Algae Turf Scrubbers - myth or reality

Discussion in 'Equipment' started by rygh, Dec 13, 2010.

  1. rygh

    rygh Supporting Member

    Well, I was pretty impressed by that South African tank.
    Lots of great coral, plus a lot of fish, which is not really seen that much.
    But at 15% water changes weekly, it unfortunately says little about the ATS.

    Agree that I have never seen an "awesome" pure SPS+ATS tank + no carbon/big water change.
    And while not really proof of anything, after thinking more, it is very disturbing.
    The fact is that ATS systems are rare, and the more modern intense waterfall type are even more rare.
    But if someone goes to the effort of an ATS, and they succeed, they are usually proud of it, and show it.
    Plus, a fair number of people are actively looking for success stories.
    I would have expected more.


    On another annoying note - I think a lot of the arguments for/against ATS get really
    confused by the different generations.
    The old actual "Turf" horizontal dump bucket types are very different from the
    new vertical waterfall high intensity "Hair" types.
    It is not just a factor of efficiency. The algae types differ, cleaning differs, and growth rate differs.
    As can be seen by that table a few posts ago, algae type makes a big difference.
    Cleaning style and frequency has a large effect on how much scrubber algae ends up in the main tank.
    Even the efficiency matters, as it competes with algae in the main tank.
    So, a lot of the old-experience, good or bad, is not really worth that much.
  2. Thales

    Thales Past President

    Its a fine tank, but I think most of the club tanks I have seen blow it away. Not sure what you haven't see that much - lots of fish in reef tank?
    Don't forget the carbon!

    I have yet to see any 'awesome' ATS tank. They are all ok, but nothing comes to mind that stands out. I keep looking...

    Evidence not proof! ;)
    I only expect more because of the hype. Most of the ATS I have seen pics of look pretty much like I expected them to look.

    The above is the kind of statement that confuses me. There is no data on efficiency of any kind of ATS and no kind of comparison - its all anecdotal - so I am not sure how any kind of useful comparison is to be made.
    In regards to coral or algae 'winning' - that table says nothing about the 'efficiency' of the algae in regards to ATS or nutrient uptake.
    Again, based on what? People who have ATS who say it works great? The water in the tank looks better if I clean the screen more often? :D

    Even that one is a maybe isn't it? Is that post hoc? Did people do anything besides ATS to get rid of algae in the main tank? Algae in the man tank tends to crash over time anyway...
    I don't know how that conclusion can be reached.

    BTW is Santa Monica selling anything yet? :D
  3. tuberider

    tuberider Guest

    I'll weigh in, modern scrubbers do not really differ from what we were doing 20 years ago, I was using screens and plastic gutter material long enough ago that I care not to date myself as I'm getting old, not to mention VHO 65k bulbs and cascading flow :D But.... And this is a HUGE but, I have not stopped learning or have denied the fact that the hobby evolves. Unless of course you have invented new species of algae that have been previously not been known to science, scrubbers have not changed a significant amount, seriously.

    Look, yes ATS can lower nitrate levels, big deal, so do DSBs, carbon source dosing, water changes, excessive skimming, you really need to open your mind beyond ATS. Yes they work, so do a lot of other nitrate reducing regimens, relax man because this statement is a bunch of shit "So, a lot of the old-experience, good or bad, is not really worth that much." LMK when you need help as my advice doesn't mean anything :D
  4. JAR

    JAR Supporting Member

  5. Thales

    Thales Past President

    hehehe 'huge but'.
  6. Thales

    Thales Past President

    This seems to be the important part. ATS supporters seem to think that ATS is a new, simple idea that is better than other schemes, but it really looks like it is just different with its own pros and cons, just like everything else. There is no magic bullet. :D
  7. ryanjiang

    ryanjiang Guest

    +1 to Jeremy!

    Plus a method works for you may not be a good thing, you lose the chance of trying something different, maybe the other method will take you to next level, who knows?

    Can someone answer my side question: what is point against running 7X24 active carbon? I mean running low dosage, non-super-aggressive type, change frequent.
  8. Thales

    Thales Past President

    I see nothing wrong with running carbon 24x7. IMO, the issue comes up when you change it infrequently because you change the status quo quickly. At work, most of the trop salt tanks run carbon.
  9. keyboard now has a mouthfull of gatorade i have to clean off
  10. Qwiv

    Qwiv Guest

    The only issues I have seen with running carbon 24/7 are:

    If you are relying 100% on the carbon like some of the simple fresh water tanks and a biological filter, when you change the carbon out it has a big effect on the water quality. For example, If the carbon becomes your main biological filter if you leave it in the tank long enough and it gets fully colonized by bacteria. As this becomes a significant portion of your biological filtration because you don't have enough live rock or other medium, when you change it out you are removing your biological filter until the new carbon becomes a biological filter again. The solution for that is to only replace portions of the carbon so you are never without a good filter.

