Protein skimmers all follow one general concept, in that they remove proteins from the water. But there are different methods implemented to do so.
The basic concept is that tiny bubbles of air are introduced into the water, which brings the organic materials to the surface to be pushed into a collection cup (foamy!). We are going to take a look at the different methods used to do this.
The Different Types & Technologies of Protein Skimmers
Nearly all common types of protein skimmers can pretty much be categorized within these two categories Co-Current & Counter-Current.
What’s the difference?
- Co-current designs introduce the air flow at the bottom of the skimmer unit, flowing upwards with the water current. Basically, the air is flowing the same direction as the water.
- Counter-current designs introduce the air flow against the water flow, pushing the air against the water current. This allows the air bubbles to flow against the water for a short period of time before following with the flow of the water, which in theory gives the air bubbles more contact time within the water. Some argue that this makes counter-current systems more effective.
Now that we’ve covered the two basic categories, let’s take a look at the different types of technologies within these categories.
1. Venturi Protein Skimmers (co-current)
This is a popular protein skimmer technology that utilizes a venturi pump to introduce air to the water. The water flows through the venturi pump, air is introduced, and the water/air mix flows into the main skimmer chamber. From there, the foam overflows into the collection cup.
2. Air Stone Protein Skimmers (co-current)
This type of protein skimmer is the most basic, and even though it can work, it may not be as effective as newer protein skimming technologies. The idea is that an air stone is used to create micro bubbles, and the water flow it pushed through these micro bubbles. It’s a very basic concept.
3. Aspirating Protein Skimmers (counter-current)
This technology uses pin-wheels or mesh-wheels (like an impeller) to mix air and water – the air/water is mixed directly by the impeller. The mixture is typically forced downward into the skimmer body and then the bubbles (and foam) rise to the top and flow into the collection cup.
These types of skimmers are pretty popular, and can come in pretty compact sizes for smaller aquariums. Many different brands make this type of protein skimmer.
4. Downdraft Protein Skimmers (counter-current)
These types of skimmers drive a current of water down into tubes or chambers that contain bio balls or other plastic media. This mixes the air and water effectively, and foam is pushed into a collection cup.
5. Beckett Protein Skimmers (counter-current)
Beckett skimmers work much like downdraft skimmers, but they don’t use plastic media to mix the air and water. A foam nozzle is used to make the air bubbles, and the stream is forced down into the skimmer chamber.
6. Spray Induction (counter-current)
This technology is patented by AquaC, and is only available in their skimmers. This works similarly to the downdraft/Beckett skimmers. A spray nozzle is fixed above the water levels and the water/air mix is pushed down through the skimmer body and foam rises into a collection cup.
Is your head spinning yet? If so, just think of it like this – all of these technologies are designed to mix air and water, creating foam, which rises and flows into a collection cup. The specific way in which these types of skimmers do that may vary, but that’s what it really comes down to.
If you have a saltwater aquarium, and are not using a protein skimmer, you really should reconsider. Protein skimmers can play a large role in maintaining excellent aquarium water quality – if implemented properly.
To understand why you need a protein skimmer, it is best to take a look at what a protein skimmer will do. A protein skimmer removes organic and other waste from the aquarium water, it “skims the proteins”.
Why Do You Need a Protein Skimmer?
It can be argued that a protein skimmer may not be needed, but it really depends on personal preference and what type of aquarium is being discussed. You may not need to use a protein skimmer if you are removing wastes and nitrates from the water through other means. However, a protein skimmer gives you the ability to remove a lot of the waste quickly and efficiently. And even more importantly, this is done continuously, as a skimmer is running all the time.
The organic materials that are removed from the water by the protein skimmer would otherwise be broken down into ammonia, which is not a good thing at all.
This is why a protein skimmer can be so powerful. It will remove stuff that normally turns into problematic chemicals. It’s preventative maintenance.
A protein skimmer sits at the bottom of a very important chain that keeps a saltwater aquarium healthy. If you don’t remove the organic wastes to some extent, you are promoting ammonia, nitrates and then poor water quality with excessive algae growth and other issues.
The best protein skimmer, used in conjunction with other filtration mechanisms, can be an important cog in the wheel when promoting good water quality in your aquarium. If you are not using a protein skimmer, and are experiencing any issues we have mentioned, it is time to try to use one.
It should be noted that protein skimmers are not effective in freshwater aquariums. Only saltwater promotes the methods that are used to skim proteins from the water in these devices.
Who Uses Protein Skimmers?
To better understand the need for protein skimmers, let’s take a look at the types of aquarium owners/operators that use them.
People with Fish Only w/ Live Rock Aquariums
People with fish only aquariums can always benefit from the use of a protein skimmer. Fish generate a lot of waste that ends up in the aquarium water, contributing to bad water quality. Live rock is also very organic and has a tendency to promote extra wastes in the water at times. For this reason, it makes sense to use a protein skimmer if you have fish only with live rock.
People with Reef Aquariums
People who have corals can benefit from the use of a protein skimmer. In addition to removing organic wastes and helping to keep the water at a top quality level, a skimmer can help to remove toxins that are released by some types of corals.
In a reef only aquarium, the owner will need to pay attention to a couple things. Trace elements can be removed by a skimmer, so it’s good to add these elements to the water regularly. Also, a skimmer can remove plankton from the water. When adding plankton to your aquarium, it might be best to turn the skimmer off for a few hours.
Don’t let these potential negatives deter you if you fall into this reef-only group, however. Just use the skimmer smartly, and you will be able to reap the benefits that it has to offer.
People with Invertebrates
Many invertebrates are known to release toxins into the water, and a protein skimmer can be useful to counter this and help remove these substances. Also, some invertebrates can be intolerant of bad water quality, more so than fish. For this reason, the fact that a protein skimmer will promote good water quality should not be overlooked.
