Dosing your reef aquarium regularly – What, why and how (Detailed Guide)

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We understand your desire to purchase and even maintain a reef aquarium. It has all the vivid colors, and it feels like you have a mini ocean right in your living room.

However, the aesthetic value you get from this aquarium comes at a cost (don’t spook prematurely!)

By cost, what I mean is, you need to maintain the ecosystem of the aquarium consistently. The most efficient method for such maintenance is dosing.

Now, for those without an iota of understanding, we’ll discuss dosing and all that is related in detail.

What is Dosing?

Reef aquarium consists of saltwater, and comparatively, the inhabitants here are not as hardy as their respective counterparts. So, if the fish and coral present in a reef aquarium are not as sturdy, what do you do?

Elemental balance is the key!

You need to ensure that all the vital nutrients are present in the correct order and amount for your aquarium’s longevity. For achieving the perfect balance, you need to dose either manually or automatically.

Dosing is a method where you substitute or restock the critical elements of the ecosystem lost due to the natural consumption of the inhabitants of the aquarium.

Let’s put the sketch out simply, the corals and fishes consume nutrients, and changing the water isn’t sufficient to preserve the balance. So, you manually inject different elements according to the needs of the tank.

Dosing Your Reef Aquarium

Why Do you Need to Dose?

If you already have a reef aquarium, then you’re aware of the related expenses. The inhabitants of this tank are pricier than their counterparts. Therefore, if you don’t dose adequately, you risk color and shape deformation, strip flesh, and in the worst case, death!

So, for those who don’t want to waste their investment (money and time) entirely, I would strongly suggest you perform regular dosing.

The imbalance of essential elements has the potential to blow your tank up within a few weeks. The vital nutrients are, as we call it- the big three; calcium, magnesium, and alkalinity (do not be deceived by the order, they’re equally important).

Let’s briefly discuss how do these elements influence the reef aquarium’s well-being.

·      Calcium:

Calcium is the growth hormone for the saltwater inhabitants. This nutrient helps the corals and invertebrates in developing and forming the skeleton. Without this, most saltwater occupants would cease to exist.

·      Alkalinity:

Alkalinity keeps the pH levels of the ecosystem in check. More so, it assists in the development of corals, especially LPS (large polyp stony coral). Even if you prefer smaller corals, a healthy amount of alkalinity is mandatory.

·      Magnesium:

The referee and sheriff of the saltwater ecosystem. It keeps all the nutrients in check, not letting one trump over the other, ensuring peace and harmony. Moreover, magnesium accelerates the metabolism of the tank inhabitants.

Now that you understand the big three, and how they can affect the aquarium’s ecosystem, further elaboration is redundant.

Still, I’ll leave you with a quick pro-note: the three vital elements need to be in harmony because the saltwater fishes and corals cannot adjust to fluctuation in parameters.

How to Dose: A Beginners Guide

Knowing the significance of dosing is just the preliminary part of the process. Now you understand what the method is and why it matters to all reef aquarium owners. Nevertheless, performing the procedure on your tank is entirely another domain. You don’t want to do anything irrational by being overzealous.

Therefore, we’ve broken down the act of dosing into simple and understandable parts.

·      Step 1 (The Standard Parameter):

There are certain degrees that users consider standard for the reef aquarium. The measurements are:

  • Calcium 440
  • Alkalinity 8.5
  • Magnesium 1300

However, these parameters would differ from one ecosystem to another. If your tank is massive with numerous stony corals, then the levels would be different.

The standard parameter is there as a demo to get you started, and you’ll need to keep adjusting as your ecosystem grows over time.

For instance, apart from my big reef tank, I have one which consists of only 10 small corals. With that one, I don’t even have to bother about dosing, regular water changes, and adding reef crystal salt is sufficient to preserve the balance of ingredients.

So, how are you going to find out the precise balance between the elements?

·      Step 2 (Understand the Ecosystem):

Your primary concern is to figure out the number and size of the corals. As I’ve mentioned earlier, LPS corals are more demanding when it comes to consuming resources.

Well, SPS (small polyp stony) ones are also no slouch. One day you’ll see one coral inside your aquarium, and almost overnight, they can multiply and become a colony before you know it.

This variation puts all the inhabitants of the tank at risk because of excessive depletion of resources. So, consistent observation is key!

You can use testing kits to check the different parameters of the necessary chemicals.

Furthermore, you should know the precise amount of water present in the tank. Do not weigh the whole aquarium because it would show you the weight of the rocks and inhabitants as well.

Remember, adding rocks displaces water, so do the math by keeping this theory of mind. Not knowing the number would risk either over or under dosing. Whereas excessive dosing is harmful, under dosing isn’t, although the growth will not be according to your expectations.

Warning, only dose the aquarium if you have it tested, don’t randomly put ingredients!

  • A quick tip: if all of this seems daunting to you, our suggestion is to start with soft corals (Alcyonacea). They do require some maintenance, but regular water changes will suffice here.

·      Step 3 (Calculate Supply and Demand):

If you’re planning on setting up a glorious aquarium, you need to know the requirements each coral has. As I’ve mentioned earlier, different variants of corals have diverse needs.

