Since our “infant days” in the hobby, we’ve had it drilled into our collective heads to perform regular water changes on our aquariums. It’s one of those “facts of life” that we just can’t avoid. Water changes achieve several valuable things, including the dilution of dissolved organic wastes, nutrient export, and replenishment of trace elements, just to name a few. When performed on a regular basis, water changes help foster a more stable, consistent environment.
Let’s face it. Water changes tend to be viewed by most hobbyists as a necessary evil; a practice that we begrudgingly embrace. Many hobbyists will do the occasional 10%-25% water change once a month, maybe even once every couple of months, or even less often (oh, the horror!)! As the New Year approaches, I say to defer those other, tired resolutions (quitting smoking, working towards world peace, perfecting salsa dancing, couples therapy, excercise, less partying, blah, blah, blah) and shoot for something more important (heh, heh). Let’s try to develop a good reefkeeping habit for 2010!
5% Twice A Week. That’s All I Ask!
As I just asserted, one of the primary benefits of the water change in a closed system is the dissolution of dissolved organics in the water. In the healthy closed system, we all know that fish wastes and other organics are broken down by the beneficial bacteria that reside in the sand bed, live rock, and filter media, blah, blah. However, over time, the end products of the biological filtration process (nitrate and phosphate, in particular) tend to accumulate in the system. The accumulation of these products can lead to significant degradation of your tank’s water quality over time. Many anomalous “crashes” have their roots in lax maintenance practices.
The key to eliminating this problem is, of course, regular water changes! If done consistently, regular small water changes can help dilute organic wastes before they ever have an opportunity to accumulate in your system. Minerals and trace elements will be replenished with fantastic regularity. If you suffer from CAD Syndrome (“Chronic Additive Dosing Syndrome”), think of the money that you’ll save by not having to purchase all of those additives you’ve been using!
“Ok“, I can hear you saying, “I get the picture…More frequent water changes are a good idea. But how much do I have to change…And how often?” My recommendation: Less than you think…but more often than you’d assume! My recommendation for an easy-to-accomplish, highly beneficial water change regimen is to perform two 5% water changes per week. “Twice a week? What a pain! Stick to aquascaping, Fellman! Is this guy nuts?” (Well, yes, but that’s another topic for another time!) Seriously, this is a lot easier to accomplish than you might think.
Before you pummel me with Bio Pellets, think about it. It’s not that big of a commitment. You probably spend as much time flossing your teeth each week (well, at least I do!). We’re talking five percent of your tank volume (that’s only 5 gallons in a 100 gallon tank, or just 2.5 gallons in a 50 gallon tank), performed on, say, Wednesday and Sunday. By following this routine, you’re aquarium’s inhabitants are never more than 3 days from the next water change!
However scary it sounds, it’s not a daunting task, by any means. In fact, you can perform an efficient water change in as little as 10 minutes (Trust me here- I timed it!). Make time for this practice by eliminating a bad habit, such as visiting Reef Central- during these times, and pledge loyalty to your siphon hose. Using decidedly “low tech” methods, you can create a healthy, stable environment in your aquarium. When I say “low tech”- I mean it! We’re talking about a length of flexible plastic hose, nothing more! Sure, you could use one of those fancy store-bought numbers, but the tubing works just fine for me!
Obviously, when conducting the water change, you need to be sure to utilize high quality source water (such as RO/DI water), a good salt mix, and similar specific gravity, temperature, and pH. You know that already, of course. Duh…
Environmental consistency is extremely important, and conducting water changes in a manner that breeds consistency will assist you in creating stability in your aquarium! Another side benefit of frequent small water changes is that you are “involved” with your tank on a rather “intimate” level, on a very regular basis. You’ll see what’s really going on in your tank, notice subtle changes or recognize gradually developing problems and trends, and be able to correct them before they become serious.
You’ll save money on additives, too! Rather than spend tons of cash on lots of different trace elements, additives, and assorted vitamin products, you’ll be able to replenish the majority of these compounds through these frequent water changes. Sure, you may still need to supplement calcium, iodine, and possibly, a few other compounds which your animals utilize on a daily basis, but you’ll use far less of them in many cases.
And, while you’re making these regular water changes, why not use the opportunity to empty the collection cup and clean the neck of your protein skimmer, replace chemical filtration media , and clean/replace mechanical filter pads and/or filter “socks”? By cleaning/replacing the mechanical media within your system often, you’ll help prevent detritus and organics from building up within them, which can measurably degrade water quality if left unattended.
Most amazing of all will be the noticeable results in your aquarium: Your fishes will display brighter colors, eat better, and be more alert and active than you’ve ever seen them! Spawning activity may even be encourages through water changes for some species. Corals and invertebrates will display significant improvement in color, growth, and recovery following imposed propagation techniques.
You’ll enjoy a whole new dimension of success with your system. Water parameters will remain more stable, nuisance algae will begin to disappear from your system, and your tank will take on a visual clarity that will astound you! People will find you more attractive, your income will increase, your sense of humor will be irresistible, and you will choose the winning lotto numbers with greater frequency. Guaranteed.
Seriously, with this many collateral benefits, why would you chance NOT making more frequent water changes? Give them a try, and watch your system rock as never before!
Till next time…