You can maintain the serene beauty and the intoxicating mystery of your miniature reef aquarium with renowned expert J. Charles Delbeek at the Aquatic Experience when he reveals how during his talk on Water Motion in Marine Aquaria.
A lecturer, reviewer, writer and author with Julian Sprung, of three highly popular aquarium books The Reef Aquarium Volumes 1,2,and 3, Charles believes “nothing holds the attention of visitors to a marine aquarium store more than gazing upon a miniature reef aquarium that is completely stocked and blissfully healthy.”
He will tell you that one of the most important elements of healthy reef aquaria is the motion of the water. “Think about what kinds of organisms you will be keeping such as corals, that cannot move from where they are growing, so for their health and well-being, water movement in a reef aquarium is crucial,” he said.
With three degrees from the University of Toronto; an Honors Bachelor degree in Biology, a Masters in Zoology and a Bachelors in Education, Charles is an expert in marine science and possess a strong foundation in education. His multi-disciplined background gives him a distinct point of view when it comes to creating scientifically accurate living aquatic exhibits and he is most passionate about the health of corals and fish.
He believes in terms of overall system health, the role of water motion is crucial because for one, improved water movement at the surface translates into increased levels of oxygen. It also allows food to be more easily carried to the fish and coral inhabitants, and provides for the efficient removal of waste. “The inhabitants of your reef are dependent upon the water to bring them oxygen and nutrients, to remove wastes such as carbon dioxide, to remove fouling organisms, and to ensure that all the polyps get adequate light,” he explained.
Water motion in coral health is also extremely important as according to Charles, good water motion aids photosynthesis as well as the process of calcification of corals. “It also creates a more natural environment,” he observes.
As well, the role of water motion in fish health and behavior cannot be underestimated. Charles believes water movement not only provides a current in which the fish can swim, it also prevents a protein film from forming on the surface of the water. “You may notice this in your tank, or on stagnant lakes or ponds. Over time, it can become oily and thick. This film significantly inhibits the exchanges of gases between the air and the water,” he said.
Constantly moving water in your tank also increases the amount of surface area of the coral polyps that is exposed. In this way, the water layer in contact with the coral tissue is always changing, so you can dramatically increase the rate at which oxygen can be dissolved into the coral tissue and carbon dioxide can be released to the water.
“The back and forth movement of the water exposes more of the surface area to light, increases the feeding efficiency of polyps and greatly helps in the exchange of metabolites and gases with the water,” Charles said.
In speaking about the types of water motion, Charles notes that, “water motion can be achieved in many ways, but it should not flow in a straight line (laminar flow.) He believes that laminar flow is better if you want to recreate an environment that is found moretypically in the ocean at depths of more than 40 feet.
For creating environments that are found in the ocean at depths less than 40 feet, he believes turbulent flow is better suited to creating such kinds of environments. For the miniature reef aquaria, Charles believes small eddies and swirling masses of water that cause the water to flow in a chaotic manner through the aquarium is better.
“The back and forth surge like movement in the water that is created when a wave passes over a coral reef, is the best type of flow to have in a reef tank, as coral reefs will have waves passing over them almost all the time. Most shallow water corals do best when they receive turbulent water flow and water movement both,” he said.
He explained further, “You can have turbulent flow which occurs when two currents are moving towards each other head-on, or when a current meets a solid object, creating some water movement in many different directions at once.”
As far as water motion scenarios, Charles recommends having a number of water returns and/or power heads located so that their flows can interact with each other. “Turbulent flow created by using several power heads is better,” he said.
Other methods of moving the water include electronic wave makers which can be used with multiple standard or oscillating power heads to produce turbulence, by shutting the power heads off and on in random fashion.
Also, you can install water flow diverters on the return of your main filtration. These contain a pressure activated switching valve that acts as an alternating tee, splitting your return line into two separate outputs to create beneficial currents. If your aquarium is large, you can use more than one valve after the tee to create several currents.
In order to create an even more natural environment, you can add a wave box and a controllable power head with a combination controller. This allows both the wave box and the power head to come on in alternating cycles creating a strong wave effect in the tank.
Signs of inadequate water motion include excessive nitrates and phosphates from detritus building up and remaining in dead spots. If the water motion is not adequate it can also create conditions for pathogenic bacteria to grow and this can cause infections in fish and corals. It may also slow the growth of your corals. “Inadequate motion of the water will cause poor, ineffective and reduced biological filtration from your live rock. Also, your skimmer or other kinds of filtrations you are using will be ineffective or reduced,” he explained.
The creation of water flow is imperative in any reef aquarium. “Not just any flow but the right type of flow and the right amount of flow. This can be created in various ways and it is the responsibility of the aquarist to ensure the method you chose is correct, for you as an aquarist, as well as for your individual aquarium and the requirements of your aquarium inhabitants.”
He noted that through the use of new technologies, there are new devices out which emulate lower energy use and that there are self-sustaining tanks and coral.
“The variety of colors, shapes and odd-looking creatures in a reef aquarium is both bewildering and intoxicating. The gentle swaying of the coral polyps, the sparkling of light on the rocks and the darting of the fish in and out of the rock work are like so many butterflies in a field of flowers,”.