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What’s your opinion on the role of detritus in a reef tank

merereef

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Haha Im with Paul on this one. Especially out here on the Island we have alot of Old Salts, and some legit ancient systems that look Unbelievable , you go to the sump area and omg its like never been touched by human hands , just as crusty as can be and it the tank loves it , I think its essential to the balance also . These new style " sterile" OCD tanks I call em fail because its so alien the way they are being kept, nature is dirty and grimey .

tank is nice... but it looks tooo clean and something doesnt look right because it looks so clean
 
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ReefGeezer

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There is a difference between organic waste and what people tend to call detritus. A lot of what we see laying around in sumps and in the corners of our bare bottom tanks is mostly inert inorganic matter that is left over after biological processes consume the organic parts of waste produced by the system. It doesn't hurt anything. It can look bad though.

I have a bare bottom tank, 2 MP40's, and don't use a filter sock regularly. I suck up the "detritus" if it collects in easy to get to areas, but I don't try too hard. It does collect in my sump. I don't clean it out. It gets stirred every once in a while when I clean pumps and the skimmer though.
 

Nano sapiens

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These new style " sterile" OCD tanks I call em fail because its so alien the way they are being kept, nature is dirty and grimey .
True, nature is typically messy in our eyes.

Most of the 'OCD' reef tank's don't always look that way. A bit of elbow grease before a photo shoot does wonders :)
 

najer

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Great thread, I guess most questions still open to discussion!
I don't run socks or floss or filter steamrollers, There is a lot of crud in my sump refugium, I have a display refugium as well, stuff lives and very little dies! ;)
 

Crustaceon

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I don’t think detritus has a place so long as the “nutrient battery” remains charged, typically through increased feeding and matching export. Pods will live just fine off of whatever gets stuck in your live rock. Some of this is residual detritus and most is surface algae. I think the algae aspect is more important. We don’t install refugiums to grow detritus. We do it to grow algae and we get pod explosions as a result.
 

ReefGeezer

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I like this discussion. Reading through the thread, I can see the different stages of my thoughts and opinions concerning detritus.

I once thought, and unfortunately advised others, that it was a nutrient bomb waiting to go off. I thought that the detritus that built up in sump and refugiums was sure to break down into N & P eventually and nuke the tank. I was obsessive about removing it: changed filter socks daily, cleaned the sump regularly; refused to use a refugium; sucked up every little bit I saw in the DT; and etc.. Funny, that for much of that period I was complaining that N&P were too low!

Then I had an epiphany. I got a little less OCD on the detritus removal thinking that leaving the detritus in the system would raise my N & P. Nothing changed!

Then I learned more about the characteristics of the "detritus" I was seeing. It became apparent that detritus wasn't the nutrient boogeyman I thought it was. Now, I really could care less about detritus unless it makes the tank look bad. And still, nothing has changed nutrient wise.
 

taricha

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@taricha has studied his version of detritus. I believe he found the stuff was not “digestible”. His results were more nuanced and he will have to determine how his results might inform us. I have suggested to him that the stuff is biological ash. If the stuff is accumulating, it means that it is not being eaten.
There is a lot of material that although it may contain Carbon and Nitrogen and technically be organic, is virtually unusable. Biological ash is a good analogy for it.
Was reading about yellow dissolved organic material, some part is reactive and cycles easily, but >50% is quite inert and in the deep ocean it has an average turnover time of ~6000 years.
When you see a big pile of gray fluffy grunge in and around the sandbed that's built up over months, it's probably pretty similar. I'm sure it is organic material and contains lots of C and N. But the majority of that pile has already had everything squeezed out of it that any worm, bug, or microbe could get out.
I have taken piles of this material and poked and prodded it most ways I can think of to try to unlock nutrients with the idea that it must be a reservoir of significant C, N, P. So I've tried aerobic digestion, anaerobic, light, dark, oxidizers, grunge eaters, color change, oxygen demand etc.
Old grunge just doesn't seem to have any biologically important amount of nutrients to give.
So I'm in great agreement with @ReefGeezer commentary here.

At what point does detritus become inert or at least stop breaking down more or less into nitrate and phosphate.
And this is an important question. While I said all the above, I still believe that local debris in the sand drives super-local nutrient levels capable of fueling most of our sandbed nuisances.
I just believe it's new debris. Recently created grunge, under a week old is probably the only material capable of supporting sandbed nuisances.

we cannot agree its inert mineralized waste, since its killing some tanks that do home moves without following surgical order of ops. There is marked consequence in viewing detritus as neutral, in all cases.
It could be dangerous for reasons other than high levels of N or P.
"[Chemical Sediment Oxygen Demand] CSOD is a reaction that occurs deeper in the sediment (several centimeters) in an anoxic-anaerobic region where anaerobic bacteria degrade organic matter. This process produces reduced ions that react with oxygen when they
diffuse upward to an oxidized zone." -SEDIMENT OXYGEN DEMAND...OXYGEN DEPLETION IN TIDAL CREEK SITES

If instead of diffusing gradually, we released a bunch of reduced ions to meet oxygenated water all at once, I imagine the situation would be rapid changes in a number of things that might be harmful to livestock.
 
