Very random reef write-ups

How about a complete reversal of nearly all of the preconceived essential rules to keeping our sps healthy? Now this really isn’t so new a concept, as I’ve been having this conversation with many of you over the years. In fact, so many that I felt it was finally time to just lay this one on the table for all to see.

So here it is:

YOUR SMALL POLYPED SCLERACTINIANS NEED NUTRIENTS!!! In fact, they need them so much, that I believe a well stocked reef full of SPS will act as its own nutrient reduction agent. Further simplifying any system by eliminating the need for some of the more recent methods and trends to do it. So there’s my claim.

Far out? Maybe at first notion to all of you employing every effort to rid your tank of these nutrients, but hear me out. This is really is as simple as it gets, and is quite obvious once you think about it. I’m not a chemist nor scientist at all, but simply an extremely observant sps keeper at best, that has come to this realization after many years of housing, growing and abusing acroporas.

But in all sincereness, this may not seem so far out anymore. This notion has slowly been gaining more and more traction over the last couple years. Even more so in recent months right here in R2R. It’s also one that I’ve been talking about for a long time now, and is a subject that I discuss often with fellow reefers struggling to troubleshoot, and wondering why things aren’t going as well as they'd like them to be.

In recent years, just as methods for removing nutrients have essentially gotten too efficient, I have to come to believe without a doubt, that stripping our water of even the smallest trace of nitrate or phosphate is far more deleterious on overall health, than moderately elevated, or even relatively high levels. I'll go even further to say that the benefits of measurable amounts of these vital nutrients tremendously exceeds that of a tank without. Now I never really subscribed the the phosphate is evil campaign that seemed to coincide rather conveniently with the introduction of binders such as ROWA and Phos Ban, roughly over a decade ago. While I do believe that it’s very possible, and likely that your tank will suffer at exceedingly higher levels than that of natural sea water, but that it will suffer far more at little or undetectable levels. To reiterate and perhaps reinforce my point just once more, I have seen with my own eyes, the issues that can come from exceedingly low or “stripped” levels of these nutrients, while I confess I am still waiting for the disaster that should accompany a higher or "dangerous" level. I am not saying that you are now free to abandon any means of keeping theses nutrients in check, nor to let them run wild. But rather, that I believe sps will not only keep these levels in check, but will actually deplete them much lower than we’d like as they use the nutrients up.

So what does this really mean? Well, clearly a tank full of sps is not an easy thing to simply come up with like some macro for a fuge, or even a water change to dilute. And I’m not really suggesting that this is any sort of problem solver. I am merely stating that a well balanced system will keep itself in check when it comes to nutrients, and the production and depletion of them. In short, the longer your tank matures, and the more thriving and sprawling your sps get, the easier it will be to maintain acceptable levels of certain nutrients. Maintain being the key word. Some of us even going as far as to reintroduce various forms of nitrate back into the system when these levels are not met. With exceptional results.

Now clearly this will not apply to everyones' system. If you have a smaller amount of water and a massive amount of fish, then even with a healthy crop of mature acro colonies, you aren’t going to suck the system clean of nitrate. Nor will you with just a few acro frags. You’ll need some other means of control. Weather it's a fuge or water changes or even carbon dosing if you feel that you absolutely must. What I have come to learn and understand through a number of years of keen observation, is that by keeping a very close eye on nitrate (that means testing very often) and recognizing trends, that maintaining nutrient levels at low, to even moderate amounts, has resulted in better color, better growth and better over all “feel" of the entire system. I am absolutely certain that my sps are constantly sucking it out of the water. There was a time that I ran a “nutrient free” system. For many years I couldn't get a nitrate test to turn even the slightest hint of pink, no matter how many fish I added or how few water changes I performed, or by any other seemingly reckless ways that I employed in an effort to raise them.

maybe not exactly what we are shooting for (right) but a hint of pink is good (left). Hey, I had to get at least one pic in here to break up the word wall.

