Re:Filter help

Pete Giwojna

Dear Wayne & Lisa:

Please do round up the books I mentioned in my previous post, which you should find very enlightening. In particular, The New Marine Aquarium by Michael Paletta and Bob Fenner’s Conscientious Marine Aquarist book are outstanding for beginners and should be included in the library of all marine aquarists.

Okay, that sounds like a solid plan regarding your live sand and live rock substrate. I agree that it’s a good idea to leave the foreground of the aquarium open to provide the seahorses with unobstructed swimming space. This will maximize the vertical swimming area they have in which to accomplish the copulatory rise and transfer of the eggs, and they also appreciate horizontal swimming space. It’s a good idea to include a few relatively short hitching posts in the front of the aquarium, since the seahorses will utilize these in their dancelike courtship displays, but otherwise try to keep the very front of the tank open and unobstructed.

Yes, sir, that central plastic strip is there to strengthen your acrylic aquarium and minimize the bowling of the front and back of the tank, but it certainly does restrict the openings on the top of the aquarium for installing equipment and working in the tank. If you can find a quality biowheel filter that will fit in the 13-inch opening on either side of the tank that moves enough water (~300 gph), that makes a nice filter for a seahorse tank and the waterfall return on the bio wheels is also a desirable feature.

A Marineland Penguin 350 or similar hang-on-the back (HOB) would also be a good choice for your 56-gallon seahorse tank. It should be able to move enough water and will easily accommodate mechanical filtration as well as activated carbon or the chemical filtration media of your choice.

If you can’t get HOB to mount properly due to the restricted opening on the top of the tank, then a good canister filter that moves at least 300 gallons per hour would certainly do the trick. Not all canister filters are created equal. Some of them are much more rugged and reliable and better constructed than others. But the top end "quality" canister filters can be very expensive, and for your purposes here — adequate water movement and circulation plus mechanical and chemical filtration — most any decent canister filter can do the job. Again, if you go with the canister, a spray bar return is very desirable and will allow you to use canisters with bigger pumps that move much more water without creating too much turbulence for the seahorses or overpowering their limited swimming ability.

I am not familiar with the ECO-Aqualizer, Wayne and Lisa, but I went to their website and studied the information there, including the aquarium review, and I was more mystified than anything. My background is in biology and chemistry, and my specialty is marine biology, but I was unable to fathom how the ECO-Aqualizer is supposed to work. I even conducted some rather extensive experiments with magnets and magnetic fields when I was in my 30s, but I am completely baffled by this device. For the life of me, I cannot comprehend what this gadget is supposed to do or how it is supposed to accomplish it; it flat-out doesn’t make any sense at all to me. (The hydrogen bonds in water molecules are quite strong and it takes a lot of energy to break them, which is why we are not all riding around in hydrogen-powered vehicles with zero emissions these days.) The aquarium review strikes me as sophistry, and I am very suspicious about the claims made for the ECO-Aqualizer.

The only thing I can say about the device for certain is that passing your aquarium water over magnets or exposing it to light in the wavelengths mentioned will not have any adverse affect on the aquarium water, so installing an ECO-Aqualizer on your tank should at least not cause any harm. But I would save my money and avoid this gadget in favor of more proven technology.

In my opinion, you will get much more bang for your buck by using the cash you would have spent on an ECO-Aqualizer to upgrade to a better protein skimmer or add some additional live rock to your aquarium.

Speaking of skimmers, I am not a big fan of the Seaclone series of protein skimmers, which are notorious for releasing clouds of excess bubbles into the aquarium. That’s a pretty common problem with Seaclone protein skimmers, especially when they are first installed a new aquarium. They are prone to releasing clouds of microbubbles into the aquarium unless they are adjusted just right, and they can be tricky to tweak and fine-tune. The bubbles that the skimmer releases into the main tank are not directly harmful to seahorses, but they can be problematic under certain circumstances if they lead to gas supersaturation — one of the primary factors that can trigger gas bubble syndrome in seahorses. This can happen when the microbubbles are drawn into a pump and then mixed with water under pressure. So to be on the safe side, Wayne, you’ll want to be sure to eliminate the excess bubbles from the skimmer that are escaping into the main tank if you try a Seaclone 100.

