Review: Ultimate Secrets to Saltwater Aquarium Fish and Corals
by Andrej Brummer
The ultimate investment in knowledge for every aquarium owner
With no previous experience of owning a marine aquarium, I was daunted by the responsibility of keeping marine creatures alive and healthy, when I had no idea what equipment to buy, which fish to choose or how to stock the tank. Ultimate Secrets is a fantastic investment, whatever your level of experience, whether you are nervous about setting up your first aquarium, if you own an aquarium and can’t figure out why things go wrong, or if you have years of experience and want a comprehensive reference book on hand to help you deal with unexpected issues.
This book will help you look after your marine aquarium correctly so you build a healthy and compatible aquatic community of fish and invertebrates into beautiful and entertaining part of the ocean in your own home. It is easy to navigate and has a simple conversational style with extremely informative explanations, so you will find it easy to follow the instructions and understand exactly what you are doing.
I will be keeping Ultimate Secrets next to my aquarium so I am ready to deal with any eventuality. I showed my copy to a friend who has owned an aquarium for years, and he also found the information valuable and inspiring.
The author, Andrej Brummer has an inspiring passion for marine creatures and their environment. Brummer has shown me that saltwater aquarium owners are creating a safe nurturing ecosystem for marine creatures whose natural habitat is becoming endangered. He has channelled his knowledge and experience as a scientist and expert aquarist into this comprehensive guide, so you will know how to care for all the marine inhabitants including fish, coral, plankton and healthy bacteria.
Brummer divides his extensive material into short informative chapters covering everything from the basics, such as buying equipment, stocking your aquarium and feeding your marine family, to expert advice on filtration lighting, rockscaping, making marine organisms work for you and even how to perform surgery if necessary! Ultimate Secrets has several colourful charts, including one that identifies 16 popular saltwater aquarium species so you can build up a compatible marine community, according to their feeding habits and their activity levels.
Review by Kirsten Ehrlich Davies.
The only shortcoming of the book is there is no information on breeding marine fish. Perhaps because of the complexity of the subject Brummer thought that it needed a whole book dedicated to the topic. We await the sequel.
Brummer is the aquarists version of Steven Seagal. If you click on the correct picture you get the chance to buy a kick ass book. If you click on the wrong picture you will just get your ass kicked.
Hi, I’m Andrej Brummer, the #SaltwaterScientist
I am a biological scientist who has had a life-long interest in the world of marine organisms. Growing up on the sea shores of New Zealand and Australia I learned a healthy respect for ocean conservation and sustainable aquarium keeping, but I do still eat seafood however
In my formative years I will admit, I killed many a fish and a few corals in aquariums before I learned what it took to keep captive marine life thriving through trial, error and scientific training.
I enjoy raving about Tangs, LPS corals and how to be a sustainable saltwater aquarium hobbyist to anyone that will listen.
Now I am proud to say I have advised and educated over 3000 saltwater aquarium hobbyists through my best selling ebook.
Your guide to aquarium filter types: what kind of filtration is best and why
Without a doubt, aquarium filters represent one of the most important elements of a properly functioning fish tank. Without proper filtration, your fish cannot possibly survive in the tank habitat you introduce them to.
The process of keeping the water clean and free of waste is so important that the aquarium industry has developed numerous solutions to approach the issue of filtration. A quick look at your local fish shop will show a wide variety of filters, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Understanding your aquarium filter types
Your aquarium water needs to be filtered in three ways to offer your fish a pleasant environment in which they can thrive. These three filtration methods are defined as follows:
• Mechanical Filtration. This refers to the physical act of pulling unwanted matter out of the water and leaving it in the filter, to be disposed of when you clean the filter. Dead plant leaves and foreign particles are commonly filtered mechanically. Vacuuming your tank regularly is also a form of mechanical filtration.
• Chemical Filtration. Chemical filters remove toxic chemicals by attracting them chemically to a filter medium as the water is pushed through them. Carbon is a very common filter medium for chemical filters because the majority of toxins will attach to carbon.
• Biological Filtration. Biological filtration takes place on the filter medium when beneficial bacteria consume poisonous waste products, saving your tank from becoming toxic.
