Dear Tammy:

Pete Giwojna

Dear Tammy:

Okay, that sounds fine, Tammy!

I think the way you are handling the hang-on-the-back (HOB) filter is more than adequate, and I am no further suggestions for you in that regard. The ceramic rings will provide excellent attachment sites for beneficial nitrifying bacteria to colonize, allowing the HOB to provide efficient supplemental biological filtration. And including a phosphate sponge, activated carbon sponge, and regular sponge will assure that the filter also provides efficient mechanical and chemical filtration for the aquarium water.

And that was an excellent idea to use tall artificial aquarium plants to shield the intake and moderate the outflow of the HOB filter, Tammy. The tall plants will intercept the water flow, thereby deflecting, softening, and diffusing the water currents so that they are not too overpowering for your seahorses. The fact that the seahorses are able to swim normally and move from hitching post a hitching post really, and can target and eat their frozen Mysis without difficulty, is a clear indication that they are having no problems at all with the water currents. Well done!

The only other suggestions I have to offer would be to train your seahorses to come to a feeding station for their daily meals (if you have not already done so), which will reduce wastage and spoilage of uneaten frozen Mysis, and to be sure to incorporate some aquarium janitors that like to clean up meatier leftovers in addition to a good assortment of herbivorous snails so the more carnivorous scavengers can police the tank for any frozen Mysis that may escape the seahorses initially. Nassarius snails and/or seahorse-safe microhermit crabs are good choices for such sanitation engineers, Tammy.

Yes, in general, I much prefer smaller, more frequent water changes as opposed to larger, less frequent water changes. Performing smaller water changes more frequently is safer and easier on the seahorses, Tammy.

When you find that performing a major water change seems to cause your seahorses distress, try adjusting your water changing schedule so that you are performing smaller water changes more frequently rather than larger water changes less often. For instance, if you have been performing 20%-25% water changes monthly, switch to administering a 10% water change every week instead, or even 5% water changes performed biweekly. You’ll find the smaller water changes are much less stressful on the aquarium inhabitants.

This is especially important if you are switching the water source you have been using for the aquarium. For example, if you are switching from your municipal water supply (tap water) to reverse osmosis or RO/DI water instead, or switching from RO/DI water to natural seawater, or making the changeover from artificial saltwater to natural saltwater (or vice versa), it is extremely important to make the switch very gradually in order to avoid subjecting the aquarium inhabitants to osmotic shock or other sudden changes in water chemistry.

We’ll discuss this in a bit more detail later in this e-mail, Tammy, since you mentioned that you will be using water from your local fish store (LFS) for your water changes. I presume that means you will be using ultrapure reverse osmosis or reverse osmosis/deionized water from your LFS when preparing new saltwater for the water changes. Unless you have been using RO or RO/DI water in your seahorse tank all along, be sure to make a series of very small water changes over an extended period of time rather than one large, abrupt water change so that you can make the switch to the new water source very methodically and gradually to assure the aquarium inhabitants are not stressed.

In the meantime, here are some more water changing tips to keep in mind, Tammy:

It is standard operating procedure to leave seahorses in the aquarium while you are making partial water changes. It is less stressful for the seahorses to stay put that it is to handle them and temporarily relocate them while you are performing maintenance on the aquarium.

When you are siphoning out the water that will be replaced during a water change, most hobbyists find it beneficial to vacuum a portion of the substrate as they do so. This is helpful for removing fecal pellets and reducing the amount of detritus in the substrate. Often they will vacuum a different portion of the substrate each time they perform a water change, so that after several water changes, most all of the substrate has been vacuumed lightly at least once during that time. If you find the siphoning stirs up too much sediment or releases too much detritus, then you can use dip tubes for removing fecal pellets, uneaten food, etc., from the aquarium in lieu of a thorough vacuuming.

It’s normal for some detritus and sediment to be stirred up during a water change, or when siphoning over the bottom or vacuuming the substrate, but normally the mechanical filtration in the does a good job of filtering out the suspended particles within a matter of a few hours. If not, you can hook up a diatom filter on the aquarium and run it for an hour or so to remove suspended particles and polish the water. As long as you change the mechanical filtration media regularly to remove the sediment and detritus it has collected, this is generally beneficial for the aquarium.

Here are some additional water changing tips to keep in mind, Tammy:

If the tap water or well water in your town is of dubious quality, and you don’t mind lugging containers of water home from the pet store, then purchasing pre-mixed saltwater from your local fish store is often a good option. Many seahorse keepers purchase reverse osmosis/deinonized water (RO/DI) for their water changes. Most well-stocked pet shops that handle marine fish sell RO/DI water as a service for their customers for between 25 and 50 cents a gallon. For example, WalMart sell RO/DI water by the gallon for around 60 cents.

Natural seawater is another good option for a seahorse setup. Like RO/DI water, natural seawater can often be purchased at fish stores for around $1.00 a gallon, depending on where you live. It sounds expensive, but when you consider the alternative — paying for artificial salt mix and RO/DI water and mixing your own saltwater — then natural seawater is not a bad bargain at all. It has unsurpassed water quality and seahorses thrive in it.

If you have any suspicions about the quality of your municipal water supply, Tammy, it’s a good idea to consider switching to a better source of water instead, as long as you make the changeover slowly and gradually. For example, you could switch to natural seawater only, or switch to using distilled water or RO/DI water from another source instead, and see if that produces better results and improves water quality..

