By Bob Goemans
Site Supported in Part by:

Spectra Vital & Black Powder

Manufactured by: Marc Weiss Companies, Inc.

A product review by Bob Goemans

Spectra Vital and Black Powder

(Written 2002)

Marc Weiss was the first to propagate many types of sponges using a specially prepared product that evolved into SpectraVital™. Actually, the product was initially developed as a dietary enhancement for discus fish. When the product was first modified in an attempt to feed sponges, wild collected sponges started growing and 'new' sponges started appearing on the live rock in one of Marc's office aquariums. It was Rick Greenfield, President of CaribSea that noticed the significance of this and encouraged Marc to pursue the development of a sponge food. Rick was seeing sponges grow on repeat visits, including those not previously known to grow in captivity. They were thriving on Marc's new diet.

SpectraVital™ later became instrumental to the raising of Centropyge angelfishes and a wrasse species - as a larval prey supplement and brood stock diet supplement. Marc noted that so many different organisms were growing he almost forgot the fish! The product, then simply designated "formula SMV+" was then sent in limited quantities to various professional aquarists for testing.

A while after that, in the mid 90's, I was introduced to this red powder and was told it would sustain not only low light invertebrates such as non-photosynthetic gorgonians, sponges and Dendronephthya, but also provide additional nourishment for Tridacna clams and SPS corals. Marc asked me to call Rick Greenfield of CaribSea for the results he was already having with this product. Rick's overwhelming success in his dimly lit sponge tank convinced me to set up a small 20 gallon test tank with various sponges, feather dusters, a piece of ahermatypic coral, i.e., Tubastrea, and a Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata). This aquarium, with only one 9 watt lamp and a six watt pump, was a colorful attraction in my office. It was also easy to maintain, as it remained basically algae free.

Due to world politics the product's main ingredient became difficult to obtain. When that occurred my small reef aquarium was doing exceptionally well with everything looking healthy and getting larger. I cut back on the supply of the product so as to stretch out what remained as long as possible. Other plankton-like foods were substituted. Yet, after a few months it became clear that none of the substitutes were as good as the Marc Weiss product. My beautiful yellow and purple Sea Squirt was the first to show signs it was starving as it became smaller and smaller. Some of the sponges began to exhibit small white areas and the animals in general appeared frozen in time, as there was no new growth. I finally gave the tank and stand to my grandchildren who converted it to a freshwater aquarium.

A couple of years later Marc was able to find a method to culture the organisms contained in "SMV+" himself and was able to build up continuous supplies and began marketing the item as Spectra-Vital™. I again started using the product in other systems, again with excellent results.

Whether in a well-lit reef aquarium, a refugium, or a low light environment, SpectraVital™ seems to make a positive difference in the health of its filter/suspension feeding organisms. I've also found it a great product to feed live brine shrimp prior to them being fed to the animals in the aquarium. Each SpectraVital™ package contains two ounces of these special ingredients and a measuring spoon. That's enough to treat several thousand gallons of water. It's now possible to keep most of the more difficult filter-feeding organisms.

As good as SpectraVital™ is, Marc continued to progress with even more extraordinary products. Early last year he sent me his newest creation, one that was code-named "BlackPowder". However the name has stuck and it is being marketed as such.

Unlike his previous products that depended on enzymes and primarily vegetable matter, this product in part is fractionated from animal sources resulting in a bio-available electrically charged amino acid complex. What's quite interesting and different from other snow-like plankton products is that BlackPowder™ doesn't contain plankton or fish oils. It contains only what is known to be rapidly utilized and digested. Therefore there's minimal leftover waste to degrade. Also, the particle size of BlackPowder™ is intentionally varied so that initially a large range of organisms, including some fishes, can consume it. There is also a time release effect as in nature, where the colloids dissolve, yet retain their electrical potential.

Since the product is actually self-digesting, thereby producing more colloids as it consumes others in a cycle, you can either allow it to proceed or continue to add more before what's left is consumed. Those who feed plankton products cannot make that statement! Hopefully, professional aquarists and hobbyists are taking note! In fact, commercial propagators of corals who have already tested this product are raving about the growth rate of their specimens. Keep in mind that utilization of the product is so effective that anemones, sea apples, zoanthids, tree corals, large and small polyp stony corals, as well as some filter feeders, e.g., forams, and many more, including Goniopora, will benefit.

