Is it feasible to remove the skimmer? Could it solve the decades-long problem of nutrient accumulation?

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ceaver

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Hoping someone going skimmerless with a really nice tank full of acros can post some details. If that person exists....

**Edit to state that I have tried to do a few diff acro frags in my skimmerless tank and I have failed both times.
So I'd *like* to think I'm one of these people. I only got into sticks recently and, as you can see, the addiction struggle is real. A word of caution to anyone who isn't there yet...

I just snapped these. It's evening blues, orange filter on the iPhone. I meant to get a whiter shot earlier, but my 5 yo boy is a g***@mn maniac, so....

Anywho, here's a FTS. Then a shot of one of my frag racks. And finally a WD frag that I'm liking and is encrusting and about to shoot up some branches for me.

I have a flame angel and purple tang in here, feed em a ton.
5E9A5896-9918-4B8A-8C11-7834AE0C5AF1.jpeg

5151C905-B8A0-440B-A5D9-1FC81DDA7E1C.jpeg

8EC6CF83-7FAA-4FB3-A947-D649FFAD70B8.jpeg
 
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Belgian Anthias

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Would be nice if all you fellow skimmerless reefers could post pics of your tank so we can understand the type of corals / quality of tank you are keeping with no skimmer.
I do not need pics!

This is about collecting information about the subject of the treat.
What I do need from skimmerless reefers, from those who never had a skimmer or have removed it since a long period, minimum a year, is information about the accumulation of nutrients in their systems and what they are feeding, protein content, from marine origin or not, etc..

Information about how skimmerless reefers manage their tank, how the bio-load and carrying capacity is managed, filtration?

All info is welcome.
 
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Belgian Anthias

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One of Ken Feldman's articles from Advanced Aquarist references the '35%' DOC removal number:

https://reefs.com/advanced-aquarist/

(under 'Author', scroll for 'Ken S. Feldman')

I see the skimmer as being potentially useful in large reef aquariums with a relatively heavy bioload. There is evidence that skimmers selectively remove certain types of bacteria and not others and also maintain bacterial counts around 1/10 that of natural reef levels, but whether this is potentially detrimental long term has yet to be established (to the best of my knowledge).

Many smaller systems run just fine without a skimmer. Not many run for a very long time (and the reasons are many), but it's certainly not due to any size limitation.

12g, 13 years (no skimmer or other mech/chem filtration):

12g FTS_091921.jpg
As we may assume it is correct a skimmer creates an unbalance in the availability of nutrients and may be responsible for the accumulation of inorganic nutrients, using a skimmer in big systems, in mixed reef systems, will most probably increase the problem I am talking about in this treat and other measures must be taken to limit the accumulation.
 

srobertb

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After taking one look or smell at what a skimmer pulls out of the water, I don't know how anyone could run a tank without one.
Purely anecdotal: I have run a 10g IM Nuvo for 2+ years now with no skimmer, reactors, or dedicated refugium. I tried filter socks but I’m lazy and they can sit in there for months if not weeks. The tank has a return, a heater, the end.

Water changes are about a gallon every 6 months. Maybe.

It has bubble tips in it (they just split again), a 2” sand bed, and 10-15lbs of live rock.

So it is completely possible.
 

srobertb

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I do not need pics!

This is about collecting information about the subject of the treat.
What I do need from skimmerless reefers, from those who never had a skimmer or have removed it since a long period, minimum a year, is information about the accumulation of nutrients in their systems and what they are feeding, protein content, from marine origin or not, etc..

Information about how skimmerless reefers manage their tank, how the bio-load and carrying capacity is managed, filtration?

All info is welcome.
2+ years. 10 gallon IM NUVO AIO

Equipment is a return pump and heater and ATO. Filter sock is changed monthly-ish.

Bubble tip anemones and flower/rock/maxi/mini anemones and sexy shrimp. I think there’s a snail in there.

Water change of a gallon or so every 6 months if I feel like it.

