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FAQs about Marine Substrates 1

Related Articles: Marine System Substrates (Gravels, Sands) by Bob Fenner, Marine Substrate Options by Sara Mavinkurve, Deep Sand Beds, Live Sand, Biofiltration, Denitrification, Live Sand, Live Rock, Biominerals in Seawater, Understanding Calcium & Alkalinity

Related FAQs: Marine Substrates 2, Marine Substrates 3, Marine Substrates 4, Marine Substrates 5, Marine Substrates 6, Marine Substrates 7, Marine Substrates 8, Marine Substrates 9, Rationale, Selection, Reef  Substrates, By Type: Aragonite/s, Coral Sands, Silicates, Dolomites/TapAShell, Southdown & Such, Collecting Your Own, & Physical Make-up, Size/Grade, Location, Depth, Marine Substrate Cleaning 1, Marine Substrate Cleaning 2, Moving/Replacing/Adding To, Marine Substrate Moving/Replacing/Adding To 2, Substrate Anomalies/Trouble-Fixing,

Not so secret source of live and not sand, Eilat, Sinai.

Maintaining A Sand Bed  8/31/05 Hello, <Hi there! Scott F. with you today!> First off, I want to apologize if this question has been answered somewhere, but I have searched and only found bits and pieces of what I need. <No problem-ask away!> My question is whether or not I am supposed to vacuum the gravel in my aquarium. <Well, it is advisable to perform some light vacuuming on the tops layer of sand on a regular basis.> I have always vacuumed (even though I must go very slow so I don't suck up the substrate) about once a week for my water changes, and after seeing the color of the water being taken out, I knew it was the right thing to do... <It is, in my opinion. Lightly cleaning the upper layers of sand will help keep the sandbed from accumulating excessive organic detritus. It is inevitable that stuff will accumulate there, but regular siphoning will help reduce it somewhat.> My sandbed is about 3" of medium to fine aragonite. If I forget to vacuum for more than a week my sandbed turns green and red and fills with bubbles, is this denitrification? <Well, the green is probably algae growing between the glass and the sand. The bubbles can certainly be indicative of denitrification processes occurring in the sand bed.> It just seems like if I don't vacuum, too much debris will accumulate. <This is the concern that many hobbyists have about sand beds. They do need to be carefully maintained in order to avoid excessive amounts of detritus from accumulating and possibly degrading water quality. If you visit many hobby discussion boards, you'll see a growing number of hobbyists forsaking sand beds altogether. Lots of opinions here- and many are correct! Keep your sandbed clean, and your tank will be a healthier, more stable environment for your fishes.> My livestock includes a Blue Hippo Tang, a Yellow Tang, a Hawkfish, a Flame Clown, a Percula Clown, a Fairy Wrasse, Frogspawn, Candycane Coral, many mushrooms and leathers, Zoanthids, a 12"BTA, and a 6" Sebae. My tank is a 75 gal with a Remora Pro skimmer, a Fluval 404, and about 100 lbs of live rock Thanks for the help, Dan   <Well, Dan- sounds like your habits are good. Just don't siphon to aggressively into the lower levels of sand, or you'll end up disrupting the very denitrification processes that you're attempting to foster. Also, do think about larger quarters for the Hippo at some future point. Best of luck! Regards, Scott F.>

Substrate and Bioballs 8/19/05 Hi, I have a few questions. First, I've read on your site that crushed marble is not a good choice as a substrate, what is the actual difference between marble and crushed coral that makes marble a bad choice? <Well, to be very general, crushed coral tends to dissolve easier in the higher ph of a marine tank, and provides some buffering and dissolved mineral content. Marble tends to dissolve much slower.> And does that matter if I'm only using the marble as a one inch substrate for looks only? <You could, but both of these materials are generally found in very coarse grades, and coarse substrates require a great deal of attention, even at shallow depths, as they will tend to trap detritus. Accumulated detritus can lower water quality and lead to outbreaks of nuisance algae. If you are intending to maintain a sandbed of any depth, I'd tend to prefer a very fine substrate, like the oolithic aragonite materials in the "sugar fine" grades.> Also, I'm changing the main filtration on my tank from a penguin BioWheel with ceramic noodles to a sump with bioballs. Most of the advice on your site says to use live rock and a deep sand bed instead of bioballs because of the nitrate factor. But I don't have room for a deep sand bed, and as far as I know the penguin/noodle combo produces lots of nitrates too but I was able to keep my nitrates at zero by using a Zeolite (I think) type medium that has the right size pores for anaerobic bacteria to live in. By my thinking, if I was controlling the nitrates before then switching to bioballs shouldn't make a big difference - is that right? <Well, bioballs offer a huge surface area for bacteria to colonize on. Possibly even more surface area than the ceramic noodles. Either material is excellent at reducing ammonia and nitrite, but both become "victims of their own success", removing ammonia and nitrite, while accumulating nitrate. Perhaps you could utilize a deep sand bed in your sump. Or, you may want to experiment with a very good protein skimmer and your aforementioned shallow sand bed in the display. Many aquarists are successfully forgoing sand beds altogether. More than one way to run a system out there...> Finally, as I said I'm going to take out the BioWheel so I was planning on running the BioWheel and bioballs together for a few months before taking out the wheel. Given that the it has been the main filtration for two years or so, do you think taking out the BioWheel suddenly will cause a problem? <May not cause a problem, but the phasing out of a very efficient biofilter for a new one is always potentially tricky. Be sure to phase out the old system slowly, and monitor water quality along the way.> Thanks for your help. <My pleasure. Regards, Scott F.>

Which Sand? - 08/13/05 Hello Again, <<Greetings>> Your site has been the best thing for the hobbies since glass aquariums! <<Thank you>> My question: I will need aprox. 300LBS of sand for a 5" base, I wanted to put down the first few inches with Home Depot sand to save money, and then top off with live sand.  I cant find Sanddown <<Southdown?>> name by me.  But I have found "silica free" sand.  Is this ok? Thank-you in Advance as Always. Dan P <<Should be fine, silica-free or otherwise.  I have done this very thing with the refugium on my frag system.  EricR>>

Curing Live rock and crushed coral in a reef 7/29/05 Hello Crew, <Howdy Frank! Ali here...> Thank you for all for the effort that you put into this wonderful website! <Merci> What a wealth of knowledge! I have a quick question about live rock and substrate. I have a 90Gal marine aquarium with some soft corals and some fish. I started the tank with about 2" of coarse crushed coral substrate and 50 lbs or live rock. I have recently acquired another 150 lbs of live rock which I am currently curing. <Make sure you cure your rock for at minimum a full 4 weeks. Utilizing LOTS of circulation in the holding "bin" will go a long way. Additionally, it would be better to add 1/4 of your new rock per week, so that in 1 month's time all of the new rock will be added. This is AFTER the initial minimum 4 week curing phase. > The question that I have is if I add all of this live rock into my aquarium, I will be covering up a lot of the crushed coral on the bottom of my tank and will therefore be unable to vacuum most of the substrate in my tank. Is this going to be OK, or is it going to lead to problems in the future? Will I have to switch to a deep sand bed in order to add this rock? I am trying to do what is best for the marine life by adding the rock, I do not want to create any dangerous side effects in the process. <Generally speaking, crushed coral isn't something you want to utilize in a reef aquarium. You will have less problems in the future if you bite the bullet and do a tank renovation, removing the crushed coral and replacing it with a fine grained deep sand bed 3-6" or simply going completely bare bottom, or perhaps a shallow sand bed 1-2" of fine grained sand. The CaribSea Aragamax Select sand is ideal for this and can be found at most reputable dealers.> Thank you, Frank <No problem Frank! Good luck>

What are those bubbles? Live sand query! Bob, Thank you for such an informative look at aquarium keeping. I am returning to the hobby after a four year "break" and have set up a 58 gallon reef tank. After much time at your site I have learned that so much has changed in the hobby. <Ah, welcome back "to the fold"> We just passed the two week point. The tank is running great and levels are superb for the moment -- no ammonia, no nitrite, and less than 10ppm nitrate. I am using about 60 lbs of live sand, 35 lbs of live rock, and 30 pounds of limestone base rock. After much fussing with air hoses and pumps, the skimmer is producing some great nasty-looking junk! Filtration consists of a HOT Magnum and a Sealife Systems Pro Series 300 wet/dry. We have even made it past the ugly diatom stage. More live rock will be added at a rate of 10lbs a week until I am happy with the look of the mini reef! <Sounds good> Fish include: Long-nosed Hawk, Watchman Goby, Fire Fish, and a Blue Damsel. Clean-up crew includes: 10 blue legged Hermits, 5 Turbo Snails, Sally Lightfoot Crab, Serpent Star Small) and a Sand Sifting Star. <Do keep your Hawkfish well-fed... it may well ingest your crustaceans> After time at your site I know that I need to reconsider the wet/dry or replace the bio-balls! Advice here? <Watch your nitrates, pest-algae growth... pull the plastic media as it makes sense to you> The Substrate is where my question lies: The sand bed ranges in depth from 1-3 inches. I know that I need to add to that for de-nitrification and I will do so within the week. <Okay> I am seeing tiny bubbles in the sand. What gas makes up these bubbles? Good or bad? <Life, more good than bad. If they don't "smell bad", don't be concerned. Can, will be vacuumed, stirred out over time... eventually other processes will discount their production to being unnoticeable.> Also, in creating a DSB am I trying to create anaerobic zone? <Intentionally to an extent, yes> I always heard that this was trouble but like I said, so much has changed in the past four years. Any additional thoughts would be very helpful and very much appreciated. <Please do take a read through WetWebMedia.com, starting with the search tool at the bottom of the homepage... putting in terms like anaerobic, DSB...> Thanks for your time and consideration. I know that you guys are very busy and any info you can share will be helpful. <We all have exactly the same amount of time my friend. Thank you for sharing. Bob Fenner> Best regards, Lee Kirgan

Holey rocks Dear Sir/Madam: I have heard you are a dealer in honeycomb limestone, or holey rock. For how much do you sell it, and if you do, how may I order it? Please respond to me, XXXX@yahoo.com <You are mistaken. We (WetWebMedia.com) don't sell products. Please see the links here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/links.htm for etailers that may have this rock> I am also interested to know how much it may cost to ship approximately 100 pounds to southern California- perhaps via UPS or other delivery service. If you do not supply this product, do you happen to know another dealer? Any information you could provide me would be much appreciated. Thank you, Christoph Zimny <Bob Fenner>

