Active maintanance of nutrient levels vs "passive" approach

KonradTO

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Hi all,
After beating dinos a couple of months ago with the "silica method + blackout" I had finally a long period of stability and finally I can see some coral growth after 12 months of mistakes and instability.
After the last blackout my nitrates skyrocketed to 25ppm and PO4 to 0.14 ppm. Corals looked happy so I tried to keep it that way, and for that I had to dose NO3 (my tank consumes around 1-2 ppm/day). Phospates seemed stable without dosing. Then I started to see some kind of fuzzy red algae growth on the rocks and a small patch of dinos on the sand again.
No problem, increased silicate dosing to 1.5 ppm/day, did another 3-days blackout and all the algae is gone again.
This time I decided to not dose NO3 to avoid nuisance algae but nutrients kept dropping. Few days ago I had NO3 at 2 ppm and PO4 at 0.03 ppm (!!).
I don't know what to do now. Should I actively dose to keep NO3 around 5-10 ppm and PO4 around 0.1 ppm or just let the tank do its thing? I read many people keeping their nutrients this low, but with sps dominated tanks. Mine is still a work in progress with a mix of mushrooms, softcorals, lps and sps, so I fear that NO3 lower than 5ppm might be risky.


Nutrients in: I lost few fish recently so I have only 2 small fish (bicolor blenny and sixline) in 32g, and before adding more I need to QT newcomers. I feed a lot (daily 3/4 cube of homemade seafood blend and some kind of powder like reef roids from ARKA twice each week)

Nutrient export: I have my skimmer draining the skimmate back in the sump, no sock, and I keep trimming my fuge where there is tons of GHA, caulerpa and various unknown stuff. Maybe I should clean the fuge from nuisance algae to reduce nutrient export or reduce the fuge light cycle?
What would you do?
 

SamsReef

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Personally, I am not a fan of fuge atall especially in mature reefs where they compete with corals for nutrients and trace elements. we know macro algae consumes n and p, iron and iodide. If you have a fish only system, sure. But in reef tank where you are dosing nitrate and trace elements, keeping fuge is counter intuitive.

I use my this area of sump to trap detritus, which gets removed monthly.

it’s a controversial topic and there are many ways to success. This would be my recommendation. To avoid shocking the main tank, you can remove the algae gradually.

Sam
 
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KonradTO

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Personally, I am not a fan of fuge atall especially in mature reefs where they compete with corals for nutrients and trace elements. we know macro algae consumes n and p, iron and iodide. If you have a fish only system, sure. But in reef tank where you are dosing nitrate and trace elements, keeping fuge is counter intuitive.

I use my this area of sump to trap detritus, which gets removed monthly.

it’s a controversial topic and there are many ways to success. This would be my recommendation. To avoid shocking the main tank, you can remove the algae gradually.

Sam
Thanks for the reply!
I was under the assumption that macros had different nutrient requirements than corals, and are actually good as they are a flexible way of exporting nutrients, so if you have high input they grow more if the input decreases they just stall.
I could definitely slowly reduce them and see how it goes tough.
Something I am quite surprised is that everyone complains about detritus and mechanical filtration releasing nitrates, when I have tons of detritus in my sump and in the filter section of my dt (it was and AIO) but have very little nitrates. Probably I should clean properly DT and sump before reducing macros.
 

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I would definitely recommend that you does nitrates and phosphates to maintain levels where your corals seem happy. I do that with my tank. If I didn't, nitrates and phosphates would go to 0, the corals would get stressed out (all types--not just SPS), and an outbreak of dinos would occur (in my tank that is--I've seen this happen in my tank. It may or may not in yours or others).
 
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KonradTO

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I would definitely recommend that you does nitrates and phosphates to maintain levels where your corals seem happy. I do that with my tank. If I didn't, nitrates and phosphates would go to 0, the corals would get stressed out (all types--not just SPS), and an outbreak of dinos would occur (in my tank that is--I've seen this happen in my tank. It may or may not in yours or others).
What nutrient export system do you have in place?
 

