The 34-gallon Red Sea Max nano tank appears to be a very well-designed aquarium system with an efficient filtration system, good lighting, and an excellent built-in skimmer. There is a great deal to like about these tanks, but like all nano tanks they are designed with reef keepers in mind and that doesn’t always make for a good seahorse setup. The needs of LPS and SPS corals (vigorous circulation and powerful water currents, plus high-intensity lighting) often conflict with the needs of seahorses, which require more moderate water movement and don’t like especially bright lighting.
In this case, the power compact lighting on the Red Sea Max shouldn’t be a problem at all, but I am concerned that the circulation provided by the efficient filtration system may overwhelm the limited swimming ability of seahorses. To be more specific, the twin circulation pumps have a combined output of 290 gallons per hour. They will turn over the volume of the aquarium about nine times every hour, which is likely to be too much water movement for the seahorses. Aside from the circulation pumps, the skimmer pump puts out 300 gallons per hour, which again, maybe more than the seahorses can comfortably handle.
If you want to keep seahorses in your new aquarium system, then you might be better served by going with a system that was designed specifically with seahorses in mind. For more information on complete aquarium systems that have been designed especially for seahorses, see the assortment of seahorse tanks available from MyFishTank.com at the following URL:
They are well-design aquarium systems that have the superior height (24 inches) and many of the features that are so desirable for a seahorse system. For example, they include a built-in a 3-in-1 filtration system with a wet/dry trickle filter that accommodates biological, chemical and mechanical filtration media, as well as built-in aquarium heater and an optional Clear-for-Life™ Venturi protein skimmer, all neatly contained and hidden behind a narrow false back. It also comes with a suitable hood and aquarium light, so it includes all of the equipment you need in one aquarium system. That’s an excellent filtration system for a seahorse setup and it would also be suitable for supporting an excellent assortment of seahorse-safe soft corals.
This is what I ordinarily advise hobbyists regarding water movement in a seahorse setup, sir:
Water Circulation for the Seahorse tank
Many seahorse keepers are overly conscious of the inactive life style and limited swimming ability of Hippocampus, and have adjusted their flow rates accordingly, resulting in undercirculated tanks with too little water movement. That’s a serious mistake for a small, close-system aquarium.
In actuality, seahorses prefer moderate water movement, including some areas of brisk current, providing there are also sheltered spots and some areas of relatively slack water they can move to when desired. Slack water means comparatively low flow, NOT stagnant conditions! As with any aquarium, avoid dead spots and stagnant areas in the seahorse tank at all costs (Giwojna, unpublished text).
Contrary to popular opinion, seahorses are quite effective swimmers that can hold their own in strong currents as long as sheltered areas are available (Delbeek, Oct. 2001). I have often discussed this matter with professional divers and collectors who regularly encounter seahorses in the ocean, and they report that the horses are often found where you would least expect them — well offshore and thriving in areas with powerful currents. For example, here is how Paul Baldassano, a commercial diver in New York who makes his living collecting sea urchins, describes the behavior of his local seahorses:
"In regard to seahorses in the wild, I occasionally see Hippocampus erectus in the wild while SCUBA diving but never in the places where they are supposed to be. I see them in the open sea far from shore and also in areas with large rocks and very strong currents. The last one I saw was in a channel off the south shore of Long Island New York in water about 12 feet deep. The current was so strong that I had to hold on to the rocks so as not to be swept away. This Hippocampus erectus was having no trouble staying there munching on the abundant plankton. Apparently they find places near the rocks where there is no current because as you know they are lousy swimmers. There is also a large population of seahorses in a similar area in another part of the New York shore, but I think it is best not to divulge that location for obvious reasons (Baldassano, pers. com.)."
Neil Garrick-Maidment, a very successful seahorse breeder in the UK, reports much the same thing, noting that seahorses in the wild seem to thrive amid strong currents:
"Whenever I have dived on Seahorse sites I have always been amazed by the currents and tides that this very fragile looking Seahorse lives in. We often find Seahorses in flat muddy/silt areas nowhere near rocks or weed. These areas are often scoured by strong currents and the Seahorses do well in them and seem completely unperturbed by the current (Garrick-Maidment, pers. com.). In setting up a tank for them I try to remember the feeling I had in those areas and replicate them. I have now started to use wave surge devices, so that the current in the tank, although strong (they seem to thrive in strong currents) varies in its direction (Garrick-Maidment, Jun. 2002)."
Kirk Strawn, who earned his Master of Science thesis studying Hippocampus zosterae in the field, echoes Neil’s thoughts on the matter:
"The aquarist is not giving his seahorses natural conditions when he keeps them in a still-water aquarium. In nature tidal currents, wind, and waves are usually mixing the well aerated surface film water with the deeper water."
Likewise, David Warland, a fish farmer and commercial seahorse breeder in Port Lincoln, Australia, reports he often finds Hippocampus abdominalis perching on the tuna net enclosures at the farm in deep water:
"The Horses that are around the farms have traveled vast distances over plain sand/mud to get to the farms, which are in at least 20 meters of water, and are miles from the nearest land or shallow water (Warland, pers. com.)."