Sand Bed Hello Mr. Fenner, I want to say right off the bat how thankful I am for your book and web site.  <Thank you my friend. Getting better all the time> A year ago I bought a 75 gallon aquarium to keep  marine fish. "It's not any harder the FW, just more expensive." Geez I had no clue. Mixing salt to the water then to the tank, feeding only flake food, the same gravel as my FW tank (I'm sure you know all of the bad stories of people who started the same as I.) <New ones most days> I am ashamed of my ignorance towards this hobby and how lazy I was about fixing it.  <Ah! But aware of where you were, going elsewhere/forward> After too long I am now hell bent on going it the right way and have formed a good plan. I bought 85lbs of LR. A skimmer!! I am learning about different food stuffs and everyday maintenance. I ordered power compact lighting last week and I have a refugium empty and waiting to be filled. :) Very excited. <Yes!> My next upgrade will be adding a 4" sand bed. What I have right now is (1 1/2") live sand & crushed coral mix that looks to be active. Worms and clams and creatures that I have no idea who they are moving around in it. I will also add a 4" sand bed to my refugium. <Good> This brings me to my question. I live in Fort Bragg in Northern California. I am right on the beach as a matter of fact (lucky me.) I am wondering since I do not need live sand, I am assuming my active bed will seed whatever I put in it (Slowly of course) would it be acceptable to go down in the waves and get some of our sand (beach ranger permitting)? <Not a good idea actually... too much/cold difference in temperature for the majority of organisms to bridge... Along with concerns re pollution, pests...> From 55* to my tank that is at 80*. I am sure all of the critters will die off (will sieve it to take out larger stuff) but I wonder if it will do the same as sand from my nearest marine store. I don't think it will harm anything, I guess the best question is will it do any good for it? <Not really... well, perhaps as an experiment... but not in/with your main tank. You will/would suffer "cloudy water" problems that would be persistent... from die-off, adjustment in many ways.> I am planning on increasing my water circulation. I want to get an external pump and have a spray bar (I hope that is the correct term) along the back of the tank. I am not so happy with looking at internal powerheads. :) I am wondering if you have any thoughts about going through the plumbing hell (not my strong suit) to have this setup. Do you think it would be worth it for my system? I want to have a fish and hardy invertebrates system. Perhaps a reef is the very distant future. <Lots of ideas on plumbing are posted on WWM and on to a link to Oz's Reef... a good idea to draw out/diagrammatize your various choices... to show others, gain clarity in your final design> Thank you for your time and I hope you will be able to write back. Ann <Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Aragonite I have a 75 gal trickle overflow with a 20 gal sump that is large enough to handle a 15 tank and is working good water spec are great the only problem I have is that my ph stay at 7.9 or 8.0 I add Kalk by slow drip but after the one gal bottle empties it goes back to the 7.9 - 8.0 I would like to know if the original aragonite that I put is the tank eventually loses its punch  <All substrates do> or may be I don't have enough  <A distinct possibility> got about120 lbs live rock I got about an half inch under the rocks and about one inch and a half in the front of the rocks fine to med grain should I had more and if so how much do you think this would help I have a med to heavy load of live coral and about six small fish would increasing the amount on the bottom be the solution THANKS <Maybe... but look into more of your background in water chemistry here... You'd be better off with a "two part" supplement system to bolster your alkalinity (give up the Kalk)... and best with a simple calcium reactor. Please read over these areas on our WWM site, starting here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/watrqualmar.htm and onto the many linked files, FAQs listed. Bob Fenner>

Question about substrate Bob, Is it possible to replace an existing substrate that consists of crushed coral and live sand with pink Samoa sand (that is not live)?  <Yes> Would it be feasible to pull everything from an existing tank out, put them temporarily in another tank or container, then place pink Samoa sand in the tank and re-fill the tank with live rock/live stock? <Yes, but would be better by far that the live rock was cured... in the system ahead of the change-out> The reason I am asking is because per my local LFS guru, if my nitrates' level is not dropping (the tank is 4 months old) it may be because my substrate isn't working properly (the substrate is 3-4 inches thick)(?) <This is a good depth... nitrates can exist, rise for many reasons.> He recommended either Aragamax sand or something equivalent (Samoa sand). By performing the above though, wouldn't that destroy all de-nitrifying bacteria? <Mmm, certainly the ones in the existing substrate. But there are many more, likely sufficient populations on the live rock, other surfaces in the tank> Assume that I would keep the water. Also, at what point would the livestock have to be re-introduced to the tank? <A day or so after re-setting up should be fine> Would Aragamax or pink Samoa sand be more effective than Florida live sand w/ crushed coral at keeping the nitrates' level low? <Yes... Please read the FAQs here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/no3probfaqs.htm and the FAQs, article files linked beyond. Bob Fenner> Thanks, D.

Re: Question about substrate Hi Bob, The substrate has been replaced. I removed the old crushed coral/sand and replaced it with (40 lb 2 1/2 inch thick) of Samoa Pink sand. Looks better and nitrates seem to be down to less than 5. Also, my nitrite readings seem to be closer to 0, even though with this Aquarium Pharmaceuticals test kit (using a color scheme) is hard to be accurate. Would you suggest a better test kit? <Not necessarily for nitrates, but in general, yes: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/martstkitfaqs.htm> I did go ahead and introduced a 3 1/2 inch Kole tang to my main 55 g tank, and this is where I got confused. The LFS "specialist" suggested no fresh water dip because supposedly it stresses fish out tremendously(?) <Less stressful (to you especially) than introducing pests, parasites with the new livestock...> I did not perform the fw dip, but I did quarantine the tang for half a day. He looked bored so this morning I placed him in the bigger tank. He seems to be getting along fine with the yellow tang, and has been grazing on the glass or rock. Do these bristle mouth tangs eat hairy green) algae or will I need a Mithrax crab for that? <Please read the WWM site.> Also, there seems to be an accumulation of a white cottony thing on my maroon clown's head every time the lights come on, but when they are off it seems to go away(?) It looks like it is propagated by light. <Keep an eye on this... and read about clown disease... where?> At last, my water flow is supported by the Penguin 330 filter, 1 Rio 600 power head, 1 Maxi jet 1200 and a Remora skimmer with an MJ 1200 as well. Is that enough? I know I asked this question again, however I just want to make sure no fish dies out of hypoxia. <Please see circulation, aeration FAQs....> Btw, your site is excellent; need to find time to read more... <Learn to use the Search Tool. Bob Fenner> D.

Re: New tank setting it up (marine substrates) Hi Bob and JasonC, How was the dive? How about posting some pics? <Fine... and we do... daily> hehe.. Well I got my tank filled with saltwater from the Waikiki Aquarium for about a week now. It's a pretty good deal, you pay a one year membership, you get saltwater for free from their well which is naturally filtered, free entrance anytime they're open, and invitations to their special events. I think now is the time to put some substrate in and base rock. I was at the Home Depot looking for the infamous Southdown to no avail but they do have a 60 pound bag of sand for $2.68. Its a local product labeled "Coral", it looks pretty fine like aragonite. The LFS in my area sells aragonite for $10 per 10 pound bag. I am at an impasse here on which one to use.  <Chat with other aquarists there... test some of the inexpensive product...> The aragonite at the LFS is a little bit more finer than the coral but is more expensive. I read that coral is not really good as a substrate (something to do with nitrates?) and fine aragonite on the other hand has a problem of cementing the surface? <Both of these are "possible" shortcomings... there is huge variability in these products> I need some advice. I have read that if I am going to use fine substrate such as these, I should not lay it on too thick while other sites I've read are saying the exact opposite and saying that I should use up to 4 inches! What do you think? As always thank you for your help and Happy Holidays!.. <Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marsubstr.htm and where the links lead you. Bob Fenner>

Re: Moving Tanks Hi Jason, <<Hello.>> Thanks for your advice. Really appreciate it. <<No problem, my pleasure.>> As for the substrate, how bad is it to mix sugar size with crushed coral? <<not bad at all, I would think.>> Should I remove all of it and start with one size? <<nah...>> Thanks again for your 7x24x365 service! <<Glad I can be of help.>> Brian <<Cheers, J -- >>

Looking for a Cheap Sand Source Bob, <<JasonC here filling in while Bob is away diving.>> I'm looking for some "home-depot" cheapo sand to mix with my 30lb of live sand and live rock, I've heard that play-sand and blasting-sand have silica and are to be avoided. <<this is true>> so if you could steer my in the right direction, me and my wallet would be thankful. <<Keep your eyes peeled for the brand "Southdown" This is probably best suited for the base of deep sand beds and refugiums as it is very fine BUT... it is re-branded stuff from CaribSea [or so the rumor goes] and so Southdown is supposed to be pure aragonite. This is about the only thing at a Home Depot that I could recommend for use in a fish tank.>> thanks and happy holidays <<You are welcome, and yourself as well. Cheers, J -- >>

Sand bed I am presently going nuts with a high nitrate problem, still can't figure it out I do have to upgrade my Prizm skimmer to a bigger one per your advice (thank you). <This will help> But I have a bigger problem. Every time I do a water change a clean and some of the bottom six hours later my fish appear to have ich, thought it was a stress thing since only the newer of the three would show signs.  <You are likely correct> It clears up but cannot be good, even one that when I did have a major out break never showed any signs, it is now. Have treated the fish but can't do main tank. My wife wants me to drain and start over, even new rock which could be my nitrate problem. <Won't solve the nitrate situation. Please read this: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/no3probfaqs.htm area on FAQs about nitrates, the further FAQs, on to proposed areas of nitrate elimination.> I am thinking of going to a sand bottom instead of crushed coral. My only question is any advantage or disadvantage to laying directly on the bottom and is the aragonite worth the extra money? Many thanks again <Please read over the "Marine Substrates" article on WWM and the many FAQs posted there. Bob Fenner>

Experiment (testing marine substrates) Hi again, I still haven't found anything suggesting it's already been done - but that's only after a couple of hours of searching from my desk. I wouldn't even know where to begin at the library as far as what journal, field, etc. I took carbonate geochemistry in graduate school, but even my textbook doesn't have anything, or any references that apply to directly what I'm looking for. Most of that is driven strictly by CO2 fluctuation, conc. of calcium already present, etc. Not exactly the same scenario. <Does seem strange such important data, work isn't more visible...> I think I'll draw up a plan and try to see what the total cost and time investment would be. And chat with my old professor at U. South Florida (here in Tampa) about any ideas he may have, and the possibility of using a mass spectrometer (typically not free, but he's a pretty good friend) Obviously may still do absolutely nothing with any of this, but I am very curious about what the results would be. I really have no reasonable expectation of any particular result (rare) - thus I am the perfect experimenter for the job. <Sounds good> Please let me know if you come across anything pertinent. I also asked B. Goemans about the experiment, but I think he may be out of town. Cheers, James <Press on Dr. Fishenstein! Bob Fenner> James W. Fatherree, M.S.

