Facts, Questions and Answers
Note to the Readers,
Most hobbyists have experienced unwanted algae problems. Unfortunately I discarded most of Danny's letters, which in the beginning related a sad story about an endless struggle against algae. His aquarium was becoming a black hole for his investment in time and money. Both he and his wife were becoming stressed out and ready to throw in the towel. I began with responding to some general questions and think those and its result should be quite interesting.
There could be a few problem areas that contribute to unwanted algae growths. As explained in previous letters in this column the local water company might be treating its water with a phosphate compound to limit rust in their delivery system, or your activated carbon might be leaching too much phosphate. Both can quite quickly lead to the formation of new algae growth. A deep fine grained sand may also leach ammonium back into the bulk water and if so, will quickly be used by algae. So quickly in fact, that you won't get a reading on a test kit.
Hope this helps,
From your last letter it sounds like the source of energy for continued algae problem may possibly be coming from your tap water. I suggest you research various brand DI units and look for one that can boost the pH of the water coming from the RO unit. That's necessary if you want to take
out the colloidal silica that would normally pass through DI units that don't first boost the pH of the RO's effluent.
* If the DI you're already using does that, then water is probably not the problem. Yet I would again recommend checking with the local water company and ask if they are treating with any rust inhibiting compounds. They don't legally have to announce such activities, so the only way to know is to ask.
* If you tried different types of sand and the same thing is happening, then it's probably not the sand.
* If you've tested the carbon and it is okay, then it's not the carbon.
* If you aren't adding any questionable additives, then that's not the cause.
* If nothing has died somewhere in the system, then that's not the cause.
* If your lighting is fairly new and lamps are not high in the red spectrum, then that's not a major contributing factor.
* Could a piece of your live rock be the source of phosphate and ammonia? Maybe!
* Did someone (children) pour something in the tank?
* Did someone use an ammonia-based household cleaner near the tank? Remember, ammonia does not need to be detectable to cause this rate of growth!
* Are you using a good brand salt mix? Do you aerate it for a day before using as newly mixed salt solutions generate some ammonia.
* Are you using too much carbon dioxide in your calcium reactor? Checkout reactor flow.
* Have you tested the carbon dioxide in your aquarium? Do you have good water movement/gas exchange? Try installing a few airstones (yes I know they are messy) to increase gas exchange/rid any possible accumulating carbon dioxide.
Keep me in informed, as I'm really interested in solving your problem.
Note to the readers,
A following letter from Danny noted that his wife was a big user of Windex, an ammonia-based cleaner. Bingo!
STOP using Windex anywhere near the aquarium and/or near the makeup water or water used for water changes! Don't use this product any nearer than 50 ? 60 feet. Windex is the exact product another reader had a similar problem with about eight years ago. Let's see where this goes, and also try a couple of airstones in the tank for a week. Maybe we have found the cause!
Note to readers,
Danny found it hard to believe that Windex could be the problem and thought some of the other corrections might be responsible for the improvement.
Glad to hear things have cleared up. You can always take away one of the four possible areas of corrections that were instituted and see if the problem returns. Yet, I would think the Windex source of ammonia was the cause. People just don't realize how quickly ammonia is absorbed. Maybe now the wife is happier with a better looking aquarium and you can now pay more attention to her than the aquarium!
Oftentimes, many of life's blessings are right in front of our eyes, however, go unnoticed. In today's world it is so wonderful to find someone, such as yourself, that is willing to give up their time to help others. For many months I had what my wife and I both considered as significant problems. Believe me, the problems were causing MAJOR stress. Several pet shops agreed that I was having problems, however, said that my wife and I were being over-sensitive. They routinely replied: "Don't worry about the problems. They will eventually go away." One person listened and offered assistance. That was you. Since our last e-mail, everything has been great! No algae! No problems, period! Even my wife says my tank is gorgeous.
Thank you again for all your assistance.
Many months later:
I hope the New Year has been good for you so far. I've leaned a lot from you and wanted to occasionally let you know how things are going. My tank is still gorgeous. Matter of fact, the algae problem is history. I get a trace of green algae on the back glass occasionally but none elsewhere. Regardless, the tank, fish, corals, and everything is doing great! I did purchase a new "used" skimmer during the holidays that really seems to be doing a wonderful job. A guy in Mobile was in the process of being transferred to Texas and decided to sell everything in his reef tank as opposed to moving it. He had a great skimmer and pump advertised in the paper. He had the purchasing papers for both showing they were approximately 6 months old. They both appeared almost new. Even though the skimmer is designed to be used in much larger tanks than mine, I purchased it and the pump for a total of $240.00. I then installed both and they really seem to be working great! I feel like I got a once in a lifetime deal on the skimmer and pump purchase. In one of your booklets you discuss the need for "dry foam." My old skimmer NEVER made dry foam, only wet. This skimmer does a great job at generating dry foam. It is also amazing how much clearer the tank is with the new skimmer.
