Aquarium Water Testing
By: Scott Davidson
I always remember this phrase from my earliest days of reef keeping. Although I can’t remember who coined the phrase, it has always stuck with me. It would always conjure the image of someone standing in front of their aquarium, with a cooking apron on. The front would be stained and have the familiar, “Kiss me, I’m the cook!” graphic on the front.
An assortment of additives skewed about, most with no caps on them, the “cook” would dip his finger into the water, taste it, pick up a bottle, and add a dash of this or a dollop of that. Then the “taste test” would start again, to confirm whether or not the right additives were being added, and in the right quantities. Although this scenario sounds ridiculous, regular weekly testing is one of the most basic ways, as a new hobbyist, to stay ahead of the many pitfalls of successfully starting a saltwater aquarium.
It makes sense, right? Even so, as an operations manager for a retail store, I never got used to being surprised at how so many people could not draw a correlation between their lack of success and the fact that they did not test regularly. At any given time, if someone asked, I could tell them where the parameters of my many tanks at home would be.
And, that commitment to testing weekly was a primary reason that I could make insightful and educated adjustments to my aquariums. I was proactive, not reactive.
Proactively testing was what allowed me, as new hobbyist, to start to make connections between my water chemistry and how the animals behaved, how they appeared, what kinds of algaes proliferated or whether corals died, barely survived, or grew and thrived. Seeing first-hand the development of my aquariums, as I made educated adjustments, is what started to impart to me the confidence to try a greater assortment of animals.
Like most beginning hobbyists, I slowly migrated from the “hardy” soft corals, to the increasingly, less accommodating hard corals. All the while testing, watching, and responding to the results of my tests that kept the chemistry in line with the “nature” of ocean water.
I found that initially, weekly testing, was the path to follow. Unwaveringly, I tested the Salinity, Alkalinity, Calcium, Nitrates, and Phosphates. I kept a log in a spiral binder of the results, along with any adjustments that I made. It allowed me to go back and review what worked, and what didn’t. It allowed me to gain insight to the effectiveness, or lack thereof, to the almost endless options of additives available.
To draw an opinion on the degree of quality of a product, or it’s marketing. We know that those two things, often, do not go hand in hand. The best case scenario, is that product worked to accomplish what it is that I wanted. The most often result, was that it didn’t have any effect. The worst case scenario was having a product produce deleterious effects on my aquarium and animals. Without testing regularly, I would not have been able to draw these conclusions.
The brand of kits is not as important as using them is. That is a broad, but absolute statement. None of the kits that are available to hobbyists are so precise, that you could use them to publish a peer reviewed paper and be taken seriously. With that being said, the majority of them are precise enough for us, as hobbyists, to make effective and appropriate adjustments to our aquariums that contribute directly to them thriving.
While this article is not about endorsing any specific brand, I would recommend using kits that offer a resolution that has small increments of measurements. There is a big difference if a kit reads in increments of 50ppm or if it reads in 5ppm. Obviously, a smaller increment of measurement allows us to make much more precise adjustments.
And, as all good “cooks” know, precise adjustments make for a savory dish! So, make it a priority to invest the time and money into purchasing and using test kits. With those investments, you’ll be ahead of the curve to creating an aquarium like those that inspired you to begin with.
Scott Davidson is the owner for Finergy Aquariums, a full service maintenance company specializing in the creation and long term service of aquatic displays.