Wednesday, December 31, 2014

5 Aquarium Products You'll Want to Use in 2015

What better way to bring in the New Year than to highlight some of the most exciting new aquarium products available now at Marine Depot!

Kessil A160WE LED Lights
These little lights are the newest addition to the popular line of Kessil LED lights and are available in two colors, one for freshwater planted aquariums and one for marine reef aquariums. They are controllable via the manual knobs located on top of the light and can also be linked together for applications where multiple lights are required. On top of the manual control, the lights can also be governed with many of the popular aquarium controllers as well as the easy-to-use Kessil Spectral controller! The A160WE provides more output per watt when compared to the A150 LED lights and will provide up to a 24” spread of light. They are perfect for smaller aquariums such as the Current USA Solana, JBJ Rimless, Innovative Marine Fusion or Nuvo, and Mr. Aqua aquariums.

Maxspect Gyre Generator Flow Pumps
The just released Maxspect Gyre was one of the most anticipated products of 2014. This unique powerhead produces a revolutionary “Gyre” flow pattern in your aquarium that will move a large volume of water and eliminate the need for multiple powerheads. It comes complete with a controller to dial in the flow perfectly to suit the needs of your corals and fish. The XF150 model is available now and perfect for aquariums up to 6' long and the smaller XF130 model available soon will work for aquariums up to 4' long.

Tunze 6040 Controllable Pump
The Tunze 6040 Controllable pump is yet another excellent product from Tunze that was just released. This tiny powerhead packs a big punch and is capable of producing flow rates up to 1190 gallons per hour. The small profile and unique design allow you to discreetly conceal the pump behind rockwork while still providing substantial flow. It comes complete with a controller allowing you the dial in the flow perfectly to your liking and uses a vibration reducing magnetic mount which results in ultra-quiet operation.

Red Sea Seawater Refractometer
The Red Sea Refractometer is quickly becoming the preferred refractometer of aquarium hobbiysts because it is specifically designed to measure the absolute salinity of natural seawater at 77° F which eliminates the small inaccuracies that are commonly experienced with many of the other refractometers available in our industry. It is easy to read with a large, high-resolution scale focused to the range needed for reef aquariums. It automatically compensates for temperature, providing quick and accurate salinity readings each and every time you use it.

AquaFX RO/DI Products
Last but not least are the new reverse osmosis and RO/DI products from Aqua FX. RO/DI systems deliver clean water free of unwanted pathogens and contaminants that can harm your aquarium. Aqua FX offers a variety of RO/DI systems to suit your budget and needs. We also have a full line of Aqua FX replacement filters as well as a chloramine blaster upgrade kit to help combat chloramines and extend the life of your DI. All Aqua FX products are made right in the USA with high quality components. And don't forget: when you buy your RO or RO/DI system from, you’ll receive 15% off all your replacement sediment filters, carbon filters, DI cartridges and membranes FOR LIFE!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Kessil A160WE: A worthy successor to the A150W

Kessil's hotly anticipated successor to the A150W is the all-new A160WE LED Pendant, now available at Marine Depot for $249 in both freshwater (Tuna Sun) and saltwater (Tuna Blue) variations.

Kessil packed more power into the A160WE and has described the light as the "inevitable update" to the A150W. It is now on a 40 watt platform (versus 32 watts with the A150W) and features more output. You can manually control it just like the Kessil A360 using two knobs located on top of the light. One knob allows you to dial in the spectrum and color and the other adjusts the light intensity.

Another similarity to the A360 is that the A160WE is Apex Ready+ and can be controlled by an external aquarium controller, like Neptune Systems Apex AquaController or Kessil’s own Spectral Control (winner of Best New Product in the Marine Depot Best of 2014 Awards).

In short, you might consider the A160WE a miniaturized A360.

Kessil told us at the 2014 Reef-A-Palooza show in Costa Mesa, CA that one of the challenges in creating the A160WE was fitting all the components into such a small form factor. They explained that the circuitry for the A160WE is the same as the A360, so it took time to figure out how to shrink it all down to fit into a light the size of a soda can.

Kessil had hoped to release the A160WE in the earlier part of 2014, but had to wait until they had enough E-Series chips—which they state are 15% brighter—to build the lights and meet the inevitable demand from aquarium hobbyists.

Kessil lights also, if you are unfamiliar, use a patented technology called “Dense Matrix” which concentrates multiple LED chips into an array, creating a powerful light source with better and deeper penetration without sacrificing coverage.

The beautiful shimmer Kessil lights yield is also noteworthy. They offer a true-to-life shimmer effect that only metal halides (and the sun itself) seem capable of producing. I won’t name names, but some of the premier LED lights in our industry today—while awesome in just about every other respect—still produce a bit of that "disco effect" some hobbyists complain looks unnatural.  Like other Kessil LEDs, the A160WE gives your aquarium an unrivaled shimmer that looks like natural sunlight shining down on the ocean floor.

Another cool feature about the A160WE is that you can daisy chain multiple A160WE lights together using some inexpensive sold separately cables. When you daisy chain A160WE lights together without an external controller, the first A160WE acts as the “master” unit which propagates its settings to all the other lights in the chain.

We asked Kessil how many A160WE lights you can daisy chain together so we could create the most expensive set of Christmas lights ever. They told us "there is no limit." However, they explained that there is a small drop in voltage with each link cable—so they usually recommend about 10 lights since you may start to see a difference at one end of the chain after that.

A160WE lights provide up to a 24” spread of light and should be placed 1 to 2 feet above your aquarium. This light would be a terrific choice to illuminate small aquariums like the Current USA SolanaJBJ Rimless tanksInnovative Marine Nuvo and Fusion tanks as well as Mr. Aqua aquariums.

You have a couple of different mounting options. You can hang the lights using the included metal brackets (check the manual for details) or mount the light to your tank using the popular Kessil Gooseneck. We recommend spending the extra dough to get the 90° Adapter if you are planning to use the Gooseneck. It adds a level of fit and finish and helps keep the light sitting properly over your tank.

