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FAQs about Marine Substrates for Reef Systems

Related Articles: Marine Substrates, Deep Sand Beds, Live Sand, Biofiltration, Denitrification, Live Sand, Live Rock, Biominerals in Seawater, Understanding Calcium & Alkalinity

Related FAQs: Marine Substrates 1, Marine Substrates 2, Marine Substrates 3, Marine Substrates 4, Marine Substrates 5, Marine Substrates 6, Marine Substrates 7, Marine Substrates 8, Marine Substrates 9, By Type: Aragonite/s, Coral Sands, Silicates, Dolomites/TapAShell, Southdown & Such, Collecting Your Own, & Physical Make-up, Size/Grade, Location, Depth, Marine Substrate Cleaning 1, Marine Substrate Cleaning 2, Moving/Replacing/Adding To, Marine Substrate Moving/Replacing/Adding To 2, Substrate Anomalies/Trouble-Fixing,

Variable in importance. A Clavularia colony.  Here in N. Sulawesi.

Small Marine Aquariums
Book 1: Invertebrates, Algae
New Print and eBook on Amazon:
by Robert (Bob) Fenner
Small Marine Aquariums
ook 2: Fishes
New Print and eBook on Amazon: by Robert (Bob) Fenner
Small Marine Aquariums Book 3: Systems
New Print and eBook on Amazon:
by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Reef tank starting over
Creating "Version 2.0" of a Reef System (Starting Over) 9/10/09

<Hey there! Scott F. on the road, but in today...>
I have had a 50 gallon bow reef tank for around 10-12 years.
The tank after all these years has some problems such as red slime, green hair algae and worst of all are the dozens and dozens of Aiptasia anemones that I fight constantly.
<Sounds like some of the typical problems that arise during the lifespan of a reef system. Of course, these things can get out of hand for one reason or another!>
Now -- I am remodeling the room and I am getting a new 65 gallon tank.
<Good to hear!>
Basically want to know how can I 'clean' the live rock. The live rock has a bunch of green hair algae but that is also where I see many brittle stars and critters.
<Do you really want to "clean" it, or simply remove the undesired life forms? If it is the former, then you may want to simply let it sit in a container of conditioned saltwater with minimal light and aggressive protein skimming. Make consistent small water changes during this process, which can take weeks. If you really just want to save the rock but are willing to sacrifice the life forms living on it (a pity, really), you could simply remove them from water and let them sit outside for a few weeks, then rinse and clean them carefully with freshwater before re-using them. The potential danger to this technique is that you may still have a lot of dead material in the rock that can leach for some time. and, you will essentially have "dead" rock that you will have to "re-cure" and colonize with desirable life forms over time. Curing in a separate system is always advised. See the sources on this site for techniques.>
(I have heard of taking a blow torch to the live rock to burn off Aiptasia lol )
<Removing Aiptasia can be problematic and difficult! I have heard of such extreme techniques as the blowtorch, but they are a bit radical for my taste! f you're not into barbecuing the Aiptasia, it may be best to manually remove them with a sharp cutting blade (be careful, of course). There are, of course, chemical means of eradicating them (see online sources for a variety of successful "remedies"), some of which may carry the risk of "collateral damage" to desired life forms. Perhaps you can simply chisel away at the rock around the Aiptasia, place the resulting Aiptasia-infested rubble in a refugium and put the little anemones to work as a natural nutrient export vehicle! An "Aiptasia scrubber" of sorts. They arise and multiply in nutrient rich environments, so they would be perfect to utilize in this manner!>
Also, the sand has A LOT of critters within it, do I just start with new sand and put a few cups of old sand in? Thanks, mark
<That's what I would probably do. I would seed your system with some freshly cured live rock as well, for greater diversity, and for the opportunity to re-colonize your existing rocks (which will now be "clean").
Let me know if you have any tips on 'starting over' but trying to keep the 'good' stuff and keep out the bad stuff.
<Well, Mark, I'd look at some of the things outlined above. I'm a big proponent off trying to salvage the existing stuff whenever possible, and to tweak your new system to encourage greater nutrient export capabilities in its new configuration. The old expression, "The best defense is a good offense" is highly applicable, in the case of nutrient management! Your continued consistent good husbandry and keen observation will always pay off in a healthy system! Best of luck on the "reboot"! Regards, Scott F.>

Reef substrate 8/1/09
Hello Crew
I am designing a new science discovery center at our high school. I have been a fan of yours for several years and I must say you have pulled me through some tight spots.
<We share!>
My concern at the moment is this, I am building a reef again for the first time in five years. I heard lots of bad things about using play sand for substrate. The concern focused mainly on silica as a problem.
<Yes, can be problematical...>
I am building a 200 gal reef system for display and I am on a budget. I read the following.
Actually, if you can, I'd appreciate you telling me if there is a particular brand name
"<no brand recommendation... all aragonite in the country is collected by one company and repackaged. Just buy the cheapest. Fine aragonite sand from Home Depot (South Down brand) is quite popular>"
<Yes, have added quotation marks... This product is scarce as "Hen's teeth" nowadays, but was a very worthwhile source when it was about>
Is it truly possible for me to buy the sand base from Home Depot. I have been building live coral for a month in my own tank but need a sand bed. I plan to have 4" of sand and then a live rock sculpture for the corals.
Can I go with 3" and which sand type from Home Depot would be fine for tropical hard and soft corals. Presently, at home, I have a 3in sand bed with lots and lots of live rock. I use crushed coral for my seahorses but fine sand in my 100 gal reef.
Thanks for any info you can offer. It is worrisome using someone else's money.
<Do peruse the hobby bb's... perhaps Reefs.org, Aquarium Frontiers... and ask hobbyists if there is a supply of such local to you... You want finer "aragonitic" sand if possible... Bob Fenner>
Re: reef substrate   8/3/09

Thanks so much, I am sorry if I seem dense but I understand there are many opinions out there..everything from no substrate to several inches.
<Yes... this, these options are also gone over and over on WWM>
I really like substrate for the microbes, macrobes and the presence of a natural habitat.
<Ahh, me too!>
Given that, is there anywhere I can find a "recipe", link. In other words, I am planning about 2inches of crushed coral, 3 inches of fin aragonite sand and then my "live rock" I have had in my own refugium for a month now. I will keep searching sites.
Since this is for our center, I want to do it right but with the least amount of money I can afford thanks again
<Yes; please learn to/use our indices, search tool... for now: read here:
and the linked files above. BobF>

Lagoon System 8/1/09
Hi Crew,
Reading the dailies and good work as always.
I have a question if you have a moment. I am building a new tank, and doing something a little out of the ordinary and though I have done research, can't find information on some of the fine points and I am hoping you can help me out.
I am putting together a 90 gallon lagoon system, and have a question on the substrate. For reference, it is a standard 90 gallon tank, with a rear overflow and return, 30 gallon sump/refugium, external recirculating protein skimmer, lights are an ATI T5 fixture, heater and chiller. Water movement will be by a Vortech, though as this is a lagoon I expect I will not be running anywhere near max.
The plan for the tank will be to have a bommie on one side of the tank to provide shelter and filter, not too large, and a five inch substrate which will be planted with seagrass and macro algae.
For stocking I am planning on a few corals, an elegance for certain, probably a Montipora digitata, a Sarcophyton on the bommie, and see how much that takes up and what grows on the rock.
Fish, definitely a blue spot Jawfish,
<Mmm, Rosenblatt's Jaw doesn't really live in such a setting, lagoons...>
and a watchmen goby with shrimp partner. Others to be names later Sea grass will be manatee grass, star grass, and oar grass. Algae will be red macro species.
The question I have is dealing with putting the substrate together. I am mixing different sands together to get a mix of size grains, per Dr. Shimek's article in Coral a couple of years ago. Will start with CaribSea Special SeaFlor, mix in some Fiji Pink, and some very coarse aragonite (1/4' or so grain) that I have. That will form the middle layer.
<Sounds very nice indeed>
The bottom layer will be coarse sand to avoid anoxic sections, and the top layer will be Fiji pink and rubble, shells, and white coral rock whacked with a hammer (to please the Jawfish).
<Will all be mixed in short time...>
I know the seagrass will have roots about 2' from the surface, and I will mix in some live mud in this layer;
<Put the mud at the bottom...>
but what I am not certain of is how deep each layer should be?
<The deeper the better... total at least four inches>
I only get one shot at this as this sand bed will not be so easy to swap out. Any advice or alternatives is appreciated
Your friend and WWM Forum member
(Hi everyone at the forum reading this! You guys do such a good job over there too!)
<Do send along progress reports, pix of your system please Dean. Bob Fenner>

Re: Filter feeder setup 6/13/08 Filter feeder setup... GARF non-substrate grunge Hi crew, <Sal... my bro-in-laws name...> I am going to setup up a filter feeder tank and ive been doing considerable research. Im sure this will come as no surprise to you, but the more i read the more confused i get. I am hoping to keep the non photosynthetic gorgonians in this set up. I called the people over at GARF since they have a proven track record at keeping these guys. They are big fans of their GARF grunge. <Mmmm... is "just some old guy in the back with dead live rock and a hammer..." This quote from a prev. employee there> They think that i should use this as the substrate for both my tank and refugium. My only issue with this is that there are some rather large pieces of rubble, shell etc. Will this not become a nutrient trap? <Yes> Is this substrate supposed to be used for a plenum system only ( i don't want a plenum). Should i install a 4" DSB with sugar fine aragonite and then add 1" of GARF grunge over this in both the tank and refugium? <I'd skip this sham completely... leave out the "grunge"> Should i go with the oolitic sand in the main tank only and grunge in the refugium only? <Just the sand everywhere> If so what depth? I am not going to have a skimmer on this tank because this will be a filter feeder tank. Please let me know what u think. Im trying to do my own research but it seems experience is much more important. thanks for all your help. Peace, Sal <And you, Bob Fenner>

