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Help me understand nitrate and phosphates

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dochou

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I'm an old school reefer who's been in the hobby for over 20 years.
The reason for my need to understand it is so that I can get my SPS to color up without causing an algae outbreak. The colors on all my SPS (montis, acros, stylos, birdsnests) are fading. They no longer have any pop in the coloration. Most of the softies are fine, such as zoas. The LPS are loosing some color and retracting a bit. The growth on SPS are slow but there is steady growth.
Parameters using Salifert test kits:
Calcium: 490
Alkalinity: 8.7
pH: 8.1
Mag: 1420
Nitrates: 0.10
Phosphates: 0.0 using salifert and Hanna Checker.
Temp 79
Tank size is 150 gal with 35 gal sump. I upgraded my tank from a 90 gal (was running for 15 years) to this 150 gal in March 2020. I just did a tank transfer and kept all the live rocks and livestock. 5 fish. mixed reef. CUC consists of 10 hermit crabs.
CUC size is small because they always die off after a while and prior to tank upgrade I didn't have algae.

In the old days everyone wanted zero or close to zero nitrates and phosphates. But in the past few years I understand that this is not so good for corals, especially SPS. So now I need to have low levels of N&P to keep corals happy.
Many people still grow macro algae, cheato reactors, or algae reactors to export N&P. In fact, I was growing cheato for a while but I think the nutrients were too low after some point and they started to melt away. Another form of removing N&P is using a protein skimmer. I have a skimmer and usually run it on the wet side such that I empty and clean the cup every 2 to 3 days.

Since the colors started to fade in the corals in the new tank, last month I decided to raise N&P by feeding more and using reef roids, reef chile, and frozen mysis as well as a bunch of flake food. I feed 2-3 times per day, instead of once every other day.
I've also stopped skimming wet and skim extremely dry, ie I don't even have a full cup of skimmate in 1 week. I've discontinued the GFO reactor. I have no macro algae in the sump.
For the past month, the readings of the Nitrate and Phosphate has not changed a bit. The coloration has not improved. But my big reward is an ugly algae bloom. It looks like brown hair algae.

So my questions are:
1. Should I dose Nitrate and or phosphate?
2. Why are my N&P readings still 0.1 and zero?
3. If I dose N&P, won't that make the algae bloom worse? I'd almost rather have faded corals than have algae growth!
4. Should I continue skimming? wet or dry?
5. Should I grow cheato? what is the benefit of cheato when N&P is measuring so low?
6. I see people growing cheato and using their skimmer and adding N&P on a regular basis, but isn't that counter acting to each other?

I'm sure I'll have more questions but these are the main issues at the time for me.
Thanks for all your suggestions.
 

Dan_P

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I'm an old school reefer who's been in the hobby for over 20 years.
The reason for my need to understand it is so that I can get my SPS to color up without causing an algae outbreak. The colors on all my SPS (montis, acros, stylos, birdsnests) are fading. They no longer have any pop in the coloration. Most of the softies are fine, such as zoas. The LPS are loosing some color and retracting a bit. The growth on SPS are slow but there is steady growth.
Parameters using Salifert test kits:
Calcium: 490
Alkalinity: 8.7
pH: 8.1
Mag: 1420
Nitrates: 0.10
Phosphates: 0.0 using salifert and Hanna Checker.
Temp 79
Tank size is 150 gal with 35 gal sump. I upgraded my tank from a 90 gal (was running for 15 years) to this 150 gal in March 2020. I just did a tank transfer and kept all the live rocks and livestock. 5 fish. mixed reef. CUC consists of 10 hermit crabs.
CUC size is small because they always die off after a while and prior to tank upgrade I didn't have algae.

In the old days everyone wanted zero or close to zero nitrates and phosphates. But in the past few years I understand that this is not so good for corals, especially SPS. So now I need to have low levels of N&P to keep corals happy.
Many people still grow macro algae, cheato reactors, or algae reactors to export N&P. In fact, I was growing cheato for a while but I think the nutrients were too low after some point and they started to melt away. Another form of removing N&P is using a protein skimmer. I have a skimmer and usually run it on the wet side such that I empty and clean the cup every 2 to 3 days.

