Reef tanks, like natural coral reefs, can vary widely in their appearance; some places like oceanic islands the water is crystal clear and there’s not that much nutrients to fuel brown soft corals or algae growth in the first place. But as you get closer to shore, larger islands and especially effluents of rivers, the water becomes greener and it fuels a wide range of non-coral growth.
Both of these habitats are perfectly suitable for growing corals but as reefers with aquariums that we present in our homes and businesses, we want that picture perfect representation of a far flung tropical island. There’s nothing wrong with having little bits of organic material floating in your tank getting kicked up by aquarium residents, but if you want that museum quality aquarium look, here are five tips to keep your aquarium and water looking clean and clear.
For some reason the mere thought of doing water changes seems to be akin to a menial chore for most aquarists. We do so many things outside the tank to try and reduce the number of water changes required. While this may be more useful on larger reef tanks where a massive volume water has already reached a desired chemistry, the smaller the tank, the more it makes sense to do water changes with good proven water and salt mix in lieu of water testing and dosing.
Seriously though, doing water changes on large and small tanks alike is like an immediate clarity inducing practice. Not only will the water be clearer within an hour or two of performing the water change, but you’ll notice an immediate perking up of your corals and all marine life.
It’s hard to pin down what it is exactly that water changes remove from the water that is akin to a reset, but there’s no question that doing a decent, regular water change, without doing anything else, will almost always dramatically clear up your aquarium water. And the decreased nutrients will certainly reduce algae growth on your rocks, glass and substrate.
If there’s one practice that is most similar to doing a water change without actually schlepping any water, it’s the use of activated carbon. Within hours of adding even a small amount of carbon into an area of your filter’s water flow you’ll see increased clarity of your water.
There’s all grades and qualities of activated carbon and while diving into the various kinds is fodder enough for another separate article. Don’t get caught up in all the fancy carbons, just use a reasonable amount, around a handful per 30 to 50 gallons once a week will work wonders for keeping that tank looking shiny.
A lot of reefers state that they don’t want to use activated carbon because it ‘removes trace elements’. This is 100% true but you know what else removes trace elements? Virtually everything in your reef tank. Therefore you should be regularly dosing a broad spectrum trace element supplement on a regular basis anyway, with or without regular carbon use.
Clean Your Filters!
How can you expect to have a clean tank if you never clean your filters? Every pre-filter, every filter sock, and even your protein skimmer are important elements of water quality management in your aquarium and if you want a super clean tank, you gotta clean your filters regularly.
keeping these working optimally is the first line of defense to trap all the waste, poop, and detritus that gets transported around the aquarium. It might be tedious to manually clean and replace these filters but one way to make it easier is to have spares so you can hot-swap filters and sponges and get your hands wet only once during maintenance.
Flocculant – Marine Snow/Clarity
Now here’s a couple tricks that they don’t tell you about in the ‘books’. There’s a class of additives that you can add to your aquarium water which will clear your water like you never thought possible. Flocculants like Brightwell Aquatics Clarifi-SW will bind small bits of waste in your water into larger pieces making it easier for your filters to remove them from suspension in your aquarium water.
Another product I really like for crystal clear water is Zeovit Coral Snow. Unlike Marine Snow which is considered a food for corals, marine snow is a very fine liquified powder that will make your water unbelievably cloudy. However these small particles actually trap dissolved organic matter that you cannot see, but which does make your water yellowish. Like the flocculant Coral Snow will be trapped by your aquarium filters including the skimmer, and since it’s heavy some of it will actually just sink to the bottom.
Keep it clean in the first place!
If you’ve got a massively overloaded tank with tons of fish, a deep sand bed and you feed with a heavy hand, how can you ever expect to have a tank as clear as a lightly stocked reef tank with no sand bed and virtually no feeding at all? You can’t, and for the most part our reef tanks are neither of these extremes.
Try to strike a balance in how much sand you use, how many fish and how large they are, and how often you feed your reef tank. For 98% of you reading this right now, I guarantee that you could feed your tank less and it would be fine, if not the better for it.
Also, if you get it in your mind that you really want your tank to be cleaner don’t expect instant results. Through regular water changes, intermediate carbon use and regular cleaning of your filters you really can get your tank – the one you have right now – looking fresh and clean without drastic changes of the aquarium system. The longer and more regular you perform these aquarium duties the cleaner your reef tank will be, and all of the increased animal health that comes with it.