Re: New Reef Setup, Regarding substrate   9/11/07  Dear Bob, Thanks for the response. I need some advice on the initial setup areas. I am trying to use my existing tank instead of tearing it apart and building a new one ($$ waste $$) this tank is a 4.5'L X 2'D X 2.5'H bow-front. This tank is running (far below potential I must say) as of now from last 1 year. I plan to revamp this rather than spend on a new tank. Regarding substrate - Can I have the following layers: UGF (not functional) + base rock buried in crushed coral + 2-3" fine beach sand? <Better to have more or less... Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/dsbdepth.htm and the linked files above> I expect that the sand would fill in all the gaps that exist in the crushed coral and base rock and remaining would be a layer over the top. Would this cause any problems? <Possibly, yes...> Reason for this layering is to raise the substrate by a few inches and reduce water column depth (30" currently) to facilitate reach ability for maintenance and light penetration. <All gets mixed eventually... unless you install a screen of sorts... as you'll find by reading...> Looking forward to your opinion :) Thanks Again Ranjith <Welcome! Bob Fenner>

BB Reef! Substrate y/n  6/7/07 Guys! <Hello> Just a short sweet question? Is it better to keep a bare bottom Reef than having the coral sand below it? Thanks in advance. Regards <While there is a lot of arguing on many of the reef forums, I much prefer a sand bed, both for how it looks and what advantages it offers. This does not necessarily mean a DSB, although that is what I use. A shallow sand bed, less than 1 inch, also can work.> <Chris>

Please could you offer me some opinion over the use of sand in my reef aquarium?   - 04/27/06 Hello WWM crew, <Good evening Bob, Jen here.>                          Please could you offer me some opinion over the use of sand in my reef aquarium? <Sure!> On setting up I had a purely cosmetic, (although I'm sure slightly beneficial), thin scattering of coral sand on the aquarium base. Detritus build up has meant that I have removed most of this as it seemed easier maintenance wise and coralline algae has since colonized the glass improving its bare look. I live in an area of soft water here in the UK and have recently been having buffering issues,( not helped by a faulty pH meter). <Understand that one.> Now it has been suggested by my LFS and some fish keeping friends that my chosen brand of salt is one possible contributing factor to this problem, <Could be, depends on the mix.> ( KH had dropped to 5 and pH 7.6), but use of a reef buffer has brought things back to a more healthy level,( KH 10, pH 8.2). It was also suggested that adding a 1" to 2" bed of sand would help prevent recurrence of this problem, that and a new pH meter!), but I am concerned at the detritus problem becoming an issue again. Will a deeper bed of sand and the accompanying clean up crew if purchased,( conches, sand sifting stars etc), help prevent build up of detritus? <I personally am a proponent of sand beds, and sometimes DSB in the reef set up.  I would suggest that about 2 inches and then the addition of the appropriate clean up crew would help you with the issue.  Remember to include many critters that will stir the bed and aerate it, also those who may consume detritus.> I'm basically after your collected insights as to whether sand is the way to go, and if so which type and how deep? <This would be personal preference.  I would suggest aragonite mix approximately 2-3 inches deep; deeper if you wish.> The tank is 340 liters after displacement by the 45 kg of live rock within. Its 60 cm deep, 45 cm wide and 150 cm long. The system has been running since last June.               Thank you in advance for your help. <You're very welcome, good luck with this.  Jen S.>                                    Bob Mehen, Cornwall, UK.

Making A Stand With Sand (Sandbed Composition) Hi, <Hi, Scott F. here with you tonight.> I've had a 125G marine tank setup for about 2 years.  Initially it was going to be a FOWLR. A few months into it I discovered that two other engineers at work have reef tanks.  I made the "mistake" of talking to them and looking at some pictures of their tanks. My focus quickly shifted to converting it to a reef tank.  I love it.  I've been reading books, magazines and internet info. pretty steadily for the last 1 ½ years now.  If I had it to do over again I would have done quite a few things differently.  Learning is fun and expensive. <Yup, I know how that can be!> I upgraded the lighting last year and have upgraded water flow and a new skimmer this year.  The next step that I would like to take is to increase the depth of my sand bed.  I have a few quick questions about how to pull this off without causing harm to the fish and corals that I already have. <Sure, glad to help.> My first question concerns what size sand to add.  I currently have about 1.5 inches of aragonite sand (1 - 1.7mm grain size).  Should I add more of this size, or go to something smaller? <Well, it all depends on what you want to accomplish.  A finer sand have been proven to denitrify quite effectively.> I'm not sure how risky it is to mix sizes.  I've read differing opinions on this.  If I do stick with this size, how deep should I go? <As you read through your own research, there are varying opinions.  I mix sand sizes in my tank and it seems to work out ok.  It has not proven problematic for me.  As far as depth of your sandbed, my rule of thumb is one-half inch or less, or three inches or more (up to six inches, or so)> Secondly, how do I add it?  Is it better to add a little at a time, or try to get the new stuff underneath the existing?  Either way should be a challenge. <Personally, I have added it all at one time and have not experienced any problems.  Your water may be cloudy, but will clear in several days.  Monitor your water chemistry carefully.> Thanks for your help. Larry <No problem Larry.  I hope this information has been useful for you.> P.S. I'm reading Anthony and Bob's new Reef Invertebrates book.  It's great! <It is a great resource and, as a matter of fact, has a tremendous amount of research on sandbeds.>

Sand Bed Query Hi, you have been so helpful l in the past and I was hoping that you could help with another problem. I have a 29 gallon reef tank that has been up and running for about 10 months or so. Everything is going fine the fish seem to be happy and healthy. The problem is my sand. I have 30 pounds of live aragonite Fiji pink sand and it's turning colors. First is was that ugly brown diatom algae that was growing all over everything. Now that has turned to green algae on the glass and my sand is turning red. I tried to sift the sand myself to keep the top layer from turning colors, but that wasn't working to well. I even brought 3 sand sifting star fish hoping they would do the trick. But so far very little progress. The red is in clumps and it's in the back of my tank. The front is still kind of brown. do you think it's from my light? I have a Current USA Orbit Compact fluorescent with the moon light. They say that the bulbs are 65watts each, dual daylight & dual actinic. Do you think that could be the problem? If not what could be doing this. The tank looks so much brighter when the sand is white. Please Help >>>Hey Heather, First of all, fairly new reef tanks sometimes do this, no worries really. Secondly, have you taken steps to introduce sand bed fauna into your tank? I like to grab a few pounds of "grunge" off the bottom of the live rock bin at the LFS. Sand bed kits are also available online. Without the needed critters, a sand bed will not function properly. Also, have you checked your nitrate and phosphate levels? How much do you feed? Are you running a skimmer? Have you done any water changes recently? How is the current in your tank? Is this fine or course sand? It should be fine, almost sugar-like. Larger grains can be present in smaller amounts. All things to consider. Regards Jim<<<

Large and Fine Live Sand I have a 75 gallon reef tank that has a deep sand however the grain size is not fine but medium.  I read that the most effective size is a "sugar fine" grain size. I have live rock several brain corals, a hammer, a frogspawn, a leather, mushroom, green polyps, xenia --- fish include a Purple tang, Lawnmower blenny and a Red-lipped blenny.  My water parameters are in range except for my nitrates which is the reason I am inquiring about the deep sand bed.  My primary question is will it be effective to mix fine grain with my already existing medium grain. <Yes, but I would try as many inches of the sand you currently have (4-5) first... measuring nitrate at least weekly... and see how this works out. Bob Fenner>

BARE BOTTOM REEF? Hey WWM, <IanB on call tonight> A question about substrates for marine tanks.  I would prefer to have no substrate to eliminate the greatest amount of trapped particulate matter as possible,<Bad idea> yet am not sure about the negative impacts on marine life.<do read http://www.wetwebmedia.com/deepsandbeds.htm> < http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marine/setup/filtration/biological/biofiltr.htm> I understand the question is still contestable, but considering I wish to keep anemones, polyps, Amphiprion ocellaris and tube worms, is it advisable to go with the "bare bottom" approach,<definitely NO> or will a light scattering of aragonite sand really improve the hospitality factor of the tank to its inmates ???<again read through http://www.wetwebmedia.com/deepsandbeds.htm> Thank you in advance for your time Andrew Hough <your welcome, IanB>

Substrate - Reef System Hello to All at WetWeb, <Hi Peggy, Don here tonight> Am adding a 6" sand bed (Aragamax sugar-fine) to my existing 72-gallon reef.  Is it necessary to remove all rock before adding the substrate?  I have a ribbon worm residing in a big piece of base rock, and I hate to mess with it if not absolutely necessary--hard on him for sure and on me because he's quite large and creeps me out when he slithers throughout the rock, especially if the rock's in my hand during removal!!:)  Also, any ideas on the best way to add new sugar-fine substrate to an existing system without having one massive cloud in the tank--especially considering it'll be about 140 lbs of sand to get a deep bed? <I would not remove the rock as it is more stable sitting on the hard bottom than atop 6" of sand that is 'dynamic' and always changing/moving. Get a high flow pump and a couple trash cans/tubs that are food safe. Pump the water into the cans removing the inhabitants along the way. Then pour in the new sand and pump the water back in. Viola! All done with no cloud.> Many tanks (bet you haven't' heard that one before, uh??), <tee hee, good one.> Peggy P.S.  Love the new book--I'm wearing it out already!!!!!!!! <Yes, another invaluable resource, eh? Will pass along. Don>

Substrate and beginner questions - 8/26/03 Hi All... Love your site. I'm learning a lot. <Fantastic to hear> This is my first saltwater tank. <very well> I have a 29 gallon fish only so far tank with live rock and live aragonite sand for the substrate. When I was doing the initial set-up one LFS told me I would need 30 to 40 lbs live sand for substrate and around a pound of live rock per gallon.  I went out and bought about 40 lbs live cured rock for the tank and then added 40 lbs sand. My question: is this too much substrate? <It is best to look at it in inches. I (we) recommend about 4-5 inches in substrate depth. Check this out: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/deepsandbeds.htm and check out all of the blue links as well. Lots of good reasons to have a deep sand bed.> I've seen many forums that say only 1 or 2 inches of substrate should be in the tank. <HIGHLY disagree>  If it's not too much, what should I do in terms of keeping it healthy? <Every six months to a year add a scoop of live sand from either another reefer or a local fish store. Many places online also sell live sand like www.ipsf.com>  I currently have 1 red fire shrimp, a cleaner shrimp, a peppermint shrimp, 4 hermit crabs, 2 clowns, 1 purple Dottyback, 1 yellow tang and a yellowtail damsel. <A very high fish load for such a small tank.....> Ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites are all zero. <For now.....Keep up your water changes> We would like to have a sea star and maybe an urchin but don't know what kind to get. <Be sure to research before adding any animal. Urchins and starfish tend to have a varied diet. Be sure to research your choices very thoroughly before purchase. It is a moral imperative.> We see those chocolate chip stars in the LFS around here a lot but I would like to have a red one if possible. <There are beautiful red serpent stars and brittle stars that are quite beneficial to the aquarium as they tend to eat the fallen and uneaten food leftover or missed by your fish. They tend to be a little hardier and forgiving. -Paul> Thanks so much for your input. Carla

Crushed Coral versus sand Hi <<Good Day to You!>> I am new at marine set ups.  I have a 65 gallon marine aquarium.  I have 80 lbs of crushed coral in the tank.  However, on reading most articles including your FAQ I notice that sand seems to be the choice of all of you.  I plan to get the live rock soon and am just trying to get the salinity and ph working first.  My question is, is there a difference in using the crushed coral and if so, will it work for the reef tank that I eventually want to have running? KC. << As you have read, a deep, sugar fine, sand bed is the recommended solution at this time. This does not have to be in the main tank. You can setup a deep sand bed (DSB) in a sump or in a refugium, both of which will make your life easier in the long run. If you don't have a sump/refuge then 4-6 inches in the main tank would be recommended by most. The reason for this are many, but the crushed coral is at least going to be a detritus (fish gunk) trap and you don't want to go there! Don >>

He Digs Fish That Don't Dig! This will be a SPS tank with strong lighting and brisk water flow. what I don't want is sand sifters in this tank. My 55 still has my first fish in it and I am fed up with this relocation of what ever they see fit. These are damsels that like to dig. I just want things to stay put . Most of my rock in my 125 are large pieces to give me a more open sand look but still achieve a reef. I assume a little sifting is good??? <Well, some people even siphon the upper 1/2 inch or so of their DSB's, or employ animals like brittle stars and sea cucumbers to do the work. Either way, many of the beneficial "infauna" that reside in the sand are destroyed or disrupted.> But digging like an inch or two is not. <Correct, digging deep into the substrate can cause a major disruption to the nitrification process occurring in the sand bed> Can you give me an idea? Best tang? Yellow, Purple, or the Copper? <Well, it all depends on what you want the tang for (i.e; algae control, or just plain enjoyment, or both..), and what his/her companions will be. My all-around choice of the species that you listed (BTW- I don't know what a "Copper" Tang is...?) is the Yellow Tang-Generally hardy, adaptable, easy to feed, sociable, and peaceful.> What about blennies? I would like to occupy all levels-mid, upper, and lower levels of the water column. <Well- there is a huge variety of blennies to choose from. You can include the Meiacanthus ("fang blennies"), which are mid water swimmers, the "Sailfin" blennies, which tend to swim throughout the water column, and the "grazing" type blennies, such as the "lawnmower" blennies, which tend to stick to the bottom of the tank. All can do very well, provide reasonable variety, color, and interest, and most stay smaller (less than 4 inches). And the ones I mentioned don't dig! Really good choices for reef tanks, IMO> Thank you <And thank YOU- for stopping by! Regards,  Scott F.>

Substrate WWM Crew, First I would like to thank you for answering all of my questions quickly and efficiently. My 120gal. fish only tank is recently undergoing changes to become a reef tank as they are much more challenging and rewarding.  So far I have added more live rock, (approximately 90 total lbs. and will hopefully end up around 130lbs.when another shipment arrives.)330 watts of actinic lighting and 110 watts of daylight lighting, Amiracle wet/dry filter with Mag return pump, (I forgot the model but it pushes about 400gal/h.) and one Maxi-Jet 1200 powerhead but I'm waiting for the other one to arrive.  I am also trying to put money aside for a high volume protein skimmer but a firefighter's salary isn't exactly luxurious. <I'm a teacher by day. HA!> I currently have an undergravel filter plate with approximately 1 1/2" of crushed coral on top (recipe for disaster). <Yep> I want to add a fine grain live sand but I don't know if I should put it on top of the plenum and coral or remove all of it and only have sand. <If you're going shallow, go very shallow. Like 1/2 inch with no UGF or gravel underneath. Just a 1/2" sand bed> Now for my second question: Deep sand bed or a Berlin style "sprinkling"? <If I were redoing my sand bed, I would build and install a plenum system and I wouldn't use UGF filter plates for this purpose. Author Bob Goeman's offers convincing evidence of plenum effectiveness> Do fine grain sand beds require vacuuming or only a simple water change? <Always vaccum out any obvious detritus that is sitting on any sand bed> I know I cheated and asked three questions instead of one but it would be greatly appreciated if you could help me out. <You got my ideas! Hope that I've helped. David Dowless> Thank you.

Pure Aragonite Sand - 2/23/03 I have read Dr. Shimek and 1300+ Southdown posts. <Makes a man out of ya> Do you have any experience with  "Pure Caribbean Aragonite from Petroglyph"? "Grain sizes vary from 0.18 to 1.2mm, perfect for reef systems." Allegedly oolitic. <Actually, I use Nature's Ocean oolitic in my 30g Indo Pacific lagoon tank. A little expensive but I really like the results.> They sponsor some web sites. <Yes, very good about supporting the industry.> I would be having it shipped in and need about 280lbs. <are you doing a 4 to 5 inch deep sand bed?> I have Googled your site with no luck. <Hmmm.......you're right don't see it anywhere........in any event I am sure it is a fine product. Check out the many aquarium forums and see if anyone is using it in their tanks. Get some opinions/reviews. In any event, I like their aquarium calculator tool for finding the pounds needed for sand bed depth in an aquarium. Good site overall. Thanks for the link. Paul> http://www.purearagonite.com/facts.html

Just a little sand? - 3/10/2003 Hi - a really quick question: <Ok.  Scott V. here with a quick answer> I have a 75 gallon set-up with 75lbs of live rock (Fiji and Bali), running a Remora Pro, carbon, power heads, etc.  I have a percula and a three stripe damsel (some hermit crabs), and am still stocking the tank.  I want to add a Tang, maybe Gobies.  I would also like to add some inverts down the road. My question is, I received some advice and have about 3/4" of Tahitian Moon Black Sand as substrate.  Now, this is not aragonite - do I need to add live sand, or an aragonite based substrate?   <I would replace entirely, but in this case is more dependent on what you desire as the end result> Will the Tahitian Moon cause any problems in my tank? <Not directly.  I believe that sand is silicate free so it should not directly cause any problems.  However, with ¾' you are adding no benefit either, while detritus can accumulate in the sand resulting in nitrate problems.  The higher nitrates will result in having to scrape algae much more frequently, which is something we all enjoy so much.  There is also no benefit in maintaining the Ph and calcium levels.  I would remove as much as you possibly can and replace it with aragonite, as either a deep sand bed or plenum.  In http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marine/setup/index.htm , under 'Gear/Components' you will find links to FAQ's on both Deep Sand Bed and plenum set ups.> Thanks for the help, <No problem, and enjoy!   Scott V.   > Jason