Filter Media Question I have a gravity flow sand filter that I built myself. I use a blower to stir the material for cleaning.  <Neat> I am looking for some choices in filter media that will work like sand, but are lighter in weight to improve my cleaning process. <Hmm, there are media of different densities...> Do you carry any such materials? Can you direct me to a source if you don't? <I/we don't offer such products... would check with your LFS re "special ordering" such from their dealers... maybe mention Tideline in L.A.... and look around, see what other hobbyists are using... maybe devise a "test bench" for gauging density... The Home Depot sand, various Aragonitic sources, dolomitious materials... many choices to test, use. Perhaps peruse this part of our site: http://wetwebmedia.com/marsubstr.htm and the links, FAQs beyond. Good hunting. Bob Fenner> Thank you.

Photos (Rock, Coral skeletons) Hi and good morning, Bob. Here 2 photos of the rockwork for my tank. One outside and one inside the tank. No water yet! About 1" sand on the bottom. I'm still waiting for my equipment. I left about 1-2" clearance between the rocks and the back of the tank for circulation. Is that o.k.? <Yes, a good idea to facilitate cleaning> I don't want the fish to hide in that gap all day. I might have problems with higher ups in the house if they don't see the fish!!  <Mmm, they'll come out in time...> Anyway, there will always be gaps in the back, even if I rest the rocks against the back glass. I will add some more coral rock if I can get some later. One question. How do I clean the sand? <With a "stick" and gravel vacuuming. Please see the WWM site re maintenance> If I pass the gravel cleaner close over the sand without sucking out the sand, will that be o.k.? Will the bacteria in the sand do the rest? I think I will have to stir up the sand when doing so, right?  <Yes> I will start the cycle with liquid 'Cycle start'. Regards, Bernd <Okay. Bob Fenner>

Mixing marine substrates Thanks Bob for the blazingly fast response! One can almost think you wear your computer around with you. <Have been accused as being a device itself> You mention mixing the two substrates and indeed I thought of that. But wouldn't the finer sand find its way to the bottom defeating the purpose? <Yes, depending on which one is actually more/less dense, a greater proportion of the one mixed in below/above more> If that isn't a big deal, then I will begin the process tomorrow. <Not that big a deal. Bob Fenner> Zimmy

Sand (for marine substrate) Hi, Bob and good day. Thanks for Your advice on magazines. I looked on some of their web sites. Not bad. When I went through my 100+ old TFH magazines I came across a lot of Your articles which I'm reading about a zillion times now. My freshwater tank is gone and the aquarium is clean and ready to be set up as a marine fish tank. I received 3 bags (about 150 lbs) very fine ,less then 1 mm diameter, coral sand from a friend of mine who owns a key island on Guanaja. Very clean 'off white' sand. I will wash it and then put about 1" on the bottom of my tank. Is that o.k.?  <Yes, likely fine> My petstore here has no sand whatsoever at the moment, so I'm stuck with what I have anyway. Then I will put the coral decoration in and then I have to wait for the salt, test kit and equipment that I ordered ( bio wheel to go with my canister filter, 2 power heads). I will keep You updated. Regards, Bernd <Be chatting my friend. Bob Fenner>

Two More Questions (marine substrates) Bob, I have a few questions I left out of my last email. First has to deal with substrate. I have a pistol shrimp and two watchman gobies; right now they are burrowing all throughout the live rock structure and having quite a happy time of it. Would it make any sense for me to add some larger size live sand to my bed of 100% Fiji Pink live sand? <Yes... easier to have the burrows hold their shape> If you are familiar with the names, I was thinking of "Bermuda Pink" or "Super Reef" size sand, and just a little to let them play with the variation in their burrow a bit. I have had someone else say not to; what's your take? <Really like the Bermuda Pink> Second, are you familiar with compact fluorescent lighting? If so, how does it compare to normal fluorescent, in terms of brightness and bulb life. My info says that they are 3 times as bright and last 12-18 months. However, someone recently disputed this and said that all fluorescents are the same and need to be replaced every six months. Any input, such as a watts per gallon recommendation for power compact lighting? I have 384 watts on my 29 gallon reef (very crazy!). <Please read through the Marine Lighting sections, onto the CF FAQs posted on our site... starting here: http://wetwebmedia.com/lighting1MAR.htm> Last, would it be acceptable to have a saltwater tank (fish or reef) with live rock (1.5 + lbs/gallon), live sand (no more than 4" deep), a sump and a good protein skimmer as the filtration? <Sure> As a separate idea, would it be acceptable to have a reef with 2 pounds per gallon of live rock, 3" of live sand, and a canister filter (skimming from the surface) as the only filtration? <Could be made to work...> Thanks, Ben <You're welcome. Bob Fenner>

Bubbles in Substrate Bob - As a result of your website, I was inspired to rehab my 12 year old 75 gal aquarium that I had let degrade to a point were only a few hardy damsels could live. Now that that summer project is completed I am enjoying ( and I am sure my fish) the tank. <Ah, the pleasure... for both of us> Part of the rehab process was to replace the substrate with 1.5" of aragonite. That was two months ago. Now, there are small bubbles along the glass in the substrate. Is this a problem?  <No real problem... though many general articles, even books state that this may be a sign of anaerobic action, trouble... it's likely just the opposite here: an indication of vibrant metabolism. As long as the water doesn't "smell bad" when the bubbles are released I wouldn't worry> I remove them by running my finger along the glass about every two weeks. <Sounds fine. Bob Fenner> Thanks -- Chuck

Marine fish Hi, Bob. Can you tell me good web site that shows pictures of marine fish including a short description of them (length, adaptability, etc).  <Wish I could... I use Scott Michael's Pocket Guide and Reef Fishes books, the old WEB/HRA/RayH TFH Atlas... and a bunch of other references... oh, including fishbase.org on the Net...> I just love Your web sites. If I put 1" coral gravel in the tank that is big enough in size to be washed with a gravel cleaner without being sucked up, what size would You recommend by No.? <Five> I found web sites that sell gravel sized by No. From 2-20. I see that anything above 10 is too large but between 2, 3, 5, I can't distinguish the size of the pebbles. I have to tell my dealer the size by No. so that he can order it. Thanks, Bernd <I understand. Bob Fenner>

Re: Marine fish Hi, Bob. Thank You for Your great advice as usual. Bernd <A pleasure my friend. Bob Fenner>

Set Up and using local ingredients Aloha! <Salutem dicit my Hawaiian friend> Sorry if my question is a dumb one but, I am about to set up a 50 gal Marine tank. I plan on purchasing a protein skimmer or a combination bio. skimmer like Bak 2 . If this sounds like it will work fine. But, my main question is, I live 50 ft from the ocean here in Kauai. I would like to use the local sand and rock <Mmm, not to be perceived as too Spartan, but don't get caught... a no-no in HI with the DNR> instead of buying live rock and sand. I will probably use fish I order and some local varieties as well. Can or should I use the local sand and rock or still order it from somewhere else? <Ah, I would very likely use the materials at your immediate disposal... If in doubt at all, let the collected substrate run w/o other livestock till you register appreciable nitrate, no ammonia, nitrite... Bob Fenner> Mahalo for your response <You're welcome>

Sand bed Hi, Bob and good evening. I'm still confused about this sand bed and live sand. Somebody on the net tells me now that the live sand my dealer sells has only bacteria in it, but none of the important "critters" that I need to get the sand sifted. <This is possible. There are such products.> They suggest that I put 3" of sand collected on our beach on the bottom. Then 2 bags of the live sand from the store and on top of it 1" real live sand from our beach collected in 3' of water. That would give me all the critters. <A dangerous proposition... pests, parasites, pollution too likely present. I would just use some live rock with whatever source of substrate... the LR will inoculate it fine> Can any phosphate in the sand be filtered out later? <Mmm, yes... or bio-accumulated.> I might find a stretch of more or less clean beach not too far away, but we still have rivers and the city polluting the ocean. I find a lot of 'sand dollars' close to the beach in the ocean. Is that a sign of good water? <Not necessarily> Can those animals live in a tank. <Yes. There are public displays of these echinoderms about. And many labs utilize Sand Dollars for research...> I never read anything about them. They bury in the sand. Why the big difference in the depth of a sand bed. Will a 1.5" bed not work biologically? <Depending on depth, chemical make-up, angularity, s/b fine. Please start reading here: http://wetwebmedia.com/marsubstr.htm and here: http://wetwebmedia.com/livesand.htm> Now that I have solved my problem with the temperature, I have another one. I had 2x20 W and 1x15W bulbs on my tank, but now I can fit only 2 x 20 W light fixtures on the remaining glass covers. The rest is open for ventilation. Will 2 x 10 000 K bulbs be enough for the FO tank? <Yes. Bob Fenner> Thanks, Bernd

Re: Sand bed Hi, Bob. Thanks again for Your well appreciated help. I now have enough new stuff to read. Good night. Bernd <Chat with you soon my friend. Bob Fenner>

Dumping the substrate Hi Bob it is me again. I recently removed my substrate from my tank and at the same time I did a water change. The reason I removed the substrate was that my water had a film on the surface. I would do water change after water change and skim the top. Nothing would get rid of this film. I added the Kent Calcium Buffer and stopped because of the film, but there was no change. Now since I removed all of the substrate my water has never been so clear. I just received the Eco System 40 last night and I installed it. According to the Eco people you do not need substrate but you and I know it serves a vital purpose. My question is if I decide to put back the substrate what type of substrate should I use to prevent this film incident to happen again. I read the info. on your website but I would like to have your professional opinion. <Hmm, the site IS my opinion, professional and otherwise... Crushed coral is about the number one winner for most types of systems... Time re-read the "Marine Substrates" section my friend. Bob Fenner> Thanks, David S. Garcia

Hard time with (substrate choices for marines) Hello Bob, I am reading lots of your material, but this time I have a friend that is in the medical field and knows the different values and chemistry. I am starting to make more sense of the chemical balance. <Sounds good> I am also trying to take control of the green hair algae and green algae that covers my glass daily. I have added some Cerith and some Nassarius snails. My question is: I used Seaflor Aragonite Reef Sand, which is rather course. Is this a "fine" enough sand bed for the Nassarius or should I add some find grain sand to the bed? <Finer would be better for them. Bob Fenner> Thank, Dave