The first thing I would do if you get one is to try carefully adjusting your Seaclone skimmer so that the escaping microbubbles are eliminated. If that doesn’t do the trick, you may need to rig up some sort of bubble trap to prevent them from being released into the tank. If you read through the following FAQs on the Seaclone Protein Skimmer from Bob Fenner’s site, you’ll get a pretty good idea of how to proceed:

For example, here is how one hobbyist recommends tuning the Seaclone when it’s installed on a new aquarium:

<Open quote>
I don’t really have a question for you guys this time but instead am offering some helpful advice. I see a lot of posts all over the Internet from people who cannot get there Sea Clone protein skimmer to skim properly. Well, I was shown a method over this last weekend that worked so great that I had to share the
info. So here goes, first, ignore the instruction that come with the skimmer pertaining to adjusting the air valve. Instead, remove the air valve completely, let
the skimmer run for at least 30 seconds with full air flow, minimum water flow (about 50gph). Then slowly screw the air valve back into place until first
resistance is felt. From here on its a matter of making 1/4 turns at a time, pausing for a moment to let the skimmer adjust. When you first start to
notice micro-bubbles entering the tank stop the 1/4 turns and make fine, minuscule adjustments. It take some practice to get it working just right but I tried
this out on my new 55 gallon Reef tank, added 4 inch sand bed, 60 – 70 lbs L/R, water, let sit for a week, then added the Sea Clone and within 24 hours I already
had 1/2 the collection cup full of nasty, stinky, green sludge. I tried once before to get a sea clone 100 to work and finally returned it back to the store,
frustrated as all get at, but after having someone come over and show me how to set it up, I’ve been nothing but impressed.
Hope this helps many of you out!
<Close quote>

For my money, the Seaclone skimmers are more trouble than they are worth. Just too difficult to keep tweaking and fine-tuning in order to make them function properly. I would recommend going with another model of protein skimmer, sir.

Yes, indeed — a good refugium can be a real asset for seahorse tank. But because by definition a refugium shares a common water supply with the aquarium it is mounted on, it can not be used as a quarantine tank or a hospital tank for treating ailing fishes. If you need to choose between the two, I would recommend doing without a refuge and setting up a separate quarantine tank. Here’s how to proceed:

A bare-bottomed aquarium of at least 10 gallons (the bigger the better) will suffice for a Quarantine Tank (QT). Ideally, the hospital tank should have one or more foam filters for biofiltration along with a small external filter, which can easily be removed from the tank during treatment, if necessary, but which can hold activated carbon or polyfilter pads when it’s time to pull the meds out. No aquarium reflector is necessary. Ambient room light will suffice. (Bright lights can breakdown and inactivate certain medications and the fish in quarantine will be more comfortable and feel more secure under relatively dim lighting.)

For seahorses, it’s important for your quarantine tank/hospital tank to include enough hitching posts so that the ponies won’t feel vulnerable or exposed during their stay in quarantine. Aquarium safe, inert plastic plants or homemade hitching posts fashioned from polypropylene rope or twine that has been unraveled and anchored at one end work well for this if you’re short on such decorations.

Cycling the sponge filters for the QT tank is important because otherwise the only way to maintain water quality is by making partial water changes every day or two throughout the treatment period. Breaking in the biological filtration will eliminate the need for such frequent water changes and assure that the quarantine period is less stressful for the fish by eliminating transient spikes in the ammonia and/or nitrate levels.

Be sure to avoid sponge filters with weighted bottoms or other metal components since they will rust when exposed to saltwater. Sooner or later this will cause problems in a marine aquarium. Select a sponge filter that has no metal parts and is safe for use in saltwater. The proper units will have suction cups to anchor them in place rather than a weighted bottom.

The sponge filters I find that work well are the Oxygen Plus Bio-Filters (models 2, 3, 4, or 5) or the Tetra Brilliant foam filters. They have no metal components, making them completely safe for use in saltwater, and just one of these foam filters will do the job on a tank of 5 gallons or less. They do not have a weighted bottom but are equipped with suction cups instead. Two of the smaller models can be used on larger tanks, but one of the larger models, like the one at the link below, would be sufficient for a 10-gallon aquarium:

Click here: Foam Aquarium Filters: Oxygen Plus Bio-Filter 2

Avoid the Oxygen Plus Bio-filter 6, 11, and the Multi sponge, which all have a weighted bottom (metal), that rusts when exposed to saltwater. If you want more filtration, you’re better off going with two of the smaller suction cup sponge filters rather than any of the models with weighted bottoms. For instance, for a 10-gallon tank, I’d suggest using two well-established foam filters, one at either end of the tank for the biofiltration.