We don't want to leave you hanging, so here are the standout features of the all-new Kessil A160WE along with the specifications for those of you who like to obsess over the numbers.

    Beautiful, unrivaled shimmer gives the look of natural sunlight on the ocean floor.
    Kessil is the only company to manufacture all LED arrays in-house with custom spectral blends specifically tailored to meet aquarist needs.
  • UV
    A proprietary blend of UV light enhances coral growth and color.
    Patented Dense Matrix LED™ tehcnology concentrates multiple LED chips into an array, creating a powerful light source with better and deeper penetration, without sacrificing coverage. E-Series LEDs are 15% brighter.
    High performance and low maintenance. Simple and compact units feature quiet operation, innovative heat management and efficient, long-lasting LED construction.
    Tune the spectrum and intensity for a personalized look. Kessil Logic™ maintains consistent output across the spectrum. 10,000K to Actinic.
    Compatible with 0~10V external controllers. Daisy-chain multiple lights for seamless control from a single source.


Kessil A160WE Tuna Blue
  • Color Spectrum: 10,000K – Actinic
  • Fixture Dimensions: 4" x 2.48" (Length x Diameter)
  • Coverage Area (fish-only and soft corals): Up to 24" surface diameter
  • Coverage Area (mixed reef with LPS or SPS corals): Up to 18" surface diameter
  • Power Supply: 100-240 VAC (Input), 19-24V DC (Output)
  • Power Usage: 40W
Kessil A160WE Tuna Sun
  • Color Spectrum: 6,000 - 9,000K
  • Fixture Dimensions: 4" x 2.48" (Length x Diameter)
  • Coverage Area: Up to 24" surface diameter
  • Power Supply: 100-240 VAC (Input), 19-24V DC (Output)
  • Power Usage: 40W

Friday, December 19, 2014

7 ways to be prepared for an aquarium emergency

Almost everyday somebody calls us with an aquarium emergency. Though occasionally we are surprised by an odd fish tank fiasco, we have heard (and helped) callers in myriad situations. A hurricane is about to make landfall. A tree has knocked out a power line. A child just peed in the aquarium. Your prized fish just broke out in spots. The tank has sprung a leak. The dog chewed the pump cord. And so on.

We are here to help, and happy to do so, but in the midst of an aquarium catastrophe there is only so much we can do to help when things have already gone south. This is why we highly recommend that you prepare in advance for something to go wrong. You have invested a lot of time, effort and money into your aquariums. So, why not be prepared?

You don’t have to build a bomb shelter for the apocalypse in order to be prepared for an aquarium disaster. With only a little preparation and a few items you can set yourself up to withstand most problems that will come your way. Here is our list of seven great ideas which will set you up for success when things go south.


Water has rightly been called the elixir of life. The single most vital aspect of an aquarium is water. So, wise aquarists keep water ready at all times, and the more the better. Freshwater systems should have de-chlorinated, oxygenated, and heated replacement water on hand. Saltwater aquariums should also have backup water ready to go in the midst of an emergency. Having extra salt mix on hand is also important. Once I did something epically klutzy during routine maintenance and broke the glass on a full reef aquarium. As water pored through the crack I had made, panic began to set in. The only thing that saved the inhabitants was a reservoir full of heated saltwater and a Rubbermaid bin ready to house everything. Ready water is the single most important thing you can do to be prepared.


Next to water, there are two basic things your aquarium needs to keep the inhabitants alive: oxygen and heat. Nature can be unpredictable. If you want to be prepared for an extended power outage (you do want to be prepared, right?) then you need a way to take care of both of these.

Once the pumps turn off and water stops circulating, oxygen levels will fall quickly. On the high end, some powerheads, like the EcoTech Marine VorTech and Tunze Stream, have optional battery backups. With a battery backup, should the power fail the backup immediately kicks in so the pump keeps running. These can keep water moving for days. On the more economic side, a battery powered air pump can mean the difference between life and death for your aquarium. A battery powered air pump will both oxygenate and circulate water. For larger aquariums, multiple battery powered air pumps are necessary. Be sure to have batteries on hand should the power stay off for long.

Heat is the other aspect you must be prepared for. During warmer months the temperature can quickly rise to dangerous levels during a power outage or chiller failure, sapping oxygen and endangering the fish. Opening up the windows for a breeze may help a bit, but often is not enough. I recommend keeping a few plastic soda bottles filled with water in the freezer. Drop one into the sump (or main tank) to help bring the temperature down. But, be sure to monitor the aquarium. Cycle the bottles out as the ice inside melts.

In colder months, the problem will be keeping the temperature up. The first thing you should do is to wrap the aquarium. Newspaper or blankets wrapped around the aquarium and secured with tape work great to insulate the aquarium and prevent heat loss. Then you can warm up water and put it in those bottles you had in the freezer. Be careful not to make the water so hot that the plastic melts. Then, as the bottles cool off you can heat more water and repeat the process.


There are a few items in your aquarium that are absolutely necessary to keep the inhabitants alive. You can go days without lights, a protein skimmer, or a calcium reactor. But, you should own a backup for each critical item. The backup parts don’t need to be the highest quality. They just need to be serviceable. A heater is necessary to keep the water warm. A powerhead is necessary to keep the water flowing.  For a system with a sump or refugium, a backup pump is a great idea. I also prefer to have backup impellers on hand, since impellers are more likely to break than the pumps. Look over your system, think of anything that would create a serious problem should it stop working, and have a backup. Usually these items won’t be sitting in storage because they can be used for your...


Often, the best way to prepare for an emergency is to prevent an emergency from arising. Nothing should enter your aquarium before being quarantined for weeks. During quarantine, observe your fish for disease and parasites. Check your coral for pests like aiptasia. Should one of your fish or coral need to be isolated, your quarantine tank can be put into use as a hospital tank. A basic quarantine system will include a simple filter (like a sponge filter), a heater, and a light (if you have coral). In addition, your quarantine tank can serve as part of your emergency water supply. Just know that a tank which has been treated with copper should never house invertebrates like coral, nor should the water be used in any tank with invertebrates.


