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Includes articles on new aquarium product spotlights, guides, or detailed reports on product effectiveness in aquariums.

Red Sea Salt with Steven Pro

Please welcome back Steven Pro to That Fish Blog.                                Steven Pro

There is a breed of reef keepers that strives to setup their systems in such a way as to as closely as possible replicate nature.  They use live rock, live sand, refugiums with macroalgae, seagrasses, or mangroves, and they spend large quantities of money in lighting that replicates the power of the sun in the tropics.  They also invest a lot of time, money, and effort into maintaining optimum water quality and yet it is this very water, the basic foundation of any marine system, in which most reef keepers depart from this preference for all things natural.  The vast majority of these reef keepers instead use a synthetic salt mix.
Coral Pro Salt
Not to say there are not some good reasons for this.  Very few of us are lucky enough to live close enough to the coast to use natural seawater.  And for those that are, this is not always the best choice.  Our coastal waterways are often polluted by agricultural runoff, industrial pollution, nutrients, and other man-made sources that render this water inappropriate for aquarium use.  There are some companies that are now bottling saltwater from (hopefully) clean sources, but at today’s high fuel prices, transporting water at 9 pounds per gallon is not the most cost effective option.  That is where the Red Sea line of salt mixes can come into play.

Red Sea makes two brands of dry salt mix.  But, in contrast to most every other manufacturer, Red Sea does not use terrestrially mined components to create an artificial salt mix.  Instead, they evaporate salt out of the Red Sea to recreate Mother Nature.  Starting with water that is drawn from an actual reef near Eilat, Israel in the Red Sea, the water is evaporated using the power of the sun as well as the dry air from the surrounding desert.  Because the entire area is a desert, there is little rain and therefore little runoff.  Point of fact, the Eilat area gets little more than 1” of rainfall per year.  This coastline also has very little industry or agriculture leaving the surrounding water comparatively pristine.  The resulting dried salts are then screened, cleaned, and chemically analyzed.  At this point, the salt is 87% complete.  There are some compounds that once precipitated out of solution, won’t re-dissolve when hydrated again.  These are added back to the salt mix in ionic form.  At this point, a final quality control, chemical analysis is completed and if the product passes, it is packaged for sale.

As I mentioned before, Red Sea makes two brands of salt.  There is the classic Red Sea salt, which has been around for over 15 years.  And now, there is the Coral Pro Salt version.  It is specifically formulated for use with reverse osmosis water.  Many reef keepers have noticed that when using most salt mixes, the values of things such as pH, alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium might be a bit low when mixed with de-mineralized water.  That is because most formulas are designed to be safe for use with tap water.  Tap water usually has a certain amount of carbonates, bicarbonates, calcium, and magnesium.  When blended with tap water, these salts mix to their appropriate values.  But, when added to reverse osmosis water, which has been stripped of these components, the resulting mix is sometimes lacking.  Red Sea has heard the complaints of reef keepers worldwide to design a salt specifically for use with reverse osmosis water.  When mixed to a specific gravity of 1.025 at 75F, Coral Pro delivers a pH of 8.2, a calcium concentration of 450 parts per million, alkalinity of 2.5 milliequivalents per liter, and a magnesium level of 1,300 parts per million.  Even more importantly, because the mix was originally derived from the reef, it also has all of the minor trace elements as well and in their proper, naturally occurring ratios.  No elevated metal levels here.  Everything is as it was on the real reef.  And, in keeping with this natural theme, Red Sea salts also do not contain any EDTA or other binding agents.

Also, in testing done by Eric Borneman and Kim Lowe and presented at the 18th annual Marine Aquarium Conference of North America in Houston, Texas, Red Sea salt tied for “first place” in their general observations. It is with this in mind that I first decided to try Red Sea salts.  Actually a funny story, that is why I have the job I do now.  I operate as a side business a 7,200 gallon coral and anemone greenhouse propagation facility.  I was unhappy with the brand of salt I was using then, so I started to investigate other alternatives.  I recalled the MACNA presentation by Eric and Kim and tried to get in touch with their sales representative to buy their Coral Pro salt in quantity.  After several attempts in vain, I discovered that the reason I could not reach Dave was because he had moved on to another company and Red Sea was currently advertising for his job. I sent them my resume and after an interview, I had a job offer.  Now, I am the East Coast Sales Manager for Red Sea and a happy user of their Coral Pro salt in my greenhouse too!