Since the colors started to fade in the corals in the new tank, last month I decided to raise N&P by feeding more and using reef roids, reef chile, and frozen mysis as well as a bunch of flake food. I feed 2-3 times per day, instead of once every other day.
I've also stopped skimming wet and skim extremely dry, ie I don't even have a full cup of skimmate in 1 week. I've discontinued the GFO reactor. I have no macro algae in the sump.
For the past month, the readings of the Nitrate and Phosphate has not changed a bit. The coloration has not improved. But my big reward is an ugly algae bloom. It looks like brown hair algae.

So my questions are:
1. Should I dose Nitrate and or phosphate?
2. Why are my N&P readings still 0.1 and zero?
3. If I dose N&P, won't that make the algae bloom worse? I'd almost rather have faded corals than have algae growth!
4. Should I continue skimming? wet or dry?
5. Should I grow cheato? what is the benefit of cheato when N&P is measuring so low?
6. I see people growing cheato and using their skimmer and adding N&P on a regular basis, but isn't that counter acting to each other?

I'm sure I'll have more questions but these are the main issues at the time for me.
Thanks for all your suggestions.
Is this a bare bottom system?
 

Funston07

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I've been wondering the same thing, more or less about the cheato. Seems like you always see people complaining out low N&P but yet are running a skimmer, fuge, gfo, and whatever else all at the same time while trying to slightly increase N&P. Doesn't really make sense, I would think you wouldnt want a refugium operating if your trying to increase them. I've just come to the conclusion to not run one and dose Red Sea algae management and my N&P have been slightly elevated and stable.
 

Sallstrom

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I'm an old school reefer who's been in the hobby for over 20 years.
The reason for my need to understand it is so that I can get my SPS to color up without causing an algae outbreak. The colors on all my SPS (montis, acros, stylos, birdsnests) are fading. They no longer have any pop in the coloration. Most of the softies are fine, such as zoas. The LPS are loosing some color and retracting a bit. The growth on SPS are slow but there is steady growth.
Parameters using Salifert test kits:
Calcium: 490
Alkalinity: 8.7
pH: 8.1
Mag: 1420
Nitrates: 0.10
Phosphates: 0.0 using salifert and Hanna Checker.
Temp 79
Tank size is 150 gal with 35 gal sump. I upgraded my tank from a 90 gal (was running for 15 years) to this 150 gal in March 2020. I just did a tank transfer and kept all the live rocks and livestock. 5 fish. mixed reef. CUC consists of 10 hermit crabs.
CUC size is small because they always die off after a while and prior to tank upgrade I didn't have algae.

In the old days everyone wanted zero or close to zero nitrates and phosphates. But in the past few years I understand that this is not so good for corals, especially SPS. So now I need to have low levels of N&P to keep corals happy.
Many people still grow macro algae, cheato reactors, or algae reactors to export N&P. In fact, I was growing cheato for a while but I think the nutrients were too low after some point and they started to melt away. Another form of removing N&P is using a protein skimmer. I have a skimmer and usually run it on the wet side such that I empty and clean the cup every 2 to 3 days.

Since the colors started to fade in the corals in the new tank, last month I decided to raise N&P by feeding more and using reef roids, reef chile, and frozen mysis as well as a bunch of flake food. I feed 2-3 times per day, instead of once every other day.
I've also stopped skimming wet and skim extremely dry, ie I don't even have a full cup of skimmate in 1 week. I've discontinued the GFO reactor. I have no macro algae in the sump.
For the past month, the readings of the Nitrate and Phosphate has not changed a bit. The coloration has not improved. But my big reward is an ugly algae bloom. It looks like brown hair algae.

