by Tom Lang
We are often contacted about living reef aquariums that are not doing well. Either the corals are not living long or algae is taking over.
The one maintenance step that is almost always missed is regular water testing.
New clients will often say, “that’s what I have you for!” And we respond that levels of Alkalinity and Calcium necessary for coral survival are usually depleted within a few days after our service visits and waiting to supplement these minerals until our next service visit can be very stressful for your corals. Coral reefs are naturally stable environments and sudden swings in chemistry are just not handled well by many desirable corals. We totally understand that paying us to come out weekly just to test and dose basic Alkalinity and Calcium is prohibitive for most budgets and this is why we recommend our reef aquarium clients dose Alkalinity and Calcium daily in between our visits.
This may sound daunting, but if you think about it, you’re feeding your fish every day anyway and you’ll just need to add one more routine that takes less than a minute a day that will keep your corals alive and thriving. And if you skip a day or even two, it’s still better than not dosing at all.
When we visit all of our reef aquarium clients, we test Alkalinity, Calcium, Nitrate and Phosphate levels every time. We also test Magnesium levels every so often (it usually doesn’t change much) and we record these results in your client file.
When we test Nitrate and Phosphate, we are looking for trends that can spell trouble, but controlling Nitrate and Phosphate usually requires longer term actions. However, with Alkalinity and Calcium, when we compare our readings from today with those from our last visit, we can calculate your specific reef aquarium’s Alkalinity and Calcium usage by dividing the differences by the number of days between our visits. We can then let you know how many ounces (usually 1 oz per pump) or milliliters (using a syringe) of each Alkalinity and Calcium product you’ll need to add daily to keep up with your own aquarium’s specific demand (every aquarium has different demands just like every car varies in how much fuel it needs per mile).
We can recommend customized doses of literally dozens of brands on the market of two-part solutions or even powdered products you mix with RO (Reverse Osmosis) water yourself to save on shipping costs. They all work. The easiest ones are the liquid solutions and for a smaller reef, quart size bottles are usually fine whereas gallon jugs last longer for our larger reefs with high Alkalinity and Calcium demands. Keep in mind, we tend to be conservative when recommending dosing amounts because we don’t want to overdose – which can be worse than temporarily depleted levels.
Lastly, remember that the longer you go without testing, the more likely it is that the dosing will either be too much or too little and levels will wander either up or down. Going a month without testing is really a crapshoot, but some of our clients do get lucky. This “luck” is usually because their reef aquarium is very consistent and stable in its Alkalinity and Calcium demands due to no new corals being added or removed. That is why it’s critical especially during those times when you’re adding new corals to a new or even established reef aquarium, that Alkalinity and Calcium be tested frequently (3 – 7 days a week) so that your water is always the best it can be in terms of the right balance of these essential minerals.