As you can see, a protein skimmer can benefit pretty much all saltwater aquarium scenarios. Anybody that needs to remove wastes and organics from their saltwater aquarium can benefit from a protein skimmer.
One of the biggest problems that confront many new reef aquarists is the difficulty of obtaining accurate information. Frequently, stores or salespeople would rather turn a quick buck than offer sound advice. It’s a real shame since reef keeping is such a rewarding hobby, but one which requires skill, patience, and most of all knowledge.
Almost every new reef keeper goes through an initial period of frustration due to a lack of accurate information and ill-informed advice. First and foremost, knowledge and experience are the key ingredients to a successful reef tank. No sum of money or fancy equipment can make up for a lack of know-how. Now that I’ve stressed the need for knowledge, let’s cover some of the basic essentials. I firmly believe that there are three key ingredients to a beautiful and healthy reef aquarium.
Light, Live Rock, and Protein Skimming
Now, these are by no means the only important factors that go into a successful tank, but they are the strong foundation which everything else rests upon. Let’s briefly cover each topic…
Most corals are essentially photosynthetic animals. A major portion of their nutrition comes from the sun’s energy since they share a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae. In an aquarium, we must attempt to provide a suitable alternative to natural sunlight. This is accomplished through high-intensity lighting (either metal halide or fluorescent bulbs of the proper spectral wavelength). Improper lighting is probably the most common mistake beginning aquarists unwittingly make. In short, do not skimp on the light!
2. Live Rock
A coral reef is built from the remains of millions of calcium depositing creatures (corals, clams, arthropods, etc…). Over time, calcareous algae cement these skeletons together into a large framework which future generations use as a suitable substrate for growth. Live rock is essentially a chunk of the reef with many of its accompanying organisms left intact.
In an aquarium, live rock serves several purposes. It accomplishes the role of a biological filter by providing a substrate for helpful bacteria to live and convert harmful chemicals into inert nitrogen gas. Live rock also serves as a natural looking framework for the coral specimens in the tank. Finally, pieces of live rock often contain many tiny creatures such as shrimps, worms, algae, and sponges which hitchhike along with the rock from the sea to your living room. Unlike a “show tank” with its sterile gravel and plastic decorations, an aquarium with beautiful live rock is a miniature ecosystem. The higher the quality of live rock you purchase, the greater your chance for success. Optimum live rock is often light and porous, covered with pink and purple coralline algae, and oddly shaped with plenty of nooks and crannies.
3. Protein Skimming
The final key ingredient to a successful reef aquarium is protein skimming. Unfortunately, it is an ingredient that is often overlooked or neglected. The process by which protein skimming works is fairly complicated, but the basics are simple. Air bubbles are injected into a chamber of aquarium water, where they interact with the saltwater and rise to the surface. Proteins, carbohydrates, and toxic substances gather on the surface of the air bubbles. As the bubbles rise, they produce a thick foam which is then skimmed off and removed from the system.
Protein skimming not only removes a large majority of the wastes produced by the aquarium’s inhabitants but also fiercely oxygenates the water. Although some reef keepers advocate “going skimmerless”, beginners should use every available tool at their disposal to make the initial learning process as easy as possible. I have briefly glossed over the three key ingredients to a healthy reef tank.
Hopefully, those of you who are just entering the hobby will take this information to heart and then do your own research and learn more about each individual topic. Certainly, one could write volumes about any one of these topics alone. The purpose of this article is to serve as an introduction to each subject and not to delve to deep into their technicalities. In future articles, we will learn many more of the intricate details which lend themselves to a beautiful reef microcosm. Until then, happy reef keeping!!
Today I am going to tell you all about the saga of my bubble tip anemone. After finally overcoming the issues with my much deadlier carpet anemone I decided instead I would purchase a smaller, more colorful bubble tip anemone. It was a nice thought at first and a great experience, however, I have quickly learned that anemones have a mind of their own!
Firstly, if you want to keep lots of nice corals in your aquarium, I suggest you think twice about purchasing an anemone unless you have a seascape that can isolate it from the majority of your corals or lots of money to spend on replacing your corals! I made the mistake of placing my anemone in a location that allowed ease of movement and growth resulting in danger to corals. They like to stick to things like rocks and the glass of your saltwater aquarium. If you can place it somewhere on the sand bed and let it dig itself to the glass you might find it will not move greatly from there. My bubble tip anemone seemed to gravitate towards my powerhead and would affect the flow of the water. Don’t add any corals until the anemone has been stationary for a few weeks.
After removing my previous carpet anemone I was worried about my 3 clownfish as I had just taken away their home, however, after a few days, I found they settled in quite fine and found new territory to call home. About 3 weeks later I got a surprise when I came home from work and found the clownfish hosting in the small bubble tip anemone. Everything was going well, the clownfish made a new home, the BTA was manageable and in a great spot, corals were happy but any aquarist knows that this new found peace in your saltwater aquarium doesn’t last forever.
Over the next 3 months the bubble tip anemone repositioned itself and grew at an amazing or should I say alarming rate. I understand that Clownfish feed their anemone host so this would explain the rapid growth. I found myself repositioning corals constantly to avoid them being stung. I also noticed as the anemone grew it lost it’s clear yellow color and beautiful purple tips. It also began stretching out and eventually lost its bubble tips and just became this large stringy beast!
I let this go on for another 3 months and finally made the executive decision to remove the bubble tip anemone. I first started this aquarium to have beautiful corals and fish and unfortunately, the bubble tip anemone was making this more difficult. I once again angered the clownfish to the point where the female would consistently bite my finger when my hands in the tank and she still does o this day! However, they quickly adapted to life without a host. I have since added a large hammer coral that I am hoping will play host to the 3 clownfish, fingers crossed!