DSB or Crush Coral in a Reef tank Howdy Guys, <Hi Annette, Don here tonight. > I have searched your website for a clear cut answer to whether I should convert my 75 gallon cc substrate to a sb or DSB.   <Wow, if you find any clear cut answers in the hobby/obsession, let me know will ya? > My plans is to have reef/fish system.  The bioload will be at it's limit with fish.  This is the plan for fish; 1 fire goby, 1 yellow tang, 1 flame angel, 1 regal tang, 1-2 common clowns, 1 royal Gramma, 1 algae blenny.  As for corals and such I don't plan on having any real delicate specimens.  Starfish, mushrooms, anemones, maybe an open brain coral are some possibilities. <Hmm, the tangs will need a lot of territory and may become aggressive with each other and other inhabitants> This is my problem I cannot decide if I should convert to a sb or DSB with these specimens.  I read somewhere that a DSB has a tendency to accumulate wastes but also heard that it helps with nitrates unless a high fish bioload is present.  I am very religious with cleaning about every 8-10 days with a 10 gallon water change.  Currently we have an Eheim filter, lg. protein skimmer, power heads, and will be purchasing a UV sterilizer and about 75 lbs of live rock. <All sounds good!> Any direction on what to do would be very helpful. <I believe that with the addition of corals the DSB advantages will outweigh the disadvantages. You may need some additional cleanup, burrowing snails will help with this. I am having good luck with Nassarius and Cerith. At least in the sugar fine sand, the matter 'sits' and doesn't get trapped in the substrate. If you decide not to go with the DSB, a sugar fine bed of less than 1" would be the other option. The CC (crushed coral) traps a lot of 'gunk' Hope this helps, Don> Thanks, Annette

DSB or Crush Coral in a Reef tank Hey Don, Thanks for the quick reply.   <No problem> Hopefully I will have good luck with the Tangs, what you mentioned has been a concern of mine too.  I am still waiting for the availability of a good regal tang specimen, hard to find.  We saw one today at the LFS and it was badly beaten up and was constantly running into things, plus it had very bad color (Ick maybe).  Could you believe he would sell it for $45, normally $90, I wouldn't even pay $5 for a fish that looked that bad. <Very wise, too many folks buy a fish that looks 'healthy' even though others in the same tank are obviously diseased. Or, believe they can nurse it back to health. I your case, it would have been silly. Kudos>         Just to let you know for people who are looking for good fish at a good cost tell them to check out Saltwaterfish.com.  I have had outstanding luck with them.  The fish arrive healthy with gorgeous colors and no nipped fins plus they have a 6 day guaranty. and free shipping on orders over $75. The draw back is some fish are not constantly stocked like my Regal Tang. They also carry corals and invert. plus live sand and rock with free shipping. <Stay the course, buy healthy livestock and you are on your way to a lot of fun! Don> Thanks Annette

Substrate Hi Bob, Steve, and Anthony, I've been looking over the FAQ's on substrate and somewhat confused still. I am building a reef tank. I'll eventually be getting live rock among fish and corals. I just recently bought and placed CaribSea Aragonite Special Grade Reef Sand (1-2mm in size ) inside the tank about 2" deep (44 gal corner...no water yet inside). I did read from Steve(?) that he had this substrate and was not happy. <Yes, it was I that wrote I have that sand and am not happy with it.> My question is this, just short of buying something else, how deep should this be exactly. I've read from 1/2" up to 4". I'm worried about the toxic pockets that may be produced if there is too little or not enough of aragonite. I also read about placing a screen mesh over a portion with another layer on top. <This is probably your best option. Use fiberglass screen for windows from a hardware store. On top of that, I would add another 2" of very fine grade sand.> Not too familiar with that nor what that does exactly. <The fine grade of sand is better for critters to live. Having inoculated my sand over a half dozen times, this particular grain size does not seem to encourage worms or much of anything else. The other benefit of the fine sand is it stops detritus from settling between the grains of sand.> Also, is it necessary to place a small amount of live sand on top of the aragonite. <It is nice for inoculation, but you could also use your liverock.> Thanks for all the help. Mike from Cleveland <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

How much live sand? Great incredibly informative website. <Thank you from all of us.> I'm setting up my tank (reef) for the first time since the great Northridge Earthquake with the following parameters: 60 gallon Aquasystem with built in wet dry <You may want to consider removing the W/D media.> Fluval 304 canister filter (ceramic media removed) 90lbs live Fiji rock (in 2nd week of curing) Remora Pro protein skimmer One Powerhead Lighting ?? (2 fluorescent and 2 Blue actinic) I can't remember the name but I purchased from Marks Tropical Fish in Studio City. My question is this: How much live sand should I have? 1.5"? 3"? <For reef tanks, I prefer to use a 4-6" deep sand bed, DSB.> Is live sand better than Aragamite? <Live sand is generally seeded aragonite sand. I usually use almost all dry sand which I seed with liverock and/or some livesand. I would purchase the livesand that is not already prepackaged.> Which would you prefer? <See above notes.> Darrin from Sherman Oaks, California <Good luck to you. -Steven Pro>

Aragonite's Impact on pH and Nitrates Steven, I just went to the LFS and purchased 20 lbs. of the 'Natural Ocean Bio-Active Live Aragonite Reef Sand'. Is this a good product, how does it rate? <I have never used the product myself. We have Southdown in such abundance in Pittsburgh that I have little experience with anything else. As long as it is sugar fine grain size, it should be ok. FYI, I do not put much faith in any livesand that comes prepackaged in a bag and sits on a dry goods shelf.> I am hoping this will reduce the nitrates and maintain pH in my 180 gallon fish only setup. <Twenty pounds is going to be hard pressed to do anything in a 180 gallon tank.> I have 2 connected sumps, the second sump has the return pump and skimmer. <If you can, the skimmer would operate far better if you had it receive raw tank water, pre-W/D filtered.> The first sump is the Wet/Dry with about 12 X 12 inches extra space. Where's the best place for me to lay down a sandbed and how thick should I make the substrate? <Wherever you can place it and 4-6" thick.> I have Caulerpa in there just sitting in the water but it has not grown much. Any help would be great! <Having the Caulerpa attach to grow would help.> Thanks again, Chris <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Marine Substrate Dear Anthony, Steve, or Bob: I have a 65 gallon reef tank with approximately 100 lbs LR and has about 3" of crushed coral substrate on the bottom. The tank dimension is 48"L x 24"T x 12"W. As you can see the tank is quite narrow. Only ½ of the substrate is exposed, the rest is under the rock. All the information I got from your website suggests a substrate of crushed coral just not the way to go due to its tendency to trap debris. Based on the suggestion, last week I went out got few bags of topical play sand by Southdown. <Lucky you to live in an area with Southdown.> I know the best way to go is to replace all crushed corals with sand however, it just too much hassle with all the LR, coral, and fishes. <And the preferred way.> The easiest way is to vacuum the ½ exposed crashed corals trying to get out as mush debris as possible then gradually add about 2" of sand on top of the crushed corals let it filled the gap. <A bad idea.> The more difficult way is to take out the ½ exposed crashed corals (by vacuum?) and replace with 5" of sand. <Better, but you might as well bite the bullet and do it all.> I like to have your opinion as which ways is more beneficial without put too much stress on the inhabitants. <If done right, removing everything and adding a new DSB should not be too stressful for you or your fish. First, mix up some new water, maybe 20 gallons. Then, siphon off clean water into a bunch of buckets. Then remove the liverock into more buckets. Catch the fish as you can and place them into the buckets of clean, old water. Scoop out all the crushed coral. Add the new sand and then liverock. Next, slowly pour the old water back into the tank, taking care not to disturb the sand too much. Add your fish and then top off with as much new water as needed.> As always appreciate your expertise. Thank you. Wayne <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Substrate/Alkalinity Q's Cheers, Anthony or Steven. I'm sure Bob is having a great time in Cozumel, I have snorkeled there myself a few times, I would live to go diving there but when I go more then a few feet under water it feels like my head is going to explode. <I feel the same way about Alk questions... now what was your question.. Oh, riiiiiight <G> Anyways I was hoping to get your guys opinion on the substrate I was planning to change. Currently I have about 3 inches of crushed coral (mistake # 1),  <oh, ya... detritus pit> I see what you guys mean by detritus trap. So before placing my live rock, I siphoned really well and removed about 2 1/2 inches of the cc where I placed the rock, so there's about 1/2 inch or less under/around the rock.  <Very good!> The rock was placed last Sunday and I did a water change last night and the cc around the rock was almost as dirty as the 3 inch section of the tank.  <hmmm... shouldn't be that bad> I fed the fishes very little during this time period, my water flow isn't great but I don't think it to be that terrible either.  <ahh... most people drastically underestimate the need for current. In a fish only tank 6-10X is minimum... with reef and live rock displays you need MUCH more. I have about 1500gph in my 50 gall reef and is barely looks like I have moderate flow!> After I minus the head pressure, flow is approx. 1500 gph on a 125 gal FOWLR.  <yes... not bad at all... may just need to be more strategically adjusted> I just want to get this substrate/depth thing correct because I have another 45lbs curing right now and am going to order another 90lbs in the next few weeks and don't want to have to disassemble the rockwork every week to siphon the cc. I have since gotten 100lbs of fine oolitic sand by E.S.V. I couldn't even guess on the grain size but I would definitely say it is finer than sugar.  <excellent... I like the grain and brand just fine> This is where I am totally stumped, it seems like everyone is in agreement here in not having a DSB in a heavily stocked tank with messy eaters as mine.  <is it more challenging as much as I love DSB> The label on the sand states it can provide denitrification in as little as 1.5 inch depth  <I disagree that this happens in many tanks... more often than not no> but I fear this depth is too much for my tank. BTW tank mates are vol. lion, wolf eel/Dottyback-not sure witch is the proper name, niger trigger, yellow tang, Naso tang.  <the eel is the only one that will stir the pot too much> Do you agree with removing the cc and going with the fine sand at a depth of a 1/2 inch or less?  <the 1/2 of sand is fine once you get the water flow adjusted or upgraded. You should have enough flow so that detritus stays suspended and is carried to the skimmer(s)> If you guys agree with the sand should I first place the rock on bare bottom and then pour sand around the rock or sand first then rock on top?  <that's how it would be done> I currently have 90lbs Fiji rock, is it ok to add another 90lbs Kaelini rock or just stick with another 90 lbs of Fiji?  <your call> One more thing if I may? I have currently seen my ph rise from the 8.1/8.15 to the 8.25 range or better just from aerating over night and mixing salt for a day or two in advance.  <excellent> Currently using the Kold Sterile system and then I aerate the new water overnight, it then reaches a ph of 8.35 and alk of 4.9DKH,  <very low alk> I then add salt, no buffer and 24hrs later readings are ph 8.22-8.25, alk 16.8DKH.  I have the Kold Sterile plumbed so that it could precede the tap water purifier/DI to lower my alkalinity, could I just mix up 20 gal of the Kold Sterile water and then 20 gal of the Kold Sterile water followed by the tap water purifier DI and then I should be able to reconstitute the water to more appropriate values? <more appropriate for what?> I have yet to use the twp with the Kold Sterile but when I used just the twp I was lucky to get 30 gallons and got sick of replacing them. I still have a cartridge left over from about six months ago that was only used for about 5 gallons and it is still damp inside, is it safe to reuse this cartridge?  <yes> Calcium after a water change is about 380 but I refuse to use any calcium supplements until it reaches 350 for fear of this snow storming event I seen a lot about since my alk is on the high side. I really value your guys advice, thanks so much. Mike <the alk is a bit high if it lingers long... but the Ca under 400 and the alk slightly over 12dKH is fine and can continue if consistent through regular water changes. Both levels should not me max high but one at a time is safe. best regards, Anthony>

