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Different coral performance by color -- lighting cause?


tzink

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I have noticed that coral in my tank do better or worse mostly dependent on their color. Green coral tend to do worse, the color tends to fade to brown and muted green, and they don't grow well. Whereas pink, red, and orange tend to do very well, good color pop and growth. Could this have to do with the wavelengths of light they are receiving? I have 2x Fluval marine 3.0 lights with blue at 100%, purple at 80%, red and green at 10-15%, and white at 5%. 12 hour cycle including warm up and cool down.

 

I recently had a duncan (green) that was doing very well suddenly collapse, but everything else was fine. Water was perfect, no changes. Wondering if lighting can be improved.

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It sounds like it's general enough that it may not be a specific thing and more of a bunch of observations that could correlate, but there is some chance it's because of some deficiency.  Could also be that colors and types of coral in your tank line up, so it could be more variety specific than color specific.

In any case, it's not the wavelength of light, so it's time to start water testing and checking light output.  Basic parameters are good, but there are a number of people (and product lines) that link colors, especially in SPS, to specific trace elements, so maybe an ICP test is in your future to try and get a gauge on the ones we can't test for at home.  If you're just losing corals, though, I would assume water/food/light quantity way before trace elements.

That said, while I'm not super familiar with the fixture, it could be just a light quantity thing.  I don't think that light is built to be only blue, so by leaving your whites at 5% you could be missing out on 50% of the light's overall output.  A PAR meter would be the confirmation, but maybe you can find a review of the light that gives you a PAR number in a sample tank at different depths and then compare what you think you need with what you may be getting with half the LEDs in the light basically off.

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You both bring up good points and ask good questions. Let me try to take a stab at some.

 

The only coral I've had melt away was the duncan. And it was seriously thriving for six months before--went from 2 heads to 7 or 8, and then decided that the world was too cruel. But it was the only one that went south.

 

Green corals that have suffered include acans, birds nest, acros, pavona, star polyps, galaxea, potato chip, frogspawn

Non-green corals that have thrived include acans, leptoseris, plate, cyphastrea, mushroom, torch, goni

 

That said, I also had a purple porites that bleached and a purple goni that's doing so-so.

 

I haven't tested for trace minerals. As an interesting observation, I do notice that everything does better when I leave my UV filter on 24/7. As another observation, my sump is packed with pineapple sponges. Not sure if that means anything.

 

I have a lux meter but not PAR. I could try bumping up the whites and see what happens...

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 9/6/2021 at 5:23 PM, tzink said:

the color tends to fade

 

On 9/6/2021 at 5:23 PM, tzink said:

Water was perfect, no changes.

There is a truism in the hobby that if someone (usually a newb) mentions anything like "perfect water quality", then water quality is almost sure to be the problem.

 

If you can, start over at the beginning of your thread...forget the lighting theory...and tell us more about the tank.  

 

How old is it?  

 

How are you cleaning it? 

 

When were corals added?  

 

How many corals are there?  

 

When were fish added?  

 

How many and what types are there?

 

What are your most recent water test results?  (Pls post the test numbers you have.)

 

Please get your nitrates and phosphate tested if you aren't already testing those parameters.

 

Pale coral colors are commonly associated with low nutrient levels.

 

What is your peak reading for lux at the water's surface?  A peak >10,000 (better >20,000) is ideal.  More light can be OK but can also be problematic depending on overall conditions.

 

In general for light color, you want your blue lights on "high", vanity colors like green and red "off" and white at the correct level to make the overall tank color about "20,000K".....just enough white for the tank and corals to look good to you.

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I will add one caveat to my comment....having your white lights turned up so high is a bit weird.  In general, you'd want blue lights at max, vanity colors like green and red OFF, and whites turned up just enough that the corals look good to you....should be something like 20,000K in color.

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On 9/22/2021 at 12:18 AM, mcarroll said:

How old is it?  

18 months

Quote

How are you cleaning it? 

Filter sock, filter floss, protein skimmer and UV in sump.

Detritus blown with baster every few days

Water changes every couple weeks

Algae removal by hand

An army of snails - population exploded about two months ago

An army of pineapple sponges that took up residence in the sump about six months ago

Quote

 

When were corals added?  

Throughout the 18 months. Some have survived the whole time, some have died. Some have lasted longer than others.

Quote

 

How many corals are there?  