All of Marc's products are polar charged bio-colloidal products, including BlackPowder™, and are formulated from what were originally living cells. There's much time and effort in producing these products. It's simply not a little bit of inorganic salts added to freshwater! These ingredients need to be cultured and bio-fractionated into the components needed to adequately insure an uninterrupted supply.

With proper use of Marc's products, captive reef systems seem to exhibit not only enhanced coloration and rapid growth, they thrive! All without excess waste products leftover as is the case when less thought out products are used. Marc notes that many filter feeders should more correctly be described as 'suspension feeders' and that true 'marine or reef snows' are colloids, some produced outside the reef. They simply drift in and out in a cyclical fashion and can be in a constant state of flux. Some are merely inedible vehicles to carry edible microbes, while others provide primary nutrition in and of themselves.

Unlike shotgun approach products consisting of lecithin, cod liver oil, yeast, dried undefined plankton, Spirulina and the like, Marc actually grows the cultures and fractionates the necessary colloids, then incorporates them in his products. So, as in nature, there's a rapid and complete on-target utilization of BlackPowder™. There's no duplication and preservation of a dead organic mixture. The product becomes alive and creates more colloids until they're all consumed! No preservatives are used, which can kill desirable micro-flora and micro-fauna in the aquarium. A quarter pound jar dosed at a quarter teaspoon per fifty gallons a day goes a long way in the average aquarium. Commercial usage or use in large propagation systems may require more.

With what appears to be almost an infinite number of species of critters, seen and unseen, that can populate a reef aquarium it has become apparent there's an overlap in the requirements of some organisms. One nutrient package and one catalyst cannot address the entire spectrum of reef life, as there are many components involved in nutrient and trace element components.

Now that he had two great products (SpectraVital™ and BlackPowder™), I had to ask Marc a 'What's the difference between SpectraVital™ and BlackPowder™? Are both needed, and if so, why? His answer is as follows -"Most prebiotics and probiotics come from the plant kingdom and many reef creatures favor plant based nutrition. SpectraVital ™ addresses this situation, yet the carnivorous and photosynthetic anemone for example appear to do better when both are used, as will many other organisms - we don't exactly know what many require - some appear to "switch hit".

In the preceding anemone example, the pigments it requires in protecting itself from the damaging effects of excessive light are formed from plant matter. SpectraVital™ contains these pigment precursors (building blocks), which in the presence of a catalyst (either the small amounts present in the aquarium or provided by our Coral Vital™ or Reef Vital DNA™ products, allows the anemone to manufacture these pigments to its own specifications. Likewise, corals and other organisms do the same. Where many sponges or flame scallops for example are concerned, SpectraVital™ provides both primary nourishment and secondary protective benefits.

I recommend SpectraVital ™ be used in newly established reef systems as it greatly benefits live rock and newly forming microbial colonies. In the first month the hobbyist can often see growths of unexpected life in the aquarium - even look under the rock for "cryptic" sponges to appear. In the beginning, use BlackPowder™ sparingly; it is high in protein. Additional life will appear such as copepods and "free" polyps and hard corals and carnivorous reef life when added will go for it. After a few weeks I'm sure you'll want to use both SpectraVital™ and BlackPowder™ . Don't forget that Coral Vital ™ or Reef Vital DNA™ will enhance these products and move the microbial process faster along in the aquarium. Oh, I have tell them about ComboVital™......

Yes, before I close, I should note that Marc is now offering a combination SpectraVital™ and BlackPowder™ called ComboVital™. Without a doubt, its a product that should be on every reef keepers must use list. Marc says that most consumers were mixing it anyway - about three quarters of BlackPowder™ to one quarter of SpectraVital™ and he figured he would accommodate them and conveniently package it that way.

In closing, this industry needs more companies that are willing to produce products that are in tune with the needs of the microbe, as they are the true foundation of every closed system. Checkout the Marc Weiss website at

More Reviews
Site Supported in Part by: