Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Marine diary chapter twelve

Yellow tang, Zebrasoma flavescens
Yellow tang, Zebrasoma flavescens

A week later I went into the LFS and met up with a couple other hobbyists and we started discussing our tanks. The other hobbyists had a good little chuckle over my problem with the eel gobies and the feather duster. In the end I did find out that the eel gobies would stop growing between 9 to 11 inches (thank goodness) and that they never stop digging in the substrate. I also realised that I was extremely lucky that I hadn't lost any from having rocks fall on top of them as they dig the foundation out from under the rock pile.

The advice I was given in regards to the feather duster it wasn't nearly as clear. Basically there were two differing ideas on the outcome of the health of the feather duster that was being picked on. The first option was to find a safe place for it (which obviously I couldn't) to give it opportunity to rebuilt its tube and eventually grow its crown again. The second opinion was that it was doomed as soon as it lost the crown since it was under great stress at that point. Over the years from personal experience and through listening to experiences from other hobbyists I have the vast majority of the time that once the worm leaves it's tube it will not have enough time to rebuild it?s tube. The main reason that a worm doesn't live through the ordeal is that it is unprotected and is quickly preyed upon by tank mates that would otherwise leave them alone. Another reason may be that the substrate that we have in our tanks isn't compatible for the worm to rebuild the tube that is a mixture of very fine particles and mucus.

While talking to the other hobbyists at the LFS that day one of the most prominent questions they asked was what type of skimmer people had on my tank. It was nearly a year since I set up my aquarium and up to this point I was running the tank without a protein skimmer. When I told them that I got some nasty looks and was promptly told that a skimmer is the most important part of keeping a marine tank. I vaguely mentioned that I was still looking for one and of course they were more then eager to share their experiences which in the end nearly turned into a full out war between them and my presence was quickly forgotten. I took the first opportunity to escape the debate on skimmers and quickly exited the store.

When I got home I admitted to myself that my tank was nearly a year old and that it was past time to get a skimmer for the tank. I had originally planned on getting a skimmer within a couple months of setting up the tank but somehow I seemed to constantly drain my financial resources on getting more live rock, test kits, water, salt and the million other little things that the tank required. Even though I had learned a lot about the tank in a year, I still didn't know much about skimmers except that there were a lot of different models around and that they cost a lot. So I set a deadline to purchase one for the tanks one-year anniversary. Looking back this deadline was probably one of the bigger mistakes I made with my tank.

So, my hunt for the perfect skimmer began! I started looking around at different skimmers, asking store clerks and other hobbyists that I met at the stores about what to look for in a skimmer. During the course of my research three things became clear to me:

  • everyone had a different type of skimmer
  • everyone I talked to was an expert on protein skimmers
  • every skimmer, with the exception of the one the person giving advice about had, wasn't any good.

I quickly realized that the search for a skimmer for my tank wasn't going to be very easy and that I hit upon a very controversial subject in the saltwater world! I knew that I was in over my head when I went into another LFS and was asking about the skimmers they had. Naturally, the clerk was able to point out the pros and cons of a few different types of skimmers he had at the store, he showed me his most expensive models that made me want to run out of the store as fast as I can and sell my tank. I guess he saw me start to back away from him and looking towards the door when he showed me a couple other models that weren't nearly as pricey as the first one and was more in my price range. The owner was the only one who took the time to show me a how to work the skimmer and gave me a few tips on how best to get it working. His willingness to show me how to set it up as well as a working model on his display tank was like a balm to my soul.

Naturally this kind approach lead me to think that the owner knew what he was talking about and since he was willing to take so much time to help me I started to trust him. After all I hadn't got that level of service at many other stores. I did go to a few more stores to ask questions and see what models they had available but it seemed that no one wanted to take the time to explain anything. In the end I decided that I would go back to the first person to help me out and I purchased the skimmer that he highly recommended. All I really knew about the skimmer was that it was a Venturi style skimmer that

hung on the back of the tank. When I told him that my tank had been set up for a while without a skimmer on it, he highly recommended that I do a 30% to 50% water change. This was because my tank would have a lot more protein in the water then a new skimmer would be able to handle. He assured me that I wouldn't have any trouble setting it up and to call on him again if I needed anything else.

