In the previous episode, we learned that total eradication of disease-causing pathogens and parasites from your saltwater aquarium is the ultimate goal, but is so often not very realistic for reef aquarium owners because of the intensive quarantine protocols that must be applied to EVERYTHING going into the tank, including fish, coral, invertebrates, rock, and even the water.  

For most of us, the management of diseases and parasites is going to be the path that will likely sustain our success. Management means having realistic expectations about the level of disease prevention you can employ and doing everything you can to reduce the presence of pathogens in your aquarium.

1. Always Assume There are Parasites

It is never realistic to assume a fish is free of parasites, even when sourced from a reputable retailer. You should always practice proper disease management and control even when fish are being quarantined and sourced responsibly because the likelihood of disease-causing pathogens and parasites being present is extremely high, regardless of the situation. 

2. Don't Add Fish Recklessly

Do not add sick or otherwise unhealthy fish to your aquarium without quarantine and observation.  While it may not spell immediate disaster, you are likely increasing the presence of parasites in the aquarium which only increases the risk for your entire aquarium. 

3. Avoid Fish That are Highly Susceptible to Parasites

Avoid the fish known to be magnets for parasites such as Powder Blue, Powder Brown, and Achilles Tangs. We understand the desire for these particular species because they are downright gorgeous but the odds of creating a problem down the road are extremely high. 

4. Diet is Extremely Important

Diet is the most critical component of a fish's ability to fend off disease and parasites. Feed your fish a nutritious and well-balanced diet that matches their natural food sources and feeding habit to ensure your supply ALL of the nutrition they need for optimal health. This is especially important for mature fish that require significant nutrients to sustain a healthy immune system. 

5. Stress Management is Important

A fish that experiences stress is far more likely to be affected by present pathogens compared to healthy, unstressed fish that may be able to resist them or survive the infection with proper treatment.  Eliminating the factor of stress simply increases the chances of success and is fairly easy to accomplish.  Avoid aggressive fish that will constantly fight, be confident your fish have plenty of suitable habitat without competition, and do not knowingly add stressed fish to the aquarium. Always avoid or reduce the chances of experiencing a "stress event" such as a power outage, water chemistry swing, or similar situation that will cause undue stress to the aquarium. 

6. Practice Isolated Introduction

It's normal to be anxious and eager to immediately add a new fish directly to your display which almost always causes some level of stress. The best approach is to isolate the new fish using a clear "isolation chamber" inside your display to slowly acclimate new fish into your tank for at least 2-4 weeks. The new fish can get used to the environment and the existing fish can get used to the new fish without confrontation. When it comes time to you finally release the fish, it's already assimilated and conflicts are much rarer. 

7. Temperature and Water Chemistry Stability

The environment in the aquarium will affect ALL of your fish, regardless of how healthy they are and regardless of any present pathogens.  Changes to the environment in the aquarium will cause stress, increasing a fish's susceptibility to disease. Temperature swings and water chemistry fluctuations are deemed "stress events" and is often the trigger that causes an outbreak of disease or parasites in an otherwise healthy aquarium. 

8. Water Quality Matters

Just the same as temperature and water chemistry, water quality affects ALL of the fish in your tank, and allowing poor water quality causes stress, which can reduce a fish's ability to fend off disease and cause an outbreak. 

9. Get a Big UV Sterilizer

Most experienced hobbyists understand just how effective UV sterilizers can be for the management and reduction of pathogens.  Getting a large or powerful UV sterilizer relative to your tank size will further improve your ability to reduce those pathogens compared to an undersized UV that will likely not make all that much of a difference.

The more contact time, the more turnover, and the more sterilization power the better because it is ultimately next to impossible to "over sterilize" your aquarium.  100% sterilization of an aquarium would require UV sterilization rates beyond what is possible with hobby-grade UV sterilizers. 

10. Use the Sediment Filter Method

Filtering the water in your aquarium through a fine micron sediment filter (like what you have inside your RO/DI system) will effectively remove free-floating parasites from the water column.  Removing these parasites reduces the total population which means there is less of a likelihood your fish will become infected.  Management is about this reduction in vulnerabilities and there is no better way than the physical removal of the parasites. 

You can set this up using a BRS Carbon/GFO Reactor Kit because it utilizes a standard RO cartridge canister.  Then just install a 10" sediment filter instead of the refillable media canister and pump water through the reactor as normal.  Another option is plumbing it in line with your return pump which further improves the effectiveness because it takes a single pass-through approach where the total volume of water is forced through the sediment filter with each pass through the sump or filtration. Swap out the sediment filter as needed based on clogging and discoloration; it will clog up fast and doesn't need to be run 24/7.  It is especially useful after adding new fish or after you experience an unexpected stressful event.