Reef Care

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As fishkeepers, we strive to make everything just right for our animals. However, reef chemistry is complicated and can be very confusing. Reef Care Recipes by Red Sea provide an easy and effective way to maintain your reef aquarium. In this article you can find out more about what Red Sea’s Reef Care Recipes are. You can find answers to a few commonly asked questions about reef tanks here:

reef care for your aquarium - a photo of NOPOX and coral nutrition supplements for use in a marine reef aquarium to give the best reef care and get better coral growth and coral colours.

Reef Care Essentials

Here at Cornwall Aquatics we stock a range of products that will help you to achieve coral growth, coral colouration and excellent water quality in your marine tank.

We also sell a range of test kits that will help you to understand what your aquarium needs.

If you live in Cornwall or Devon, you can book in for a Health Check service. This involves a visit to your home or commercial aquarium to check livestock and overall system health. It includes water analysis with our test kits and any ongoing care advice given if necessary. Cornwall Aquatics can provide ongoing care products at the same time if you wish.

Why is water quality important for a reef tank?

Reef animals are happier and healthier when water quality is well balanced. To get good coral growth and coral colouration water quality is especially important. That’s why Red Sea have been doing their research when it comes to water quality and ideal parameters.

Why do people recommend different water parameters for marine aquariums?

No two aquariums are the same. Different species of corals will require slightly different water parameters in order to get the best growth and colour. That’s why Red Sea have designed the Reef Care Recipes. They have divided the recommended parameters into four different groups of reef aquariums:

  1. Soft Corals – a reef tank with a variety of soft corals only
  2. Mixed Reef – this is the most common type of reef that our customers keep. It is an aquarium that has soft corals, LPS (large polyp stony) corals and SPS (small polyp stony) corals. The number of SPS corals would amount to around 25% or less of the total stock
  3. SPS Dominant – can still be a mix of soft & LPS corals but 50% or more of the corals are SPS
  4. Frag Tank – an aquarium that is mainly used to grow small pieces of coral

For Red Sea’s recommendations, first you must choose from one of the above categories. From there it is the possible to work out what your ideal levels should be for KH, calcium, magnesium, salinity, nitrate and phosphate.

What KH level is right for my reef?

Natural seawater has a KH of 7 – 8 dKH (or 2.5 – 2.9 meq/L which is a different unit for expressing KH/alkalinity).

A reef aquarium is an artificial environment that is similar, but not identical to a natural reef. In the open ocean, coral growth does not have a significant effect on the chemistry of the surrounding water. However in a closed environment such as an aquarium, the foundation elements (calcium, carbonate alkalinity & magnesium) will very quickly be used and become depleted. This is why a lot of people keep their KH higher than it is natural seawater.

Here at Cornwall Aquatics we aim to keep most of our marine aquariums at around 8.0 – 9.5 dKH. This does depend on the aquarium, the wishes of the aquarium owners and how often the tank is checked and maintained. Some of our well maintained aquariums run at a lower KH in order to achieve better coral colour and some run at a higher KH to achieve better coral growth. When thinking about what KH to aim for, it is important to take into consideration what types of corals are stocked. It is OK to run a reef aquarium as low as 7dKH and as high as 12dKH in some circumstances.

Stability is key!

The key with KH is stability. Whatever KH you decide is right for your aquarium – try to stick close to it. Ideally test the aquarium at least once a week so that you can monitor and control it.

If you need to add alkalinity to your saltwater aquarium, it is first worth checking that your salinity is correct. Most salts are now designed to be used with RO or RODI water. This means that they have a good KH content. If you have been making regular water changes with a good quality salt and your KH is still too low, it could mean that your animals are using the KH from the water in order to grow. In this case you will need to add some KH buffer to slowly bring the KH of the aquarium up to the desired level.

What is a good calcium level for coral growth and coral colour?

You should always aim to keep your calcium level above 400ppm. Red Sea Recipes recommend parameters between 410ppm – 465ppm depending on which type of reef aquarium you have. You will tend to find that coral colouration will be better when the calcium level is kept to the lower end (around 410 – 430ppm). However, coral growth will be better if you keep the calcium to the higher end (430 – 465ppm). In an aquarium, it is important to keep the right balance between the foundation elements to achieve healthy coral growth.

The foundation elements are the essential building blocks of coral skeleton. If they are not available in the correct ratios, one of them will quickly become a limiting factor. Over 90% of coral skeleton is comprised of calcium carbonate, which is made by combining calcium and carbonate ions from the water. This combination can form a strong crystal structure known as aragonite or a more brittle crystal structure known as calcite. In unbalanced conditions (eg. where there are relatively low levels of magnesium) the skeleton will develop with a higher proportion of calcite. This would make a coral more brittle and more susceptible to damage.

Just as we mentioned with regards to KH, you should ideally test the aquarium’s calcium level at least once a week. If your calcium level is not correct it is again worth measuring the salinity with a reliable salinity meter. If your salt level is too low, you may see that the calcium is also low and if the salinity is too high, you may see a high calcium reading too.

What is the right magnesium level for coral growth and coral colour?

As a rule of thumb your magnesium level should be roughly three times your calcium level. So if you were going to keep your calcium at 450ppm, we would say that your magnesium level should be 1350ppm. Those parameters are what we at Cornwall Aquatics would aim for in most reef aquariums. However, magnesium can be kept between 1220 – 1390ppm. The level that you choose will depend on what type of reef you have and whether you are aiming for more coral growth or more coral colouration or a happy medium between the two.