Crushed Oyster Shell as Substrate? Dear Mr. Fenner, I have been maintaining a F/O 30 gal salt tank for about 2 yrs. NEVER a reef tank. I am trying to set up a 125 gal reef as inexpensively as possible without downgrading quality. So I am researching each and every purchase thoroughly before deciding. I am up to "substrate" at this point. <Okay> I am in the Midwest, thus sand/live sand is hard for me to get (without driving 150 miles) AND BOY! shipping for 200 lbs is crazy! My ONLY local fish store is "PETCO", big choices there! ;) I have also looked for the famous "Southdown" sand here and it's just not gonna happen without eBay prices and shipping. <Hmm, how about the Home Depot sand alternative? Please consult/consort (!) with our Chatforum (www.WetWebMedia.com is the homepage, link there... am on the road, can't cut/paste) re its availability in your area> I am also currently creating cement rocks with crushed oyster shell, something that I have PLENTY of in the Midwest ;). My question is, Could I possibly use the "crushed oyster shell" as a substrate?  <Hmm, well, can... please see the "Marine Substrates" section on our site (WWM) here> I have been searching forums and sites about this and have read about 50 "absolutely nots" and about 2 "I use nothing else". What do you think? <Possible, generally not advised... that is, typically, substrates are a plus> My uneducated theory is that if it's ok in the rocks, why wouldn't it be ok for the substrate? If you think it is possible, Could you recommend how deep? For a 30 gal hex & 125 gal? <Again, pls see the "complete answer" article on our site here> I'm sure you get a ton of letters, emails daily, and I thank you for your time and consideration! <have been out at the MACNA XIII hobby conference the last few days... sorry for the delay in response> Amy Horn P.S. I have ordered your "The Conscientious Marine Aquarist". I am patiently awaiting its arrival to my local book store. 1 week down, 1 week to go ! <You will not be disappointed my friend. A note of sorry in advance... for the hours we will share together in your reading of this work. Bob Fenner>

Reef tank and substrate Hey there, need to move my reef tank (60 gal cube) soon and I want to redo the substrate. Right now there is a simple 1/2" of aragonite on the bottom. I want to upgrade this to a DSB. I have a 20 gallon tank as a sump with an ETS reef devil in it. This tank will probably remain up for 9-10 months until I finish my 240gal and move the reef into that. I plan to do the same sort of thing outlined here but on a larger scale of course for the big tank. <Okay> I want the 20 gal to become a refugium. I will probably divide the sump in 3 sections with an acrylic divider. I will divide the overflow pipe into 2, with a valve at the junction so I can control how much goes down each pipe. <Sounds good> One section (probably 80% of the overflow) will pipe into the section of the sump that has the reef devil in it. The reef devil will output into the third section which has the pipe for the return pump in it. <Hmm, hmm> The other section (90% of the overflow) will flow into the refugium section of the sump. I will put an overflow/underflow divider between the refugium and the section where the return pump sucks from. (i.e. water from refugium overflows into a U shaped section, that overflows on the other side into the return pump area. <All right> Does this all sound pretty reasonable and I'm not doing something insane? :) <No. Sounds good. Make sure and oversize the return plumbing (from the main system into the sump)> I am probably going to put a mixture of 1/2 aragonite 1/2 live sand (3-4" deep) and a few pieces of LR in the refugium side, toss a CF above it, and a whole back of Caulerpa. Do I have to worry about Caulerpa somehow getting into and infesting my tank?  <Not really.> I guess I could fill the U shaped overflow with bioballs and that could help trap anything large that tried to cross to the return pump section. <Be careful here lest you cause an overflow problem... for the possibility that the Bioball area may get clogged, make some failsafe pathway for it.> With this set up what do I want to do for a plenum in the main 60 gal tank? <Nothing necessarily... I like to run such DSBs only in remote sumps> Deep?  <A few to several inches> If so do I place the rocks first then the sand, or am I better elevating the rocks on PVC/eggcrate and filling in the sand around them? I've never had a substrate deeper than an inch before and I'm kind of scared :) I had a 120 gal reef for 5 years and it was a simple aragonite bottom. My nitrates were always a bit high and I want to remedy this. Thanks very much! Jeff <Proceed with your grand design. Bob Fenner>

Re: Reef tank and substrate Wow fast :D Sounds great! I'll probably proceed with this at the end of August when I move. One more quickie, for the substrate of the refugium...should I mix the aragonite and live sand, or lay down aragonite on the bottom, then live sand on top? In either configuration I assume the two will end up intermixing anyways. <Please read: http://wetwebmedia.com/Plenums.htm and the subsequent FAQs section. I would place a barrier twixt the layers> Would I want to vacuum this substrate or just leave it be and let it feed the refugium people? I'd assume leaving the fine live sand on top to prevent detritus penetration into the lower layers. <Please read the Marine Maintenance sections of the site: www.WetWebMedia.com> I assume get the smallest aragonite I can for mixture with the LS? Thanks very much! You are a very good source of information. Jeff <Be chatting my friend. Bob Fenner>

Re: Reef tank and substrate Ack ahah sorry to email you so much today. One more quickie. Things will be much simpler if I have just one sump. This would be the plenum and Caulerpa/live rock sump. This means I cannot put the reef devil in it. 60 gal tank 5 fish (blue tang, yellow tang 2 Perculas, tomato clown) 110# of Fiji (too much, gotta remove some) several hundred mushrooms/polyps/etc Would the Caulerpa/plenum handle that sort of bioload w/o skimmer, or am I better to do the 2 sump or divided sump method and keep the skimmer.  <Two sumps would be better, but the one would very likely do> The one sump method would have a higher water flow rate through it, although I would remove the Mag 12 return that I have now and Use the RIO that's feeding the Reef Devil. That would slow things down considerably. I promise I won't bother you again today ;> Thanks Jeff <No worries. Bob Fenner>

Tank Bottom Hi Bob it is me again I was wondering if its is a good idea to change my substrate. I like the way the sand substrate looks but I am not too sure how easy it is to clean. What are the pros and cons in having sand substrate. Currently I have Crush Coral I believe has small sea shells) <Please read: http://wetwebmedia.com/marsubstr.htm Bob Fenner> Thanks, David Garcia

If I'm bugging you, let me know!!! :) (switching out substrates) It's me again. 55g FO with LR cycling. Tank up for 2 1/2 years. Flame angel, tomato clown, cleaner shrimp, brittle star and a few hermits. I am thinking of changing out my CC for sand before adding the LR. What do you think of this plan? <Maybe a good idea... functionally to replenish the alkaline reserve, bit of biomineral such material will afford in the place of your likely exhausted crushed coral... and esthetically, nice to have a change> Home Depot Southdown Sand 35g Rubbermaid Tub (not trashcan) Nylons Crushed Coral (Aragonite) from 2 ? year old established tank Water from tank Place sand in Rubbermaid tub Add water from main tank into tub Fill nylons with CC from tank (make 6-8 softball size packets) Place nylon packets half way into new sand Have heater (if necessary) and powerheads in tub Rotate nylon packets and stir sand daily Allow the packets to seed bed for 1 week or longer Here are my questions: Will the sand cycle? <Oh yes... you likely will observe "no change" in the water in terms of ammonia, nitrite...> If so, follow the procedure for curing LR? <I'd cure it in place if not "too much" material for this system (like one box/ forty five or so pounds... and not too "un-cured" to start with. If more, or real stinky, let it cure in the Rubbermaid... or if a lot of material (like two boxes), one box in place, the other the tub.> After my newly acquired LF and the sand cycle, can I add both to my established 55g at one time? <Yes> I understand I will have some cloudiness. I do have a mechanical filter. Should I run carbon? <A good idea> Should the fish be removed from the tank until the cloud settles down? <Probably not necessary... it will be obvious if they need to be> From what I have read, adding sand to an established tank would cut down on the cloudiness if prepared in a separate container before hand. <Yes> What cleanup crew for sand? Hermits, snails, etc.? FFE has 2 cleanup crews depending on FO or reef. <Read up, assemble your own mix... you can read my opinions in various places on this topic on the  WetWebMedia.com site...> I am planning on turning this tank into a reef in the next couple of months. Would it be OK to get the reef cleanup crew? <Sure> Thanks once again, Mr. Fenner!!! Susie <You're certainly welcome. Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Setting up a new tank? Hi Robert, I have to tell you first off, thanks for all your help the site is great and you're the man. <Suspect we are> I'm getting ready to set up a new 125 gallon salt water tank. I have a 55 gallon that is doing great. The thing I'm confused about is this: Filters and Substrate I have been told by some that wet dry filters are a hassle, by others that canister filters don't work. So need less to say I'm confused.  <Both can/do work... both have their pros, cons> It really is not a money issue as it's more what will work best in the long run. <Hmm, neither. Look to building, buying a sump... or modifying the wet-dry as such... w/o the provided media...> At first I was thinking about running a wet dry filter, a protein skimmer, an ocean clear canister and a UV filter with a Little Giant pump. Needless to say, what do you think? <Sounds like the best of all the possible arrangements> The system will contain soft corals and fish. Lighting for the tank is 4-55 watt power compacts. 2-10000k and 2-6700k 03 bulbs. I will be using about 110-120 lbs of live Fiji rock. As far as substrate my best dealer in town tells me don't use any its a hassle later on. I'm leaning toward his advice, but I really like the way it looks in tanks. <I use it... would use substrate for all the reasons stated on: http://wetwebmedia.com/marsubstr.htm> Thank you for all your knowledge and help. Tony Hughes <Be chatting my curious friend. Bob Fenner>

Marine substrate Good morning Bob, Hope you had a fun/safe 4th.  <Yes, stayed home "working"...> I almost hate to keep bringing up this same subject, but I've checked a few message boards and couldn't find an answer, (wish the WetWeb forum was up).  <Soon my friend> It's about use of the Southdown play sand as substrate again. I've been to several Home Depots looking for this stuff, but all of them carried the brand, Paragon, instead of Southdown. I was wondering if you had any experience with this Paragon brand, and knew if it was the same/similar stuff.  <Hmm, don't know... do remember being told of the Southdown not generally being shipped too far away from the source (Florida) due to economics... but also know of folks who with perseverance have bought a few pallet loads and had it delivered all the way to California... maybe a few phone calls, gathering like-minded folks together (hobbyists in a club? Local retailers?) for a semi-huge order? Bob Fenner> Again, sorry to keep coming back to this same subject. Thanks as always.

