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At my wits end


NaturalViolence

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NaturalViolence

First off hi everybody, I'm new here. I apologize in advance for the length.

I'm one of those people that likes to solve problems on their own and firmly believes in their own ability to solve any problem they put their mind to. Every day I read a lot of forum posts in places like this as well as articles in online magazines, blogs, and chapters in books. Both to solve issues that my system develops and just because I like having as much understanding of the systems at play as possible. But I rarely ever post anything because whatever it is it's likely already been discussed in detail in many other places and I can likely figure it out myself. I'll likely do a better job too than if I follow someone else's advice. Also because ever since my introduction to this hobby the things I have read in online forums have scared me away pretty effectively. Every question anyone asks is followed by many different answers from many different users. Some of which may be good answers but most of what you get are poor assumptions and mindbogglingly stupid conclusions. Back when I had a cyano problem and starting searching google for relevant forum threads I ran into a lot of statements being made that even with my limited understanding I could clearly tell were biologically or chemically impossible. Many were clearly made by people that had never actually had a cyano problem themselves and were just repeating the same nonsense they had heard from others.


Why am I telling you this? Just to impress upon you just how bad the problem must be to make me turn to forum posting for help. I chose this forum because the answers here have generally been higher quality than what I have seen from the "experts" over at bigger communities

TL:DR paragraph:
About a year ago I set up two saltwater tanks. The first tank has no issues at all with keeping KH and/or Ca up. The second consumes KH and Ca so fast that I need to supplement the max amount of two part allowed per day along with kalk just to keep it up. It evaporates about a gallon a day and the kalk is well saturated. If I stop for even a day it crashes to below 7 degrees. It stops dropping rapidly at around 5.5-6.0 degrees KH and 350 ppm Ca. It reaches this point in about 3-4 days without two part supplementation but with kalk. This equates to around 1 degree KH loss per day even with kalk. For an SPS tank I would expect this. But this is unusual given that there appears to be no significant precipitation of calcium carbonate and no biological absorption either. There is some precipitation in the pumps but this tank has been up and running for a year and the precipitation is very minimal. The only calcerous organisms I have are a few small LPS frags only an inch wide each and some branching (not encrusting) corraline algae. None of which have grown much. The total amount of CaCO3 that I have seen in terms of growth and precipitation over this year has been significantly less than what I supplement in a given week. Stirring up the sandbed reveals some sand clumps. But they're not solid stones (they break fairly easily) so could this really account for the missing precipitation? The CaCO3 has to be going somewhere. I just can't figure out where. I would really like to switch to weekly two part dosing with kalk for the rest of the days. But I can't without the Ca and KH reaching dangerous levels. My test kits are accurate. I have a salifert and an API kit that I test against. Below I describe the two tanks in question. I'll get some pictures later on. Skip the first if you don't find it relevant. Hell you might even consider skipping the second and just reading the differences section lower down.

The first tank (no problems, excellent tank by my standards)
Decription:
A 30 gallon outdoor pond style lagoonal system made with a plastic tub.
Organisms:
It has a green spotted pufferfish, lots of macroalgae (including a small amount of calcerous species), an alveopora, some small CUC crabs, and an urchin.
Substrate and rock:
The substrate is very shallow (around an inch) and is made of a mixture of crushed coral, larger grain aragonite sand, and seachem matrix (medium size pumice stones). It has very little live rock (5-10 pounds maybe).
Equipment:
A waterfall, an aquaC EV-120 protein skimmer, a 150w heater, a 250w heater, and a K1 media biofilter (pond style, rated for up to 1,000 gallons). Pumps and lighting are listed below.
Flow:
It has decent flow (530 GPH return pump, 800 GPH skimmer pump, 800 GPH circulation pump). Most of the flow is on one side of the tank. The side with the waterfall.
Lighting:
Fairly good lighting (currently running a 250 MH over the pond and an 18 watt CFL over the waterfall). Previously it had a 156 watt (4 x 39w) T5HO from odyssea.
Maintenance:
I rarely ever do water changes in this tank. A 20-30% every few months when I need to clean the biofilter (sludge builds up at the bottom over time) and that's about it. Protein skimmer is emptied and cleaned weekly.
Surface agitation and oxygenation:
Good on both accounts.
Temperature:
Fluctuates during the day/night because it's outdoors. Reaches 88 F during peak (I know I know, I’m working on it). 78 F at lowest.
Chemistry:
PH (API): 8.2
NH3/NH4 (API): 0
NO2 (API): 0
NO3 (salifert): 0
PO4 (salifert): 0
KH (salifert): 11 degrees
Ca (salifert): 450 ppm
Mg (salifert): 1350 ppm
SG (refractometer): 1.0245-1.0255
Salt Mix:
Instant Ocean Sea Salt. I've used Seachem Reef Salt in the past with no noticable change.
Supplements:
Seachem reef builder for KH and seachem advanced calcium for Ca monthly. I've experimented with lots of other stuff in the past but nothing has really made a noticable difference in the tank. Seachem advanced magnesium every few months
Feeding:
I feed my pufferfish either two krill or 5 ramshorn snails every other day.
Refugium/sump:
None
Other considerations:
It's outdoors so there is some daily and seasonal temperature variance. As well as generally high humidity since I live in florida.

 

The second tank

Decription:

25 gallon glass aquarium setup as a reef tank outdoors.

Organisms:

Lots of small frags 1" frags. Pipe organ, yellow polyp, yellow scroll, white pom pom xenia, irish zoogirl zooanthids, duncan, green star polyp, blue/green acan, red death polythoa, red mushroom, purple/green galaxea, and a green favite. And three gorgonians which are fairly large. Lots of macro in the refugium and some branching coraline (but it hasn't grown much). Small CUC, two green mithrax, a peppermint shrimp, two astrea snails, a nassarius, and some ceriths.

Substrate and rock:

4" DSB with a mixture of fine and medium aragonite sand (caribsea). Refugium has a 2" sandbed with fine aragonite sand. 30 pounds of florida inland rock from reefcleaners.

