Vlies Fleece Dreambox 3.0 set 5c

Why Reef Keeping Has Become Harder

I have been tending to reef tanks for many, many years and in my view reef keeping has become harder.  How is this possible? Whether you agree or disagree, just hear me out….

More Efficient Equipment

One reason is due to better equipment. Yes, that seems counter intuitive but today skimmers and other filtration devices like roller mats are much more efficient versus prior generations of equipment. You can easily zero out nitrates and phosphates.

HANG ON Dreambox media filter

Having zero nutrients is not a good thing since it can starve corals. It has also been reported that bottoming out nitrates and phosphates can lead to dinoflagellates. I never had dinoflagellates or “dinos” during the early part of my reef keeping career. But over the last few years I had to deal with them a couple of times. Not an easy task to say the least.

To elevate nutrients you can feed your fish more, dose nitrates and phosphates or feed the corals with something like amino acids. But how often do you end up with problematic algae when you increase nutrients? Years ago I never had issues with cyano but these days it has shown itself every now and then in one of my displays.

It can be a complicated dance. You have cyano but your test kits are showing zero nitrates and phosphates. Do you increase nutrients to help solve the problem? The cyano could be absorbing all of the nitrates and phosphates so increasing these elements could make it worse.

Dosing Nitrates to Beat Cyano

Chemiclean is a common remedy for cyano. However, it is an antibiotic and can kill many species of bacteria besides those found in cyano. How does this impact the balance of a tank? I am not sure but many reef keepers report seeing dinos after using Chemiclean. Been there, done that.

I have used Chemiclean in the past but my preference is to keep it simple and go with natural remedies. Cyano can be beaten by removing it manually and keeping nutrients in check. Accumulating detritus can be a culprit so siphoning it out or suspending it in the water column with a power head to remove it via mechanical filtration can really help.

LED lighting has come a long way and offers many advantages versus T5’s and metal halides. You can adjust both the intensity and spectrum of LED’s, although this flexibility can also be a curse. If too many changes are made it can be detrimental to corals since they like stability. I am using LED’s for the first time on my new peninsula tank and the number of options is daunting. Geez, it is so easy to just plug in T5’s and metal halides and run with them. No tinkering.

ghl mitras

Aquarium controllers these days can do so many things to automate a tank, but one has to be careful of too much automation. Too many variables or moving parts can potentially lead to a disaster.

I appreciate the advanced technology but I don’t want a computer to analyze data and act on it. I also have no interest in setting up pumps to do automatic water changes. All it takes is one hiccup to crash a tank. I like to use a controller as a monitor to alert me about any potential problems or issues. I then take action when necessary.

Information Overload

Now let’s move on to water testing. ICP tests are great but can too much information be detrimental? “Back in the day” these tests were not available. During the first half of my reef keeping journey I didn’t test a ton of stuff, including phosphates.

Yes, for my very successful 225 gallon reef tank I did not test for phosphate. Once a week I used hobby grade test kits to test for alkalinity, calcium and nitrate. On occasion I would test for magnesium. Salinity was measured once a week with a refractometer and temperature was monitored on a constant basis.

reefbum reef tank

I like to use ICP tests but I try very hard not to over react when a minor trace element is out of line. I think more problems can arise when a lot of changes are made. Systems like Triton can work well when executed correctly but I use ICP tests when something doesn’t look right with my corals. Daily observation of a tank is so important. The eyes are a great way to flag trouble.


Mis-information is another modern day issue for reef keepers. Social media and reef tank forums can be great resources but they can also be problematic. A lot of folks have a lot of opinions on how to keep a tank. Yet, are the most vocal folks the most knowledgeable?

When I got into the hobby I read books and magazine articles authored by people who were considered experts. I also tried to mimic other hobbyists who had a lot success. If you are going to act on information from the cyber word then follow the folks who have proven themselves with great results.


Don’t get me wrong, the equipment innovations and wealth of information available to hobbyists today are fantastic. These improvements have advanced the hobby and given people more tools to have beautiful tanks. But in some instances it has made things more complex. Over the years I have learned that keeping things simple is a big key to success in reef keeping.

Finally, don’t go overboard when it comes to automation. Technology can be your friend but don\’t lean on it too heavily.

Additional Resources

If you would like some help with a new tank build, including help designing a custom aquarium, or help re-configuring your current setup then you can visit this page for more information. And if you are looking to add some equipment, I do sell GHL, Pax Bellum, Reef Octopus Calcium and Kalk Reactors and Royal Exclusiv products, including Dreamboxes, which is the equipment I use and recommend. I also sell Reef Brite metal halide and LED fixtures as well as Maxspect & IceCap Gyres.

As for additional insights and information, please explore my many other reef tank and SPS related articles as well as my YouTube channel. For an even deeper dive into reef tank care you can check out my Reef Keeping Master Class. This online course is an immersive and one of a kind educational tool designed to help reef aquarium hobbyists build and maintain a beautiful SPS reef tank. The course is a series of video presentations with some supplemental video from my YouTube channel. There are also quizzes to help students retain and understand the information presented in the course.

Need some frags…..I can help with that as well 🙂 Please visit my SPS Frag store to see what is available.

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