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There are a variety of filtration methods available for the reef aquarium. Some people invest a lot of money in sump tanks. I believe a sump is useful for larger aquariums, but are pricey and not necessary for a smaller tank. A great way to save money when putting together a sump is to use a Rubbermaid container , rather than another aquarium. Some people feel that canister filters are a must. The main thing to remember about filtration is that filter media can become a breeding ground for nitrates unless changed frequently. Years ago when reef aquariums were just catching on, people insisted you must have an undergravel filter - we now know that this type of filtration spells disaster for water quality in a reef tank.

Nitrates in high concentrations are not healthy for fish and are extremely detrimental to corals. Nitrates are the end product of the ammonia, nitrite, nitrate cycle. Fish wastes and uneaten food are converted to ammonia, then nitrite and finally nitrate.

I utilize the Berlin method of filtration on my tank. This consists of large amounts of live rock (1.5 to 3 pounds per gallon) and efficient protein skimming. There is no other filtration on my tank, aside from some carbon in the CPR BakPak skimmer. Live rock provides the base for the nitrogen cycle.

I have had problems with nitrates in my 20 gallon tank, since I was initially utilizing a Whisper power filter which contained a sponge. I was also using a SeaClone protein skimmer which I found to be less than effective and in need of constant re-adjustment.

When I was beginning in this hobby someone once told me “if you pay less than $100 for a protein skimmer, it’s not worth it - if you pay more than $250, you paid too much”. Of course, I didn’t listen to this advice! Live and learn - if I had initially spent the extra $50, I would have saved $80!

I am much happier with the CPR BakPak unit which I obtained from North Coast Marines - I highly recommend them as a supplier - the service was quick and they had the best price available. The BakPak does a wonderful job on tanks of 55 gallons or less.

For the 120 gallon, I'm using a Berlin skimmer, which I'm also very happy with. This skimmer is rated for tanks up to 250 gallons.

Water testing is the best way of determining if your filtration system is working properly. Once your tank is cycled you should have no ammonia or nitrites present in the tank. If you find that nitrates are climbing, partial water changes can be utilized to drop these levels. I normally change 25% of the water at least once a month.

On the 120 gallon tank, I am utilizing a deep sand bed (greater than 3") in hopes of avoiding nitrate problems. I am hoping that only minor occasional water changes will be necessary.

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