Equipment:

6" fan over refugium for evaporative cooling. 300w heater. Skimmer is an SCA-301 (bubble magus NAC5.5 clone). Phosban 150 reactor with GFO (experimenting, I've tried seachem matrix carbon, seachem purigen, and seachem phosguard in the past in it). Two little fishies kw300 kalkwasser reactor. Custom ATO with dual float switches from autotopoff.com. And a filter sock. Pumps and lighting are listed below.

Flow:

Jebao WP10 wavemaker (1000 GPH) on full power. Another one in the refugium. A 240 GPH and 120 GPH circulation pump in the sump since that's where I do the dosing. 130 GPH reactor pump, 220 GPH ATO pump, 400 GPH return pump, and 400 GPH skimmer pump. For the record I've tried stronger and weaker pumps in the tank in the past and it didn't make a difference.

Lighting:

Reefradiance 132e (144 watt, 48 x 3 watt bridgelux chips) over the main tank. The blue lights blew (I think it was the power supply that died) so only 72 watts right now. And I have the optics off since I didn't like the discoball effect they created since I can't hang the LEDs above the aquarium. Lately the white LEDs have seemed rather dim so I'm going to experiment with MH soon. Previously I had 96 watt (4 x 24 watt) T5HO from odyssea. The refugium has 2 x 13 watt CFL and a 9 watt LED (A19 style) in hardware store clamp on parabolic reflectors (the kind used for work lights).

Maintenance:

Water changes are rare. Every few months. But I've tried doing them weekly or even daily in the past and it never made any difference. I may try again soon just because I'm running low on ideas here. I change GFO and filter pads/socks at the same time.

Surface agitation and oxygenation:
Good on both accounts.

Temperature:

Varied throughout the day since it's outdoors. 78-84 F.

Chemistry:

PH (API): 8.2
NH3/NH4 (API): 0
NO2 (API): 0
NO3 (salifert): 0
PO4 (salifert): 0
KH (salifert): 6-9 degrees (hard to keep stable)
Ca (salifert): 350-450 ppm (hard to keep stable)
Mg (salifert): 1300-1400 ppm (depletion is slow but I do supplement occasionally to keep it high since that is supposed to help keep KH/Ca up, it hasn't)
SG (refractometer): 1.0245-1.0255

Salt Mix:

Instant Ocean Sea Salt. I've used Seachem Reef Salt in the past with no noticable change.

Supplements:

Seachem reef builder for KH and seachem advanced calcium for Ca daily. Seachem advanced magnesium every few months. I've experimented with lots of other stuff in the past but nothing has really made a noticable difference in the tank. I've recently switched to kent superbuffer dKH for KH. We'll see if it makes a difference. I already like it better than reef builder because it dissolves clear, which it should.

Feeding:

A brine shrimp cube every week. 1/3 of the cube every other day. Spot fed to the LPS corals and crabs. The shrimp are washed thoroughly before feeding and are refridgerated between feedings.

Refugium/sump:

Yes and yes. Most of the equipment is in the sump. For the other tank I use the waterfall like a sump to hold the protein skimmer. The sump is a 10 gallon glass aquarium with acrylic baffles filled to 70% capacity. The refugium is an 18 gallon plastic tub filled to 85% capacity. So about 45 gallons total water volume.

Other considerations:

It's outdoors so there is some daily and seasonal temperature variance. As well as generally high humidity since I live in florida.

 

I think that's pretty much everything that I can think of that could effect anything in any way. Oh right plumbing and electrical work. And the stand. But I'm not going to bother with the details on that stuff. Nothing unusual about it. I use RO/DI water tested 0 TDS for top offs and water changes. I've experimented on both tanks with nearly every combination of lighting, flow, and chemical supplements (among other things) imaginable at this point.

 

Notable differences between the two tanks:

Tank 1 has no sump/refugium (it essentially is its own refugium). Is has a shallow sand bed with much coarser substrate and little flow over most of the tank/substrate. It runs much hotter and has brighter MH lighting instead of LED. It is fed more heavily and has less artificial filtration, meaning it's dirtier. Flow is weaker and less uniform. It's made of plastic instead of glass. It has a biofilter that traps detritus and allows it to break down and no chemical filtration (which contributes to making it dirtier). It contains only one coral (alveopora) and no corraline algae but does contain some calcerous macroalgae and various calcerous filter feeders (some mussels, oysters, and calcerous tube worms). It has more macroalgae and CUC but almost no live rock.

 

Interestingly when I turn over the few pieces of live rock in tank 1 I typically find bright pink/purple encrusting corraline growing underneath. And a few times when digging into the substrate I have found "corraline stones". Bright pink/purple rocks around an inch across that formed from layers of CaCO3 deposited by corraline onto much smaller crushed coral fragments (typically 1/4-1/2" across). What's interesting is that this corraline only seems to grow in areas of complete darkness (how and why when they're supposed to be photosynthetic?) and have amazing colors. Exposing them to any light for any extended period of time, even low light, causes them to bleach. They do not grow in tank 2 no matter what I try. It also seems to prefer to grow deep in the substrate in areas with poor flow. You would think this would deplete the Ca and KH quickly but it seems to somehow help stabilize it. My current theory is that the trapped detritus, dirty water, lack of light, and poor flow deep in the substrate cause the anaerobic bacteria living there to produce acidic conditions that helps dissolve the aragonite substrate. Of course I have no way to prove this.

 

Thanks for reading this very long post and consider this my official introduction. Even more thanks to anyone who can help unravel this mystery. I apologize for any spelling errors, apparently this forum doesn't have spellcheck?

 

You certainly can't claim I wasn't detailed enough. I'll add some pictures tomorrow.

 

 

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How many times did you try changing the water weekly in tank 2? Since the two tanks are different, "rarely" changing the water in tank 1 could be okay whereas it may not be okay in tank 2. I am basing this off of what I've been reading around here, by no means am I an expert and I'm sure someone more qualified will chime in

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NaturalViolence

Back when I had a major cyano problem one of the things I tried was water changes. It even got to the point where I did 50% water changes every day for a week. That didn't seem to revolve either issue.