Since there are so many different filtration options available, beginning aquarists can easily feel overwhelmed by the number of different products available. The differences between these filters may seem quite complicated, but the following list of filter types described below will help make the subject much more accessible:
• Sponge Filters. The sponge filter is one of the most basic types available on the market. It is distinguished by its lack of complex mechanical, chemical, or biological components and makes an acceptable, inexpensive filtration solution for small tanks, hospital tanks, and spawning tanks.
The sponge filter operates by using an air pump to pull water through the sponge material where unwanted particles are caught and beneficial bacteria consume ammonia and nitrite. Despite its simplicity the sponge filter provides excellent biological filtration
• External Filters. External filters are very common for aquarium hobbyists because of their excellent combination of effective mechanical, chemical and biological filtration as well as their price. External filters are usually grouped into hanging filters (HOB) for medium-sized tanks and external canister filters for larger tanks.
Both of these filters draw water into a canister filled with filtering material that provide mechanical, chemical filtration and biological filtration.
Larger external canister filters also pressurize the water when inside the canister. Because the water is pressurized and there is no air-to-water contact occurring within the canister, biological filtration is not as effective.
• Internal Canister Filters. Aquarium filters that sit directly on the glass of the inside of your tank are called internal canister filters. These filters combine excellent mechanical, biological and chemical filtration with very quiet usage, being completely submerged.
The drawback to these types of filters is that they take up space inside the tank. If you are short on space or would like to keep your tank interior pristine and natural, you may want to look at other filters.
• Undergravel Filters. These filters are installed underneath the gravel substrate of your tank and pull water through the gravel and into uplift tubes where it is again deposited into the tank. These filters use your gravel as a mechanical filter, but leave out the chemical element.
Undergravel filters are generally not recommended for a number of reasons: Biological filtration is limited to whatever bacteria live on your substrate, mechanical filtration continually builds up a mass of decaying matter under your gravel, chemical filtration is not present, and any plants you may keep will have to deal with having their nutrients siphoned off.
• Chemical Filters. Aquarium filters that base their entire filtration process on chemical means often use activated carbon as their primary filter medium. There are other materials on the market, but carbon remains by far the most popular, and for good reason.
A chemical filter that uses activated carbon can remove a great deal of unwanted chemicals from your water simply by letting the water pass through the carbon. For this reason, many external and canister filters include a small chemical filter that uses carbon.
• Fluidised Bed Filters. Fluidised bed filters are cylindrical filters that hang off of the back of your fish tank. They connect to a water pump that forces water through the bed of small, heavy particles— often sand or silica chips.
These filters can be expensive, but they offer a very useful combination of mechanical and biological filtration while remaining generally low maintenance.
Many of these filters will provide successful levels of filtering according to their type, while sacrificing their efficiency towards the other two filtering methods. In order to realise all three filtration methods for the best quality water, you will probably want to combine two filters.
The benefits of combining filters
While a great deal of aquarium filters promise effective mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, many aquarists prefer to use two types of filters that only perform a single filtration task each. Combining filters can provide distinct benefits that even a large all-in-one canister filter cannot meet.
One benefit of combined filtering is that of redundancy— if one of your filters breaks down, you will still have some filtering going on through the other filter. Since these devices are so critical for the continued survival of your fish, it pays to keep a backup running.
Another benefit is that dedicated filters perform their jobs better than mixed ones. A single mechanical filter that does not provide chemical filtration has access to more water and space for its filtration job than it would if it had to do double duty. For this reason, many aquarists prefer to purchase multiple dedicated aquarium filters.
Choosing aquarium filter media
So far, this article has covered the various types of aquarium filters available on the market and categorized them by the way they function. There is another important way to categorize these devices, however, and it is by the medium that they use to filter water.
Mechanical filters have the widest range of filter media options, generally categorized by the size of the particles they can capture:
• Fluval Prefilter Media. Essentially a coarse, sponge-like material, this is called prefilter media because it is designed to catch large debris before it makes its way to a finer mechanical filter.
• Filter Pads & Foam. This medium-grade sponge material will clean most visible debris from your water without issue, and do not need to be replaced as often as finer filter media.
