Saltwater Aquarium Water Chemistry & Parameters
Water Chemistry and How It Effects Your Tank
Luckily for everyone in the industry water chemistry doesn't ever change. It's because these guidelines were put in place by the actual coral reefs around the world.
We're going to add this part because we keep getting emailed about it lol. We personally recommend Salifert test kits. They have always been outstanding when it comes to dependability and accuracy.
When it comes to your water parameters there is three EXTREMELY important things that every tank owner needs to test for. I hate to say this and make it sound so simple; 99% of the time one of these 3 things being out of wack is what causes the majority of other problems. Magnesium, Calcium and Strontium. If these things are tested and maintained, usually the rest just sort of falls into place. We often get asked if pH and alkalinity are the same, no they are not. Alkalinity measures the amount of carbonate and bicarbonate in your water, pH is a measure of the physical hydrogen levels in the tank. BUT, they are all connected. If your alkalinity levels are okay then it usually means your calcium, magnesium and strontium levels are ok. If your magnesium, calcium and strontium levels are ok, then it means your pH level is okay. That is why we consider these the 3 fundamental building blocks of any great reef tank.
We recommend that everyone performs 20% water changes every month, that is what we do in the store. SO MANY vitamins and minerals and trace elements are depleted by your tank for a lot of different reasons. Doing water changes is a big step towards helping your tank stay balanced so that all the members of your aquarium can stay happy and healthy. There really is no substitute for water changes in our opinion. Calcium reactors do a great job at replenishing a vast majority of things, but do are not a substitute for water changes. There are a lot of chemicals that can assist in replenishing these elements between water changes, but they still do not eliminate the need for regular water changes. We have seen a LOT of fads come and go in the industry over the last 20+ years, but water changes are the one thing that stays consistent.
Two other important parts of water chemistry are both light and heat as well. Without maintaining proper temperature levels in your tank it can drop your pH levels substantially. But, that doesn't mean keeping the heat of your tank higher will help. Just stick to the safe heating levels and everything is usually fine. Heat and light are both responsible for pH levels. Keeping your tank at a proper temperature also helps dissolved oxygen exchange within a tank. Dissolved oxygen is both directly and indirectly connected to everything in your tank. Light does the same thing. When your lights go off for the night your pH levels drop. That is why a lot of people run their refugium lights at an alternate cycle from their display tank lights. Doing this can partially help compensate for the pH level drops that occur when your lights go out for the evening.
Below is a list of the main parameters and where you should try to keep them for a flourishing reef tank.
Temperature - 74-78 degrees
pH – 8.2-8.4
Specific Gravity – 1.023-1.025
Alkalinity – 8-12 dKH
Ammonia – ZERO (your tank should have no detectable levels of Nitrite or Ammonia)
Nitrite – ZERO (your tank should have no detectable levels of Nitrite or Ammonia)
Nitrate – Should be zero, but up to 20 PPM is acceptable but no where near ideal
Calcium – 400-450 PPM
Magnesium – 1250-1350 PPM
Strontium – 10-14 PPM