Friday, February 28, 2014

Win a RO/DI Replacement Filter Kit!

You haven't changed your RO/DI filter cartridges in a while.

No, we're not telepaths.

We just know you wouldn't be reading this right now if you weren't interested in scoring some FREE replacement filters for your reverse osmosis/deionizing system.

Produce 0 TDS for mixing saltwater and topping off your tank with Captive Purity's excellent RO/DI replacement filter kit

Want the highest quality water in your aquarium? ENTER NOW

Registration ENDS at 11:59 PM PST on 3/7/14.

Details: Open to U.S. residents 18 years or older. Void where prohibited or restricted by law. Winner will be contacted via email.

New Life Spectrum AlgaeMax: 9 Different Seaweed Varieties for Your Tangs!

Chlorella Algae, Spirulina, Ulva, Wakame Seaweed, Red Seaweed, Kelp, Chondrus Crispus, Spinosum Seaweed, Eucheuma cottonii: these are the nine seaweeds used to make AlgaeMax.

Along with the seaweed, there are other great secondary ingredients including whole antartic krill, alfalfa, vitamins and trace elements. While most other “herbivore” foods have fish meal or shrimp as the main ingredient to save money, New Life Spectrum has chosen to put the dietary needs of your tangs and other herbivores as a priority.

Out of the jar, AlgaeMax has a nice smell—for a pellet food, at least. The food has a rich green coloration, which is impressive since no dyes are used. My tangs love this new formulation as much as other New Life Spectrum foods. After a couple of weeks of feeding this formulation, my tangs are as vibrantly-colored as ever.

In addition to herbivores such as tangs, blennies and rabbitfish, AlgaeMax is also great for omnivores such as angelfish, clownfish, gobies and many others.

With the popularity of tangs, blennies and other herbivores, it is surprising that a “great” herbivore pellet food has not been available until now. Most flake and pellet foods are carnivore foods with some vegetation mixed in.

Seeing the nine seaweeds in the AlgaeMax ingredient list and how my fish have responded, it definitely qualifies as a “great” herbivore food. Finally, an awesome pellet food that I can feel great about spoiling my tangs with!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How to Install an Aquarium Overflow Box

Perhaps you’ve been keeping fish for a while.

You’ve got some nice hang-on filtration. You’ve upgraded your lights to support coral, which is now starting to grow. Or, perhaps you’ve started keeping messy predator fish. Your water quality was fine for the fish only system, but you need to step up your game if you want to keep expanding in the hobby.

You’re going to need to set up an external filter, like a sump or wet/dry system so that you can keep up with the aquarium’s needs. But, you don’t have a tank with an overflow.

Berlin Sump BS-2

You could go out and buy a whole new tank that is pre-drilled for an overflow, which is a huge ordeal for an established aquarium. You could try to drill it yourself, which could easily result in shattered glass, a huge headache, an upset spouse and the expensive new tank you were trying to avoid buying.

Or, you could take the next step without all that hassle by picking up an overflow box. While pre-drilled/reef ready aquariums work really well, they can be expensive and require a lot of work setting up. An overflow box is a great solution to increasing filtration while keeping the cost and hassle low.
CPR CS202 Overflow Box (front view)
An overflow box is a device that sits on the lip of your aquarium. As water is siphoned from the aquarium, it is delivered by gravity to the sump underneath, where it is filtered. Then, a large return pump in the sump delivers water back to the aquarium. As the water level rises in the aquarium, it cascades back into the overflow box to complete the cycle.

Diagram of how a sump works

There are great advantages to having an overflow box. Have you ever noticed the shiny protein slick that looks like an oil spill forming on the surface of your aquarium? Organic molecules are attracted to the surface of the water (I’ll skip the lengthy chemistry lesson on why). An over flow box skims the surface of the aquarium, sending the dirtiest water to the external filter. Surface skimming also really helps oxygenate the water.

Now that your interest is piqued, let’s talk about how to go about setting up an overflow box. First, always be sure to read the manual carefully. Each brand of overflow box is different, but these steps and tips will set you up for success. We will be focusing on tips for setting up the overflow itself. But, we also have great articles on fully setting up a sump for the first time.
CPR CS100 Overflow Box (back side)
Choosing an Overflow box
Choose an overflow that will closely match the flow you want in your aquarium. A freshwater aquarium should turnover about 4x per hour. While a saltwater aquarium needs more flow, not all of that needs to be produced by the return pump. 10x per hour is a reasonable target. Just make sure that your return pump isn’t more powerful than your overflow box can handle. Your biggest goal in properly setting up an overflow box is to prevent any water from ever getting onto the floor.