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Dan_P

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There is a lot of material that although it may contain Carbon and Nitrogen and technically be organic, is virtually unusable. Biological ash is a good analogy for it.
Was reading about yellow dissolved organic material, some part is reactive and cycles easily, but >50% is quite inert and in the deep ocean it has an average turnover time of ~6000 years.
When you see a big pile of gray fluffy grunge in and around the sandbed that's built up over months, it's probably pretty similar. I'm sure it is organic material and contains lots of C and N. But the majority of that pile has already had everything squeezed out of it that any worm, bug, or microbe could get out.
I have taken piles of this material and poked and prodded it most ways I can think of to try to unlock nutrients with the idea that it must be a reservoir of significant C, N, P. So I've tried aerobic digestion, anaerobic, light, dark, oxidizers, grunge eaters, color change, oxygen demand etc.
Old grunge just doesn't seem to have any biologically important amount of nutrients to give.
So I'm in great agreement with @ReefGeezer commentary here.


And this is an important question. While I said all the above, I still believe that local debris in the sand drives super-local nutrient levels capable of fueling most of our sandbed nuisances.
I just believe it's new debris. Recently created grunge, under a week old is probably the only material capable of supporting sandbed nuisances.


It could be dangerous for reasons other than high levels of N or P.
"[Chemical Sediment Oxygen Demand] CSOD is a reaction that occurs deeper in the sediment (several centimeters) in an anoxic-anaerobic region where anaerobic bacteria degrade organic matter. This process produces reduced ions that react with oxygen when they
diffuse upward to an oxidized zone." -SEDIMENT OXYGEN DEMAND...OXYGEN DEPLETION IN TIDAL CREEK SITES

If instead of diffusing gradually, we released a bunch of reduced ions to meet oxidized water all at once, I imagine the situation would be rapid changes in a number of things that might be harmful to livestock.
Is there a better term than “detritus” that we should be discussing? It seems the “stuff” we see might not be a factor in determining nitrate levels.
 

merereef

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Quick question guys.. the triton method requires you to have refugium in first chamber... if i were to add miracle mud as well as cheato how do i manage the detritus in the first chamber... i understand i bit of ditritus is good but over the years it might not!
 

Dan_P

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Quick question guys.. the triton method requires you to have refugium in first chamber... if i were to add miracle mud as well as cheato how do i manage the detritus in the first chamber... i understand i bit of ditritus is good but over the years it might not!
I recall @Randy Holmes-Farley relating that the years of accumulated detritus in his sump as seemingly unimportant.
 

2Wheelsonly

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It all depends on the type of tank you want to run. When I started my tank I was focused on a mixed reef; I ignored it and let it go. Never worried about nutrients but it will eventually bite you. In my case it took about 4 years before my nitrates got out of control. It took a few months to get the tank "clean" again but I did have a heck of a time getting rid of it. My thoughts have now changed; I recently have been cleaning my tank spotless and blasting this stuff out of every crevice ( I think I have done over 3000G in water changes over the last 3 months). I am seeing growth from corals that were dormant for years, intense PE and new colors popping up everything looks so good now that I got my nutrients back down.

I used to be a dirty water is best water guy but recently my thoughts have shifted. The growth I am seeing in my tank with low nutrients again is a pretty big deal.

If I wasn't running a tank full of sensitive SPS then i'd probably be fine with detritus but it does start to add up over time if you don't actively get rid of it.
 

merereef

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It all depends on the type of tank you want to run. When I started my tank I was focused on a mixed reef; I ignored it and let it go. Never worried about nutrients but it will eventually bite you. In my case it took about 4 years before my nitrates got out of control. It took a few months to get the tank "clean" again but I did have a heck of a time getting rid of it. My thoughts have now changed; I recently have been cleaning my tank spotless and blasting this stuff out of every crevice ( I think I have done over 3000G in water changes over the last 3 months). I am seeing growth from corals that were dormant for years, intense PE and new colors popping up everything looks so good now that I got my nutrients back down.

I used to be a dirty water is best water guy but recently my thoughts have shifted. The growth I am seeing in my tank with low nutrients again is a pretty big deal.