 

I will give it another shot soon when I have time. Water changes are just so damn time consuming (and expensive depending on the salt). I tend to avoid them because I've never seen them cause any improvement in any tank that I have ever had, short term or long term.

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NaturalViolence

Thanks for responding by the way.

 

As far as "the outdoor thing" goes I've pretty much ruled that out since both systems are outdoors and therefore experience higher temperature, high humidity, and daily temperature swings. I don't really have a way to test the DSBs effects other than breaking down the whole tank and making a new sand bed (since stirring it could cause a hydrogen sulfide crash). And chemically it doesn't make sense why a DSB would cause this. I haven't been able to find anyone anywhere on the internet with a DSB who has experienced this problem so I have no comparative evidence either. I suppose I still can't rule it out though because I have little else to point the finger at by this point.

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What is your water source? I ran for a long time off a simple ZeroWater pitcher which was (wait for it) completely fine for two years... until it wasn't. Almost overnight cyano/diatoms/calothrix and possibly dinoflagellates everywhere.

 

Switched to distilled (local store sells it at 30 cents a gallon) & several months later the tank looks great again. And yes, fixing a water source issue can take a long time to true itself up. At the same time I couldn't maintain a stable alkalinity level, either.

 

EDIT: 4" might be a bit too shallow for a functional deep sand bed (aren't most 6-8"?) - you might be getting the worst of both worlds. You COULD take the sump offline and just leave the water in it for a few days - use a bucket/plastic tub in its place sans sand to remove that part of the equation. or wait... it the DSB in your display tank, not the refugium/sump?

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What is your water source? I ran for a long time off a simple ZeroWater pitcher which was (wait for it) completely fine for two years... until it wasn't. Almost overnight cyano/diatoms/calothrix and possibly dinoflagellates everywhere.

 

Switched to distilled (local store sells it at 30 cents a gallon) & several months later the tank looks great again. And yes, fixing a water source issue can take a long time to true itself up. At the same time I couldn't maintain a stable alkalinity level, either.

 

Only thing is he is probably using the same water source on both tanks

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Only thing is he is probably using the same water source on both tanks

 

True, but he's also got a significantly different stocking between the two as well. If I've read correctly the non-problem tank has a fair number of filter-feeding inverts and macroalgaes present which can usually take varying water quality in stride or even benefit from some less-than-stellar source water. The more traditional reef tank? Somewhat less so.

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NaturalViolence

Water quality was already mentioned:

I think that's pretty much everything that I can think of that could effect anything in any way. Oh right plumbing and electrical work. And the stand. But I'm not going to bother with the details on that stuff. Nothing unusual about it. I use RO/DI water tested 0 TDS for top offs and water changes. I've experimented on both tanks with nearly every combination of lighting, flow, and chemical supplements (among other things) imaginable at this point.



or wait... it the DSB in your display tank, not the refugium/sump?


Yes.

Only thing is he is probably using the same water source on both tanks


Yes.

True, but he's also got a significantly different stocking between the two as well.



Both are stocked and fed lightly compared to most tanks that size. The dirty tank closer to medium-light and the reef tank closer to anorexic.

If I've read correctly the non-problem tank has a fair number of filter-feeding inverts and macroalgaes present which can usually take varying water quality in stride or even benefit from some less-than-stellar source water. The more traditional reef tank? Somewhat less so.



Correct. However keep in mind I certainly didn't put them there. The filter feeders are there because I let the water get so dirty in the first place. In both tanks if I allow the water to get sufficiently dirty filter feeders will start growing everywhere. If I clean it up, they'll die. There aren't that many live filter feeders left in the dirty tank ever since I installed a protein skimmer. But I still have calcerous tube worm shells covering the sides from back then. And despite those things sucking Ca/KH out of the water as they grew the Ca/KH still dropped very slowly compared to the reef tank. See what I mean? It should have the opposite effect. What I am trying to find here ultimately is where all the Ca in the reef tank is going. If I can figure that out I might be able to find a way to stabilize it by eliminating the problem.

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Amphiprion1

I had a similar issue in the past and it actually was the sand bed. I was dumping calcium and bicarbonate and levels wouldn't budge. After significant digging, I found several large concretions of aragonite sand that comprised the nearly endless sink of CaCO3. While I don't like to stir deep sand beds, I urge you to use a slightly rigid tube or rod to probe areas. As far as why this happened, I can only speculate in my case, ranging from bacteria that promote it to lack of adequate biofilm formation. I do know it stopped after the sand I had was largely removed and replaced with sand that featured a heavy biofilm aka kinda dirty live sand. This prevents precip from even starting in the sand bed by covering available crystallization sites. For now, I would STOP dosing and changing the water, as it isn't going to help much and then start looking at/working on the sand bed.

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NaturalViolence
replaced with sand that featured a heavy biofilm aka kinda dirty live sand.

 

Can you elaborate on this? What sand did you use?

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Amphiprion1

Can you elaborate on this? What sand did you use?

It was a combination of aquacultured live sand, a small amount of live silt (both from premium aquatics) and some bagged live sand, the latter of which helped reduce some of the cost. Again, any sand that isn't a nice, fresh site for precipitation will likely work to reduce and eliminate clumping. Once that settled in, I didn't have the clumping issues anymore. Granted, the tank wasn't set up for terribly much longer (several months) after this, but I never noted any more during that time--and calcium/alkalinity were far more stable.

 

Edit: you may be able to retain at least some of the current sandbed by mixing the above in instead of removing much of it. You will still need to remove as many clumps as possible. I thought I only had a few until I stumbled along one in a corner of the tank that was, well, the size of nearly the entire left part of the tank an inch or two under.

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How are you dosing the 2 part?

Which products are you using for the 2 part?



Edit, I see you use seachem. How is it dosed.

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NaturalViolence

Edit, I see you use seachem. How is it dosed.

 

 

It's mixed with RO/DI water and slowly dripped in over a high flow area in the sump. It's dosed the same way in both tanks.

 

 

It was a combination of aquacultured live sand, a small amount of live silt (both from premium aquatics) and some bagged live sand, the latter of which helped reduce some of the cost.