Thanks Steven. If you have any questions about any Red Sea Products or anything else for Steven, feel free to send them along.

Until Next Time,

Dave

Botia striata : The Smart Snail Solution

Please welcome Craig Beauchamp to That Fish Blog. Craig’s another of our fish room experts. He’s been Craig Beauchampinvolved with the retail fish trade since 1996, and served as Director of Freshwater Fish at top stores in Atlanta and San Diego. His interests and expertise lie in both Old World and New World Cichlids, tropical planted tanks, and marine reef aquaria. He’s been an aquatics supervisor at TFP since 2007.

With the rise in popularity of tropical planted aquariums, people are also beginning to look for new solutions to aid in snail prevention and eradication. Since many of the snail killing products on the market today contain copper, they are not a wise choice to use in planted aquariums because of the sensitivity of those plants to copper. That leaves aquarists with two choices : mechanical or biological snail control. Mechanical control consists of trapping the snails with a jar that contains a leaf of lettuce. The jar is placed in the tank at night and removed in the morning. Another mechanical solution is physically removing the individual snails by hand. One can see that neither of these methods offer complete control. Biological control involves using snail eating fish to remove the snails from your tank. This is often the best and most efficient way to remove snails in any tank.

Botia striataWhile many people look to the clown loach ( Chromobotia macracanthus) to help rid their tanks of pesky snail populations, there are several small species of Botia that are perhaps a better, smarter solution for tanks under 150 gallons. Botia striata is one of these species. While the clown loach reaches a size of nearly 40 cm (16 in.) the modest zebra loach only attains a size of around 10cm (4in.) A curious and attractive addition to your tank, the zebra loach has the typical torpedo – shaped body of most botia. They are yellow in color with diagonal black striations. The zebra loach hails from clear mountain streams in India, where it lives in shoals of several individuals and feeds on crustaceans, insect larvae, worms, and soft plant material. Botia striata are relatively undemanding fish to keep in a home aquarium. Although they prefer softer water, they tolerate a wide range of pH vaues (6.5 to 8.0) and can also tolerate temperatures from 75 F to 82 F, so long as the temperature is stable. Like most botia, the zebra loach does benefit from higher oxygen levels in the water. Performing small weekly water changes of 10% to 20% and placing an airstone in the aquarium will provide plenty of oxygen. Weekly water changes will also keep your dissolved organic levels down to a minimum. This will be appreciated greatly by all residents of the aquarium, especially any botia or loach.

Zebra loaches, since they live in shoals in their natural habitats, love the company of their own kind. A small group of 3 or more is recommended, although a male and a female will live together in relative bliss. Females tend to be more robust and heavier of body than their slimmer, more streamlined male counterparts. A pair or small group of these fish will work diligently to remove any unwanted snail from your aquarium. Supplemental feedings with algae wafers, sinking pelleted foods, and frozen shrimp will round out their diet nicely.

The size and peaceful nature of Botia striata make them an ideal choice for any community aquarium. It is their small size, combined with the gregarious and calm nature of the fish, that makes it an obvious choice for anyone wanting to rid their tank of snails. With proper care and feeding, Botia striata will live for up to 15 years and provide you with a wonderful and hardy addition to your community aquarium.

Thanks for the article Craig,

Until Next Time,

Dave

Go with the Flow: The “Yes, and..” philosophy of aquarium care

Please welcome Eileen Daub with her first post to That Fish Blog!Eileen, Marine Biologist at That Fish Place

As a professional actress in my free time away from That Fish Place, I’ve learned a lot from the theater world that I’ve brought back into our fish room (and vice versa….pronouncing the Latin scientific names of some of these fish really helps to untangle Shakespeare sometimes, believe it or not). One of the biggest tips that the dramatic community can give to aquarists is the theory of improvisation and “Yes, and…”, like the actors in shows like “Whose line is it, anyway?” use to think up those jokes and skits on the spot. To an actor, improv means saying “Yes, and…” to whatever someone else throws their way.

“Hey, you! You’re hair just burst into flame!”

“Yes, and…it saves on heating bills.”

“That dog there just jumped over a house.”

“Yes, and…he fetched his own ball from the gutter while he was up there, isn’t that nice.”

