Friday, August 28, 2015

Lower Nitrate (and Phosphate) with BioPellets




Looking at these little plastic pellets, it is difficult to imagine how they actually lower nitrate (and phosphate to a small extent) in a reef aquarium!

Well, in reality, it is bacteria that does the real work, but biopellets are the catalyst your tank needs to heavily produce this bacteria.

Today we are going to explain how biopellets work and provide you with the insight you'll need to make adding a biopellet reactor easy so you can reduce nitrates (and phosphates) safely in your tank.



In an aquarium, there is an abundance of bacteria that consume nitrate, phosphate and carbon. Because an aquarium is an enclosed environment in which nitrate and phosphate are readily available, the limiting factor for bacteria growth is a carbon source. This is where biopellets come into the picture.

Biopellets are made from pure biodegradable plastic. When added to your aquarium in a biopellet reactor, the pellets act as a carbon source for bacteria. In essence, the biopellets are food for bacteria. With the extra supply of carbon available, extra bacteria starts to grow on the pellets and consume nitrate and phosphate.



Once biopellets are added to the reactor, it generally takes 4-6 weeks for the bacteria colony to establish. Additives, such as Brightwell Microbacter7 or Two Little Fishies Bactiv8, will help to speed up this process.

The bacteria works quickly to reduce nutrients, so you will want to start slow by adding only about 25% of the recommended amount of biopellets to your reactor. Then add about 25% more biopellets to the reactor each week thereafter until you have reached the full recommended dose. This way you will avoid a dramatic decrease in nitrate and phosphate which can stress your aquarium animals. Don't forget to soak the biopellets in a cup of aquarium water for 24 hours prior to use because this will prevent the pellets from floating inside the reactor.

Once bacteria starts growing, it will begin to consume the biopellets along with nitrate and a small amount of phosphate. For every 16 parts of nitrate, 1 part of phosphate is consumed. This is called the Redfield Ratio. For this reason, biopellets are most effective for controlling nitrates but do have a small effect on phosphate reduction as well.



The bacteria colonizes and creates a biofilm that coats the surface of the biopellets. As the biopellets tumble inside the reactor, the biopellets rub against each other and this biofilm sheds off, exits the reactor and is then exported from your tank via your protein skimmer.

New surface area is then exposed for new bacteria to colonize and continue reducing nutrients. For this reason, biopellets must be used in conjunction with a good protein skimmer and you will want to direct the outlet of the biopellet reactor towards the inlet of your protein skimmer. Nitrate and phosphate are "locked" in this biofilm. If the biofilm is not removed by your protein skimmer, it will simply break back down and be released back into your tank. It is perfectly normal to produce more skimmate when using biopellets so be sure to maintain and clean your skimmer accordingly.


As long as your biopellets are tumbling, they are working. In extreme cases where the biopellets tumble too fast, the biofilm never gets a chance to develop. In this scenario, simply reduce the water-flow to achieve a gentle tumble. Biopellets are consumed by the bacteria, so you will need to add more pellets every 4-6 months to maintain the appropriate quantity of pellets in your reactor.

It is crucial to understand that all three elements—nitrate, phosphate and a carbon source—are needed for the bacteria to grow. If there is no presence of phosphate in your aquarium, it means the bacteria will be unable to consume nitrate. So if you are using GFO or some other form of phosphate control, be sure to keep the levels minimal—but still present.



With all the gorgeous saltwater fish out there, it is difficult not to overstock an aquarium. That is one reason why a large percentage of hobbyists inevitably run into issues with nitrate. With the solutions now available and a clear understanding of how this technology works, you can effectively use biopellets to control your nitrate level and maintain pristine water parameters even in the most heavily-stocked aquariums.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our knowledge with you. If you found this information helpful, please like and share it to help us spread the word! Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date on all our latest video tutorials.

Until next time, take care and happy reefkeeping.



4Read A Beginner's Guide to BioPellets on our blog.

4Watch our Filter Media Guide: Carbon, GFO and BioPellets video.

4Shop our online store for BioPellet Reactors.

4Shop our online store for BioPellet Filter Media.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Salinity: How to Measure and Why It's Important




Keeping an accurate salinity level in your saltwater aquarium is crucial to the health of your aquatic friends. Today we are going to explain why it is so crucial to keep a stable salinity level and show you the easiest and most accurate ways to monitor the salinity in your tank.

The "saltiness" or salinity is most commonly measured by specific gravity, which is a somewhat complicated unit of measure that has to do with measuring the density of the saltwater. You will also sometimes see it measured as PPT or part per thousand but, for all intents and purposes, we are going to reference Specific Gravity measurements throughout this video as it is the widely accepted unit of measure in the aquarium industry.