Your house probably has a few basic medicines that you keep on hand. Your fish tank should be no different. Having a few basics in your kit can go a long way in treating diseases and parasites. Often, the difference between life and death is speedy treatment. Seachem Cupramine is great to have in your kit for the treatment of external parasites like Ich and Marine Velvet. You will also need a copper test kit in order to dose properly. API Pimafix is a good medication to have on hand for the treatment of various fungal and bacterial infections. A medicated food, like New Life Spectrum Thera-A, can also assist with internal parasites. Keep in mind that some medications have expiration dates. Follow all instructions carefully and research well before using any medication. At times, the medicine can be more dangerous than the disease, especially in inexperienced hands.


UV sterilizers are a preventative measure that can help you avoid problems in your tank, in particular with parasites. A UV sterilizer is a water filter that blasts the water with ultraviolet rays. Parasites, algae, and bacteria that pass through the filter will either be killed or sterilized so that they cannot reproduce. As a bonus, sterilizers make the water clearer. While a sterilizer will not kill any parasites on your fish, it will reduce the amount of parasites and bacteria in your aquarium water, reducing the chance for an outbreak in your aquarium. Sterilizers are a staple of professional aquariums.


There are a few basics that I keep in my aquarium emergency kit. Silicone glue can be used to patch up small leaks. Teflon tape will solve some plumbing leaks. There are certain plumbing parts that are worth having extras of. Hose clamps wear out. Check valves get stuck from time to time. Ball valves can stop working properly. Bulkhead seals can deteriorate. An aquarium part cleaner, like Magi-Klean, can get a seized pump working again.


There you have it. For everything you have invested in this hobby, these few steps are a small price to pay for a large measure of security. We love to help, but we would much rather you did not have to call because you were not prepared for an emergency. If you have any questions about preparing for aquarium emergencies, please contact us for support.

RELATED READING: Redundancies and Backups: 8 Ways to Prevent your Reef Tank from Crashing

Friday, November 21, 2014

15% off Site-Wide at Marine Depot until Cyber Monday

Take 15% off your orders now until midnight Cyber Monday with coupon code BLACKFRIDAY2014.

For even bigger discounts, keep checking for updates and subscribe to our email newsletter for exclusive doorbusters and VIP coupon codes.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reefing On a Budget: Adding LEDs to Your T5 Fixture

When the upgrade bug strikes, perhaps the hardest part is realizing that the stuff that you have won't work for your next build. That's exactly what happened to me when I moved from a 40 gallon reef system to a gigantic 120 gallon. I had to upgrade almost everything, including the most painful of all, my lights. My 4-bulb, 36-inch AquaticLife fixture was great, but it simply wasn't going to power the new tank.

Time To Go Shopping

Day 1 - When I realized I'd made a huge mistake!

I knew that I'd eventually be moving to a 6-bulb ATI T5 system, but I needed to make do in the mean time while I saved up the cash. My answer? Take a horticulture T5 fixture and retrofit it with LED strips to give color and a sunrise/sunset feature.

I looked at a lot of different options, but finally settled on the TrueLumen Pro, 48-inch Marine Fusion model. The Marine Fusion is a mixture of 12k white and 452 nm blue lights that would allow me to have a nice viewing light for the tank without having to power on my T5 fixture.

The challenge that I had with adding the LED strip was that the design of the T5 fixture didn't allow a lot of room to work inside of the reflector area. I knew that I would need to mount the TrueLumen Pro to the outer frame, so I started measuring and finding the right place to get the job done. Unfortunately, the included brackets for the TrueLumen Pro were slightly too long to fit where I wanted them, so I had to improvise a bit.

I eventually settled on having the TrueLumen Pro on the outside rim of the fixture, and the brackets matched up almost perfectly. Hooray! With just a couple of pilot holes drilled, and using the included screws, I had the Marine Fusion strip in place in no time.

It's worth noting that, when Current USA says that the TrueLumen Pro is 48 inches long, that's exactly what they mean. For some of you, this can cause a problem if you're wanting to use the strip on a fixture that happens to be a bit shorter than 48 inches. If that's the case, I can recommend stepping down a size to 36 inches. In fact, I did just that after having a change of heart about the lighting color.

Points to Ponder

If you're considering taking a retrofit route, there is a lot to think about. We've seen some amazing fixtures that combine high end LEDs with T5, but I was aiming to "fill the gap" on a budget. All in all I'm happy with the results, but there are some things that I'd do differently.
  1. Measure! With better, more careful measurement I would have made a different choice about how I mounted the fixture.

  2. Consider your goals. I thought I wanted full-color sunrise/sunset. What I really wanted was actinic supplement and moonlight. Changing to the Deepwater Blue fixture got me what I wanted, but not before I made a costly mistake with the first choice.

  3. Rip it apart. You're going to be drilling, adhering or otherwise permanently changing your fixture. If you spend a few minutes to tear it apart before making a decision, you'll have a better idea of how you'll need to mount the light, how you can run the cables, etc.

  4. Buy a dimmer. Holy cow this light is bright! Don't underestimate how much power a big strip of LEDs can have. If you're going for anything less than daylight, you'll want to buy an inline dimmer. Fortunately, they're really inexpensive. 

Wrapping Up

All things considered, I'm really happy with the results that I've seen with this modification. If I had it to do over again, I'd change some things, but the end result would still be the same. I have beautiful actinic supplementation, my corals seem to love the extra light and I got the look that I wanted without having to break the bank.

RELATED READING: 5 Creative Ways to Use LED Light Strips

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Redundancies and Backups: 8 Ways to Prevent your Reef Tank from Crashing

If you have been in this hobby long enough, you or someone you know has probably experienced some sort of major aquarium disaster.

Whether it is a loss of livestock, failed equipment or damage to your home (hardwood floors and water don’t mix), many of these unfortunate events can be prevented by setting up redundant or backup systems and having spare equipment available.

