using any type of strong acid. Handle and dispose of the used acid solution in the proper fashion. And never use any sharp instrument to remove any deposits inside the venturi, as the slightest scratch can greatly reduce its efficiency. If needed, most venturi replacements are fairly inexpensive.
There may be times when a skimmer appears to be producing an inadequate amount of foam. If installation and maintenance is in order and outside the aquarium environmental conditions are not the fault of the problem, try the following test. Add some liquid invertebrate food to the aquarium. Within a few minutes foam should be spilling into the collection cup and should continue until most of the liquid food is removed. If the test is successful, there's very possibly nothing wrong with the operation of the skimmer. The problem, if that's what it could be called, may simply be a low bulk water organic load. However, if the skimmer does not rapidly begin to produce foam, something somewhere needs service. It's a matter of checking out the air supply, pump flow, and possibly the electrical supply. Perform methodical testing until the cause is found and corrected.
I mention electrical current because it was involved in one of the most frustrating letters I ever received. The hobbyist first complained about having low foam production. The letter writing between us continued for a couple of months. He tried everything I could think of with no apparent success. Not until I learned low foam production was happening in the late afternoon on very hot days. Combining that with the hobbyist's locale and time of the year I began to see the big picture. There were record heat waves in that area that was responsible for afternoon brownouts due to high demands on electrical energy in the afternoon hours. His local Power Company was cutting back just enough electrical voltage to slow skimmer water and air supply. The difference was enough to affect this large, airstone driven skimmer!
If for some reason there is doubt as to how high the air-water column should be in the reaction cylinder, set it to the bottom of the collection cup. If the skimmer has a narrow neck leading to the collection cup, set the air-water level even with its bottom area. Most times this will equate to a correct air-water column height.
It should go without saying but I'll do it anyway, - the waste fluid that accumulates in the skimmer collection cup is highly toxic. It contains elements and possibly heavy metals that are harmful in concentrated forms. Never allow this waste material to reenter the aquarium. A half-cup full is better emptied than waiting a day or two more for it to become slightly fuller. If anything in the system dies during such a waiting period or the aquarium is overfed, the cup could quickly fill. It might then overflow and enter the aquarium's bulk water. Possible skull and crossbones time for the inhabitants! And yes, most collection cups have drain connections that allow its contents to flow to other larger remote holding containers. Notice the word 'most,' as there still exist skimmer units that do not have collection cup drain connections!
Water flow through the aquarium itself, i.e., around and over the animals, needs to be similar to what is experienced in nature. The sea is not a stagnate area and flow to and over its various animals helps to remove their waste products and bring important food and elements essential for their wellbeing.
The water layer over and around the coral animal is called the 'boundary layer' and its thickness is dependent upon the velocity of the water impacting the animal. The thinner the boundary layer the better the metabolic gas exchange. That relates to better carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange whereas thicker layers relate to slower diffusion rates that can impede important calcification processes. Even the delivery of valuable foodstuffs is impacted by water flow. If too slow, zooplankton may be able to maneuver its way around the coral animal. If too fast, the coral animal may not be able to capture the amount of zooplankton or phytoplankton needed to sustain itself.
How to describe the intensity of that flow is difficult to explain and words such as good or strong leave a lot to be desired. There are also varying degrees of water motion depending upon the season, wind conditions, time of the day and just where on the reef or lagoon the measurement is taken. As for the measurement itself, it is usually taken in inches per second, something the hobbyist would have difficulty in measuring.
To make the subject matter of water motion usable for most hobbyists I've decided to relate it to the visible intensity of water motion on that of a long tentacle anemone. No visible tentacle motion is '0,' whereas a slight movement of some tentacles is '1.' If all the tentacles are gently swaying in the current it is '2.' If all tentacles are moving fairly fast and bouncing into each other it is '3.' Should all tentacles be driven with such force they are extended in one direction or unable to sway back to their central position it's '4.' With that said, mushroom coral would require a #1 or #2. So would Carnation corals (Dendronephthya spp.). Most Acropora would do well in the #3 range. Some cup or funnel shaped corals, e.g., Turbinaria spp., might require the #3 to #4 range so as to keep detritus from collecting on their surfaces and their central areas healthy. In fact, will use this number rating system in Chapters 16 and 17 when discussing the care of some invertebrates so as to more accurately describe the water movement desired by certain species!
