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Article Two : Unravelling the systems build

Unravelling the systems build .

” Spending time arguing over differences of opinion is stupid ” , Daffy Duck . Yes , there are many ways to build a reef tank and debates will always rage over and between the various schools of thought , but arguing and at times even swearing and punching ain’t gonna give no man greater insight into the mechanics of a challenge he or she is faced with ! So calm down , chill out and move on . I feel the section to follow broadly lays out the components required to correctly sustain a modern , dynamic reef aquarium , or rather establish a captive reef

eco system . I do not however believe it is the only succesful path to follow , yes there are many other systems , products and devices that can be employed , that do work , but all options have draw backs , potential for error , failure and in some instances total disaster . So the system I follow and advocate I feel is the safest of the lot , it’s efficient and can be handed over to even first time reef keepers . Yes , it can appear complex or maybe even overwhelming at first glance , but it’s not rocket science , and very quickly a new aquarist can get the hang of it and place him / herself into the drivers seat and enjoy the journey ahead .

Required components can be arranged in the following categories , together they form what I refer to as ” The First Sphere ” this being the life support system , which is attached to the super structure , being the actual display tank , it’s frame and external joinery .

  • Lighting

  • Circulation

  • Filtration

  • Chemistry ( and tempreture ) management

  • The actual live stock

Even though the live stock and it’s various components form the second sphere ( the eco system ) I always include its mention in the life support system. We must realize that the actual inhabitants of the aquarium must and do form part

of the life suport system . Establishing harmony between the two spheres is the foundation of action .

So the display we see in a pure sense should be all that we need to sustain the display itself . Over the years there have been many attempts to achieve this . For example using lots of snails , crabs etc to eat algae , mussels and clams to mechanically filter the water and remove nitrogenouse compounds and phosphates etc . This simple , elegant idea though is impractical . Realize that a 1.2 meter patch of reef in the ocean is sitting within a hundred trillion tons of water and that that water mass is connected to rivers , streams , marshlands , estuaries , is being rained on , electrocuted by lighting , baked by the sun , etc etc etc . So the implementation of technology is required to recreate certain natural processes.

Lighting :

For many years now we have worked with T5 and metal halide lighting systems but recently LED lights have become popular .In time low energy consumtion formats will dominate the markets and become a common thing , but for now my first choice remains T5 lighting . T5 referres to powerful , narrow flourescent tubes and various bulb options have become available . So how much light is needed ? What colour options should be used ? And how long do lights need to burn for ? Lighting is a complex , ( long ) discustion of which the actual bio mechanicinal response to the physics and chemistry behind it all , is way over my head ! So let me just stick to covering what I’ve come to see .

As little as 0.5 watt of T5 light per liter of water can be used to keep most corals happy and illuminate the aquarium to a point that it looks lovely . If you a new aquarist , to start on the lower side with regaurds to lighting often has some great benifit . Even though bright light is important and a massive part of natural coral reef ecology , to start low and build up has many advantages , and that T5 systems can be upgraded in a modular fashion is another reason I prefer them . As light intensity increases so too does the rate of photosynthesis increase and therefore the rate of consumption of elemnents and the rate of production of waste . So lower light in a sense slows things down , allowing more time to react to reductions in calcium and alkalinity and increases in nitrate and phosphate ( as a simple example ) .

A value of 1.5 watts could be seen as a maximum ideal goal. With light , the quality of light should always be seen as a greater importance to the quantity of light . With T5 modules the following considerations are factored :

  • Correctly specked power drive ballast

  • Solid core wire

  • Quality heat resistant end caps

  • Bulbs to be individually reflected

  • Active temperature control

With lighting the term Kelvin is often used to describe the color of the bulb , 20 000 kelvin ( 20 k ) being used to describe blue and 10k for white , 15k therefore a ‘ blueish white ‘ . I always recommend to start with one 10k to one 20k . Make sure to stick to reputable brands of bulbs . 15k have become more popular but 10k can carry more usable light to the coral and appears brighter , so if you starting with only two keep 10k as the white option over 15k .

Lights are typically kept running for between ten and fourteen hours . If possable the blues would be switched on first , about an hour before the whites and lights would be switched off whites first with blues an hour later . In a way this mimics a sort of sun rise – sun set pattern .