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Thanks for the reply!
I was under the assumption that macros had different nutrient requirements than corals, and are actually good as they are a flexible way of exporting nutrients, so if you have high input they grow more if the input decreases they just stall.
I could definitely slowly reduce them and see how it goes tough.
Something I am quite surprised is that everyone complains about detritus and mechanical filtration releasing nitrates, when I have tons of detritus in my sump and in the filter section of my dt (it was and AIO) but have very little nitrates. Probably I should clean properly DT and sump before reducing macros.
detritus is a wide term and includes a large gamut of things. I personally do not worry about uneaten food or anything that decomposes pretty fast in a mature aquarium(1-2 days). The only thing I remove are fine particles that accumulate over period of time. They don’t decompose. They are mostly exoskeleton of pods/copepods.

Sam
 

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Do you know what the fuzzy red algae growth was on the rocks? I'm in a similar just less extreme situation months post dinos. Since beating dinos I've maintained 5-10No3 and .03-.06 Po4 with daily testing and NeoNitro/Phos. My p04 has become stable but my tank consumes nitrates quickly and would bottom out if I left it alone. I have a small patch of stubborn dinos on the sand that doesn't bother me much but that dang fuzzy red algae at the top of the rocks is very tough to remove.
 
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KonradTO

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detritus is a wide term and includes a large gamut of things. I personally do not worry about uneaten food or anything that decomposes pretty fast in a mature aquarium(1-2 days). The only thing I remove are fine particles that accumulate over period of time. They don’t decompose. They are mostly exoskeleton of pods/copepods.

Sam
Yes in my case I think is something analogous. It's a fine grey/brown dust that accumulates where there is no flow.
 
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KonradTO

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Do you know what the fuzzy red algae growth was on the rocks? I'm in a similar just less extreme situation months post dinos. Since beating dinos I've maintained 5-10No3 and .3-.6 Po4 with daily testing and NeoNitro/Phos. My p04 has become stable but my tank consumes nitrates quickly and would bottom out if I left it alone. I have a small patch of stubborn dinos on the sand that doesn't bother me much but that dang fuzzy red algae at the top of the rocks is very tough to remove.
Not sure what species it is. The good thing is that it grows very short and it does not overgrow corals like GHA, overall is not too bad on the rocks but when you have too much the whole tank look reddish.
For dinos I found that a tiger conch is more effective against small patches.
 
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KonradTO

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I was having a look at this thread
https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/optimal-phosphate-level-mixed-reef.678080/
A lot of info. The problem is that I am not sure that what happens in the open sea is applicable in 100 liters of water. We cannot provide a constant source of fine particulate nutrients without fouling the water.
They suggest to keep both NO3 and PO4 at similar levels (6x nitrates) , and that implies to keep NO3 at 1-2 ppm. Wouldn't that be problematic with most soft corals and lps?
 

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Hi all,
After beating dinos a couple of months ago with the "silica method + blackout" I had finally a long period of stability and finally I can see some coral growth after 12 months of mistakes and instability.
After the last blackout my nitrates skyrocketed to 25ppm and PO4 to 0.14 ppm. Corals looked happy so I tried to keep it that way, and for that I had to dose NO3 (my tank consumes around 1-2 ppm/day). Phospates seemed stable without dosing. Then I started to see some kind of fuzzy red algae growth on the rocks and a small patch of dinos on the sand again.
No problem, increased silicate dosing to 1.5 ppm/day, did another 3-days blackout and all the algae is gone again.
This time I decided to not dose NO3 to avoid nuisance algae but nutrients kept dropping. Few days ago I had NO3 at 2 ppm and PO4 at 0.03 ppm (!!).
I don't know what to do now. Should I actively dose to keep NO3 around 5-10 ppm and PO4 around 0.1 ppm or just let the tank do its thing? I read many people keeping their nutrients this low, but with sps dominated tanks. Mine is still a work in progress with a mix of mushrooms, softcorals, lps and sps, so I fear that NO3 lower than 5ppm might be risky.


Nutrients in: I lost few fish recently so I have only 2 small fish (bicolor blenny and sixline) in 32g, and before adding more I need to QT newcomers. I feed a lot (daily 3/4 cube of homemade seafood blend and some kind of powder like reef roids from ARKA twice each week)

Nutrient export: I have my skimmer draining the skimmate back in the sump, no sock, and I keep trimming my fuge where there is tons of GHA, caulerpa and various unknown stuff. Maybe I should clean the fuge from nuisance algae to reduce nutrient export or reduce the fuge light cycle?
What would you do?
Ok couple of observations here
1. Nitrates "skyrocketing" - What were they at before? In my opinion a nitrate level of 15-25ppm works best. There's also a HUGE online retailer (and huge storefront as well) in florida that keeps nitrates at this level. And for what it's worth Melevsreef on youtube had nitrates 100+ for years with corals and fish growing just fine.
2. Phosphate - I know .03 is what everyone recommends, but I'm a fan of being at .1, for the simple fact that it gives you some give going either direction without problems.

