Reason people Aim for 1-2 Nitrates? A myth?

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Lovefish77

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This is like an everlasting question where you will find disagreement between different schools of thought, probably with success throughout the entre range from 1ppm to 20ppm. My nitrates were always zero and I was not happy, they climbed to 2 ppm, and because i feed a lot with many anemones they are now at 10 ppm. But for now I am not having any knee-jerk reactions and just watching things carefully. I already have good nutrient export (skimmer, algae scrubber and about 10-15% water chance monthly. So not doing anything else or scrambling at the moment.
 
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sawdonkey

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I personally see no reason why you can’t run low nutrients with great success. I find that the corals grow faster and look nicer that way. I run my tank at 0.2ppm NO3 and 0.03ppm PO4. I feed my fish 5 times per day (4 on an auto feeder and once with a frozen mix) but run chaetomorpha, a skimmer and weekly water changes. Heavy in and heavy out has always been my mentality. Here is my tank for reference :D

40A0AD37-371B-4BDF-BA47-EA7FA2AB9BCD.jpeg
I’m with you here. My corals look much worse when nitrates are elevated. They look absolutely terrible when PO4 is elevated. I do everything I can to keep both as low as possible. Unfortunately, with my bio load, 25 NO3 is as low as I can get. PO4 is much easier to manipulate. I I had complete control, I’d go 3-5 NO3 and .03 PO4. I’ve achieved this in the past and my corals looked their best.
 

mommbass

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So I have always heard the aquarium trade generally aim for nitrates to be quite low i.e. 1-2 and the like. Check Red Sea's ideal nutrient levels for mixed reef, and sps dominant tanks. What I have learned and IMO the reason for this is for your corals to have the brightest, most flashy colors the coral can give, BUT the downside is an extremely low margin for personal error. Another words you may be able to keep your nitrates at that certain level for a time but it is nearly impossible to keep them at this golden level forever. You nutrients will bottom out and then your corals will die/bleach because their is no buffer for your nutrient levels in case of a problem.You would need autonomous perfection in order for this type of approach to work IMO. Their is no margin for human error, and I am sure as we all are that as humans we make mistakes... lots of mistakes. I believe that is why many hobbyists have such a difficult time with their corals, trying to get their nutrients at this industrial standard which might last for a while but then will not serve them well in the end. My approach is to have a 1/100 ratio of phosphates and nitrates and IT WORKS. Excellent coral growth and polyp extension. This way you don't have to aim for an impossible aquarium trade standard. Your corals may not have the greatest color BUT your corals will grow faster, still retain exquisite color and, you provide a bit of muscle on your corals so that they can survive a fallout. I would greatly appreciate some input on all this. Thanks.

Nigel
I wish I could get my nitrates down to a reasonable level. Still battling high nitrates after a Dino bloom in Oct. I’ve managed to get them down to about 80ppm. This is with water changes, no3po4x, and I’ve now added a bio pellet reactor.
 

mommbass

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So I have always heard the aquarium trade generally aim for nitrates to be quite low i.e. 1-2 and the like. Check Red Sea's ideal nutrient levels for mixed reef, and sps dominant tanks. What I have learned and IMO the reason for this is for your corals to have the brightest, most flashy colors the coral can give, BUT the downside is an extremely low margin for personal error. Another words you may be able to keep your nitrates at that certain level for a time but it is nearly impossible to keep them at this golden level forever. You nutrients will bottom out and then your corals will die/bleach because their is no buffer for your nutrient levels in case of a problem.You would need autonomous perfection in order for this type of approach to work IMO. Their is no margin for human error, and I am sure as we all are that as humans we make mistakes... lots of mistakes. I believe that is why many hobbyists have such a difficult time with their corals, trying to get their nutrients at this industrial standard which might last for a while but then will not serve them well in the end. My approach is to have a 1/100 ratio of phosphates and nitrates and IT WORKS. Excellent coral growth and polyp extension. This way you don't have to aim for an impossible aquarium trade standard. Your corals may not have the greatest color BUT your corals will grow faster, still retain exquisite color and, you provide a bit of muscle on your corals so that they can survive a fallout. I would greatly appreciate some input on all this. Thanks.

Nigel
I wish I could get my nitrates down. After a Dino bloom in October, they shot up to 160ppm. Water changes, no3po4x, and finally the addition of a bio pellet reactor has gotten them down to 80ppm. Tank is 180 gallons. I’ve done as much as a 60 gallon change with no fluctuation on nitrates. Any suggestions are welcome!
 