Although we hope for the best, today we are going to share some of the lessons we have learned—sometimes the hard way—about how to prepare for the worst.

We help customers plan and upgrade their aquarium systems to be more fail-safe all the time. Plus, since we have been through the wringer a time or two ourselves, we felt a responsibility to pass along this knowledge to hopefully help you prevent your tank from crashing some day.


A stable temperature is KEY to a successful reef tank. Fluctuations up or down may cause devastation to your aquarium. Some species are more tolerant to change, but delicate fish and corals need a very stable temperature.

A reef aquarium can be wiped out quickly if the temperature rises too high. Outbreaks of disease may occur and spread quickly when dramatic temperature changes take place. It is, therefore, essential to keep the temperature steady in your tank at all times.

To be mindful of your aquarium temperature, you can focus on three areas: your thermometer (to measure the temperature), your heater and ways to help cool the tank down.
  • Using a controller to monitor and control your tank’s temperature is just one safeguard, but even a controller can fail. Using multiple thermometers in conjunction with a controller can help monitor your aquarium water temperature more effectively. Using a digital thermometer with an audible alarm is even better!
  • Instead of using a single heater (for medium to larger aquariums), using multiple smaller heaters can help prevent overheating or no heating if one fails. For example, if your tank requires 300 watts of heating, using three 100 watt or two 150 watt heaters instead of a single 300 watt heater is generally a better choice. Another option that is more along the lines of redundancy is to have two sets of heaters for the tank with different set points for turning on and off. The “second” set can swing in to action if the first set fails keeping the tanks temperature from falling too low. It is also a good idea to keep a couple of spare heaters on hand, just in case.
  • Having backup fans for evaporative cooling in case your chiller goes down (or if you don’t own a chiller) can help in a bind to keep your tank’s temperature in a safe zone. Another trick is to have your aquarium controller shut off your lights if/when your tank temperature gets too high.


Aquarium lights are one of the most important pieces of equipment for a reef tank. Many reef inhabitants depend on the light you provide for survival. Although corals can survive without light for a couple of days without trouble, any longer and they may begin to feel the effects. Don’t leave your corals in the dark: stock up on backup bulbs and ballasts so you can turn the lights back on quickly in case of equipment failure.
  • Bulbs: Keeping extra aquarium light bulbs on hand in case one goes out is a must. Having backups allows you to exchange burnt out bulbs without having to wait for replacements to arrive. If you have old bulbs that still work, hang on to them until the next cycle of bulb swaps. You may be able to use one in a pinch. Metal halide and fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, so please recycle your used bulbs to ensure they do not end up in landfills.
  • Ballasts: If you use a single source of light for your aquarium (like a single metal halide bulb, for example) having a backup ballast in case yours fails can definitely help to save the day.


Using aquarium monitoring devices to keep a close eye on key water parameters like pH, nitrate and salinity is a wonderful way to help keep your aquarium water chemistry stable. They give you a glimpse into the overall health of your system and can help identify a rising problem before it becomes disastrous.

A dramatic overnight swing in pH, for example, can indicate a dropping alkalinity level in the aquarium; a change in average temperature can indicate a heater or chiller failure.

To ensure these devices are recording accurately, just use good old-fashioned aquarium water test kits once per month to verify the results. While using a monitor may seem redundant enough, it is always a good idea to ensure the equipment is working properly and is calibrated correctly in order to protect your precious reef. Not to mention a variety of parameters cannot be monitored electronically. Water testing usually becomes routine for any successful reefer.


You might consider your return pump the heart of your aquarium system. If circulation shuts down, oxygen levels can drop fairly quickly. Should the oxygen level get too low, livestock may begin to suffocate. Witnessing your fish gasp for air at the water surface is heartbreaking.

There are many reasons a return pump can fail, from a broken impeller to simple burn out. Regardless of the cause, the important thing to be aware of is an aquarium can crash quite rapidly without any water circulation. It may be outside the budget of some hobbyists, yet depending on how much you have invested in your reef, purchasing a spare return pump can literally be a lifesaver and save you a fortune in the long run.

If your return pump is rather pricey and a backup of the same make/model isn’t feasible at the moment, you might consider less expensive alternatives for your backup pump. Providing a temporary fix while you get your main return pump serviced or replaced offers great peace of mind. Pumps like the MagDrive or Rio are perfect to keep on the shelf for these types of emergency situations.

On the same note, having extra circulation pumps/powerheads to keep the water moving within the tank in the event of an emergency is highly recommended. Our staff uses Hydor Koralia, Cobalt Aquatics MJ or Marineland Maxi-Jet pumps for backup and utility purposes. They are reliable, affordable and can keep your fish and corals content while you repair your main system.


Raise your hand if your ATO system has caused a flood in your home or office. Don’t feel bad: you are not alone!

Sadly, auto top-off systems can and do fail. Whether you are filling your aquarium directly from a RO/DI filter, topping off from a reservoir or simply filling a portable container to mix saltwater, no system is completely foolproof.

Using an ATO system with a redundant float valve or sensor (or picking up a second to add to your existing system) can help prevent flooding. If you are dosing kalkwasser from your top-off water, I highly—and can’t stress this enough—recommend having a redundant float valve running. I have seen some absolutely beautiful reef tanks destroyed by an overdose of kalkwasser because of a failed sensor or valve. Don’t let it happen to you!


I lived in Southern California for nearly a decade and currently reside in the Northeastern United States. Needless to say, power outages are something I have grown accustomed to. From earthquakes and hurricanes to tropical, snow, wind and/or lightning storms, I have faced off with Mother Nature in just about every way possible except for a typhoon (knock on wood).

Power outages caused by these sorts of events generally last only an hour or two. However in 2012, Hurricane Sandy left my home without power for nearly 10 days. Fortunately, I was prepared. My backup generator kicked on and literally saved my fish tank. I did not suffer a single loss during that stressful period.

Even if you don’t have the space or means for a backup generator, there are other more affordable backup devices available that you can use to keep key pieces of equipment running in the event of a power outage.

