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Alternative Marine Aquarium Nitrate Removal

You can think about how I felt once I unpacked my new take a look at package and measured my saltwater fish aquarium water’s nitrate degree — it was 60 elements per million NO3! I had ignored a number of the early warning indicators and now I discovered that my aquarium was close to disaster. In this text I’ll discover how I arrived at this level, the measures I took to cope with the issue and how one can keep away from this worrying state of affairs.

By all accounts my 125-gallon reef system was thriving (see Aquarium Frontiers On-Line, “Featured Aquarium,” July 1997 for specs of my system). My corals confirmed nice polyp extension, there was a lush development of pink and purple coralline algae all through the aquarium and my saltwater fish have been wholesome and lively. Things have been so good that I started to get a bit lazy. The water adjustments grew to become much less frequent and the carbon was modified irregularly. Testing for something apart from pH, calcium and alkalinity was uncommon. There wasn’t a speck of hair algae to be seen, no pink slime or brown sand sludge. No want to fret…proper? Wrong. Very slowly, issues in my system had begun to degrade.

In retrospect, the alerts have been there for me to learn. I selected to not imagine that the seemingly remoted occurrences of tissue and coralline recession and the marginal alkalinity readings (2.5 to 2.Eight milliequivalents per liter; mEq/L) have been associated. My aquarium nonetheless regarded tremendous and all these blemishes appeared to heal. What my system was telling me, nonetheless, was that dissolved organics have been build up.

When the cyanobacteria took maintain, I started to take discover. Out got here the take a look at kits, which was my subsequent “I really did know better” error. Despite the truth that I knew the reagents have been most likely “a little old,” I fortunately accepted the phosphate (zero elements per million; ppm) and nitrate (lower than 10 ppm) readings as “accurate enough.” I carried out a water change, modified my carbon and my skimmer airstones, eliminated cyanobacteria manually and returned to all of the sound husbandry practices I knew have been required for profitable reef aquariums. It wasn’t sufficient. The cyanobacteria endured and unfold. I grew to become extra involved.

About this time, I bought an Aqua Controller from Neptune Systems and was in a position to measure the oxidation discount potential (ORP) of my system for the primary time. I do know ORP values are extremely variable from system to system and never essentially the last word indicator of a wholesome aquarium, however my studying of 290 to 300 millivolts (mV) didn’t evaluate favorably with the opposite stunning reef aquariums I had seen (380 to 450 mV).

Just a few days later, my new take a look at kits arrived. Interestingly, the phosphate degree was nonetheless close to zero, measured with a Salifert take a look at package (later confirmed at zero.02 ppm with a Hach take a look at package), however the nitrate (NO3) was at an astounding 60 ppm! It actually was fairly exceptional that a lot of the organisms in my aquarium nonetheless regarded good and have been the truth is rising. My reef is closely stocked with 14 fish, and I insist on feeding them what they want with a view to thrive. Apparently, the anaerobic denitrifying capabilities of my system aren’t ample, and I believe the protein skimmer is marginal for the bioload it’s requested to deal with. Need I say extra? The query then grew to become what to do in regards to the nitrates.

The first step was a sequence of three massive water adjustments (25 gallons every ) over a one-week interval. I didn’t wish to place extreme stress on the system, however I used to be assured that if I may deliver down the nitrates to an inexpensive degree (say, lower than 10 ppm, shortly), extraordinarily diligent husbandry and a protein skimmer improve would prevail. The subsequent nitrate take a look at confirmed a big 10 ppm discount, however this was removed from ample. I used to be going to have to alter lots of water over a protracted time frame to essentially make the type of distinction I used to be in search of, and this gave the impression to be neither an environment friendly nor a smart approach to proceed.


I had learn Greg Schiemer’s “Product Review” on nitrate discount media article (Aquarium Frontiers, Fall 1995) and had little religion of their capacity to successfully scale back nitrates. Short of dismantling my reef and putting in a reside sand/plenum system, I used to be left with few options. I used to be getting a bit determined, because the cyanobacteria continued to unfold to new areas of my aquarium.