Curing LR/lighting, marine substrate on the cheap Hi Bob, Hope you had a good weekend.  <Yes my friend. Thank you. Hope yours was as well> As for your question regarding the beer, I guess that's why the came up with the slogan, "Why ask why..." :-) <oh yes> Well, as always, answers bring rise to new questions. <If they're good ones> Here's today's questions: with a new tank setup, I would really prefer to re-cure all 90lbs of LR in place in one shot. What are cons of doing it this way, versus curing two 45lb batches as you recommended?  <Really, only the added possibility/chance of "overwhelming" the system and its mechanicals... and having too much, too soon of the live part of the rock die off... Always a chance of this... but smaller batches... mixed with already cured LR... less potential> Also, I've seen various posts regarding the Southdown sand at Home Depot. Have you had anymore experience with that?  <Yes, ugh, mainly lifting bags...> In your latest responses on that subject, it didn't seem that you really had an opinion regarding its use. I'm mainly interested in the buffering capacity of the sand, (similar to coral sand?) <Hmm, almost identical... does have equivalent properties, composition... should look through, possibly screen for misc. glass and metal pieces... though I've never encountered any.> ... and the cheap price of course! Thanks again. <It is indeed a real bargain. Bob Fenner>

Changing substrate & time Dear Bob, After hassling with a hair algae problem for about 1.5 years, and talking with various experts at several different locations, (you inc.) I decided to change out my substrate to a mixture of Carib-sea Aragamax and FFE live sand. After about 15 hrs. of extreme TLC and many words that are not printable, the task was completed. <I hear you> It has now been 3 weeks to the day, and the results are great. There is no re-growth of hair algae to speak of, and the 2 50 gal. cleanup crews, (thank God for turbo-grazers) <And the hair algae...> , are taking care of what is left. All my corals and other finny critters are doing fine, after what must have been a very traumatic experience for them. My question (questions) is, would this be like setting up a new tank? <Yes, in most respects> I re-used quite a bit of water from the "old" system to refill the tank after the process was complete. All the LR was scrubbed with a toothbrush to remove the nasties. How long should one be expecting to wait to see if this changeover actually worked? <You have seen it> 80 gal. tank. water parameters all good except the iodine level 0.04 ca @ 400, Alk. 9-10, mg. 1300, nitrate<10ppm. Oh yeah, one more thing. I have recently been seeing where the addition of "Kalk" is not exactly the thing to do. <About time... I've been against this archaic, toxic practice from day one...> A friend of mine has been using a product called "Aragamite" from Carib-sea to do her buffering and calcium adds. What do you know about this product and it's results? <Yes... basically (pun intended) it's finely ground "old reef"... in effect, much like wave action in the wild, many calcium reactor designs... Bob Fenner> Thanks for your input, Charlie Ehlers.

Substrate for marine system Hello Robert, <Hello> Once again I would like to commend you and Wet-Web-Media. I also would like to thank Lorenzo, who performed an admiral job in your absence (he's closing in on you Bob). <He's way beyond yours truly> Well, I am finally closing in on the home stretch with my 75G reef and wanted your advise on substrate. I have decided to go with substrate (in the tank, no holes) but which one? I have narrowed it down to two: Nature's Ocean Bio-boosted Aragonite and the Fiji live sand. Which would you consider for your environment. <Both... mostly the former, with ten pounds or so of the latter sprinkled on top> Additionally, should I place the sand and use 2-3" PVC to elevate the 110+ lbs of rock (for the stirring critters and cleaning) or place the rock on the bare bottom and position the sand around it. Are there any benefits either way? <Benefits of both in terms of cleaning, stability physically... I would place the material directly on the bottom, sand after.> One other side-note, I purchased the Marine Environment Salt Mix and am having a devil of a time getting it to clear, <I am aware of solubility problems here...> I am able to get the proper salinity. I stirred the mix thoroughly in a bucket and there is just a small amount of salt grains in the bottom of the tank. The mixed water (RO water) has been in the tank for 5+ days and still has not cleared, <It will... do just place this water in your main tank> additionally there appeared a dusting of salt on the glass and power-heads (which I removed with a squeegee) but it re-settled on the power-heads. Currently I do not have any animals in the tank (only power-heads). I am seeking help as I have not used this product before but understand it is supposed to be superior.  <It's a good "regular" product> Other products I have used have not taken this long to clear. Is there something I am doing wrong? Or is the wait period much longer for this product, should I get a hang-on or canister filter to assist in clearing? <Instant, complete dissolution of ME is not one of its strong, consistent points... as I stated, just place it and it will clear, dissolve the remaining components over time> I discussed this with the manufacturer and they stated it's anything but the mix (i.e. my water or my mixing container is contaminated) <Not IMO/E.> Fred, in hot Las Vegas (I think I'm gonna need a chiller) <Hmm. I suspect your living space is already air-conditioned... wait off and see how warm your water gets. Bob Fenner>

Bigger is Better (tank size, beer as well) Hi Bob, (or is it Lorenzo), <Bob today, though I hope Zo will come back and host from time to time> Well I finally got my calcium reactor, but have not yet set it up. As you won't recall (who would with all these hobbyists) I have a fairly heavily stocked 75 reef with fish. I have a 20 gallon sump with live sand and Caulerpa, and about 90 lbs of live rock, and 2 inches of live sand in the display tank. I am in the process of buying a 150, but intend to keep the 75 for a California stingray or two. I had very good luck with a prior 'ray until I decided to add a Queen Angel. I intend to move all my rock and animals to the 150, and put "some" new rock into the 75 for biological filtration. The questions are: Would it be okay to put mostly new dead sand in the 150, and just scoop out say 20lbs of my current sand bed to sprinkle over the new sand? <Yes, a valid approach> How many pounds makes four+ inches in a 150? <Hmm, about 3-400 or so> What do you think I should temporarily put in the 75 to keep the system going until I can find a ray? <A bunch of macro-algae, damsel or two, perhaps some polyps of sorts...> Thanks, Marty (keeping the brew cold for you in Dallas) <Still counting on this. Bob Fenner>

New tank...need advice Dear Bob, I visited your website and I found it the most useful marine site out of the dozens or so I'd encountered. I currently have a AGA 72-gallon bow front aquarium. I'm planning to set-up a reef tank with soft corals with various invertebrates and fish. However I need some advice on the equipments I will need in order to make this system successful. I plan to use Instant Ocean Sea Salt and lay 40 pounds of Carib-Sea Live Aragonite Sand (1-2mm) on the bottom of the tank (hopefully this will be about 1-2 inches).  <40 lbs of sand will barely make an inch, in that tank. Personally, I'd mix the live sand with the finest aragonite (dry, but carefully rinsed) that you can find, if you're looking to save a few dollars. But the trade-off is that rinsing the dust out of bagged aragonite is agonizingly tedious...and you won't have to do that with the live sand.> I have a Hagen Fluval 404 canister filter, Hagen Aquaclear 300 power filter, Hagen 200 watt Tronic-Electronic heater, AGA twin tube light hood, CustomSeaLife PC Hood(110 watts) w/ 2 SmartLights, and I'm planning to buy a CPR Bak Pak 2 protein skimmer.  <Those should cover you fine, if you're careful to let the tank cycle slowly and completely, before you start stocking like crazy...> I also plan to buy a mixture of live rock mixed with Tufa rock, with Tufa rock being more abundant as I'm on a tight budget.  <That's fine. Again, go slow with the stocking plan. Within months, your Tufa will start to look more and more like your expensive live rock, and in a couple years, you can't tell the difference.> In addition I don't exactly know how many powerheads I should use and at what rate each of them should be at. What brand of powerhead would you suggest?  <I like to use 4 power heads in a 48" tank, at each end, pointing toward the middle. I tend to use RIO 800 or similar for that application, but the Rios are starting to get on my nerves. Replacing suction cups every few months...> Can you please tell me if I have adequate equipment for the system to work and any additional information or advice? Thank you so much!!!! P.S. How should I clean the Tufa rock and about how long would I need to cycle my tank before adding any livestock? Thanks for your help!!!!!!!!!!!! <You can just rinse the Tufa real well with hot-hot water in the shower or bathtub, some folks (obsessive?) will go so far as to boil it. Not me. As far as cycling/setup, I'd let the tank sit with the filtration and substrate for 24 hours, then with the Tufa for 24 hours, then start adding live rock (I don't like to add more than about 20 pounds every 24 hours). Then a couple small fish, for 2-3 weeks, with testing for ammonia/nitrite/nitrate, to observe the actual cycle. Don't put your 'show' fish in there for at least 4 weeks from day one, if you can hold out! -Lorenzo> Peter

Substrates for marine systems Lorenzo, <Hi Thom.> I have been reading and gathering my toys to set up a 40g tank. I read about the use of Home Depot's Southland sand for the substrate. It's attraction is that it is very inexpensive (some would say cheap). Is this the tip of a new trend/product? Is this really safe to use? I am thinking of a 50/50 mix with fine aragonite about 2" deep. I would appreciate your opinions about this.  <I personally haven't tried it, but I too have head stories of it's success. Still, in my opinion, a 40 gallon tank shouldn't clean you out, trying to build a 2" sand bed from known-good aragonite... -Lorenzo> You must be a great friend to stay home and do "Bob's work" while he is in Asia doing the fun and sun thing. <<He is. Bob F.>> <Hah! Well, yeah. Bob's a good guy, and I'm excited to see what new photos he brings back...!> Thanks for your input. Thom Walters