EcoTech Marine’s Battery Backup can keep your VorTech pump going for up to 60 hours after the power goes out (30 hours for two pumps). You can even add a second Battery Backup to double the run time.

An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is another way to protect your aquarium in the event the power goes out. Although typically marketed toward computer users and businesses, large UPS devices can keep a small water pump or air pump running for hours.

Another inexpensive and popular backup device is a battery-operated air pump. Like the aforementioned devices, a battery air pump can help keep the oxygen level in your tank in the safe zone while your main system pumps are inoperable, just be sure to have plenty of batteries!


Storing fresh top-off water and having extra saltwater prepared for emergency water changes are among the best decisions you can make as a reef aquarium owner. You don’t necessarily need to experience an equipment failure or suffer through a power outage for your reserve water supply to save the day. You may simply be returning home from a long day at the office or a weekend away with the family to discover a problem in your tank; such as the untimely death of an anemone or accidental over dose. Giving yourself the tools to rescue your tank at a moment’s notice can truly be the difference between life and death.


Aquarium controllers have come along way in terms of how they can help prevent a disaster in your aquarium. The benefits of monitoring your water parameters and controlling your equipment from a single device saves you time and energy. Integrating leak detectors and float switches to prevent floods or burning out pumps can easily prevent an expensive mistake.

The real lifesaving features of a controller comes into play when you have remote access and alerts set up. Advanced controller systems offer the ability to access your controller via the web and set up alerts to notify you by email or text when changes occur in your aquarium. You can even turn your equipment on and off from a remote location and view all of your water parameters to give you peace of mind that your tank is running smoothly no matter where you are.

With all of the time, money and effort we dedicate to becoming excellent stewards of aquatic life, investing in redundancies, backup equipment and power supplies to prevent and resolve aquarium emergencies should really be a no-brainer.

RELATED READING: 7 ways to be prepared for an aquarium emergency

Thursday, October 02, 2014

How to Set Up a Dosing Pump

In a reef aquarium, elements and nutrients corals and invertebrates use to survive must be replenished by the aquarium owner.

The rate these elements and nutrients are depleted varies from tank to tank based on the organisms inside the aquarium. If a reef aquarium is fully stocked, they may need to be replenished daily.

Setting up an automatic dosing system to administer the proper amount of elements and nutrients for your reef tank can be an enormous benefit. Not only to your sanity, but to the animals that call your tank home.

One of the most reliable ways to automatically dose your aquarium is by using a peristaltic dosing pump.

Peristaltic dosing pumps are perfect for dosing fluids into aquariums because they deliver them at a safe, precise and controlled rate. They are also self-priming and can draw fluids/supplements out of a dosing container, into the pump and then into your aquarium without any harm to the pump itself.

If you have been kicking around the idea of setting up an automatic dosing system for your reef tank, this article is for you. We provide step-by-step instructions and reveal how to set up a dosing pump to free you from maintenance with the larger goal of creating a thriving coral reef in your home or office.

STEP 1: Choose Your Pump

There are a variety of dosing pumps available. All perform the same basic duty of adding fluid to your aquarium at a safe, slow rate. The major differences between them are the number of supplements you can dose and whether or not the pump can be programmed.

Some dosing pumps are continuous duty. They can only dose a single supplement and do not include a built-in controller. These pumps require a standard timer or aquarium controller to turn the pump on and off as necessary based on your dosing needs. The amount of time the pump operates will control the amount of fluid being dosed.

Higher-end dosing pumps often include built-in controllers and multiple pumps to dose several different liquids. These pumps are ideal because no additional equipment is required to control them and you can set up a comprehensive dosing system to cover everything from feeding corals to maintaining calcium and alkalinity. Other cool features like controllable flow rates, aquarium controller compatibility and the ability to integrate float switches or water sensors may also be included.

The programming capabilities of the controller should not be overlooked. Specs vary from pump to pump, so it is important to ensure the dosing pump you are considering is capable of delivering the amount of fluid you need at the correct rate. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask our experts.

STEP #2: Get the Equipment

Even after you select a dosing pump, there may be some additional equipment required to get the system up and running.

Most include enough tubing to run to and from the pump. However, if you have a tall aquarium, you may need to acquire additional tubing that is long enough to accommodate your specific needs.

A tube holder of some sort is almost always necessary because it keeps your tubing in place on the edge of your aquarium or sump. A tube holder not only keeps your tubing organized, it also helps prevent back siphoning water out of your aquarium since it is highly unlikely the tubes will ever accidentally fall into your tank.

Dosing containers are another great accessory. They offer the ability to store supplements for dosing and be emptied without losing prime. Most dosing containers are tapped at the bottom or feature a long downstem to draw fluid from the bottom. This ensures the pump stays primed until the container is empty. Another benefit of dosing containers is they look professional, save space (often stackable) and may even feature a graduated metric scale for easy measuring.

STEP #3: Mount the Pump and Attach Tubing

A dosing pump can usually be mounted discreetly inside your aquarium stand. Since dosing pumps are not submersible and can be damaged by heavy moisture or salt creep, it is important that the unit be secured in some form.

Bubble Magus has a beautiful (sold separately) bracket that works for their BM-T01 dosing pump and BM-T02 extension; others keep it simple and have slots for screws in the back. Your dosing pump should be placed within close proximity of the supplements you are dosing and your tank or sump so you do not have to run long lengths of tubing.

I have observed two types of tubing connections on dosing pumps: standard barb-style fittings and heavy-duty compression fittings. Compression fittings are preferred because they ensure a secure, leakproof connection with your tubing.

Your tubing will need to be cut to length, but be careful not to cut it too short. Allowing a little excess may help you maneuver the tubing in and out of sight, if necessary. Attach tubing to both the suction and pressure sides of the pump, then to your dosing containers. Next, secure the tubing to your aquarium or sump. Be sure the ends of the dosing tubes are ABOVE the water line. This ensures water will not be back siphoned out of your aquarium.

