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Saltwater Aquarium Filtration Systems - The Basics
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One of the most integral parts of the saltwater aquarium is the filtration system. This system is tasked with filtering out chemicals and other water waste. Once fish are added to an aquarium, pollution begins in the form of waste products that are produced during normal respiration and digestion and uneaten food. A filtration system will aid in controlling the level of particles and chemicals in the water so that fish have a clean and healthy environment. However, with so many different filtration systems available, it can be a daunting task to decide on the one that is best for your individual aquarium and the marine life it holds. Understanding the basics of saltwater aquarium filtration will help set you on the right course to the perfect filtration system and a flourishing aquarium.

Mechanical Filters

Mechanical filters consist of circulating water through material that catches solid waste and traps it, removing it from the water. The most effective mechanical filters are designed to catch even the smallest particles, but this will cause the filter to clog quickly. When the filter is too clogged with particles, it does not allow the water to circulate through and in turn the water remains full of debris. The most efficient filters are designed to catch larger particles. As the filter becomes clogged with larger particles, it creates its own filter to catch the smaller particles. The filter will be changed less, and it still keeps the water clean enough for your fish.

Chemical Filters

Chemical filtration systems are necessary to remove the dissolved and invisible compounds that accumulate in the water. These compounds cannot be removed by mechanical filtration. Typically, these compounds are non-toxic, but can eventually inhibit the growth of the marine life and cause stress that leads to disease and ultimately death. Most compounds consist of dissolved organic substances that are produced by natural biological decay. When concentrations are high enough, the water will appear to have a yellowish color to it. Chemical filters will remove most compounds, but not all. Some compounds can only be removed by removing some of the aquarium water and replacing it with new water on a regular basis.

Chemical filters are effective and economical. Water passes over an organic material called granular activated carbon; not to be confused with the less expensive charcoal filtration. Charcoal filtration does not provide adequate chemical filtration. The granular activated carbon absorbs the molecules of the compounds and retains it. Eventually the carbon becomes saturated and needs to be replaced. To ensure that the granular activated carbon is effective, it is recommended to use 1 ounce of carbon to every 4 gallons of aquarium water.

Biological Filters

Biological filters occur naturally in an aquarium environment and are the most important filtration system because it controls the dissolved compounds in the aquarium water. These compounds are highly toxic, even in low concentrations. An ineffective biological filtration system can account for more fish deaths than any other reason.

The compounds are a product of the nitrogen cycle. During the nitrogen cycle fish produce ammonia as a by-product of respiration and digestion. Solid waste, such as uneaten food is also converted into ammonia. This ammonia cannot be removed by mechanical filtration.

Ammonia is extremely toxic to fish and can build up quickly in an aquarium. Nitrosomonas, a species of bacteria, consume the ammonia. However, it takes time for the Nitrosomonas to build a large enough population to consume the ammonia. The ammonia is then converted into nitrite. Nitrite is also toxic to fish. Bacteria called Nitrobacter, consume the nitrite and convert it into nitrate. The nitrate can be used by plants and algae. Include live plants in your aquarium to help control the nitrate levels.

This cycle takes time to stabilize in new aquariums. In the meantime, adding a one-step water conditioner that neutralizes ammonia will help maintain healthy water levels in the aquarium while giving the bacteria time to multiply. The neutralized ammonia can still be consumed by the Nitrosomonas, but not endanger the fish.

An effective filtration system would include a mechanical and chemical filtration system which often can be found in a 2-in-1 system. The bacteria filtration system will occur naturally in your environment.

There are many different systems that are available and by taking the time to understand your filtration needs, you can ensure that you will have a beautiful and healthy aquarium environment.


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