Milky Water (marine substrates) Bob--As you recall, the unwashed Southdown I added on Sunday caused my tank to turn into a milk vat.  <Yes, we both wish you would have washed it ahead of placing> I added 90# of LR on Tuesday night--the water is starting to clear some, and I can now see about 5 or 6 inches into the tank.  I also know there is quite a bit less crud floating around in there because the Alk had decreased from the initial test of 7.2 on Tuesday afternoon to 3.2 last night. Ca had decreased from 440 to 380. (I have also moved the Ca reactor from the old tank to the new tank for the cycling process.) <All predictable... Say, you don't know of someone, a shop maybe that might lend, rent you the use of a Diatom (tm, Vortex products) Filter for a day or two?> I added a makeshift power filter to the sump last night--by taking the old biofilter media from my DAS (the cylindrical shaped one) and attaching the Rio 2100 (the one that came with the Turboflotor) on top with a tube to pull water through the filter. (I had removed this biofilter from the DAS several weeks ago.) That has also seemed to help some. I'm borrowing a Magnum HOT filter from a friend tomorrow if it's still looking murky when I get home tonight. <Oh, yes, these will help... still, look for the DE filter> Since Southdown is so highly recommended on the newsgroups and many people advise against washing it, I did a search on the reefs.org site last night, as I'm sure there are plenty of other people that have had the same issue with milky water as I'm having. I found several threads that seemed to indicate that once the nitrifying bacteria get established, they will coat the tiny particles that are clouding the water and that will cause them to stick to the rest of the sand bed, clearing up the water. This would also be consistent with Mike's (at Paragon) statement that once the cycled LR is added, the water will clear up in 24-48 hours. Is this a plausible theory? <Yes... but I would still wash it... in five, ten pound batches... in a plastic (five gallon "pickle") bucket...> I tested for organics last night, 24 hours after the LR was added. Mike said I shouldn't see a spike at all because they fully cycle the LR in their tanks before it's shipped, and the packing was such that the LR was just as wet when I received it as when they pulled it from the tanks. I've confirmed from other people on the NG that they have purchased Paragon's LR and have not experienced any ammonia spike after adding it to a tank. I did get a reading of trace ammonia and nitrite last night--each equal to or less than the lightest color chip on the Salifert test kits. Nitrates tested around 2 ppm. <I wouldn't make such a "guarantee"... not anyone's control enroute can spell/determine such results...> At this point, I'd like your comments on my plan to clear up the water and make sure the tank will support denitrification. I added two cubes of frozen food this morning--if I don't get a noticeable spike from that in 3-5 days (is this enough time to tell?), then I'll conclude that the LR is doing its job and was adequately cycled such that it is able to support filtration. I also fed the tank for the reason that I believe that the added organics will help to thicken the foam in the skimmer, which should make the skimmer more efficient at pulling out the particulates that are clouding the water. <Hmm, I wouldn't "feed" the system like this... or inorganically (with ammonia compounds...)... "just" let time go by... there is sufficient organic input from the new live rock> One other question--I was also thinking that to increase the skimmer output on the new tank, I could add some of the skimmate from the old tank to the sump of the new tank. Sounds crazy, I know, but I was thinking this also might help to confirm whether there is going to be a spike, and also would help to increase the efficiency of the skimmer on the new system to speed up the clearing of the water. Does this make sense?  <It does... but I would not do this either... unnecessary, and a real chance of forestalling cycling rather than hastening it...> I haven't done this yet, as it sounds backwards to add skimmate to a clean system, and I wanted to see what you thought about it before I did it. The old tank settled down and wasn't dripping this morning--although after doing the water change on Tuesday to harvest water for the new tank, it was leaking 2-3 times faster than before, and dripping from several different places from the back. The rear seal is obviously giving way. Needless to say, I was freaking out at that point, but now it looks like it will hold if I add top off water in small amounts so as not to change the pressure dynamic on that seal too quickly at any given time. Ideally, it needs to hold for at least another week, preferably longer. <Keep the water level low... a large catchment container under it... fingers crossed... re-seal it (you know how?) when empty...> I'll keep you posted--for now the emergency situation is over, and I'm keeping a close eye on the old tank. Thanks for your thoughts again. P.S. The parrotfish pic on yesterday's FAQs is really cool--is that one of the pics from your most recent trip? <Yes, thanks for the notice... and am getting better (easy to do because I'm starting so far back on this learning curve) with the new Nikon scanner.... much more to come. Bob Fenner> James A. Deets

Re: Milky Water Thanks for the response and insight, as always. I called the LFS and they have a Magnum HOT with a diatom filter I can rent for $5 a day. I think I'll go up there in a few and pick one up today. They didn't have a Vortex Diatom filter. <"Cause I hate that milky wahtah.... Georgia, you're my home..." Not a great product/substitute, but it will do> On the "no spike from the LR" issue--just to clarify--he's not making a guarantee, just relating observations. <I understand> I'm just adding those observations to the mix of data I'm getting from my water tests in drawing conclusions about the denitrifying capacity of the system. Since I've already added some food to the system, how long should it take for it to break down into ammonia compounds? i.e., if I'm going to see any ammonia from this food breaking down, how long should it be before I see it? <Days to a couple of weeks> Luckily, I won't have to reseal the old tank. Since I only bought it a few months ago (albeit used and with no warranty), the LFS is giving me 100% on it as a trade in on the new tank. They will have the honor of pinpointing the leak and doing the resealing duty! <Very well> P.S. If I ever upgrade to (or add??) a 300 gallon system, the sand will be washed thoroughly. . . :) <I believe you! Bob Fenner>

Live Sand/Substrate Questions Bob, Some time ago, we discussed adding some live sand from a reef tank that is being dismantled to my 65 gallon tank that has crushed coral on the bottom. My crushed coral is about 2 years old and I get the feeling that I should be changing some of it out. WetWebMedia suggests "periodic" changing of about 1/3 of this substrate. How often is periodic?  <After a year and a half or so the first time, every six-eight months thereafter...> Should a drop in KH level be used as an indicator? <Yes> I assume new crushed coral would reduce or eliminate the need for pH buffer (baking soda, etc.). Is this true? <Along with periodic water changes will largely eliminate the need for in "non-boosted" systems... However, folks with intense lighting, a great deal of biomineralizing livestock very often find they have to augment for pH (biomineral, alkaline components)> In the message below, you suggest I consider the live sand "if it's not ages old." How old is ages? <About the same time frame... a year and a half or more...> Can I add it on top of the crushed coral? <Yes> Thanks for your help, <You're welcome. Bob Fenner> John P.S. My wife Wally and I just had a baby boy, Stephen, on the 11th. I think he's really going to like the fish tank! <Congratulations. I am sure he will.>

Substrate mistake Dear Mr. Fenner, I've found your site helpful and thorough--enough to avoid writing in when I've had questions in the past.  <Ah, don't think I will, nor could any handful of people live long, well enough to put "enough" on such sites... the process continues... very enjoyably> However, I think I've erred on a point I did not see in your FAQ's: <Not surprisingly!> The error: I reused substrate from a FW tank in my SW tank. The substrate is 2-3 mm rounded black rock from a Baja beach that was previously in my cichlid tank for years. Before adding to the SW tank, it was cleaned, sterilized and dried for about 14 months. Also reused 2 chunks of misc. granite and lava. The gravel depth varies from 1 - 2 inches. <Yikes...> The problem: 1) I have diatoms and green microalgae. <Yes, and...> However... I substantially upgraded the lighting 17 days ago--Hence the uncontrollable algae <In part... there is likely a surfeit of minerals that is driving all this as well... and a disenfranchisement of predators (of the algae) and competing forms...> My questions: 1) Should the substrate be removed? <Maybe... I probably would> 2) Is the algal bloom indicative of incorrect substrate and rock or, more likely, my lack of patience until some type of homeostasis is reached? <A bit of both... probably more of the former> 3) Can SW tanks safely have driftwood in them? (Mine doesn't at the moment) Curious only. <Great question... have seen this done (mainly "overseas")... > I've included more-precise tank parameters at the end of this message, if needed. <Ah, good> Best regards, Andy Tank parameters: Type: Fish, Invert, LR Up-time: 4 mo. Size: 60G Long Sump: 30G Sump feed: Two single overflow boxes. Sump return: Two Rio 1700's at 4' head W/D Bio area: 12"x12"x12" (homemade) Skimmer: AquaC Urchin (works well but have no baseline comparison) Mech: HOT Magnum 250 carbon media U/V: 15 W LR: 95 lbs Lighting: 4.8 w/G (288w total CF 10,000K and 6,000K blue) Additional powerheads: 2 Water test: SG: 1.0225 Temp: 78F PH 8.2 to 8.4 Ammon: 0 Nitrite: 0 Nitrate: Negligible with current test kit(s) Bioload: 1 Cowfish, Lactoria cornuta (juvenile) 1 Blue surgeon, Paracanthurus hepatus 1 Yellow tang, Zebrasoma flavescens 1 Yellowtail damsel, Microspathodon chrysurus (uncatchable) 3 Brittlestars (up to 6") 100's of small ones 4 Emerald Mithrax crabs 4 Peppermint shrimp Lysmata wurdemanni 1 Sally Lightfoot crab (not a true Sally Lightfoot but can't find proper name match with pic) Misc scarlet and blue hermits Misc Turbo snails (about 20) Macroalgae (various--doing well) <Surprising, "whatever" this re-used substrate is "doing" that it doesn't kill the crabs, shrimp...> Maintenance: 15G Water change every other Saturday 2G Kalkwasser drip (homemade thingy)<Good> Tapwater is carbon and micro-filtered but not RO. <I would change out the gravel... but keep the old... soaking in marine water... for later use on a "Baja" biotopic presentation... Bob Fenner, just back from the "corridor" at the tip... cold water, lots of sewerage in it... and the waves middling... but hopeful about pix!>

Toxic rocks? I recently set up two aquariums and one of the tanks I can't get to cycle. All I have in this tank is crushed coral in the bottom and so rocks for decoration. is it possible that the rocks are polluting the tank. they appear to look like lava rock but not sure. <Yes... this IS possible... you could test for this with a simple bio-assay... boiling the rock, testing the cooled-down water...> could you give me some help on this. its driving me crazy.........thanks <If it were me/mine, I would add some live rock to the system, maybe pull the volcanic... and check through all the standard approaches for establishing cycling posted on our site: www.WetWebMedia.com under "Biological Filtration" and related FAQs... Bob Fenner>

Water Circulation & Sand Hello Bob. I have a couple more questions for you regarding my 75 gallon reef tank. Right now I am starting out slow on the reef and just adding a few soft corals. My first question is on circulation. I read about these tanks and the many powerheads and pumps they carry. I understand that vigorous water movement is a must with live rock.  <I would say a "plus", or "beneficial"... you should come out sometime and see where this rock is collected... > I have 90lbs. of live rock and 75 lbs live sand. I have a MaxiJet 1200, a return pump from my sump which is slightly larger than the MaxiJet, and one other smaller powerhead. Do I have enough circulation?  <Maybe... you could test for dissolved oxygen... and always add more...> I read about these tanks with 4 MaxiJets like the one I have. That seems like too much to me, and too many powerheads to look at in the tank, than fish. <Can be hidden... and/or use small submersible pumps, a "dump tank"...> Second is on my sand depth. I read about people who recommend a thin layer and people who recommend a deep layer. Is my 75 pounds good or should it be deeper? <Too general a question... but my "all in one" statements on "Marine Substrates" can be read over on our site: www.WetWebMedia.com Bob Fenner>

Marine Substrate Hello, Mr. Fenner <Howdy> Is it important to have sand, crush coral, etc: on the bottom of the tank. <IMO... yes... many more benefits than real or potential downsides> I just changed tanks and did not use the crush coral that I had because I didn't want to stress the fish with the dirty water, but I did keep all the existing water. The tank is running properly now for 2 weeks without any substrate on the bottom. I would like to add live sand , but how do I do that with all the water and filters and everything running fine. I have a 55 gal with a wet dry and at least 65 lbs of live rock). <My comments on these issues is posted on the www.WetWebMedia.com site under "Marine Substrates" and associated FAQs files... Yes to cleaning up your old substrate and gingerly scooping, siphoning... it back on to the bottom of the system... Lower the water level, clean up (yes, with fresh/tapwater the old substrate, and use a plastic "Tupperware" container (don't get caught by significant other...) to dip in and pour near bottom... a little cloudiness, no problem... Or you can siphon it all back in... but this requires a bit of gear and ingenuity... pumping just water back up, and using a large diameter siphon to vent the gravel and water into place...> Thank you for your time. Jason <You're welcome. Bob Fenner>