Keep in mind excessive water flow can keep the coral animal from properly expanding to capture light or needed foodstuffs. It can also cause tissue abrasion or even rip tissue.
Because pumps, especially powerheads, are susceptible to a slow buildup of calcium carbonate and slime their efficiency/flow rate diminishes with time. Therefore, suggest setting up a schedule to clean powerheads every six months and also checking flow rates of main system pumps at least yearly. Keep a record of your results, as its helpful in determining when replacement time arrives.
As for the correct water flow through UGF substrate (if so equipped), have considered it to be 6 to 8 times the volume of the aquarium. In trickle filters, a flow rate through the unit should be at 2 to 4 times the volume of the aquarium. And keep in mind many water pumps, and especially powerheads, sometimes fail to deliver their rated water flows mainly due to the situations surrounding their installation. In some cases its sometimes wise to purchase water pumps, especially system pumps, that will deliver more flow than what would be needed to meet system requirements as they can usually be modified by adapting reducer/ball/gate valves to control flow rates.
Electricity is one thing our aquariums can't do without! Just try running your aquarium without light, filters, heat, cooling, water movement, etc. You get the idea, it would be difficult at best. However, most of us take it for granted. Nor do we take into consideration the fire or shock danger to ourselves it represents. Our aquariums all use a wide range of equipment that is powered by electricity and all have the potential for an electrical hazard that can result in shorts and shocks. And with this electrical equipment being near water the potential for a hazardous condition increases greatly.
The more equipment, the more cords and plugs. The more plugs, the more outlets required. Part of any plan for setting up an aquarium should include whether or not there is sufficient outlets close-by to handle the electrical current needed to operate the aquarium equipment. Keep in mind there are just so many outlets on any given circuit and each circuit is limited to how much electrical power it can supply. Usually each circuit is protected, or should be, with a circuit breaker GFI - Ground Fault Interrupter, which trips or disconnects the circuit from the power source if an overload condition exists. This prevents the circuit from getting too hot and causing a fire. Most circuit breakers work very well thank goodness. Knowing the total power requirements of all your equipment and the rating of the circuit they are plugged into should be part of any planning for the installation of an aquarium.
And all cords, plugs and their wiring should be visually inspected for any damage at least annually. Wiring should be looped so any splashed water will not run down the wire directly to the plug shorting out the device or creating a shock to the person in contact with it. Furthermore, locate multiple outlet extension devices/cords in areas protected from splash or at least at an angle where water would have difficulty getting into them. Make sure their wire gauge is heavy enough to handle the load. And if at all possible use circuits that are equipped with a GFI, as the life you save may be your own!
Condensation is another situation needing some forethought, as it has a way of getting inside some devices located near the aquarium. Especially susceptible are lamp fixtures, both fluorescent and metal halides. Routinely check their insulators for a secure fit. Finally, give some thought to placing a rubber mat on the floor in front of your aquarium and standing on it as you service the system.
If you have any doubt about the electrical safety of your set up, call your local electrical company. They should be happy to come by and check the arrangement and loading of your wiring.
There's always been the thought there may be what has been termed stray voltage leaking into the aquarium water, especially from ultraviolet sterilizes, powerheads, heaters, and nearby lights and ballast's, and this would be harmful to the aquarium inhabitants. Therefore its been common practice to recommend the aquarium be equipped with a ground probe, i.e., a titanium pin/probe wired to a three-pin wall plug and a connection to the central screw on the wall mounted outlet box to ground/lessen this so-called stray voltage. However that is a misconception. In the past it was believed stray voltage was caused by induction. Induction is the magnetic field around a wire when electrical flow through it causes an electrical flow in a nearby wire. Similar to what happens in a transformer when electrical current flows through the primary coil and induces a current in a nearby, secondary coil. In the aquarium, water has been believed to be the secondary coil. Actually, no induction has been found in aquariums!