• Filter Floss. This fine material requires higher maintenance in the form of more frequent cleaning, but leaves your water much cleaner in the process.
• Micron Filter Pads. The very finest filter media available, these pads can filter material that is only fractions of the width of a human hair in length. These filters require frequent replacement, but can make your water crystal clear and even parasite free in the process.
Other considerations for aquarium filters: noise
The filter you choose could make a big difference not just for the lives of your fish, but yours as well: certain filters will produce different levels of noise. Controlling that noise can be difficult with certain types of filter.
Large external filters are usually the most common culprits of unwanted aquarium noise. Those that pressurize the aquarium water will often have to make some commotion in the process.
In general, any aquarium filters that rely on air pumps are usually quite noisy. High quality filters tend to be much quieter than their less expensive counterparts, and many self contained external filters are reasonably quiet.
The quietest filters are those where the main pump is fully submerged in the water such as the internal canister filter which can be almost silent.
While many aquarists around the world have no problem discovering their favourite varieties of fish, finding them, and then creating the perfect underwater environment for their fishkeeping hobby, determining how to select the right rocks for your aquarium can be a different story altogether. Many beginning aquarists are surprised to learn how important rocks can be in a marine environment.
As you probably are already aware, your aquarium is essentially a miniature ecosystem that requires you to manage a precise chemical balance in which your fish can thrive. Thanks to water’s erosive qualities, the rocks in your aquarium will play a minor, but recognizable role in the “hardness” of your water— that is, the level of dissolved minerals in your water.
“Hard” water contains a higher level of dissolved minerals such as magnesium and calcium than “soft” water does. Obviously, the primary source of these dissolved minerals is the tap in your home, but the rocks that you introduce to your aquarium habitat can change the water hardness over time. Depending on the fish you wish to keep, this can be desirable or dangerous.
Additionally, well-placed and well-chosen rocks offer a beautiful decor that gives the tank a serene sense of beauty. Fish also love them, as the varied texture and landscape gives them lots of places in which they can hide and take shelter, just like their natural habitat would.
Aquascaping is enhanced with the addition of carefully selected rocks of various colours and textures. Make this choice based on the colours of the fish you plan to keep and whether the aquarium is to be planted or not.
Determining which rocks are safe
When it comes to finding out how to select the right rocks for your aquarium, its important to choose safe rocks, as certain types can be poisonous for your fish. There are several methods available to determining which rocks you can use:
• Purchasing aquarium-safe rocks. If you purchase aquarium-safe rocks from a quality pet store or aquarium supply centre, you can be relatively certain that the rocks will not gravely affect the hardness or pH level of your aquarium water.
If you choose to go this route, it is important that you purchase from trusted vendors, as some pet shops have been known to cut back on quality control and put unfit rocks up for sale.
• Testing outdoors rocks and gravel. Many aquarium enthusiasts and fish keepers like to take home interesting-looking rocks from riverbeds or other natural sources and introduce them into their aquariums. This approach requires testing, since outdoor rocks can contain high levels of calcium and other materials that will change the chemical content of your water and affect your fish. Granite, slate and sandstone are relatively inert and have little or no effect on the water chemistry. Also clay, although not strictly a rock, is a good source of rock-like material. Clay pots, pipes and slates can be used adding a nice brown colour to the landscape.
How to test outdoors rocks for aquarium use
If you have found some interesting rocks that you would like to introduce to your aquarium, there are two main ways to test them for use in your aquarium:
• The vinegar test. Vinegar reacts with calcium by fizzing and foaming on contact. If you pour a few drops of vinegar on your rocks and you see that they begin to react in this way, you should not use the rocks in your aquarium. This is an indicator of high levels of calcium. Rocks that do not react with vinegar can generally be used, but a more reliable test may be in order if you would like to be perfectly certain.
• The standing test. If you have some rocks or gravel that you would like to introduce to your aquarium and would like to test them securely, the best way is through the standing test. Let the rocks stand for a week in a bucket of the same water that you use for your aquarium, and then test the water hardness and pH level.