I remembered an commercial I had seen for a brand new product claiming to make use of new bio-technology to eradicate nitrates. I’ve been across the aquarium pastime lengthy sufficient to be extraordinarily skeptical in regards to the claims of recent miracle cures, and I’m totally conscious of all of the snake oil that’s offered within the business. For some purpose, I used to be drawn (maybe by my desperation!) to this new product, and my rudimentary understanding of what “AZNO3” (Absolute Zero Nitrate) claimed to do additional piqued my curiosity. Monolith Marine Monsters (M3), which distributes the product, has a superb status on the internet, and I knew a number of mates who had had optimistic experiences with the corporate earlier than. Still, I used to be skeptical. I gathered no matter data I had, most of it downloaded from the M3 website, and requested Craig Bingman to have a look and touch upon the theoretical soundness of the science behind the product. Just a few days later he replied that although he was unhappy with the corporate’s clarification of the chemical mechanisms at work, he felt moderately satisfied that, “theoretically,” the product ought to work. That was sufficient for me.

What follows is a documentation of my expertise utilizing AZ-NO3. This is clearly an anecdotal account, and as I had no intention of writing this text on the time, I didn’t run as many assessments or preserve as correct information of every day occurrences as I might need in any other case. I can not declare a science background and can restrict my dialogue to my observations solely.

AZ-NO3 is marketed as “a thirty day nitrate remover and all natural oxidation/reduction enzyme catalyst.” It claims to work by “cellular respiration on the target nitrate molecule, which is then removed by the protein skimmer.” As greatest as I can work out, AZ-NO3 offers a type of carbohydrate that acts as meals for a bacterial bloom. The micro organism then use an enzyme, which can also be supplied, to biologically assimilate the nitrate molecule. The relaxation is left to your skimmer.

Although the accompanying product literature is commonly complicated and never nicely written (sorry, I’m an English professor by day!), it does present a good quantity of element concerning product use and potential long-term and short-term results. The urged dosage is ¼ ounce every day for every 50 to 60 gallons of water in your system. The concept is to keep up this dosage till the nitrates attain zero, after which slowly wean the system off the product solely. It is famous small upkeep dosage could also be mandatory for some methods, and that each one methods differ of their wants and responses.

When my provide of AZ-NO3 arrived, I generously estimated the amount of my system at 150 gallons and determined to observe the suggestions on the label for the “safe-start method,” which requires a gradual every day doubling of the additive over the course of the primary week. For my aquarium, this meant six drops on day one, 12 drops on day two, 24 on day three and so forth, till the total dosage of ¾ ounce every day was reached on day seven.

By day three of the “safe-start” interval there have been some noticeable adjustments. There was a slight cloudiness to the water, which was indicative of a bacterial bloom, and plenty of small bubbles have been seen all through the aquarium, presumably carbon dioxide byproducts of the reactions going down. Most considerably, my nitrates had already dropped 10 ppm right down to 40 ppm. The cloudiness and bubbles are in line with the unwanted effects talked about within the directions, as was the unfavorable response exhibited by a number of organisms.

After the second day of the full-strength dosage, my skimmer was foaming at an unbelievable fee and nitrates measured a exceptional 10 ppm. From right here, readings confirmed a swift decline to zero ppm NO3 after two extra days. Many organisms, notably my Blastomussa wellsi, Fungia and several other, however not all, species of soppy and leather-based corals, regarded very unhealthy. The polyps have been all closed and shrunken inflicting me many anxious moments. However, none of my fish, small-polyped scleractinan corals, clams, crustaceans or many long-polyped sclearactinian corals confirmed any results in any respect. In truth, I may discover no apparent correlation between the species that have been affected and those who weren’t. Again, these unfavorable reactions are indicated as each widespread and momentary within the product literature.

What I did discover was an excessive fluctuation in my ORP readings that’s of potential concern for anybody who’s contemplating utilizing this product. The sequence of water adjustments I carried out previous to remedy with AZ-NO3 had raised the ORP to a continuing studying over 400 mV. Throughout the start-up interval, these readings remained steady. However, after the primary full dosage, the ORP dropped to lower than 250 mV at round 2:00 a.m. By Eight:00 a.m., ranges had returned to almost 400 mV. I observed this sample all through the following week of remedy. Roughly three hours after I added the every day dosage, the ORP plummeted at the least 100 mV and returned to regular a number of hours later. The concern right here is that at very low ORP ranges the dissolved oxygen within the system can attain dangerously low ranges. If you shouldn’t have the aptitude to observe your system’s ORP, I’d pay cautious consideration to your fishes’ fee of respiration, as they’re the almost certainly to be affected if oxygen ranges start to drop too low. It may even be smart to extend the aeration in your system by way of an airstone simply to be secure.