You can actually place tubing directly into your supplement bottles if you prefer. The biggest problem with this approach is the tubing may not pull out all the supplement fluid before losing prime. This can leave you with 1-2” of usable fluid left in the supplement bottle. A good way to combat this problem is to attach a ¼” piece of rigid airline tubing to the end of the dosing tube to reach deeper into the bottle (or just use the nice dosing containers mentioned earlier).

STEP #4: Set the Dosing Schedule

When you first set up your automatic dosing system, expect some trial and error. Basically you will need to dose, test your water parameters and then readjust the dosing schedule so that it fit your aquarium’s needs.

For dosing pumps with fixed flow rates, you can use a simple calculation to estimate the length of time to run the pump. For example:
Let’s say your pump is rated to deliver three liters per hour and you need to dose 100mL per day. You can deduce the pump delivers approximately 50mL per minute. You can then set the pump to run for two minutes once every 24 hours. You can use our handy conversion calculator to help you here.

Keeping with this example, if you wanted to split the dosage in two to avoid larger fluctuations in water chemistry, you could set the pump to run for one minute every 12 hours.
The way the controller works varies from pump to pump, although most work based off a simple program: how long the pump should run and how many times it should run within a period of time. If your dosing pump does not have a built-in controller, the concept remains the same. Set your timer to run the pump for however long you need based on the pump’s flow rate.

Sophisticated high-end dosing pumps, like the new Neptune Systems DŌS or Innovative Aquatics Sentry, offer the ability to adjust the rate at which the pump turns to control the flow rate. This type of precise control may not be necessary for all aquarium owners, but it is certainly nice for those of us who need to micro-dose or create complex dosing schedules consisting of several supplements.

STEP #5: Test and Monitor Water Parameters

Once you have your schedule set up, do trial runs before applying the system to your tank.

The easiest way to do this is by using a couple of inert glass or plastic cups to collect the dosed fluids rather than simply allowing the unit to dose your aquarium. After the first cycle has completed, measure the amount of fluid to ensure you are dosing the intended amount, or close to it. This way you can be sure your program is correct.

You are now ready to allow the unit to dose your aquarium.

I recommend testing the affected water parameters and adjust accordingly. If you are using the dosing pump to feed your aquarium inhabitants, schedule it so you are able to view the tank during the first couple of feedings to ensure the proper amount is being dispensed. Make sure your protein skimmer does not overflow due to the supplements being dosed. If it does, you might consider putting the skimmer on a timer so it shuts off during the times when your aquarium is being dosed.

RELATED READING: Aquarium Dosing Systems: What's the Difference?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

6 Simple Tricks to Control Nitrates in a Reef Tank

The final by-product of fish waste and the cycling process in a saltwater aquarium is nitrate.

Having high nitrate levels in a marine/reef aquarium can lead to many problems. Nuisance algae growth, a decline in coral health (loss of color/growth) and fish/invertebrate illness or death are all possible if you allow your nitrate levels to rise to dangerous levels.

But you'd never allow THAT to happen, right?

As a responsible reefkeeper, you want to keep your nitrate levels as low as possible. You also want to accomplish that with as little effort as possible. Well, today is your lucky day!

We have discovered six simple tricks to control nitrates in a reef aquarium. We are confident if you employ one or more of these methods you will be able to successfully lower the nitrates in your tank and be on your way to a happier, healthier reef.

Make water changes and vacuuming substrate easy with a siphon and hose.


Don’t act shocked. Of course water changes are going to make our list.

Performing large weekly water changes in the 20-40% range can go a long way toward reducing the nitrate level in a saltwater aquarium. However, you must be certain the water you are adding back to your tank is nitrate-free.

We strongly encourage you to use filtered water (like RO or RO/DI) to mix saltwater for water changes and tank top-off. Test your water change water with a nitrate test kit before you add it to your aquarium to make sure it is nitrate-free.

If you continue to perform these larger water changes regularly with nitrate-free water, you will most likely see your nitrate levels drop within acceptable levels within a couple of months, if not sooner (it depends on your starting level).

Remove excess nutrients before they enter your tank with a fish food strainer.


We would all love our reef tanks to teem with life around every bend. But overstocking your aquarium can be a real problem.

If your tank is so overcrowded with fish that filtration equipment and regular maintenance can't keep up, we urge you to consider reducing the number of residents in your tank.

Increased bioload isn't the only problem livestock face in an overstocked tank. Animals also have to contend with each other in close quarters, which can lead to stress, aggression, lack of exercise and increased competition for food and habitat.

Overstocking and overfeeding often go hand-in-hand, but not always.

Feeding time is when the entire aquarium comes alive: nassarius snails burst from the sandbed, crabs scuttle out of the rockwork and even timid fish swim out in the open. It is truly a sight to behold and the primary reason why most hobbyists enjoy watching their fish, corals and inverts eat.

That is also why many of us are guilty of overfeeding at some point or another. Perhaps you feed too much, too often or both. We know you love to watch your babies eat, but if you want to reduce the nitrates in your tank, you are going to need to cut back (perhaps way back) on your feedings.

Frequent small feedings are better than occasional large ones. Using a fish food strainer to remove nitrate and/or phosphate-laden binders from frozen fish food prior to feeding can be helpful.

Frozen fish food is filled with nutrients, but the liquid juices these foods are packed in can sometimes leave behind undesirable pollutants. A fine mesh fish net is a tool you may already have handy that can hold frozen food while you rinse and thaw it with RO/DI water prior to feeding.

Dosing Red Sea NO3:PO4-X can gradually lower the nutrient levels in your tank.


There are liquid aquarium supplements designed specifically to reduce the nitrate levels in your aquarium. While these solutions are effective at lowering nitrate, they do not magically fix whatever is causing your nitrates to be high in the first place.

Liquid nitrate removers work in conjunction with your protein skimmer and/or other filtration equipment to enhance their ability to pull out nitrates or break them down.

One such supplement is AZ-NO3 Nitrate Eliminator. The manufacturer says AZ-NO3 "works entirely by aerobic cellular respiration on the target nitrate molecule, which is then removed by the protein skimmer."