Other Parts
You will probably need a few parts in addition to the overflow box. First, you will need a drain hose to deliver water from the overflow to the sump. Most overflows have 1” bulkheads, which means you will need a hose with a 1” PVC fitting (schedule 40). You can also buy a length of flex PVC pipe. You will need PVC cement to affix the drain hose to the overflow.

Most overflow boxes list an Aqualifter or venturi pump (like a Maxi-Jet) as an optional accessory. This is optional in name only. You want one unless you want a flood. Most hobbyists go with the Aqualifter, and many keep a spare on hand. Pick up some standard airline tubing to go along with it.

Setting up the overflow
Unpackage the overflow box, read the instructions, and make sure everything is there before beginning. Then, rinse the overflow box and other plastic parts to remove any residue leftover from manufacturing. Attach the bulkhead(s), making sure the O-ring is on the inside half. Then, attach the pre-filter screens to the inside of the bulkhead. Then connect the drain hose. If possible, wait to glue the drain hose until you are certain everything is working properly.

Next, set the overflow on the lip of the aquarium. Adjust the height of the overflow so that it is just below where you want the surface of the water to be. Adjust the tilt of the overflow (if possible) so that it is level with the tank water.

Before starting the overflow, fill the sump to the operating level. It is a good idea to have extra water prepared just in case you need more. Both the inner and first outer part of the overflow need to be filled with tank water. Just grab a cup and fill them.

Precision Marine Refugium R30
Your next step will be priming the overflow. The area in the middle of the overflow will be filled with air. You need to prime the overflow by siphoning all of the air out. Here is where the Aqualifter comes in. Attach some airline tubing so that the Aqualifter is pulling the air out of the overflow box and sending it back to the tank. Once all of the air has been pulled out, water will start to flow through the overflow and down to the sump.

Leave the Aqualifter attached and running at all times. Over time, bubbles can build up inside the siphon tube. When that happens, siphon can be lost. Siphon can also be lost during a power outage. The Aqualifter ensures that siphon will be regained if lost. Losing siphon would be bad because the return pump would still be operating. All of the water in the sump would be pumped out, possibly spilling onto the floor. This is why an Aqualifter is not an optional accessory.

As soon as the overflow is working, turn on the return pump. The cycle will then be complete. Add water as necessary to get the water level in the sump where you want it. Check all around for leaks. Make adjustments to the height of the overflow box.

CPR CS50 Overflow Box (back side)
Now that everything looks good, it is time to simulate a power outage. Turn off the return pump. See how the tank settles. Make sure that there is not too much water in the sump. During a power outage, the sump should not overflow. Turn the return pump back on to ensure the overflow starts back up.

Sometimes, an overflow will ‘burp.’ Air will build up in the drain line and will be expelled periodically, followed by a flushing sound. This can be quite annoying. You want as much water as possible flowing through the drain pipe to reduce the amount of air buildup.

This is why your return pump should be pushing almost as much water as your overflow box can handle. You do not want to limit the water flow going down the drain pipe. But, if you put a ball valve on the line coming out of your return pump, you can adjust the flow. This can make a big difference. Also, many overflow boxes have adjustable pre-filters. Changing the height of the pre-filter can solve the problem. Finally, do not put the end of the drain hose under water, which will promote the ‘burping.’

Hopefully, you found this information on setting up an overflow box helpful. As always, if you have any questions our techs are available to help you succeed in the hobby. We would love to hear from you!

My First Saltwater Aquarium (at home): Part 1

After a decade of being surrounded by saltwater aquarium hobbyists, I finally bit the bullet and decided to start a saltwater tank at home.

The only time I had a saltwater setup was when we were allowed to have nano tanks on our desks. Those were the good ol’ days! But having one at home... that’s a whole different story.

My first reef tank: a 3 gallon pico in our old building.
For me (and perhaps most people), a saltwater tank has always been synonymous with a lot of work and expense. On top of chores and caring for my kids (5-year-old daughter and wifey), I’m not sure if I’ll be able to provide the love and care that a saltwater tank requires.