    Or, if your using the carbon as a medium to remove chemicals from the water and not as a biological filter, how much carbon and how often you change it has a big effect on the chemistry of the water. Fresh carbon is very reactive when first introduced into you tank and and its absorption qualities quickly depreciate. There is an old study comparing carbon types in Advanced Aquarist I believe that showed that the carbon is most reactive in the first 3 days and quickly drops off after that. I believe the final conclusion was that the carbon's usefulness after 7 days was only a small percentage of what it was when it was first introduced. After that, it was more of a biological filter than a chemical filter. If you graph carbon's chemical filtration as x over time, you should get a spike when you first introduce the carbon and it should quickly drop off after that until you replace the carbon. The more carbon the bigger the spike. Since stability is one of the main goals in your tank, these large spikes are not desirable. The solution is to change smaller amounts of carbon more frequently.

    The more difficult problem is coming up with "how much carbon to use." My chemistry is nothing to brag about (not writing skills) so I will have to refer you to a chemist. Randy use to have a great forum in Reef Central which I think is now archived. He had many threads about what the carbon is doing in your tank and how some of the chemistry works. Obviously the more carbon you add to a tank, the larger effect on the water chemistry. Testing for how much to use is not possible from a practical stand point. I don't know if it is even possible outside of a very controlled environment. I would recommend you start with a small amount, observe your tank and adjust until you see desirable results. All tanks are different so there is no formula. The one on the back of the carbon container is just a guess by the manufacturer.

    Personally, I use carbon when I "sense" there is a need and keep replacing it weekly until whatever made me start using the carbon is gone. After I am satisfied the carbon has done its job, I tend to leave it in the tank until I remember to take it out, because I am lazy with the exception of very small tanks. Some tanks, I used carbon when I wanted to clear up the water or "polish" it. Other tanks, I was constantly replacing it because I had a lot of soft corals that chemically limited the growth of hard corals if I didn't keep up with either water changes or carbon replacement.
  11. rygh

    rygh Supporting Member

    Cool, the argument heated up again.

    So to say it more specifically, without the age related controversial old/new.
    The results and impressions of a horizontal "TURF" algae based system are largely
    irrelevant to the discussion on waterfall hair algae based scrubbers.

    PS: You young punks should not complain to me about being old. :)

    Regarding the old / new ATS systems, my impression was:
    The "older" ATS systems were largely horizontal dump-bucket based.
    These were actively sold for quite a few years, then faded out.
    Those grew TURF algae, hence the term.
    And those were largely under standard CFL. Not sure T5 was even around much then.

    The "newer" ATS systems are largely vertical waterfall types.
    These grow HAIR algae, at a much higher rate.
    The better ones run T5, some LED.

    BUT - And this is an even bigger but.
    My "impressions" are based on the net, and largely from the avid turf scrubber site.
    I took a break from the hobby from about 1980-2004, and really missed all that.


    Those graphs are missing data, sure, but it is very clear from them
    that different algae win/lose versus coral
    Does that say anything specific about hair algae problems, no.
    But it DOES say that you cannot simply assume all algae types cause problems.


    I also pretty firmly believe that a horizontal turf based system is not nearly as efficient
    as a vertical hair based system. That belief is again mostly from the net, but
    also partly from my own tweaking and testing.
    Maybe someone with university access can look up the specific different growth rates
    between hair and turf algae.
    But to me, the logic is twofold: First, it seems that growing down with the flow of water, is
    far more efficient that growing up out of the water.
    Plus, from in-tank experience, that hair stuff grows like crazy.

    The burden of proof in this case is on you, not me.
    If you expect to use results from A as proof for B, it is up to you
    to prove the relationship between A and B, not up to me to disprove it.
  12. houser

    houser Past President

    Let me get my chair adjusted just right first!
  13. rygh

    rygh Supporting Member

    This is pretty simple to answer.
    If you do not clean your scrubber weekly on average, your water turns yellow.
    (Done it myself.)

    You can let it go 2 weeks once in a while without really noticing much, but if you get a bit lazy,
    it pretty quickly shows. Carbon can clean it up of course.
    (Done it myself.)

    If you clean every week religiously, you do not get a yellowing issue. With/without carbon.
    (Done it myself.)

    Now the theory:
    The common theory is that the yellowing is due to older algae at the bottom, near
    the screen dying. It gets no light as algae grows above it.
    That algae falls off, and starts to decompose.
    But also, that algae is what is holding the strand to the screen, so you can
    get strands falling off as well.
    As a result, you get a lot more algae in the main tank (dead/dying/fresh/decomposing)
  14. rygh

    rygh Supporting Member

    So back to the good question of "WHY" you want to use a scrubber.

    Lets look at the other methods of removing nitrates and phosphates.