Glass is scraped weekly.

10-15lbs of Gulf Live Rock and a 2” sand bed.

I broadcast feed a mysis shrimp cube weekly and 1/2-1tsp of dry food daily.

things I don’t know: my salinity, nitrates, phosphates, Ph, magnesium, calcium, and up until last weekend, the temperature.

the tank is just well balanced. The salinity fluctuates as the return pump is unreliable (I’m limited on return pump options due to tank size) but it doesn’t seem to make a huge difference. I just added a controller but apparently the temp was cycling from 76 at night to 80 during the day which I just fixed but it’s been that way for months, years?
 
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Fishinabarrel

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2+ years. 10 gallon IM NUVO AIO

Equipment is a return pump and heater and ATO. Filter sock is changed monthly-ish.

Bubble tip anemones and flower/rock/maxi/mini anemones and sexy shrimp. I think there’s a snail in there.

Water change of a gallon or so every 6 months if I feel like it.

Glass is scraped weekly.

10-15lbs of Gulf Live Rock and a 2” sand bed.

I broadcast feed a mysis shrimp cube weekly and 1/2-1tsp of dry food daily.

things I don’t know: my salinity, nitrates, phosphates, Ph, magnesium, calcium, and up until last weekend, the temperature.

the tank is just well balanced. The salinity fluctuates as the return pump is unreliable (I’m limited on return pump options due to tank size) but it doesn’t seem to make a huge difference. I just added a controller but apparently the temp was cycling from 76 at night to 80 during the day which I just fixed but it’s been that way for months, years?

I run a 28G in almost this same manner. Remarkably consistent.
It is a Zoa / rock nem garden so the residents are not at all demanding.
I thought I would be battling more algae blooms by this point.
I do water changes 2x a month at 18%.
 
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Belgian Anthias

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This totally could have been mentioned, but skimming is also one of the absolute best ways to remove toxic metals and other nasty substance from the tank since they often bind to waterborne organics. You can do this in other ways as well, but if you are not skimming, you should have a method for this.

Every time you feed, nearly all foods have trace levels of toxic metals that can build up if not removed... among other sources.
Metals ( trace elements) are very important and essential building materials and needed for most if not all basic biochemical processes and photosynthesis. If they bind easily to skimmable apolar compounds and are removed continuously , not enough may stay available for new growth needed to remove the anorganic nutrients directly released by organisms.

In the case I may advise to use other and better food or make use of self cultured food by which the content of trace elements can be managed with the feed medium used. There are formula's with or without trace elements.
 
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Belgian Anthias

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Most essential elements and compounds have a certain toxicity and become toxic for organisms if they may accumulate, .

We can assume that most toxins are removed by a skimmer as they are usually amphipathic, molecules that consist of a hydrophobic part and a hydrophilic part. Depending on the hydrophobic part, they are easy or less easy to skim off.
With regard to marine toxins, dinoflagellates and diatoms are the main producers of dangerous toxins. But polar toxins such as BMAA, a marine cyano toxin, may accumulate if present.

Toxins and fenoles (that color the water) can be removed by GAC, that removes the same kind organics as does a skimmer. if GAC is used at the end of the filtration chain, it will have very little impact on the nutrient balance.
The same can be said about a skimmer if used at the end of the filtration chain. A simple and cheap counter current skimmer may do the job. This way a skimmer has very little or no effect on the nutrient reserve and may help restoring the gas balance before returning the water to the tank.
 
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Belgian Anthias

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I really only like skimmers for heavily fed FOWLR or reef tanks that are over 40 ish gallons. I don't run them, they always seem to cause imbalance for me. Personal experience.
For heavily fed fish tanks I advise to make use of bio-filters, making the nutrient export rate manageable as desired.
Why using live rock in a fish only tank? Everything growing on the rock will be consumed fast. A skimmer is never essential because all types of systems can be managed without one. The nitrate production can bee managed with the food content, the C/N ratio of the food.
 