Moving sands... I've been looking around lately for a place where I can buy assorted worms and things like micro-starfish etc.... I'm gonna use them to seed my live sand bed. my LFS guy said that I could get a bunch things like that online but I've been running into a ton of dead links. <Look on the Links pages of www.WetWebMedia.com, contact my friend Morgan Lidster at Inland Aquatics, the fine folks at Marine Center for more about how to get what you're looking for. They will help you assuredly> I'm getting a 125gal (used to have 55gal) and I'm gonna use aragonite for about 80% of the tank and the rest will be a pure fine sand bed (for things that like soft beds, anemones, starfish, blah, blah). the only problems is that I wont be able to vacuum the sand so I need a lot of little cleaners.  <No problem> the live sand at my LFS has a lot of stuff in it, but nothing that's big (1-3mm large). Lemme know if you can help. Jon Trowbridge I don't want to use sea cucumbers because I don't want them to spread the sand around into the gravel. <Mmmm, well... this will happen... as you'll see. Bob Fenner>

O2, Substrate Questions Hi again Bob, You'll remember me I imagine. <Yes my friend> Ok, I warned you I would ask a substrate question, and here it is. But first... You suggested I add more air circulation for my 40 breeder. I'm running the Ecosystem filter. There's a Rio600 as the output for the algae mud sump. ><Can be tested with gear... but livestock are best indicator... Would add an >airstone, other surface disruption, perhaps a submersible pump, powerhead to >mix water more thorough/vigorously> I was thinking I would put a powerhead at the opposite end to where the output is. I'm thinking that I won't use a Rio, as there have been many complaints on the net about them. Any suggestions of a quiet powerhead? Also I was thinking that something rated 110-200 gal? Is this ok? <Yes> I'd prefer to stay away from the air pump, as these are very noisy. <Some of them... there are others that are whisper quiet... but the bubbles?> Ok, now to the infamous substrate question. One not such good idea I got from Ecosystems was not to use substrate. I didn't like the looks. So I added 20 lbs of LS. Needless to say this isn't lasting so long. I still haven't picked up all the diatom bloom (that I don't even have anymore, just there so I could still have substrate). <Okay> Anyway I would like to add some more. The stuff I have is LS that comes in a bag (I assume bacteria only)? Does it matter if I just cover what's left of it? <Can be done> I was thinking of adding some aragonite (maybe the Southdown tropical play sand from Home depot, I have heard this is the same stuff as regular aragonite that CaribSea makes? Do you know about using this?  <Yes, very similar, and yes> And adding some more LS. Perhaps I can get some LS some a LFS that has been in an established tank? Any problems with this idea. <None, really> Oh yeah there have been a couple comments on good LFS in the Chicago area. It isn't glitzy but my vote is for Ocean Design. He quarantines his fish for two weeks in separate quarantine tanks. He also doesn't carry fish or other creatures that don't tend to do well. So no Mandarins, Cleaner Wrasses, Flower pot corals, etc. etc. <Very commendable. Send my regards please> Another vote for Marine Connection which isn't exactly local, and is online at www.marine-connection.com. <Will check out> Both of them will advice against buying certain creatures, even if it would cut into their profits. <Which it doesn't... in the not-so-long-haul... Obviously, folks who are mis-led, otherwise mis-informed/uninformed are going to "fail" in their pet-fish endeavors and leave the hobby (and business as customers)... so not-rendering useful information in significant, meaningful, accurate ways is entirely self-defeating... You may make "some" sales now, but in the long term... > Thanks again for your help! --Jane J <Thank you for yours. Bob Fenner>

Substrate Question Hello Robert, I'm am new to the hobby and I have been reading your site religiously everyday. Good job and keep up the good work. <Hope to, thanks> I have a couple of quick questions. I used magnets to clean algae on my tank (55gal.). Once in a while, the inside part of the magnet falls down to the substrate. When I pick it up, I notice that there are little metal fragments attached to the magnet. My question is simple, is this bad or good? Should I replace it as soon as possible? <Not good... evidence of some sort of ferrous material in your system/substrate... good to tie a string sort of arrangement to the inner magnet (to retrieve it in general) and "fish about" for as much of this material and remove it... in time most such foreign matter tends to become less toxic... coated over in ways... but best to avoid its introduction, and better to try and remove as I've stated> Thanks in advance. Sincerely, Aldrin <Be seeing you, Bob Fenner>

Re: Substrate Question Thanks for the quick response. I was jumping up and down in excitement when I actually received an answer from you. You are the man! <The petfish man!> A local fish store here sells a sugar-size aragonite. Do you recommend this, or should I go with bigger size grains?  <For some applications yes... but not for a general tank bottom> Which type of substrate would you recommend if not aragonite? <For most types of tanks something calcareous... Hey, I should be sending you to the "marine substrate" section of the site: www.WetWebMedia.com under the marine index... wrote, stored my ideas on the topic during some few lucid moments... let me know what you think of the site>  Thanks again. Sincerely, Aldrin <Be chatting, Bob Fenner>

Substrate materialBob , I currently have a 120 with about 40lbs of fine powdery marine sand as substrate (1/2 - 3/4 inch). I have a fish that sifts this and the sand gets deposited all over everything . What do you think about adding 40 lbs of a coarser substrate over the top of the sand. Thanks, Odlaw <Sounds like a good idea... the two will mix (of course)... but as long as there's enough space/volume for the smaller material to settle "in between"  you should be fine (pun intended)... with much less settling problems. Bob Fenner>

Reef Question. Dear Bob, I'm honoured that you, so far, are the only one from overseas to answer my e-mail. Many "renowned" aquarist didn't even bother. Thanks again. <You're certainly welcome> I have something to ask you about that has been intriguing me. As you may remember, my reef tank is 60" x 24" x 30" with 6 NO 40W, temp at 84F. Filter is wet dry with venturi protein skimmer. Substrate is 5mm crushed coral. I have another tank in the office, size 36" x 18" x 18" with only 3 NO 20W, 2 daylight and 1 Osram Blue (normal, not actinic). Temp is 80F and substrate is beach sand. Filter is bio-wheel with ceramic rings and the skimmer is air driven. The corals in the smaller tank is flourishing, especially the polyps of the leather corals are longer and the button polyps seem to thrive. Mushrooms also expand and colour up well. Both tanks are dosed with Kalkwasser and Iodine daily and water perimeters are similar. My friends feel that the culprit is the Coralife 10,000K NO in my larger tank and the guys at LFS feel that is the lower temp due to the air-con at the office. I was just wondering if the substrate is doing the magic due to the smaller grain size? What do you think? Winston <Hmm, well... could be the lamp/lighting, depth of the larger system, size/type of substrate, artifact of iodine overuse in the bigger tank, competition factors amongst your livestock, temperature differences, or a myriad of many other factors that come to mind (not to count the who knows how many that don't!) might be contributing to the differences you cite. I don't think the lamp per se is a big factor... and providing a reflector (Mylar incorporated in plastic like that used for "mirrored doors" is my favorite) might help increase the amount of light directed into the larger tank (that depth is tough to get enough useful illumination down into)... And you could always add some of the "magic" substrate to the bigger tank... to see if it will help... Otherwise, and really what I would do, is keep looking for compact fluorescents... they can be had in your electrical configuration (220V, 50Hz) out of Japan... Bob Fenner>

Changing gravel Hi Bob Fenner, I've got a 55 gal Berlin system, with ~60 lbs live rock, setup for about six months. I want to change the substrate from aragonite gravel to a much smaller aggregate aragonite sand. I've already exchanged 1/3 of it a week ago, now I'm considering changing the remaining 2/3rd's in one shot. I fear losing the bacteria from the gravel will cause ammonia or nitrite spikes. I have a fairly light bio load with a total of 9 fish, the largest two being a 3" Hippo and 3" Coral Beauty.  >> Don't be overly concerned... the odds are vastly that you won't experience any noticeable amounts of nitrogenous intermediates... the live rock has much more biota and response than you'll very likely need. Not to worry. Bob Fenner

Changing gravel Hi Bob Fenner, I've got a 55 gal Berlin system, with ~60 lbs live rock, setup for about six months. I want to change the substrate from aragonite gravel to a much smaller aggregate aragonite sand. I've already exchanged 1/3 of it a week ago, now I'm considering changing the remaining 2/3rd's in one shot. I fear loosing the bacteria from the gravel will cause ammonia or nitrite spikes. I have a fairly light bio load with a total of 9 fish, the largest two being a 3" Hippo and 3" Coral Beauty. <Hmm, just responded to a very similar question. No problems with the change.>  Although I prefer the appearance of the sand to the gravel, the reason for trying to push this change through is I believe it might be a source of nutrients for Cyanobacteria ( Red and Green) that has been difficult to stop. I've slowed it down by removing all mechanical filtration, doing 10% water changes every week, and I've scraped it off my LR with a toothbrush more than once. It's a very hearty species! I'm also looking to add some macro-algae, but would like to complete this gravel change first.  <More at play here with the BGA/Cyano... read over the algae pieces and faq's on our site re courses of action/causes: Home Page > Do you think my LR will support the bio load while the new sand gets established? <Yessirree Bob> Do you know any magic tricks for removing gravel? <Yes again. The best method bar none (IMO) is a large diameter flexible piece of tubing (3/4, 1" i.d.) to siphon the gravel out... pour the water back in (cloudy, I know)... in a short while, done! And the water will clear... and help cycle the new gravel> Any suggestions for species (and source) of macro-algae? ( I have a Yellow Tang in a Refugium that will be coming back) <Various tropical Caulerpas and Halimedas... again, refer to macro-algae input on the WWM site.> Any other words of wisdom? <Use sunscreen, sing, and don't worry too much.> As always your time is much appreciated! Regards, Craig Douai <Anytime my friend, Bob Fenner>