 

 

I checked that site out and didn't see any aquacultured sand. Only bagged live/dry.

 

 

Again, any sand that isn't a nice, fresh site for precipitation will likely work to reduce and eliminate clumping.

 

 

What exactly defines whether the sand is "a fresh site for precipitation" though? How is my sand any different from the aragonite sand that everyone else is using? What type of sand should I be looking for? Why has nobody else reported this problem with caribsea aragonite sand (the most popular brand on the market)? Why would X sand cause precipitation and Y sand not if they're made of the same material? If it's the biofilm that's the issue than why hasn't a biofilm developed in my system but has in others? And why would changing the sand cause it to develop when it didn't before?

 

When I started the tank I had a 2" depth sand bed made with caribsea reef grade aragonite sand. It had the same problem and I never noticed any clumps when I tore down the tank to rescape it. Although when I set the tank back up I mixed in another 2" of sugar grain sand and the problem went away until about a month in.

 

I'm going to keep digging and get to the bottom of this (pun intended). I do think that you MIGHT be right about this. Although it doesn't make any sense to me. At this point anything is worth a shot and it's one of the few legitimate differences between the two tanks that might effect this in some way. Maybe it has to do with the depth? Or the lack of sand sifting organisms? Or the grain size? Or the flow over/into the sand bed? Or the lack of detritus on the sand bed? If that last one is the issue than there is basically no way to fix this issue without introducing an algae problem from lack of cleaning. So lets hope not. I would really like to know exactly what the cause is so that I can fix it for sure in the future and possibly even help others that encounter the same issue. "It's the sandbed" is unfortunately not specific enough to really know what's causing it or how to fix it. What I hope won't happen is what usually happens. Trying lots of different solutions until one works because I don't know what the actual cause is. In this case trying different sand material, depths, grain sizes, flow patterns and intensities, sand sifters, and cleaning regimes. It seems like you fixed it through pure dumb luck (no offense) which unfortunately doesn't really tell us why your new sand didn't have the issue.

 

I had to switch the ATO from limewater to saltwater this week to get the salinity back up after an anemone died and the skimmer pulled several gallons of water out (which were replaced by freshwater by the ATO). And without the kalk the KH is now dropping 2 degrees a day. It's nuts.

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Perhaps the sand is the key. I hope you find out soon.

 

I was a member of the Alk/Cal swingers club for a long time. It was due to a combination of things, the salt I was using, the infrequent water changes which led to a fast depletion of Alk/Cal and manual dosing. I spent a long time in zone 4 or zone 3 of Randy Holmes Farley's alk/cal chart.

 

I installed peristaltic dosers from BRS for the 2 part controlled by Apex. Even so, it took well over 2 months of constant tweaking, constant measuring to get it right and steady. I started with a water change and measuring where I was, then daily measurements till the next water change to determine how much my tank was using up daily. I entered the values on aquaticlog.com to keep track and to see the levels at a glance in the graph.

 

Each doser runs every 30 minutes so twice an hour and they alternate, one starts at the hour and at 30 past, the other starts at 15 past and 45 past. So basically every 15 minutes the tank gets something thrown in. They run 24/7.

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NaturalViolence

I installed peristaltic dosers from BRS for the 2 part controlled by Apex. Even so' date=' it took well over 2 months of constant tweaking, constant measuring to get it right and steady. I started with a water change and measuring where I was, then daily measurements till the next water change to determine how much my tank was using up daily. I entered the values on aquaticlog.com to keep track and to see the levels at a glance in the graph.

 

Each doser runs every 30 minutes so twice an hour and they alternate, one starts at the hour and at 30 past, the other starts at 15 past and 45 past. So basically every 15 minutes the tank gets something thrown in. They run 24/7.[/quote']

 

This is easily the best solution but it's way out of my budget.

 

A quick update for everyone.

 

I no longer think it's the sand. My new theory is the branching corraline in the refugium is sucking it up. It would make sense given that I used to have this issue in tank 1 and then it mysteriously stopped a few months back. When I first setup tank 1 I added the corraline early on and later when I setup tank 2 I moved it to that tank. This would explain why I've always had the issue with tank 2 but only had the issue with tank 1 early on. It would also explain why the consumption rate drops slightly after water changes (cleaner water = less nutrients for corraline growth). The problem has gotten particularly bad lately and I moved the corraline to the new refugium that I setup about 1-2 months ago. Well today I took a look at the corraline in the fuge and it was bbbiiiggg. It seems to have grown from the size of a golfball to the size of a baseball. It's hard to tell since I don't take periodic pictures. I believe moving it to the fuge increased its growth rate and made the issue worse. The timing certainly supports this idea. On a side note does anyone want some free corraline? :P

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Kent makes a gravity doser, basically a plastic container with an I.V drip line attached with a roller to control the flow. You can easily fashion one yourself too.

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NaturalViolence

Another update. I did 50% water changes this weekend just to see what effect it would have. I checked my levels one day later. dKH 7.5, Ca 350 ppm. The salt mix (instant ocean) may be a contributing factor. I will use up the remaining salt over next weekend and switch to a new brand.

 

Any opinions on reef crystals vs. red sea coral pro? It's $55 vs $70 for the equivalent amount on amazon so the red sea brand is significantly more expensive.

 

I will look into the gravity doser idea when I have time.

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RSCP has enhanced levels of the elements your tank is soaking up fast. You might want to give that a try.

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Amphiprion1

It's mixed with RO/DI water and slowly dripped in over a high flow area in the sump. It's dosed the same way in both tanks.

 

 

 

 

I checked that site out and didn't see any aquacultured sand. Only bagged live/dry.

 

 

 

 

What exactly defines whether the sand is "a fresh site for precipitation" though? How is my sand any different from the aragonite sand that everyone else is using? What type of sand should I be looking for? Why has nobody else reported this problem with caribsea aragonite sand (the most popular brand on the market)? Why would X sand cause precipitation and Y sand not if they're made of the same material? If it's the biofilm that's the issue than why hasn't a biofilm developed in my system but has in others? And why would changing the sand cause it to develop when it didn't before?

