ten reefing mythsTEN

MYTH #1: Reef aquariums require lots of complicated equipment.
Some people who have never had a reef aquarium think it requires complicated equipment such as ozone generators, calcium reactors, and ultraviolet sterilizers. This simply isn’t the case. For many years when working in a retail store, I had a small reef aquarium on my desk with nothing but a small pump and a light. I kept this specifically to show customers that lots of equipment wasn’t needed to keep a reef aquarium. The caveat is that these small tanks required 70% water changes on a weekly basis. Reef aquarium equipment doesn’t exist to make your life harder, it is there to make reef keeping easier.

MYTH #2: Small reef aquariums are impossible to keep.
For years reef hobbyists were discouraged from keeping small reef tanks. When I started I was told not to try anything smaller than 50 gallons. There are reasons small reef aquariums can be difficult. The small water volume makes it much easier to make mistakes such as over feeding, and often small nano equipment just doesn’t work as well as the full size counterparts. However, there is one thing that makes small reef aquariums much easier to care for than larger aquariums. It is much easier to do water changes. The small tanks I used to keep on my desk needed 70% water changes every week. With a 10-gallon tank, a water change can be done in 10 minutes. This is certainly not the case for my 200-gallon reef aquarium.

MYTH #3: Reef aquariums require many complicated additives.

If you look at the large additive section on MarineAndReef.com, or the many shelves of additives at your local fish store, it is easy to believe you need a cupboard full of additives to keep a reef aquarium. In reality, there is one tried and true additive for replenishing all of the depleted elements in your aquarium—water changes. When you do water changes in a saltwater aquarium you will dilute all toxins and replenish trace elements without a risk of overdosing. The fresh saltwater will include all the needed major and minor elements, including pH buffering compounds.

Additives are mostly required when you want to reduce the frequency of water changes. The less you do water changes the more additives you will need. If you do 70% water changes regularly, you likely won’t need any additives. If you do our recommended monthly 30% water changes you will likely only need a few key additives.

MYTH #4: Reef aquariums require low nutrients.
For years many reef aquarists have strived for the lowest nutrient levels possible. Zero nitrates and zero phosphates were considered ideal. But as reef aquarium filtration improved, the levels of nitrates and phosphate got so low it slowed coral growth, fueled the growth of pest algae, and ultimately killed corals. Reefers have learned that maintaining low, but not undetectable levels of nitrate and phosphate, yields much better results. We recommend a phosphate level of .03 ppm and nitrate level of 5 ppm. These days manufacturers such as Brightwell Aquatics produce nitrate and phosphate additives.

MYTH #5: Most saltwater fish, such as Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Triggerfish, and Pufferfish, can’t be kept in reef aquariums.
Many fish are coralivores and will eat many of the corals in reef aquariums. However, there are also many fish from the categories that most people call non “reef safe” that do very well in reef aquariums. The Genacanthus Angels, such as the Lamarks and Wantanabei Angels, do very well in reef tanks. Pyramid Butterflyfish, and deep water butterflyfish such as Declivis, and Tinkeri Butterflyfish, also do well. Bluethroat Triggers and Crosshatch Triggers are completely coral safe and many small Toby Puffers will usually ignore coals and can be added to a reef aquarium.

MYTH #6: The more light the better.
Many reef aquarists start out with lower output lights. When they upgrade to brighter lights they often notice improvements in coral growth and color leading them to believe that more light is better. This can be dangerous because modern high-end reef lights can be so powerful that at full power they will bleach and kill corals. If you ever decide to upgrade to brighter lights, make sure to do the transition slowly. Most high-end lights, such as those from Kessil, have acclimation modes that slowly increase the intensity of light over weeks. Even if the light doesn’t kill your corals, corals can be photo inhibited and grow slower because they need to use energy to protect themselves against bright light.

MYTH #7: Old reef tanks decline because of unavoidable Old Tank Syndrome.
Sometimes older tanks develop uncontrollable algae and experience mysterious coral death. Aquarists often blame this on OTS, or Old Tank Syndrome. The explanation is that old tanks have toxins that are embedded into the rocks and only by completely restarting the tank will the problems go away. Joe Yaiullo, the curator of the 15-year-old 2,000-gallon reef aquarium at the Long Island Aquarium, has renamed Old Tank Syndrome LARS (Lazy Ass Reefer Syndrome). All of the problems associated with OTS are really just due to not keeping up with regular maintenance--particularly siphoning detritus, equipment maintenance, and water changes.

MYTH #8: Aquarium carbon is harmful and causes Lateral Line Erosion.
Many aquarists have been told that activated carbon causes Lateral Line Erosion in fish. Lateral Line Erosion is a degenerative disease of a fish’s lateral line organ that happens frequently in aquariums but has never been observed in the wild. There were some studies conducted decades ago that linked aquarium carbon to lateral line erosion. However, it was not the carbon itself but the carbon dust that caused problems. If you thoroughly rinse your carbon of dust before use, there is no need to worry about harming your fish. Consider using a large grain extra hard carbon, such as Inland Seas Carbon, which is low in dust.

MYTH #9: All fish food is essentially the same.
It is easy to come to the conclusion that there is no difference between different fish foods because, in the short term, they seem to make little difference in the health of your fish. Additionally, just keeping the fish alive is often the standard of success. Little thought can be given to the health of the fish. But are your fish flourishing? Think of how long you could survive eating nothing but ice cream. It would likely be quite a long time, but over years you would have many health problems and your life would be shortened. This is similar to feeding low-quality fish food. Feeding high-quality foods, such as those from New Life Spectrum and Sera, will help your fish to live long healthy lives.

MYTH #10: If the fish in your reef aquarium have Ich the only solution is to remove all of the fish and treat them in a quarantine tank.
There is no known medication that will kill Ich without killing live corals. This is why many believe the only way to treat Ich is to remove all of the fish and treat them in a separate tank while leaving the main tank fishless for 2 months so that all the parasites in the display tank will die of starvation. Yet, fish in the ocean often have Ich and they survive because the fish’s natural immune system fights off the disease. It is true that in an aquarium Ich can be worse because while in the ocean most new parasites head out into wide open oceans without ever finding a host fish, in the aquarium the water is continuously re-circulated so most of the parasites find hosts. However, using a UV sterilizer to reduce the number of parasites in the water column, and feeding high-quality vitamin-enriched foods to strengthen fish immune systems will most often completely eliminate the threat of Ich related fish death. While adding a UV and feeding high-quality foods BEFORE the fish get Ich is the best practice, they will still help after the fish get Ich.

Jaron Hudson, [email protected]