What size system and coral density are we talking here? A small nano that is consuming nitrates quickly may be easier to just dose, but a larger system feeding more is usually easier.

Add in some pelleted food to your mix. I have an auto feeder adding pellets twice a day in my 180, not because I think they're better for the fish or anything, but it's an easy way to consistently add phosphate to my system with the pellets that get missed by the fish.

It will take some time to adjust your feeding to get the right balance, but if nitrates and phosphates are dropping, there needs to be more going into the system.

Just as an anecdote, I'm not sure how much the level of nitrate and phosphate really matter, as long as there isn't nuisance algae growing.
 
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jbrady429

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What nutrient export system do you have in place?
My primary means of nutrient export is carbon dosing. By supplying carbon to the tank, bacteria consume nitrate, phosphate, and carbon. Corals then consume the bacteria, and my protein skimmer removes the leftovers. Other than carbon dosing, my only mechanical means of filtration is a protein skimmer. I’m not using any chemical filtration.
 
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KonradTO

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Ok couple of observations here
Thanks for the detailed answer, I will reply point by point.
1. Nitrates "skyrocketing" - What were they at before? In my opinion a nitrate level of 15-25ppm works best. There's also a HUGE online retailer (and huge storefront as well) in florida that keeps nitrates at this level. And for what it's worth Melevsreef on youtube had nitrates 100+ for years with corals and fish growing just fine.
I had dino exploding when my PO4 remained around 0.03 for months (the Hanna checker is accurate at +- 0.03 so that could have been 0 or 0.06) and for other various reasons, mainly Alk swings and salinity swings due to defective ATO. Therefore I am not even sure that the nutrients were the actual problem here. NO3 went from 0.5-1 ppm to 25ppm and PO4 from 0.03 to 1.3 ppm (never had PO4 that high before).
As I said corals looked happy so my plan was to keep it that way with nutrient dosing. Increased feeding gave me the impression to boost nuisance algae rather than nutrients so I felt safer to dose the nutrients directly few times per week.
2. Phosphate - I know .03 is what everyone recommends, but I'm a fan of being at .1, for the simple fact that it gives you some give going either direction without problems.

What size system and coral density are we talking here? A small nano that is consuming nitrates quickly may be easier to just dose, but a larger system feeding more is usually easier.
The system is around 120-130 liters of actual water (33g?). In terms of coral density it increased substantially in the past few months, I probably have 15-20 frags and one big goni colony.
Add in some pelleted food to your mix. I have an auto feeder adding pellets twice a day in my 180, not because I think they're better for the fish or anything, but it's an easy way to consistently add phosphate to my system with the pellets that get missed by the fish.
Yes this is actually a good idea if I don't observe any GHA outbreak I will do this, maybe once/day.
It will take some time to adjust your feeding to get the right balance, but if nitrates and phosphates are dropping, there needs to be more going into the system.
I also forgot to mention that I dosed phyto for some time to fight dinos but I stopped recently after the last blackout. This is a bit counterintuitive, as phyto should decrease nutrients rather than increase. Maybe they are not fully mature and there is still some fertilizer in it.
Just as an anecdote, I'm not sure how much the level of nitrate and phosphate really matter, as long as there isn't nuisance algae growing.
Sure but at this point I am a bit undecided between picking a target value and maintain that with dosing+ feeding or other means (like fuge-wise) OR just let the tank find it's balance without altering my habits, so no dosing, no changes in the fuge, just feeding a tiny bit more.
 
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KonradTO

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My primary means of nutrient export is carbon dosing. By supplying carbon to the tank, bacteria consume nitrate, phosphate, and carbon. Corals then consume the bacteria, and my protein skimmer removes the leftovers. Other than carbon dosing, my only mechanical means of filtration is a protein skimmer. I’m not using any chemical filtration.
I am not an expert at all as you can probably tell, but isn't carbon dosing than the reason why you need to dose?
I recently did read a post about dosing phyto as a source of carbon. That made no3 dosing necessary while PO4 was kept in check via skimming. In my case I have no skimmate removed (it flushes directly to the tank), no carbon dosing, nothing except my fuge. Probably I should increase my stock asap, but with 30g I can't really fit much in there.
 
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I think you are making your situation more complicated by over analyzing. All your prior problems were caused by bottomed out nutrients. Your tank was doing well at 25 nitrates and .14 phosphate so that should be what you aim for. Whether you get there naturally by feeding more or with dosing neonitro and neophos which I had to do is your choice. All healthy tanks have some algae in their ecosystem so having a small amount here or there shouldn't cause you to make any drastic changes. My coral vendors all keep their nitrates and phosphate up. They don't run those ultra low systems
 
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I think you are making your situation more complicated by over analyzing. All your prior problems were caused by bottomed out nutrients. Your tank was doing well at 25 nitrates and .14 phosphate so that should be what you aim for. Whether you get there naturally by feeding more or with dosing neonitro and neophos which I had to do is your choice. All healthy tanks have some algae in their ecosystem so having a small amount here or there shouldn't cause you to make any drastic changes. My coral vendors all keep their nitrates and phosphate up. They don't run those ultra low systems
Maybe my post was a bit unclear, but I was totally happy with the parameters I mentioned. The problem is that I need to dose to maintain those levels, and I was wondering whether there is a better approach. Considered also the many successful systems posted here on the forum which run at very low nutrients (HIGH input HIGH output, so to say).
Randy for example suggests to aim for almost undetectable PO4 levels:

<My suggestion is for aquarists to target a phosphate concentration of 0.02 ppm phosphate, or less. >

It's a bit confusing that many people reach success using very different approaches. My noob conclusion would be that nutrient levels are not that significant in determining the success or failure of an healthy reef tank (??).
What is the part I am missing here?
 

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Managing nutrients in an immature, low bioload, system requires different strategies than in more mature, highly loaded systems. Beyond keeping them high enough to be toxic to Dinos, there is simply no need for artificially elevated nutrient levels in immature tanks where there aren't a lot of organisms to use them. Controlling dissolved organic compounds is also a necessity for the same reasons. Run your skimmer correctly, dose some nitrate and phosphate if you must to stave off Dinos. I'd keep nitrate in the 5-10 ppm range and phosphate in the .05 to .1 range until you can add more fish and figure out how much to feed them to keep the nutrients in that range. Your lighted fuge is binding nutrients and producing dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Guess what... Dinos love low nutrient, high DOC conditions. I'd harvest all the algae I could from it and slowly reduce the light until I didn't have to add artificial nitrate and phosphate. You can always start it up again if nutrient control is needed.
 
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Maybe my post was a bit unclear, but I was totally happy with the parameters I mentioned. The problem is that I need to dose to maintain those levels, and I was wondering whether there is a better approach. Considered also the many successful systems posted here on the forum which run at very low nutrients (HIGH input HIGH output, so to say).
Randy for example suggests to aim for almost undetectable PO4 levels:

<My suggestion is for aquarists to target a phosphate concentration of 0.02 ppm phosphate, or less. >

It's a bit confusing that many people reach success using very different approaches. My noob conclusion would be that nutrient levels are not that significant in determining the success or failure of an healthy reef tank (??).
What is the part I am missing here?
I had to dose to maintain mine also then after several months the tank found its intake and export balance and dosing was not required. You don't have that balance yet. Dosing is easy and more precise then over feeding. But feeding is a more natural method but leaving uneaten food floating around the bottom of the tank as organic waste becoming nitrates is not that appealing to me. You can also modify your export. Set skimmer to dry skim. Biweekly water changes or every third week. No chemical media that reduces nutrients, etc... sounds like you are taking a diligent approach but don't overthink it and keep making changes that affects stability because if you change one area often something is affected in another area perhaps without you ever knowing. Give it time to work itself out...good luck
 
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KonradTO

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Thanks everyone for the suggestions! I think I will:
1) Keep dosing to maintain nutrients at 5ppm NO3 and 0.05-0.1 ppm PO4 + feeding (maybe I will try aminos finally)
2) Regulate my skimmer to actually skim, as now it's constantly overflowing on purpose from the flush valve
3) Slowly harvest macro and clean my fuge from detritus and nuisance algae.

in the meanwhile I am planning to fill the tank with much more corals (especially sps and lps), in a couple of weeks most likely, and fish (but I need to QT first, which will take some time).
 

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