Fritz

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Skimmers are great at mechanical export of nutrients same as filter socks or just changing filter floss like I did when I started in the early 70s using a corner box filter. Graduated quickly to undergravel filters then canisters. Success with those two revolved around contact time to allow nitrification to remove all dissolved oxygen leaving only bound oxygen such as nitrates and sulfates for heterotrophic bacteria to utilize why consuming carbon source items such as detritus. It worked although at the time i didn't grasp one needed nitrification to exhaust the DO.

Fast forward the demise of the UF because it's cheap and many believed it created dead zones because it trapped detritus due to not grasping decomposition and the evolution of more profitable sophisticated equipment evolved with the realization that carbon dosing could eliminate nitrates and phosphates. Ironically that is performed by adding back carbon which was removed by skimming and filter socks.

Build a large enough filter to contain enough filter media and slow enough flow to ensure extended contact and that filter will remove ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and phosphates as well as balance alkalinity since denitrification adds back base where's nitrification adds acids. BTW, that brown mulm we hate so dearly contains calcium, magnesium and other elements essential to life that was introduce through feeding. Leave it there long enough and through mineralization it will be released back into the environment. Nature wastes nothing nor does it create. Same as energy. All gets transferred.

I'm conducting a proof of concept using a 20g without water changes, no skimmer, no socks, no sump, no carbon dosing just water top off plus overfeeding 3-5 times per day. PH remains around 7.6 but that's because I'm struggling with aeration. Something that is of great benefit with skimmers but can be accomplished through other means. Ammonia and nitrites remain undetectable, nitrates remain below 20 ppm to 10 ppm. I know some consider that high but I don't. PO4 is under 0.25 ppm, test kit doesn't read lower but I'll be upgrading that soon. I'm good with below 1 ppm. My concern is more about the Redfiled ratio now that 'm starting to grasp that. Although if I was growing sticks then perhaps that might matter. I'll have to see and yet likely not a problem.

If I wanted to do away with the skimmer then I'd remove the socks as well. Add pumice (Seachem Matrix) to both compartments including the syphon box and just let nature decompose detritus as it has for billions of years. It's how UF worked until we added power heads and constantly disturbed the bed trying to vacuum the detritus because clinical seemed logical. Yet nature doesn't work that way.
 

jda

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This is one of the reasons why I don't suggest skimmerless tanks to most people... they cut back on feedings which make their fish aggressive and/or starve their corals of nitrogen through ammonia/ammonium and force them to expend too much energy converting no3 back to ammonia for their zoox. The back end N and P can be managed, but cutting back on feedings is perhaps the worst way to manage this. Many don't even know that no3 is not "food" and will struggle with something more complicated than this.

I have been doing this since the late 80s and I have never seen a long term tank with more sensitive corals that does not keep a skimmer. I certainly have not seen them all. Most end up fine for a while until the aragonite cannot bind P anymore and then "old tank syndrome" or "time bomb sand bed" or some other horribly wrong thing gets blamed for a lack of export.

You use live rock in a FOWLR for the porous nature and the anoxic bacteria to turn no3 into nitrogen gas. I thought that this was better understood. I also makes wonderful hiding places.
 

Nano sapiens

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As we may assume it is correct a skimmer creates an unbalance in the availability of nutrients and may be responsible for the accumulation of inorganic nutrients, using a skimmer in big systems, in mixed reef systems, will most probably increase the problem I am talking about in this treat and other measures must be taken to limit the accumulation.

I'm not an advocate for skimmers in my systems over the years, but my reasons are personal as I simply prefer to run as basic a system as possible while still providing properly for the animals that I want to keep.

I think we need to be careful about absolutes when we get into issues that require verbiage like: 'may assume it is correct', 'may be responsible', 'will most probably'. Reef aquaria are highly variable and often employ a variety of different filtration methods, so it can be difficult to predict a specific outcome.