Another option is Red Sea NO3:PO4-X Nitrate & Phosphate Reducer. Red Sea says their solution will "ensure steady bacterial propagation and complete nitrate reduction to nitrogen gas." They also state that efficient protein skimming is essential to provide the necessary oxygenation of the aquarium and to remove bacterial flocks from the water.

A third choice many of our staff has used to lower nitrate levels is Prodibio BioDigest. BioDigest is a hyper-concentrated bacterial compound sealed inside single-dose glass vials to preserve the efficacy of the ingredients. The recommended dosage is one vial per 50 gallons of aquarium water every 15 days.

BioDigest is made up of natural nitrifying, nitrate reducing and facultative bacterial strains selected for their ability to convert ammonia into nitrites, nitrites into nitrates and nitrates into nitrogen. These bacteria actually work together, with each strain finishing off the work started by the others. Some are capable of biosynthesizing nitrate-reducing enzymes in aerobic conditions. This enables water to be effectively purified, nitrates and phosphates to be reduced and prevents the spread of filamentous algae.

Biopellets run inside an upflow reactor can help lower nitrates and phosphates.


Biopellet filter media first hit the hobby about 6 years ago. Many reef aquarists have reported success using biopellets to reduce the nitrate and/or phosphate levels in their aquariums since.

Biopellets are beads or pellets of a solid plastic, used in an upflow reactor, for nutrient control. The basic idea behind this methodology is that a source of organic carbon, in this case pelletized biodegradable polymers in a fluidized reactor, is connected to the system (Murray Camp, 2012).

Marine heterotrophic bacteria—bacteria that must "uptake" carbon from sources in the surrounding water column—"feed" on the polymers, and in the process uptake other dissolved nutrients, such as nitrate and phosphate. For more information about biopellets, check out these articles by Murray Camp and Brad McCarty.

It takes a little time for bacteria to colonize on biopellets, but once established, they are very effective at keeping nitrate levels in check.

According to Reef Interests, makers of NP BioPellets and the recently released All-In-One BioPellets, the pellets "allow aerobic growth of bacteria which consequently consume nitrate and phosphate simultaneously."

Refugiums can be used to cultivate live food sources and for nutrient export.


I have always liked refugiums. I set up a refugium in all my aquarium systems, whenever possible.

Not only do refugiums reduce nitrate levels, they also help keep your pH stable (see diagram) and provide a safe haven for live foods (like copepods) to breed.

A refugium is a chamber within your aquarium system that is separate from your display tank. This chamber may be inside a sump, a separate aquarium, inside your tank, inside a back filtration chamber or hanging on the tank itself.

Within the refugium, you might add a deep sand bed with macro algae and/or live rock to help filter your aquarium water. Watch this video to learn more about the benefits of having a refugium and, when you're ready, read this article to help you set one up for yourself.

A nitrate reactor lowers nitrates without a skimmer regardless of phosphate levels.


Many hobbyists regard sulfur-based denitrate reactors as the ultimate solution for nitrate removal in a fish tank.

Joe from our staff recently called the Korallin Bio-Denitrator "just about the most hands-free and most-effective denitrifying filter available for your aquarium" (check out his review on this blog for the skinny). Another cool feature about the Bio-Denitrator is that it can be converted into a calcium reactor once your nitrates are under control.

By creating an anaerobic chamber inside the reactor, a colony of nitrate-consuming bacteria is established on the sulfur media. As long as the chamber is anaerobic, bacteria will grow and nitrate will be consumed. It is an extremely effective and proven method of lowering nitrates. Continual use in aquariums with high bioload (fish-only systems or reefs with a high fish population) will help keep nitrates at healthy levels. member Islandoftiki's Innovative Marine Micro Nuvo Aquarium.


Whether you keep it simple with water changes, take the "high-tech" approach or both, you owe it to your aquarium inhabitants to provide the healthiest environment possible.

If you have questions about nitrate control, aquarium equipment or reef tanks in general, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are here to help you succeed and will be there for you every step of the way.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Aquarium Top-Off Systems: What is the Difference?

An automatic top-off (ATO) system is a device that automatically top-offs your aquarium with freshwater based on the water level in your tank.

As water evaporates the water level in your aquarium drops and needs to be replenished with freshwater to maintain a consistent salinity level. Aquarium filtration equipment also operates more efficiently and effectively when the water level is constant.

Over the years, manufacturers have devised a few different ways of accomplishing the same task: automatically replenishing your aquarium with freshwater when the water level drops.

Although all ATO systems we will be discussing share the same basic components, they are not all created equal. For an in-depth blog post about how ATO systems work, click here.

You can consider this companion post your official ATO system buyer's guide. I have rounded up our most popular ATO systems to give you the lowdown on what they come with, what they don't and I provide my personal opinion on which units do the best job of keeping your reef safe and salty.

AutoAqua Smart ATO – $149.99

Sensor Type: Optical Sensor

Back-up sensor: None

Pump: Includes a safe, low-voltage 74 gallon per hour (GPH) water pump with 6' of tubing that can deliver water to a maximum height of 6.5'.

Bottom Line: This is a unique ATO system because of its design. The sensor and controller are built into one module that attaches to your aquarium with a magnet. The unit senses water through your aquarium or sump walls and can only be used on clear tanks and sumps. Pricing is on the lower end of the spectrum and everything you need to get up and running is included. It is suitable for aquariums and sumps with wall thickness up to ½".

The optical sensor has no moving parts, which eliminates all of the problems that can arise from mechanical floats. The caveat is you must keep the sensor clean so it can detect the water level through the walls of your tank or sump.

Although it does not have a back-up sensor, it does have a smart internal program (AFS Technology) that cuts power to the pump based on how many times and how long the pump cycles in a given period of time. This feature offers added protection against over-fill and dry-run.

Hydor Smart Level – $89.99

Sensor Type: Temperature sensor

Back-up Sensor: Temperature sensor

Pump: Not included. The Smart Level accepts 110/120 VAC pumps with a maximum capacity of 50 watts and 2 prong plug.