12-15? I'll include a picture

Quote

 

When were fish added?  

Near the beginning. Had a few jumpers but the current three (cleaner wrasse, firefish, royal gramma) have been in there 8 months or more. Firefish has been in there from the beginning.

 

 

Water test as of yesterday:

Temp: 80F

Gravity: 1.025

Ph: 8.3

Ammo/Nitrites: 0

Nitrates/PO4: Read 0 but that can't be true given the algae growth. It's just all getting used up.

DKH: 10

 

Broadcast feeding Reef Roids every few days

Target feeding once a week

Fish eat twice daily, flake

Sometimes feed frozen mysis

 

665B73B2-145A-4572-9A27-629CE4213617.jpeg

Since this picture (taken June 14), the metal grate on top has been replaced with acrylic that doesn't cover the whole tank. It does mean a whole lot more light is reaching the into the water. Since this picture was taken, the porites died, the frogspawn is nearly dead, the potato chip died, the two frags on the back wall are nearly dead. Meanwhile, the orange plate is thriving, the pink mushrooms have split and both colonies are doing well, the red palys in the center are thriving, while the green zoas next to them have died. 

 

...Hence my hypothesis that it has to do with color.

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I'm going to second what @mcarroll says about low nutrients.  Pretty much the only ways I've lost corals have been due to high alkalinity, low nutrient (NO3 or PO4), or both at once, the both at once being the swiftest way to kill sps.  GSP will definitely go away if there isn't available NO3 and PO4 in the water column.

 

Also, don't be too quick to assume that just because you have algae growing you have NO3 and PO4 available in the water.  Some algae can survive directly off organic carbon sources and detritus, while in other cases, the algae's ability to absorb NO3 and PO4 too quickly results in completely removing those elements from the water column, depriving your corals of what they need to photosynthesize.

 

As anecdotal evidence, yesterday morning I observed my pocillopora looking like it was planning to RTN.  No polyp extension, skin pulled tight against the skelleton, etc.  I tested SG, Alk, NO3, and PO4 and found that NO3 was undetectable and PO4 was less than 0.009ppm.  So, dosed NO3 and PO4 sufficient to bring NO3 to 1ppm and PO4 up to 0.015ppm and was rewarded with a happy fluffy pocillopora by mid afternoon.  Also all the other corals in the tank looked much better.  I should also mention the GSP in that tank was mostly closed up in the morning but fully out by afternoon as well.

 

For a deep dive into coral nutrition, I'd suggest checking out this tank thread from @East1 5-Gallon Acropora System - Nano Reef Journals - Nano-Reef Community.  Fascinating reading about phosphate starvation and other trace mineral needs for coral metabolism.  Also, simply a super cool sps system worth checking out! 🙂 

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Will definitely check out that thread. Thanks!

 

I also was initially thinking about a nutrient deficiency. Over the last month or so I started feeding a lot more. Sometimes broadcast feeding daily and multiple target feeds a week. It only seems to have increased algae without improving the coral.  I also dose PO4, but can never seem to get it to detectable levels. 
 

also, if there’s insufficient N and P, what is ultimately supporting the snail and sponge population? Seriously there are a lot. I put in maybe 6 snails, and now there are between 50-100. Probably over 1000 individual pineapple sponges. Something is feeding them. Right??

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1 hour ago, tzink said:

Will definitely check out that thread. Thanks!

 

I also was initially thinking about a nutrient deficiency. Over the last month or so I started feeding a lot more. Sometimes broadcast feeding daily and multiple target feeds a week. It only seems to have increased algae without improving the coral.  I also dose PO4, but can never seem to get it to detectable levels. 
 

also, if there’s insufficient N and P, what is ultimately supporting the snail and sponge population? Seriously there are a lot. I put in maybe 6 snails, and now there are between 50-100. Probably over 1000 individual pineapple sponges. Something is feeding them. Right??

I have had similar as you mention, I dose PO4 and wouldn't detect much / any yet I'd have algae, snails and loads of sponge ( I mean loads) 

Usually this happens when there's a dominant algae population, chances are that species will grow and proliferate but the species balance won't change, however if you target nitogen (not nitrate, but ammonium or urea or something - see Aquavitro Synthesis for example) then you can shift the balance to a different kind of algae, conversely if you dose PO4 in huge amounts eventually you'll limit nitrogen.