So my questions are:
1. Should I dose Nitrate and or phosphate?
2. Why are my N&P readings still 0.1 and zero?
3. If I dose N&P, won't that make the algae bloom worse? I'd almost rather have faded corals than have algae growth!
4. Should I continue skimming? wet or dry?
5. Should I grow cheato? what is the benefit of cheato when N&P is measuring so low?
6. I see people growing cheato and using their skimmer and adding N&P on a regular basis, but isn't that counter acting to each other?

I'm sure I'll have more questions but these are the main issues at the time for me.
Thanks for all your suggestions.
1. Yes, I should have dosed both nitrate and phosphate. I like to use KNO3 or NaNO3 and KH2PO4. There are recipes here on R2R if you do a search.
2. You have organisms that take up the nutrients you add. Maybe some of the phosphate bind to rocks and sand as well. Sometimes it takes a while then finally the nutrients start to increase. Can't explain why, but I've seen it many times. Specially when dosing phosphate. That means you need to keep testing NO3 and PO4. NO3 is usually easier to dose and find a good amount to dose to keep the level steady. Many times I've first seen more colours on the corals, then later on get readings on the tests. Sometimes you can find that fine balance where you read zero but still have good colours on your corals.
3. No, often not. To me it sounds like you might have Dinoflagellates and they do very well in low nutrient conditions. Adding nutrients might help other algae, the ones your CUC eats, compete with the Dinos. So as long as your CUC is good, you shouldn't have to worry about algae IMO.
4. You could, if you have the skimmer standing in the sump, remove the skimmer cup and let it go back to the sump. This way you keep the airation, but not removing any nutrients in the skimmer cup. Otherwise turn down the skimmer if you can. I would still run it since it's good for the gas exchange.
5. At the moment it doesn't sound like you need more organisms taking up nutrients, so no chaetomorpha algae now I think. Later on when you get your nutrients up, the Chaeto might be a good idea(for a couple of reasons).
6. Cheato might take up other unwanted things from the water (like some metals). They might also release organic matter that goes into the food chain. So they do more things than taking up nutrients.
 
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Jeff Jarry reef

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1. Yes, I should have dosed both nitrate and phosphate. I like to use KNO3 or NaNO3 and KH2PO4. There are recipes here on R2R if you do a search.
2. You have organisms that take up the nutrients you add. Maybe some of the phosphate bind to rocks and sand as well. Sometimes it takes a while then finally the nutrients start to increase. Can't explain why, but I've seen it many times. Specially when dosing phosphate. That means you need to keep testing NO3 and PO4. NO3 is usually easier to dose and find a good amount to dose to keep the level steady. Many times I've first seen more colours on the corals, then later on get readings on the tests. Sometimes you can find that fine balance where you read zero but still have good colours on your corals.
3. No, often not. To me it sounds like you might have Dinoflagellates and they do very well in low nutrient conditions. Adding nutrients might help other algae, the ones your CUC eats, compete with the Dinos. So as long as your CUC is good, you shouldn't have to worry about algae IMO.
4. You could, if you have the skimmer standing in the sump, remove the skimmer cup and let it go back to the sump. This way you keep the airation, but not removing any nutrients in the skimmer cup. Otherwise turn down the skimmer if you can. I would still run it since it's good for the gas exchange.
5. At the moment it doesn't sound like you need more organisms taking up nutrients, so no chaetomorpha algae now I think. Later on when you get your nutrients up, the Chaeto might be a good idea(for a couple of reasons).
6. Cheato might take up other unwanted things from the water (like some metals). They might also release organic matter that goes into the food chain. So they do more things than taking up nutrients.
I agree with Sallstrom I was dosing N and P and I run ATS and have my skimmer at the lowest setting and I have found the sweet spot or balance I know exactly how much to feed my tank. And I know it's limits my N stays around 2-5 and P stays at 0.20 ppb and for my SPS dominant tank that works great for me. And I have little algea but my CUC keeps it really clean and just enough for them eat and be happy.
 