If I wasn't running a tank full of sensitive SPS then i'd probably be fine with detritus but it does start to add up over time if you don't actively get rid of it.
This is what scares me... this is why i run filter socks but i see so many successful reefers without.. and i think... how
 

2Wheelsonly

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This is what scares me... this is why i run filter socks but i see so many successful reefers without.. and i think... how
I run dual filter socks along with floss inside the baffle between the middle compartment and return and still get detritus build up in all three compartments and of course LOTS in the tank and overflows. I only feed once per day and feed LRS food with a baster just putting enough in at a time to get consumed in controlled bursts every 30 seconds until all food is gone for the day. Even with 100x turnover inside the tank the detritus builds up and there is a lot that never even makes it to the sump to be filtered out.
 

merereef

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I run dual filter socks along with floss inside the baffle between the middle compartment and return and still get detritus build up in all three compartments and of course LOTS in the tank and overflows. I only feed once per day and feed LRS food with a baster just putting enough in at a time to get consumed in controlled bursts every 30 seconds until all food is gone for the day. Even with 100x turnover inside the tank the detritus builds up and there is a lot that never even makes it to the sump to be filtered out.
I too had this issue with dirritus in the tank... i was playing around with the flow and found that the best type of flow IMO was a back and forth... one turns on for about 20 seconds and then turns off and then followed bu the other... when i did this i could see the tank literally cloud up in ditruts.. when ran like this for a few days if i did blast the rocks hardly anything came off... so i knew it was very effective.. i now leave my powerheads on random strong flow and maybe one day of the week i will switch the modes to a simple back and forth
 

Nano sapiens

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I'm going to stick my little toe into these muddy waters :)

In these detritus discussions, I've noticed the tendency to laser-focus in on what the material is composed of. This is all fine and good, but I believe that it's been rather well established that the good majority of the detritus (aka 'Mulm') is primarily composed of material that has gone through many digestive processes to the point that it's very nearly inert.

So, examining detritus from a purely physical aspect might just throw some light on this subject. Taking an extreme example, what happens when a reef aquarium sand bed is effectively clogged with detritus and bioturbidation is essentially non-existent? What processes that would normally take place in a healthy, friable sand bed are effected? Off the top of my head, the obvious one is that oxygen that would normally enter the sand bed via advective flow is much reduced. It follows that nitrification via bacteria (which use oxygen) would be severely reduced and therefore denitrification would also be reduced since the nitrate needed by these bacteria would be minimally available to them in the mostly anaerobic layers of the clogged sediment. The net effect would theoretically be an increase in ammonia and nitrate (unless the system has some other effective way of dealing with these). This and other possible side effects from such a severely clogged substrate would undoubtedly have a negative effect on the health of a system.

I came across this article tonight and had one of those 'Wow, that's pertinent and interesting!' moments.

Sciencedirect - Bioturbidation

'Marine benthic habitats of the late Neoproterozoic and early Phanerozoic (600–500 Ma) were very different from benthic habitats that existed later. Seafloors at this time were characterized by well-developed microbial mats, as suggested by studies of sedimentary fabric preserved in the geologic record. These extensive microbial mats and associated seafloor fauna, such as immobile suspension-feeding helicopacoid echinoderms, became scarce or extinct in the Cambrian. The substantial change that occurred in seafloor communities around this time, termed the ‘Cambrian substrate revolution’, is thought to be caused by the development of bioturbation. It is hypothesized that the emergence of both bioturbation and predation around this time led to the extinction of nonburrowing taxa and influenced subsequent development of animal body plans during the Cambrian. Bioturbation also made a new food resource, buried organic matter, accessible to deposit feeders while radically changing the geochemistry of the seafloor.'

Hmm, that 'extensive microbial mats' line sounds a lot like the cyano mats that we run into when a substrate doesn't have the organisms that would keep it friable (aka: 'bioturbidation organisms') and/or the helping hand of the aquarist with a stick or a hose/vac.

Perhaps Delbeek and Sprung (Reef Aquarium, Vol 3) said it best:

"The conditioning of a healthy aquarium involves a certain amount of detritus accumulation that promotes a healthy diversity of life within the substrata. Later on, this accumulation can become excessive, but in this chapter, we have outlined ways to prevent this."
 
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shaggydoo

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Read several of the posts, but to answer the OP, I'm a fan of it. It's simply amazing we can keep pieces of the ocean alive in our living rooms. Nature adapts. The particle size, composition, breakdown and use of every atom in a reef tank can be debated ad nauseum. Bottom line, we are trying to recreate a natural reef which is a very dirty place. Anyone that has ever swam through a reef has a dirty crevice or two to support this fact.
 
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