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Problems that You Will Encounter (Very Soon)
Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate Problem
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Introduction to Bacteria and Algaes
If you ever been a saltwater aquarium shop, you must have heard of the term "cycle". The "cycle" actually refers to the biological procedure of breaking down the organics in the water into the inorganics. The organics in your water come from overfeeding, and metabolic wastes produced by the living creatures in the tank. Most of the organics have Nitrogenous molecules and in the steps of breaking the organics down, by-products such as Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate will be produced. The cycle, however, can only happen when there are different types of bacteria present in your tank. Hence, the first thing that you must add to your saltwater is the bacteria. The bacteria that can contribute to setting up the cycle can be purchased in any saltwater aquarium shop.
Besides bacteria, the next most important thing for the beginners to understand is photosynthesis in the tank. In simple terms, photosynthesis refers to the plants using up the carbon dioxide and minerals in the tank to produce food for itself and oxygen for the living creatures. Since the photosysthesis requires light to provide the energy, carbon dioxide level changes from the "day time" to the "night time". ("Day time" means the hours that you have your lights on; similarly, "night time" means the hours that you have your lights off. There is no particular guideline for the number of hours that you should have your lights on, but we recommend that you should keep your lights running for 10 hours a day - no more no less.)
Algaes are simply plants that live in the tank and they are responsible for photosynthesis in your tank. However, there are different types of algaes. Some of them are good, but some of them are bad. The good algaes are brown and red algaes and the bad one is the green algaes. Green algaes are bad because they soften the base of corals and eventually kill the corals. In the beginning of setting up your tank, there are two types of chemicals that you must pay attention to. They are silicate and phosophate. Both of these chemicals are nutrients to undesired algaes. So if the silicate and phosophate levels are not monitored closely, you will have algae problem. Realistically every one runs into this problem in the beginning. As a matter of fact, algae problem is one of the most frequently encountered problems in the saltwater aquariums. This is true regardless of whether you are totally new or you have been keeping a saltwater aquarium for quite some time. The algae problem is always a headache because algaes grow whenever you do not keep tab on your water condition. Low salinity, bad filteration, or a bad lighting system can cause algaes to grow like no tomorrow in your tank.
There is a much faster way to reduce your algaes's growth and it is to use chemicals. There are two major products that you can choose from - Marine Tank Clarifier from CORALIFE and Aquarium Clean from AQUAMARINE.
On the left, we have only shown a picture of the Aquarium Clean product. The plastic container has powder that can be added directly into the tank. The 8 oz bottle (the big one) treats up to 7200 Gallons. (At the moment, we have run out of the Marine Tank Clarifier. So we do not have a picture to show here. But it is essentially the same product as the Aquarium Clean.)
On the left is a picture of our own tank. The "red" algaes that you see on the side and the back of the tank is Pink Calcareous Algaes. There is, however, another type of red algae called Red Slime Algae that is not good for your tank. So make sure that you know which type of red algaes is actually growing in your tank.
We mentioned in the beginning that ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate are by-products of the cycle. Usually, they will be taken care of in the last step of the cycle. However, it is not safe to rely on the the bacteria and microorganisms in your tank to clean up the cheimcals. This is because the rate the creatures to produce the wastes is mush faster than the rate the bacteria to break down the organics. Once your initial set up is ready, you will need a protein skimmer to remove the nitrogeneous organics from the water manually. For a tank that is less than 50 gallon, a simple protein skimmer, such as the one we used in demonstrating the principle behind a protein skimmer on more Filteration page, is sufficient.
In the beginning of the set up, however, you must keep an eye on the ammonia and nitrite levels since ammonium (the usual form of ammonia after it is dissolved in the water) and nitrite are toxic. They have to be removed immdeiately. Fortunately getting rid of ammonia and nitrite is actually quite straight forward - you can do it by having water change frequently and by adding the corresponding eliminators.
To the left is two other products from AQUAMARINE. They have now become two of the most popular bacterial based products in our store. The bacterial based products are the new type of products that unlike chemicals, do not introduce chemical reactions in your tank. They are also very easy to use and the result is quite remarkable.
If your tank is having a level that is under 20 parts-per-million and if you use the dosage as recommended and constantly in the treatment, your nitrite and nitrate levels can be brought down to the regular level in a month. Of couse, if your nitrite and nitrate are at the extreme levels, you will not see any dramatic changes in a short period of time.
pH is the indicator to show the acidity and alkalinity of your water. Although it does not have an immediate impact on your tank as ammonium and nitrite, it is the single most important component in the long-term. For those who do not know, your pH level does not fluctuate every time you change your water. This is because your water has a pH buffer capacity to absorb the sudden changes of the pH level. However, once the pH buffer capacity is exhausted, there is nothing to stabilize your pH level and soon your water has a pH level well below the level it is supposed to be - 8.3. If your pH level is well below what it should be, you will soon see that fishes are not moving as much.
It is extermely important to keep a stable pH level if you are considering keeping corals later on. So you see that the best way of protecting your pH level is to ensure that you have a stong pH buffer capacity at all time.
Here is a picture of pH and KH buffer. They boosts up your pH and KH (Carbonate Hardness) levels in your tank. If your pH level is below 8.2 or your KH is below 2.5, you must use the corresponding buffers to restore your buffer capacity in your tank.
The result will be obvious when you test your water after a 5 days treatment. (You need to use the chemicals for 5 days continuously.) The pH buffer is safe in that the pH level will be stable once the pH level is at 8.35. This is true even if you keep adding pH buffer into your tank after a 5 days treatment. However, there is no such self-stopping mechanism for the KH. It is possible for the KH to go higher than it should be. So the best thing to do is to test your water after a 5 days treatment and do not keep adding the KH buffer into the tank until you have found out that you need to do so.
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