Setting Up Live Sand How do I put my live sand in my new tank? The water is already in and circulating in tank and sump. I am concerned that it will get suspended in water and get in sump and skimmer and filters. <<Not to worry, turn off circulation, release sand at bottom. Turn it on and let er' rip! Only very fine particulates will be suspended and be skimmed/filtered out or settle. If settling in sump bothers you (most are designed to trap particulates) then vacuum that out. Remove any vegetative matter etc. from screens, filters, powerheads. Be happy! Craig>> 

Tank question Good Afternoon, I looked on your site but didn't find the answer to this question. I am trying to decide on a substrate to use for my 40 gallon breeder tank for saltwater. I currently have a 20 gallon high saltwater tank that is doing really well. I have dolomite as a substrate, no live rock, 2 external aqua clear filters and an air supply. All of my levels are stable in this tank and the fish are doing quite well but I am going to a little bigger tank.  <I am glad this system has worked well for you, but I do have some suggestions. Dolomite is a poor buffer because it only dissolves at very low pH. Aragonite or coral based substrates work much better. Also, if dolomite does dissolve, it is very high in magnesium which can be a problem. Also, I always strongly recommend live rock, even for fish only systems. Power, trickle and canister filters are expensive, maintenance intensive and don't control nitrate. Live rock is also expensive, but requires little or no maintenance and controls nitrate. Also, unlike artificial or non-living decor', live rock never needs to be cleaned!> I'm seeing all of this talk about crushed coral and sand (DSB). The dolomite in my tank is working well but a lot of dirt accumulates in it. I do regular water changes once a week and siphon the gravel. I would like to possibly add sand to the tank, <My rule of thumb for sand in tanks is to use one of three options: No sand, coarse and shallow (4-5mm or larger grain size, not more than 3/4" deep), or fine and deep (1mm or smaller grain size and 3" minimum deep). All sand will trap detritus, so the idea is to be able to get it out or for the critters living in the substrate to process it. Larger grain sizes allow easy siphoning and critters to live between the grains. Fine sands allow critters to burrow and don't let detritus penetrate, giving large animals time to eat it. Deep, fine beds of sand also are capable of processing huge amounts of nitrate. Grain sizes from about 1-4mm are the worst of all worlds... they are hard to vacuum and very few critters are able to live in it. Whatever you choose, I would recommend that you use at least 50% aragonite or coral based substrate.> but I am not interested in having live rock in my tank. I had a 55 gallon before and all of the bugs were horrible and overrunning my tank with live rock, especially the bristle worms. They were everywhere and even in my filters. Once we broke down that tank and sold it, I found a bristle worm that was close to 6 inches long. I can only imagine how long it would have been stretched out. NICE!!!!! NOT!!!! That freaking sucker hurts when they get you!!!!!!  <I understand some peoples aversion to bugs and worms, but I am such a fan of these animals, I feel like you just insulted my mother! All of these "bugs and worms" were cleaning your aquarium for you! Bristleworms are generally harmless, and only occur in large numbers when the system is overfed and/or allows detritus to accumulate. Properly fed systems with strong water movement and an occasional "rock dusting" rarely have large numbers of bristle worms. I strongly encourage you to consider live rock and the free labor force that comes with it!><<Mmm, RMF disagrees, as will anyone who has been stuck but good by some of these fireworms... their notopodia can have very sharp elements indeed>> Anyway, could I still have sand in my 40 gallon tank without the creepy crawly things? I just want fish and a nice looking tank. Would I be able to go into the tank for the water changes and stir up the sand a bit to clean it???? What would you suggest??? Or should I just go with the crushed coral and stick to my weekly water changes and siphoning for the new tank????  <My suggestion is to welcome the creepy crawly things! However, if you just can't do it, I would suggest a thin layer of coarse Aragonite or crushed coral substrate that gets vacuumed often. This will give you the aesthetics and allow you to remove wastes.> I know that live rock is a good thing, or so they say, but after my bug experience, I want no parts of it ever again. Thank you very much for your time. Your website is terrific!!!! Jennifer  <Best Regards, and I hope you will give live rock another chance! AdamC.> 

Questions Regarding sand bed and fish compatibility Let me start off by saying sorry for such a long post here. <No worries> Hi, Bob this is my first question to you and I am sure will not be the last. I have been reefing for about 2 years and I have to say on a skill bar I would give myself a 3.5 out of 10. That being said here is my tank info. I am setting up (transferring from a 46 bow with crushed coral 3.5 to 4" in depth to a 75 drilled and I am going with sand "SouthDown" I am going to go with a 1.5" depth. Equipment is as follows: Lighting 2ea 250watt MH 10K 4ea 24" VHO 2 Actinic White and 2 Super Actinic Filtration Wet-dry (I will probably not use this or just use it as a remote power head for water movement) Canister (for carbon and nitrate sponge). Chiller Aqualogic Drop in 1/4hp 29 Gallon sump Mag 18 as a return CPR HOB Fuge (I am planning on a DSB with macro and LR Rubble). Water movement Tunze 6060 Live Rock 80-90 lbs. Skimmer Euro Reef 5-2 Calcium Reactor Still shopping for one Controller Medusa <Lots of nice gear> My 46 was/is over stocked and nitrates were higher than I like. I am pretty sure the crushed coral has something to do with this as it traps a lot of detritus and even though I have a huge clean up crew and do regular water changes and vacuum it is still higher that normal and I want to go over to sand. Livestock Purple fire fish, 2 Maroon clowns, Yellow tang (probably going to give/sell him) Coral beauty and Flame angel, Scooter Blenny and Lawnmower blenny. All the fish are under 2.5 and as they get bigger I will probably need to replace them with smaller ones. Two clams and 2 BTA's (1 red 1 green) along with the clean up crew I wrote of above. I keep pretty much just hard corals and 1 or 2 softies. I am going to also get 3-4 Shaving brush plants for not only looks but also function in the main tank.  I will be adding two of my favorite fish down the road they are Laboutei Fairy Wrasse & a Geometric Pygmy Hawk.  My questions:  #1) I cannot put a deep sand bed inside my sump due to my skimmer, chiller, and return pump will be in there and I am not sure if they would be harmed by sucking up sand and there is really no way to separate the sump. So would the HOB Fuge with DSB and macro be enough along with the Shaving plants in the main tank? <Should be> Or not enough to even bother with? <Well worth bothering with> My goal with the fuge is for nitrate control and also a place for critters (pods and such to grow and reproduce)  <Will indeed help with all these> #2) Do you see any problems with the 2 fish I plan on adding down the road with the current livestock I have now. <No... but will about "top off" this volume system> All the fish I have now have been in the tank for about 1.5 years with no problems getting along or nipping corals or my clams. Thanks for you time and if you see anything that I am missing or need to correct please let me know. Thank you  Bruce <Do set up the two systems in parallel for a while if you can, be careful re new additions, quarantine incoming livestock... you should do fine... I foresee a much larger upgrade in your future... perhaps some dive, adventure travel... Bob Fenner> 

