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Joined: 05 May 2003

PostPosted: 2003.05.05(Mon)6:07    Post subject: ecosystem-tank Reply with quote

Rolling Eyes Hi! Rolling Eyes
I' wondering about getting a salt water tank. I've had freshwater for about five years now, but I'm dreaming of a reef in my livingroom.

I've heard that it's possible to make a perfect ecosystem with corals, live rock invertebrates and fish, without feeding, filtering or waterchanges.
Only refilling of evaporated water.

I am a marine biologist, so I know most things of how an ecosystem works, but I wanted to know if anyone had ever heard of this or have experience with it.

I know that I must have great pacience when setting up this type of tank, and I have to use fish and invertabrates that are plankton feeders, and no carnivores. I will use schrimp for algae cleaning and corals/algae for watercleaning.

Any other tips?
Great forum, by the way... Lots of help to get whenever you need it. Very Happy
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The Old Salt

Joined: 01 Apr 2003
Location: Alabama

PostPosted: 2003.05.05(Mon)11:27    Post subject: Reply with quote

You heard wrong.

It's possible to make a system that requires FEW water changes and LITTLE feeding and MINIMAL filtration, but NONE?
Impossible, unless your talking about a system of several thousand
gallons in capacity.

I've seen & used ecosystem type aquariums, and they are amazing. I wouldn't do it any other way anymore. HOWEVER, they are still far from the maintenance-free wonders you may have imagined.

One way or another, the unusable waste must be exported. You can recycle and repackage a lot of it, but not all. The Live Rock & Live Sand can only do so much, and that's where the algae comes into play, absorbing everything it can.
PROBLEMS--> it absorbs stuff which must be replaced, so that's some work for you, and when the algae dies back, it releases the stuff it absorbed, both beneficial and harmful.
At first you may think that a good thing, but it's not, for while the beneficial elements are released and recycled, the harmful ones just keep accumulating.
No, the algae must be regularly harvested, and the good stuff lost must be replenished.

These are depleted. Most are released back into the water when organisms die, which is fine if you're willing to let dead things rot away in the tank, but some are changed/bound by biochemical processes, leaving them unusable. They'll need replacing. Further, if you have corals, those elements will be incorporated permanently into their skeletons, resulting in loss which must be rectified. In an ecosystem tank, the corals will grow remarkably quickly, so they'll use up a lot of calcium and other elements in a hurry.

If you want to avoid feeding the tank's inhabitants, you'll have to provide a food web capable of supporting all the life in the tank. You'll need at least one large refugium for growing tiny invertebrates for feeding the larger ones, and you'll need to make sure that THEY have food. A good refugium will have lots of algae & substrate.
The biggest problem with this is one of scale. All it takes is one fish to nearly wipe out your entire amphipod population. For example, a single Mandarinfish in a 75 gallon tank will eat so much that a second Mandarin may starve. ( Well, okay, in practice they'd both nearly starve. )
As for plankton feeders, you'll have to grow a lot of plankton without fouling the tank. Not as hard as it sounds, all you have to do is let the plankton grow until it crashes. After that it'll either be stable, or it'll be on a cycle of rising/falling within a narrower range. The catch is getting your plankton to survive the initial crash, and keeping the tank from fouling at that time.
The hardest part is providing ENOUGH plankton food for the filter feeding inhabitants of the tank, which requires striking the right balance of plankton production with plankton consumption. Once again, as in the case of the Mandarinfish, it doesn't take much consumption to quickly deplete the supply.

If you are willing to build a system of at least 3000 gallons or so, then you can do this with nearly all the ease you imagined.
Otherwise, I'm sure you'll find that it's going to be a lot more work than you thought.
However, the ecosystem method is still the best way to go about making a reef tank, and the results speak for themselves. I predict that within another decade or so skimmers will be a fading memory.
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Joined: 16 Feb 2003
Location: New Jersey, USA

PostPosted: 2003.05.05(Mon)11:28    Post subject: Reply with quote

People have attempted this and have had some success. The main problem is the most successful ones have had large tanks with a low bio-load.

Unless you want a 100 gallon tank with 2 or 3 small fish and handful of corals in it. I'd go with the traditional method(skimmer's, dosing, etc.).

Also with that tank there's no room for error. You mess up one thing and poof. Reef tanks are a completely differant system compared to freshwater.

I'd get some experience with a reef tanks before I tried that.

Plus, I don't think a giant box of rocks with little livestock is the way you want to go?
Don't buy the fish before you know the fish.
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PostPosted: 2003.05.05(Mon)12:05    Post subject: ecosystems: I think it is possible! Reply with quote

I hear what you are saying. I know it is lots of work, and that you have to plan very carefully into the tank, and you have to build the system up very slowly, giving the system time to mature for every new organism that gets into the tank.
But once it's done: voila! No more water-changes.
I actually talked to a professor today that has kept a tank like this ever since he was a little boy, and he will guide me through the setup. His tank is a 300L, but he sais he has kept smaller ones, so it woud be possible to keep it in a 250L which I am planning on doing.
I now have a 160 L freshwater, and I want to go bigger.

The professor is never changing water, he just refills with distilled water whenever needed, and he is not feeding nor filtering the water. He has got lots of lighting and a strong powerhead for current, and the fish and invertebrates thrive and live for years.

One year he even got an incident of coral bleaching in the tank because of the high summer temperature, but he managed to cool the water, and the zooxanthella went back into the corals, and most of them survived!

His biggest problem is to find fish that are small enough and that are compatible with the ecosystem.

But as a invertebrate marine zoologist, I am just as interested in the invertebrates and small creatures living within the reef system as the fish, and I think that one ore two, maximum three fish will only be a bonus when it comes to the estetics of the tank for people who are unfamiliar with the way the nature works.

I will give it a try, and if I find it too hard, I have to purchase the filters and skimmer, and as I said earlier, I am very happy for all tips and information I can get. I am reading everything I can find about the subject on the internet and in books and magazines, and I will use the summer months to prepare myself and to get as much information that I can. And in august or september I will go to my lfs, wich is a very good one to get the tank and the other things I need for the initial setup.

And until then: Thank you for all information and for your points of view. I appreciate that people that know the game share what they know with us newbies...

Thanks! Laughing
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