Mr. Saltwater Tank

Write-Up Wednesday: The True Test Of A Reef Keeper

One of the few things that saltwater tank keepers agree on is that small polyped stony (SPS) are hard to keep coral. Therefore, you can argue that a SPS dominant tank is the hardest type of saltwater tank to maintain.

This statement is flat out wrong.

I’ll mostly agree that SPS corals are hard to keep. Besides some rough and tough types like Bali Green Slimer (Acropora Sp.), Green Hydnorphora (Hydnophora sp.), and Montipora corals, the rest of the SPS corals are sensitive, dramatic and use any excuse they can to bleach out and die.

Given SPS’ dramatic nature, SPS dominant tanks are not the hardest type of tank to keep. The winner of that prize is the mixed reef tank.

A true mixed-reef tank goes to great lengths to blend lots of different types of livestock – LPS, SPS, non-photosythentic (NPS) and soft corals, all while also keeping anemones, and clams. With such diversity comes diverse demands for these organisms to grow. And the demand that wins the “hardest to manage in the mixed reef environment” prize is nutrients.

SPS corals like lower nutrient environments while anemones, clams, LPS and soft corals all enjoy dirtier water. Unlike lighting and flow which can be managed by placing the corals in different parts of the tank, nutrient levels are homogenous throughout the system. Therefore, a “just enough” nutrient level has to be maintained such that SPS are happy while the other corals in the system aren’t starved.

Finding the sweet spot of nutrient levels is achieved by learning how to listen to your tank and then making tweaks of how much you feed your fish, adding (or not adding) a carbon dose, modifying skimmer run times and tweaking water change frequency and amounts.

While I am impressed by SPS dominant systems, a true mixed reef tank catches my eye and really show cases the skills of the reef keeper as that reefer knows their tank and is able to walk the line of the demands of the different corals in the system.

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