 

The key takeaway is that balance of N:P is more important than either individually, because 1ppm PO4 and 0.1ppm NO3 is similar biologically as 0.1ppm PO4 and 0.01 ppm NO3 - at either levels acropora will show nitrogen starvation / elevated phosphate symptoms. 

 

In summary, it's not that there's insufficient N or P but the ratio is preferable to some kind algae or other organism rather than coral, and chances are the input method favours that organism for eg. Cyanobacteria can consume and break down amino acids directly meaning if you have lots of Cyano, your corals will show nitrogen starvation even if you're feeding protein rich food and amino acids, beacuse the cyano out competes. You shift the balance in this instance by using Urea or Ammonia because corals can absorb this directly,  and cyano cannot.

 

Chances are you also are low in iron / nickel though I skimmed your posts, I had similar with reds and oranges being bright but no green, till I started dosing Nickel (Zeo Coral System 1) 

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19 hours ago, tzink said:

665B73B2-145A-4572-9A27-629CE4213617.jpeg

So a picture really can be worth 1000 words....(always a good idea to post a pic of your problem at the beginning if you're able)

 

I looks like you're using a light (lights?) from a smaller tank, leaving almost 30-50% of your tank functionally unlit.

 

Exacerbating this is your rock/coral layout, which seems to have most of the corals outside the "bright spot" the lights are able to create.

 

19 hours ago, tzink said:

Nitrates/PO4: Read 0 but that can't be true given the algae growth. It's just all getting used up.

Algae will thrive under low nutient conditions like this, but corals will not.

 

Algae have roots that give them access to mineral phosphates bound to the aragonite in the live rock.

 

On the other hand, corals are limited to phosphates they get in the water or in their food.

 

Algae will thrive on ammonia that never gets a chance to be converted to NO3 by bacteria, therefore never shows up on your tests.

 

IMO you should read "0 ppm" on a Nitrate or Phosphate test kit as "empty gas tank" and "empty oil tank" respectively.  

 

Nitrogen and phosphorous in photosynthesis are a little bit analogous to gas and oil in an engine.  

 

The engine won't work right if either one is missing....it will actually blow up or melt down if the oil is missing.  Same with missing phosphates in coral...such a "photosynthetic meltdown" can be the cause of bleaching (their dino's are the ones directly affected) or even mortality.

 

SO......

 

Seems like you're right on track for the most part on other things.  

 

I'd try to replace the lights with something more suitable to that tank size/shape....and take incremental steps to feed more and eliminate the PO4/NO3 limits.

 

In the SHORT TERM if you dose (eg Flourish Phosphates) to MAKE SURE po4 doesn't dip to zero ANYMORE I can almost guarantee you'll end coral losses permanently.  

 

Assure the level doesn't go below 0.03 ppm on your tests just like you'd do with dosing for alkalinity.  Any number higher than 0.03 ppm is fine.  (There is no such thing as "too high" where phosphates are concerned.  E.g. 0.05 or 0.5 or even 1.0 or higher would be OK...though it's not likely to climb that high with normal feeding/stocking levels.)

 

Nitrates are less crucial since corals can make use of most other forms of nitrogen (eg ammonia, amino acids, uric acid, etc.) but it's still a good idea to maintain a level no less than 5ppm or so.  (Desirable plants/critters other than corals might be more limited than corals at 0 ppm.  This can be particularly true if your tank is new and you still have MANY microbes still growing and filling in your reef.  New tanks should ideally NEVER register 0 ppm on nutrient tests IMO.  With certainty 0 ppm should not be an enforced condition in a new tank.)

 

19 hours ago, tzink said:

Since this picture (taken June 14), the metal grate on top has been replaced with acrylic that doesn't cover the whole tank. It does mean a whole lot more light is reaching the into the water. Since this picture was taken, the porites died, the frogspawn is nearly dead, the potato chip died, the two frags on the back wall are nearly dead. Meanwhile, the orange plate is thriving, the pink mushrooms have split and both colonies are doing well, the red palys in the center are thriving, while the green zoas next to them have died. 

 

...Hence my hypothesis that it has to do with color.

Sounds like corals that are good at feeding are dong well.  Corals that are more dependent on dissolved nutrients aren'y handling it.

 

BTW, increasing light levels on nutrient-starved coals (as you might have guessed already from my comments above) can be a death warrant....phosphate is a crucial ingredient for some of photosynthesis' necessary safety measures.  No safety measure = stressed or dead coral.

