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Reef Aquarium Filtration


We emphasize live rock as this is where good bacteria will live and multiply. These bacteria remove toxic ammonia and nitrites. This is categorized as biological filtration. Two other kinds of filtration we'll be pointing out are mechanical filtration where debris is trapped and removed; and chemical filtration where chemical compounds are used to clean the water.


This is the aquarium where live rock and sand provide biological filtration. As water passes through the live rock, bacteria within the rock break down waste removing toxic ammonia and nitrites. A built-in overflow box with large drains is very important. Too many aquariums are made with small 1" drains that clog easily and will not allow you to put enough water flow through the aquarium.

Water moves from the aquarium through the filter sock into the sump. The filter sock traps pieces of dirt and debris. This kind of filter is categorized as a mechanical filter. You can place a filter media bag with filter media inside of the filter sock if you don't have a media reactor, or enough media reactors. Carbon works well run this way.

Water drains from the overflow box through the filter sock and into the sump. The sump is the heart of any great saltwater aquarium filter system. It provide a platform to hold the filter socks and houses, an in-sump protein skimmer, media reactors, heaters, and return pumps. External pumps sit outside the sump but draw water from it through a bulkhead in the side. Good sumps will include weirs or a bubble trap to get micro-bubbles out of the water before the return pump pumps it back into the aquarium. Vivid Custom Sump Video

Water moves from the sump into the protein skimmer via a small pump. (Pump not displayed in our picture.) Protein skimmers mix air and saltwater rapidly causing dissolved waste to separate from the water, creating foam which collects in the cup of the protein skimmer. The cup must be emptied regularly. This is also categorized as another form of mechanical filtration.

Media reactors make the very most out of filter media by fluidizing it. This means that water is in full contact with all sides of each little piece of filter media. Therefore the media is utilized more efficiently and the same amount of media will last longer than if it was simply placed in a mesh bag with water flowing through it. Media Reactors are useful for running ROWA Phos, Bio Pellets, and a wide range of other filter media.

An aquarium heater is important even if you live in the desert. It is important to keep your aquariums temperature within a 2 degree range. Although you may not need the heater during the day when the lights are on you will often need it at night to prevent the aquarium from over cooling. Using two heaters provides redundancy should one fail.

We highly recommend two pumps in case one fails. If you are out of town during a pump failure a backup pump will help save the lives of your livestock. It's very important to keep water moving. Pump one can become an even better asset if an Oceans Motions wave maker is connected after the outlet of the pump. An Oceans Motions unit will alternate the flow from the return pump between multiple return lines. Changing water flow is important for corals and it's fun to watch the fish swim against changing currents.

A return line can be as simple as plumbing a pipe from the outlet of the return pump into the aquarium. Using a bulkhead to pass the pipe through the side or top bracing of the aquarium makes for a stronger connection. An Oceans Motions unit will enhance your return line by alternating the flow between multiple return lines. A spraybar is made of PVC pipe and will divide the flow from a return pump into multiple smaller return lines. It will not alternate the flow like the Oceans Motions unit will.

This second pump pictured pushes water through the ultra-violet sterilizer, chiller, and then back into the aquarium. Pump two also creates redundancy and will help keep your livestock alive if pump one was to fail.

UV sterilizers kill free-floating parasites, such as the ich parasite, dramatically reducing the spread of disease in the aquarium. They also help to control the growth of nuisance algae. You may use a separate pump, or connect the UV in-line with one of your return lines to create water flow through the UV. Water enters the UV sterilizer and passes by an ultraviolet light that kills the free-floating parasites.

A chiller may be needed to keep the water temperature constant within a 2 degree range, especially if your aquarium is running above 80 - 82F. We prefer to keep our aquariums between 76-78F. A heater is still necessary to prevent the water from over cooling at night time.

Water flows back into the aquarium through the return lines.