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dochou

dochou

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I agree with Sallstrom I was dosing N and P and I run ATS and have my skimmer at the lowest setting and I have found the sweet spot or balance I know exactly how much to feed my tank. And I know it's limits my N stays around 2-5 and P stays at 20 ppm and for my SPS dominant tank that works great for me. And I have little algea but my CUC keeps it really clean and just enough for them eat and be happy.
Do you mean your P is 0.20 ppm? 20 is really high.
Nitrate of 2-5 seems a bit low. But hey if it works for you, then it's the right level.
What is ATS?
Thank you
 
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dochou

dochou

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Sounds like you may need to increase your CUC. Turn that algae into snail poop. Maybe rent a sea hare to mow it down, then get more snails and hermits to keep it under control.
yeah I kinda figured that. Just have to find out where to buy them at.
 
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dochou

dochou

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1. Yes, I should have dosed both nitrate and phosphate. I like to use KNO3 or NaNO3 and KH2PO4. There are recipes here on R2R if you do a search.
2. You have organisms that take up the nutrients you add. Maybe some of the phosphate bind to rocks and sand as well. Sometimes it takes a while then finally the nutrients start to increase. Can't explain why, but I've seen it many times. Specially when dosing phosphate. That means you need to keep testing NO3 and PO4. NO3 is usually easier to dose and find a good amount to dose to keep the level steady. Many times I've first seen more colours on the corals, then later on get readings on the tests. Sometimes you can find that fine balance where you read zero but still have good colours on your corals.
3. No, often not. To me it sounds like you might have Dinoflagellates and they do very well in low nutrient conditions. Adding nutrients might help other algae, the ones your CUC eats, compete with the Dinos. So as long as your CUC is good, you shouldn't have to worry about algae IMO.
4. You could, if you have the skimmer standing in the sump, remove the skimmer cup and let it go back to the sump. This way you keep the airation, but not removing any nutrients in the skimmer cup. Otherwise turn down the skimmer if you can. I would still run it since it's good for the gas exchange.
5. At the moment it doesn't sound like you need more organisms taking up nutrients, so no chaetomorpha algae now I think. Later on when you get your nutrients up, the Chaeto might be a good idea(for a couple of reasons).
6. Cheato might take up other unwanted things from the water (like some metals). They might also release organic matter that goes into the food chain. So they do more things than taking up nutrients.
Thanks for the great advice.
 
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Jeff Jarry reef

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Do you mean your P is 0.20 ppm? 20 is really high.
Nitrate of 2-5 seems a bit low. But hey if it works for you, then it's the right level.
What is ATS?
Thank you
ATS is algea turf scrubber and 0.20 ppb not ppm I meant thank you for correction. And N at 2-5 is what my tank does great at.
 

Randy Holmes-Farley

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ATS is algea turf scrubber and 0.20 ppb not ppm I meant thank you for correction. And N at 2-5 is what my tank does great at.
lol

You must mean either 0.02 ppm or 20 ppb. No reefer can measure 0.2 ppb.
 

Randy Holmes-Farley

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So my questions are:
1. Should I dose Nitrate and or phosphate?
2. Why are my N&P readings still 0.1 and zero?
3. If I dose N&P, won't that make the algae bloom worse? I'd almost rather have faded corals than have algae growth!
4. Should I continue skimming? wet or dry?
5. Should I grow cheato? what is the benefit of cheato when N&P is measuring so low?
6. I see people growing cheato and using their skimmer and adding N&P on a regular basis, but isn't that counter acting to each other?

I'm sure I'll have more questions but these are the main issues at the time for me.
Thanks for all your suggestions.
I'd either feed more or dose them, yes.
 
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My gut says, you need to find a way to get rid of the algae as that's what's consuming your nitrates, not leaving enough for your corals.

Generally, I'm not a big fan of dosing as we tend to continuously dose something to counteract what we previously dosed and it becomes a vicious cycle.

If your main concern is coral health, growth and colour, the perhaps check your lighting/flow and dose coral amino acid.
 

Art2249

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I used to dose phosphate just so I could get a reading. i finally figured out that I was only feeding algae.
On a side note, I have a large bag of disodium phosphate and another smaller bag of sodium nitrate if anybody is interested.
 
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