So, what does this have to do with keeping your fish alive and getting your plants and corals to grow? You’d be surprised. For example, our store alone currently sells over 30 products to raise pH or lower pH or raise pH but lower hardness and all kinds of things to make the number on your pH test match what your fish should be kept in. Well, instead of matching your water to a fish, why not try it the other way.

“My pH is really low.”

“Yes, and…discus, killifish, tetras, and other Amazon species love more acidic water.”

“My water hardness is really high and I can’t get the pH down.”

“Yes, and…that doesn’t work for these tetras but those African cichlids love hard water, and hard water with lots of minerals makes a good foundation for reef and marine tanks.”

Need more convincing? Ok, what about all that algae in your aquarium. Instead of scrubbing until your fingers have blisters or putting more chemicals in your tank than in a high school chemistry lab, work with it. Is the hair algae going crazy in your marine tank? Why not try a blenny, bristletooth tang, or a sea hare to help eat it up (or if you get really creative, pick up a small pair of craft scissors and make it your damsel’s new front lawn…tiny garden gnome statue optional)? If lighting is an issue, remember that fish don’t have a 9-5 schedule like the rest of us. If you are only home in the evenings to enjoy your tank, adjust the timers so the lights aren’t on when you aren’t around.

Better yet, how about those inevitable outbreaks of disease or an unpreventable accident. It happens to the best of us – I once wiped out my entire home saltwater aquarium because of an unquarantined new arrival – but the key to enjoying your aquarium instead of dreading its maintenance is how you respond.

“My tank just keeps getting ich outbreaks/bacterial infections/cloudy water/aquatic alien abductions.”

“Yes, and…now I’m going to figure out what to do about it.” (I hear aluminum foil tank covers work well for alien abduction problems. Doesn’t prevent the crop circles in hair algae though, sorry)

Very few things in the aquarium hobby are spontaneous; the cause of the problem might just be tricky to find and sometimes, we just might have to learn to adjust to and live with the problem. Ich and other parasites can be almost impossible to completely prevent, but if you’re fish seem to be especially prone, you might want to switch their diet, add supplements to boost their immune system, or avoid invertebrates and keep a low copper dosage in the tank, for example.

A favorite director of mine likes to refer to improv actors as “Chaos Surfers” – they take whatever anyone throws at them, accept it and ride it forward. I say, why stop there? Aquarists can do the same. We can take whatever our aquarium is telling us and instead of fighting against it, we can accept it and make what we have work for us. We just have to be flexible enough to realize that even when our aquarium “scene” is going the way it might have been planned in our head, what we do have is just as good in a completely different way.

Thanks, Eileen

We look forward to more blogs from you in the future!

Using Ozone in the Home Aquarium

The use of ozone has long been a standard practice in industrial and public water purification plants, and large scale public aquarium filtration, as one of the best and most efficient means to increase water quality, while still being able to promote water conservation.   One of the biggest problems to overcome in these closed water systems is the accumulation of dissolved organic waste from various biological sources such as animal waste and decomposing food and plant material.
In aquariums of any scale, mechanical filtration will remove large organic and inorganic solids, and biological filters will remove dissolved organic material in the form of Ammonia and Nitrite, this still leaves behind a large number of other dissolved and colloidal organic materials that will accumulate over time (the ones causing colors and odors being most noticeable).  In most cases these materials are only removed by physical water changes, or chemical absorption media.  While frequent water changes may be practical for removing these dissolved materials in smaller aquariums where you are not dealing with large volumes of water, it is not a practical method for removal of these materials in large systems or in systems where water conservation is at a premium.  Using chemical absorption media is expensive, and is limited in is ability to remove all of these undesirable dissolved organics.  This is where the use of Ozone comes in, I will try to answer some basic questions about ozone below

So, what is ozone, and how does it work to remove these dissolved organic molecules?
Ozone is a naturally occurring highly reactive form of oxygen gas comprised of three oxygen molecules (O3) that is also highly unstable and short lived.  It is this inherent instability of the ozone molecule that is taken advantage of for use as a strong oxidizing agent.  “Normal” oxygen, as found in air and water, has two oxygen molecules (O2) and is very stable.  When ozone molecules break down, they lose an oxygen molecule, forming a stable “normal” oxygen molecule, and a free single oxygen atom.  It is this free oxygen atom that attaches to dissolved organic compounds, which in turn causes them to break down into simpler forms that can consumed by heterotrophic bacteria , or recombine into forms that can be removed with mechanical filtration or protein skimming.  The organic molecule that gained the free oxygen atom and subsequently broke apart is now said to be oxidized.  This is a bit of an oversimplification of the process, but it is a about as general an explanation as I can give without losing too many of you. (and myself, chemistry was never my strong point)

How do I get ozone, and how do I use it in my aquarium?

