Dosing Phytoplankton: Is It Good for Your Aquarium?

Dosing phytoplankton can provide many benefits for some aquariums, and yet may cause problems for others.

Determining whether or not it’s a good idea to use it can often be difficult.

And a quick look on popular saltwater aquarium forums reveals quite a raging debate.

Some folks argue phytoplankton is the foundation of the food chain in our oceans, and is therefore beneficial to life in a reef tank.

Others say it can’t be directly consumed by coral or most other aquarium inhabitants … and therefore does nothing except to add unneeded nutrients to the water.

I’ve tried dosing phytoplankton in my 24-gallon mixed reef aquarium on two different occasions. Each spanned one month.

The only change I noticed the first time was an decrease in the time it took for film algae to grow on the glass. Before dosing phytoplankton I had to clean my glass once every 4 days.

After I began dosing phyto, I had to clean it every 3 days.

Bottle of Phytoplankton

There were no changes in coral growth or color. And no other noticeable changes, so I stopped dosing it.

Over-filtration¬† in the months that followed caused my water to become a bit too ‘clean’. I noticed slower growth and paler color in some of my corals. So, instead of running a skimmer and filter floss together, I decided to use just the skimmer.

After a couple of months my nutrients were still measuring in a nice, low acceptable range: 0.01 phosphates and less than 3 ppm of nitrate.

But there was still just enough of an increase in each for my corals to regain their vibrancy and grow a bit quicker. They were consuming the extra nutrients before they could cause my measured values to rise.

Now, you’re probably wondering, “what does this have to do with dosing phytoplankton?”

Well, I also noticed another unexpected surprise. New sponges began to grow on my live rock.

When I first set up my tank, I used live rock from Tampa Bay Saltwater. It was COVERED in barnacles, sponges, and other life.

Unfortunately, as my tank matured, and my nutrient levels came down into proper ranges, they slowly died off and faded away.

When I saw these new sponges starting to appear, I thought dosing phytoplankton might help them to spread even more.

So tried dosing phyto for a second time.

The result?

The same as the first time. I’ve had to clean film algae off my glass twice as often. But I’ve noticed no difference in the growth rate of the sponges or anything else.

So I’ve stopped dosing it. And I doubt I’ll try it again.

It is apparent to me now that my tank does not have enough phytoplankton-dependent life in it any more to make it worthwhile. The nutrients from uneaten fish food, fish poop combined with twice-weekly feeding of coral food is enough to keep my tank happy.

However, I do wish I had known about dosing phytoplankton when I had first set up my tank with that live rock.

All those original barnacles, sponges, porcelain crabs, and the myriad of other filter feeders would probably still be alive and thriving if I had started dosing phyto then.

That is perhaps the biggest key to knowing if it’s worth dosing phytoplankton in your tank.

If you have a lot of filter-feeding critters in your tank, it is definitely worth giving it a try.

On the other hand, if you only have a few, or none, then dosing phyto probably isn’t worth it. You will only be wasting money and adding unnecessary nutrients to your tank.


Stylocoeniella coral: a unique SPS for any aquarium

Stylocoeniella is a colorful and captivating  SPS coral that can bring drama and beauty to most any aquarium.

This encrusting coral is often described as a cross between montipora and psammacora.

It’s a fairly hardy SPS coral that does best in low to medium lighting and medium to high flow.

Where it differs from montipora and psammacora is in its polyps. They are a bit longer and often extend 3-4 mm beyond the base. This allows the polyps to move around in the flow a little. It’s a bit like watching ripples move across the top of a pond.

It does best when place in the lower half of the tank.

And it comes in a dazzling array of colors. Some of the most common are green, red, and orange.

Now that it is beginning to catch the eye of collectors and coral breeders, more vibrant variations are available as well. Colors such as purple, pink, blue, and rainbow are now available.

Electric-blue stylocoeniella
Electric-blue stylocoeniella (center).

Designer variations are also starting to appear as well. Examples include Burning Bananas, Sunset, and Looney Tunes from Jason Fox.

Feeding is straightforward and no different than most other SPS. Most any SPS food will be accepted, such as Coral Frenzy and Reef Roids.

And their ability to grow in lower light makes them a great coral for adding life and color to shaded areas of rock work.

If you’re looking for an SPS coral that is unique yet easy to care for then look no further.

Stylocoeniella is colorful.

It adds a sense of drama and motion to your aquarium.

Unlike most beginner corals, it is still rare and different enough to be an eye-catcher and topic of conversation.

And it requires very little, if any, hand-holding or special care.

Put simply, it’s a rare, eye-catching gem than can be treasured and appreciated by novice and seasoned reef keepers alike.



API Calcium Test Kit Review: Is it a good kit?

API Calcium Test Kits have long been one of the most affordable brand of test kits available to reefkeepers. But the lower price often causes to people to question how accurate or reliable they are.

Curiosity got the better of me. So, when my Elos test kit ran out, I decided to give the API Calcium Test Kit a try.

Let’s take a look at how the API Calcium Test Kit stacks up against the competition.

Wide availability in large pet store chains such as Petco make it one of the easiest calcium test kits to find.

API Calcium Test Kit

And a price around $10 retail and $7 on Amazon make it, as mentioned, the most affordable kit on the market.

Now, here’s a quick look at how it works.

Using the API Calcium Test Kit:

The API Calcium Test Kits is easy to use.

You simply fill the test vial with aquarium water up to the 5 ml mark. Add 10 drops of the solution from bottle #1. Shake well. Then add test solution from bottle #2 into the vial drop-by-drop until the solution turns blue.

Most other test kits, such as those from Salifert and Elos, involve mixing three or more reagents instead of just two.

There is one slightly annoying catch with using the API test…

You need to shake the vial after adding each drop of solution #2. A plastic cap is included in the kit to cover the vial while shaking. But a little solution does drip down the outside of the vial each time you remove it. And it is cumbersome having to cap and uncap the vial after each drop.

The short cut I use is simple. I toss out the cap and simply hold the open end of the vial against my palm or thumb when I shake it.

Vial mount covered by my palm

You can also add several drops of solution #2 at once if you know roughly where your calcium level is already at. Just switch to adding one drop at a time when you get close to your anticipated endpoint.

The test is complete when the solution changes from pink to blue.

As you get closer to the end of the test, the solution turns purple. That is when you know you only have one or two more drops of test solution #2 before it turns blue.

And the colors along the way – pink, then purple, and finally blue – a vibrant enough to clearly tell apart.

This is about as easy as testing calcium can get.

But what about reliability and precision of the results?

Precision, Accuracy, and Reliability of Results:

Accuracy is where some reefkeepers feel the API Calcium Test Kit falls behind the competition.

It only has an accuracy of 20 mg/l (ppm). Other test kits, such as the Elos kit mentioned earlier, have a precision of 10 ppm.

This wider window of accuracy is the trade off for having to mix just two reagents rather than three or more. It’s also the reason the API kit costs less than most others. Fewer components means less cost to produce the kit.

I have to be honest though, I really don’t find this slightly ‘poorer’ accuracy to be a problem. The more experienced I’ve become at reefkeeping, the more I’ve come to realize that being off by 20 ppm on calcium instead of just 10 will have little to no effect on having a happy, healthy tank.

Think about it. The ideal range for calcium is 400-450 ppm. But that’s for it to be absolutely ‘ideal’. It can fall anywhere between 380 and as high as 550 and still be perfectly fine with happy, healthy corals. And it can even go as high as 600 ppm before there is any real cause for concern or corrective action.

If you have a 50 ppm window to be ‘ideal’ and a 170 ppm calcium range that will keep your reef completely happy and health, a precision of 20 ppm on a calcium test kit is more than enough.

Some of experienced reefkeepers … folks who’ve been keeping tanks for decades … even consider 10ppm to be unnecessary overkill.

And I have to agree. An accuracy of 20 ppm isn’t ‘poor’, it’s perfectly fine. And anything ‘better’ than that is just money wasted on something unnecessary … money that could be used toward more corals, fish, or other equipment.

As far as precision and reliability go…

I’ve tested it several times against both Salifert and Elos calcium tests and it never varied more than 10 ppm from either of them. Which makes sense given both of the other kits have an accuracy of 10 ppm.

So it certainly seems to be reliable.

And multiple tests with the API kit have almost always been spot on with the same reading … only varying by 20 ppm once in a very great while. That’s more than enough precision to ensure your calcium stays in a range that will keep your corals happy.