Actually stray voltage is caused by capacitive coupling, not induction. Since there isn't anything reasonable that can reduce stray voltage caused by capacitive coupling, which is considered to be insignificant where closed system animals are concerned, the grounding probe and the use of a GFI circuits are recommended for the health of the hobbyist, not the inhabitants in the aquarium.
In most cases if aquarium water is checked with a voltmeter set for AC voltage, lets say on the 100V range, and its red probe is placed in the water and black probe touched to a ground, such as the center screw on a wall outlet or switch plate, there will be some sort of reading. If a ground probe is then placed in the water the meter will instantly read zero. Not because the so-called stray voltage has been sent to ground, but because the voltage in the voltmeter has been grounded out and now reads zero!
If you try this and there is no reading, try a lower voltage setting. A reading below 5 volts could be considered acceptable although would still look for the offending piece of equipment. That would require turning off each until the voltage becomes zero. There are low cost commercial grounding probes available that can hang in the aquarium water and connect to a proper ground thereby providing a pathway out of the aquarium for stray voltage.
Since aquaria are called 'closed systems' for a good reason, its recommended aquarists' take steps that Mother Nature in the wild does not. In the wild, there are incoming and outgoing tides to carry away much of the detritus and the results/nutrients that come from it. Where aquaria are concerned, its sandbed can easily be considered a 'collection' device! In fact, one of my past aquariums had a bare bottom and it was quite easy to see the never-ending accumulations of detritus even though I siphoned out these collecting wastes every few weeks. It really made it easy to imagine just how much detritus could enter a 'sandbed' within a few months!
In my opinion the lack of properly vacuuming the sandbed on a periodical basis is probably the most misguided approach to bed maintenance that there is in today's hobby! And my email would prove that out, as I've had many over the past decade where an unwanted alga was overtaking hobbyists' aquariums. When questioning their owners I often found they were advised not to disturb the sandbed as that would injure the existing bacteria or kill valuable infauna resulting in the loss of valuable 'filtration' processes. Instead, many were told to use various forms of invertebrates as 'bed' cleaners.
As for killing bacteria attached to sand particles when vacuuming the bed, most will fare quite well as they are securely fastened to the grains. Nevertheless, those that are lost will 'quickly' be replaced, normally within a day or two, and as for those moved to another/different depth area where conditions no longer suit them, they will be replaced by those that prefer that zone/area within a few days. Since it's very important to remove the 'never-ending' accumulation of detritus before it affects the quality of the bulk water, recommend vacuuming half the bed (to the aquarium bottom), with the remaining half a week later. That way, the cleaned area has sufficient time to fully reestablish itself before the remaining half is disturbed. And accomplish this 'important' house-cleaning chore about once every couple of months depending upon one's bioload, as its benefits far outweigh the small and very temporary loss of some of its bacteria and/or infauna.
When it came to using various forms of invertebrates as 'bed' cleaners, one of the most recommended I've seen in the past was the sand sifting starfish Astropecten polycanthus. Been there, done that, and will 'never' try that again, at least not in my reef aquariums where some infauna play a valuable roll! The thought there was this starfish would stir the sand surface keeping it clean looking and at the same time feed upon any collecting detritus in the depths below. It's true some starfish (now properly called sea stars) feed upon detritus, and that this species does do a good job stirring the sand keeping it clean looking. In fact, gave one a try in my 75-gallon reef tank, which had quite a few Terebellid worms commonly called spaghetti or threadworms. These worms live inside a chitonous tube that is buried in the sand and their numerous thread-like filaments are fed out into the surrounding water to trap food. Once particles/detritus stick to the filaments, cilia transports it to their central mouth area. They 'were' interesting to watch besides being harmless detritivores and a valuable addition to the sandbed. But one month after adding this starfish all were consumed along with other valuable infauna and bacteria. So give these creatures some forethought before adding them to your aquarium.
Hermit crabs were another 'bed' cleaner often mentioned and to some extent they are helpful in manicuring the upper levels of the sandbed. But there are many to chose from, with some basically providing only algae removal while others are better suited for cleaning activities on the sandbed surface, e.g., the Blue-legged hermit crab Clibanarius tricolor and the Scarlet Reef hermit crab Paguristes cadenati. One should keep in mind these hermits not only feed on detritus found on and in the upper sand grains, but also feed upon the bacteria found on these sand grains. Therefore, use commonsense when it comes to stocking levels, e.g., about 2 or 3 per ten gallons. There are also Mud snails, such as Nassarius arcularius to help keep the upper levels of the bed fairly clean. The snails in this family generally bury themselves in the sand and plow through it like a snowplow going through a snowdrift in search of detritus or uneaten food. And when the aquarium is fed, they emerge from the sand and begin to cruise the aquarium looking for uneaten foodstuffs. They are relentless workers, helping to reduce accumulating detritus in the sandbed and doing away with uneaten meaty foodstuffs.
There are of course other sifters of detritus, such as brittle stars, e.g., Ophiarachna incrassata and cucumbers, e.g., Holothuria edulis, however, the aquarist must choose carefully as to what species is selected, as each have specific requirements. Furthermore, keep in mind sand sifters of any kind are also a major source of dissolved nutrients as they are supplying poop of their own in forms more available to primary producers like algae.
Live rock, another form of substrate in most aquariums, also needs some attention as weekly bursts of water from something as simple as a turkey baster helps to keep detritus from building up on its surfaces thereby often preventing unwanted growths of algae from finding nutrient-rich areas to their liking. And in my opinion a baster made by the Robinson Company is preferred; as some other brands seem to never last more than a few months before its rubber ball splits. My Robinson brand baster has now been used for many years and still works perfectly.
And when it comes to not vacuuming the bed, would finally say, - 'Would you never dust or vacuum your home?' And as to sand sifters, research the specific ones of interest before purchasing them, and use common sense as to their stocking numbers.
Calcium Reactor Media
No matter what brand media is used the time will come when there is far less in the reaction cylinder than what was begun with. Its level, therefore, needs to be checked every few months and when the media is about half of what was originally placed in the cylinder it needs to be totally replaced. That may seem wasteful but that's not the case as the useful portion of the media, the actual calcium ions, has probably been mostly used by now with mostly carbonate-based material remaining. And even though these ions will also enter solution, an excess of 'carbonates' will begin to skew alkalinity, i.e., balance between that of carbonates and calcium. And as previously discussed its effluent needs to be tested at least weekly to insure the correct 'alkalinity' is resulting and carbon dioxide usage is accurate.
Bottled Carbon Dioxide
Keep in mind carbon dioxide is changing from a liquid in the bottle to a gas as it leaves the storage bottle and bottle gauges remain quite steady until the bottle is near empty. However, if not equipped with a 'regulator' the drop in interior bottle pressure once almost empty can dump its remaining carbon dioxide into the aquarium very quickly, dropping aquarium pH considerably and possibly harming the organisms in the system. A regulator is a wise addition, but if not being used, know the useful limits of your bottle and change it out/refill it prior to it becoming empty. And yes, have seen systems with no regulators and considered them extremely chancy!
Refugia containing heavy growths of macroalgae or algae turf scrubbers have become well accepted methods of ways to help maintain good water quality in some systems. And by removing some of its older algae and making room for new growth, it helps remove substances such as nitrate incorporated into its growth.
As for algal turf scrubbers (usually DIY type equipment), they sometimes have a screen where microalgae grows and can be removed from the filter unit when its growth necessitates and over a sink scraped partially clean. Then placed back in the scrubber where new growth will occur in the forthcoming days helping to remove more substances from the aquarium water. If the equipment has more than one screen, a screen with growth could be removed and moved to an aquarium with herbivores where it could then become an excellent natural food supply. Then, when partially cleaned, returned to the scrubber and another screen removed, etc.
As for refugia, they usually contain forms of macroalgae such as Caulerpa or Chaetomorpha. Keep in mind it's the 'older' areas of growth that needs to be removed as this encourages new growth, which more rapidly absorbs water nutrients. As for Caulerpa, do not use scissors to cut out the older growths, as clean cuts can lead to internal damage causing an entire specimen to disintegrate. Simply crush the thallus (stem) with your fingers and then remove those sections.