58 Setup Question Bob, After having read all of your comments about live rock/sand I am convinced that this is the way to go. In the past I have only kept fish-only tanks with no live rock/sand. For this reason, I am woefully ignorant about how to go about setting up a tank with live rock. It sounds like Fiji rock would be the way to go. How much Fiji rock would I need for an Oceanic 58 reef ready setup?  <Of Fiji or other rock, functionally, somewhere between one and two or so pounds per gallon volume of the system... Look for "box" deals, and more "ready-cured" product> Would you recommend that I purchase the live sand at the same time?  <No. I would rely largely on "making your own" through inoculation incidental with adding the live rock... you understand> How much live sand would I need?  <Of appropriate grade, more spherical calcium carbonate based material, about the same rate as the live rock... depending on whether you intend to install/maintenance a plenum in your main tank... Take a read through the Marine Index... marine substrates materials stored on the site: Home Page for a more thorough input> How in the world do you keep it clean? <Periodic vacuuming, stirring in conjunction with water changes, AND use of purposeful "sand stirrers" in the way of livestock, AND adequate circulation and filtration, AND periodic (every six months or so) augmentation, replacement of the mineral matrix> I assume that I don't want to vacuum clean it like I do with crushed coral in a fish only tank. What would you think about purchasing some really porous base rock to fill the tank about half way and then put the Fiji rock on top to seed it?  <Something like this is feasible, advisable... I prefer to let the rock sit on the bottom or a raised grid, and corral the live sand around this area IF PLACING THE LS IN THE SYSTEM. I vastly prefer re-locating live sand, plenums... in a separate sump outside the main/display system to facilitate maintenance, growth of beneficial life in the absence of predators, competitors...> Where could I find this kind of base rock? I've heard that some use lava rock--is this recommended? <No to lava rock, other siliceous rock types in the vast majority of marine systems... this volcanic/silica-based material is of little use for its lack of surface area (at the molecular, practical levels), introduction of silicon (a primary source of diatom algal growth boosting), and lack of contribution of biomineral and alkaline reserve input> What kind of lighting would you recommend? The 58 setup comes with a twin strip. I'm thinking some 50/50s and then purchase some VHOs or something like that. What do you think? <Depends on what you want to keep and what you want to do with "it"...Take a long read through the site above's materials on light, lighting, and set-up> I'm also ignorant of the alkalinity, calcium, dosers and all that is associated with reef fish keeping. What do I need and where can I get it? <Time for some reference works my friend... these are good questions, but way too much to cover as a "reef-friend" in this communication format... Get thee to some like-minded friends in a local hobby group... at least one "reefer" who can/will take you under their wing... to one on one cover these important issues... and Read! as much printed matter in the field as you can get your fins on> I believe that the liverock would be sufficient for filtration. My plan is to hook up some kind of needle-driven protein skimmer in the sump and some means for chemical filtration (Chemi-pure/PolyFilter). Would you recommend this?  <Yes, periodic use... once a month or so...> If so, how do I go about setting this up?  <See the site> It seems like if you want to buy something to go under the tank you end up getting a wet/dry with it (and I take it that I don't want to do this unless I want a lot of nitrates). If I purchase just a tank as a sump then chemical filtration becomes difficult. What should I do? <Ditto> I really want to do this right. I don't want to skimp on the quality of my purchases and have to upgrade later because I wasn't willing to take the extra effort to maintain a reef setup properly. I guess what I am asking is for you to tell me exactly what you would do if you had my 58 and wanted the perfect reef set up--rock, sand, lights, filtration, dosers, tests, etc. What are the names of the dealers out there that you recommend that sell the rock/sand, filters, lights, etc. that I need (who have you found provides quality merchandise?)?  <Lots of folks, but hear me out... It is impractical to try and elucidate what my or others opinions are on how to "strictly go ahead" with a 58 gallon system w/o knowing what you want to keep, and what your goals are (maintenance, growth, color, reproduction, commercial....)> I know that this is a lot to ask but I really value your opinion--at this point I plan on purchasing the equipment/items from the manufacturers/dealers you recommend. Thanks for all of your help! Michael Krogman >> <Keep investigating, reading, taking notes, dreaming and scheming my friend. The anticipation of this endeavor is a great deal of the fun and learning which is the hobby/experience.  Bob Fenner>

I am setting up a 110 gal. reef tank My question has to do with substrates. Local fish stores recommend not using any substrate. They say that every tank they know of has problems within 2 to 3 years of set-up. they claim it is easier to keep the tank clean and avoid problems. I would like your opinion of which substrate to use (if any) and how to prevent long term problems. Thanks for any help you can give. Tom Z >> I'm actually a BIG fan of using substrates in almost every type of set-up... maybe with the glaring exception of most culture systems... For looks, psychological benefits to livestock, buffering pH, adding alkalinity and biominerals...  The arguments of cleanliness for excluding substrates are weak IMO, as I also advocate routine maintenance that includes gravel vacuuming in conjunction with partial water changes. My choices in marine substrates include all the more soluble calcium carbonate based materials, Aragonitic grades, crushed corals, collected beach rubble sold under various names. The better grades are small (unless your biotope, livestock call for something else), and uniform in size and shape (spherical is best, to avoid packing, challenging)... of a few inches depth. Some of the alluded to "problems" with old/er substrates can be avoided, in addition to the vacuuming mentioned, by adding, changing some of the substrate (the older it gets, the smoother, and less soluble, thus benefiting the tank less as time goes by). About ten percent after the first year, and about the same every half year after that will prevent any problems originating from a marine substrate.  Bob Fenner

Sand does silica sand work as a good substrate . it is available in different sizes. it is used in sandblasting operations a lot .thanks. Jim bell >> For some applications in fresh, brackish and marine set-ups, but not many... Silica is too smooth (too little surface area for bacterial situating), chemically inert (it's aka silicon dioxide, the chief ingredient in glass... you want something to contribute to alkaline reserve: carbonate based), too flat (packing down, disallowing water flow, encouraging anaerobiosis)...  Take a look at the Marine Substrates piece stored at my site: www.wetwebmedia.com for a more complete survey of the yes/no question of whether to use substrate, the various types of use, and their pros/cons... Bob Fenner

Re: anemone I guess aragonite is too coarse? I just read your message again. >> <Aragonite is a generic term... in disuse... referring to any easily soluble calcium carbonaceous material... if it is fine enough, no problem... something more than 30 pieces per linear inch (sand) is what I'm referring to... Bob Fenner

I have been using marine sand Hi, Well, for about a year now I have been using marine sand at the bottom of my 72 gallon all marine fish tank. Throughout the year during water changes the sand would get sucked out little by little over time or would get so cover with algae that I would remove some. So now I am left with sand barely covering the bottom of the tank. I went and got Carib Sea "Aruba Puka" and "Florida Crushed Coral," my question is how do I go about adding this to my tank without disturbing the fish or the bio system in the tank. I have four fish, a Powder Blue Tang, Emperor Angle, Hawk Fish and a Flame Angel. Any help would be greatly appreciated. >> If it were up to me... I'd gingerly rinse/wash the new substrate in freshwater, with a garden hose, swirling about ten pound batches at a time within a soap/detergent et al. free bucket... and then simply "pour in place" the new material... You can be a little more discrete, by moving the present decor over to a side at a time, as you introduce the new substrate to the other... Should be no big change in bio-cycling... Bob Fenner

I am planning to add live sand to my aquarium I have a 55 gal. with about 80lbs. of live rock. I also have some corals and fish. right now I have gravel for the aquarium. I was wondering should I take out the gravel in replace of the live sand? what steps should I take? and what would you suggest?  >> Some folks (many of them quite successfully) blend larger/smaller substrates together in captive marine systems. By and large I'm not a big fan of this approach (with some exceptions due to organism preferences)... and instead, WOULD either remove the gravel ahead of placing the sand, or perhaps "skip ahead" and use this opportunity to set up a type of NNR (Natural Nitrate Reduction system). by placing a piece of screen cloth (fiberglass, plastic... not metal of course) over the gravel, and placing the live sand above it. Do you know what these NNR's are about? If you'd like more, including a drawing of all this, please take a look through articles and book sections I have stored at www.wetwebmedia.com Bob Fenner

Substrate question I have about a 2.5 inch bed of crush coral in my 55 gallon tank. I want to add another inch of Flamingo Pink on top of the crush coral, is this OK or will it kill a lot of my biological in my crush coral? Also would the Flamingo Pink be ok with gobies (stirrers). Thanks, Jim >> Should be okay... density, size wise of the new/old substrates... with the gobies as well... but will the two mixing together be okay with you looks wise? They will. Bob Fenner

Substrate particle size Hi again, Well this is kinda off subject, but the sand I have in my tanks now is aragonite which is about 2-3mm in size. I have read in a variety of places its better to have sugar size sand (oolite?), so animals can burrow into it. I have also heard that there is a sand that hardware/home stores sell that can be used in the tank, which I'm sure is cheaper than buying it at the LFS. Have you heard of such a sand, and if so what is it called :). Thanks. Chris >> Hmm, I'd like to know what this sand is... at the hardware store... Most all I've ever seen are silicates (kiddie play box sand), metamorphic chondrites ("gravel" for freshwater), and maybe flints (good for some freshwater systems)... maybe dolomitious material or Tapashell (mainly calcium and magnesium carbonates) you could find at such outlets that were in "farming" areas... And, nah to the finer substrates (oolithic... fine, dusty stuff)... as being better... they have their own sets of problems. You're better off with the 2-3mm stuff of all about the same grade... Maybe place the sugar stuff in a refugium... Bob Fenner

Play sand... This is the question I am commenting on. This sand that the person is talking about is a tropical play sand packaged by Southdown, the same company that packages for CaribSea. It is the exact same stuff. It is found at Home Depot for less than $4.00 for a 50 lb. bag. Compared to $1.00 a lb. from CaribSea. Let me know if you want any more info on this. I know plenty of people that have it in their tank and it works and looks great. (it should, it is the same stuff meant for aquariums) I have a few bags on order.  Ryan QUESTION: Well this is kinda off subject, but the sand I have in my tanks now is aragonite which is about 2-3mm in size. I have read in a variety of places its better to have sugar size sand (oolite?), so animals can burrow into it.  I have also heard that there is a sand that hardware stores sell that can be used in the tank, which I'm sure is cheaper than buying it at the LFS. Have you heard of such a sand, and if so what is it called :).  Bob's Answer: Hmm, I'd like to know what this sand is at the hardware store. Most all I've ever seen are silicates (kiddie play box sand), metamorphic chondrites ("gravel" for freshwater), and maybe flints (good for some freshwater systems). None of these are good for marine aquariums.  And, nah to the finer substrates (oolithic... fine, dusty stuff) as being better. They have their own sets of problems. You're better off with the 2-3mm stuff of all about the same grade. Maybe place the sugar stuff in a refugium.  >> Am sort of aware of the sand... but still a little leery of posting much about it... but will indeed send this info. to FFExpress and the original querior... Do you screen it at all? Ever find much/any contaminants... Probably not... as it's intended for "kiddies"... Bob "the worry wart, but a real cheapskate as well" Fenner

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