Substrate/Sand beds confusion 1/19/04 Dear Bob, Anthony & Staff, <cheers... Moe in the middle> After getting advice from my LFS. I started to take out all of my substrate which was live sand about an inch thick. They told me to have either 4" or nothing at all. <any sand depth can be made to work, my friend, with adequate water flow above it and sand stirring. Now I'm down to about a 1/4" in the tank but it starting to clump up and has that dirty look to it. I have a lot of current in the tank and when I tried adding more it looks like I'm going to blow my corals off the rock. <the problem is not that you have too much flow, but rather that it is not diffused adequately (you have limited laminar outputs from a water pump or your powerheads). Do a keyword search for "Goodbye Powerheads" to make a closed loop manifold to better distribute water flow> My problem is at this point I'm frustrated and am not sure if I did the right thing by taking all that sand out. I would like to add sand to the tank to make a deep sand bed but I think the right way to it would be to remove all the rock first. It has taken me a year to get things really going and I'm worried that if I take that rock out and add the DSB how my fish and corals would hold up? I was also thinking if I can leave the rock in and pour from 4" in the front to nothing in the back? I'm confused on what type of sand to use after reading this statement. "Live Sand: Is the latest and not-so greatest sub-specialty in "reef" keeping. Though this stuff has lots of microbes, it also presence many potential problems. Introduction of pests, parasites and pollutants not the least of them. Unless you're utilizing very little (a few grains thick) of this stuff, be wary of it going anaerobic. Keep your eye on it for dark spots" <the above statement is remarkably ignorant (as in uninformed) and incorrect> I have made many improvements to my tank with the help from your web site. Thanks again! <all good my friend... and please do consider reading our coverage on DSBs, living substrates, etc. in "Reef Invertebrates" - it is comprehensive if I may say so. Anthony>

Substrate Dear WetWebMedia crew, <You got Steven today working his shift.> I have a few questions about substrates.  After reading the FAQs and articles on substrate type and depth, I'm still a little confused.  I currently have a standard 55 gal. FOWLR plenum equipped tank with 3.5-4 inches of CaribSea Special Grade Reef Aragonite. <I have a 55 gallon reef tank with no plenum and 4" of the CaribSea Special Grade Reef Aragonite.  I hate it.  The grain size is too large and allows detritus to permeate into the sand bed.  The critters do not seem to enjoy it much either.  The Aragamax is a much better product from the same company.> There is also about 70+/- pounds of live rock in the tank.  Two power heads for circulation, CPR BakPak II, and CPR Hang-on Refugium.  Tank inhabitants include 4 neon gobies, 1 royal Gramma, 1 red spotted hawkfish, and 1 spot fin butterfly (my pride and joy that I caught here in Maine 2.5 years ago), <I have heard of Caribbean fish straying too far north.  Grab me a couple of queen and French angels this summer.> 1 banded coral shrimp, a few snails, and a handful of blue leg and scarlet hermits.  I call it the Caribbean Critters Tank.  Anyway, in the near future I plan on upgrading to a 75 gallon tank and use the same rock, filters, skimmer, etc. In the new tank, I am not going to set up a plenum.  I would like to use just sand on the bottom (partly for aesthetic reasons) but was wondering about what grain size to use and how deep it should be for nitrate reduction?  I have read a lot of conflicting information about which grain size and depth to use.  Everything from Southdown Sand (from Home Depot) to the various CaribSea products.  I was also wondering if I could just use the current substrate right on the tank bottom and what depth would you recommend?  Another option would be to use either the Southdown or the other fine grain sands offered.  Any incite would be greatly appreciated. <I will soon be upgrading to a 120 reef and I already purchased 500 pounds of the Home Depot Southdown sand.  It is sitting in my garage with the tank, sump, and lights awaiting me building the stand.  I will use different sands for different tanks.  If it is a fish-only tank, I will use the Special Reef  Grade sand.  It is heavier and will not get blown away and cause a sandstorm, but I always keep it less than 1" deep.  For a reef tank, I now always use the fine grain sand (Aragamax, Southdown, etc.) at a depth of 4-6".  -Steven Pro> Hope Bob is enjoying his adventures (somewhere in the Middle East?). Sincerely, Jason B 
Substrate Follow-up
Hi Steven, Thanks for the super fast reply.  Sometimes this technology stuff isn't so bad.  If I read your reply right, I'm okay with using my current substrate at a depth of less than 1 inch, as this future tank will be fish-only.  I also plan on adding a cherub (pygmy) angel and chain link moray to the collection.  Do you think the 1" substrate will be able to handle the nitrate load? <Sorry, I didn't specifically mention that.  No, a bed of sand that thin will do nothing for denitrification.  For that I suggest the use of purified water (RO, DI, Kold-Sterile), aggressive protein skimming (collection cup filled with skimmate the color of hot tea to coffee several times weekly), and regular partial water changes.> Or would I be better off going deeper with finer sand? <I believe a DSB can be overwhelmed by a heavy fish load in a lot of fish-only tanks.  Considering the light fish load you currently have and your intended additions, you may want to opt for the DSB.  The only other consideration is will your future moray create a sandy mess when he goes slithering around.  -Steven Pro> Thanks again. Jason B ps. Love this website and all the work you guys do. There isn't a whole lot of interest or information about marine/reef keeping up here in Maine.  Only one "real" fish/reef store and a few others that really don't try.
Substrates Follow-up
Hi Anthony, Bryan again. <You reached Steven pulling is shift. I have been reading the daily FAQ's so I am somewhat familiar with the ongoing discussions.> Questions still about substrates. For my fish only 75 gallon tank would 1/2'' to 1'' be alright of CaribSea special grade, <Yes> I read where you said 3-5'' or 1/2'' or so is desirable. Now back to biomedia for my wet/dry. B/C of my (or going to have) high bioload (Koran and Naso) you suggested leaving the biomedia in filter but you don't care for BioBale. I'm going to make the switch to bioballs, what is the best way to make this change? take out 1/3 of BioBale and replace with the balls and do this till all replaced? <Sounds like a good idea.> Quick question on sumps. I'll have more detailed questions later. But I was wanting to take an old 20 gal tank and add substrate, live rock and algae, and put under my tank along with the wet/dry. Would this work? <Yes> And how to connect the two or be better to separate them with own flow from the main tank. I read the refugium needs a slower flow rate. <It would probably be better to keep these separate. A refugium does need a slower flow rate than what will be running through your sump. If you can do it, it is best to locate a refugium above the main display and to let the water gravity feed back to the main tank. Most people though cannot do this and hide their refugiums under the tank. -Steven Pro>

Reef Sand Hi Anthony or Steve, love the site. You guys are doing a great job in Bob's absence. <Thank you... but Bob is only absent in mind... not body...hehe. Anthony> Here is my question. I have a 2 year old reef tank that is up and running fine. I currently have crushed aragonite and was thinking of switching to sand to make the tank healthier. <agreed> Should I do this or leave well enough alone. <course media is more problematic long term. Fine sand has numerous attributes... not the least of which is denitrification of you fill at more than three inches deep> If I change, should I do a portion of the tank or all at once?  <rather laborious either way... with fewer/hardier livestock, I'm inclined to stress them once with a big but well planned complete change over... rather than repetitive insults> Currently I have about 45 - 60 lbs of live rock in my 55 gallon tank. <you might even add some more fresh live rock> Thanks for your help. Ray <quite welcome. Anthony>

Substrate was Re: Ich question Anthony. The current CaribSea Puka is about 1/2" (barely covering bottom). <again... a labor intensive grade that is prone to trapping detritus...your call if you don't mind siphoning to keep it clean/sanitary> I've considered sand many times and could do it again. However from reading the FAQ's, is the DSB (about 3") good for a heavier bio-load FOWLR system ?  <yes in a properly managed system (adequate water flow, two skimmers, extra water changes, etc all appropriate for a heavy load tank> It contains eel, grouper, etc. As far as I know, eel and sand don't get along real well as they make a mess of it. . .  <some folks have complained about it... I have also had success with it including a 3' eel in a 500gallon display and several smaller species in smaller displays on fine deep sand. I am also very strict about not overstocking or overfeeding> I also opted not to since I didn't think I could keep any sifters alive in there (although you've mentioned one that could).  <there are many if you research/look into it to suit most any tank> Can a DSB keep up with heavier bio-loads or is it mostly more advantageous for reef based and light bioload systems ? <answered above> Water flow is heavy. 125 gallon is being pumped with 4 Maxi Jet's PH's (295gph), and return is Iwaki 70's (1500gph), so its about 10 times. Return is not broken up and fed from one side of the tank and forcing flow to the other end. That does bring up a good point, is it better to have powerheads down low pointing up or even to keep detritus up, or is better in the classic setup up high with the head pointing to whatever 'dead' areas you have in your tank ?  <any pattern that produces sufficient random turbulence to keep detritus in suspension is fine> If detritus suspension is the goal, wouldn't lower powerheads pushing current at the bottom be better ? <not necessarily if surface agitation is compromised to do so. Again...above recommendation for current> Again, can the DSB handle denitrification for higher bioload systems, or should a denitrator from Aquamedic (do these work) be considered. <no experience with the product> Obviously neither of the two will replace the small biweekly water changes. . . <exactly. Anthony> regards, Ed
Substrate was Re: Ich question III
Hmm, yeah, I know the drawbacks with Puka shells. Been living with it for who knows how long. . . Guess it'll be time to switch one side of the tank and then the other. Here is a question though, is there any benefit to having a shallow sand bed (1/2" or so) ?  <simply aesthetic> The tank is only 18" tall, so I'm not sure I'm willing to allocate 4" to a DSB. . . <agreed> Yeah, my higher bio-load system, has a ton of filtration on it. I only have one skimmer, but its a dual-bucket system (two injectors) rated for 600 gallons. So I am over skimming a bit. . . < I certainly have no complaints with any skimmer that produces daily with consistency> Diverging to another question - can you have too many cleaner shrimp ? I have a few in the tank, but every once in awhile I lose one. So instead of constantly replacing one or two, can I drop like 6 or 8 of them in without any detrimental effect ? <sounds like a waste of precious life/resources until you figure out why they disappear or don't live for years. Anthony> Ed
Re: Substrate was Re: Ich question IV
1/2" of sand being aesthetic, but its more functional and better than 1/2" of Puka shells though, correct ? <agreed> I lose a shrimp to a lion every once in awhile. . . Not sure why the lion eats the shrimp that's cleaning it. . . One of those, biting the hand that feeds it in nature type of things. . . <wow... until these animals are captive raised, it seems like such a waste. I would not recommend adding any more. Anthony> Ed