As fresh/pure water evaporates from seawater, its salts remain thereby causing its salinity to increase. Its not a process that can be halted, but its one that can be controlled so as to reduce its impact on the creatures living in the aquarium. And with it being a daily occurrence, the monitoring of such a situation can be time consuming. Thank goodness for automatic dosers! Yet even those depend upon a water reservoir, and according to their volume need frequent checking and refilling. Therefore this is one of the 'M' items that need to be included on your 'more important' list of maintenance tasks.
Chemical Filtration Media Replacement
Whether it's activated carbon or a resin of some kind, there are defined periods for media replacement such as weeks, months or maybe longer. Some may even change colors to indicate their usefulness has expired. Nevertheless, all require human intervention. If any chemical media is being utilized, abide by the makers replacement recommendations, and add that product to your 'M' list. One that is especially of interest is activated carbon, as that is widely used.
A question that seems to have aquarists divided is whether activated carbon should be used on a continuous basis. My position is that in most systems it's better to constantly use it than to only place it in the system on what may be thought of as an 'as needed basis.' By using a couple of small beds and rotating their replacement schedule, it prevents any major removal of elements and also helps to protect against any sudden release of detrimental chemicals from organisms in the system. A comforting feeling!
Another question frequently asked is what is the length of time an activated carbon bed will remain useful? Because there are many conditions that affect its life span, e.g., the speed of the water flow through the media, size of the activated carbon bed, system bio-load, quality of the product, medication usage, system location (not near a lighted area where algae will form), maintaining cleanliness of a possible pre-filter, and the frequency of water changes to name some, its difficult to judge useful lifespan. Yet a safe schedule for most aquariums, in my opinion, would be changing it every four to eight weeks as its better to replace it on a regular basis than have it become the root of a problem!
As for a 'quick' and simple test to somewhat judge an existing bed's lifespan, suggest the 'White Paper' test. Simply hold a sheet of waterproof white paper in the aquarium water where the light is very good and as far in the aquarium from your eye as possible. Compare it to another piece of similar paper being held outside the aquarium. If the 'white' on the internally held paper now appears slightly yellow compared to the one outside the aquarium, it's time to change the carbon bed.
Keep in mind the holding capacity of activated carbon can become exhausted as its physical adsorption bonds are weak, such as those formed by the Van der Waals forces. When carbon reaches exhaustion, desorption or leaching of the adsorbates can return them back into the systems bulk water. This is important, as it means carbon can unload a portion of what has already been collected back into solution. Therefore, highly recommend not going too long without replacing it.
Finally, it's not practical for the aquarist to regenerate activated carbon as it would require being heated to over 900°F. Something the spouse may not like the oven used for. I know because I tried it! Under ideal conditions, activated carbon can remove up to 50% of its own weight in dissolved organic compounds, therefore it's simply better to discard it and replace with new activated carbon. That leads to the sixty-four thousand dollar question - who should use activated carbon? My answer is simple - almost everyone. I say 'almost' because no matter how many good points the product has, there will be those that are always looking at a glass half full, yet refer to it as half empty! Even though the product has what I like to refer to as some minor controllable deficiencies, with good management of the system's various chemical parameters, GAC remains the most economical, practical and proven chemical filtration media for use in aquariums.
Probe Calibrating & Cleaning
It is always wise to exactly follow the manufacturers cleaning, calibration, and replacement recommendations when it comes to this type equipment. Furthermore, any 'odd' readings from this type equipment in use should be considered a situation that needs further investigation before any decisive action affecting the water in the aquarium is taken. In fact, getting a second test result using a simple reagent containing test kit is highly advised before trying to correct what looks like a not expected probe reading.
All probes, whatever their type, need periodical cleaning as dirty probes can register higher than actual readings, and/or, be extremely slow to register changes. Specially made cleaning solutions can be used, or in some cases ordinary household liquid laundry detergents can be used. Whatever the choice of cleaning material never touch the tip of the probe after cleaning as body oil can coat the electrode and cause it to render an incorrect reading. Also, never allow the electrode to go dry while cleaning, keep it moist. If deciding to store the probe, the lower portion, i.e., electrode, must remain submerged while in storage. Special bottles with slip-on tube-like covers are made for storing probes, yet any small bottle with a cap drilled to allow the probe to be slipped through and partially filled with 'tap water' will suffice.
