Take Readings Often
Many aquarists take the heating mechanisms of their systems for granted – don’t. Though modern heaters are far superior to anything we had in the past, they do still fail. If you don’t check your thermometer every time you pass the tank, get in the habit of doing it at least once a day.
Check Flow Rates
Just a quick look and listen will tell you that airstones, powerheads, and/or pumps are functional. (complete silence is something an aquarist learns to dread – it is either from a power failure or a problem with the main pump.)
Empty the Protein Skimmer
I like people to get in the habit of checking on and emptying the collection cup of their fractionator cups daily. Knowing how concentrated and disgusting the waste in the collector gets, you surely won’t be surprised to find how it can interfere with the foaming action of your skimmer or how bad it can be if it spills back into the system. Dump and rinse the cup before it
The skimmer is such an important tool for preserving water quality that its functional operation should be one of your chief concerns. Are the stones bubbling optimally, or is the venture putting out a full head of air? Is the collector doing what it should? You will become so familiar with the results of feeding and timing of the rhythms of your system that you should be able to anticipate collectant volume and know when cleaning is necessary. With well-established systems, skimmer maintenance may become a weekly chore, provided the collector cup volume is ample or has an automatic drain.
Top Up the Water Supply
In some areas with very dry conditions indoors, replacing evaporated water is a constant requirement. Some people find this needs to be done daily, but you can determine for yourself how often you’ll need to replenish evaporated water. Automatic replenishment systems are available.
Check Water-Quality Parameters
After the system has been up and running for a few months, routine checking of ammonia and nitrites is generally overlooked – unless something seems amiss. Nitrate as an end product to oxidative cycling of ammonia should be checked at the same time you perform water changes.
Alkalinity and pH of the system should be checked. If the pH is slipping or nitrates are on the rise, you should be taking corrective action to reduce or change your feeding habits, add buffering capacity, or increase water changes. Reef aquarists will also want to check the calcium level.
Check Specific Gravity
Specific gravity or salinity should be checked and adjusted at least weekly. Top up water level, if necessary, using freshwater. (Do not replace water lost to evaporation with saltwater, or your specific gravity will quickly rise out of the acceptable range.)
Some folks use only deionized, reverse osmosis (RO), or even distilled water for topping up their systems. In many areas and for many systems, aged tap water is just fine – there are more “impurities” introduced from the feeding, the fishes and invertebrates themselves, and the décor than from the usual household water supply. However, reef tank owners who find their source water contains nitrates, phosphates, or metals such as copper may be forced to use reverse osmosis and/or deionizing units. Replenish your fresh-water storage supply, in preparation for use the following week.
Clean and Check Filters and Filtration Media
All sponges and wet-dry media, including trays and spray bars, should be inspected for clogging or excessive accumulation of debris and should be rinsed or replaced as necessary. Chemical filtrants, such as activated carbon, may need to be changed. I strongly encourage the use of polyester bagging of individual units of chemical filtrants, and rotating out some of the existing bags while adding some new (rather than a complete change). The usual life of carbon is highly variable, but after a few days or weeks, its ability to absorb pollutants is near zero. It’s best to rotate in newer packets, replacing older ones.
A small weekly water change is an excellent, almost painless routine to develop. Between 5% and 10% of the total system volume is a reasonable amount to change. Siphon out a bucket of the old water and replace it with the same amount of new. (You have already topped up the system with freshwater, if needed.)
Ideally, you will be using saltwater mixed up several days to a week in advance. It should be of the same temperature and specific gravity as your system water. Once the water change is done, mix up a fresh batch of saltwater for the following week. These water changes are a grand opportunity to vacuum part of the substrate, to clean out the sump(s), and change filter media.
Clean Tank Components
While you’re disrupting the system and its occupants doing a water change, this is an ideal time to wipe down the top, light fixture, and both the inside and outside of the viewing panels. I urge you to wear dedicated rubber gloves when working in your system.
If you haven’t been changing some water weekly, now is the time to siphon out 10-20% of your old water and replace it with new. (Frankly, smaller and more frequent changes are preferable, but monthly will do.) These water changes are a good opportunity to clean out the sump(s), and change filter media. If the rockwork or other décor needs attention, or if livestock need to be caught and moved, this is the time to do it. Replacement of water is done with premixed, stored seawater of the same temperature and specific gravity.
While doing a water change, it is little extra work to siphon detritus from the rockwork or other aquascaping materials. A piece of clear vinyl tubing with an inside diameter of half an inch or so makes a useful tool for drawing accumulated debris out of various nooks and crannies. Live rock, and the organisms that live on and within it, seem to generate considerable amounts of harmless detritus, and reef keepers often like to siphon it out of the system in this manner. An alternate approach for serious cleaning sessions is to take a small powerhead pump and, directing the outflow by hand, blast all loose detritus out of the rockwork. This will greatly cloud the water for a few hours, and a good particulate filter should be in place to catch and remove the waste matter while it is in suspension.
This includes chemical adjuncts, such as all-in-one additives, vitamins, minerals, feeding and growth stimulants, and all other supplementary chemical additions. If you’re going to use these, do so only as directed, and only on a regularly scheduled basis. The best time to do this is in concert with water changing. I am concerned with the potential poisoning effects of continually pouring these materials into a system. Add supplements if you must, but if you aren’t an advanced hobbyist, I suggest doing it only immediately following a water change. (Reef aquarists typically add supplements on a weekly schedule.)