Flow :

To coral I assume flow means wave action , currents and tides , to aquarist , a means of recreating this via pumps in the display aquarium , but we also need to interconnect the various filter devices to the display aquarium . To simplify this a sump can be used to house most of the gear . Traditionally a very large powerfull pump would be used to drive water from the sump tank back up to the display aquarium. The returning water would be counted as part of the total flow in the aquarium but recently this has changed as more aquarist are using smaller pumps to drive water from the sump , I think this has happened as small pumps that can be placed directly within the aquarium producing large flow outputs have been made available . Large sump pumps are also watts heavy , so heat immision and electricity consumption is higher . Large volumes of flow leaving the display tank returning to the sump can be noisy , producing salt spray and fine bubbles in the sump area .

How much flow is required is subject to the type of pump used and the type of coral that will be housed within the aquarium. Various flow rate or turn over rates are often suggested but I question their value as there are so many factors that influence ” the exact amount of flow required ” for a specific aquarium . But if you dragged a suggestion out of me I would say , the total volume of the aquarium should be turned over at least thirteen times per hour , and for corals that require higher flow rates , as much as sixty times . Having said that I have never seen corals or fish battle due to excessive flow . So my rule of thumb is ‘ more is more’ . Corals , when most parameters are stable and at an expectable degree are highly adaptable . I often use my ” Vigra effect ” to explain what I believe is an important point to consider . Aquarist often transpose their personal perspectives onto the inhabitants of their aquarium , for example , ” I don’t feed my fish pellets ” , why ? ” because I don’t eat Polenta ” , how crazy is that ! So often people assume if a coral is swollen and all inflated it’s much happier than if it’s closed up a little . Yes some corals will deflate some what if the flow is increased but that does not mean they are less happy . Strong , changing flow patterns are crucial for the long term sustainability of a captive reef ecosystem . However , at no stage should a corals flesh be allowed to be ripped through , exposing its skeleton but this is far more a rear case to under circulated reef aquariums . Flow within the aquarium is not only about water circulation to the individual corals , it should be about circulation to the entire structure , the sand , the rocks , the spaces in between . This helps prevent the deposition of sediments in areas , which after a while can become toxic to the aquarium , as it will contaminate the water with nitrates and phosphates for example .

Some aquarist go over board , I’ve seen aquariums where each rock is suspended above the sand bed , with a network of pipes blowing through and over every single rock ! Take it easy guy , there is no need for all of that ! Ive seen no benifit offered , those complex installations might impress your friends at the local reef club , but I certainly don’t think they contribute to better growth , colour and long term viability of the display . Power heads within the aquarium I still feel are best , just have enough of them to keep the water swirling . The following list included some of the more common options for creating flow systems :

  • Power heads

  • Stream pump

  • Uplift pumps

  • Wave boxes

  • Close loop systems

My aim with this series of articles is not to dissect and unpack the the technical detail and functioning behind each device , there is adequate , concise information covering this which is readily available. I want to draw attention to my personal expierence , I wish to share my personal perspective on things . In the former years of reef keeping in South Africa ,

the assumption was always that our tanks were not as wonderful as they could be as we lacked access to certain devices and products and that there were certain ‘ gaps ‘ in the systems , and the technology to plug those holes did not exist as yet . Today all that is required to establish a highly successful aquarium is locally available and many aquarist use them. So why then do we not see a raising of the level of aquarium systems displays . Again by this I mean , why are there so few aquariums that achieve high degree of biodiversity , rapid coral growth , natural growth formations and an interwoven network of life across all rock surfaces , breaching into the water column. In the following two articles I will attempt to cover briefly filtration , chemistry management and the actual live stock , but I believe our attention then needs to focus on why most aquariums fail to produce a very high standard of display. I can only imagine all the topics this will lead to , natural coral reefs and there destruction by negative enviromental impact , collection and transport of animals , the acclimation process into captivity and quarintine , the resistance of aquarist to accept technology based control systems , and so much more . I look forward to preparing the conversation for the following addition and I remain excited to raising questions around the non tangible elements of our beautiful hobby .

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