As I have already discussed ozone is a highly unstable gas, so it is not possible to store, or purchase ozone, it only has a life span of a few seconds before it breaks apart.  Ozone needs to be generated as needed with a device called an ozonizer or ozone generator.  Most modern units available for the aquarium hobby use a Corona Discharge method to create ozone. In a Corona Discharge unit, air is passed through a strong electrical field which causes atmospheric oxygen (O2) to break apart into single oxygen molecules.  Some of these oxygen molecules will then combine back together after passing through the electrical field to form Ozone (O3).  This generated ozone gas must then be quickly used before it breaks apart again.  Most marine aquarium hobbyists already have the perfect piece of equipment for introducing ozone into their aquariums, their protein skimmer.  Ozone needs to have contact time with the water so that it is exposed to the materials that you wish to oxidize.  Fractionating the ozone gas by drawing it into the air intake of your protein skimmer, you can use your skimmer as a highly efficient contact chamber.  This works for both venturi type, and air pump driven protein skimmers.  You need to make sure that your skimmer is made of ozone safe materials, and that you use ozone safe air tubing.  Some plastics and rubber can be damaged by ozone, and cause leaks or failures if exposed for prolonged periods of time.  There are also ozone reactors available, but they are a bit more difficult to use, and harder to find.

How much ozone needs to be used, and is it safe for aquarium inhabitants.

The best way to monitor and control ozone is with the use of an ORP monitor or controller.  ORP stands for Oxidation Reduction Potential, and In terms of your aquarium water, it reads an electrical voltage in Milli Volts (mV) which measures the oxidation ability of the water.  As Ozone is applied the ORP level increases.  Natural sea water has an ORP value of 350-400 mV.  ORP levels of 200 or less in your aquarium are indicative of low oxygen, high dissolved organic, conditions.  By monitoring the ORP level in your aquarium, and maintaining it between 250-350mV, you can adjust your ozone dosage accordingly. Using an ORP controller simplifies this process to shut off you ozone generated at a desired ORP level.  You should never exceed an ORP of 400mV in your aquarium.  Ozone units like the Red Sea AquaZone Plus have a built in ORP controller.

Most manufacturers of ozone units recommend a dosage rate between 5-15mg per hour per 100 liters (26 gallons) many different size units are available, so you can choose an appropriate output unit for your size aquarium, and most have a variable output.  Controlling your ozone output is very important, too much is not a good thing; very low doses will provide you with excellent results in most cases, overdosing can be harmful to both you and your aquarium inhabitants.  There are several methods to make sure that you are applying the correct amounts of ozone into your aquarium.  The goal when introducing ozone into your protein skimmer is for all of the ozone to break down in the chamber or escape through the top of the skimmer.  You do not want ozone to escape freely into your aquarium, it will also oxidize organic material in there, which will cause damage to fishes gills, and invertebrate tissue.  You also do not want high concentrations of ozone to escape into the air; it is harmfull to your lungs if in high enough levels.  Most hobbyist units do not produce dangerous levels of ozone.  You can use carbon in your sump chamber that the skimmer discharges into, or on top of your protein skimmer to absorb residual Ozone, and use an Ozone test kit to make sure that none is escaping the reaction chamber into your aquarium.  Overdosing Ozone can also produce some harmful compounds, mainly in the form of hypochloric and hypobromic acids, this is why you should not exceed and ORP of 400 mV It is a not a good idea to use ozone in small confined spaces, a well ventilated room or aquarium cabinet should be considered.  If you are not using an ORP meter or controller, a conservative approach should be used, stick to the 5mg per hour, per 100 liter rate to be safe.  Another caution when using ozone is to use an air dryer to make sure that the air that is drawn into the ozone generator is dry, a simple and effective unit like the Red Sea Air Dryer, uses regenerable desiccant  beads to draw moisture out of the air.  Moisture can react with Ozone to create nitric acid, which can damage equipment, and lower the pH in your aquarium.

