Water Softener Woes

by Tom Lang

We have been seeing more and more homes installing water softeners and then having problems with their aquariums. In order to soften a home’s tap water, many water softeners work by exchanging minerals (mostly calcium and magnesium) with sodium. While this is good for your pipes, shower doors and washing machines, it’s not great for fish.

Aquarium water needs to contain a balance of electrolytes (solutes that break down into ions when dissolved in water) in order for fish to be able to regulate their internal homeostasis. Freshwater fish, especially, require some calcium and magnesium as well as carbonates and other minerals in their water for this osmoregulation since they continuously absorb water into their bodies though their skin and flush it out through dilute urine produced by their efficient kidneys. Electrolytes are lost from the body during urination and if these same ions are not present in the surrounding water, then the fish is unable to achieve internal electrolyte balance rapidly leading to death.

So it is not so much the presence of sodium that causes fish problems in softened water, but rather it’s the lack of calcium and magnesium (measured as GH – general hardness) and carbonates (KH – carbonate hardness or alkalinity) that fish need to survive in an aqueous environment.

In a freshwater planted aquarium, a balance of minerals is also important, however it is interesting to note that plants may do fine for quite a while in softened water even as the fish perish. This is due to a hydrophyte’s (fully submerged aquatic plant) ability to retain minerals in its tissues since, unlike terrestrial plants, it does not need to expend energy retaining water. Calcium and magnesium are considered “secondary” nutrients because plants require these in smaller concentrations than nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Often, aquarists with planted tanks will also add plant nutrients that contain enough calcium, magnesium and other minerals for the plants, but not in enough quantity to provide for the far greater needs of the fish.

Finally, using softened water in a saltwater fish or reef aquarium creates other issues. Again, the lack of calcium and magnesium may require supplementation to bring them back into line with natural seawater. While saltwater fish are drinking seawater rather than absorbing it through their skin like freshwater fish, they still must regulate their internal electrolyte balance. It is necessary to add calcium, magnesium and carbonates to artificial saltwater made with softened water if tests indicate levels below natural seawater.

Your Ideal Saltwater Aquarium

by Tom Lang

Too many people call or email us when it’s too late – after they have already purchased an aquarium. Then we have to gently break the news that while they may have gotten a really good deal on a tank, stand, light and filter combination, off-the-shelf products are usually simply not ideal for a successful saltwater aquarium experience.

Of course, it’s possible to keep saltwater fish for a short time with less than optimal equipment, but the picture most people have in their minds of their ultimate aquarium – numerous colorful, healthy fish, colorful corals, easy maintenance – cannot be achieved with the equipment they now have sitting in their family room or office.

Understanding the spatial needs fish have in order to live long lives in your care should be the first and foremost consideration when selecting the size and the shape of your aquarium. This is purposeful aquarium shopping. A pair of common clownfish, three green chromises and a shrimp can be very happy in an aquarium in the 20 – 30 gallon range, but fish that grow much larger such as angelfish, tangs, triggers, lionfish, eels, and puffers, will not live for long in such a small space.

Pet stores routinely stock babies of the most popular and colorful saltwater fish, but it’s up to you, the savvy fish shopper, to know the ultimate requirements of each fish as it grows before you buy it. If you want to keep a fish that is genetically programmed to grow to a large size for more than a few weeks or months, you will need an aquarium sized to that fish. The old axiom “fish will only grow to the size of their aquarium” is true only because most larger fish will die before they reach even a fraction of their potential size in an aquarium that is too small.

So, how large of an aquarium should you buy? The short answer is to size the aquarium based on the types of fish you wish to keep. In our experience, the ideal minimum size for a nice group of colorful reef fish is a 160 gallon aquarium measuring 7 foot long, 18 inches deep by 24 inches tall like the one pictured at the top of this article. Taller tanks holding more gallons with the same or smaller footprints usually do not allow more fish to be kept successfully since reef fish are generally more concerned with finding their own place within the reef structure, not up in the water column.

Your ideal saltwater aquarium should have a built-in overflow box to draw water from the surface. Aftermarket overflows that require siphon tubes can be added to existing tanks, however there is a real risk of failure and a soaking wet floor if they do.

The heart of every aquarium is the filter. However, canister or hang-on-the-back filters that are fine for freshwater aquariums come up short for saltwater because of the tendency of enclosed canisters to deplete oxygen in the water and the limited capacities of the hang-on-the-back models.

Your ideal saltwater aquarium utilizes high quality, fully-cured live rock as both its primary biological filtration and as the base for either living or non-living decorative corals. Even if you don’t want the maintenance commitment and expense of a full-blown reef aquarium, our experience time and time again tells us that an adequate amount of live rock is still essential for success in fish-only systems. Add a couple of internal propeller pumps at each end of the tank to keep the rock as free of detritus build-up as possible.

Acrylic sump w/protein skimmer & 7″ filter sock

Your ideal saltwater aquarium has a custom acrylic sump tank under the main tank with a built-in filter sock holder and plenty of capacity to hold a quality return pump, heater or heaters, a large in-sump protein skimmer and various other water treatment, automation and monitoring options. We recommend a 7-inch diameter filter sock for the 160 gallon aquarium since this size has a capacity to efficiently filter thousands of gallons of saltwater even in a heavily-fed aquarium before requiring cleaning.