Bottom Line: The Hydor Smart Level is one of the new kids on the block. It uses a unique three-pronged temperature sensor to monitor the water level in your aquarium. This eliminates common ATO problems associated with calcium, algae and water movement. For the money, it is a great unit that includes extra over-fill protection.

The Smart Level has an audible alarm that sounds if the third, "high" water level sensor is triggered and will cut-off power to the pump. It has status indicator LEDs and a magnetic sensor mount which is nice—just be sure to keep the sensor clean.

Hydor's ATO has has a maximum fill time of 10 minutes. You want to be certain the pump you choose can deliver all the water you need within this time frame. Also keep in a mind that the Smart Level has a minimum run time of 25 seconds. This means you must choose your pump wisely, especially if you plan to use this system on a nano reef.

JBJ ATO System – $79.99

Sensor Type: Dual mechanical float sensors

Back-up Sensor: None

Pump: Not included. The JBJ ATO system accepts any 110/120 VAC pump with a maximum capacity of 2 amps.

Bottom Line: JBJ's ATO uses dual float switches to sense the water level in your aquarium. With a low price tag and different operational modes, it is a great value and quite reliable. The controller has indicator lights that tell you the status of the sensors as well as the pump. The floats are replaceable and have suction cup mounts for placement in your aquarium or sump. Anytime you use suction cups in an aquarium, you have to be certain they are secure. If the suction cups become loose or detach, it may cause the ATO system to operate incorrectly.

With a maximum fill time of 14 minutes, slow-flow dosing pumps may not work well on larger tanks. Small submersible powerheads are best. The maximum fill time is adjustable, too, so you can dial it in based on your tank size and prevent even the slightest over-fill and dry-run.

JBJ's water level controller relies solely on float sensors and both sensors must be operating correctly for the system to function properly. Snails and other aquarium inhabitants can sometimes get in the way of the floats. Calcium and algae build-up can also cause float problems, so be sure to keep them clean.

Innovative Marine HydroFill – $198.99

Sensor Type: Dual Conductivity Sensors

Back-up Sensor: None

Pump: Not included. The HydroFill accepts any pump up to 1000W, 8Amp/120V.

Bottom Line: The HydroFill uses reliable graphite sensors to read water level based on conductivity which eliminates problems experienced with mechanical floats. It comes with magnetic sensor mounts for easy installation into your sump or aquarium. The unit has indicator LEDs that give you the status of the sensors and pump with a single glance.

Innovative Marine also offers the HydroFill ATO Pump which is sold separately for $98.99 and is thermally protected so it will not run dry. It moves a maximum of 15 GPH with a maximum head pressure of 10' and comes with a nice mounting bracket to attach the tubing to your aquarium or sump.

With a hefty price tag for both the pump and controller, it may not be ideal for hobbyists on a budget. You can save some money by purchasing a less expensive dosing pump or powerhead. The price of the HydroFill system is on par with other ATOs, but without the added security of a back-up sensor or an included pump.

SpectraPure U.P.L.C. II – $229.99

Sensor Type: Pressure sensor

Back-up sensor: Mechanical float

Pump: The SpectraPure U.P.L.C. II includes a high quality LiterMeter III pump.

Bottom Line: The SpectraPure Ultra-Precise Level Controller II is a pretty awesome ATO system with some really unique features that are not all that widely known but definitely worth the money. The primary sensor activates the top-off based on pressure and it also comes with a mechanical float for over-fill protection. The pump flow rate can be adjusted by 10% increments based on run-time. The pressure sensor allows you to adjust the water level variance up to about 4".

The LiterMeter III pump is probably the biggest benefit of this system. It is really great for situations where your RO container is stored in a remote location. The pump can deliver water up to 60 feet and can draw water up to 25'. It is also self-priming and will not experience any damage if run-dry.

Another really cool feature about this ATO system is that it has a separate "drain-mode" which can be used in other applications to remove water down to a set low level—much like a sump-pump is used to remove water from a basement.

Tunze Osmolator Universal 3155$209.99

Main Sensor Type: Optical sensor

Back-up Sensor: Mechanical float sensor with audible alarm

Pump: Includes a safe, low-voltage submersible metering pump with a maximum head pressure of 7.2' along with 6' of tubing.

Bottom Line: The Tunze Osmolator is one of the most widely used and reliable ATO systems available. It comes with everything you need to install onto your aquarium and has redundant over-fill protections. It is my personal favorite and I have used it on multiple aquariums with great success. For the money, this ATO system is hard to beat.

The electronic optical water level sensor is not sensitive to small waves or water movement so pump cycling is not a problem. The mechanical float switch will cut power to the pump in the event that water rises above the optical sensor. The pump will also turn off if it runs for more than 10 minutes—further reducing the risk of over-fill and dry-run—and has a minimum run time of 20 seconds to prevent pump cycling. It has multiple LED indicator lights that show the status of the sensors and the pump at all times. Since the main sensor is optical, be sure to keep it clean and free of calcium and algae build-up.

The Osmolator comes with two strong magnetic sensor mounts making it easy to install in any aquarium or sump with glass thickness up to ¾". It allows for multiple mounting configurations by using one or both of the magnetic sensor holders and even includes some strong Velcro to attach the controller to the inside of your tank stand.

Ultralife Float Switch – $79.99

Sensor Type: Mechanical Float Sensor

Back-up sensor: none

Pump: Not included. The Ultralife Float Switch accepts 110/120 VAC pumps with a maximum capacity of 10 amps.

Bottom Line: This is your basic float switch and is the best option for reefers on a budget. It utilizes a suction cup attachment for the sensor and comes with a 6' grounded power cord. All of the problems associated with a mechanical float put you at risk for over-fill, so be sure to keep the float clean and secure the suction cup well. The unit will only allow power to your pump when the float drops and cuts power when the float rises with no internal programming or protection of any kind.

The benefits to this unit are simplicity, affordability and long-lasting heavy-duty components. It is also very versatile and can be used in a number of other applications including dry-run protection and over-flow protection.