Matt1508

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I’ve been running at 1 No3 and 0.02 Po4 recently suffered some mortality that I’ve put down to nutrient levels due to my No3 bottoming out, I find this debate really really useful when people show pictures of their reef and associated nutrients as I’m never sure what type of reef you run when numbers are posted. Can we get some photo and nutrient level action
 

Matt1508

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Also I’m going to add to this does the method of export have a bearing on how we look at this ? So many times I hear if you have Algae your test kits aren’t a true measurement of nutrients in the water column, I completely get this and then think so if I have a fuge with a big ball of macro algae does the same logic apply ? Vs carbon dosing or even low input of bio load
 

Freenow54

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Good Morning: I have posted threads as to the progress I am making cycling my new tank. This is interesting stuff. Seems very finite regarding the readings. I have another tank that I was blackmailed into by my young son. It was an established tank and we were over our heads. We put in sps corals and they lasted a week or so. I now know a lot more but what is enough?
My main concern is lighting and not being to read par without an expensive meter. Second is the accuracy of the test kits available. I am using API now, and find it difficult to read. So I am looking for advice as to the best kit
 

Belgian Anthias

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Nitrates are corals least favorite form of nitrogen. They much prefer the organic forms amino acids and urea (fish poop) and the inorganic forms ammonia/ammonium (excreted from fish gills). Besides inhibiting skeletogenisis as pointed out by @Cory nitrate enrichment has negative effects on coral photobiology during times of thermal stress. (How many of us have lost AC recently?) It is true many aquarists have high nitrate levels but that doesn't negate the research any more than the lifetime smokers who don't get lung cancer negate the research showing smoking causes lung cancer. It is also a false narrative to equate faster growth in a coral as being indicative of a healthy coral. If anything the inverse is true as faster growth can have a negative impact of coral immune systems.
Growth rates increase if temp increases. Thermal stress in corals is mainly caused by nutrient availability in the coral holobiont. High nitrogen availability supports high growth rates. This may cause stress and bleaching if the phosphorus availability is insufficient , induced growth is suddenly interrupted. The use of NITRATE as a nitrogen source slows down the growth rate of organisms drastically. Growth rates are logarithmic as is the consumption. What is measured is what is left over but this doesn't mean it is sufficiently available there where the action is. Nitrate is produced using ammonium-nitrogen which is not used up by fast growing organisms and is the end product of complete remineralization. It is very unlikely nitrate availability may cause phosphorus starvation due to the reduced growth rates and consumption. The nitrate level is a safely stored nitrogen reserve. Nitrate does not support high heterotropic growth rates.
What we measure is the nutrient reserve, what is not used at the moment of measuring. What we measure is nitrate and phosphate in weight. To limit the risk for the nutrient reserve may ever become responsible for phosphate starvation one may keep the Nitrate/ Phosphate reserve below 10/1 in weight. if all nitrate is used up for growth, phosphate is still available. This may be important in VLNS having a low remineralization rate and systems using a phosphate absorber. This means if 0.2 ppm phosphate a nitrate level of max 1.9 ppm. I prefer nitrogen to be the growth limiting factor . Everything is produced and used constantly.

A nitrate reserve of 1-2ppm does not tell much about the total daily nitrogen and nutrient consumption rate. A system having a reserve of 0.5 ppm or 20 ppm may have a much higher nitrogen consumption rate. High growth rates are mainly supported by a high C/N ratio which has a much higher influence on the nutrient availability in the coral holobiont as does a high nitrate level. A high C/N ratio limits the nitrate production. it is a complex combination between actual coral growth and calcification rates and what happens in the coral holobiont and its symbiodinium. Bleaching is often caused by a prolonged imbalance between reducers and producers within the coral holobiont by which the coral is forced to release its symbiodinium.

ref: MB Anthias 2019
 

PanchoG

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My tank is a 4 years old mixed reef, I run it with NO3 from 5-20 ppm and PO4 0.1-0.5 always have struggled to reduce them. I have even touched NO3 50 ppm and PO3 1 ppm without seen any coral deterioration. I have never added NOPOX because I try to keep things as natural as possible. My nutrients level started to improve when I set up the fuge with rock and chaeto. After some reading I decided to upgrade my fuge light from a common yellow LED. My objective is to go to NO3 1-3 ppm and PO4 0.05. Now with @vetteguy53081 explanation I may target lower levels. I battled dinos already so I have my UVC ready if It becomes necessary.
 

SimonHP

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I wish I could get my nitrates down to a reasonable level. Still battling high nitrates after a Dino bloom in Oct. I’ve managed to get them down to about 80ppm. This is with water changes, no3po4x, and I’ve now added a bio pellet reactor.
I had a very similar situation with high NO3, the bio-pellet reactor kicked in really fast, the NO3 dropped very quickly and I experienced bleaching and losses in my corals. Be careful with the reactor from such high levels, it may cause system stress.
Now I dose Vodka & use GFO in a reactor; I'm very happy at >5ppm NO3 and >0.05 PO4 with high feedings.
 