Corals require a stable salinity in the range of 1.023-1.026 specific graving. Most of the fish found in a reef tank are a little more tolerant compared to corals and can handle levels being maintained between 1.020-1.026.


Saltwater fish have a lower salt level inside their body than their surroundings. Because fish are constantly drinking saltwater, they have to actively regulate their internal salt levels which is called osmoregulation. Fluctuations in salinity make the fish have to work much harder to regulate the salinity of the water inside their bodies which in turn causes stress. When keeping corals and invertebrates, it is all that more crucial to maintain a stable salinity level because they are even more sensitive and fluctuations can easily cause them to perish.



In order to maintain salinity levels, many hobbyists will manually top off the aquarium with freshwater on a daily basis which does a sufficient job. After a few months of keeping a reef tank, most hobbyists invest in an automatic top off system (ATO) that adds freshwater to the aquarium multiple times each day to help maintain a stable salinity.

Measuring your salinity level should be done weekly, or at least every time you perform a water change—both before and after changing out the water.


The tool that most beginner hobbyists are familiar with is the swinging arm hydrometer. They are extremely inexpensive and extremely easy to use. However, they can also be extremely inaccurate. Salt crystals, calcium build-up and even air bubbles can cause a hydrometer to provide inaccurate readings. If you are using a hydrometer, we strongly recommend that you check the accuracy periodically with a more accurate device like a refractometer, which we will discuss later in this article.



Another quick and easy tool for measuring salinity is the floating glass hydrometers. The advantage is that they are more accurate than swinging-arm hydrometers and readings will not typically drift or change as the unit is used more and more. The disadvantages to floating glass hydrometers are that they are quite fragile and measurements can be difficult to read because of the small scale.


The best option for measuring salinity is a refractometer, such as the Marine Depot Refractometers or Red Sea Seawater Refractometer available on our website. It is a very simple tool to use and is extremely accurate. A refractometer utilizes a prism and light refraction to measure salinity; different salinity levels causes the light to refract differently.



While they are a bit more expensive compared to hydrometers, they are well worth the investment. A refractometer is very easy to calibrate, can last a lifetime if stored and used properly, and will provide you with quick and accurate salinity level readings each and every time. In fact, Marine Depot staff members prefer the use of refractometers over any other salinity measuring device. I am sure many of you hobbyists out there will agree.

Lastly, we have digital salinity meters and monitors which are great for those of you who love high-tech equipment.



Milwaukee and Hanna both offer a digital refractometer which will give you a digital salinity read out by simply placing a couple of drops of water on the meter. Just like an analog refractometer, these digital units are very easy to use and calibrate.



Conductivity monitors are also a handy way to electronically measure salinity. These monitors measure the electrical conductivity of the water which changes with fluctuating salt levels. The Neptune Systems Apex and many other leading aquarium controllers can allow you to continually monitor and record your aquarium's salinity level via conductivity.

With an option for just about every level of hobbyist, there really is no excuse to have fluctuating or improper salinity levels in your aquarium. Eliminating one possible stress factor to help keep your fish and corals healthy will surely help you on the road to building a flourishing reef.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our knowledge with you. If you found this information helpful, please like and share it to help us spread the word! Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date on all our latest video tutorials.

Until next time, take care and happy reefkeeping.



4Read more about measuring salinity in a saltwater aquarium.

4Shop and compare aquarium hydrometers and refractometers.

4Shop and compare aquarium controllers and monitors.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Advanced Dosing: Beyond Calcium and Alkalinity




The evolution of a reef hobbyist is quite predictable.

Most of us start out keeping a small to medium sized tank with a few fish. After months of research and frustration, we soon learn the ins and outs of proper marine aquarium husbandry and more often than not an infatuation with collecting corals quickly follows.

This is when the real fun begins because you will start to understand the importance of proper water flow and lighting, get your hands on some really cool cutting edge aquarium equipment and learn more about water chemistry both in your aquarium and in wild ocean reefs.

After keeping a mixed reef tank for some time, most of us become familiar with maintaining the major elements: calcium, alkalinity and magnesium. However, there are plethora of other supplements available for your reef tank. Knowing which additional supplements you should use and why can get confusing and getting good advice can be tricky.

This brings us to the topic of today's article/video, "Advanced Dosing." We are going to cover some of the more advanced reef aquarium supplements, beyond calcium and alkalinity, and help you understand why you might consider using them in your reef.