If choosing a laundry detergent as a cleaner, suggest using six drops to one pint of water. RO, DI or tap water can be used for cleaning. Only tap water should be used for storage as RO/DI or distilled water shortens probe life span. Soak the probe for a few minutes and use a soft pipe cleaner or cotton ball to clean the glass tip/electrode. Bend the pipe cleaner in half and use the center bent portion to clean the glass tip. Do not use the end of the pipe cleaner where its wire protrudes.
The electrode band/wire on a ORP probe can be 'polished' ever so carefully with toothpaste using a wet pipe cleaner or cotton ball. Just keep in mind the electrode coating of either platinum, silver and/or silver chloride is very thin. Do not apply too much pressure while cleaning. Also, the end of a broken wooden toothpick can be used to gently rub these surfaces. A pH probe can be cleaned the same way with liquid dish soap. Yet, do not use any polishing agent, such as toothpaste. Rinse well and return the probe directly to the aquarium. A pH probe should only need a few minutes to normalize, yet an ORP probe may need overnight.
Dual point calibration instruments, like the PinPoint pH Monitor are accurate for the entire scale of pH from 1.0 -14.0 because they are first calibrated in the middle of the pH scale with a 7.0 buffer and then with a 4.0 or 10.0 pH buffer. You will get the same exact accurate calibration by using a combination of 7 and 10 or 4 and 7. The only combination that will not work is the use of 4.0 and 10.0 since this will only set the slope without an accurate origination point of 7.0. Borax can also be used to calibrate the high side of a pH probe. A teaspoon full of Borax in a half-cup of deionized water/distilled, or at the very least RO water, will have a pH of 9.18.
Keep in mind pH probes are sometimes affected by nearby poorly insulated wiring and/or electrical ballast's, whether they are the old tar brick type or electronic, e.g., readings can suddenly climb a few one hundreds and then slowly return to the correct reading. This is caused by electrical interference known as Electrical Magnetic Frequency (EMF). Wrapping the wiring in aluminum foil and/or relocating the ballast will usually correct the problem.
Keep in mind single point calibration instruments are the least accurate and will only approach reasonable accuracy when the calibration buffer is exactly the same as the water being tested. Quality probes used in seawater will have a life span of up to 30 months. Those use in freshwater will have a life span of up to 18 months.
Water Purification Filters
Many hobbyists are now utilizing RO units so as to provide high quality water for water changes and makeup due to evaporation, and many of these units utilize a Thin Film Composite (TFC) membrane. These types of membranes are highly sensitive to chlorine and can be damaged should tap water containing chlorine reach the TFC membrane. Fortunately, most quality units flow the tap water through a sediment filter, and then through a carbon filter before the water reaches the membrane. Both the sediment and carbon filter should be changed yearly. In areas where sediment is heavy, and/or chlorine is heavily used in the drinking water supply, both pre-filters may have to be changed more often so as to protect the membrane.
Occasional 'M' Chores
There are those maintenance tasks that do not fall into a 'somewhat' specific timetable and for these watch items as I like to call them, their timeframe depends more upon the type of system being maintained/its equipment in use and the on-going husbandry skills of the aquarist. Nevertheless, these are chores nonetheless that need to remain on one's 'To Do' list even though infrequently accomplished.
Calcium Clogged Powerheads
Calcium can, especially when misused, precipitate out of solution onto pump parts where heat and electrical flux are present. It actually coats both internal and external parts, especially the shaft, magnetic rotor, and inside walls of a pump. Sooner or later the build-up may be so thick the shaft and rotor stops rotating. Calcium can still continue to coat/is attracted to the internal parts after rotation ceases if the pump is still plugged in because the electrical flux/heat is still present. In fact, if you put your finger in the aquarium and held it there for a week, the result would be a slight coating of calcium on it. (Besides people thinking you were crazy!) Your body heat and electricity would simply attract calcium and it would precipitate onto your finger.