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Tim Olson

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I personally see no reason why you can’t run low nutrients with great success. I find that the corals grow faster and look nicer that way. I run my tank at 0.2ppm NO3 and 0.03ppm PO4. I feed my fish 5 times per day (4 on an auto feeder and once with a frozen mix) but run chaetomorpha, a skimmer and weekly water changes. Heavy in and heavy out has always been my mentality. Here is my tank for reference :D

40A0AD37-371B-4BDF-BA47-EA7FA2AB9BCD.jpeg
That's what I've been doing. My tank is 4 years old and has a large refugium. I also use Core 7, which has worked out well for me. I feed heavily and dose Potassium Nitrate and my Nitrates hover around 0.2 ppm. Phosphates are usually below 0.05 ppm. The Chaeto in my refugium doubles in size every week and, therefore, is pulling out most of the excess nutrients. I've tried higher levels of Nitrates and Phosphates and corals do worse.
 

vetteguy53081

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My tank is a 4 years old mixed reef, I run it with NO3 from 5-20 ppm and PO4 0.1-0.5 always have struggled to reduce them. I have even touched NO3 50 ppm and PO3 1 ppm without seen any coral deterioration. I have never added NOPOX because I try to keep things as natural as possible. My nutrients level started to improve when I set up the fuge with rock and chaeto. After some reading I decided to upgrade my fuge light from a common yellow LED. My objective is to go to NO3 1-3 ppm and PO4 0.05. Now with @vetteguy53081 explanation I may target lower levels. I battled dinos already so I have my UVC ready if It becomes necessary.
Just don’t go too low. What works for one tank may fmdiffer in another based on water flow, lighting, age, salt type and type of setup (mixed reef, softie tank or sps dominant) as examples
 

DivingTheWorld

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I run around 5/0.05. I don’t do any carbon Dosing or chaeto or ATS to reduce (I do run a little GFO in a reactor). I also don’t “feed” my corals or dose any Nitrate/Phosphate to increase. I feed my fish and they feed the corals. That’s the ratio that works for me and has for years.

085D02CF-A514-43EC-9DC0-9EDA206C456D.jpeg
 

stanleo

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My no3 and po4 have been 2 and .03 for well over a year and I like how my corals look. I have had dinos for brief periods once for a couple months that ended up killing a gorg. But I changed the light on my fuge and they vanished in three days and it’s been a couple months now and still no dinos.
 

Twitchy

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I keep my NO3 close to 2 ppm, and my PO4 around .06 the tank seems to grow anything I throw at it, and have been super happy with the results... Except chaeto... Can't keep that stuff alive long, but the algae growing in the fuge seems to keep up with my exporting. I absolutely couldn't live without my hanna NO3 and PO4 checkers... I know for dosing, my tank needs an additional 1.78 ppm NO3 per day, and .2 PO4. It's super awesome to see nitrate trending up or down with such a high degree of granularity, and not just "it's higher then 2 and less then 5" I test NO3 and PO4 almost as often as my ALK, just to make sure everything is in line.
 
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Rjramos

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Currently running 4 setups with 25% NSW changes once per month. The NSW I collect never has detectable NO3 or PO4. I run refugiums with miracle mud and chaeto in all the systems and feel that this gives the most stability and buffer with regards to NO3 and PO4. 24 hr lighting. When I start a new system, I turn the skimmer off and let the refugium run alone until nutrients become detectable. I then start using the skimmer but usually 4-6 hours a night only. I have had better success by far with nutrients on the low side. I feel if they get on the high side it becomes more difficult to bring down and it affects everything in a negative way. Even the chaeto doesn’t seem to like the high nutrients. I’ve experienced this first hand. When I lowered the nutrients through water changes to more acceptable levels, the chaeto took off again. I add coral foods only when N and P are undetectable. If they are ideally low, I don’t add any supplements.
 

Crashjack

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My biggest problem with trying to keep nitrates and phosphates at extremely low levels is you don't really know what your tank is using. One person might have <= 1 PPM nitrate and <= .003 PPM phosphate with the reason being, there are a lot of nutrients moving through the system (e.g. a lot of nutrients coming in and a lot of nutrients being utilized balancing out at near undetectable levels). However, someone else’s tank with those readings might have corals that are absolutely starving. When you keep your nitrates and phosphates higher, you don't really have to worry about your corals starving. As @Belgian Anthias stated earlier, when we measure nitrate/phosphate, we’re really measuring the residual or in other words, what is left after the organisms utilizing the nutrients have utilized all they can use. All of that said, I'm not advocating extremely high nitrate and phosphate levels, just enough to have some residual and go beyond the margin of error of most test kits. If I were going to test a lot and try to maintain specific levels, I would shoot for 10 PPM nitrate and .1 PPM phosphate. However, I don’t feel like testing nitrate/phosphate all the time, so I’ve started just watching my tank as I explained earlier.
 

dvgyfresh

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Good Morning: I have posted threads as to the progress I am making cycling my new tank. This is interesting stuff. Seems very finite regarding the readings. I have another tank that I was blackmailed into by my young son. It was an established tank and we were over our heads. We put in sps corals and they lasted a week or so. I now know a lot more but what is enough?
My main concern is lighting and not being to read par without an expensive meter. Second is the accuracy of the test kits available. I am using API now, and find it difficult to read. So I am looking for advice as to the best kit
I really like using Hanna digital checkers , for ph / nitrate I find API is fine
 
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