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When and How Do I Use Ultraviolet Sterilizers?

Although it does not improve water quality to nearly the same degree as an ozonizer used in conjunction with a protein skimmer, UV radiation in the proper range (295-400 nanometers) is known to help oxidize phosphates, metabolites, organic molecules and nitrogenous compounds through the incidental production of ozone (Fenner, 2003a).

The primary benefits UV sterilization provides, however, are disease reduction and the reduction of nuisance algae. Ultraviolet radiation can be very effective in reducing free-floating algae, bacteria and microbes in general, certain parasites while in the free-swimming stages of development, and other suspended microscopic organisms (Fenner, 2003a).  Seahorses are prone to a number of serious bacterial problems such as Vibriosis, and a properly installed and maintained UV sterilizer can be invaluable in reducing the incidence and spread of such infections.  When properly used, UV sterilization can reduce microbial levels in the aquarium to the low levels normally found in the wild or below (Fenner, 2003a).

For best results, the UV sterilizer must be properly sized, operated, and maintained.  In order to provide a good kill rate per pass, the effective dwell time (the length of time the water is exposed to UV radiation while passing through the sterilizer) should be maintained at or above roughly twenty gallons per hour flow per watt of UV (Fenner, 2003a).  This sounds complicated, but selecting the right sterilizer for your needs is actually very easy.  Every manufacturer provides guidelines to help the hobbyist choose a unit and a pump that provide the proper wattage, flow rate and exposure time for any given application.

To assure efficient transmission of the proper wavelengths, sleeves (i.e., the quartz jacket that shields the lamp) must be kept clean and UV bulbs must be replaced at regular intervals.  Equally important, the aquarium water should be filtered before it passes through the sterilizer.  For maximum efficiency, make the UV sterilizer the final component of an in-line filtration system, so that the water has already passed through your mechanical, biological and chemical filtration media before it flows through the sterilizer (Fenner, 2003a).  Do not operate your UV sterilizer during the break-in period when a new aquarium is being cycled and the biological filtration is becoming established.  It is counterproductive to reduce microbe levels and nutrient levels when the aquarium is cycling.

Ultraviolet sterilizers are not necessary for maintaining seahorses, but nowadays I would not attempt to keep wild-caught seahorses without one. Hardy, disease-resistant farmed-raised seahorses can do just fine without them, and reefers often frown on UV because it reduces the population of microscopic planktonic organisms filter-feeding invertebrates require.  But in my opinion a UV sterilizer makes a very useful addition to the filtration system of the average seahorse setup. The fish farms and aquaculture facilities that raise captive-bred seahorses employ UV radiation in their nurseries and grow-out tanks, and there is no reason the home hobbyist should not take advantage of this technology as well.

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