With the under-tank sump in mind, the aquarium cabinet takes on even more importance. Rather than being merely a stand for the tank, the cabinet needs to have doors that open as wide as possible or a door on one side without restrictions in order to get the sump in and out and also contain all the associated equipment. The cabinet should also be fully open in the back against the wall or outfitted with ventilation fans to minimize moisture build-up. A nice touch is a waterproof pan to contain minor spills and splashes that inevitably will occur.

Your ideal saltwater aquarium has sleek, bright LED lighting. Be sure to select LED lighting that is optimized for saltwater aquariums. Many LED lights offered for sale have mostly white LEDs that make the water appear yellow and wash out the colors of the fish. Choose an LED fixture that has about 50/50 blue and white LEDs, is programmable for on and off times and intensity and has gradual light ramp up and ramp down periods that don’t startle your fish. If you want to grow living corals, you will want to be sure to choose high intensity LED lights that are specially designed for the unique needs of the types of corals you are considering.

Finally, your ideal saltwater aquarium is optimized for the future. As technology advances, the system we have described here allows you to add the latest equipment such as controllers, reactors, dosers and lighting as they become available. There will always be improvements coming down the pike, but if you start out with quality components, you will have many years of enjoyment before you’ll need an upgrade. You’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that caring for your beautiful fish and corals is so much easier since you planned ahead.

Please contact us today and we’ll help you put it all together!

Large Beautiful Aquarium

Aquarius Aquarium, Inc. created this 300 gallon saltwater aquarium for our client, Jim, who had a very specific request: “Help me impress my friends with a large tank that also looks like it belongs in my new living room.”

The black lacquer cabinetry was the perfect complement to his many high-tech home decor elements and we knew he would be pleased with the minimal (once-monthly) maintenance required by our utilization of premium Fiji live rock topped with colorful artificial coral replicas requiring much lower lighting levels than living coral. Jim’s aquarium reminds him of his many trips to the Hawaiian Islands and he really enjoys the freedom that our vacation feeding service provides when he is actually vacationing in our 50th state!

Aquarium in Brick

Here is one of our Fresno custom residential installations where we were called upon to built a 100 gallon saltwater aquarium into an unused indoor barbecue!

This job posed some challenges as we were restricted by the small space under the tank, but we were able to design a custom filtration system that squeezed perfectly into the space available. The resulting life support system is more than adequate to handle the bio-load of about a dozen spectacularly-colored coral reef fishes who now call the former barbecue home!

Existing uneven brick construction and ventilation issues were all managed to a beautiful end in a coordinated effort with the client’s contractor and custom cabinetmaker.

We had a lot of fun with this one and enjoy caring for it every month! Contact us today with your aquarium challenge.

Ray Appleton’s Aquarium Feeding Video

KMJ radio talk show host, Ray Appleton, had Aquarius Aquarium, Inc. install a beautiful 100 gallon saltwater aquarium in his Shaver Lake mountain home. We moved two tomato clownfish from a former smaller aquarium we had been maintaining for him in Fresno and added a baby blue spot tang and a pufferfish.

Here is a video of Ray’s new fish eating ravenously just after we acclimated them to aquarium life over the course of three weeks in our Fresno quarantine system. This service is available to clients located in our service area. Contact us today for more information!

Elegant Built-in Aquarium

This breathtaking 300 gallon saltwater aquarium was built into an existing wall in this beautiful Fresno residence. Aquarius Aquarium, Inc. worked with the homeowner’s remodeling contractor and interior design team throughout the project – even making sure the aquarium lights didn’t distract from the nearby plasma television at night. When the room lights are dimmed for movie viewing, the aquarium lights automatically dim as well! All filtration and other equipment are completely hidden from view in a dedicated filter room directly behind the aquarium and accessible through a door from the outside of the house.

Sea stars

By Aletha Lang

People often ask us about the California tide pool touch tank on display during Aquarius Aquarium Institute’s educational outreach programs.

These sea stars and other animals cannot survive in the typical home aquarium and are actually illegal to possess without proper permits.

For more information about the Institute’s educational programs and to request that the animals visit your child’s school or birthday party, please e-mail Aletha Lang or call 559-490-3474.

Dream Aquarium

The beginning of your DREAM aquarium like this saltwater reef aquarium complete with living corals, high-intensity lighting and an in-cabinet life support system with built-in chiller we installed for a client in Tulare, CA, begins with a call or an e-mail to Aquarius Aquarium, Inc.

Aquarius Aquarium, Inc. has the decades of experience to guide you through every aspect of your aquarium project. Our specialty is working with you to create a custom aquarium that meets your unique needs and to develop a spectacular conversation piece for your home or office. Our staff works one-on-one with you to establish and refine your ultimate aquarium vision and then we exceed your expectations.

We are experts in coordinating interior designers, architects, contractors, cabinetmakers and electricians. Our interview consultation is the first step toward turning your dream into reality.

Contact us to schedule your appointment today!

Pulsing Xenia

Here is a video focused on a living coral growing in one of our client’s brand new coral reef aquariums. Watch how its polyps, like little hands, grab for plankton in the water as hermit crabs busily clean the beautiful purple coralline algae-encrusted Fiji live rock around it.

A Personal Favorite

Adult blueface angel – we had this one for 15 years!

By Aletha Lang

A personal favorite of ours for the saltwater fish-only aquarium is the beautiful blueface angel, Pomacanthus xanthometopon.

Although some individuals may be considered reef safe, blueface angels will most likely eat the polyps of corals and nip at clams and zooanthids. They do best as the showcase fish and do well on commercially prepared food. Those frozen foods that contain sponges and algae are best for their health.

The juvenile blueface looks much different than the adult – both spectacular!