Mind you, I've had decent planted freshwater tanks at home that visitors envy. Working at Marine Depot, everybody just assumes you have an amazing saltwater tank setup at home only to be "disappointed" to discover you merely have a freshwater tank (no offense to freshwater tank owners, there are some pretty darn impressive setups out there!).

Being in Marine Depot's design department, I’m constantly bombarded with beautiful pictures of saltwater tanks. I decided it’s finally time I dive in myself.

I'm still sticking with a nano setup after inheriting a slightly used Innovative Marine Nuvo Nano24 Tank here in the office. This is perfect since I don’t really have enough space at home for a big tank, and big tank = big expense. That makes it easier to get the Mrs’ consent as well. I just plan on setting up a basic, decent tank within a reasonable budget (for now…).

First things first, I had to make sure it fits in the corner where the 8 gallon tank used to be… lo and behold, it fits like a glove. That is, if I find a stand that’s pretty much has the same footprint as the tank. After weeks of search (and broken packages), I finally found the stand that works at the right price (under $100). With the help of my enthusiastic daughter, I had the stand assembled and the tank cleaned up in no time.

Assembled tank stand with the tank pedestal

Next step is to get all the goodies to get this aquarium started. Below is my initial laundry list after consulting with Marine Depot’s ever reliable in-house aquarium expert, Robert.
The tank I inherited came with a Eheim Jager heater and an upgraded pump (Maxi-Jet 1100) so I didn’t need to get those. I know I need more stuff to complete the setup but since I have to cycle the tank for a while, this gives my wallet a break.

I’ve been told that cycling the tank would take about 3-4 weeks so I immediately started by filling up the tank with RO/DI to get it started ASAP. I never realized that so much waste water is produced by an RO/DI system until now!

I cannot in good conscience just dump the waste water in the drain specially considering that California is currently in drought. After a few full loads of laundry (I hooked it up in the washer), I finally filled up the tank. This took me about 2 nights to do since the washer can only hold ~20 gallons of waste water per 5 gallon jugs it produced. BTW, this also made the wife proud.

5 more gallons to go…

To make the salt mix, I simply followed the guide printed on the package and aimed for 33 ppt. After 24 hours, I had to add a little bit more according to my new gadget, the refractometer. I guess my math was a little bit off initially and that set me back another day.

While the salt is brewing, I started working on my aquascaping skills. I got 10 lbs of dry rock and there were 3 medium-sized rocks in the box. That proved to be challenging, but I laid it out the best possible way I could for now. I’m a fan of minimalist layouts but still plan on adding 1-3 more rocks to make it more pleasing.

After putting the rocks in the aquarium, I proceeded with laying down the sand.

Trying not to make too much mess, I had to borrow my daughter’s Strawberry Shortcake bucket which was small enough to allow me to control the amount of sand I’m pouring in. This came with the condition that she helps me. She had fun scooping the sand into her small bucket and watching me pour the sand. I’m not a fan of deep sand beds so I kept it at less than an inch.

With the fear of stench in my mind, I added the sponges in the media baskets and added a layer of carbon media. Finally, I added the Prodibio BioDigest as recommended by my mentor, Robert.

Special equipment used for pouring sand…

It’s official! My tank is now cycling. 

That wasn’t so bad after all. So far, so good. Now comes the hard part, the wait…

First day of cycling starts now!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hamilton Technology Cebu Sun: A Tried-and-True Lighting Combination

With an increasing number of hobbyists becoming disappointed with their LED lights, many have switched back to the tried-and-true combination of Metal Halides & T5 High Output—which has often been revered as the best lighting you can buy for any reef aquarium.

We hear from veteran reefers all the time that the lighting combination of Metal Halide with T5 High Output is their favorite for overall coral growth and coral color. 

Hamilton Technology's Cebu Sun is an "All-in-One" lighting system which combines the power and intensity of Metal Halide lighting with the attractive color of T5 High Output fluorescents in one unit. This makes it an ideal choice for any reef tank, especially if you want to keep a mixed reef aquarium or one with any light demanding SPS corals.

Cebu Sun

Cebu Sun lighting systems are built to order in the USA, are available ranging in size from 2 ft up to 6 ft and can be purchased with 175 watt, 250 watt or 400 watt metal halide lamps.

