Diary of a Tank Crash  by Brian D


copyright ReefNation 2011


As a reef hobbyist for a good number of years now, I always look for ways to make life easier.  As a father of a 2 year old with another one on the way, I just don’t have the time I used to have for the usual “daily tank tinkering.” So this past year, I decided I was tired of manually dosing 2 part and was having a lot of issues with temperature and pH fluctuation within the tank.  I decided it was time to spend a little money and make my life easier. Or so I thought.   As we all know, if you are in this hobby long enough you will experience some form of tank crash.  Its just a matter of when it will happen and what you take away and learn from the experience and  hopefully this article will help you plug one more hole in the dam!


 Adding Reef Tank Technology

I purchased the Neptune Systems Aqua Controller and 3 Bulk Reef Supply dosing pumps. I wanted a reliable controller and read about the iPhone iPad apps and thought this will be pretty helpful and will free up my time on a daily basis. I went with the BRS dosing pumps based on the online reviews and the cost was within the budget. I got the controller setup pretty easily, worked with NeptuneSystems Support to configure the outlets for the dosing pumps and then started running tests every 2-3 days to dial in the Alkalinity, Calcium and Magnesium to the proper daily dosage. After about 2 weeks, I had everything set up how I wanted and everything was running perfectly for about 8 months. Unfortunately, like all automated things, you really should routinely check them and make sure everything is still functioning properly.

Reef Tank Trouble Brewing

In November, I had to travel a fair amount and was only home on weekends. I did the routine water changes, filter cleaning, etc, but didn’t test the water parameters. At the end of November, my SPS corals were starting to loose colors and then I spotted the first signs of coral bleaching and die off starting at the base of my corals.  I immediately ran water tests and found that my Alkalinity levels had dropped to 4.5dkH and Calcium was down to 320ppm. Panic sunk in. I started checking everything in the tank and found that the dosing pumps were not picking up the solution from the containers. I took the pumps down, changed the inlet & outlet hoses, reconnected everything and still nothing. I contacted BRS and they stated the inner tubes within the dosing pumps can become warn over time which turned out to be the issue. I purchased the replacement tubes from BRS, replaced them in the pumps and now the dosing pumps are working properly. But what about the corals?

I immediately started taking all my SPS corals out of the tank, moved them downstairs into a quarantine tank and started examining them all thinking I had some type of parasite problem. Using a magnifying glass, I wasn’t able to find any parasites on the corals. I then decided to dip the corals every 5-7 days in a 5 gallon bucket with CoralRx and Iodine. I had a drip line setup to the bucket along with a powerhead and would leave them in there for about 15 minutes. I then hooked up a MaxiJet 1200 to a hose and would “power wash” the corals with saltwater before replacing them in the quarantine tank for observation.

 Reefkeeping Lessons Learned

Well, after doing a TON of research online, I found the issue I had was both Rapid Tissue Necrosis (RTN) and Slow Tissue Necrosis (STN). This occurs when the corals tissue begins coming off the coral and leaves behind a bare, polyp less, bleached skeleton. RTN and STN can be caused by rapid fluctuation of chemicals within the tank. Considering my parameters used to be Alk – 9-10dkH and Cal – 350-375ppm, the Alkalinity drop was pretty drastic and catastrophic for the SPS corals in my tank.

From the research I was able to do, some people had success with fragging the live parts of the corals and others lost the corals all together. I found a few people that stated they had luck with fragging the corals about ½” above the highest point the skeleton was exposed. I did that on all the SPS corals and disposed of the pieces that had died off. Unfortunately, that meant that several of the larger coral colonies became mini-colonies again. I found this to be successful for my milliporas, a red planet and a rainbow Acropora I had. After fragging those corals, doing a few more dips and monitoring them in the quarantine tank, I have not seen anymore die off. The next signs I hope to see are new growth and some encrustation of the frag plugs they are now mounted to.

On a larger Acropora colony I had, I fragged it 3 different times to stop the STN. The corals arms were roughly 8” in length (6 total pieces) to start with and they are now down to about 4-5”. On another Frogskin Acropora I had, I wasn’t so lucky. It appeared the coral had really died from the inside out. Each time I fragged and dipped it, the die off would appear again within a day or two. I ended up only being able to save one arm of that colony, so now my goal is to grow that frag back into the colony I had before this happened.


Русский: Кораллы в Израиле

Image via Wikipedia

Lastly, the only coral that was really hit with RTN was my Green Montipora Digitata. This coral had 5 arms that were roughly 6” in length. The entire skeleton on this coral was bleached out and dead within a week, even after repeated attempts to frag it.  I’m now going on week 4 in the quarantine tank with all the corals that have survived, and I plan to keep these corals down there for at least another month to ensure there are no lapses. RTN is noticeable quickly, as evidenced by the quick death of my Green Montipora Digitata. STN is a slow killer and can go unnoticed for a length of time before it is identified, and by that time, it may be too late. I wanted to share this experience with fellow reefers to remind us all that even though technology is great, we still need to ensure we don’t lapse on normal tank maintenance.  Hopefully this article will help someone else avoid a similar pitfall in their tank.

Happy Reefing!



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