Lessons Learned (The Hard Way)

How many times have you had a problem with your system, only to pound your head against the tank not being able to come up with a solution? Then, after some time or perhaps a pointer from a friend or book, you realize the solution to your problem was staring you right in the face? Well, here are some lessons I have learned over the years. I will update this page as I remember my past problems as well as when I encounter new ones. Have fun! And if you have something you would like to share, please let us know!


Bulb Blowout: Another HUGE mistake! I recently upgraded to 400-watt metal halides. Well, about the same time, I drilled a small hole in my water return pipe near the water's surface. The reason was to create surface movement to produce a rippled light effect as well as to ensure that the siphon was broken in the even of a power outage so I didn't overflow my sump. The idea worked great for some time but eventually, the small hole became partially clogged creating a higher pressure spray which began to actually hit the metal halide bulb itself. Keep in mind that these bulbs can get as hot as 400 degrees. The cool water caused the outer glass to shatter, however the bulb continued to remain lit. At the time, I didn't have a replacement bulb and had to get to work so I figured I would let it slide until I got home. Little, did I realize that the outer glass acted as a UV radiation filter. Upon returning home, the corals on the right end of my tank were pretty much fried which resulted in one of my heaviest losses in 12 years keeping reef aquariums.


Chiller Nightmare: Recently, I purchased a chiller that was on sale from my local fish store. It normally ran over $700 but was on sale for about $350 because the company had recently gone out of business. Getting it home, I quickly realized that this unit required a continuous source of fresh tap water to keep the cooling coils cool. After about a month, I finally managed to get the unit set up correctly but to my dismay, it did not work properly. After a short time of cooling, it would shot of and not continue to work. I managed to get in touch with the company, even though they had gone out of business. Guess what they said? They actually had no idea what unit I was talking about and had never heard of the unit I was referring to. Turns out, I purchased some sort of prototype that never got off the ground. I'm still struggling with this unit and contemplating removing it and having it serviced by an air conditioner technician.


Hydrometer Blues: This one is actually a fairly recent lesson learned. At the time, I had been keeping saltwater aquariums for years and considered myself advanced.... probably part of the reason I missed this one. I had decided to break down several successful reef systems I had been running to combine them into one large reef with a deep-sand-bed plenum system. Everything was planned to the letter. I spent months on every little detail, diagram, and purchased until finally it was time to put it all together.


Soon I began to add my first organisms... I quickly began noticing that pretty much everything I added either declined quickly and died or just didn't thrive. I looked at every aspect of my setup for the problem but found none.


After about a year (that's right... A YEAR!) it crossed my mind to check my swing-arm hydrometer to ensure it was working properly. I purchased another to compare the results. I discovered that they were both reading 1.0 - 2.0 different. Not a huge difference, but I decided to have it checked against my local fish stores refractometer. The results where shocking! My real readings were well above 1.035!!! I was honestly surprised that anything in this system could survive, but many things had. Well, I quickly purchased a refractometer and quickly began adjusting my salinity over the course of a few days. Things changed drastically for the better. Here is an article I wrote afterwards. I decided to purchase several swing-arm hydrometers to see how they measured up. Take a look!


Soaked Floor: Believing my dual overflows could easily handle the turnover rate of my aquarium, I began overlooking them as time went on. Several months had gone by since installing my dual refugiums and I had experienced no problems. During a cold spell, my mangroves lost a few leaves. No big deal, I thought. I carefully removed all fallen and dying leaves. Little did I know, several leaves had made their way into my back refugium and had lodged in each of my overflow pipes. It didn't take long before other debris built up resulting in a huge flood and a powerstrip explosion which could have been far more serious than it was. Lesson learned? Don't neglect the little things.


Specific Gravity Ooops! I'm probably not the only one to do this. During a water change one sunny afternoon, I carefully removed about 10 gallons of water from my system. Over a period of about 15 minutes, I replaced the water with newly mixed seawater I had prepared the night before. Suddenly I noticed practically every coral in my tank closing and withdrawing polyps. It took me about 15 minutes to realize that I had just poured fresh DI/Ro water into the tank instead of the 10 gallons of seawater I thought I was adding. Lesson Learned? Label your water bottles or at least keep your fresh RO/DI water far away from saltwater bottles.