Hamilton Technology full spectrum Metal Halide lamps range in Kelvin from 10,000K to 20,000K giving your aquarium the look you prefer. Hamilton 10,000K is a high PAR metal halide bulb which emits a pure, crisp intense bright white light and is great for rapid coral growth and the development of photosynthetic plants and anemones.

Hamilton 14,000K emits a bright sparking white light with vibrant actinic blue rays drawing out the natural vibrant colors in fish, coral and marine life. Hamilton 20,000K has high spikes in the 420nm range and emits a deep actinic blue light greatly intensifying the fluorescent color in coral and providing your tank with a lot of "pop."

Hamilton 14,000K

Each Cebu Sun system comes with a durable, powder coated aluminum shell, dual cooling fans for increased bulb life, a tempered glass lens which acts as a splash guard and a German mirror finished multi-faceted light reflector for maximum light intensity. Moonlight Blue LED lights on independent controls offer the user nocturnal viewing.

Cebu Sun Reflector

There are four High Output T5 actinic lights provided. These are on two separate power cords allowing you more flexibility in your lighting scheme and the ability to warm up the aquarium independent from your metal halide lights. The T5 lights do a great job of bringing out the vibrant color of your fish, coral and invertebrates showing off your aquarium and making the aquarium the center piece of your room.

4 High Output Actinic Blue T5 Lights

Ballasts are remote and individual for each metal halide lamp. You have the option of magnetic or dimmable electronic*. The dimmable electronic ballasts allow you to ramp up or ramp down the lighting intensity from your metal halide lamps driving your lamp to 50% / 75% / 100% or 110% light output.

Dimmable Electronic Ballast

This full assembled, low profile, ventilated aluminum fixture can be placed directly on top of the aquarium or hung above the aquarium. Starting at $499, these lighting systems are not only a great choice but a good value.

Your result can be a vibrant, healthy and attractive looking reef aquarium with amazing coral growth like you see from this customer who uses a Cebu Sun system on their reef aquarium.

*250 Watt & 400 Watt are dimmable.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Product Review: EcoTech Marine VorTech MP10 Pump

Getting a VorTech pump was a no-brainer for me.

Their reputation is incomparable and undeniable. They are a must-have for any serious reef tank enthusiast.

EcoTech Marine VorTech pumps are the industry's best for many reasons. My favorite feature is their many adjustable flow rates. They have a bunch of cool modes like nutrient transport, reef-crest, lagoonal random, tidal swell, constant and night mode.

With the motor positioned outside of the tank, no electrical components ever touch the water which makes for a much safer environment. It also makes cleaning a breeze. This low-profile powerhead was a necessity for me after learning about all of the wonderful benefits.

I was very impressed by the packaging and was beyond excited to take it out and install it in my new Innovative Marine Nuvo 38 Gallon Aquarium. There is a controller for all of the custom modes, so there are some extra wires to organize. Still, installation was very simple.

The MP10 looks great on the side of my tank—it looks as if it is part of the tank rather than an extension to it. I placed the powerhead on the right side of my tank 3/4 of the way up from the bottom in the middle of the side wall. This allows for the best water flow over the corals and on the top of the water for better oxygen distribution.

The controller simplifies programming so I can adjust the powerhead to the exact flow that my tank needs. To select a mode, simply turn the knob on the controller. Different colored lights are illuminated on the front of the controller to represent each mode.

I am currently using the pink-colored mode, which EcoTech refers to as EcoSmart Nutrient Transport Mode. It is a two-phase program with a surging motion and a wave motion. It claims to stir up detritus into the overflow and promote the growth of corals, such as SPS.

I have been able to adjust the power of the powerhead to fit my setup by turning the knob on the controller. There are three important buttons above the knob which set each preexisting mode: set night mode, set feed mode, power the pump off and on, etc.

I have the MP10 wireless unit so I was able to connect my VorTech powerhead to my EcoTech Radion G2 LED Light. I now have my powerhead programmed to go into night mode once my lights turn off and return to normal only when my lights turn back on.

This is the best powerhead I have ever used. I don't see myself ever owning another tank without a VorTech pumping the water! I don't have a single complaint about the product. Sure, it's a bit expensive... but after you own one you'll understand: the VorTech MP10 is worth every penny.

Don't forget to check out my other reviews and follow my tank build:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

EcoTech Marine Radion XR30w Gen3: A Hands-On Review!


After weeks of anticipation, I was able to get my hands on the new EcoTech Marine Radion XR30w Generation 3 LED Light!