Do you use Kalkwasser in your tanks? I have been using two-part liquid calcium and alkalinity solutions and would like to supplement the calcium with Kalkwasser. Therefore, I purchased one pound of Kalkwasser and made a couple of gallons of mix in a 5 gallon plastic bucket using one teaspoon per gallon of RO/DI water. I stirred the solution using a plastic stirrer and then allowed it to be motionless for 24 - 32 hours. The instructions said to siphon the clear supernatant layer off. Since the top of the solution still had a whitish colored film on it after 32 hours of motionless storage, I threw the batch away. I made a second batch and it did the same! Therefore, I haven't been able to get a "clear" batch.
I've also read that Kalkwasser should have a pH above 12 and if the pH falls below 12, discard it. I have also read that Kalkwasser solution's contact with air will cause its pH to fall. Therefore, the pH should be checked routinely. The only way to verify pH in this high range is to buy a pH
meter! Is this needed? I haven't found any pH test kits to measure much above pH 8. Do you know of any? Secondly, if you are adding Kalkwasser at a pH of 12, what keeps the solution from raising the aquarium pH above pH 8.2?
Again, thanks for everything and I look forward to hearing from you.
The new year has been pretty good so-far and it sounds like your aquarium is doing very good. It also sounds like you got a very good deal on the skimmer and pump. I tell a lot of my clients that if they can't originally afford brand new quality equipment then checkout the classified section
In the local newspaper. They might be pleasantly surprised and get a good deal on some used equipment. But, don't start with inferior equipment because the consequences could be hobby ending.
Anyway, I don't use Kalkwasser in my aquarium for many reasons. Nor do many hobbyists that use it properly dose it. To do so correctly, in my opinion, requires that the high pH of Kalkwasser be reduced to a natural seawater (NSW) pH of about 8.2. To accomplish that requires either a sufficient amount of carbon dioxide be present in the aquarium water or the use of carbon dioxide injection equipment. If not properly dosed, Kalkwasser "will" have a negative impact on the carbonate buffering system (alkalinity) because of its high pH.
Since my system is always high in dissolved oxygen because of very good circulation and the use of a quality protein skimmer it is always quite low in carbon dioxide. Even dripping Kalkwasser in at night would be detrimental to my alkalinity and precipitate enough calcium to turn my plenum sandbed to concrete. So I use a calcium reactor to resolve all calcium, alkalinity and pH maintenance.
Since the presence of carbon dioxide is usually quite limited in most reef aquariums its impact on lowering the pH of incoming Kalkwasser is often quite inadequate. Even if a Kalkwasser solution is dripped into fast moving water at night there may not be enough carbon dioxide to prevent a major precipitation of buffering agents and a high increase in system pH. In most applications, again in my opinion, only where there is diligent use of carbon dioxide injection systems (with a pH controller and solenoid valve) is its use warranted. Unfortunately, most hobbyists use the dump and pray method. Yet, use it correctly and it's an excellent product!
It only takes about an hour for the undissolved powder to settle out. No matter the clarity of the upper fluid, it can then be used. Use the upper water without stirring within a few days. Then clean out the mixing container and start over. Testing the pH of the solution is not needed, nor recommended, as it is dangerous because of its high pH, which is 12. Of course the mixing container should remain closed during this time because carbon dioxide from the surrounding air will get into the container, reduce its pH, and precipitate some of its calcium, which you can no longer dissolve. Simply use up the available solution within a few days and start over.
If you want to stay with the use of Kalkwasser it can be purchased at a grocery store as "Pickling Lime." The difference between Kalkwasser products and Pickling Lime is simply its price and the amount of impurities each contains. Since Pickling Lime is for human consumption its impurities have never been a problem in any aquarium that I know of. I would recommend staying with the one of the two-part solution calcium/buffer products if you can't afford a calcium reactor.
Hope this helps,
Keywords:Nitrate Problem; Kalkwasser