However, one thing I do know is that if you are going to change the source of water you are using for the aquariums, you need to do so very gradually in order to avoid stressing the aquarium inhabitants. Here are some of the things to keep in mind if you will be changing from natural seawater to well water, or switching from the municipal water supply to distilled water or RO/DI water, or some such change:

Replacement water should be of the same source as the aquarium, whether it be reverse osmosis (RO), de-ionized (DI), distilled or municipal supply, in order to avoid drastic changes in water chemistry. In cases where one is replacing a tap water-based salt mix with a reverse osmosis-based salt mix, the replacement water should be added slowly over the course of several hours to avoid sending the aquarium inhabitants into osmotic shock. If using municipal water, one should check with the local utility company to find out the composition of that tap water. Water containing high levels of nitrate or phosphate should be avoided, and reverse osmosis or distilled water used in its place.

Personally, I really like the convenience of mixing up a relatively large quantity of saltwater in a plastic garbage can, rather than mixing it by the bucket full on a weekly basis. A 30-40 gallon capacity plastic garbage can allows me to mix up enough saltwater for a whole month’s worth of weekly water changes at one time. Which assures that the freshly mixed saltwater will be well aged and thoroughly aerated, and that any chlorine or residual ammonia will have at plenty of time to have dissipated before it’s used. And it also allows you to preadjust the saltwater to match the exact conditions in your aquarium very accurately. It’s always a good idea to keep some premixed saltwater on hand in case of an emergency, when a quick water change becomes necessary. Here are some more suggestions for mixing your own saltwater and making regular partial water changes in your seahorse setup, Tammy:

Water Changing Tips

If you find that performing a major water change seems to cause your seahorses distress, try adjusting your water changing schedule so that you are performing smaller water changes more frequently rather than larger water changes less often. For instance, if you have been performing 25%-50% water changes monthly, switch to administering a 10% water changes every week or try making 5% water changes biweekly instead. You’ll find the smaller water changes are much less stressful on the aquarium inhabitants.

Be sure to observe all of the usual water changing precautions as well. For example, it’s an excellent idea to use Reverse Osmosis (RO) or Deionized (DI) or RO/DI water for your changes because it’s much more pure than tap water. However, water purified by such methods is very soft and often must be buffered before it’s used so it won’t drop the pH in your aquarium when it’s added.

When mixing saltwater for your marine aquarium, it’s important to fill your container with all the water you will need BEFORE adding the salt mix. In other words, if you are mixing up 5 gallons of new saltwater, fill the mixing containing with 5 gallons of water and then add the salt. If you do it the other way around — dump the salt mix in the container and then start filling it with water, the water can become saturated with salt to the point that the calcium precipitates out. This calcium precipitation will turn the water milky and can also lower the pH to dangerous levels.

Water changes can also sometimes be a problem because of the supersaturation of gases in tap water. Tap water distribution systems are maintained under pressure at all times, both to insure adequate flow and to prevent polluted water from outside the pipes from entering in at leaks. Any additional gas introduced into these pipes (from a leaky manifold, for example) will be dissolved at these higher partial pressures, and will often be supersaturated when it emerges from the tap. Also, gases are more soluble in cold water than warm, so when gas-saturated cold water emerges from the tap and warms up in an aquarium, or is warmed up and preadjusted to aquarium temps prior to making a water change, the water can become supersaturated. This must be avoided at all costs because gas supersaturation is one of the contributing factors that can cause Gas Bubble Disease in seahorses and other fish. To prevent this, tap water should be allowed to sit for several days beforehand or gentle aeration can be used to remove gas supersaturation before a water change (just make sure your airstones are not be submerged greater than 18 inches while you’re aerating your freshly mixed water).

There are a few accessories you should keep on hand to make water changing easier: one or more large capacity plastic garbage cans or Rubbermaid vats for mixing up new saltwater; a small powerhead for stirring and circulating the water while it mixes; a submersible heater to adjust the temperature of the newly mixed water; a large diameter siphon hose; a couple of new plastic buckets that hold 3-5 gallons.

First use a clean plastic bucket to fill up the garbage can with 10, 20 or 30 gallons of water or however much you want to mix up at one time. Add the proper amount of artificial salt mix for that much water, and toss your small, cheap powerhead into the garbage can to stir it up. While it’s mixing, put the submersible heater in to adjust the water temp, and add dechlorinator or detox if using tap water (if using reverse osmosis deionized water, or another softened source, be sure to add a pH buffer to the new water). Let the new batch of water mix, aerate, and stabilize for 24-48 hours before you perform the water change and check to make sure the temperature and pH of the new water matches your aquarium. Some artificial salt mixes produce residual amounts of ammonia when newly mixed; aerating the freshly mixed saltwater for 24-48 hours will dissipate and remaining traces of chlorine or ammonia.

If you follow the steps outlined above when mixing up new saltwater prior to performing a water change, the water cannot become saturated with salts, the calcium will not precipitate out, the newly mixed saltwater will be crystal clear and the water exchange should go smoothly.

Best wishes with all your fishes, Tammy! Good luck working out a water changing regimen that is ideal for your needs and schedule.

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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