It is hard to not be impressed by this new light fixture. Its gorgeous form and its impressive functionality are at the pinnacle of LED aquarium lighting technology.
Out of the box, the first feature I noticed is the sleek new fan guard/lens frame. This new one-piece, molded lens frame gives the Gen3 Radion a much more modern and updated sleek look.

The second physical and functional change is the new backlit tactile buttons at the top of the fixture. Gone are the capacitive-touch buttons. The new mechanical buttons are much easier to use and reduces the risk of RF interference from other equipment.

A new IP-Rated fan also improves performance and durability in moisture-rich environments. While just about every other LED fixture comes with a small plastic power supply, the Radion comes with a BEEFY power supply enclosure that is made of metal and has a heat sink for cooling to help ensure longevity. As heat is one of the most common causes for electrical equipment failure, it is great to see EcoTech going the extra mile to make sure the Radion G3 LED fixture will provide years of trouble-free service.

In addition to being better looking on the outside, the beauty of the Gen 3 Radion goes beyond skin-deep.

The biggest upgrade is the inclusion of Indigo and UV LEDs in the standard Gen 3 Radion. Impressively, the output of the standard Gen 3 Radion is significantly increased to near the output of the Gen 2 Radion Pro!

The EcoTech Marine Gen 3 Radion Pro also received updated LEDs to increase maximum output by almost 7%. 
The standard Gen 3 Radion XR30W will be sufficient for the large majority hobbyists and is the fixture I would recommend to most hobbyists. The Pro would be great for aquariums deeper than 30”, larger aquariums or SPS-dominated aquariums where you are trying to obtain the highest intensity with the broadest spectrum.
The basic functions of the light can be accessed via the 3 buttons at the top of the fixture. The up and down arrow buttons allow you adjust the intensity while the center button allows you to change the color temperature. You can also access feed and night mode as well as turn the fixture on and off by pressing a combination of the buttons.
To access the full and amazingly extensive features of the Radion, you will want to use the provided USB cable and program the fixture with a PC computer or laptop. For those wanting wireless control, the optional ReefLink is available to give you wireless access to your Radion via your computer, laptop, tablet or phone.
Through the EcoTech software, EcoSmart Live, you are able to control dusk/dawn, set cloud and thunderstorm simulations, adjust each of the 6 LED channels and adjust the lunar phase at night. If you have any of the wireless VorTech Pumps, you can also program your pumps to synchronize with your Radions.
A single fixture easily covers a 24” x 24” area. Coverage can be increased to 36” x 36” with the optional wide-angel lens. It has been over a week since the light has been on my reef tank and my corals have responded very positively with these full-spectrum LED lights. The coloration is just about as vibrant as can be and all the corals appear to be doing quite well with their tissues and polyps fully extended. I am definitely impressed by the output the Radion provides and am excited to see how my corals will do under these lights in the long run.
Since its original introduction in 2011, the EcoTech Radion fixtures have been considered by most hobbyists to be the best reef aquarium LED fixture available. With continual development and improvements, EcoTech has made the Radion better and better each year. With the latest upgrades made to the Gen 3 fixtures, both cosmetic and functional, EcoTech has once again leaped ahead of competition.

If you are looking for the best, look no further!

5 Money-Saving Tips for Aquarium Keepers

There are many enjoyable hobbies that don’t cost a dime. Reading, running and fantasy football (unless you’re gambling) are a few examples.

Aquarium keeping is not one of those hobbies. Bills begin to accumulate rather quickly once you factor in the cost of the tank, your equipment and livestock purchases.

No matter your income level, the goal most of us share is we want to produce a beautiful and healthy aquatic environment for our wet pets. Perhaps you have even discovered some money-saving tips along the way to becoming an advanced aquarist.

I know I’ve learned a few, so my goal here today is to share some of my favorite ways to improve your reef tank without breaking the bank.

Tip #1: It starts with the money we initially spend on the tank

If you already have all your equipment, hopefully you were able to find some good deals and did a little research prior to buying. But if you are in the planning stages, this is where you can save money now as well as down the line. The two “big” expenses besides the tank itself tend to be water pumps and lighting.

  • Water flow: Water circulation is key to a healthy reef tank. In most cases, these pumps are running 24/7. You should therefore look for pumps that are energy efficient and built using high-quality materials. You may even spend more than you’d like to get a quality pump but, in the long run, it should save you money on your electric bill as well with longevity/life of the pump.