Using Strontium helps stony corals and other reef building invertebrates grow and produce aragonite. As corals build their aragonite skeletal structure, they will consume strontium. Corals have in fact been witnessed to increase growth rates when strontium is maintained at levels found in natural seawater which is 8 ppm.




Potassium is most commonly used specifically for SPS corals and is known to help increase blue and purple coloration in some SPS. Potassium plays an important role in the creation of aragonite and will be depleted by corals and other organisms found in a reef tank. It is also widely used alongside various filtration methods employed to maintain ultra-low nutrient reef tanks in which potassium is depleted at increased rates.




Boron similar to potassium is important to the creation of aragonite shells and skeletons and will help improve red coloration within your corals.




Iodine is beneficial in a number of ways and is utilized by many soft corals, gorgonians, macro-algae and clams. It helps prevent coral bleaching because it will protect the tissue of photosynthetic corals under intense lighting and in periods of rapid growth. Iodine is easily removed via filtration and quickly consumed by corals, so it is recommended to add iodine 2-3 times per week. But be very careful, some iodine supplements like Lugol's Solution are very concentrated and overdosing can crash your tank.




Iron is most helpful in systems containing a refugium with macro-algae and other marine plants, such as mangroves. It promotes lush growth and deep green coloration. With increased macro-algae growth, you can boost the benefits of your refugium via increased nutrient export and protection against nuisance algae outbreaks.




When dosing Vitamin C, many hobbyists have reported favorable changes when keeping zoanthids and paly colonies. It is most commonly used to boost immune systems and supplement fish food, but has also been shown to help the growth of soft tissue, so it is great for helping freshly fragged corals to recover and grow.




Amino Acids are rapidly becoming more and more popular and used by many hobbyists and even culturing facilities to help increase coral growth. Amino acids provide the protein needed for corals to build and repair tissue and will also encourage vibrant color within your coral.



The aforementioned aquarium supplements can really take your reef tank to the next level. Just be sure you are testing your water parameters frequently and always be conservative when starting to add new supplements to your tank because rapid changes in water chemistry can be disastrous for your reef. Supplementing your reef with coral food is another great way to give your corals that extra edge.




Phytoplankton is at the bottom of the food chain and is great for a number of reasons. It will increase biodiversity in your tank as it feeds a number of micro-organisms in your tank helping to create natural food sources for corals and other reef tank inhabitants. It can also be directly consumed by many corals and clams.




Zooplankton is a bit larger in size and is on the next level in the food chain compared to phytoplankton. The larger particles are great for soft corals, LPS corals and many other filter feeders.




Marine Snow type products replicate the important organic food particles that fall from the light rich shallow reefs and supply a critical food source for filter feeding organisms found deeper in the water column. Particle sizes range from very small (under 20 microns) up to 150 microns. It is therefore a great way to offer food for your entire reef via a single additive.

The benefits of properly dosing a reef tank can really be the difference between an average mixed reef and a flourishing explosion of aquatic wonder!

We want to send a special thanks to all of our subscribers for helping to make these articles/videos possible. Don't forget to like and share to help us spread the word!

Until next time, take care and happy reefkeeping.



4Shop Fish and Coral Food

4Shop Reef Aquarium Supplements

4Shop Aquarium Testing Supplies and Monitoring Equipment

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Meet the advanced and easy-to-use Euroquatics Angel LED Lights




Robert from our staff recently had the opportunity to chat with Scott Bogner, CEO and Founder of Euroquatics, to discuss the company's new line of advanced LED aquarium lights, the Angels.



The Angels are among the most inclusive LED light fixtures on the market today, featuring built-in WiFi, full spectrum output, individual channel control, a free mobile app and two models to accommodate different aquarium depths.




One of the cooler features of the mobile app is the ability to choose different lighting Moods. Having friends over for dinner? Date night at your place? Set the Mood, set the timer and walk away. Know your reef will have just the right look—then revert to the peak performance Program settings automatically. There's no need to go in and adjust individual color spectrums before or after. It's simple!



Serious reefers can tune up to 96 custom points across as many as 7 color channels over all intensities, and set nuanced storm probability including cloud cover and lightening for complete control over the look, feel and health of your tank.



We hope you enjoy this short Q&A with Scott from Euroquatics! Don't forget to like, share and subscribe to show your support and help us bring you more of the latest reef aquarium news. We encourage you to explore the links below to learn more about these advanced yet easy-to-use aquarium lights or give us a call at 1-800-566-FISH to speak with an aquarium expert.

Until next time, take care and happy reefkeeping.