 

When I started the tank I had a 2" depth sand bed made with caribsea reef grade aragonite sand. It had the same problem and I never noticed any clumps when I tore down the tank to rescape it. Although when I set the tank back up I mixed in another 2" of sugar grain sand and the problem went away until about a month in.

 

I'm going to keep digging and get to the bottom of this (pun intended). I do think that you MIGHT be right about this. Although it doesn't make any sense to me. At this point anything is worth a shot and it's one of the few legitimate differences between the two tanks that might effect this in some way. Maybe it has to do with the depth? Or the lack of sand sifting organisms? Or the grain size? Or the flow over/into the sand bed? Or the lack of detritus on the sand bed? If that last one is the issue than there is basically no way to fix this issue without introducing an algae problem from lack of cleaning. So lets hope not. I would really like to know exactly what the cause is so that I can fix it for sure in the future and possibly even help others that encounter the same issue. "It's the sandbed" is unfortunately not specific enough to really know what's causing it or how to fix it. What I hope won't happen is what usually happens. Trying lots of different solutions until one works because I don't know what the actual cause is. In this case trying different sand material, depths, grain sizes, flow patterns and intensities, sand sifters, and cleaning regimes. It seems like you fixed it through pure dumb luck (no offense) which unfortunately doesn't really tell us why your new sand didn't have the issue.

 

I had to switch the ATO from limewater to saltwater this week to get the salinity back up after an anemone died and the skimmer pulled several gallons of water out (which were replaced by freshwater by the ATO). And without the kalk the KH is now dropping 2 degrees a day. It's nuts.

 

 

What makes the sand I'm referring to vs. all the bagged dry sand out there is the fact that it is covered in a biofilm. Basically, any established sand with a bacterial biofilm will work. The biofilm limits both dissolution (which is already very limited in most cases) and the sand acting as a site for precipitation--think of it as a "seed" crystal for abiotic precip. Even some of the bagged live sand out there won't have a very good or thick biofilm, which can be less helpful. Of course, you are welcome to speculate as to my decisions and whether or not they were informed ones ;). Not really one to let that bother me much, so no worries.

 

As for the coralline, that seems less likely, IMHO, but not entirely implausible. It could be that you and I are talking on different scales in terms of supplement additions. I don't think I ever saw amounts you dose, but mine ranged from 20-30 mL with falling levels to 200-300 mL with falling levels. No amount of coralline growth in my particular tank could've explained that kind of a sink for CaCO3.

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  • 5 weeks later...
NaturalViolence

Time for an update. It’s not the coralline. I moved it to the other tank and it had no effect.

 

Even if I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sand is the problem that actually doesn't help me at all. It answers none of the questions I asked:

What exactly defines whether the sand is "a fresh site for precipitation" though? How is my sand any different from the aragonite sand that everyone else is using? What type of sand should I be looking for? Why has nobody else reported this problem with caribsea aragonite sand (the most popular brand on the market)? Why would X sand cause precipitation and Y sand not if they're made of the same material? If it's the biofilm that's the issue than why hasn't a biofilm developed in my system but has in others? And why would changing the sand cause it to develop when it didn't before?

And add some more to the list:

 

-If it's a biofilm issue than why would the new sand develop a biofilm and old sand not under the same conditions? If the conditions exist for biofilm development then it should happen eventually no matter what brand of sand I choose. If the conditions don't exist than new live sand won't help and the biofilm will just die off eventually.

 

-If it's the sand then why do so many people with the exact same sand not have this problem?

 

-If rapid precipitation is expected to occur on any CaCO3 surface without a biofilm why doesn't it in lab tests?

 

If the sand bed is the problem then the root of the issue is likely more complex than just starting with live sand vs. dry sand. My sand has plenty of worms crawling around in it and likely bacteria as well. It has sulfide pockets in the deeper area and gas bubbles occasionally escape from all depths so there is definitely some bacterial activity going on. It is "live". Though maybe not as dirty as some others.

 

I really like the look and function of my sand and really don't want to break down my entire tank to change it or to go bare bottom. I will only do this as an absolute last resort. It is far more likely that the sand is part of a larger picture problem.

 

I've done a lot of things over the last month to try to address this issue. More than I can count or recall. But I’ll try my best to recall what I can here. The strange thing is this issue didn't start until a few months back around the time I installed a refugium, GFO reactor, and kalk reactor (among other changes since I'm constantly making changes to the system) yet has not been resolved since then despite unhooking the reactors. I now believe the sand bed clumping was caused by the kalk and unrelated or partially related to the problem. I believe this because:

 

-it didn't start clumping until very recently, around the time I started using kalk

 

-many people online report sand clumping with kalk use, in fact it seems to be by far the top cause in reef tanks

 

-it stopped when I switched back to two part for a few weeks and cleaned out the clumps

 

-it resumed once I switched from bicarbonate (lower PH) to carbonate (which has a high PH, just like kalk)

 

Keeping levels up:

For one week I was able to keep alk and ca up at normal levels. But to do so I had to use obscene amounts of alk and Ca supplements every day. I went through a 500ml bottle in 4 days. During this week I noticed a few things. Significantly accelerated growth from my hard corals. And major precipitation on the glass, in my pumps, in the sump, and on the surface of my activated carbon (the carbon reactor pump is right next to the dosing pump outlet). I pulled out the foam pad in my sump and it was hard as a brick. And deep red.

 

GFO:

I guess I should explain the redness now. A few months back I installed a GFO reactor. I rinsed the GFO thoroughly before putting it in. After about a week things started to go wrong. The water turned red, the GFO was disappearing in the reactor, and the red dust would stick to the inside of pumps and on foam pads. Wherever the dust went major calcification occurred. I tried to set the flow so that the GFO was tumbling but not being obliterated. Over the next week as the GFO dissolved flow through the reactor slowed down as the GFO began to also clump and turn dark. Within 2 weeks it had turned into a single brick despite my efforts to increase flow. I have no idea what caused it. Or how the flow could be high enough to dissolve it yet low enough to make it clump. But I had to unhook the reactor after that, do major water changes, and vacuum the rocks and sand. I point this out because this occurred around the same time that I started having problems with Ca/Alk and it may be related.