In my case the saltwater fish by no means confirmed any indicators of misery, and by the tip of the week ORP ranges have been persistently over 400 mV as soon as once more. Because the looks of a number of organisms was regarding me and the nitrate degree had been diminished to zero so shortly, I made a decision to attempt to quickly wean my system off the AZ-NO3. I dosed ½ ounce the subsequent day and ¼ ounce the day after. I used to be in a position to detect a slight studying of zero.1 ppm NO3 after I skipped a day and resumed 1/Eight-ounce every day remedies for the subsequent a number of days. Throughout the remedy my skimmer continued to supply copious portions of thick, foul-smelling scum. Slowly, the negatively affected organisms started to recuperate and I used to be in a position to preserve nitrates at zero with a 1/Eight-ounce addition of AZ-NO3 each different day.

About 4 weeks after the preliminary start-up interval all of the organisms in my system have been totally recovered. In truth, some regarded higher than ever. Currently, improved husbandry methods and a upkeep dosage of 1/Eight-ounce AZ-NO3 3 times every week have allowed me to carry nitrate ranges at zero (measured with a Salifert take a look at package and confirmed with a Seachem take a look at package). When my new skimmer arrives, I anticipate weaning the aquarium utterly. Meanwhile, my reef aquarium system has regained its former glory and the inhabitants present no obvious aftereffects.

It is now seven weeks after the start of the AZ-NO3 remedy cycle and my cyanobacteria downside has slowly disappeared utterly. Because I attacked the issue in so many various methods (elevating alkalinity ranges, altering mild bulbs, handbook elimination, and so on.), I can not say that the AZ-NO3 immediately cured the outbreak, nor do the producers make such a declare. What I can say is that AZ-NO3 did carry out nearly precisely because the directions stated it could. In my case, the nitrate degree of my system was impressively diminished by 50 ppm in beneath two weeks. Presumably, many different dissolved organics have been eliminated within the course of, and this should have contributed to the regular decline of the cyanobacteria.

My expertise with AZ-NO3 raises many questions. Proprietary issues apart, I encourage others to ask for, and the makers of this product to offer, clearer explanations of the chemical reactions going down. It would even be good to know what causes some organisms to react so negatively at first. Is it potential to eradicate or at the least decrease these results? An evaluation of the skimmate produced throughout remedy may additionally present some perception into precisely what, apart from micro organism, is being eliminated. I believe that, partly, some corals are responding to elevated ranges of sunshine ensuing from the drastic discount in dissolved organics within the water. Many of probably the most severely affected organisms exhibited the emission of the lengthy brown strands of mucus attribute of the readjustment by corals of their populations of symbiotic zooxanthellae.

At $23 an Eight-ounce bottle, AZ-NO3 just isn’t low cost, neither is it prohibitively costly. My system had a robust and fast response to the remedy that enabled me to make use of far much less of the product than I had anticipated. I have no idea what the experiences of others have proven on this regard and I believe every system varies considerably.

Additives, irrespective of how efficient, mustn’t turn into an alternative to sound husbandry practices. I urge you all to keep away from getting yourselves into the predicament I discovered myself in. If, nonetheless, you do discover you’ve gotten excessive nitrate ranges, AZ-NO3 appears to supply an environment friendly and secure approach to scale back these ranges shortly. I believe this product holds explicit potential for hobbyists with fish-only methods, the place nitrate ranges are sometimes excessive and there are not any invertebrates to misery. Remember, you have to have a protein skimmer for this product to work. Is AZ-NO3 the miracle treatment for all our nitrate issues? I’m not ready to go that far, however sometimes there are new merchandise utilizing new expertise that may be of profit. Based upon my expertise, AZ-NO3 seems to supply such promise. Much extra must be examined to completely perceive this strategy to nitrate discount and its results on our captive marine methods. I hope others extra certified for the duty take my observations as a starting point this inquiry.

About Micky Antonio

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