When it comes to cleaning the removed pump, disassembly may be very difficult if you waited until it would no longer rotate. If the parts are frozen into the pump cavity, drop the entire pump into a pail of vinegar. The low acid content of the vinegar will dissolve the calcium within a few hours and the internal parts can then easily (hopefully) be removed. Soak the removed parts in more white vinegar until the coating of calcium can be brushed off. Muriatic acid, sometimes referred to as swimming pool acid can also be used yet greater personal caution needs to be taken when using this much stronger acid. After the parts are clean, flush with freshwater and re-assemble. Severely caked-up units may take a couple of days to loosen up and clean. One important aspect concerning the cleaning of some inexpensive powerheads is to be sure the central shaft is free to rotate inside the magnetic rotor.
Whether calcium or overly coralline algae clogged, suggest removing your powerhead units occasionally and replacing them with already 'cleaned' units. Then run those removed in a small pail of white vinegar for a day or two and when looking clean, flush them with freshwater and store for the next cycle. Periodically cleaned motors will give many more years of service and may save your aquarium budget for other important items.
Anytime there is a splash of seawater onto any surface, a salt-like deposit remains when the water has evaporated. The same deposits will occur at pipe or equipment fittings carrying seawater that are not 100% tight, as moisture will find its way through the slightest opening and gradually evaporate once coming in contact with air, leaving a deposit of salt. Even aquarium side panels or piping in contact with the water surface will develop these deposits at the contact area. Generally, its wise to periodically survey all these areas and either tighten as necessary, or simply wipe them clean to prevent the deposit from becoming unsightly or possibly falling back into the aquarium where it could land on some organism causing it harm.
In places where gaskets are problematic, a slight coating of the lubricant used in ice cream dispensing machines or some talcum powder will possibly help rectify the situation. In the past, where salt creep would slowly climb piping entering my aquariums, I would rub some silicone grease in a narrow band around the OD of the pipe slightly above the aquarium water level, which prevented the creep from going any higher. There are also products on the market that help eliminate or minimize this 'M' chore. One further word about salt creep, it will conduct electricity! Therefore, its quite wise to prevent even small amounts of salt creep, especially near electrical wiring or electrical appliances!
There may arise reasons for replacing or simply removing portions of the substrate, such as moving the aquarium to another location. As with almost anything there is a right way and wrong way.
To replace substrate in an on-going aquarium with new substrate, use a large plastic aquarium vacuum or siphon hose (see reason below) and remove about 25% of the bed and replace it with new substrate, possibly added by allowing it to flow through a long length of large diameter PVC pipe to the area needed. Wait three weeks and remove another 25%, etc. After each removal accomplish a major water change, e.g., about 20 - 30%.
To remove the substrate during an aquarium move, I've found hobbyists sometimes preferring to leave their fishes in the aquarium until the last minute before the tank is moved or in a low level of water while the tank is moved, yet with most sand removed. In such cases, do not remove the old substrate by scooping it out with some sort of utensil. Remove it as described above with an aquarium vacuum or siphon hose because over time pockets of hydrogen sulfide may have accumulated in the substrate. By vacuuming, this highly poisonous compound will not be released into the rest of the aquarium water. As to the old sand, if not highly discolored, briefly rinse it with freshwater thereby removing accumulating detritus, and reuse it. And yes, a major water change should be implemented when the move is completed.
Trickle Filter Detritus
One area where detritus collects in poorly designed trickle systems is directly under the trickle section, and large collections can negatively affect water quality. Trying to reach under the trickle section in poorly designed units is usually very difficult and time consuming if nothing else, and anything inconvenient or difficult to accomplish usually gets postponed. Simply connect a short length of plastic tubing to the outlet of a small powerhead and lay the powerhead in the open area of the sump with the flow pointed towards the area under the trickle section. Detritus will then be washed to an area where it can then be removed. And in units incorporating mechanical filters, they should be removed and cleaned weekly.
