Re:Filter help

Pete Giwojna

Dear Wayne & Lisa:

Okay, things are really progressing nicely now! The water quality parameters you listed all look fine for a new aquarium that’s in the process of cycling, and you have rounded up some good, solid equipment for your aquarium system. So far so good…

But I should caution you that its important not to operate your new protein skimmer, an ultraviolet sterilizer, or ozonizer, or make water changes while your new aquarium is cycling. Remove chemical filtration media while the aquarium is cycling and avoid adding any ammonia-removing liquids or ammonia-sequestering products (such as BIO-Safe, Amquel, Ammo-lock, Aqua-Safe, etc.) while the tank cycles. You want a nice high ammonia spike, followed by a nice high nitrite spike, when the aquarium cycles in order to build up the largest possible population of the nitrifying bacteria that feed on ammonia and nitrite, so using any type of filtration or additives that could reduce the amount of ammonia or nitrite at this time will actually hinder the cycling process and be very counterproductive.

Sarcophyton toadstool corals and leather corals are a great choice for a seahorse tank. They do well under low light and low to moderate currents, just like the seahorses, and our ponies enjoy perching on them and feeding from the soft corals. They are hardy corals that are well suited for a beginner. The Xenia pulse coral is also completely compatible with seahorses and may do well in your aquarium once it’s well established.

Most long polyp stony corals (LPS) must be regarded with caution and are best avoided by the seahorse keeper, but the Fox Coral (Nemenzophylia turbida) is one of the exceptions. It has very short tentacles that are rarely ever extended or seen, day or night. Unlike most other LPS corals, the Fox coral thrives under low light and low to moderate water currents, and it is very hardy — another species that’s often recommended for beginners.

Stay away from other LPS corals, however, Wayne and Lisa. Many of them have large fleshy polyps with very powerful stings (stronger than many anemones), and they usually require high intensity lighting and vigorous water movement, which may be too overpowering for seahorses.

With regard to your cleanup crew, the peppermint shrimp and one or two blue leg hermits are fine but you should expand your sanitation engineers somewhat to include an assortment of snails and some different hermits. As Julian sprung reports, Astrea species are the ideal snail to be placed in your aquarium as soon as ammonia and nitrite levels reach acceptable levels (less than 1 ppm). Introduced as soon as possible to a new aquarium, that has reached this cycling phase, these snails effectively limit the development of all microalgae. In other words, they are good at eating diatoms, but will consume red slime and green algae as well. The Astraea tecta found in Florida and Caribbean waters inhabits rocky inter tidal regions and is are said to be quite adept at removing alga films from rock surfaces.

And don’t forget to include at least a handful of Nassarius snails to clean up the meatier leftovers as well.

The Scarlet Hermit Crab (Paguristes cadenanti) is likewise one of the most popular hermits with seahorse keepers, because of its colorful appearance, small size and nonaggressive habits, and because it will eat all kinds of algae, such as red, green and brown slimes, as well as green hair algae.

Also consider the Red Legged Hermit (Clibanarius digueti), which is reputed to be a much better algae eater than the Blue Legged Hermit, less aggressive, and has been reported to eat red slime algae. So when it comes to hermits, Wayne and Lisa, I recommend the scarlet reef hermits and red legged hermits over the blue legs.

There are a couple of good sources for cleanup crews that I recommend — Reeftopia and IndoPacific Sea Farms.

For example, Reeftopia offers the `true micro` blue leg hermit crabs (if those are the ones you fancy the most), which are around 0.5cm in size and a bargain at 200 for $36.00. They also offer very nicely sized peppermint shrimp (consistently large and less likely to become Hippocampus treats) at 8 for $22.00 and a wide variety of clean up snails including Ivory ceriths at 12 for $15.00 and Bumblebee Snails (at 12 for $20.00) as well as a small (ca. 1 cm) `Golden Astrea` snail at 100 for $29.00.

Be sure to check out their Total Reef Care Specials (packages of assorted sanitation engineers and aquarium janitors) at the following URL:

IndoPacific Sea Farms ( also offers a good package deals on cleanup crews under the heading of " Grazers and Detritivores," so examine those deals before you decide what might be the best cleanup crew for your particular tank. And don’t forget their Hawaiian Macroalgae 6-Pack, which consists of a half dozen different types of colorful macroalgae (red, green, gold, brown), including Caulerpa and Gracilaria species.

I examined the photos you sent me closely and I must say I am very impressed with the new piece of live rock from Aqua Dreams — it’s a beaut! It’s loaded with colorful coralline algae (a couple of different types with bright complementary colors — very nice!) and a very nice crop of Halimeda sea cactus in addition to a number of other encrusting organisms. That’s exactly the type of live rock you want for the uppermost pieces in your aquarium.

It’s fine to use less overgrown pieces of live rock for the base or foundation of the rockwork, but the upper layers should consist of showy pieces bursting with life and color. The coralline algae is especially desirable since it will spread if conditions are favorable and cover the surrounding rockwork and substrate with a colorful coating.

You have correctly identified the Halimeda on your live rock, but after studying the other green macroalgae that has sprouted from the Aqua Dreams live rock in the photographs, I cannot identify it positively. It appears bushier than the various types of Caulerpa I am familiar with, including the Caulerpa sertularioides I have had in the past, which has feathery plumes sprouting from horizontal runners. That doesn’t appear to be what I’m seeing in the photographs. So I can’t identify that particular macroalgae for you, but I can suggest some other sources with excellent photographs of marine plants and macroalgae that may allow you to match it up exactly.

Check out the following two sites and go through their online photographs of macroalgae:

Inland Aquatics has perhaps the best selection and variety of macroalgae available:

Aquacon is another good source for cultured macroalgae with good photographs of all their plants:

Click here: Marine Plants for Saltwater aquariums

I couldn’t see the specimen you mentioned which has "large shrimp legs" in the photographs, so I have no idea what that may be. But I certainly know what you mean about staring at the live rock and scrutinizing it long enough to imagine it changing shape, sprouting limbs, and moving around.

You’ll find that the unexpected appearance of all sorts of invertebrates and microfauna in your marine aquarium is the very reason aquarists refer to the live sand and live rock in their tanks as "live." It can be very difficult to accurately identify all of the mysterious life forms that may blossom from your live rock over the months and years, but 99% of them are harmless, benign, or beneficial to the aquarium and the pageant of life that appears in microcosm from the LR is fascinating to observe 100% of the time.

Reef Central ( is the place to go to identify all of the interesting critters that pop up from live rock or live sand or natural seawater. They have an excellent series of photo galleries on their site, including one devoted to Reef Tank Hitchhikers, so you might check in there for help identifying mystery creatures that sprout from your live rock:

Click here: Reef Central Online Community

Reef Central has a discussion forum devoted just to seahorses, so it’s a good place to visit from time to time anyway.

Also, if you copy and paste the following URL into the Web browser on your computer, it will take you to another site with lots of photographs of aquariums hitchhikers that you should also find very interesting and informative:

Finally, Wayne and Lisa, if you go to and look in the photo galleries in the "Fauna" section, that’s another good way to identify the hitchhikers and mysterious invertebrates that appear seemingly out of nowhere in a dynamic marine aquarium:

Best of luck with your new aquarium system, Wayne and Lisa!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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