Top 5 Reef Aquarium Upgrades

Here are 5 popular reef aquarium upgrades. None are absolutely necessary, but they will all contribute greatly to a more beautiful aquarium. Auto top-offs, media reactors, UV sterilizers, and dosing pumps will all contribute to better water quality for your fish and coral. T5 bulbs will create more even lighting and better coral coloration.

Auto Top-Offs
If your aquarium doesn’t have an auto top-off, this is the first upgrade you should consider adding. Auto top-offs are not just a luxury for lazy people. They do much more than just save you time.
When water evaporates out of your aquarium, only the water leaves. Everything else stays the same. When water evaporates nearly every single parameter in your aquarium rises. These parameters then suddenly drop whenever you add water. The parameters that change include: salinity, calcium, alkalinity, magnesium, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and many more. Because stability is so important when keeping a reef aquarium, the use of an auto top-off to reduce the fluctuations in all of these parameters can be extremely beneficial.

There are many auto top-offs to choose from, but our favorite ones are the IceCap ATO EZ System and Tunze Osmolator 3155 Water Level Controller. Do not skimp on an auto top-off. A faulty top-off can overfill your tank leading to a wet floor. Both the Icecap ATO and Tunze Osmolator have multiple redundant features to ensure dry floors and years of flawless operation.

An auto top-off is also very useful when you are out of town for a few days or longer. Having someone look after your tank is ideal, but an auto top-off is a great backup.

One last benefit is the performance of hang on protein skimmers. All protein skimmers work best when the water level does not fluctuate. Sumps often have a chamber for the skimmer that maintains the water level, but when a skimmer is hanging on the back of the tank water level fluctuations are problematic. Aquariums with filtration in the back of the tank, such as the Coralife BioCube, will also have water levels that fluctuate without an auto top-off.

Further Reading: “A Simple Guide To Auto Top-Offs”

Media Reactors
Top 5 Reef Aquarium Upgrades Most reef aquarists use carbon and many use phosphate removers. If you pour some of your aquarium water into a white container and notice a tint to it, then your water will absolutely be clearer with some carbon added. Phosphate removers remove phosphate which fuels the growth of undesirable algae.
Media reactors allow for the most efficient use of chemical filter media. To unlock the full potential of your media will require a media reactor. When you do not use a reactor, most of the water in your aquarium will bypass the carbon or phosphate. Media reactors are sealed chambers that force water through chemical filtration media.

We recommend the Lifegard Aquatics Turbo Reactors for aquariums with sumps or filtration compartments, and the Two Little Fishies Phosban Reactors for aquariums that need a hang-on unit.

Further Reading: “Media Reactor Overview”

UV Sterilizers
UV sterilizers kill free-swimming organisms in the water column. The main reason for adding a UV sterilizer in a reef aquarium is to reduce disease.

The more fish you add to your aquarium the more money and emotion you have invested in the aquarium and the more tragic a major disease outbreak can be. In nature disease spores spread out through the whole ocean and fish encounter very few parasites. In an aquarium infectious spores are recirculated again and again making disease far more devastating than in nature. A UV sterilizer will kill the disease in the water column greatly reducing the virulence of an infection. This can make a life-or-death difference for your fish.

We recommend UV sterilizers from Aqua Ultraviolet and Lifegard. Cheaper UV sterilizers are only designed to kill algae and do not effectively kill the larger disease-causing organisms.

Further Reading: “UV Sterilizer Overview”

Dosing Pumps
To have a successful reef aquarium you will need to add calcium and buffer so the corals in your aquarium can continue to grow. You will also likely add other supplements to keep your corals as vibrant and colorful as possible. Dosing pumps automate these additions by precisely pumping fluid into the aquarium multiple times a day.

Dosing pumps don’t just reduce the maintenance of adding supplements. They also encourage stability because the dosing is regular and at least daily. Adding supplements manually every week, which is common for reef aquarists, leads to an unstable reef system.

We recommend the Kamoer F4 Pro WiFi Doser Pump. Easily schedule a dosing regimen to keep water chemistry within ideal ranges. You can automate 2-part calcium and alkalinity, Kalkwasser, and trace elements.

Further Reading: “Why Use A Dosing Pump”

T5 Bulbs
The most popular kind of lighting in aquariums today is LED lighting, but there are still many advantages to T5 fluorescents. T5 lighting is more diffuse than LED lighting leading to even dispersion of light and fewer dark spots. T5 lighting also has a broader and more diverse color spectrum which can promote better coral color.

If you are already using a Kessil, Hydra, or EchoTech LED light, you can use them in conjunction with T5 lamps by purchasing the AquaticLife T5 Hybrid. We recommend using the Giesemann Actinic and Giesemann Super Actinic lamps to supplement the LEDs.

If you already have a T5 fixture, you can swap your lamps out for higher quality ones to get a more attractive light color and healthier color spectrum for your corals. Here are our recommended bulb combinations using Giesemann bulbs:
  • 4 bulb T5s – (3 Actinic Blue, 1 Aquablue Coral)
  • 6 bulb T5s – (4 Actinic Blue, 1 Aquablue Coral, 1 Super Purple)
  • 4 bulbs supplementing halides or LEDS – (2 Actinic Blue, 2 Super Actinic)

Further Reading: “Are There Reasons To Buy Anything Other Than An LED Light For Your Aquarium?”