How to Maximize Your Filtration Media
Everybody wants their money to go farther, especially in the aquarium hobby. The less water and filter media changes you have to pay for, the more money you have available for amazing corals and fish! However, you don't want to skimp on your filtration, so the best way to get the most of your filtration media is to set up media reactors. Media reactors are fairly inexpensive and the long term savings are a huge benefit. Here's how to get the most out of your filtration media.
The three most commonly used filtration media for marine and reef aquariums are carbon, biopellets and granular ferric oxide (GFO). Each media type has differing exhaustion rates and require different flow rates, so it's best to set up an individual reactor for each. Start with a media reactor such at the Two Little Fishies Phosban Reactor. This comes with all the items you'll need except for the pump. When selecting a pump, make sure you choose one that has the proper flow rate for the type of media you will be using it for. Also, putting a ball valve between the pump and the reactor is a good idea, to help dial in the proper flow rate.
GFO is a fine media that requires a very low flow rate. If you give it too much water flow, the GFO particles will easily break apart and cover your tank with a fine red dust. GFO is used to control phosphates in your aquarium, and the exhaustion rate can be anywhere from 2-4 months depending on how much GFO you use in the reactor, and how much phosphate you have in your water to begin with. High quality GFO such as ROWAphos has been treated to achieve more efficacy, thus requiring less frequent changes. Alternately, an aluminum based phosphate removal media can be used such as Triton AL99 PO4.
Biopellets are used primarily to control phosphates & nitrates, and the exhaustion rate is anywhere between between 3-5 months, depending on the nitrate levels in your aquarium. These should be replenished as needed. Biopellets require high water flow and should be tumbled in the reactor chamber rigorously for maximum efficacy. There are a variety of biopellets available including these from Simplicity, and Two Little Fishies.
Carbon is a porous media that typically comes in either pelletized or granular form, and is used to remove dissolved organics, chlorine and some heavy metals. It also helps keep your aquarium from smelling 'fishy' by removing phenols from the water. Carbon has a faster exhaustion rate than biopellets and GFO and should be replaced every 2 - 4 weeks depending on the bioload of your aquarium. Carbon should be tumbled at a low to moderate rate and the water flow to your carbon reactor should be adjusted accordingly. The pelletized version is very common and inexpensive. The granular version can be a bit more expensive because it is more porous, thus needing to be changed less frequently.