I like to look at each reef keeping tool critically in an attempt to determine if it may, or may not, be beneficial given a particular situation. What we do know is that large heavily populated mixed and especially acropora dominated systems have been successful for decades using a skimmer. One may question if those systems could have done just as well without one and/or using some other method(s), but we can't know that since they used a skimmer :).

We also run into matters of degree that can significantly effect the end result: run a very efficient skimmer 24/7? run a less efficient skimmer 24/7? run a skimmer only a few hours during the day? Running a skimmer in conjunction with other products like GAC? Also running a ATS? And so on and so on...
 

HuduVudu

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This is one of the reasons why I don't suggest skimmerless tanks to most people... they cut back on feedings which make their fish aggressive and/or starve their corals of nitrogen through ammonia/ammonium and force them to expend too much energy converting no3 back to ammonia for their zoox. The back end N and P can be managed, but cutting back on feedings is perhaps the worst way to manage this. Many don't even know that no3 is not "food" and will struggle with something more complicated than this.

I have been doing this since the late 80s and I have never seen a long term tank with more sensitive corals that does not keep a skimmer. I certainly have not seen them all. Most end up fine for a while until the aragonite cannot bind P anymore and then "old tank syndrome" or "time bomb sand bed" or some other horribly wrong thing gets blamed for a lack of export.

You use live rock in a FOWLR for the porous nature and the anoxic bacteria to turn no3 into nitrogen gas. I thought that this was better understood. I also makes wonderful hiding places.
I better understood this than the post about skimming.

BTW you are sound like Paul B. :p

So your contention is that sensitive corals use NH3 and not NO3, and it is better to provide this through serious feeding with good export?

Also corals can use NO3 but must convert it back to NH3 which is too expensive for sensitive for corals?
 
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Nano sapiens

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I better understood this than the post about skimming.

BTW you are sound like Paul B. :p

So your contention is that sensitive corals use NH3 and not NO3, and it is better to provide this through serious feeding with good export?

Also corals can use NO3 but must convert it back to NH3 which is too expensive for sensitive for corals?

NH3 requires less metabolic energy to utilize than NO3, so the assumption is that coral and other organisms will use it preferentially.
 

jda

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Yes, pretty well understood that microalgae cannot use no3 directly (mostly) and that if corals have to convert no3 to ammonia/ammonium that it costs them a lot (not all hosts can do this anyway) - this might be Ok for healthy corals, but ones that are already on the edge will struggle even more. Ammonia/ammonium is the prize. This is not just for sensitive corals, but nearly all of them that have been studied. no3 can work to supply nitrogen, but nh3/nh4 is significantly more efficient and what you should be striving for - once heard this as having to chase down some prey, dress it, prepare it just to get a meal EVERY DAY without being able to store or keep for later (probably a bad false equivalency). For this discussion, stopping a skimmer to get no3 up to "feed" corals is not a great approach, IMO, but it could be OK for other things like poisoning/growth limiting dinos and matting bacteria which appears to happen at levels well below where most corals really start to suffer. For my purposes of heavy import and heavy export, there is no substitute for a skimmer (or three on one tank like I use)... always high availability and low residuals. However, you can do this other ways too and I would never say that you NEED a skimmer (or two, or three) to be successful.

Again, you can keep nitrate low with just some functional rock and sand. This is easy to do without a skimmer in most cases with mature tanks with real live rock and sand, or dead/dry rock that has taken the time to get effective again. It is the P that will just climb and climb without export and eventually growth limit most things and then start to kill some - there are no bacteria that convert po4 into phosphate gas. :) For me, it would mean 5 gallon buckets of GFO, or something similar.

Off topic, but most people would get more out of dosing ammonium than they would sodium/whatever nitrate.
 

HuduVudu

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@jda now we are cooking with gas.

This is precisely the kind of stuff that I love. I want the conceptual underpinning of what is being done. I find too often people get bogged down in the details of the implementation, and then the converstation devolves into team warfare. Also you read my mind about dosing ammonium.