 

Kalk:

When I switched from kalk back to two part I noticed I was now able to maintain much higher levels than before (8.5/400ppm vs. 7.5/320ppm) although still not ideal. Also precipitation was reduced.

 

Organic Calcium:

When I ran out of seachem reef complete I got a bottle of seachem calcium (calcium polygluconate instead of calcium chloride) to try. This is supposed to be far less reactive than calcium chloride and helps reduce precipitation. It did work, sort of. I was able to maintain higher levels than with regular calcium chloride. But I had to stop using it. The max dose is equivalent to 9 ppm calcium a day, not enough for my needs. Also at that dose all my corals showed a severe negative reaction every time I used it for some reason. At a dose of 3 ppm per day (the recommended dose) only the hard corals reacted negatively. Still it caused them to close up for hours after dosing even a tiny bit.

 

PH theory:

So far this all points to a high PH issue causing precipitation. However after testing the PH at various intervals of the day with and without kalk dosing I detected no change and the PH always stayed in the 8.2-8.4 range. However all I have access to is an API test kit which are notoriously inaccurate.

 

BRS two part:

After hearing lots of good things about it I decided to give brs two part a try. Which uses pure sodium carbonate instead of a bicarbonate/carbonate mixture like most supplements (and thus has a higher PH). The results were better than kalk but worse than regular alk supplements. Again reinforcing the PH idea that I had. When I add the sodium carbonate I drip it slowly. It turns the water white and creates flakes when I dose it. According to everyone online who has used it this is normal and not a concern. But I'm beginning to think otherwise.

 

Balanced two part:

I ran out of Calcium test reagent and couldn’t test for about a week after this. During this time I resumed balanced two part dosing. At the end of the week when I got my red sea ca test kit (much better than salifert imo) dKH had fallen to 7.5 and ca had risen to 420 ppm. It seems the only way I can keep Ca up is if I keep alk very low, and vice versa. I can keep alk at 8.5 if I lower ca to 380 ppm.

 

Bicarbonate:

Now I’m at the next stage of my testing. I’ve switched to brs sodium bicarbonate. So far it’s only been 2 days but it appears to be working. It’s too early to tell right now but if it does work then PH was probably the issue. I’ve also ordered a cheap dosing pump off ebay that will be here in a week.

 

Salt:

I’ve also tried switching salts from IO to reef crystals. I mixed up a few batches the other night and tested them. The alk was 8 dKH at SG 1.0245. The same level the water in my tank stabilizes at and much lower than what it should be. This is interesting because it could imply the cause is something in the source water (0 TDS RO/DI) or air. If that’s the case why isn’t it effecting the other tank which unlike this one has an open top and is closer to the yard? I should point out that back when I used seachem reef salt I got the same dKH which is also much lower than it should have been. I figured it was a bad batch but now I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m not aerating it enough? I generally run an air pump into the bucket for at least 15 minutes before testing. I’ve switched the ATO to saltwater for a few days to bring my SG up from 1.0245 to 1.0265 since that should help a bit. So far water changes don’t seem to help.

 

Dosing speed/intervals:

Another possibility that I have considered it maybe I’m just dosing too fast or dosing the two components too close to each other. But with kalk I was using a 3.5 GPH diaphragm pump running on an ATO for only a few minutes at a time. You would think that would be slow enough. And I tried dosing Ca/Alk a few hours apart and as slowly as I can with no improvement.

 

PH stability:

Back to my PH theory. If it’s true then the question becomes why doesn’t it occur in the other tank? I have considered the idea that the refugium might be promoting PH swings since it’s on the same lighting cycle as the main tank. I would consider a reverse lighting cycle but I have corals in there and it gets indirect sunlight during the day. So they would effectively be under 24/7 illumination. I don’t think that’s a good idea. The other issue might be that I have no fish in my reef tank. So there are no significant CO2 producers, only consumers. Perhaps this leads to low CO2 levels causing a high PH? I could test these theories by moving the corals back into the main tank and putting the fuge on a reverse lighting cycle. And by adding some fish.

 

Lots more to list but this is getting pretty long as it is. I’ll let everyone know if the bicarbonate fixes it in a week or two. This issue is really weird.

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Amphiprion1

Time for an update. It’s not the coralline. I moved it to the other tank and it had no effect.

 

Even if I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sand is the problem that actually doesn't help me at all. It answers none of the questions I asked:

And add some more to the list:

 

-If it's a biofilm issue than why would the new sand develop a biofilm and old sand not under the same conditions? If the conditions exist for biofilm development then it should happen eventually no matter what brand of sand I choose. If the conditions don't exist than new live sand won't help and the biofilm will just die off eventually.

 

If precipitation and accretion are rapid enough, it will never have the opportunity to form. Older sand that is already an actively growing crystal will cause this.

 

-If it's the sand then why do so many people with the exact same sand not have this problem?

 

It may not exactly be solely an issue with the sand--it can also be coupled with overdosing and higher pH as you note below.

 

-If rapid precipitation is expected to occur on any CaCO3 surface without a biofilm why doesn't it in lab tests?

 

Under favorable conditions they do. Seawater is supersaturated with respect to CaCO3 to begin with.

 

If the sand bed is the problem then the root of the issue is likely more complex than just starting with live sand vs. dry sand. My sand has plenty of worms crawling around in it and likely bacteria as well. It has sulfide pockets in the deeper area and gas bubbles occasionally escape from all depths so there is definitely some bacterial activity going on. It is "live". Though maybe not as dirty as some others.

 

See the above. Live sand can help by reducing the surface immediately available.

 

I really like the look and function of my sand and really don't want to break down my entire tank to change it or to go bare bottom. I will only do this as an absolute last resort. It is far more likely that the sand is part of a larger picture problem.