Advice needed (marine substrates) Hello guys, <Hello> Let me start this off with the obligatory "Thank you ever so much" for the resources your team makes available for us hobbyists struggling to make a nice home for our pets. Without the dedication and information you provide, there would be much more people turning away from the hobby. I'm also a big fan of CMA. Looking forward to more publications! <Me too> Now to the bones of my question, I'm in the process of setting up a 46 gallon reef. I've tried many approaches in the past 15 years, and have decided to stick with what I have had great success in - good rock, good sandbed, and careful feeding. <All good inputs> My question is this: I've just purchased equal portions of oolithic and special reef substrate from CaribSea (60lbs total). My plans are to keep the special up front on top of a 1" layer of the oolith, and around the base of the live rock, and to build up the oolitic sand toward the back. Reason for this, I'm hoping to allow detritus to be swept out of the back area and to settle up front in the coarser aragonite. I'm thinking this will be much easier to clean minor build-ups and allow a place for the tiny zooplankton to settle in and work on the material. I'm not too sure what the final depth will be, but I'm aiming for 3" and the tank will be lightly stocked and fed, with brisk water movement and as much live rock off the bottom as possible. Eventually, as money permits, I will also be going with a sump/refugium. <All right> What concerns or problems going with this should I be aware of down the road? Would it be better just to put all the oolitic on the bottom with special on top? I do like the way the finer sand "shimmers" when on the surface, but am willing to compromise for the sake of the tenants. (Eventually to become a home for a pygmy flame angel, a hippo tang, a Jawfish, some cleaner shrimp, and a few other candidates I'm still researching) Your assistance is greatly appreciated, and a big thanks in advance! Sincerely, Mike from Texas. <Well... Anthony and Steven would/will assuredly answer differently. I say to go ahead with your plan above as you state it... and see how all develops... there are many "different" experiences with mixing grades of marine substrates, sloping them... mainly a mixing in time, settling to one overall level... some chance of anaerobic challenges (not much IMO/E)... Again, I say dang the torpedoes, full-speed ahead... But will leave your message here for the boys response as well. Be chatting, Bob Fenner>
Advice needed (Steve's input)
Hello guys, <Steven Pro this afternoon.> Let me start this off with the obligatory "Thank you ever so much" for the resources your team makes available for us hobbyists struggling to make a nice home for our pets. Without the dedication and information you provide, there would be much more people turning away from the hobby. I'm also a big fan of CMA. Looking forward to more publications! <Glad to hear it.> Now to the bones of my question, I'm in the process of setting up a 46 gallon reef. I've tried many approaches in the past 15 years, and have decided to stick with what I have had great success in - good rock, good sandbed, and careful feeding. <All good ideas.> My question is this: I've just purchased equal portions of oolitic and special reef substrate from CaribSea (60lbs total). My plans are to keep the special up front on top of a 1" layer of the oolitic, and around the base of the live rock, and to build up the oolitic sand toward the back. Reason for this, I'm hoping to allow detritus to be swept out of the back area and to settle up front in the coarser aragonite. I'm thinking this will be much easier to clean minor build-ups and allow a place for the tiny zooplankton to settle in and work on the material. I'm not too sure what the final depth will be, but I'm aiming for 3" and the tank will be lightly stocked and fed, with brisk water movement and as much live rock off the bottom as possible. Eventually, as money permits, I will also be going with a sump/refugium. What concerns or problems going with this should I be aware of down the road? <I have the special reef grade sand in my current 55 gallon reef and do not plan to use it again in the future. I have had a difficult time getting a lot of critters to live in it. I think it is a little too coarse for most. Also, it traps too much detritus.> Would it be better just to put all the oolitic on the bottom with special on top? <The reverse would be better.> I do like the way the finer sand "shimmers" when on the surface, but am willing to compromise for the sake of the tenants. (Eventually to become a home for a pygmy flame angel, a hippo tang, a Jawfish, some cleaner shrimp, and a few other candidates I'm still researching) <I would probably mix the two together and get more oolithic sand to make at least four inches of uniform depth.> Your assistance is greatly appreciated, and a big thanks in advance! Sincerely, Mike from Texas. <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>
Re: Advice needed (marine substrates)
Perhaps "building up" was an improper choice of words on my part, my apologies. See if the attached picture makes what I'm trying to convey clearer. I'm aiming for a completely flat bed with even depth, and "sloping" the mixture of the two grades. The proportions in the picture aren't, of course, exact. I am thinking about using more reef special than sand overall. Thanks again for the knowledgeable input! Mike <I understand better what you wish to do, but I still would not do it. Sorry, but it is better not to trap detritus in the sand at all if possible. Far better to remove from the system by keeping in suspension with vigorous circulation, no dead spots or areas for settlement, and various methods of filtration. -Steven Pro>
Re: Advice needed
Excellent points, Steven - Thanks! <I have the special reef grade sand in my current 55 gallon reef and do not plan to use it again in the future. I have had a difficult time getting a lot of critters to live in it. I think it is a little too coarse for most. Also, it traps too much detritus.> I have noticed that most worm life in my previous setup (especially the nest of spaghetti worms) seemed to prefer living in the finer sand, but the amphipods and copepods readily infested the coarser areas. <<Yes, this is true. Most of my pods are on/in the liverock.>> As for the detritus, I was hoping in by keeping the special up front, to concentrate and slowly siphon it off during normal maintenance. <<Better for it not to be able to get trapped at all and end up staying in suspension and caught in various filters.>> <I would probably mix the two together and get more oolithic sand to make at least four inches of uniform depth.> I am considering this, however I do want to provide as many distinct areas of substrate to accommodate different organisms. Will equal parts of mixing the two be a hindrance in keeping a flourishing supply of 'pods and complicate a jawfish's efforts to build a burrow? <<I would not use equal parts. I would put an emphasis on the fine sand to fill in between the large particle size sand.> I'm thinking the finer sand will just infuriate him by collapsing. <<The large parts mixed in should give him a good consistency to work with.>> That was another reason I had for moving the bulk of special up front so I can more easily keep an eye on him. <<Our pets have a mind of their own. You can encourage him to do certain things, but do not get too bummed out when he does the opposite.>> Again, thanks for all the great input! Your fan, Mike <Wow, a fan! Thank you very much! -Steven Pro>
One more add on question (marine substrate depth...)
What is the depth of sand substrate you recommend?? With our sixty lbs of bioactive aragonite reef sand we have about 1 inch. Should we add more??? <Less than 1" or greater than 4".> We're planning on a fish and invert. system and our next addition will be live rock in a few days/weeks. Again, thanks again for your help!! Katie <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

How much crushed coral? Hi Bob, <Steven Pro in this evening.> I am addicted to this site. I can't get enough! The more I read the more questions I have. My latest question is in regard to the substrate. I have a 20gal tall FO salt tank and I am slowly converting to more inverts. I have a Fluval 204 with carbon, power head for water movement and adding a Prizm skimmer. The first thing I want to do is add LR. I am going to be adding about 5lbs a week with a total of about 20lbs. Is this ok? <As long as it is fully cured, it is ok. Do not trust any mail-order liverock as being fully cured. Archive the WWM site on liverock for additional info.> Also I have about 3 inches of fine crushed coral as a bio bed with nothing underneath. I was thinking of taking it down to about 1 inch and relying on the LR for most of the bio filtration. I figured with less substrate the easier to keep clean and less likely for waste to gather. I want to be able to set up my LR so I don't have to do much moving when cleaning the substrate. What do you think? -Shaun Nelson <I would take the crushed coral down even farther, to perhaps 1/2". A thin layer of crushed coral is good for pods, but does tend to collect detritus. You may want to raise your liverock up off of the substrate by using sections of PVC pipe or lift-tubes or something else to allow for easy of water movement and cleaning. -Steven Pro>

Non-sand bed thickness ?? I have a 29 gal salt aquarium with ~ 3 inches of crushed Florida coral.  <Yikes!!! A scary detritus trap... any dreadful algae growth in the tank because of this nutrient sink?> Most of the pieces I can see are fairly large coral or whole snail shells that average 1/8" to 1/4" across. I have read on some of your other FAQs that using between 1-4 inches of sand bed depth may cause long-term problems. Is this also true of the coarser substrates like mine? <especially true of coarse substrates!> I would also like to adapt my substrate for NNR. Would adding 1-2 inches of fine aragonite substrate work with the existing crushed coral underneath, or should I look at replacing the CC.  <alas... mixed grain sizes are problematic. NNR with a deep bed of sugar fine sand. 5+inches gets my vote> BTW, I just started a 10 gal refugium with 20 lbs of live sand, 3 lbs of live sump rock, and some Caulerpa. Is it still worth the effort/expense of trying to set up NNR in my main tank's substrate? <likely yes... most display tank bio-loads can burden a 10 gallon refugium no matter how efficient it is> Thanks, Darrell <Always welcome my friend. Anthony Calfo>

