Activated carbon is a porous form of carbon that can be used to absorb or remove dissolved organics that give water its yellow tint. Removing these materials will help with biological filtration and increase water clarity. In theory, better clarity will aid light transmission through the water column and improve PAR (Photsynthetically Available Radiation, which is all radiation between 400-700 nm wavelength range)
Does Activated Carbon Remove Beneficial Trace Elements?
One of the big arguments against using activated carbon on a continual basis is that it removes beneficial trace elements from the water. I have used carbon continuously on all of my tanks and have not seen any negative side effects on my corals. This is purely an observation and not based on any scientific facts. According to Dr. Timothy A. Hovanec, who is a noted expert in the field, \”activated carbon is going to have no effect on the majority of elements found in seawater\”.
Another knock against using activated carbon is that it is unhealthy for certain fish and can lead to head and lateral line erosion (HLLE). A study conducted by Jay F. Hemdal concludes that hard pelleted carbon did not cause severe HLLE, while the soft, dusty carbon did. If you do use carbon, Jay recommends rinsing it well with RO water and using an effective skimmer. It is also important not to place it in a carbon reactor with high flow, which can break it up into tiny particles.
Use The Least Amount Necessary
The amount of carbon one should use will vary depending on the tank. The general guideline is to use the least amount necessary. Over time carbon will lose its ability to absorb materials so it will have to be replaced on regular basis. Each tank is different so the frequency of replacement will vary.
So do the benefits outweigh the minuses when using activated carbon? I am a SPS guy and will continue to use carbon on a regular basis since it improves water clarity. HLLE disease is certainly a downside so I do follow the guidelines of use mentioned above to minimize the chances of it occurring.
If you would like some help with a new tank build, including help designing a custom aquarium, or help re-configuring your current setup then you can visit this page for more information. And if you are looking to add some equipment, I do sell GHL, Pax Bellum, Reef Octopus Calcium and Kalk Reactors and Royal Exclusiv products, including Dreamboxes, which is the equipment I use and recommend. I also sell Reef Brite metal halide and LED fixtures as well as Maxspect & IceCap Gyres.
As for additional insights and information, please explore my many other reef tank and SPS related articles as well as my YouTube channel. For an even deeper dive into reef tank care you can check out my Reef Keeping Master Class. This online course is an immersive and one of a kind educational tool designed to help reef aquarium hobbyists build and maintain a beautiful SPS reef tank. The course is a series of video presentations with some supplemental video from my YouTube channel. There are also quizzes to help students retain and understand the information presented in the course.
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