Saltwater filtration has come a long way over the last decade. One of the newest concepts in tank filtration is called the refugium. Quite simply, a refugium is a smaller tank or partitioned area in which additional biological filtration occurs. In most instances one will place the refugium tank below the primary tank. This can be used in addition to a sump or be a part of the sump or hang off of the back of the primary tank for those not using a sump or wet/dry drip filter.

The effectiveness of a refugium makes it hard for one to see just how simple the overall concept and creation of a refugium is. It can be built in various ways but the general design is as follows: using an additional space outside the primary tank allow water to enter, place a substrate in the bottom, place a form of macro algae, equip with a light, and finally have a return pump to bring the water back to the primary tank. In more detail the substrate used generally is in the form of a live sand or a specialized mud used in sump systems. This allows beneficial bacteria to thrive as well as small organisms called copepods to live. Furthermore, placing macro algae in the form of a Caulerpa or Chaetomorpha provides additional filtration as the algae eats the excess nitrates and phosphates put off from the primary tank. It is then necessary to have lighting with a Kelvin rating around 6,000. This provides the light needed to maintain the macro algae’s life. Finally, utilize a pump to return the cleaned water back into the primary tank system.

Essentially a refugium creates its own secondary bio-diverse environment that can not only act as a filtration system, but can house smaller species of life that would normally become a meal in the primary tank. Microorganisms will begin to grow and flourish in the refugium too. These organisms come in an array of specimens: copepods, mysis shrimp, micro brittle starfish, and amphipods. Many of these can make their way into the primary tank where they act as scavengers with the small size allowing them to get deep into crevices in the live rock. These tiny organisms also can act as a natural food source for many tank inhabitants as well. Fish, shrimp, hermit crabs, snails and even corals will take advantage of this live food. Not only is live food more nutritional than processed food, it also gives a more natural environment to your livestock.

The use of a refugium as a filtration system is unique as it is the only method that is completely natural. Aside from occasionally cleaning excess debris from the surface of the substrate and replacing the bulb yearly use of a refugium is a very low maintenance filter system that is easy to create.

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