Then it hit me. It was so obvious in fact it was the only possible explanation. Where else could my nutrients be going? And why do my sps always seem like they are hungry? Again this isn’t science or at least isn’t presented as such, and anyone that wants to chime in and either agree, or tell me I am full of it please feel free. The idea that my sps were in fact the reason my nutrient levels were chronically low made perfect sense, and there was only one simple and viable solution. If I was going to attempt to maintain a detectable amount of nitrate in the system, then I was going to have to add it myself. Now I am seeing more and more threads popping up offering the same sentiments as this, and maybe I should have finished writing this last year when I initially began drafting it, but it’s still very refreshing to finally see this concept gaining favor over total nutrient removal as the ideas are shifting from "stripping" to reintroduction. It’s all about balance, and the simple point that I keep repeating to friends and fellow reefers is this. Nutrients are not bad they are necessary, and are by no means something that we need to rid our tanks of completely. Especially when it comes to sps, which goes against a long standing platform of "sps rules" that we've been taught over the years. I do not disagree that there was a time before technology really caught up, that it was more of a struggle to keep tanks clean enough for sps to thrive, but I believe that these ideas of massive nutrient control are carried over from then. We have come along way, and have learned a whole lot since then. The time for a complete dynamic shift in the methods of how we raise or sps is here! It is time my friends, to welcome and embrace those nutrients.

So to sum this one up, I realize that this write up is pretty scattered and the points are as redundant as they are scarce. And that I included no real data, no charts and figures or photos or anything really, other than my convictions to reinforce my claim. If you've actually made it this far, and read every word, I really appreciate you taking the time to do so. Maybe this will help at least one person struggling with their sps, and if so then it's a success. You see, what I really wanted to do, was to assemble a very cohesive, clever and legitimate argument that SPS are undeniably, a very effective means of nutrient control, complete with all sorts of information and facts and data and a little humor even to soften the read, but a scientific journalist I am not, and what I ended up with is kind of a jumbled mess, (probably why its taken me so long to finally finish this) but I hope that the message comes across clear enough not to be convoluted or confusing at all.

Consider the whole write up more food for thought than anything, but the general thrust, simply put is this. Concepts and methods are always changing and there’s never really any true right or wrong way to achieve the same results in this hobby. But, if you're struggling with that newer tank, or with one that's been maturing for years, and you are wondering why things don’t look the way they should, or at least the way you'd like them to, then let go of current methodologies and consider pulling that activated carbon and GFO, and stop dosing any carbon source altogether. Get yourself a nitrate test kit and start testing often. Let it build up a little. You may be surprised what some nutrients in the water will achieve. The more sps you’ve got and the larger they grow, the more you’ll see these nutrient levels dwindle. So take from this what you will and please feel free to share your own experiences, good or bad on the subject. I am just as certain there's plenty of people on these boards that are way smarter than me that can add something useful, as I am that I've left out all sorts of valuable info that should have been included. Your comments are more than welcome as always!


Joel says:

09 Aug 2020:

Cricket spine

Eric says:

21 Jan 2019:

I may be late to the party here, but this makes more sense than I care to admit. My ultra-low nutrient systems have done terrible with no other reason I can come up with. ICP tests came back awesome, no swings, no pests, so what? My best systems was one of my first and I panicked and did a new set-up because my nitrates and phosphates were not zero. I should have trusted my eyes!

Rick says:

28 Feb 2018:

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said your goal was to achieve balance. Achieving that balance as you gradually add corals over a lengthy period of time can be difficult and is best monitored with consistent testing.


06 Jan 2018:

Thanks for the information. I’ll give it a try what you suggested. I can’t see what I’m typing.


06 Jan 2018:

I have been having problems with my sps doing terianle. Thanks for the suggestion.

nick says:

20 Jan 2017:

So when you say that you are running nitrate, do you mean 5-10 or 30-50. Some iea of how much were talking about here.

I also cannot see my text, it is white on a white background. I probably typed jacked up stuff in here cuz I cant see it.

Chuck says:

01 Jul 2016:

I completely agree. I have had much better results since removing carbon and phosphate absorbing media than when I was striving to eliminate every possible nutrient in my systems.

David says:

16 Jun 2016:

Great write up! I love the coral on your site. What sort of filtration would you recommend, if not activated carbon? Filter floss?

Leave a comment

note: all comments are reviewed before they are published