Old School Bio-Balls - usage and if so, how?

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joe-ejs

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Hello. So I rejoined the hobby being out for 10yrs. I have a couple tanks running and have a question on one of them which is a 30gl tank with about a 12gl Wet/Dry I picked up used. I have been running the tank now for about 3 months. i used the Bio Balls that came with it. I have some what was Dry Rock in the bottom of the sump sitting under the Bio balls for added filtration. I then have the Bio Balls sitting on egg crate where the tank overflow resides.

About 2/3's of the Bio Balls are above water line with water trickling over them. The other 1/3 is constantly submerged. My question is whether I really need the Bio Balls at all any longer? I could add more Dry Rock in the sump, or a Bio Brick.

Also, if I remove the Bio Balls above the water line, I expect more noise. Is there a way to quiet it back down if i do remove them?

Any recomendations and thoughts on this are much appreciated.
 
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MnFish1

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I used to use them as well. I do not think (unlike some) - that they hurt - especially those above the water line - as it will help quite a bit with gas exchange. I tend to think that they do not do much for 'filtration' area - as compared to the rock in your system. Some people believe that they can hold organics and result in higher nitrates. by holding pieces of food, etc. I'm not sure I totally understand this reasoning - since if the bioballs weren't there - the 'food or whatever' would go somewhere else in the tank.
 

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Hello. So I rejoined the hobby being out for 10yrs. I have a couple tanks running and have a question on one of them which is a 30gl tank with about a 12gl Wet/Dry I picked up used. I have been running the tank now for about 3 months. i used the Bio Balls that came with it. I have some what was Dry Rock in the bottom of the sump sitting under the Bio balls for added filtration. I then have the Bio Balls sitting on egg crate where the tank overflow resides.

About 2/3's of the Bio Balls are above water line with water trickling over them. The other 1/3 is constantly submerged. My question is whether I really need the Bio Balls at all any longer? I could add more Dry Rock in the sump, or a Bio Brick.

Also, if I remove the Bio Balls above the water line, I expect more noise. Is there a way to quiet it back down if i do remove them?

Any recomendations and thoughts on this are much appreciated.

My thoughts are why would you need to get rid if them?? Sounds like they have a purpose even beyond doing their biological work to help quiet things down. Not sure if they harm anything either
 

brandon429

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agreed to all nice call. use em if you like

bioballs are no more/less harmful than the sandbeds we all hold dearly. both are equally expendable just don't tell anyone :)

completely ok to use either, or both in combo. its how we got through the 90s
 

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There are many other media choices today that provide more surface area, as you have mentioned. As far as noise goes, depending on how the plumbing is, you could run a down pipe to below the water line. You could also increase the water bolume as long zs you still are aware of the max as not overflow when pumps off.
 
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Dr. Jim

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When the Bioballs are above the water line, you are essentially creating a "Trickle Filter" which was the rage back in the 80's. But then we learned that water trickling thru media creates a "nitrate factory" (although I don't recall the chemical mechanism to explain that....but you might want to look into it).
 

MnFish1

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When the Bioballs are above the water line, you are essentially creating a "Trickle Filter" which was the rage back in the 80's. But then we learned that water trickling thru media creates a "nitrate factory" (although I don't recall the chemical mechanism to explain that....but you might want to look into it).
The issue (from what I understand) - is that 1) - you need an adequate pre-filter to help prevent detritus from accumulating on the balls. and 2) - the reason the the nitrate - is that ammonia is extremely well processed on BioBalls in a trickle filter - so - in other words water going in has ammonia/nitrite. Water going out has nitrate. unless there is a mechanism to remove nitrates (like live rock, etc), water changes, etc - it will accumulate - but the most recent articles I could find suggest that its not the BioBalls that are 'causing' the problem. with nitrate
 

Dr. Jim

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The issue (from what I understand) - is that 1) - you need an adequate pre-filter to help prevent detritus from accumulating on the balls. and 2) - the reason the the nitrate - is that ammonia is extremely well processed on BioBalls in a trickle filter - so - in other words water going in has ammonia/nitrite. Water going out has nitrate. unless there is a mechanism to remove nitrates (like live rock, etc), water changes, etc - it will accumulate - but the most recent articles I could find suggest that its not the BioBalls that are 'causing' the problem. with nitrate
I just remember back in the 80's when the trickle filter was introduced via Aquarium Magazine, I immediately built one and suddenly saw all my corals (LPS back then) start doing much better. But then, the tank slowly became overrun with algae. A couple of years later, I believe it was Julian Sprung who suggested to "get rid of the trickle filter because it is a nitrate factory." I did just that and my algae went away! (I believe the initial improvement I saw with the corals was simply because of increased aeration which was later addressed by other means).
 