If you see that the water quality has not significantly changed, then you can reasonably expect that the rocks are aquarium-safe. Naturally, longer testing times will provide more detailed results, and help eliminate any doubt about the quality of the rocks or gravel you have found. When figuring out how to select the right rocks for your aquarium, the standing test represents the best way to be absolutely certain, although it takes time.
Also after adding new rocks it is wise to keep an eye on the fish over the following weeks to see if they show any sign of distress. Some rocks may very slowly release poisons into the water over the long term. If the fish do show some signs of distress, try removing the rock and do a 50% water change to see if the distress is relieved.
Freshwater vs. saltwater considerations
As you would expect, there is a marked difference between the types of rocks ideal for freshwater tanks and those that saltwater tanks can safely house. If you are a beginning aquarist determining how to select the right rocks for your aquarium, you need to base your choice of rocks on the type of water you are using.
While freshwater tanks are significantly simpler to manage, saltwater aquarists have additional concerns about maintaining the salinity of their tanks’ water. Given that some rocks can have poisonous effects, and that most will affect the water quality in some way over time, it is important to choose carefully and test your rocks.
An additional option that can help maintain excellent water quality, appropriate salinity, and balance a tanks’ pH level is live rock. Live rock is especially useful in saltwater tanks, but is also recommended for certain freshwater tanks such as the Malawi biotope, where it also helps create a decorative atmosphere in place of plants that may not be present.
Live rock is a bit of a misnomer, since the material in question is neither a rock nor alive. Live rock is made up of pieces of coral skeleton that have broken off of reefs and are collected for use in home aquariums. These coral skeletons become natural biological filters, helping the nitrogen cycle take place effectively.
In this case, the material that you are introducing to your aquarium is designed to affect the water composition, but in a positive way. Live rock introduces helpful bacteria, algae, and tiny invertebrates that can improve the quality of your aquarium water. Live rocks can raise the salinity and the pH level of your tank water. If you are looking for attractive solutions on how to select the right rocks for your aquarium, live rock is an important element to consider.
As an added benefit to saltwater aquarists, live rock can form the foundation of bright and colourful coral colonies that distinguish saltwater aquariums from their freshwater cousins. Many ambitious saltwater aquarists choose these rocks for their aquariums specifically for those species of bright coral to grow.
Additional considerations for your aquarium rocks: gravel
Since gravel often forms a significant element of any aquarium’s substrate base, it should be given special attention due to the additional concerns over its small size and numerous individual particles. Gravel offers a very natural appearance for your tank. The colour chosen must blend in naturally or pleasantly contrast the rock work. Examples are grey rock work with yellow sand or salmon pink rockwork with grey gravel.
Large-grained gravel allows waste to penetrate the substrate and stick unpleasantly to the bottom of the tank. This, in turn, will affect the water quality and the health and lifespan of your fish. For this reason, many aquarists prefer to use small-grained gravel or even sand. If you insist on using large-grained gravel, you will have to carefully and efficiently clean your tank regularly in order to maintain ideal water conditions.
When considering all of the different elements that go into creating a successful aquarium, it is easy to let things like filters, tanks, and water circulation distract you from paying appropriate attention to aquarium lighting. The truth of the matter, however, is that lighting is an incredibly important element of your tank’s success.
The goal of proper aquarium lighting is no different than the goals of all the other parts of a successful tank: reproducing the natural habitat of the creatures you want to keep. This simple rule is what dictates most of the following tips concerning appropriate lighting for your aquarium habitat.
The importance of the day/night cycle
Many beginning hobbyists who are starting their first tanks make a critical mistake concerning their aquarium lighting: leaving it on. It may seem simple, but your fish feel just as uncomfortable being constantly bombarded with bright lights as you would, and this can make them feel stressed and begin acting unnaturally. It can even affect their health, making the day/night cycle an incredibly important element to reproduce for your tank.
Recreating the day/night cycle is not as difficult as it sounds, but it does take some effort. For one thing, you will almost certainly want to invest in an automatic lighting timer so that you do not have to rely on your memory to switch from day to night every 12 hours.
Another important consideration is the fact that most natural environments are not pitch black at night. Low-intensity lights can help your fish feel natural and happy at night by simulating the effects of moonlight, and offer you a convenient night light so that you can observe nocturnal behaviour without disturbing your fish.