As with KH and calcium, you should ideally test the aquarium’s magnesium level at least once a week. Your magnesium level is effected by the salinity. If your salt level is low you may see that the magnesium is also low and if the salinity is too high, you may see a high magnesium reading.

What is the best salinity for my tank?

The ideal salinity for your aquarium will also depend on what type of reef you keep. Red Sea recommend between 33 – 35 PPT.

In case you are more used to using SG (specific gravity) to measure your salinity – this converts roughly to between 1.024 – 1.025 depending on the temperature of your aquarium (see chart below).

Conversion table for salinity in parts per thousand (ppt) to specific gravity (sg) combined with temperature variation.
Approximate salinity, in parts per thousand, for the hydrometer reading at the indicated temperature.

Should I use trace elements in a coral tank?

In addition to the foundation elements, all corals have 31 minor and trace elements present in their skeleton and soft tissue. All of these minor and trace elements have an important role to play in the biology of corals (including metabolism and colouration). The corals utilise these elements from the aquarium water so it is a good idea to replenish them. By using a good quality salt you will replenish most elements when you do regular small water changes. However, if you are finding that you need to buffer your foundation elements in between water changes, it most likely means that you also need to be adding trace elements. You will also need to add trace elements if you are not changing the water often.

How can I dose trace elements correctly?

Because every tank is different, it used to be difficult to work out exactly what trace elements to add in to different systems. Red Sea make a four part ‘Trace-Color’ supplement which takes the guesswork out of dosage rates. To work out the correct dosage, you need to test your aquarium water once a week. Once you know how much calcium your aquarium uses, Red Sea can recommend what amounts of Trace-Color (parts A, B, C & D) to add.

Do I need to feed my corals?

Corals, depending on the species, obtain 15 – 100% of their nutrition from food sources that are suspended in the aquarium water. Using coral foods, such as live phytoplankton and Reef Energy Plus, will help the health and vitality of all corals.

Live phytoplankton is a natural marine algae that is a food source for many clams (and other bivalves), soft corals, sponges and zooplankton. It contains essential nutrients for health of marine fish and invertebrates. You can use phytoplankton at the same time as adding live marine copepods and live mysis shrimp. Marine copepods and mysis shrimp will both feed on phytoplankton making them far more nutritious to you marine inhabitants when they eat the live ‘pods’ and mysis. Phytoplankton is great for corals because it improves coral colour, polyp extension and growth rates. This live food can be very beneficial for helping to maintain water quality too because it absorbs nutrients from the water to grow.

Reef Energy Plus provides a balanced mix of the carbohydrates, vitamins, amino & fatty acids that corals need to flourish.

Feeding your corals is easier than ever. Dose according to your aquarium’s needs. Full instructions and a measuring cap are included with Reef Energy bottles. You can use an automatic doser to feed your corals with Reef Energy Plus, as the new all-in-one formulation can be kept unrefrigerated and unstirred for up to one week without compromising the efficacy of the combined components.

The 500ml & 1000ml sizes of Reef Energy Plus even come with a special cap that can be adapted so that the bottle can be used as a dosing container.

How can I control nuisance algae?

Most pest algae grows because of nitrate (NO3) and phosphate (PO4) levels being either a little too high or out of balance with each other. Nitrate is best kept between 0 – 5ppm and phosphate is best kept between 0 – 0.1ppm depending upon your coral choice and type of system. At Cornwall Aquatics we try to keep the nitrate as low as possible and tend to aim for a phosphate level of between 0.01 – 0.03ppm where possible. This is because some soft corals like a tiny bit of phosphate in the water.

Red Sea Reef Care Recipes give you recommended levels for your type of system. These levels can be achieved by using Red Sea’s NO3:PO4-X (otherwise known as NOPOX) together with good protein skimming. Another way to control these levels is to use a bio-pellet reactor and or an algae reactor again with good protein skimming. If you find that your phosphate levels are very high, you can also use a phosphate reactor with a resin exchange media like RowaPhos.

There are other ways to tackle algae problems but the above is a great starting point. If you need further help, one of our aquarists can book in with you for an aquarium health check.

Top Tip:

It is important not to overfeed your tank as this can lead to higher waste levels (NO3 & PO4). To prevent adding unnecessary phosphate to your aquarium water, rinse and drain off excess water from all frozen foods prior to feeding. Feed as much as your fish can eat fairy quickly. In normal circumstances, frozen or dry foods should all be eaten within 30 – 60 seconds. Live foods aren’t so much of a problem because they can live in the tank for a while so it is fine to feed a bit more.

What are Reef Care Recipes?

Reef Care Recipes by Red Sea are carefully researched suggestions of ideal water parameters for a marine aquarium. As discussed above, the ideal parameters will depend on what type of corals you keep and weather you are aiming for a fast coral growth rate or very colourful corals or a bit of both.

Corals can adapt to live in a range of water conditions. It is worth bearing in mind that stability is just as important as the actual parameter values. In order to make an adjustment to the overall parameters of a reef aquarium, any changes should be done incrementally and over a period of time to allow for a gradual acclimation of the corals. The Red Sea Reef Recipe manuals give specific guidelines that include maximum recommended daily increases of KH, calcium & magnesium levels. It also gives the correct order in which to add the various supplements, ensuring a smooth change of parameters.

Next time we drop a delivery over, you can ask us to include a free manual that explains Red Sea’s recommendations. The physical copy is something that you can keep handy near your aquarium. Another option is to can click on the link below to see the online version:

Happy reef keeping!

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