"Floating Stuff"

Paul B

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Floating stuff

I was just messing around with my tank and I noticed something that is so obvious but we never seem to remark or think about it. "Floating stuff". Floating stuff in our tanks and in the sea is actually very important, maybe the most important thing there is besides Supermodels and maybe Brillo.

We all know about the food chain in the sea but our tanks, if they are successful also have a food chain and that food chain starts with bacteria. Actually viruses but we don't have to think that small right now. Bacteria run our tanks and we are just there so they have something to make fun of. Next in line are the copepods and amphipods. We as aquarists call anything small a pod but there really are such animals. Copepods and amphipods are crustaceans with a shell and as they grow, they shed that shell. All of our crustaceans shed their shell and most of those shells are not calcium, but chitin or the stuff your fingernails are made out of. Either way, it doesn't de-compose very quickly but builds up along with un eaten food, dead bacteria, algae and possibly lint from Columbus underwear depending on where you collected your water.

It all becomes detritus. In boating we call it "flotsam and jetsum". We think of it as bad like we think of algae, cyano, flatworms, parasites and some Lawyers. Especially the ones on that commercial that say, "If you have ever been injured, anywhere, doing anything, near anyone, you can sue and get big bucks from somebody by doing nothing" .

If we have enough water flow in our tanks the lighter parts of detritus will float around just as it does in the sea. This is actually a good thing and without all this floating detritus we would not have corals, sponges or any filter feeders. As a matter of fact without detritus in the sea we would not be here so what does that say about our kids?

If you just have a tank with a few fish and nothing else, detritus is not that important. Neither is color TV but I digress.

If you have ever gone SCUBA diving even in pristine waters of the South Pacific you will see this stuff because it is all over the place just as it should be in our tanks. Not so much of it that if you stuck an umbrella in your tank it would stand up, but a little. Most of us keep corals, sponges, barnacles, clams, scallops etc . and those things don't have hands or credit cards so they can't eat hot dogs or Chicken Mc Nuggets. They sit there doing nothing with their mouth open waiting for some thing that they can call food to float in. I used to date a girl like that, but my Mom hated her.

In my tank I keep anemone crabs which are filter feeders as are the numerous gorgonians and multitudes of tiny feather dusters and spaghetti worms that populate all the places under my rock. Those creatures need to feed all day and night so those flakes and pellets you throw in there once a day and call food won't do it.

In my opinion detritus, in moderation is a good thing.

Ever wonder why new tanks with all new water, new rocks and a Noob look lousy? I don't mean the Noob looks lousy, I really don't know what the Noob looks like and I imagine some Noobs are quite nice looking, but the tank is probably not very natural looking and not very healthy. It takes time to build up the correct types and numbers of bacteria and detritus helps bacteria to grow by giving it someplace to live where it can suck up nutrients.

We should remember detritus is mostly organic "waste". But waste to some things is food to others.

It isn't good enough to just have some detritus, we need some of it to float up into the water column so it can be captured by the animals that need it. To help it along it is great to have larger creatures that perform that task for us. Did you ever watch a sea ray eat? They make huge clouds of sand and detritus which the smaller creatures rush into to feed. I have a few wrasses that like to dive into the substrate and clowns that constantly clean a nest to spawn. By doing that they stir up the detritus so it can be used by sedentary creatures for food. When my water looks to clean, I use a baster looking thing to stir it up as well as I can.

I realize this and much of what I propose goes against what we all learned at one point or another but it is what it is and you don?t have to believe me, but your filter feeders probably hate you.

In this video of my fireclowns spawning you can see it. It looks like snow.


You can also see it here where my mandarin is in a whiteworm feeder where the copperband can't go. The fish are stirring up the detritus as in both video's the pumps are off.



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I agree with you Paul 100%
At least three times a week I take my turkey baster to my rocks and bottom of the tank to turn up all of the detritus.
Not only to feed the coral but to also get the detritus up into the water column so that the skimmer has a chance to skim some out.
When ever detritus doesn't sit idle does not give stuff like hair algae a chance to take hold.


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Ever wonder why new tanks with all new water, new rocks and a Noob look lousy? I don't mean the Noob looks lousy, I really don't know what the Noob looks like and I imagine some Noobs are quite nice looking...

Great post, as always entertaining as well as thought provoking. My Nano has been running with just rock and water and snails for the last ~40-50 days as I'm trying to build up bacteria and copepod/amphipod populations. When we have guests in our home they get excited to hear I have a saltwater aquarium then they get disappointed when they see it (and it's lack of fish/coral excitement). Doesn't bother me as I use it as a teaching moment to show them other things are happening in a Saltwater environment that are critical in a successful biome.


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Great post Paul B!

I'm right up there with MikeC, I churn up the detritus a few times a week. Also I churn up the sand a bit. Some people have said to me not to disturb the sand to much, but I have a shallow sand bed and it's been working fine for years!

Paul B

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Mike your beautiful corals love you for that practice.
I stir mine up so much that I can't see anything in the tank. The tube worms and most everything else love it. The blue stripe pipefish are not fond of that practice because I think it clogs their tiny gills, but they get over it.

Here is a copepod, I can't tell if it is a male or female because I can't see it's eyelashes.


Paul B

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I think we should not be afraid to do this to our tanks. I do this a couple of times a year, it suspends detritus and clears out pathways in my gravel and also allows me to remove extra detritus while leaving some of it. If you have a deep sand bed forget about doing that and go out to dinner.

Here this Male Model is diving off one of the remote Hawaiian Islands. You can see how murky the water is there and that is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But the murkiness in Hawaiian Islands is due to volcanic action and not so much organic matter so it doesn't do much for corals and is actually a detriment which is one reason not to many corals live there.

And the few that do, are constantly covered in this goo stuff. There is a spotted moray in there and I think he is lonely because there are also very few fish there except Moorish Idols that eat that stuff.

The reason there are no large fisheries in the tropics is due to the lack of detritus which feeds plankton, which feeds small fish, which feeds the tuna, cod, swordfish, halibut and everything else we eat.
Those fish are caught mostly in northern waters which are very murky. Here in New York our visibility is measured in inches. Much of that is due to the fine mud bottom but the rest of it is due to life that grew because of the nutrients. If I hold up a glass of New York water I will see multitudes of swimming, crawling and slithering creatures but if you hold up a glass of tropical water, you may see a Supermodel through the glass on the beach and not much of anything else.
I took that picture of my crab avatar in New York water as I was diving for lobsters. I took that picture from about an inch away because any further and you wouldn't see it. That crab was about 1/2" long.
Actually on that day, as my dive partner and I were searching for lobsters we came across a tire. Tires are all over the seafloor here because they fall off tug boats that ply the water all over New York harbor. Lobsters are usually in tires. There was no lobster in this tire but there were about 8 hermit crabs. Most of the crabs were around the edges of the tire but two of them were in the center fighting. After a few minutes, those two crabs got tired and two other crabs went at it in the center. This went on with us watching until we ran out of air. It was the most interesting fight I ever say all it needed was the bell.