What are the benefits of using ozone?

 

Water clarity is the number one reason most people use ozone.  There are many dissolved organics that can discolor your water, ozone will oxidize these and produce water that is crystal clear.  This is especially beneficial to reef aquariums where light penetration is crucial.  Many people do not even realize how discolored their water is until they see the difference ozone can make. Ozone also has disinfecting properties, pathogenic bacteria, single cell parasites and algae, viruses are all destroyed by contact with ozone.  Increased dissolved oxygen levels from the reduced organic load and bacterial oxygen consumption.  Ozone will destroy pesticides, detergents, and many other toxins that may be in your tap water.  Many organisms release substances that are intended to defend themselves, or inhibit predators or competitors that can accumulate over time and become problematic will be destroyed by ozone.  Ammonia and Nitrite are oxidized into less harmful Nitrate when exposed to Ozone.  And as mentioned previously, using ozone can reduce the amount of water that needs to be changed in closed systems.

 

 

I hope that this has shed some light on Ozone use in the home aquarium, and that I answered some of the questions that you may have about Ozone use.  Feel free to leave comments if you’re looking for any additional info.

 

Until next time,

 

Dave

Cleaning Equipment for Your Aquarium

One of the most frequently asked questions that customers who are considering their first aquarium ask is how hard is it to clean and maintain an aquarium, particularly if they’re thinking about a saltwater aquarium, because they may have heard that it is very difficult to maintain. If you have a few basic tools, and follow some simple guidelines, then keeping your aquarium clean is easy, and does not require a great deal of time.

If any piece of equipment is a “must” have, then a gravel siphon is it. A gravel siphon will remove water from your aquarium and clean your gravel at the same time. A gravel siphon is a simple device that uses a small diameter flexible tubing that is attached to a larger diameter plastic tube that goes into your Aqueon water changeraquarium. The large diameter plastic tube is plunged into your gravel, and removes water at a slow speed that will tumble and clean the gravel without sucking it out of the tank. When the water reaches the small diameter tubing it accelerates and removes only the dirt from the gravel and water. There are two styles of gravel siphon, a simple version like the Lee’s aquarium products Gravel Cleaner, that uses gravity to remove water through a shorter length of tubing into a bucket, or other container. There are also more advance cleaning systems, like the Aqueon Water Changer and the Lee’s Ultimate Aquarium Gravel Vac, that attaches to a sink faucet and uses the water pressure of your tap to draw water through a length of tubing up to 100’ with a venturi attachment that fits any standard faucet. The advantage to the more advanced system is that the flow can be reversed at the faucet end to actually fill your aquarium back up after all the dirt has been removed from the gravel. What could be easier than that! If you have a chlorinated water source you will need to add a water conditioner at the same time. Gravel siphons are available for just about any size aquarium.

One of the best inventions to come along in aquarium cleaning products is the magnetic algae cleaner for your aquariums glass or acrylic panels. With the use of two magnets, one inside the aquarium and one outside, you can clean all of you viewing panels without the need to put your hands in the aquarium. The inside magnet has a cleaning surface that removes algae from the inside glass, you simply stick the two magnets together with the aquarium glass in between, then move the outside magnet around until all the algae is gone. This is a simple device, that has dramatically improved the ease and speed that you can clean your glass. In recent years manufacturers have invented a magnet cleaning system that has a floating inside magnet, so you never lose the cleaner to the bottom of the aquarium, which was the downfall to initial models if you moved the outside piece too quickly. Floating magnets like the Magfloat and the Magnavore, are available for most sizes of aquariums in both glass and acrylic safe models.

Just as important as the gravel siphon and the magnet cleaner is following some basic husbandry guidelines to help keep your aquarium clean.  Replace your filter cartridges, or filter media, at least once a month, make sure that you are not overstocking and overfeeding your aquarium, and make sure that you keep to a schedule. Small water changes on a weekly or biweekly basis will ensure that your water quality stays at a high level, which will inhibit excess waste build up and algae growth. All of these things are easy to do, and take very little time. If you procrastinate in maintaining the tank, or wait until there is a problem, then correcting issues becomes more difficult and time consuming.
Algae Mag float

Aquarium keeping should be fun and easy, follow these tips and guidelines, an you should be headed for success.

Until Next Blog,

Dave