How to reproduce daylight In your aquarium
While moonlight is relatively simple to simulate, reproducing daylight in an aquarium lighting setup is a bit more complex. This is because of the unique characteristics of the light that the sun emanates. Conventional lighting does not carry the same spectrum of wavelengths that sunlight does and can, in fact, be detrimental to a tank by promoting algae growth without offering the necessary ultraviolet benefits.
In order to reproduce daylight, it is necessary to understand the value of light wavelengths for the organisms in your tank. Generally, fish and plants respond best to a combination of ultraviolet light and low-wavelength red light. Combining bulbs that produce these two types of light in a balanced way is key to promoting plant photosynthesis as well as healthy, colourful fish.
Ultraviolet lights designed for aquarium use are commonly called actinic lights. They provide wavelengths of light that the human eye cannot see, but which are nonetheless necessary for the promotion of healthy plant and fish life without promoting uncontrolled algae growth.
Using light to control algae
Encouraging the growth and health of aquarium plants without being overwhelmed by algae is a common concern for aquarists. Since both these organisms photosynthesize light in order to grow, your aquarium lighting can just as easily be used by algae as it can by your plants.
Fortunately, well-tended plants with about 12 hours of daily light will tend to outcompete algae for essential water nutrients. This means that if you have large, healthy plants that are receiving enough light to grow, they should keep algae to a minimum all by themselves.
One of the most common lighting issues that leads to algae growth is direct sunlight. If you are supplementing your aquarium lighting setup with direct sunlight, chances are that algae will grow in order to use the excess light, quickly overwhelming your aquarium in the process.
If you find that your tank is a target for constant algae growth, you probably need to reduce the amount of light that it is receiving every day. Some aquarists do this gradually, reducing the 12-hour day to a 10-hour day, and others prefer to cover the whole tank with a thick sheet for several days to create a total black-out. Either method can help control algae growth by limiting their access to light.
Managing the lighting needs of your fish
While light is incredibly important for live plants, and, if properly used, can help to control your algae population, your fish are also very sensitive to aquarium lighting. Different combinations of light temperatures can help fish exhibit more varied and exciting scale colouration. The overabundance of bright light of a single colour can make fish scales turn dull and unattractive.
This is especially true if you are using sand or some other bright, reflective substrate to line the bottom of your tank. Bright light reflecting off the surface of your substrate can spook your fish and make them act unnaturally, hide more often, and dull their scales’ colouration. In this case, a more subdued lighting setup is recommended.
If you have a dark-coloured substrate such as gravel, then you may be able to get away with bright aquarium lighting on the higher end of the Kelvin-temperature scale without spooking your fish. This will help encourage plant growth, inhibit algae, and keep your fish looking bright and healthy.
Using aquarium lighting to encourage breeding
If you are an aquarist who would like to encourage your fish to breed, you may have to alter the light conditions of your tank in order to get your fish to spawn. Some species of fish may even require you to reproduce the lunar cycle using your night lights in order to begin properly breeding with one another.
In general, fish are reluctant to breed if placed in a brightly lit environment. Most fish are conditioned to begin breeding in the morning when lighting is dim, so timing your lighting correctly can make a great difference in encouraging your fish to begin spawning young fry. In this case, slowly raising the intensity of your lighting setup can help create the impression of a rising morning sun.
Types of lights and their benefits
While there are numerous options on the market for aquarium lighting solutions, the three most common choices are as follows:
• Flourescent Lights;
• Metal Halide Lights;
• LED Lights.
Of these three, fluorescent lights are by far the cheapest, and offer the simplest lighting solutions for a wide variety of aquarium habitats. Metal Halide lights are notably more expensive, but make one of the best possible choices for reef aquariums and other tanks that need high quality full-spectrum light. For most aquarium keepers, however, LED lights are the best choice available.
LED lights represent some of the newest advances in lighting technology for aquariums: they are inexpensive, do not produce the same overheating problems that other lights do, and often last for years. As an additional benefit, aquarium-specific LED lights produce much less yellow/green spectrum light, which helps to maximize the efficiency of your aquarium lighting set up.