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Some of the most common reefers mistakes to be avoided.

By Moolis / Pet Stop SA

As with all hobbies and keepers of livestock there are some mistakes that most make especially in the beginning. Either due to a lack of knowledge, wrong advice or that old problem “I know better” and this can be attributed to nearly every reefer I have ever spoke to.

The most common mistake that they do, is not doing their own research /approaching the hobby and the wrong resources – Beginners that do not have a framework as reference to work from, have to take their local Marine shop assistants advice as correct. The problem is that a large percentage of shop assistants are not that well trained and therefore their advice end up been only a half truth or even worse totally wrong. Then there are the reefers that have been in the hobby for a while that make emotional decisions or start to experiment without properly investigating the total effect their decisions will have on the inhabitants of their aquarium. Then there are the “WWW. Crowd”, they believe everything they see on the internet. There are loads of “guru’s” on the internet giving advice even when it is not asked for. This should not be a problem but loads of these supposedly “guru’s” do not know enough to keep their own reef aquarium healthy. How can you take advice from someone that himself is not successful?

The answer for beginners is three fold. Start by reading a lot of books, magazines (like SAFishkeeper) and go on the internet (I use www.wetwebmedia.com and www.liveaquaria.com a lot), then evaluate the internet sources against your knowledge gained out of the sources discussed above. Now you are equipped to go around and identifying a good reef/marine aquarium shop and the shop assistant that can help you (most owners of marine aquarium shops are very knowledgeable but the problem is that a successful business owner cannot always be on the floor to help you)

Another mistake is that reefers want to keep their systems in the same manner as they see their local marine/reef shop keep their livestock. What is wrong with this, if it works for them, why can it not work for me? Well the answer is not that strait forward. Firstly the shop receive and dispatch livestock constantly so they actually do much more than the recommended 10% water changes every week (in Pet Stop we average 25% water changes on a weekly basis). Secondly due to the huge bio load changes we are more reliant on nitrification process to eliminate Ammonia and nitrite than denitrification of nitrate and phosphates. Thirdly Your local marine shop do not need a skimmer, reactors and phosphate & nitrate management as bad as you do, they solve this problem with the massive amount of water changes they do. So do not try to copy them, it will become a headache and cost you more in the long run.

Another problem is over feeding their prized livestock, without managing the associated water quality problems. I feed my new arriving livestock loads of food of all different kinds and types. But I need to do that in the shop to ensure the livestock recuperate as fast as possible from the stresses of catching, holding and importation into SA. In a well-designed set up, maintained and monitored reef aquarium you can feed as much as I do. But, and yes there is always a but, you firstly need install the correct hardware that is big enough to handle the extra bio load and then you need to monitor your aquarium constantly.

Going too fast and over loading their systems is another mistake and in this case even the most advanced hobbyists are guilty. How do you know if you are going to fast or if you are overloading the system? Well you need to know exactly what the parameters of your water are and what it should be. Then you need to monitor this on an on-going basis to know the moment one of them start to move in an undesirable direction. If your systems parameters are good and it starts to change after you introduced new livestock it is a sign that you might be overloading or you are going to fast. NOW you need to react fast to prevent your aquarium going south. As the say goes in the marine aquarium trade “Good things happens slow BUT BAD things happen very fast”, so take it slow.

Over dosing, yes even your livestock can OD. The common thought that more is better does not apply in most cases in a marine aquarium. We regularly get customers that bought a product to rectify a specific water condition and added more than they should have, thinking that it might help rectifying aquarium conditions to the correct levels faster. This is never a good idea as the manufacturers recommend a dosing that would ensure the desired results in a time frame that is safe for all the inhabitants in you marine aquarium. If you now decide to add more than the recommendation the problem you are rectifying might change so dramatically that the livestock can get sick or even worse, they could actually die. Follow the recommended dossing accurately for the safe and most efficient rectification, do not guess or over dose the amount you need to add to your aquarium.

Using tap water to mix the salt water with, or using tap water for top up. Tap water is made safe for human consumption by the local municipality, they do not clean it for you to use directly in your marine aquarium. Here I am not talking of chlorine in the water, I am talking about the amount of nitrates, phosphates, heavy metals and loads of other dissolved solids and pesticides in tap water. The water in the oceans (away from polluted areas) are very stable and consistent in what is dissolved in the water, so manufacturers of quality salt mixes are going to great lengths to match their salt to the needs of your marine aquarium inhabitants and the natural sea water they live in. That is why you need to use pure water to start with like Reverse Osmosis (RO) water. There are others but RO is easy and cost effective. If you use tap water you end up with all the pesticides, hormones and other products everyone upstream from the water source added to the water and their fields. A good quality salt mixed with pure water is absolutely essential for a successful long lasting marine aquarium.

Buying livestock that cannot be mixed. Remember every living organism living in the ocean needs to eat and it means that something down the line is food. If you add large angelfish or trigger you cannot expect them to eat the same as a small shrimp, no the shrimp will most properly end up in the mouth of the fish. Neither could you expect 2 fish that would protect a large area to coexist in a small aquarium. This is only 2 examples of the 100’s of possible mistakes you could make. SO do not buy a new fish, invert or corals if you do not know what their needs are or their compatibility with existing stock in your aquarium.

Improper maintenance is another major problem we see daily. You need to manage your water quality where the water changes are as important as it is to do the correct maintenance on a regular basis. What is the correct maintenance? To start of you need to clean your skimmer cup 2 to 4 times a week and the rest of the skimmer at least once a month. Then you need to clean your reactors at least once a month. Every week you need to remove water out of your aquarium by syphoning the bottom to remove any debris or detritus before it could build up. Then you need to clean or replace the pre-filter medium every week as this is a mechanical filter and should be used as mechanical filter and not biological medium. Most Activated carbon is only active for a maximum period of 28 days, there after it is a biological media. So replace the activated carbon every 4 weeks maximum, we rather use smaller amounts and replace all of them every week. Your sump should be cleaned out of debris every 3 months, especially in the corners as a build-up here will lead to poor water quality down the line.

I have only mentioned the cases that I personally experienced the past 2 weeks and there are loads more things you should be on the lookout for, but space in this magazine will not allow me mention all of them here. Read, Read and read some more and you will avoid most of the more obvious ones, but except that you will make mistakes and that it come with the joy of keeping marines in an aquarium.

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