To reduce transmission of diseases between tanks, a simple household disinfectant works well. Use a cap full of regular household bleach in a 5-gallon pail of tap water to soak the nets. After a ten-minute soaking, flush with tap water and store. And if at all possible and having multiple aquariums, have a net dedicated to each aquarium and do not ever use one net to service different aquariums, as that may possibly spread a disease.
As for capturing some types of crabs, utilize a tall glass with some meaty morsels in its bottom area. Place it on the aquarium bottom prior to the lights going out and lean its top edge against some rock its height. The unwanted crab may use the rocks as a ladder to get into the glass, but the smooth insides of the glass will make it impossible for it to get out. There's also worm catching products such as shown here if need be.
Either a bacterial or an alga bloom usually causes cloudy water. If its white or gray in color and dissipates somewhat during the daytime it's probably a bacterial bloom caused by pollution from overfeeding or overcrowding. Reducing or suspending feeding for a day or two should resolve the problem if overfeeding is the cause. A few small, 5% water changes spaced every few days would also benefit the system as would increase aeration and filtration. If caused by overcrowding, steps will have to be taken to reduce the bioload, as the cloudiness will continue to return. Increase protein skimming, if possible, is also helpful.
If the cloudy condition has a slight green tint to it and is more prevalent during the daytime, it's possibly an alga bloom. These blooms are usually short lived, as the energy needed for their existence is rapidly consumed by the alga. Reduction of photoperiod, increased aeration, and testing phosphate and nitrate levels is recommended. If these two water parameters exceed their limits, overall system husbandry needs to be enhanced.
There are times when it may be necessary to paint either the inside or outside of your home. Paint fumes are hazardous to your health and also those of your pets, whether they are your dogs, cats, or the animals inside your aquarium. The same is true when it comes to use of a pesticide. In either case, the aquarium should be covered and the air supply to air pumps, if used, either turned off until the air clears, or moved outside into the fresh air. Thought should also be given to the use of ammonia-based glass cleaners whose fumes quickly find their way into the aquarium water, almost as if the aquarium were a magnet. And once absorbed by the aquarium, the ammonia can either lead to dead animals or a sudden outbreak of unwanted algae. Take the necessary precautions to prevent injury to your pets.
Power failures, evaporation makeup, lighting schedules, heating and cooling needs, and animal feeding are among the needs to be addressed while away. And for those that can't automate their systems to the ninth-degree, having an experienced house sitter or someone that can come by daily eases aquarium worries while away.
Nevertheless, I've heard of many horror stories about failing aquariums while their 'master' was away on vacation or long business trips. The sad aspect about many of those incidents was the aquarist in most situations took very reasonable precautions to assure its safety and well-being. But in many instances one aspect showed up and that was the lack of the aquarist to expect the unexpected! And even though all possible problem areas have been reviewed and thought to be well in hand, I've seen aquarium tragedies befall those gone way even for short timeframes.
Probably power failures and equipment not restarting because they were partially calcium clogged or restarting due to their position/placement in the system without aquarist intervention were among the leading causes for some system failures. Lack of experience in maintaining a system by those coming into the home to check on existing systems was another leading cause. In fact, one such incident addressed a temporary system sitter as overfeeding the aquarium to such an extent the owner's fishes and inverts were dying from high levels of ammonia when he returned home. And even though he had few animal losses, unwanted algae sprung up and created an ongoing nightmare for him.
If going away from your aquarium for any length of time, prepare a list of items that must be taken into consideration if it is to continue to operate successfully. And if its going to be 'watched' by someone while away, be sure they are aware of the 'rights and wrongs' associated with the system. Also, prepare this list well in advance, as last minute lists seem to always lack certain watch items, and be sure the 'watcher' has your emergency phone number. And give some thought to actually turning the power off to your system before you leave, then waiting a short time to turn it back on and observe how well the process goes. Nothing like being prepared ahead of time, even if the unexpected can still occur.
Handy-Dandy Tools and Accessories
Simply going to post here 'some' photos of the various items I've found useful over the past decades or more recently in the upkeep of my aquariums (That's besides many of the already mentioned items!). If you have photos of items that you have found indispensable, sent them my way and they may wind up here!