I was eager to get home and set up the new filtration device and I hoped to see everything in the tank magically grow that much faster and the water to be that much clearer. I carefully followed the instructions on how to set it up and plugged it in. Now I was lead to believe that it would take a few days before it was able to produce any sort of foam and that I wouldn't need to make too many adjustments, simply turn the air valve higher or lower or open/close the flow adjuster. It sounded simple enough right? Well my skimmer must not have listened to the advice I was given because within 5 minutes I had a fountain of water and bubbles flowing out of the top of the collection cup! This thing was going nuts! I quickly unplugged it and got a bucket to put under the skimmer so I wouldn't loose too much water. I then opened all the valves as much as they would go in hopes of having the water flow through the skimmer and back into the tank rather then out the collection cup. When I plugged it back in again, the same thing happened, a fountain of water and bubbles were streaming out the back of the tank! At this point I was extremely confused since I wasn't expecting any bubbles for about a week and here it was overflowing as soon as it was plugged in.

I reread the instructions which naturally didn't have any explanation for what I was experiencing so naturally I decided to try it one more time thinking the first two times were flukes! Of course, the skimmer didn't want to co-operate so I unplugged it and decided to call the store back the next day to get more advice. After I called the store up, I was told that if I left it running it should calm down in a few days once it removed a lot of the protein from the water. At this point I wasn't a really a happy camper and pointed out that just the day before he said that I shouldn't expect any sort of action for a week or two. His reply was that I must have misunderstood him because anyone knows that a tank that was running without a skimmer for any length of time would have an excess amount of protein in the water and any skimmer would have to work overtime to remove the protein. At this point I was getting a little angry with the store clerk because I know that he never mentioned that at all! After speaking my mind to the store clerk, I hung up the phone and was determined to figure out how to get the blasted skimmer working properly without his brand of help.

I attempted to ask other hobbyists I met on occasion at the store without any luck. No one had heard of the type of skimmer I had purchased so they couldn't help out. This is when I decided that I needed more help and the only other resource I could think of was the Internet. So I set about getting myself an Internet connection. Since I hadn't used the net much before then I was quickly overwhelmed with it. That was an experience all on it's own, but eventually I found MSN groups and one that was dedicated to helping other people learn about their saltwater tanks. Unfortunately I picked one that was abandoned by its owner and there was only one person active on the site. He mentioned that he was starting his own site and that I would get better help if I posted the questions on his new site where he spent all his time. After joining up on the new group, I described the problem I was having with my new skimmer and gave the model. Although he had never heard of the model before, he did a lot of research and together we discovered how to get it operational. The biggest problem I was facing with the skimmer was that I was only told that two types of adjustment I needed to make to the skimmer when in actuality there were three adjustments that had to be fine-tuned. The main piece of information that I was missing was that the height of the skimmer cup played an important role. The higher I could sit cup the more solid the bubbles needed to be in order to get to the collection cup. With this last piece of knowledge and a lot of fiddling I was finally able to get the protein skimmer to work. It took nearly a month of playing and communicating online before things started going smoothly especially since I didn't trust the skimmer to stay on while I was away at work and turned it off every day and only had it running when I was there to carefully monitor it. Let me tell you, that first day I left it on while I went to work was probably one of the longest days of my life. All day I worried that I would go home to a flood, but in the end my worries were unfounded.

I finally had an operating protein skimmer on my tank and indeed the water was a lot clearer and the slightly yellowish tint I didn't even realize I had disappeared. It was a great feeling. Unfortunately though, every time I did anything to the tank from a simple water change to adding more fish, I had to fiddle with the skimmer to get it working properly again. Over the years that I've been using it I've constantly cursed it wishing that I had spent more time looking for a skimmer or found a better model. It was an expensive piece of equipment and one that you don't want to have to replace too often.


Through the frustration of attempting to get the protein skimmer working, I quickly realized that I stumbled over a very helpful tool for keeping my aquarium running smoothly. The Internet provided me with a whole new world of fish keeping information and an place to go when I needed help or inspiration for my tank. I was amazed at the number of people online willing to share their fish keeping knowledge with each other.
I finally had a place to ask all the questions I wanted without people getting annoyed and actually found that I had gained a bit of knowledge that other people hadn't yet learned. So in return for people helping me, I slowly started to help other people who went through similar problems that I had gone through.

Michelle's Marine Diary
By Michelle Stuart

Chapter - one:
Making a start.

Chapter - two:
Finally set up,

Chapter - three:
Cycling the tank,

Chapter - four:
Oh no, algae.

Chapter - five:
The importance of acclimatizing

Chapter - six:
Making some adjustments

Chapter - seven:
The rocks are alive

Chapter - eight:
They're just sleeping!!!

Chapter - nine:
Just one more fish

Chapter - ten:
Pure water

Chapter - eleven:
War is declared

*Chapter - twelve:
The art of skimming