I am planning to add live sand to my aquarium I have a 55 gal. with about 80lbs. of live rock. I also have some corals and fish. right now I have gravel for the aquarium. I was wondering should I take out the gravel in replace of the live sand? what steps should I take? and what would you suggest?  >> Some folks (many of them quite successfully) blend larger/smaller substrates together in captive marine systems. By and large I'm not a big fan of this approach (with some exceptions due to organism preferences)... and instead, WOULD either remove the gravel ahead of placing the sand, or perhaps "skip ahead" and use this opportunity to set up a type of NNR (Natural Nitrate Reduction system). by placing a piece of screen cloth (fiberglass, plastic... not metal of course) over the gravel, and placing the live sand above it. Do you know what these NNR's are about? If you'd like more, including a drawing of all this, please take a look through articles and book sections I have stored at www.wetwebmedia.com Bob Fenner

Reef Question. Dear Bob, I'm honoured that you, so far, are the only one from overseas to answer my e-mail. Many "renowned" aquarist didn't even bother. Thanks again. <You're certainly welcome> I have something to ask you about that has been intriguing me. As you may remember, my reef tank is 60" x 24" x 30" with 6 NO 40W, temp at 84F. Filter is wet dry with venturi protein skimmer. Substrate is 5mm crushed coral. I have another tank in the office, size 36" x 18" x 18" with only 3 NO 20W, 2 daylight and 1 Osram Blue (normal, not actinic). Temp is 80F and substrate is beach sand. Filter is bio-wheel with ceramic rings and the skimmer is air driven. The corals in the smaller tank is flourishing, especially the polyps of the leather corals are longer and the button polyps seem to thrive. Mushrooms also expand and colour up well. Both tanks are dosed with Kalkwasser and Iodine daily and water perimeters are similar. My friends feel that the culprit is the Coralife 10,000K NO in my larger tank and the guys at LFS feel that is the lower temp due to the air-con at the office. I was just wondering if the substrate is doing the magic due to the smaller grain size? What do you think? Winston <Hmm, well... could be the lamp/lighting, depth of the larger system, size/type of substrate, artifact of iodine overuse in the bigger tank, competition factors amongst your livestock, temperature differences, or a myriad of many other factors that come to mind (not to count the who knows how many that don't!) might be contributing to the differences you cite. I don't think the lamp per se is a big factor... and providing a reflector (Mylar incorporated in plastic like that used for "mirrored doors" is my favorite) might help increase the amount of light directed into the larger tank (that depth is tough to get enough useful illumination down into)... And you could always add some of the "magic" substrate to the bigger tank... to see if it will help... Otherwise, and really what I would do, is keep looking for compact fluorescents... they can be had in your electrical configuration (220V, 50Hz) out of Japan... Bob Fenner>

New tank...need advice Dear Bob, I visited your website and I found it the most useful marine site out of the dozens or so I'd encountered. I currently have a AGA 72-gallon bow front aquarium. I'm planning to set-up a reef tank with soft corals with various invertebrates and fish. However I need some advice on the equipments I will need in order to make this system successful. I plan to use Instant Ocean Sea Salt and lay 40 pounds of Carib-Sea Live Aragonite Sand (1-2mm) on the bottom of the tank (hopefully this will be about 1-2 inches).  <40 lbs of sand will barely make an inch, in that tank. Personally, I'd mix the live sand with the finest aragonite (dry, but carefully rinsed) that you can find, if you're looking to save a few dollars. But the trade-off is that rinsing the dust out of bagged aragonite is agonizingly tedious...and you won't have to do that with the live sand.> I have a Hagen Fluval 404 canister filter, Hagen Aquaclear 300 power filter, Hagen 200 watt Tronic-Electronic heater, AGA twin tube light hood, CustomSeaLife PC Hood(110 watts) w/ 2 SmartLights, and I'm planning to buy a CPR Bak Pak 2 protein skimmer.  <Those should cover you fine, if you're careful to let the tank cycle slowly and completely, before you start stocking like crazy...> I also plan to buy a mixture of live rock mixed with Tufa rock, with Tufa rock being more abundant as I'm on a tight budget.  <That's fine. Again, go slow with the stocking plan. Within months, your Tufa will start to look more and more like your expensive live rock, and in a couple years, you can't tell the difference.> In addition I don't exactly know how many powerheads I should use and at what rate each of them should be at. What brand of powerhead would you suggest?  <I like to use 4 power heads in a 48" tank, at each end, pointing toward the middle. I tend to use RIO 800 or similar for that application, but the Rios are starting to get on my nerves. Replacing suction cups every few months...> Can you please tell me if I have adequate equipment for the system to work and any additional information or advice? Thank you so much!!!! P.S. How should I clean the Tufa rock and about how long would I need to cycle my tank before adding any livestock? Thanks for your help!!!!!!!!!!!! <You can just rinse the Tufa real well with hot-hot water in the shower or bathtub, some folks (obsessive?) will go so far as to boil it. Not me. As far as cycling/setup, I'd let the tank sit with the filtration and substrate for 24 hours, then with the Tufa for 24 hours, then start adding live rock (I don't like to add more than about 20 pounds every 24 hours). Then a couple small fish, for 2-3 weeks, with testing for ammonia/nitrite/nitrate, to observe the actual cycle. Don't put your 'show' fish in there for at least 4 weeks from day one, if you can hold out! -Lorenzo> Peter

Reef tank and substrate Hey there, need to move my reef tank (60 gal cube) soon and I want to redo the substrate. Right now there is a simple 1/2" of aragonite on the bottom. I want to upgrade this to a DSB. I have a 20 gallon tank as a sump with an ETS reef devil in it. This tank will probably remain up for 9-10 months until I finish my 240gal and move the reef into that. I plan to do the same sort of thing outlined here but on a larger scale of course for the big tank. <Okay> I want the 20 gal to become a refugium. I will probably divide the sump in 3 sections with an acrylic divider. I will divide the overflow pipe into 2, with a valve at the junction so I can control how much goes down each pipe. <Sounds good> One section (probably 80% of the overflow) will pipe into the section of the sump that has the reef devil in it. The reef devil will output into the third section which has the pipe for the return pump in it. <Hmm, hmm> The other section (90% of the overflow) will flow into the refugium section of the sump. I will put an overflow/underflow divider between the refugium and the section where the return pump sucks from. (i.e. water from refugium overflows into a U shaped section, that overflows on the other side into the return pump area. <All right> Does this all sound pretty reasonable and I'm not doing something insane? :) <No. Sounds good. Make sure and oversize the return plumbing (from the main system into the sump)> I am probably going to put a mixture of 1/2 aragonite 1/2 live sand (3-4" deep) and a few pieces of LR in the refugium side, toss a CF above it, and a whole back of Caulerpa. Do I have to worry about Caulerpa somehow getting into and infesting my tank?  <Not really.> I guess I could fill the U shaped overflow with bioballs and that could help trap anything large that tried to cross to the return pump section. <Be careful here lest you cause an overflow problem... for the possibility that the Bioball area may get clogged, make some failsafe pathway for it.> With this set up what do I want to do for a plenum in the main 60 gal tank? <Nothing necessarily... I like to run such DSBs only in remote sumps> Deep?  <A few to several inches> If so do I place the rocks first then the sand, or am I better elevating the rocks on PVC/eggcrate and filling in the sand around them? I've never had a substrate deeper than an inch before and I'm kind of scared :) I had a 120 gal reef for 5 years and it was a simple aragonite bottom. My nitrates were always a bit high and I want to remedy this. Thanks very much! Jeff <Proceed with your grand design. Bob Fenner>
Re: Reef tank and substrate
Wow fast :D Sounds great! I'll probably proceed with this at the end of August when I move. One more quickie, for the substrate of the refugium...should I mix the aragonite and live sand, or lay down aragonite on the bottom, then live sand on top? In either configuration I assume the two will end up intermixing anyways. <Please read: http://wetwebmedia.com/Plenums.htm and the subsequent FAQs section. I would place a barrier twixt the layers> Would I want to vacuum this substrate or just leave it be and let it feed the refugium people? I'd assume leaving the fine live sand on top to prevent detritus penetration into the lower layers. <Please read the Marine Maintenance sections of the site: www.WetWebMedia.com> I assume get the smallest aragonite I can for mixture with the LS? Thanks very much! You are a very good source of information. Jeff <Be chatting my friend. Bob Fenner>
Re: Reef tank and substrate
Ack ahah sorry to email you so much today. One more quickie. Things will be much simpler if I have just one sump. This would be the plenum and Caulerpa/live rock sump. This means I cannot put the reef devil in it. 60 gal tank 5 fish (blue tang, yellow tang 2 perculas, tomato clown) 110# of Fiji (too much, gotta remove some) several hundred mushrooms/polyps/etc Would the Caulerpa/plenum handle that sort of bioload w/o skimmer, or am I better to do the 2 sump or divided sump method and keep the skimmer.  <Two sumps would be better, but the one would very likely do> The one sump method would have a higher water flow rate through it, although I would remove the mag 12 return that I have now and Use the RIO that's feeding the Reef Devil. That would slow things down considerably. I promise I won't bother you again today ;> Thanks
<No worries. Bob Fenner>

Small Marine Aquariums
Book 1: Invertebrates, Algae
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by Robert (Bob) Fenner
Small Marine Aquariums
ook 2: Fishes
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Small Marine Aquariums Book 3: Systems
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by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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