Water Quality

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Water quality is of the utmost importance in the reef tank.  Fish-only tanks can handle slightly elevated levels of nitrate and phosphates without adverse effects, but not a reef tank.  Corals are extremely sensitive to changes in water quality, so you must always aim for the highest quality possible. 

One way of maintaining water quality is by performing regular partial water changes.   You'll find a great debate regarding water changes.  Some people insist upon water changes - others disdain them.  I choose a middle ground.  I believe water changes serve a purpose, but I don't go crazy with them.  Well, I didn't until my nitrates hit 100 ppm!! Then I did a 50% change, followed by daily 25% changes until the nitrates disappeared.

Marine salt does contain valuable trace elements and I believe that a partial water change every 4-6 weeks is beneficial. Keep in mind however that additional changes are necessary when problems occur (such as the high nitrate level I experienced). Always mix your water ahead of time - use clean buckets and mix the salt into water that has been de-chlorinated.  Circulate the water with a pump or powerhead, preferably overnight, before adding to the tank. Salinity should closely match that of the water in your tank - I aim for 1.022 to 1.023 - also be sure the temperature and PH are close to the readings in your tank.

Never use salt water to top-off the evaporated water in your tank!!  As water evaporates, the salinity increases.  Use plain de-chlorinated water to replace the evaporated water in your tank.

Test your water regularly!!  I test weekly for ammonia, nitrites, nitrate, calcium, phosphates, alkalinity, and PH.  Recommended levels for these are as follows:

Temperature 75 - 80 degrees
Salinity 1.022 to 1.024
PH 8.1 to 8.4
Alkalinity 2.5 - 5.0 meq/L
Ammonia 0
Nitrite 0
Nitrate < 10 ppm
Phosphate < .05 mg
Calcium 400 - 475 mg

If you find consistently high levels of nitrates and/or phosphates in your tank, test the water you are using for water changes and top-offs.  Some water sources contain high levels of these - if yours does, you should use distilled or RO/DI water.  If the water does not test high for nitrate or phosphate, add whatever chemicals you use for de-chlorination, then salt mix, then any additives you use, testing after each addition until you discover what is causing the high levels.

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