Re:Which filter to choose??

Pete Giwojna

Dear Claire:

Oh, sure — your seahorse setup can be as simple or as complex as your own personal preferences and aquarium budget allow. Personally, I prefer a setup similar to what you describe, with live rock, live sand, and an external filter to provide water movement as well as mechanical and chemical filtration, all supplemented with a good protein skimmer — in other words, the seahorse keeper’s version of a FOWLR tank. But if you’ve never had a marine aquarium with live sand and live rock before, but have lots of experience working with undergravel filters, you might prefer a much more basic setup based on UGs for the biological filtration that does without live rock or a protein skimmer.

If you want to start out with a low budget set up for keeping a pair or two of Mustangs, perhaps the most basic aquarium system I could suggest would be to obtain a 30 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (24"L x 12"W x 24"H), equip it with a simple, standard, off-the-shelf glass cover and an off-the-shelf strip reflector with a florescent bulb, and then fit it with a full set of undergravel filters that completely cover the bottom of the aquarium, as described below.

The filtration system for the tank could thus be as basic as a set of well-maintained undergravels (preferably the new reerse flow designs) that covers the bottom of the tank completely. I know undergravel filters are considered old-fashioned technology nowadays, but they are inexpensive, utterly reliable and foolproof (no moving parts), easy to install, require no modification whatsoever, and work extremely well for seahorses within their limitations. An inexpensive diaphragm air pump will operate the filter and provide all the aeration you need, or you can upgrade to small powerheads for greater efficiency and extra water movement (depending on the size of the aquarium and the amount of current or water full powerheads produce).

For the substrate with your undergravel filters, use a coarse bed of good calcareous aquarium gravel such as dolomite, aragonite, or crushed oyster shell 2-3 inches deep, since the buffering ability of such substrates will help maintain good pH.

It is still a good idea to supplement the undergravels with an inexpensive hang-on-back filter or canister to provide better circulation and accommodate chemical filtration media. This is a very simple, inexpensive aquarium that’s extremely easy and economical to set up and operate, yet it can be very successful if used within its limitations. For instance, undergravel filters are notorious nitrate factories and the hobbyist must take measures to compensate for this fact. This simple system relies totally on water changes to control nitrates. There is no live rock or live sand bed to provide denitrification, no algal filter or denitrator in a sump, and no protein skimmer to remove organics before they enter the nitrogen cycle. This limits the carrying capacity of the tank and makes an accelerated maintenance schedule and more frequent water changes an absolute necessity. For this reason, reverse flow undergravels often work best with seahorses; they help prevent detritus from accumulating in the gravel bed.

I recommend weekly water changes of a least 25% for such a system. Use a gravel washer to clean a different portion of the gravel bed (no more than 25%) each week and keep the tank under stocked. If you are diligent about aquarium maintenance, perform water changes religiously, and limit yourself to fewer seahorses that you feed carefully, you will find that a simple system featuring undergravel filters can be very successful. But if you are negligent with regard to maintenance, skimp on water changes, or tend to overcrowd or overfeed your tanks, this system will be rather unforgiving.

So a protein skimmer is an optional piece of equipment for the seahorse keeper and not a prerequisite, Claire. However, if noise is your major concern when it comes to installing a Hang-On-Tank (H.O.T.) protein skimmer, remember that some of the skimmers are much quieter than the others. For instance, noise is an issue with all H.O.T. skimmers but the Venturi-driven models are notoriously loud. So if you select a Remora AquaC or Remora AquaC Pro H.O.T. protein skimmer, which employ a spray injection method rather than a Venturi, you will find that it is on the low end of the noise spectrum for these skimmers.

Also, bear in mind that new protein skimmers are the noisiest during their break-in period, and normally become noticeably quieter after a week or two of use. This is true of the Remora AquaC H.O.T. skimmers mentioned above — the splashing sound they make at first will be reduced to a muffled hissing sound after they are broken in.

Best of luck finding the perfect seahorses and equipment for your new seahorse tank, Claire!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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