What YOU Should Have in Your Reef First Aid Kit.
By Tim Hayes
There are any
number of things that can go wrong in a reef or marine aquarium. We can roughly
divide them between mechanical problems and biological problems. Most of these
problems will be as a result of human error in the form of ignorance,
forgetfulness, neglect, or stupidity. Don't worry - I'm not getting at any one,
but we're all guilty of one or more of these failings at one time or another! A
problem can also be caused by someone or something other than the reef keeper
and with the number of different species we keep from all over the world in
unique, differing combinations it is quite possible to suffer from a problem
that no one could reasonably foresee.
This article is
intended to give you some ideas about how to deal with some of the more commonly
encountered problems and what pieces of equipment are useful to have on hand to
Unless the power
outage is going to be of long duration, the priorities are water
movement/aeration, and conservation of heat. Heat is dealt with by wrapping the
tank with polystyrene, old blankets etc. If necessary, you could float food safe
containers filled with hot water in the tank (a camping stove of some sort would
be useful). As the majority of reef aquaria are larger than the average sized
tank, we do have the advantage that heat loss will be slow. So, as long as any
temperature change is slow (either up or down) and doesn't go outside the range
of 20˚c min - 30˚c max (68˚F-84˚F), there shouldn't be any real problem. Just
remember, when conditions are returned to normal, you want a slow transition
back to your regular temperature.
An example of a battery powered air
pump. Such units are available at pet stores as well as sporting
good stores (for use in bait buckets).
is the main priority. We need to keep levels of oxygen up, and in the case of
immobile invertebrates, make sure that water keeps moving around them as an aid
to the exchange of respiratory gases and the removal of waste products. A
battery- powered air pump is very useful for smaller aquaria. In fact, by moving
one or two of these from tank to tank, say 15 minutes a time, you can keep a
fair number of tanks going.
Light won't be a
problem unless the power outage lasts an unusually long time. Three days unlit
shouldn't be a problem; corals in the wild can be deprived of light due to
suspended sediment in the aftermath of tropical storms for many days. Here in
the UK, it would be a very rare incident to go without power for more than three
days (some homes were without power for this length of time in South
Staffordshire, where I live, in the summer of 2003). More remote areas may be
more at risk of longer power cuts, but I guess that if you live in one of these
areas you probably already have a generator.
certainly gives peace of mind to be able to lay one's hand on a small generator.
If buying one sounds out of proportion, I suggest (if you're brave
enough!) that you calculate the contents of your tank at current retail prices.
The result may surprise/horrify you. (And its probably advisable to do this
exercise without the knowledge of any "significant other"!) By the way, I can
tell you from personal experience that it's not much use having a generator if
it won't work! Try to remember to fire up your generator a couple of times a
year to make sure everything's working fine. [Editors note: Many/most
modern natural gas or propane powered generators run for a few minutes once a
week as a self-test and warn the user of any problems with an indicator light.
Gasoline versions don't generally have this feature and must be tested
to a generator is an "uninterruptible power supply" or UPS. I don't have any
experience with these, however. They are a battery backup systems used mainly
with computers that provide a short term power supply and then recharge when
your power supply is back on line. These units may not work with all
equipment (especially motor driven pumps), so it is advisable to test it first.
I guess the
problems of hot weather and over heating should be addressed next. There are
actually some similarities here to power out problems, including a potential
high cost solution. As the temperature goes up so levels of dissolved oxygen go
down so the first thing to do is increase aeration/water movement.
Temporarily reducing your lighting (quantity and/or duration) will help reduce
heat, but is obviously not a long-term solution. If you have covers on your
aquarium remove them and install a fan so it blows along the surface of the
water. This "evaporative cooling" is probably the most cost effective form
temperature reduction. The high cost option is to go for a heat exchanger or
chiller. A heat exchanger should do double duty all year round, cooling in hot
weather and heating during cold. Again, look at the value of your livestock to
help you make a decision.
always maintain a selection of spares to get yourself out of trouble. Obvious
things to keep on hand are a spare heater, spare power head or air pump, and
spare thermometer, these can earn their keep, use them when you heat and mix new
No More CO2?