Therefore, it’s your duty to know how and what are you going to feed them. Let’s break this down into bits.

  • Soft Corals:

Effortless to manage and maintain, these corals undoubtedly are the best fit for beginners. There are many variants of softies, which include star polyps, mushroom, zoanthids, leathers, xenia, basically corals with no skeletons.

They’re beginner-friendly because you don’t need to preserve the precise equilibrium with them. Regular water change and a handful of reef water salt will suffice.

Moreover, you don’t want to overdose in these tanks. If that happens, your softies will overwhelm the tank, and you’d have to work much harder to maintain their demand.

A standard recommendation is to perform a 10% water change on a weekly basis. However, you may observe a stymie in growth, and if you do, then run tests to figure out which ingredients are out of proportion.

There are numerous testing products available, and you can choose one that suits your reef tank.

Would you like a suggestion? Personal preference here is the API Saltwater Master Test Kit 550. It’s inexpensive and efficient.

  • Large Corals (LPS):

These babies are (if I put it bluntly) hungry. They’re demanding and will keep you on your toe.

The consumption rate of nutrients is much higher when you have large corals. So, needless to say, that you’ll need considerably more calcium and alkalinity if you want to keep them healthy.

However, most users fail to acknowledge the significance of magnesium when it comes to these corals. Don’t do that!

Magnesium is the peacekeeper of the reef tank, and your ignorance will result in either over or underwhelming of the other two elements (calcium and alkalinity).

Remember, if you have LPS corals, then my pro tip would be to observe the big three nutrients regularly. They’re not the hardest to maintain, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The voracious suckers of them all, meet the SPS corals. Usually, they consume more than all the other variants, and almost twice as much as soft corals.

Thus, most people find it challenging to provide a consistent supply of necessary ingredients. You’ll need automated tools like reactors, or concentrated solutions like Kalkwasser (a mixture of calcium and alkalinity).

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but don’t ignore the magnesium levels as well. Once you have the big three in check, regular water change will take care of the other minor elements.

Nevertheless, your reef tank may have Algae turf scrubber, if so, you can’t change the water. In that case, your dosing needs to adjust, and you have to add other elements such as salinity, ammonia, nitrate, phosphate, etc.

·     Step 4 (What is and What must be):

Now that you understand the demand of different corals, the standard parameter of nutrients, it’s time to know the nutrients levels (what is).

Afterward, you have to compare them with the standard parameter (what must be) and observe how much you’re off.

Test your water using a kit before dosing, and note down the numbers. Then add ingredients accordingly to reach the optimal state. Be mindful of the difference; that way, you’ll know the requirements.

·     Step 5 (Depletion Rate and Scheduling):

As I’ve mentioned before, jotting down the numbers can make this a lot easier for you.

Once you test it for the first time and reach the optimum level, you know the baseline; then, after 1 week, you have to perform it again to understand the depletion rate.

This rate indicates how much the tank inhabitants are consuming weekly. If the variance is slight, for instance, from 8.5 alkalinity to 8.45, then be happy!

In contrast, if the difference is significant, then you know how much you need to add to go back to a perfect state. This way, you’ll have an idea of the precise amount of ingredients required per week. If you want to know how much it needs daily, divide it by 7.

You have your dosing schedule, what now? After a few months, do the same tests in the same order again. Why? Because by this time, chances are your corals are all grown up and beefy.

Thus, the consumption rate is comparatively higher, which in turn will significantly alter the number of essential nutrients.

·     Step 6 (Manual and Automated Maintenance):

As the name suggests, the dosing can come in two forms, manual and automatic. Initially, you’ll be overly enthusiastic and would perform it manually (new aquarium effect!).

However, over time, you’ll come to realize that the DIY process here is tough and consumes a considerable amount of time. Thus, the recommendation is to switch to automated dosing, making your life more comfortable.

  • Pro tip: if the growth of your reef aquarium inhabitants is unstable, let’s say, from 10 corals one day to 100! Then DIY is the only way to go!

For the automated process, all you require is a dosing pump that’ll slowly drip the ingredients into the tank. The preferable way is to have three separate containers with three major solutions (calcium, magnesium, alkalinity).

You’ll have tubes attached to both the container and the tank. Now, use a dosing pump (don’t worry, they’re inexpensive) to adjust the appropriate parameters and voila.

Don’t forget to test the depletion rate from time to time. By any chance, if your corals die or multiply, you’ll need to change the automated measurements of the dosing pump.

Reset the amount accordingly, or else you risk losing all the inhabitants due to over or underdosing!

Well, with that said, I think you’re ready to embark on your incredible journey with reef aquarium!

Farewell

After you go through all the steps mentioned, you’ll observe a significant growth in your corals. You’re done with the hard work, and now it’s time to sit back and relax.

Don’t let it get to your head because full re-test and observation is necessary after a few months.

Regardless, once you set the parameters and the automated process begins, see your reef aquarium bloom gloriously with vivid colors! The reward is as beautiful (even more) as the effort!

We hope this article was informative and wish you happy dosing!

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