 

Last thing, can you measure the light in your tank?  Even if you only use a lux meter app on your smart phone inside a ziplock bag for waterproofing, I'm curious about the amount of light your corals are really getting.   (How many watts TOTAL are the lights using from the wall?)

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I’m going to try doing PO4 and NO3 more. I also just ordered the Zeo Coral System 1-4 and will use those. 

 

As for the lights, they are Fluval Marine 3.0, the mid size. There’s 2 of them, totaling 64W. As you can see below, they are offset so that even though they don’t individually span the tank, together they cover nearly all of it. LUX readings are 14,000 at the top (about 2” below the lights), 4000 at the very bottom of the water column in the middle of the tank, and 3000 in the middle of the water column on the sides of the tank. (This is from a real LUX meter btw, not a phone).

 

 

F2CD3808-7680-49AD-8622-D96070BDC19A.jpeg

91816DE3-8B84-4E9E-BD28-7DAC296FE328.jpeg

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On 10/1/2021 at 7:50 PM, tzink said:

As for the lights, they are Fluval Marine 3.0, the mid size. There’s 2 of them, totaling 64W. As you can see below, they are offset so that even though they don’t individually span the tank, together they cover nearly all of it. LUX readings are 14,000 at the top (about 2” below the lights), 4000 at the very bottom of the water column in the middle of the tank, and 3000 in the middle of the water column on the sides of the tank. (This is from a real LUX meter btw, not a phone).

Those are decent, if VERY low, light levels.  Consider that ~5000 lux is the "compensation point" for many plants, (corals included) so there's fairly little "room for error" below that....the coral will be as-good-as-bleached.  (Which is not to say that it will bleach....just to say that it will be VERY dependent on dissolved nutrient levels and feeding.)

 

But I'm worried that lighting coverage is so poor at the top that not a lot of the tank is receiving the levels you measured.  Most of your corals are pushed to the ends of the tank where lighting is less than maximal.  

 

Can you measure lux at the bottom corners, for some examples of how low the light might be?  Find the lowest-light spots and you'll know the complete range of potential lighting levels in the tank.

 

7 hours ago, tzink said:

The hammer, which was one of the first corals in the tank and was very resilient, just went RTN. I don’t know what’s happening 😞

The RTN is a very likely side-effect of po4-starvation....and unfortunately the effects can be delayed by weeks, depending how long it takes the coral to succumb to the damage AND IMPORTANTLY whether we improve conditions for them to recover.

 

How have your no3 and po4 levels been since the last update?   Try by whatever means you have to keep PO4 over 0.10 ppm.  This will prevent further coral damage AND promote healing.

 

FLOW

Also, how is flow in the tank?  Low-flow conditions will compound low-nutrient issues (thanks to the coral's boundary layer), making things exponentially worse for the corals involved.

 

If you have powerheads in the typical configuration (at the ends of the tank, aimed to the middle...maybe aimed at each other), then many of your corals could be in relative flow dead zones.  Generally speaking, the area under a pump is typically the worst-flow area of the tank.  (Usually becomes a settling zone, which is GOOD for some corals.)

 

If that is accurate (pics aren't very clear, so I'm inferring some things), at minimum I would make your pumps alternate so that only one is running at a time.  Doesn't matter too much how often they switch, but tides switch every few hours....not a bad thing to model in your tank.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

As an interesting update, I tried reverting conditions as much as possible to how they were last time the tank was working well. I cut the blue lights down to 65%. since then, things seem to be recovering. I'm still dosing N and P.

Not sure what to make of this, but it's a step in the right direction.

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Right now I'm running an XR15 blue on one side of my loaded 20l and a home depot white floodlight on the other side. My cobbled diy rig died so I have to figure out a replacement other than another over priced Radion. 

 

After I got the white flood adjusted for PAR nothing cares. The two lights are extreme as you can get in terms of conflicting color and spectrum but it doesn't matter. Corals just see blue light, and a white LED is just a blue light with a bit of green and tinier bit of orange/red.

 

Dying birdsnests are a classic symptom of too low phosphate. I can't say it enough: you need to get phosphate around. 03 or a bit higher and nitrate between 5- 10 or you will lose corals. Once I got these two params stable my nanos exploded with growth. 

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