    Protein skimmers also run 24/7, so don’t forget to check out the pump(s) they use before you buy one.
  • Lighting: I have been in the hobby a long time. Yet it still amazes me how far aquarium lighting has advanced, especially in regards to LED light fixtures. I personally feel metal halide lights remain the best reef aquarium lighting option, although LEDs are getting awfully close! However, I can’t deny that running a metal halide light often costs more when you factor in how much energy they use and the fact you have to replace the bulbs every 12-18 months for optimal performance.

    In warmer climates, excess heat from metal halide lights can cause tank temperatures to rise to dangerous levels. A fan or chiller is often necessary in these scenarios to keep aquarium water stable and within ranges safe for livestock. More equipment equals more money, not to mention the additional cost of running that equipment. Are you beginning to see the dollar signs add up?

    The price of a mid to high-end LED aquarium light is probably going to cost more than a metal halide system. The benefits, however, cannot be ignored. LED lights run cooler, so you most likely won’t need a fan or chiller. The wattages are often less, so you’ll save money on your electric bill. You won’t have to replace the bulbs annually. Plus all the other perks, like infinite control options and color combinations. So look at it this way: investing in a nice LED aquarium light will eventually pay for itself.

Tip # 2: Buying used equipment—is it worth it?

“Will I save money by purchasing used equipment or should I spend a little extra to get something shiny and new?”

This is a question that comes up quite often, actually. There are pros and cons to both, so the decision of whether to buy new or used aquarium supplies must be weighed carefully. 

New Equipment

  • Pros: New products include full factory warranties. ReeFlo pumps, for example, are backed by the manufacturer for a generous three years. AquaticLife offers a standard one-year warranty but also backs their light fixtures with a limited lifetime repair policy. Online aquarium supply stores usually have their own return policy in place (ours is 60 days) to help ensure you are completely satisfied with your purchase.

    When you buy products new from an authorized retailer, you also get peace of mind knowing the equipment hasn’t been misused or contaminated (with copper, for example). You will receive products in their original packaging along with all the accessories, warranty cards, instruction manuals, software and cables.

    New products will look and operate as the manufacturer intended. A new powerhead won’t be coated with calcium deposits, a new protein skimmer won’t have sludge splattered inside its body or collection cup and a new aquarium won’t have walls covered in coralline algae.
  • Cons: The main drawback of purchasing new aquarium supplies is that you are likely to spend more money.
Used Equipment

  • Pros: The biggest benefit of purchasing used aquarium equipment is they cost less than new equipment. Sometimes the savings can be quite substantial. You might score a $500 Deltec protein skimmer for a 1/3 of the cost.

    It’s not out of the ordinary to find used equipment in like-new condition. Sometimes hobbyists will purchase a product and, for whatever reason, it just didn’t work out the way they’d hoped. Maybe the fancy LED light they bought isn’t achieving the same coral growth as their old trusty T5 fixture or they simply didn’t like the color it cast into their tank. Perhaps they are up or downgrading to another tank size and have priced their old equipment to sell fast so they can use it to help fund their new build.

    Whatever the case may be, from messages boards and craigslist to frag swaps and even our own occasional “Scratch & Dent Sale,” there is never a shortage of used aquarium treasures waiting to be discovered.

  • Cons: Used products are generally sold as-is, so you aren’t likely to get any sort of backing from the manufacturer or store where the item was originally purchased. There are some exceptions, but most companies do not allow the transfer of warranty coverage from one owner to another.

    Another disadvantage is you often have no idea of how the product was used before it came into your possession. If you are buying a used item from a friend, you may have the good fortune of already knowing how they treat and upkeep their aquarium equipment. If you’re buying from fellow message board member you’ve never actually met in person, all you can really do is hope what they choose to relay to you about the product is factual and that they’re not just a swindler out to make a quick buck. Most aquarists are good people, in my experience, but there are outliers in every community.

    Used products may not include all the original accessories, like plumbing parts, power supplies or manuals (we usually have instructions embedded in product descriptions as PDF files if you’re ever in need).

    Finally, used products may no longer look nice and new. It may not matter as much with, say, a protein skimmer or media reactor. Scratches inside an aquarium or dings and dents on a stand, however, may not be something you want to live with for the life of your tank.