If you run a
calcium reactor, try to keep a spare CO2 cylinder. Perhaps if you bought a CO2
starter kit you’ll only have a small cylinder. As you build up the number of
corals in your reef , the calcium demand will rise which in turn means you'll go
through CO2 more quickly. Buy a larger cylinder and reserve your smaller
cylinder as a spare, keeping in mind how handy it'll be when the large cylinder
has to go away to be refilled. Always ensure you have reactor media in reserve.
In the event of
a pollution incident in the tank as a result of the demise of an
invertebrate (or fish), or perhaps an external event, such as over enthusiastic
use of cleaning materials, pet flea remedies, insecticides, or even the
intervention of a small child, you need chemical removal materials.
activated carbon are some of the most commonly used chemical media. Don't forget
to do a series of water changes to dilute any pollutant at the same time;
helping to ensure your chemical filtration media isn't used up straight away.
pollution incident is due to a dying coral or anemone, or if you have an ailing
coral showing tissue deterioration, the first thing you should do is to bag the
offending animal underwater before removing it from your tank. By bagging the
coral before removal you minimise the chances of any infection spreading to the
other corals in your tank through the agency of water borne gobs of goo (that's
a technical term!).
If the coral has
an infection - bacterial or protozoan - you have a couple of avenues of
treatment available to you. Fresh water dips, Iodine dips or one of the
increasing number of coral dips now on the market have all been employed with
varying degrees of success. Not all corals will tolerate these methods of
treatment, so do some research to check which type of dip is appropriate. Study
manufacturers' instructions before use. A good source of information on treating
diseases of corals is Aquarium Corals, by Eric Borneman.
To make a
freshwater dip for treating corals or fish: - bring tap water up to the same
temperature as your tank by the addition of freshly boiled water. Add Sodium
Bicarbonate to the water to set the pH of the dip to match the tank pH, and add
the aquarium dechlorinator of your choice to the dip. (Incidentally, I favour
using a dechlorinator that removes Chloramine and will, in an emergency, remove
or detoxify Ammonia and Nitrite. If you do this, be aware that after using some
of these dechlorinators you can get false readings when using a test kit.)
Disease In The Reef Aquarium
In the case of
fish disease in the reef aquarium, you are limited in your choice of appropriate
medications because a number of the most useful remedies are toxic to
invertebrates. Medications I've successfully used in a reef include Melafix,
Myxazin, and Octazin. I'm not keen on chemical intervention in the reef tank <Editors'
note- Neither are we!>.
If you can
remove a diseased fish to a quarantine tank for treatment that’s all to the
good. Unfortunately, given the nature of reef tanks, it's often difficult to
catch a fish without stripping down the aquarium! A possible solution is a fish
trap. It is possible to treat some parasitic diseases in the reef by
manipulating the specific gravity and temperature of the water. Do read up on
this techniques on this website and other online resources.
Reef First Aid Kit.
Generator or UPS
|Blankets or Polystyrene foam
Power head or
conditioner unit, or Chiller
CO2 cylinder and
|Fish Disease Treatment
as Myxazin, Melafix, Octazin
Coral dip such
as Kent Tech-D, or Lugol's solution
The above list
contains just a few of the items I consider it essential to keep in your reef
first aid kit. I could go on, and probably would, if talking to you in the
flesh! Adding all manner of things to this list - scissors and toothbrush for
cleaning up necrotic coral tissue or for removing pest algae from rocks and
corals, for example. But I'm afraid space is limited and some of the problems
I've touched on deserve to be written about at length at another time. Be
creative and decide what you need to have in your own reef first aid kit!
Remember, it's always a good idea to have a reef first aid
kit for when things go wrong!