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I have a 120 gallon tank with 100 lbs of live rock that has been running since 2004: it has a wet-dry filter with bio balls. I began adding soft corals in late 2019. The technology is outdated, but I would not call it a nitrate factory. I am able to keep my nitrates under 20 ppm with 5% weekly water changes. These nitrates may be high for an SPS system, but are more than fine for a softy tank. It all depends on what you want to do and your means of nitrate export (water changes, fuge, live rock, media etc.). Here are some, not so flattering pics, of my system and a pic of my Salifert NO3 test.
 

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MnFish1

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I just remember back in the 80's when the trickle filter was introduced via Aquarium Magazine, I immediately built one and suddenly saw all my corals (LPS back then) start doing much better. But then, the tank slowly became overrun with algae. A couple of years later, I believe it was Julian Sprung who suggested to "get rid of the trickle filter because it is a nitrate factory." I did just that and my algae went away! (I believe the initial improvement I saw with the corals was simply because of increased aeration which was later addressed by other means).
Yes - I know - I looked up that article!! In thinking about it - it didn't make sense overall (to me).
 
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Dr. Jim

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Yes - I know - I looked up that article!! In thinking about it - it didn't make sense overall (to me).
The Trickle Filter (introduced by Schmidt, I think) was actually a huge improvement over what we had been using since the 60's up to that time (early 80's) which were canister filters (and swimming pool filters). Of course we didn't have BioBalls back then and instead made perforated trays with a couple inches of dolomite for the "dry" part and chambers/baffles with dolomite in the "wet" compartment. With no aeration from canister filters and no protein skimmers yet, it is easy to see how these trickle filters became such an improvement (by providing aeration)!

A few years later came the first protein skimmer (promoted and possibly introduced by Albert Theil). It was just a cylinder with an air stone or two. That got real fancy when someone came out with wooden air stones that made real fine bubbles!

Of course the trickle filter stayed "in vogue" for many years and I'm sure some are still using it today (including the guys from TV's "Get Tanked") but of course there are much better methods today.
 

Timfish

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Old bioballs make great cat toys. :D. I've run systems with bioballs for years and never saw the issue with nitrates some claimed. I suspect overfeeding may have been the actaul cause in some cases. Another possibility though are cryptic sponges which I have found in bioballs. Some species slough off nitrate rich detritus which can quickly find it's way back into the food chain.

 

brandon429

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Randy has mentioned in posts that one aspect of potential nitrate production is due to proximity of production vs uptake zones


aerobic zones / bioballs have no uptake zones only production but live rock and potentially sandbed gradient zones are specifically nitrate uptake zones right next to production, so there can be offsetting.

Additional factors at play are micro algae and plant based uptake, and the fact no three nitrate test kits read the same on a given sample (my added complaint), these all add up to quite the variation capability per system. No hard fast rules apply


one thing is undeniable


on literally any reef tank on this board, I can list steps for you to remove all your sand, all your bioballs, and half your live rock, and you will not lack surface area nor have any control issues with your current bioload. The habit of using bioballs comes from doubt that we have enough surface area, no other reason to use them.

the entire sand rinse thread for forty pages is a direct study in the instant removal of surface area, it goes down exactly as stated


the surface area afforded by bioballs is for mental feeling good, it is 100% not required in any reef system, and no reef system is inextricably linked to its surface area.
 

brandon429

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Case in point.


that is taking someone’s remote sandbed, that the whole tank is adapted to, and removing it offline permanently, instantly.


were that a stack of bioballs, it’d be less surface area than ripping out sand.

we can remove every filter you have connected, all your sand, half your rocks, and the entire bioload runs the exact same. We are *that far* over the mark in required surface area in reefing. Not for some reefs, all reefs. Live rock is just this powerful.

so if removing your entire bioball setup changes nothing, why use it to begin with? Because it’s harmless and we feel better.

same as taking any working reef here, and hooking up four extra canister filters, that can’t harm any reef, add ten. It will never harm for us to grossly overdo surface area eight times over, which is your reef before bioballs if that hasn’t been made clear yet lol
b

here is a reef about to lose half its surface area, the whole sandbed under the rocks, continuing on instant surface area removal work:

job isnt even done yet, get to see outcome. Carnage vs happy, tbd.
 