All you need to operate sponge or foam filters is an inexpensive, diaphragm-operated air pump (whatever is available at a reasonable price from your LFS will do just fine), a length of airline tubing to connect the air pump to the foam filter(s), and a set of air valves (gang valves) to regulate the air flow to the filters. That’s all — nothing to it! The inexpensive Apollo 5 air pumps work great for sponge filters, but whatever air pump you have on hand should certainly do the job.

Cleaning the foam filters is a snap. Simply immerse them in a bucket of saltwater and gently squeeze out the sponge until it’s clean and releases no more sediment or debris. (I use the saltwater I siphoned out of my aquarium when performing a water change for this, and clean my sponge filters whenever I change water.) Run a bottlebrush through the inside of the tube, wipe off the outside of the tube, and you’re done. The filter is ready to go back in the aquarium with no impairment at all of the biofiltration. Takes only a couple minutes.

No, sir, I wouldn’t recommend using the water from your dehumidifier for your new aquarium. Theoretically, the water that is condensed from the air should be clean and pure, much like distilled water, so I can see why you would think using the water from your dehumidifier would be a good thing. But in actual practice, dehumidifiers tend to get pretty dirty rather quickly. Mold and bacteria are common problems in dehumidifiers that have been in operation for any length of time, and you’ll want to avoid introducing any such bacteria are mold spores to your new aquarium.

If possible, I recommend using reverse osmosis/deionized water (RO/DI) to fill the aquarium initially and for making regular water changes once the aquarium has been established. RO/DI water obtained from a good source is ultra-pure and using it to fill the tank will help prevent nuisance algae from ever getting started in the newly established aquarium.

If you do not have an RO/DI unit of your own, you can always purchase the reverse osmosis/deinonized water (RO/DI) instead. 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. If your LFS does not, WalMart sell RO/DI water by the gallon for around 60 cents, and you should be able to find a Wal-Mart nearby. (Heck, even my drug store sells RO/DI water nowadays.)

However, it’s not always safe to assume that RO/DI water purchased from your LFS or your drugstore or some other convenient source is as pure as you might expect. If the merchants selling the RO/DI water are not diligent about monitoring their water quality and changing out the membranes promptly when needed, then the water they provide will not be a good quality and will not produce the desired results. I suggest that you look for an aquarium store that maintains beautiful reef systems on the premises — that’s a good sign that they know their stuff and are maintaining optimum water quality at all times, so the RO/DI water they provide should be up to snuff.

If you do not have access to a good source of reliable RO/DI water, then detoxified tap water will have to suffice for filling your new aquarium and would probably be a better choice than the water from your dehumidifier. In many areas, the municipal water supply has undesirable levels of amines, phosphates or nitrates, and in the United States, it is always chlorinated and fluoridated, so be sure to dechlorinate/detoxify the water using one of the many commercially unavailable aquarium products designed for that purpose when you add it to the aquarium.

The haze on your acrylic aquarium is probably due to minor scuffing (micro scratches that are invisible to the naked eye). It may not be a problem once the tank is filled with water, but there are a number of products made for acrylic tanks that can clean and polish such areas and remove the haze altogether. One such product is CRL Plastic Cleaner & Polish, which is made for use on plastics and acrylic, but there are many similar products designed specifically for use on acrylic aquariums that would work just as well. Just be careful to clean the surface using a damp cloth to remove any dust or grit before using the polish. Use the product according to instructions and it should be perfectly safe. (Do the polishing before you fill the tank with water.)

Yes, sir, if you will be leaving for a vacation in two weeks it’s best to wait until you get back home before setting up the aquarium to make sure there is no problem with equipment failures or leaks while you are away.

Contact me personally off list ([email protected]) when you get back from your trip and I will provide you with a lot of additional information about cycling your new aquarium and aquascaping it to create an ideal environment for your seahorses.

Best wishes with all your fishes, Wayne and Lisa! Have a great vacation!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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