 

I've done a lot of things over the last month to try to address this issue. More than I can count or recall. But I’ll try my best to recall what I can here. The strange thing is this issue didn't start until a few months back around the time I installed a refugium, GFO reactor, and kalk reactor (among other changes since I'm constantly making changes to the system) yet has not been resolved since then despite unhooking the reactors. I now believe the sand bed clumping was caused by the kalk and unrelated or partially related to the problem. I believe this because:

 

-it didn't start clumping until very recently, around the time I started using kalk

 

Common with limewater if pH isn't monitored carefully. Localized pH on some surfaces can be even higher due to photosynthesis and CO2 depletion.

 

-many people online report sand clumping with kalk use, in fact it seems to be by far the top cause in reef tanks

 

Can be caused by overdosing just about any supplement, but relatively common yes.

 

-it stopped when I switched back to two part for a few weeks and cleaned out the clumps

 

-it resumed once I switched from bicarbonate (lower PH) to carbonate (which has a high PH, just like kalk)

 

Sounds like you've answered your own question here. In your case, it sounds more like a pH issue possibly coupled with overdosing and a nice area for crystal formation.

 

Keeping levels up:

For one week I was able to keep alk and ca up at normal levels. But to do so I had to use obscene amounts of alk and Ca supplements every day. I went through a 500ml bottle in 4 days. During this week I noticed a few things. Significantly accelerated growth from my hard corals. And major precipitation on the glass, in my pumps, in the sump, and on the surface of my activated carbon (the carbon reactor pump is right next to the dosing pump outlet). I pulled out the foam pad in my sump and it was hard as a brick. And deep red.

 

GFO:

I guess I should explain the redness now. A few months back I installed a GFO reactor. I rinsed the GFO thoroughly before putting it in. After about a week things started to go wrong. The water turned red, the GFO was disappearing in the reactor, and the red dust would stick to the inside of pumps and on foam pads. Wherever the dust went major calcification occurred. I tried to set the flow so that the GFO was tumbling but not being obliterated. Over the next week as the GFO dissolved flow through the reactor slowed down as the GFO began to also clump and turn dark. Within 2 weeks it had turned into a single brick despite my efforts to increase flow. I have no idea what caused it. Or how the flow could be high enough to dissolve it yet low enough to make it clump. But I had to unhook the reactor after that, do major water changes, and vacuum the rocks and sand. I point this out because this occurred around the same time that I started having problems with Ca/Alk and it may be related.

 

GFO is fairly basic, so unusual that it would dissolve. It should barely move in the reactor. Just enough to keep it from clumping. Sounds like it pulverized and the localized high pH of the particles caused issues.

 

Kalk:

When I switched from kalk back to two part I noticed I was now able to maintain much higher levels than before (8.5/400ppm vs. 7.5/320ppm) although still not ideal. Also precipitation was reduced.

 

Organic Calcium:

When I ran out of seachem reef complete I got a bottle of seachem calcium (calcium polygluconate instead of calcium chloride) to try. This is supposed to be far less reactive than calcium chloride and helps reduce precipitation. It did work, sort of. I was able to maintain higher levels than with regular calcium chloride. But I had to stop using it. The max dose is equivalent to 9 ppm calcium a day, not enough for my needs. Also at that dose all my corals showed a severe negative reaction every time I used it for some reason. At a dose of 3 ppm per day (the recommended dose) only the hard corals reacted negatively. Still it caused them to close up for hours after dosing even a tiny bit.

 

This is actually a balanced additive. You shouldn't be adding an alkalinity additive with calcium gluconate.

 

PH theory:

So far this all points to a high PH issue causing precipitation. However after testing the PH at various intervals of the day with and without kalk dosing I detected no change and the PH always stayed in the 8.2-8.4 range. However all I have access to is an API test kit which are notoriously inaccurate.

 

Sounds like a reasonable culprit, combined with other potential factors above.

 

BRS two part:

After hearing lots of good things about it I decided to give brs two part a try. Which uses pure sodium carbonate instead of a bicarbonate/carbonate mixture like most supplements (and thus has a higher PH). The results were better than kalk but worse than regular alk supplements. Again reinforcing the PH idea that I had. When I add the sodium carbonate I drip it slowly. It turns the water white and creates flakes when I dose it. According to everyone online who has used it this is normal and not a concern. But I'm beginning to think otherwise.

 

Do the flakes redissolve? Solid, larger flake formation isn't really that normal, IME. There should be some very momentary precip in the area of the addition, but this just looks cloudy with minimal crystal formation.

 

Balanced two part:

I ran out of Calcium test reagent and couldn’t test for about a week after this. During this time I resumed balanced two part dosing. At the end of the week when I got my red sea ca test kit (much better than salifert imo) dKH had fallen to 7.5 and ca had risen to 420 ppm. It seems the only way I can keep Ca up is if I keep alk very low, and vice versa. I can keep alk at 8.5 if I lower ca to 380 ppm.

 

Fairly normal, as they are antagonistic with respect to concentration beyond a certain point. An alkalinity of 7.5 and calcium concentration of 420 is perfectly acceptable, btw. Very close to NSW values, actually.

 

Bicarbonate:

Now I’m at the next stage of my testing. I’ve switched to brs sodium bicarbonate. So far it’s only been 2 days but it appears to be working. It’s too early to tell right now but if it does work then PH was probably the issue. I’ve also ordered a cheap dosing pump off ebay that will be here in a week.

 

This is what I dose now, not only due to its comparatively dilute nature, but I have a lot of light and photosynthesis which drives pH fairly high otherwise. I have a fair amount of plant growth, as well.

 

Salt:

I’ve also tried switching salts from IO to reef crystals. I mixed up a few batches the other night and tested them. The alk was 8 dKH at SG 1.0245. The same level the water in my tank stabilizes at and much lower than what it should be. This is interesting because it could imply the cause is something in the source water (0 TDS RO/DI) or air. If that’s the case why isn’t it effecting the other tank which unlike this one has an open top and is closer to the yard? I should point out that back when I used seachem reef salt I got the same dKH which is also much lower than it should have been. I figured it was a bad batch but now I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m not aerating it enough? I generally run an air pump into the bucket for at least 15 minutes before testing. I’ve switched the ATO to saltwater for a few days to bring my SG up from 1.0245 to 1.0265 since that should help a bit. So far water changes don’t seem to help.