    1) Lots of water changes.
    Guaranteed to work, lots of benefits, but MAJOR PITA!
    For me (someday soon), a 15% water change will be 45 gallons.
    If you are just doing it to keep trace elements in check, siphoning crud, and
    generally balancing, you need a whole lot less.
    Although like anything else, it can be automated.

    2) Skimmers.
    Well, you almost certainly already have one. And they help - a LOT.
    Will an even bigger one really help? Maybe a more expensive one?
    I am VERY skeptical that these can solve all your problems directly, since they only remove
    precursors, not ammonia/nitrate/phosphate directly.
    And they only remove precursors that end up in the skimmer, not trapped in rock/low flow areas/sand/etc.

    3) Chemical.
    Yes, you can build a big GFO/Phosban/Carbon reactor, and do it that way.
    Guaranteed to work if it is big enough. And something I am considering.
    But often expensive, and making sure you replace the media enough is critical.
    Plus, there are some concerns about what else those things absorb / emit.

    4) DSB/RSDB
    I think I have heard as many horror stories about these as scrubbers.
    Not set up quite right - accidentally disturb the bottom - everything dies.

    5) Bare bottom
    Certainly a big help, but not something I personally like the looks of.
    "Not natural" comments anyone?
    And actually can reduce final denitrification, if you were getting much in your sand.

    6) Reduce the livestock.
    Well duh. But what is the fun in that.

    7) More live rock / special balls
    I am not convinced this really helps all that much.
    You need to set up special circumstances for anaerobic denitrifying bacteria.
    No oxygen, but diffusion of nitrate. Very tricky.

    8) Vodka / similar.
    I don't know much about that, but have heard both good and bad.
    Can work. Can kill things if done wrong.
    Unclear to me if they remove phosphates.

    9) Denitrators.
    Bought one - total waste of money.

    There are probably more.


    So everything has an upside, downside, or limit.

    Beyond that little minor "killing coral" concern, I think it can be argued that
    an ATS is potentially one of the easiest and efficient ways to remove nitrates and phosphates.
    It removes them REALLY efficiently.
    Mine plummeted, and there are many other stories like that.
    Tricky to set up is a real issue, but for me, that is part of the fun.
    Once you do set it up right - very little effort to maintain.
    Initial cost is low if DIY.
    Only long term cost is electricity/bulbs, which is not cheap unless you go LED.

    And of course, methods can be combined.
    In particular: Skimmer + ATS + Carbon + Minor water changes
  15. GreshamH

    GreshamH Guest

    Incorrect. Commercially sold ATS didn't fade out, they were pushed out via direct threats of being sued by Mr Addy. He threatened to sue everyone and their mom for making them even.

    My first ATS was not a dump bucket. It was on a 45 degree angle in fact so that is could utilize the lighting from the display tank :)
  16. rygh

    rygh Supporting Member

    Interesting. Sounds a bit like the early (yet fairly recent) days of LED.

    Curious - Did it grow hair or turf?
  17. Thales

    Thales Past President

    That last question is like saying did it have pods or bugs.
  18. Thales

    Thales Past President

    I don't think you need much to go into that. If you have a nitrate problem and you want to use an AS, you use it. Easy peasy
    I have seen very little evidence to show that AS have much of an effect on P04.

    I don't get why its a PITA. I can do a 200 gallon water change on my home system by flipping two switches.
    The question is, why do you have the nitrate problem in the first place.
    This will have no effect on nitrates.
    You have heard horror stories of RDSB's?

    That seems to be a mischaracterization.

    Well, I see people with nitrate problems going AS and they don't have overstocked tanks.

    I have no idea what you are talking about here. I don't see how LF can kill things or even be done 'wrong'. I don't know what you mean by special balls.
    They absolutely do work. That said, I don't run one.

    You keep saying that, but thats really because you seem to like the method. That is opinion stated as truth, which is really the thing that makes me nervous in these kinds of discussions. What's even crazier is that below you talk about how tricky they are to set up.

    No on has said they don't work well for removing nitrates. Also, how do you know your trates wouldn't have gone down anyway?

    Above you said is one of the easiest ways. It can't be both can it?
  19. Thales

    Thales Past President

    Not really much of an argument going on here. The same opinions are being brought up over and over, so I am not sure how interesting this conversation is going to stay.

    AS work at removing nitrates. Everyone agrees. They have their place, but have yet to be shown to be the panacea or replacement item that supporters think. What else is there really to talk about? :D
  20. Thales

    Thales Past President

    Stop reading the ATS site. Read some of the threads on other sites where you will hear dissenting opinions. Reading his site is like reading the Scientology website and using that to show that others OT levels need work.

    You ran a drum system? Morgan ran one an it worked great for him and Santa Monica has used it as evidence that his system works just as well.
    This is quite ironic. :D

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