Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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ao 02-13-2013 01:04 AM

Deep Sand Beds
I rarely see this mentioned in the freshwater aquarium. A local aquarist just linked our group to this article. Has anyone had experience with deep sand beds in fresh water aquaria to eliminate nitrates?

Deep Sand Beds

AbbeysDad 02-13-2013 08:06 AM

I'll offer an opinion based on extensive study and some limited experience. So what follows is merely food for thought.
I think deep sand has potential in FW, just as it has in SW, BUT is dependent on an extensive "bio-collaboration".

> Sand grain size. Sand that is too coarse would have to be extra deep in order to create any real anaerobic regions. Sand that is too fine will likely pack and impede plant root growth and bacteria cultures. Pool filter sand is preferred by many proponents of deep sand.

> Rooted Plants are required to produce localized oxygenated regions and nutrient absorbtion.

> Substrate creatures like (California black) worms and Malaysian Trumpet snails work in the substrate food web.

> MULM is required as a food source for the biology that make deep sand work.
This can present a somewhat offensive appearance for many fish keepers but siphoning the surface removes the food necessary to "feed the sand critters".

> UNDISTURBED SAND - many that have experimented with deep sand somehow become convinced they need to stir the sand bed. This is very counter productive as detritus stirred deep in the sand results in putrid anaerobic decomposition, something we never want in our aquarium.

> Time - it takes many months to develop and culture the deep sand bed.

Just like a lot of living plants, deep sand does offer the potential to further assist in water purification and completion of the N2 cycle (that being nitrate conversion to nitrogen gas).
On the other hand there are some other considerations...
What if we take steps to prevent tank generated nitrates? That which is never created needs not be removed.
What is the objective in nitrate removal? - Even if we were able to process nitrates, although a good thing, what about the other pollutants in the water that get removed with the weekly water change? Admittedly, many organic compounds decompose into fairly inert components. However, there are some things that will concentrate and in time negatively affect water quality.

Footnote: I personally believe that with good filtration/purification, clean tank/filter maintenance, periodic use of 'chemical' filtration (e.g. materials like activated carbon and synthetic scavenger resins that adsorb impurities) and proper feeding ensuring that stock is not over fed producing excess waste, AND maintaining an appropriate stock level/bio-load, weekly water change volumes 'could' be effectively reduced. HOWEVER, partial weekly water changes (lets say at least 10%) remain essential in maintaining a healthy aquarium. Like rain in the amazon, the WWC removes used water and charges the system with new fresh water that stimulates all of the tank biology.

beaslbob 02-13-2013 12:18 PM

IMHO plant life (true plants in FW and macro algaes in marine tanks) is much better and more stable then using Deep sand beds.

my .02

ao 02-13-2013 08:21 PM

I'm also a big advocate of planted tanks...
But I am intrigued by the idea of nitrate removal in a non planted system :)

I also believe that anaerobic bacteria contribute to the cretion of a more complete eco system than plants alone.

jentralala 02-14-2013 02:37 PM


Would it be beneficial in a regular sand tank to introduce populations of blackworms, as a continuous breeding food source for the fish? I'm intrigued.

AbbeysDad 02-14-2013 03:18 PM


Originally Posted by jentralala (Post 1430688)

Would it be beneficial in a regular sand tank to introduce populations of blackworms, as a continuous breeding food source for the fish? I'm intrigued.

Well first, what's a 'regular sand tank'? They need at least 2-3" of sand in a well planted tank and a good food source (mulm) that most display tanks tend not to have. That said, everything I've read is that the worms become a sought after food source that don't stand the test of time. Also, I think blackworms are sold in quantities that tend to be much greater than most would realistically put in a single aquarium. You might need to establish a secondary environment for them to live and perhaps breed. Live foods are somewhat cool, but come with housing and maintenance requirements.

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