Tip #3: Take advantage of FREE information

One thing I would like you to take away from this article is that you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of aquarium hobbyists around the world and many are more than happy to share their knowledge with you.

Here are some places where you have a very good chance of communicating with experienced aquarists:
  1. (we’re always here to help!)
  2. Aquarium Clubs
We have a link to our aquarium club directory above (so you can find a local chapter), but it’s worth noting many of us half-jokingly refer to aquarium clubs as “support groups.” Being around advanced aquarists is only going to make you better. There is a wealth of knowledge you can tap into prior to making equipment or livestock purchases that will undoubtedly save you time and money down the road. If you’re not convinced hanging out with fellow fish nerds is worthy of your time, read my Top 7 Reasons to Join an Aquarium Club to be thoroughly persuaded.

Tip #4: Reuse items whenever possible

There are some things in the hobby people choose to simply throw away. Figuratively speaking, they are also throwing their money away.

Filter socks, for example, can be used over and over with proper care. Just place them in your washing machine with a half-capful of bleach (no soap) to make those dirty filter socks clean again. I like to turn the socks inside out and run them on the hottest, largest cycle. Afterward I’ll do another cycle without bleach then place them in a bucket of RO water to soak for 24-48 hours before I let them air dry.

If you’re uneasy about using your washer to clean filter socks (say you live in an apartment with a community laundromat or wifey/mom says NO!), you can instead soak them in a 5-gallon bucket of water with some bleach for a few hours (or up to a day’s time) then rinse them really well afterward, ideally under high-pressure to help removed trapped particles.

Mechanical sponges can, for the most part, be used until they are practically falling apart. Give them a good rinse about once a week to help release any trapped particles within them.

If you find yourself burning through GFO (like Phosban or ROWAphos), try recharging it to get more uses out of it rather than just one-and-done. Read Regeneration of Granular Ferric Oxide Media with Sodium Hydroxide on Advanced Aquarist for a breakdown on how to do this.

There are other popular filter medias available you may not have realized can be recharged and reused multiple times. Seachem’s Purigen (Best Filter Media of 2013) and Kent Marine’s Phosphate Sponge are prime examples.

You can also repurpose old equipment for a new tank build or to set up a separate quarantine/hospital tank. Selling or trading old equipment for new gear is another way to help cut your losses.

Tip #5: Take advantage of coupons, sales and bulk buys

Coupons aren’t just for the grocery store.

By the way, have you signed up for our email newsletter? Probably. But if not, we highly recommend you do! How else will you know if we have an incredible site-wide sale or when highly sought-after products that NEVER go on sale finally do?

We also offer bulk buy discounts on hundreds of popular items when you purchase them in larger quantities. Select filter media, socks and pads plus RO cartridges, food, supplements, calibration fluid and more can each be bought in bulk online or over the phone from our store. Keep an eye out for the “bulk buy” insignia next time you’re perusing our print catalog (not on our mailing list? click here).


Thanks for reading! I hope these tips have helped you in some way. There are no doubt countless other ways one can save money in this hobby we love so much. If you have a money-saving tip, please let us and your fellow reef enthusiasts know in the comments below. We all appreciate it! 

Until next time… take care and happy reefkeeping.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Aquarium Rock: Live, dry, cured or uncured?

As a new hobbyist, the choices between different kinds of rocks can be overwhelming. Choosing the rock that is right for you is as important as choosing the size of the tank you want. Rock forms the basis of your aquascape, whether you intend to run a FOWLR (fish only with live rock) aquarium or a tank with abundant corals.

You have a choice between two basic types of rock: Dry and Live.

Live can further be categorized as cured live rock or uncured live rock. Curing is a process of eliminating dead and dying matter from live rocks. When rocks are shipped, there is usually a die off of animals and plants. As you know, decaying matter causes an ammonia spike. Placing this rock in an established tank could force another nitrogen cycle. This is the reason live rock should be used at the start of a tank or cured separately before adding to an established tank.

Now on to the different kinds of rocks available in the hobby.

AquaMaxx Eco-Rock Dry Live Rock

Dry Rock

As the name suggests, dry rock is clean, white, never used rock. Free of pests, hitchhikers or anything beneficial, dry rock is a popular starting point for most aquarists.

