The bio ball controversy

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Aquarium Advice Regular
May 13, 2014
portland, or
So I got a sw established tank with fish about 5 or six weeks ago. it has what I think is called an all in one built in and overflow on the back instead of a sump on the bottom. The back holds the skimmer in one compartment, heater in one and bio balls in the other 2. I've been told by lfs to slowly start removing bio balls and I've read many different things about this and actually started removing some each week during water changes but I thought I'd get some of your opinions on the subject. Do I leave the bio balls in or take them out?
Yeah my lfs told me bio balls are for fish only tanks. I think it because they have a tendency to cause higher nitrates if they are not cleaned often. I think most fish only tanks use bioballs and phosban together to keep the levels down. But some one who can give you more detail will answer you. I'm kinda new myself. I don't use bioballs and my tank is a success so far. The balls are supposed to grow beneficial bacteria that eats nitrates but if they aren't cleaned they will turn into a nitrate farm. Also I believe nitrates are more important to keep as low as possible in a reef tank with live rock, fish and coral than a fish only tank. But this is just my best guess.

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Bioballs do the same thing as live rock. If you have 1-1.5 lbs of rock per gallon in your tank, you basically have the job done. You tie that in with bioballs being able to become nitrate issues from poor maintenance habits, they can easily be avoided.
I'm not exactly sure how many lbs of live rock is in the aquarium. Any guesses? Here's a photo.

ImageUploadedByAquarium Advice1400555313.653614.jpg

Wondering how often bio balls need to be cleaned for good maintenence while I'm slowly getting rid of 10-20 a week
Rule of thumb is 1 lb of lr (live rock) per gallon of water in your system. 100gal 100lbs of of live rock or LR.

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How big is the tank?

If you are going to have corals, I'd get rid of the bio balls. I had a FOWLR for years with bio balls and no skimmer and it was fine. Looking back, I have no idea how, but somehow it worked out. Would never go that route again though.
100 gallons but probably at least 20 is separated in back of tank by divider/ overflow area where the bio balls, skimmer and heater are.

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Replace the bio balls with macro algae and a light to grow it.

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Would I just put it in the back or should I lay sand down there as well? I was thinking of trying to do a copepod area for the mandarin as well. The lighting for the algae would go on an opposite schedule then the regular lights right? What kind of light do you recommend?

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A lot of people just buy lights from home depot. Just research it. I use a fluval led but I'm not sure how well it works in comparison to other people's set ups. I just installed it a few weeks ago. I haven't seen significant growth but my nitrates are basically 0 and my copods are doing well in there. I used about 1 inch of refugium mud with a 1 inch aragonite sand bed over the top. Keep in mind if you use mud you are supposed to change 50% of the mud every year. Some people use a deep sand bed in there refugium and some go bare bottom. Just research your options and pick what you think will be best for your set up.

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Oh and yes generally people have there refugium lights on an opposite schedule from there main display tank. I let mine overlap by 1hr.

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Hi gleach- So I have still been taking out the bio balls. They are probably more then half way out. I slowed it down though because I rinsed them one week on top of taking 10 out and got diatoms. So now I'm doing about 10 every other week. My nitrates are still at 0 so that's good. How's the refugium doing?

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Cool man did you end up setting up a refugium yet?

My refugium is doing well too good almost, not a nitrate even since the last time we spoke.

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Do you have chaeto in it? Or just the mud and sand? I haven't got anything in. Waiting for bio balls to get out so I can use that space

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Chaeto in mine. I'm supreme at how well it works to. I'm glad to hear your being patient with it man.

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