Breeders and NPS keepers will want to make sure you check out AquaMedic’s Plankton and Plankton Light reactors for growing your own phytoplankton and zooplankton at home. I first came across a full page advertisement for AquaMedic’s “Plankton Reactor” almost a year back. While I’d seen something that looked like this in some photos out of Europe, this was the first time I’d see such a thing offered here in the US. I contacted AquaMedic, demanding to know why they were ‘holding out” on the breeding community for so long! It turns out this was anything but a new product…it was just one they weren’t really putting at the forefront.
AquaMedic sent me the un-lit version to try out last winter; these reactors can be purchased with clamp on lighting (as shown in the schematic above) for use as small-scale phytoplankton reactors. In my case, I’ve mainly used this as a very fancy brine shrimp hatchery. Still, after months of use, I finally feel ready to explain the upsides, and shortfalls, of this high-end culture vessel. If you’re an aquarist who appreciates the finer things, perhaps it is finally time to put those 2-Liter soda / pop bottles where they belong – in the recycle bin.
The plankton reactor arrived well-packaged. One of the instantly notable inclusions is a massive brush for cleaning the reactor. I love using this thing!
If they already thought of that, what else might they have thought of? It turns out quite a bit; after reading through the instructions, they’ve actually devised a system whereby you could use one reactor for phytoplankton, one for zooplankton, and a couple dosing pumps, and create a self-sufficient plankton food chain for dosing your aquarium. While this is certainly not how a breeder would use these systems, NPS keepers take note! A minimal intensity constant supply of live rotifers for feeding your systems? Aqua Medic’s instructions give insights on how you could do it (you can view the full Aqua Medic Plankton Reactor Instructions here – automated continuous culture instructions start on page 13, section 3.4)!
The instructions were easy to follow for setup, provided in both German and English versions. The below graphic was almost all you really needed to put the thing together (note the light attachment, only added if you have the lit model).
The overall quality of this reactor is readily apparent – top to bottom, this is far more thought-0ut than an inverted 2 liter pop bottle! In setting up the reactor, I had only one real issue – the unit comes with a wall plate, not unlike pegboard. You mount the plate where you want it, and then the C shaped clamps that hold the reactor body are set into place. A problem of plastic burrs in the molding and finish process prevented the “legs” of the C clamps from being inserted and locked into the peg-board style wall plate. I briefly tried to sand the very small burrs on the mounting clamp legs down, but realize that might weaken them. Instead, I had to select my holes and file them wider, just a little, to allow the pegs to go in and then slide down, locking them into place. That problem resolved, everything else went great. I mounted the unit to my larger zooplankton culture station with a few zip ties and that was that – reactor ready to use.
One of the most interesting features is the dual purpose of the bottom entrypoint, serving both as an air entry point but also a drainage point. The air feed comes supplied with a check valve, and the drain line with a micro ball valve. I found the addition of another micro ball valve (easily available from Two Little Fishies…I keep them on hand) helped tremendously on the air side…I could then turn off the air feed when needed, and even disconnect the air hose there if need be (eg. for cleaning the reactor at the sink). You can drain liquid from the reactor while an air feed is running, but it goes faster if you turn the air supply off if harvesting from the bottom.
The removable cone shaped top is a bit peculiar at first until I realized that it serves as a positive pressure point….with air coming in from below, it must exit somewhere, and it does so at the top, presumably creating a “no entrance” zone at the top. If contamination were a concern, an appropriate filter material could be wedged into the opening to further block incoming debris. This cone shaped top is removable to facilitate both filling and cleaning. Here’s one more look at the reactor, in action as a large brine shrimp hatchery.
So far I’ve only used the reactor to hatch and enrich brine shrimp, but it does that task exceedingly well. It is not without a couple week points. First, I have found that unhatched brine shrimp cysts can somehow make it by the incoming air feed and settle into the drain line. On one occasion, this fully blocked the drain line necessitating me poking an unbent paperclip into the valve to help free things up. Ordinarily, cysts congregate there but do flush out with little difficulty. I could potentially shorten the drain line a wee bit to accumulate less, but I haven’t tried that yet. Of course, this is only an issue if using the reactor to hatch brine shrimp – I wouldn’t anticipate rotifers or phytoplankton doing the same. I am curious, however, if there is anything different done to Aqua Medic’s AquaBreed 1000, which outwardly looks like nothing more than a shorter version of the Plankton Reactor, and is marketed specifically for hatching brine shrimp (among other purposes).
The other part I’m not a huge fan of? Simple, I have to wait. It takes a long time for liquid to drain from the reactor. Since the reactor holds 2.5 Liters, I have to train it into something like a 1 gallon milk jug, and I have to remember I started draining it in the first place.
I did discover, however, that the bottom draining feature is very handy when working with classic Artemia – shells float, and unhatched cysts end to exit early or rest on the tapered walls of the bottom. When I tried the new Sep Art (magnetic brine shrimp eggs!) sent to me by Ocean Nutrition in Europe, the results were amazing. A report on that, coming soon.
Ultimately, I think you can see where your money goes when you’re looking at the equipment. It feels high quality. It feels robust and so far has proven to be of a higher grade. You are getting what you pay for in that regard. For the fish breeder who’s wife says it has to look great (dingy 5 gallon buckets of rotifers ain’t gonna fly in the living room) here’s your answer. If you need to save space, here’s your answer (the diameter of the reactor body is only 3.2 inches, and is about 32 inches tall). If you want your culturing setup to look and feel like a professional lab, have at it. Still, the most interesting part of Aqua Medic’s product is not the uses that would apply to a fish breeder, but the potential to use these vessels as the basis for a continual automated culturing system to provide a steady stream of zooplankton to a reef tank. With all the work done to dose chilled liquids out of a dorm-fridge, maybe there’s a better way?
Aqua Medic’s Plankton Reactor has a MSPR of $119; the Plankton Light Reactor (not tested) runs $299.
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