4Learn more about the Euroquatics A1 Angel LED Light System

4Learn more about the Euroquatics A1P Angel LED Light System

4Check out the Euroquatics Angel A1/A1P Rail Mounting Kit

4Check out the Euroquatics Angel A1/A1P Lens Kit Upgrades

Thursday, August 06, 2015

How to Build a Saltwater Mixing Station




Every aquarium needs water.

For saltwater aquariums in particular, it is of utmost importance to use PURE filtered water to mix your own saltwater and replenish what is lost from evaporation.

To make these regular aquarium chores easier, today we are going to show you how to build and set up your own saltwater mixing station. We did not have much space to work with in our office, so if you are lacking space in your garage, this may be the perfect solution for you.



To complicate matters, we have pretty lousy tap water quality and water pressure at Marine Depot's headquarters in Garden Grove, CA. Our water pressure is low, averaging about 40 PSI and our Total Dissolved Solids are high, running right around 400 on the TDS meter.

These unfortunate circumstances make it more difficult for a reverse osmosis deionization system to run efficiently and effectively. There is not enough water pressure to push the clean water through the TFC membrane and the dirty water clogs up membranes resulting in lower production levels.



To combat this perfect storm of problems, we decided to use our new KleanWater 6-Stage Advanced RO/DI System along with an AquaticLife Smart Buddie Booster Pump. A 6-stage system will lower our high TDS level so we can get the most out of our TFC membrane. The booster pump will restore the water pressure our RO/DI system needs to produce pure water at optimal rates.

Since our tap water also contains chloramines, we decided to switch out one of the carbon block filters with the Marine Depot Chloramine-X GAC Carbon Filter which has a higher capacity for chloramine removal.

The KleanWater Advanced System we are using for this application features a pressure gauge so we can monitor the performance of the pre-filters. It is also equipped with a triple TDS meter to monitor the input, RO output and the DI water. It also has a manual flush valve that extends the life and improves the performance of the TFC membrane. In our particular case, we are using the Smart Buddie Booster Pump—which has a convenient automatic flush feature—so the manual flush valve on the KleanWater system will be bypassed.



The Smart Buddie is, by far, the easiest booster pump to install. Every connection port is clearly labeled to make things super easy to set up. It also automates the typically manual tasks of flushing your membrane and shutting off the supply water. Once we installed the unit at our new saltwater mixing station, we were thoroughly impressed with its performance and the increased production we've gotten from our RO/DI system.

For our saltwater mixing station, we needed two separate containers: one for storing fresh RO/DI water and another for mixing saltwater. The problem was we were very limited on space. To solve this dilemma, we built a wooden stand out of 2" x 2" and 2" x 4" pieces of lumber. Once we constructed the stand, we applied a coat of black paint to protect the wood from water spills.



We used a rectangle-shaped 20 gallon Clear-For-Life acrylic aquarium and placed it on top of our DIY stand to store our product (purified) water. We installed a float valve at the top of the tank to work with our booster pump to keep the tank filled with ready-to-use RO/DI water. The water shuts off automatically once the aquarium/reservoir is full.

Beneath our freshwater container tucked inside the stand sits a 20 gallon Rubbermaid Brute trash can on a dolly. This is where we'll mix our saltwater, which can easily be wheeled around the office to our fish tanks to perform water changes. The gray Rubbermaid Brute trash can we chose is made of heavy-duty plastic and is NSF Certified, so the likelihood of it leaching unwanted chemicals into your water is greatly reduced.



We installed a bulkhead on the bottom of the Clear-For-Life aquarium and attached some flexible vinyl tubing and a ball valve. This allows us to quickly and easily fill our Brute or top-off containers as needed. We also placed an aquarium heater and a powerhead inside the Brute for mixing our saltwater and bringing it up to the proper temperature.

By having a convenient and efficient water station at home, you will save yourself a lot of time, money and hassle. You are also more likely to keep up with a regular maintenance schedule which will hopefully result in a vibrant, thriving reef aquarium. Our saltwater mixing station only took a couple of hours to install, but now that it's finished, we can confidently share that it has definitely been worth the effort. Our fish and corals have never looked better!



Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our knowledge with you. If you found this information helpful, please like and share it to help us spread the word! Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date on all our latest video tutorials.

Until next time, take care and happy reefkeeping.


Expand Your Knowledge

4VIDEO: Marine Depot KleanWater RO & RO/DI: Affordable tap water filtration

4VIDEO: Booster Pumps—What they do and why you need one for your RO/DI system

4VIDEO: How to replace your RO/DI filter cartridges

4VIDEO: AquaticLife Smart Buddie RO Booster Pump unboxing and setup