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MnFish1

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The Trickle Filter (introduced by Schmidt, I think) was actually a huge improvement over what we had been using since the 60's up to that time (early 80's) which were canister filters (and swimming pool filters). Of course we didn't have BioBalls back then and instead made perforated trays with a couple inches of dolomite for the "dry" part and chambers/baffles with dolomite in the "wet" compartment. With no aeration from canister filters and no protein skimmers yet, it is easy to see how these trickle filters became such an improvement (by providing aeration)!

A few years later came the first protein skimmer (promoted and possibly introduced by Albert Theil). It was just a cylinder with an air stone or two. That got real fancy when someone came out with wooden air stones that made real fine bubbles!

Of course the trickle filter stayed "in vogue" for many years and I'm sure some are still using it today (including the guys from TV's "Get Tanked") but of course there are much better methods today.
OH I saw one of those in action - 6 feet tall 7=8 trays with dolomite behind the tank. In MI
 

MnFish1

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Case in point.


that is taking someone’s remote sandbed, that the whole tank is adapted to, and removing it offline permanently, instantly.


were that a stack of bioballs, it’d be less surface area than ripping out sand.

we can remove every filter you have connected, all your sand, half your rocks, and the entire bioload runs the exact same. We are *that far* over the mark in required surface area in reefing. Not for some reefs, all reefs. Live rock is just this powerful.

so if removing your entire bioball setup changes nothing, why use it to begin with? Because it’s harmless and we feel better.

same as taking any working reef here, and hooking up four extra canister filters, that can’t harm any reef, add ten. It will never harm for us to grossly overdo surface area eight times over, which is your reef before bioballs if that hasn’t been made clear yet lol
b

here is a reef about to lose half its surface area, the whole sandbed under the rocks, continuing on instant surface area removal work:

job isnt even done yet, get to see outcome. Carnage vs happy, tbd.
agreed
 

ClownWrangler

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Randy has mentioned in posts that one aspect of potential nitrate production is due to proximity of production vs uptake zones


aerobic zones / bioballs have no uptake zones only production but live rock and potentially sandbed gradient zones are specifically nitrate uptake zones right next to production, so there can be offsetting.

Additional factors at play are micro algae and plant based uptake, and the fact no three nitrate test kits read the same on a given sample (my added complaint), these all add up to quite the variation capability per system. No hard fast rules apply


one thing is undeniable


on literally any reef tank on this board, I can list steps for you to remove all your sand, all your bioballs, and half your live rock, and you will not lack surface area nor have any control issues with your current bioload. The habit of using bioballs comes from doubt that we have enough surface area, no other reason to use them.

the entire sand rinse thread for forty pages is a direct study in the instant removal of surface area, it goes down exactly as stated


the surface area afforded by bioballs is for mental feeling good, it is 100% not required in any reef system, and no reef system is inextricably linked to its surface area.

I can attest to the whole no need for extra surface area thing. I have a 10 gallon tank with 4 clownfish and an ammonia alert badge. It was intended to be a temporary QT, but ended up cycling without any live rock or sand. Just a coffee cup and some PVC fittings and a very small sponge filter. I had a scare with a nitrate spike because I was only looking for ammonia not expecting it to cycle that fast. I added some macro algae for nitrate uptake and 3 months later, the bare bottom tank has never shown any measurable amounts of ammonia and the macro-algae almost eliminates the need for water changes. The clownfish are verry happy and healthy. I gave them some resin ornaments for enrichment, but still no live rock or sand.
 

Tcook

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I remember my first Gulf Stream wet-dry. Was an exciting day to get rid of my Rena plate under-gravel with dolomite. Jesus, its amazing how resilient fish were.
 
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