I have seen in my own tanks and have had stories that go something like "My tank is crashing but my coral are doing great" I wonder if this is a result of an elevated ammonium level. It seems that in a mature tank the tank can quickly convert and consume ammonium before it reaches levels that would be deadly or damaging to fish. Seemingly supporting the need for a mature tank to grow corals.

It is so weird to me how things get twisted in common parlance. Nitrate has become the food for all sorts of algae in common knowledge but this doesn't seem to be the case.

I have several acros in my tank. Having finally gotten rock solid alk and ca. I am interested to see if I can get real growth. It will be interesting for sure. I have three years (maybe less because of my tank size) to see if this will work.

Thank you so much for this information. :)
 

Nano sapiens

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This is one of the reasons why I don't suggest skimmerless tanks to most people... they cut back on feedings which make their fish aggressive and/or starve their corals of nitrogen through ammonia/ammonium and force them to expend too much energy converting no3 back to ammonia for their zoox. The back end N and P can be managed, but cutting back on feedings is perhaps the worst way to manage this. Many don't even know that no3 is not "food" and will struggle with something more complicated than this.

I would say that ultimately one would want just enough NH3 produced that would satisfy the corals' metabolic/growth needs. I agree that feeding the fish well has this effect since much of their waste product is NH3. Where newer reefers get into trouble is either feeding too sparingly (eventual coral starvation) or the polar opposite which leaves uneaten food to be converted into NO3 by nitifying bacteria. Consistent/persistent high levels of NO3 are often too much for the resident denitrfying bacteria to convert to gas (which blows off), so a NO3 buidup can occur.

Finding and maintaining a
balance is most challenging for beginning reefers.

I have been doing this since the late 80s and I have never seen a long term tank with more sensitive corals that does not keep a skimmer. I certainly have not seen them all. Most end up fine for a while until the aragonite cannot bind P anymore and then "old tank syndrome" or "time bomb sand bed" or some other horribly wrong thing gets blamed...
Would you define 'more sensitive' as any small polyped stony corals? Only Acropora, or would you include Seriatopora, Pocillopora, Pavona, Leptoseris, etc? Some of these I've kept for over a decade in skimmerless systems. The only reason I haven't kept an Acro for more than a year is because they grow too fast/big and are too aggressive for my small nano aquarium (in 2-3 years my Red Planet would have turned my mixed reef into a predominately single species tank!)
 

jda

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Since P gets into this too. There are many kinds with organic/inorganic/phosphate/phosphorous. Different stuff prefers different kinds. Your test kit only tests for one. You get a variety from the fish waste too. All that we know with test kits and supplements is for that one kind. Some say this is no big deal, some say that it is... who knows. I don't know much beyond that heavy import and heavy export works and my stuff grows like crazy with very low residual levels - there are numbers and photos in my re-build thread but I do need to get some updated photos.

As for the metals, there is no doubt that some traces get skimmed out. Necessary, or not, who knows with a lot of these. I am mostly talking about the toxic ones that nobody has an argument that are good. It does seem to be that too little of something like zinc is better than too much, so skimming would help with something like this, but so can other things and you don't need a skimmer for this.

I guess in the end, I use skimmers because I am cheap and lazy, just like water changes. A 50 gallon bag of IO costs me less than $10 and a less than 2 minutes of turning knobs and stuff and this saves me who knows how much in supplement cost (red sea or KZ is not cheap) and all of that time dosing. Skimmer, I guess, is the same way. Sure, I can do the same thing with other stuff, but I bought some of these skimmers more than a decade ago, they just work and all that I have to do is empty a cup every so often rather than change GFO media every day (would literally have to), remember to put GAC on to remove chelated toxins, etc. It just works for me and in no way would I say that anybody has to have one, but I would say that they need to deal with things in some form and just not do anything. ...kinda like the DSR folks - they work hard not to change water and are just not lazy and do nothing (how is that for another false equivalency).
 
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