 

They never helped in my situation either.

 

Dosing speed/intervals:

Another possibility that I have considered it maybe I’m just dosing too fast or dosing the two components too close to each other. But with kalk I was using a 3.5 GPH diaphragm pump running on an ATO for only a few minutes at a time. You would think that would be slow enough. And I tried dosing Ca/Alk a few hours apart and as slowly as I can with no improvement.

 

PH stability:

Back to my PH theory. If it’s true then the question becomes why doesn’t it occur in the other tank? I have considered the idea that the refugium might be promoting PH swings since it’s on the same lighting cycle as the main tank. I would consider a reverse lighting cycle but I have corals in there and it gets indirect sunlight during the day. So they would effectively be under 24/7 illumination. I don’t think that’s a good idea. The other issue might be that I have no fish in my reef tank. So there are no significant CO2 producers, only consumers. Perhaps this leads to low CO2 levels causing a high PH? I could test these theories by moving the corals back into the main tank and putting the fuge on a reverse lighting cycle. And by adding some fish.

 

That is a possibility. Increase aeration will also introduce CO2, however.

 

Lots more to list but this is getting pretty long as it is. I’ll let everyone know if the bicarbonate fixes it in a week or two. This issue is really weird.

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Okay, I've read through all this and then went back to check the initial post but I still don't see it. I get that your calc and kh drop lower then you like or than is generally suggested but what issues are you seeing in your tank (besides numbers from a test kit) that you are trying to correct?

 

Also, you mention you have very few LPS, you then state you have several large gorgonians, these also form skeletons and would be expected to use calcium, etc to build them.

 

I guess my real question is: if your tank mostly contains soft corals why are you concerned about the calc and kh levels at all?

 

Maybe I just don't know enough about all this to get something obvious but if your tank and soft corals do okay at the level that the calc, etc level off at when you stop dosing then what difference does it make what the numbers are? The same is true for your other tank, why are you dosing when there are so few hard bodied animals in there? Is it really less expensive to keep dosing then to just change the water every 2-4 weeks with a decent salt?

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NaturalViolence

Okay, I've read through all this and then went back to check the initial post but I still don't see it. I get that your calc and kh drop lower then you like or than is generally suggested but what issues are you seeing in your tank (besides numbers from a test kit) that you are trying to correct?

KH and Ca were dropping extremely rapidly (sometimes as much as 4 dKH and 50 ppm Ca a day) despite the lack of apparent precipitation and minimal biotic use (only a few slow growing lps frags). This made no sense. I could not figure out where it was going or why. My other tank did not have this problem. The system seemed to "correct" any supplement additions I made back to just below NSW levels within a matter of hours. I could dose alk to bring it up from 7.5 to 9 in the morning and it would be right back down to 7.5 within an hour.

 

LPS corals would stop growing whenever the levels dropped for an extended period of time. And I was spending a lot of money on supplements when I shouldn't have to with a tank like this.

Also, you mention you have very few LPS, you then state you have several large gorgonians, these also form skeletons and would be expected to use calcium, etc to build them.

Gorgonians do not have CaCO3 skeletons. Their skeleton is made of gorgonin. Thus the reason why they are called "gorgonians". They have CaCO3 spicules just like all soft corals, but that does not produce significant Ca and alk consumption. One group of gorgonians, Scleraxonia, do rely heavily on spicules for skeletal support, but I do not have any of these.

I guess my real question is: if your tank mostly contains soft corals why are you concerned about the calc and kh levels at all?

Because like you said it's "mostly" soft corals. Not "entirely" soft corals. I have some LPS corals that I don't want to die. I also would like the option to keep corraline covered live rock and SPS in the future. I've been avoiding adding either one to the tank for the time being because of this issue.

Maybe I just don't know enough about all this to get something obvious but if your tank and soft corals do okay at the level that the calc, etc level off at when you stop dosing then what difference does it make what the numbers are?

See above.

The same is true for your other tank, why are you dosing when there are so few hard bodied animals in there?

My other tank has some halimeda and now corraline algae too. Any calcerous organisms will die or at least stop growing if you allow your alk/ca to drop.

Is it really less expensive to keep dosing then to just change the water every 2-4 weeks with a decent salt?

If you're referring to what method to use to keep ca/alk levels up, yes. And this is true for any tank. It's just common sense. Supplements are cheap and extremely concentrated. Whereas salt is expensive, a large amount of it is needed to do water changes, and big water changes are needed just to have a minimal effect on water chemistry due to dilution with existing tank water. Supplements are not only massively more cost effective than increasing water changes, they're also required once you pass a certain rate of depletion. Anyone with an SPS tank will tell you that even with 50% daily water changes they would not be able to keep their levels up without some sort of supplement. And at that rate they could easily burn through a $50 box of salt every week. Whereas $5 worth of baking soda and calcium chloride could easily last the same tank several weeks and keep the levels much higher.

 

It's day 3 of sodium bicarbonate dosing and things are still looking very promising. Alk is now up to 11.5 dKH and Ca up to 440 ppm. Right where I want it. I've been adding 1.5 dKH of alk per day just like when I was using sodium carbonate. Only this time instead of staying at 7.5-8.5 it has actually been going up by 1.5 dKH per day. I'm going to temporarily stop doing water changes or dosing now in order to track the depletion rate now that I've got it where I want it.

 

My original goal with this tank was to stock it lightly enough with calcerous organisms that I could keep Ca/Alk supplementation down to just weekly additions instead of daily in order to minimize maintenance. This problem made that impossible. Ironically since I was desperate enough to order a dosing pump in the meantime I won't have to do daily or even weekly supplementation any more so it doesn't really matter at this point. But now that I have a dosing pump I'll be able to keep SPS without having to worry about daily supplementation :).

 

Once the levels remain stable for a full week I will officially pronounce this issue fixed. A big thanks to anyone and everyone who offered help, regardless of whether or not I agree with them.

 

@Amphiprion

I'll eventually get around to responding to your post. Hopefully tomorrow.

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