When fish waste and other organic materials accumulate in a reef aquarium, the ammonia and nitrite they produce can be deadly to the fish. The nitrogen cycle in an established aquarium -- one with appropriate plant, algae and bacteria populations -- converts these toxins into less toxic nitrate, which is adequate for many species. But, certain marine species are much more sensitive than others. Removing organic waste with a protein skimmer ultimately keeps nitrate levels much lower than they would otherwise be, and maintains a much healthier environment.
A Little About Protein Skimmers
Protein skimmers interrupt the nitrogen cycle by actively removing organic waste, dead organisms, leftover food and debris from the tank prior to their breaking down. By doing this, excessive algae growth is cut down, water quality and clarity are improved and the aquarium filtration system is able to work more efficiently.
The Process Behind Protein Skimmers
Protein skimmers utilize a process called adsorption to bind organic waste materials within a reaction chamber placed in the tank. As the bubbles rise, they propel this waste upward and out of the water column, into a collection cup for disposal. The bubbles produced also increase oxygen circulation throughout the tank, a process that regulates pH.
Choosing the Best Protein Skimmer
The best skimmer is the largest protein skimmer your tank will allow. An aquarist can help determine an appropriate skimmer based on your tank's specifications and the organisms inhabiting it, such as hard or soft corals and varying plant species. Some protein skimmers come packaged with biological filtration systems as well. They're recommended for new aquarium owners.
A protein skimmer is a worthy investment for large and complex reef aquariums. It benefits the main tank as well as the filtration system. While the initial investment is greater, the payoff in terms of water quality, clarity and healthier organisms makes the addition worth it for tanks with a large population or with varying organisms.
Working with both small animals and exotics, Pamela Meadors has devoted more than 15 years to the veterinary field. She possesses a bachelor's degree in biological sciences and is the proud mom of a blind hedgehog.