Meditation on water changes
When I sat down to write today’s blog post I was hit with writer’s block. I wasn’t sure what to write about. Normally, I am inspired either by something that I have experienced recently, or something I have read or heard about. I’m not sure if it’s the summer doldrums—but I had nothing on my mind.
So I challenged myself with a new approach; I asked myself to answer a question—a pretty big question.
If I could change your behavior in some tiny way that would help you improve your saltwater aquarium—what would be the one thing I’d ask you do to?
I figured that a question like this probably wouldn’t uncover some huge over-looked gap in what we do, but it had a shot at being something useful—so I continued to contemplate the idea. I knew I didn’t have any better ideas.
The first thought that came to mind was quarantine. While everyone SHOULD abide by a strict quarantine procedure for every animal they add to their tanks, my sense is that not many people do—and I know I personally quarantine (against my better judgment) inconsistently—which is almost pointless. Certainly I could make a difference with this blog post if I could convince you of the merits of quarantine and help you apply those processes more effectively. After all, failing to have a safe system could result in the obliteration of your whole saltwater aquarium set-up in the worst-case scenario (did I just use two hyphenated words in the same sentence? Weird).
After a moment, I realized that topic was kind of lame. Even if I somehow got the message through and you did something dramatically different that made your tank safer—you would never know it. You would never SEE the benefits. The only upside is that you would potentially avoid a major issue and never know it. And furthermore, let’s say 100 people like you took up the flag and did something about it—what % of you would actually be exposed to an event that would turn catastrophic? Two percent? Five percent? Maybe 10%?
Not quite the impact I was looking for.
A worthwhile cause, but it didn’t really rise to my challenge adequately.
That was the ‘ah-ha moment’ that helped me see the clear winner. The problem with the quarantine solution was that it would take a lot of people to change to help only a very few. So I turned that logic upside down. Instead of something that would prevent the most devastating, but rare events—what about something that is mundane, boring and affects EVERYONE equally?
The humble, ignored, even avoided…partial water change. The bane of my aquarium existence. Ironic that it was the remedy for my writer’s block. But it was a remedy for writer’s block, because I doubted myself—what could I possibly say about water changes that hasn’t already been said a hundred times?
That’s when I decided to write this meditation on water changes…certainly nobody else out there is nerdy enough to write a meditation on partial water changes for an aquarium
Meditation on Partial Water Changes
At the risk of stating the obvious here, water changes are one of the most important things you can do for the health of the animals in your aquarium (you may be thinking… “thank you, Captain Obvious!”). In all seriousness, they very literally address (partially) any water-born issue in your aquarium. The problem with partial water changes is that it’s crude, manual, non-technical, inglorious, unskilled hard work.
But this simple, under-appreciated chore sweeps out the bad and replaces it with new, fresh, life-sustaining chemistry.
The well-worn path
I’m a little tired of the well-worn advice, but if I put my Captain Obvious cape back on for a moment—the standard advice is sound:
- More frequent, smaller volume water changes are better (for routine maintenance) than high volume infrequent water changes.
However, asking you perform more partial water changes is akin to asking you to eat healthier or exercise more. You probably know you should be doing it—but life gets in the way.
No, I would fail miserably at my goal if that was the only lever I pulled. I’m not going to stop there. I’m going to challenge you to think about your water changes in a way that you may not have before.
The not-so-obvious opportunities
To find some not-so-common opportunities to improve the humble partial water change, I decided to break the process down into steps—and look more closely at those steps for opportunities:
- Step 1: Preparing the bucket
- Step 2: Scooping the salt
- Step 3: Mixing the salt water
- Step 4: Letting the water age/mature
- Step 5: Heating and aerating the water until it is used
- Step 6: Removing the waste water (siphoning/cleaning)
- Step 7: Dumping the water
- Step 8: Replacing the water back into the aquarium
Step 1: I don’t know about you, but there is always something in my buckets. Sometimes equipment, sometimes food, sometimes spiders or…who knows what—but always start out by cleaning out the bucket.
Step 2: Scooping the salt—yep…Captain Obvious is back (with any luck now, I’m going to show up in the search engines now for that term…what a waste of keyword energy…)
Step 3: Mixing the salt water—Finally, something to ponder—do you use tap water or RO/DI?
Step 4: Letting the water age/mature
Step 5: Heating and aerating the water until it is used
Step 6: Removing the waste water (siphoning/cleaning)
Step 7: Dumping the old water out
Step 8: Replacing the water back in the aquarium
I know you already know the steps in a water change. My point, in writing out the steps isn’t to instruct, as much as give you an opportunity to reflect on exactly what you do.
For example, do you currently use tap water? Could you improve the quality of the water changes by switching to RO/DI water instead? Notice, I’m not asking you to do water changes any more frequently—I’m just asking you to change up something you do to make your water changes a little better.
Do you let your water age/mature long enough? I’m notoriously bad at this. This opportunity is a blinking red neon sign for me. I can totally do better here—it wouldn’t even take any extra time—it would just involve making my water on a different day than the day of the water change. I can do that—can you?
What about the water your remove? Is there anything you can do there to do a ‘less lazy siphon’? Do you remove as much debris and detritus as you can? I’m not judging, just asking the question.
How about when you put the water back in—I know I schlep the bucket up and over the top lip of the tank and dump the water in—totally aggravating the soft corals in the front. I know its wrong to do—but I still do it—because I never took the time to change my approach. I could very easily use a pump and direct the stream someplace else—is that something you could do to improve the quality of your water changes?
- I’m going to commit to doing something this week to improve the quality of my water changes.
- I’m not going to work any harder
- I’m not going to do work more often
No, I’m going to do this simple, humble, boring, annoying water change a little bit smarter this time.
Do you want to take the pledge with me? If so, download the Water Change Pledge PDF or leave a comment. What are you going to do differently to improve your water changes?