Dry rock can be man-made or quarried natural limestone. The rock is often porous and stackable, available in a variety of shapes and sizes and will not harm tank inhabitants. Another benefit is that is will not leech any undesirable contaminants into your tank.

Most dry rock is offered as "base rock" with the intent that a cured piece of live rock or bacterial supplement will jump start your nitrogen cycle and make the dry rock live in no time. Some popular sources of dry rock are AquaMaxx and CaribSea.

Fiji's Best Saltwater Aquarium Live Rock
Live Rock

Rock that has been previously seeded with beneficial bacteria is considered live rock. Typically seen as rocks with coralline algae, live rock can be used entirely for your aquascape or used sparingly to seed dry rock. Hitchhikers are common, both pests and beneficial, and serves to add a greater biodiversity to your tank.

The rock may go through a cycle in your tank, and it is recommended to cure it and test parameters before adding livestock to ensure that your tank has completed its nitrogen cycle.

One of the more popular choices for live rock is Fiji rock. Harvested as wild rock from the Fiji waters, this rock is porous and beautiful. Other varieties of live rock include Bali and Pukani rock. 

Real Reef Live Rock

Real Reef Rock

Why not get rock that is both live and is already the sought-after purple of every marine aquarist's dreams? Enter Real Reef Rock, a pigmented rock that is seeded with beneficial life forms and cured. The purple coloration of the rocks mimics coralline algae and immediately gives your tank the established look of an aged reef. Real Reef Rock is a man-made product.

Like with other live rock, you still might go through a cycle when adding this to your tank. It also comes with the same possibility of hitchhikers as Fiji rock although the seeding and curing process is done in a facility rather than in the wild as with Fiji Rock.

Uncured Live Rock
Uncured Rock

My personal favorite is uncured rock. This is rock that is picked fresh from the ocean, covered with coralline, sponges, mollusks, macros, pests and the best biodiversity you can add to your tank. You are almost guaranteed to have hitchhikers that you may not want. My most recent shipment of uncured rock had two mantis shrimp!

The rock was at the bottom of the ocean one day and in my tank on the second day. Even though the variety of encrusted corals and macros on this rock is amazing to me, only an advanced aquarist that knows how to deal with pests should consider uncured rock. This is not to say that new hobbyists should stay away, I certainly did not when I started reef tanks.

Uncured rock is also available cured, which just means it was given a chance to cycle in a holding tank before being shipped to you.

Whichever kind of rock you choose to add to your aquarium, planning ahead to get the most out of your aquascape is a good idea. Some great tips on the Fundamentals of Live Rock in Aquascaping can be found in this article by Mike Paletta.

Friday, February 14, 2014

CaribSea Rubble Zone: A better frag disc—and so much more!

Personally, I have never been a fan of frag plugs and frag discs.

They look great in frag tanks being displayed with other frags, but they've always been eyesores when placed in a reef tank.

As many of my corals were purchased as frags, there are definitely too many frag plugs and frag discs in my aquarium for my liking. One option is to glue the actual coral on to your live rock. However, it is not always an ideal solution as frags sometimes need to be moved around to different locations as they grow.  
Caribsea Rubble Zone is a great option for hobbyists looking for a more natural frag disc. In the jar is a nice assortment of small-to-medium size rocks to attach all your newly purchased or newly fragged corals.

I counted 80 pieces in my 6-pound jar which, very economically, works out to just 21 cents per piece. The size of the rubble pieces are big enough that they will not get knocked around by your snails or hermit crabs. Once coralline algae begins to grow on the rubble, it will blend into your aquarium perfectly!
A good idea is to put all the rubble in your tank or refugium to allow coralline algae to start growing on them. The additional benefit is that the rubble allows you to create an area where your pods can take refuge and reproduce. When you are ready to attach your corals to the rubble pieces, you will already have a frag plug that looks as natural as your live rock.
In addition to being great for attaching frags, these aragonitic rubble are also great for filtration in your sump or refugium as a biological media. According to CarbiSea, they are also great for use in cryptic zone filters, jawfish habitats, reef substructure, as a nesting area for African Cichlids and filter media for ponds.
Frag discs or rubble? I think the rubble looks MUCH better.
Whether you are looking for natural frag plugs to mount your corals, looking for a versatile biological filtration media, or looking to add rubble pieces in your refugium for your pods to reproduce, CaribSea RubbleZone is a great new option!
Although the rubble are pearly white, it's easy to picture them blending in nicely!