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Reef aquarium maintenance tips

Reef aquarium maintenance tips

All reef aquariums, no matter the size or age, require maintenance to keep them looking good. We have compiled the top reef aquarium maintenance tips and fish care guidelines here to make it easier for you. Some of the tips will be on how to help keep the reef tank clean. The other tips will focus on improving the water quality along with fish and invertebrate care guidelines.

Controlling algae on the aquarium glass

This tip is sure to grab your attention! Scraping the glass is one of the least favorite maintenance jobs in aquarium keeping. Although it is impossible to eliminate algae growth in a reef aquarium, there are some things you can do to make it easier to keep the glass clean. The key to quick and easy glass cleaning is to scrape the glass as soon as you see algae growth. Otherwise, the marine algae will slowly coat the glass as new colonies of algae are added each day. The thicker the layer, the harder it will be to scrape off. If you wait too long, the algae will scrape off like strips of paint. Then you will have sheets of algae floating around the tank, clogging the overflow and fouling the filter media. Therefore, it is best to scrape the glass frequently to prevent the algae buildup. The same goes for coralline algae. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to chip off the crusty growth. 

Organic sludge buildup can make fish sick

That sludgy buildup behind live rock and in the filter sump is a breeding ground for fish diseases. Many of the parasites and bacteria that cause diseases thrive in dirty aquariums. Organic waste like dead algae cells, uneaten food, and coral slime can accumulate in areas with low water flow. Poor water quality can also suppress the immune system of your fish and corals, which increases the risk that they will get sick. The solution is easy—siphon out the piles of sludge that collect in the corners of the reef aquarium and down in the sump. Filter socks are great for capturing debris but make sure to clean or replace them regularly. If you don’t remove the sludge, the organic matter will dissolve and pollute the aquarium water. 

Dirty aquariums with dirty gravel and sludge often have a higher level of disease-causing organisms.


Give your filtration system a tune-up

Regardless of the tank sizes, all filter systems require routine maintenance to work efficiently. The water pump is the heart of the system. If left unclean, the pump intake and impeller will slowly become coated with slime. Over time, the buildup will reduce pump efficiency and water flow rate. You can clean the intake with a small brush. To get to the impeller, remove the impeller cover and pull out the magnet and impeller. You can then scrub the impeller with a small brush. Some larger water pumps will require a bit more disassembly to clean the intake and impeller. If you need help, read the manual on how to disassemble and service the pump. Cleaning the water pump every few months will improve filter efficiency and extend the life of your pump. While you are working with the pump, also examine the pipes, hoses, fittings, and clamps. Replace the clamp if it is rusty. Check if the hoses are brittle and replace them as they won’t seal properly when they are used with a clamp or a push-fit fitting. A little preventive maintenance now can save you thousands of dollars later. 

Cleaning the water pump every few months will improve filter efficiency and extend the life of your pump.


Test your aquarium water

If you went to the doctor for a checkup and everything was OK, would you be disappointed? Certainly not! It is the same with aquarium testing. If you take good care of your reef aquarium, then the test results should reflect it. Water testing confirms that the aquarium is doing well. Think of water testing as a “checkup” for the aquarium’s water chemistry. In many cases, the decline in water quality occurs gradually. It is a good idea to keep a notebook or spreadsheet of the test results. Over time, you will see the relationships between pH levels and alkalinity, algae growth and phosphate levels, and maybe even coral growth based on additives like strontium. You can check the nitrate level to see if you are overfeeding the corals and fish. If nitrate levels start to creep up beyond your baseline, you know to cut back a bit on the fish food.


Change the water

One of the most effective ways to keep your aquarium clean and healthy is by making partial water changes. Water changes do two things at one time. Water changes remove algae-promoting nutrients like phosphate and nitrate. This can help to starve algae by reducing available nutrients. As mentioned earlier, organic pollutants suppress the immune system. Dissolved organics cause the aquarium water to have a yellow tint. The organics absorb the blue light energy needed by reef corals. Make monthly water changes to siphon out particulate organic matter (sludge) and dissolved organics. Changing the water also adds beneficial trace elements to your reef aquarium. 

One of the most effective ways to keep your aquarium clean and healthy is by making partial water changes.


Use reverse osmosis (RO) water

Tap water can contain nitrate, phosphate, and other nutrients. Municipal water treatment plants sometimes add phosphate-based, anti-corrosion chemicals to tap water. Every time you mix up a batch of saltwater or top off the aquarium water as the tank water evaporates, you add nutrients that will stimulate algae growth. An RO filtration system will remove these nutrients, providing super pure water for your reef aquarium. You can purchase RO-filtered water from your local shop or refilling station. Many aquarists purchase an RO filter system to make the purified water at home. You should use RO water every time you mix up saltwater or top off the tank. 


Final thoughts

These tips should help reduce the time spent on taking care of your reef aquarium, to give you more time to watch and enjoy the beautiful fish and corals. The key to a clean and healthy aquarium is to keep a regular schedule of aquarium care. Putting these tips into practice will ensure you will only need to spend a few moments on maintenance care instead of an entire afternoon! 

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