And Jorge Gomezjurado, the Senior Aquarist at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, recommends the following when it comes to water movement:
"I personally believe that current and water dynamics are very important for Syngnathids. In nature they live in areas with active water movement.(i.e., tides in mangrove lagoons and estuaries, coral reefs, kelp forests, etc.). Why don’t we give them the same environmental conditions in captivity? Our small tanks (90 gallons) have large turnovers on an average of 5 gpm (or 300 gph). It is very important that the current is steady and directionally constant, which allows the animals to find a good spot to hold and they will not be pulling in different directions all the time."
Most seahorse keepers feel it’s best to keep the current steady and nonvarying so they can find slack-water areas and sheltered spots downcurrent to hold in when they want to get out of the current. The more brisk the water flow, the more important this becomes. However, in a large aquarium with low to moderate water movement, alternating currents should not present much of a problem, and would help to provide good circulation throughout the tank.
The point is that, as long as slack-water retreats are available, the greater seahorses can tolerate far more current than most folks suspect and good circulation is as important for a seahorse setup as any other aquarium. What seahorses lack as swimmers is not agility, but rather stamina (Evans, 1998). They can hold their own against strong currents, but not indefinitely, so low flow areas where they can move out of the current and hold when they want to rest must be provided in addition to good circulation.
For example, along with an external power filter, my seahorse setup also has a 200 gph powerhead with a sponge pre-filter positioned right near the top for surface agitation and extra water movement, with additional small powerheads used as needed to eliminate any dead spots along the substrate or behind the rockwork. I like to give my seahorses as much current as they can handle without getting blown around.
In short, if your filtration is not turning over the entire volume of the aquarium a MINIMUM of 5 times per hour, your seahorse setup is undercirculated. With a spray bar return raised above the surface of the water to diffuse the outflow, you can safely achieved much higher turnover rates without producing too much turbulence or current for seahorses. A waterfall return is another good way to diffuse the output from your filter, and also works well for seahorses. There will be an area of relatively vigorous water movement at one end of the aquarium underneath and nearby the waterfall, while the other end of the tank is a relatively low flow area.
But as with anything, too much of even a good thing can be undesirable, and too much current can overwhelm the limited swimming ability of Hippocampus. One indication that you may have too much water movement in your seahorse tank is if the seahorses are getting buffeted around by the currents, and whisked away uncontrollably when they tire of fighting the current. Or alternatively, they may stay perched in one place all the time and refuse to swim around and explore their tank for fear of getting swept away by the current if they relax their grip on their hitching posts. So you can get a pretty good gauge of how well the seahorses are able to cope with the water movement than their tank by observing how the current affects the swimming ability.
Likewise, if a mated pair of seahorses is consistently spilling eggs during the copulatory rise, that’s another pretty good indication that there may be too much turbulence or water movement in the upper reaches of their aquarium.
If the seahorses are having difficulty tracking their prey and eating because the current whisks the frozen Mysis past them too quickly to target it accurately and slurp it up, that’s another red flag. Often that situation can be corrected simply by adjusting the output from your filter to reduce the current during feeding time or turning it off altogether while the seahorses are eating.
But as long as your seahorses aren’t getting buffeted around, aren’t routinely dropping eggs during disrupted mating attempts, and aren’t having difficulty targeting their prey and eating, there’s really no such thing as too much water movement. In general, the stronger the the water flow, the more important it is to keep the water currents steady and unvarying so the seahorses can establish holding areas in the sheltered spots and low-flow zones without getting blindsided by unpredictable currents. Just make sure your seahorses are not getting trapped against overflows and be sure to screen off the intakes for any powerheads. Powerheads can be switched off at feeding time, if necessary.
There is a fairly simple way to roughly determine whether or not the water movement and circulation in your seahorse tank is adequate, undercirculated or too overpowering. As a general rule of thumb, if your filter and power heads are not turning over the entire volume of your seahorse tank at least 3-5 times per hour, then the aquarium is under circulated. So just total up the number of gallons per hour that your filter and powerheads pump out and divide that number by the capacity of your aquarium (its volume in gallons), and you can get a rough gauge of where things stand. Ideally, that calculation will come out to be around 5; if it’s lower than that, you can probably stand to increase the water flow a bit, and if the figure works out to be less than three, then you definitely need to step up the circulation. Likewise, if the number comes out to be considerably greater than 5, then you probably need to tone down the water movement somewhat. Remember, adequate surface agitation to promote efficient oxygenation and gas exchange at the air/water interface is just as important as the overall water movement.
Let me know what type of corals you were hoping to keep in your new seahorse system, and I will provide you with some more detailed information on seahorse-proofing or modifying a reef tank to make it safe for the ponies.
Best of luck with your new, more compact aquarium system, MillerTime! It’s great to have you back home again safe and sound, sir!
Post edited by: Pete Giwojna, at: 2008/06/18 02:51