The Salty Side: Saltwater Aquariums for Beginners

Trace Elements

saltwater aquarium trace elements

Trace elements for saltwater aquariums are administered in very small doses and have been identified as highly beneficial for coral, invertebrates and fish alike.

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What are trace elements?

Specifically, trace elements are barium, chrome, cobalt, iron, copper, manganese, nickel strontium, zinc, bromine, flourine, iodine, lithium, molybdenum, selenium and vanadium to name a few.

Trace elements are part of the essential yet sometimes overlooked natural makeup of sea water.  Not only is sea water comprised of salt (which gives it that salty taste) and carbonate, calcium and magnesium (known as the major elements).  It also includes minute or trace amounts of multitude of the elements listed above and more.

Think of trace elements as the fish equivalent of human supplements.  These supplements boost health and well being of your inhabitants, as well as colour and vibrancy especially noticeable in relation to SPS coral.

How to know if your tank is lacking trace elements

When carrying out regular water changes on your marine aquarium you are replenishing trace elements which have been added to the bucket of salt you are using.

It should only become necessary to start adding additional trace elements when they are being consumed faster than the water changes can replenish them.

An initial indicator of insufficient amounts of trace elements is: You are dosing additional KH, calcium and magnesium. If these are tested and found to be below the required level, chances are that your trace elements are too.

The best, and most accurate method of testing trace elements in your system is sending a sample of your water off to get it tested.  This can be done by purchasing an ICP-OES test kit.

Once you have sent off your samples, it should take approximately 4 days for the lab to upload results to your account which you can view online.  This is essentially a comprehensive list to act on should you need to.

How do I add trace elements to my saltwater tank?

As already mentioned above, trace elements are replenished when carrying out water changes. They are added to your bucket of salt. However, if you have decided to keep corals there will come a time when water changes will not provide adequately.

When you have begun topping up your KH, calcium and magnesium, then it is also time to look at adding minor trace elements to your setup.

Trace elements can be dosed either manually or with an auto-doser, depending on the brand you settle on. Some brands require that their minor trace elements be refrigerated and shaken prior to use which does not make them good candidates for auto-dosers. Others can be used with an auto-doser without the need to refrigerate and shake.

Personally, I have chosen to add manually. It comes down to whether you think it necessary to invest in a doser specifically for dosing trace elements, in addition to auto-dosing the major elements KH, Ca and Mg (auto-dosing is must for these).


What trace elements brands are available?

In the world of the reef keeper there are advocates for every brand available, and the industry evolves so rapidly with improved advancements that it can be quite difficult to keep up with current trends without joining online groups. 

Below are a few of the well known brands that can be used as part of a ‘programme’ or separately on their own merit:

Red Sea Reef Colors Pro
Brightwell Aquatics Replenish Liquid Trace Elements
Tropic Marin All-For-Reef Overall Trace Element Supplement

Triton also produce trace elements. They are a well known brand, but unlike the above trace elements which could be used alongside the dosing of other brand major elements, the Triton method relies on the user dosing their products alone.

Triton have an entire range of individual trace element additives available to purchase and add to your saltwater tank.  They also supply the ICP test to ascertain which trace elements are lacking, or which ones may be too high.

Once you submit your water samples you will have your results uploaded to your account. Working with your results, you then dose each trace element individually to bring your levels back in line based on Triton’s guidelines.

The idea with Triton is that once you have brought all levels to their recommended levels (this not only includes trace elements, but KH, Ca and Mg too), you then follow their dosing regime to maintain these levels.

So there you have it...

In the marine hobby world there is far too much choice. The hope is that this article has given you just a glimpse of what you would like to achieve, and go from there.

There are many more brand names out there to be explored, all of which offer a product that will keep your corals happy. It really comes down to you as an individual which one you decide to settle on. This will be based on cost, convenience and the result you see in your tank.

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