• Automated Feeding Systems for Azooxanthellate Coral and Filter Feeders

    Have you ever calculated how much time is spent with your aquarium versus your friends and family? It adds up to more than you might think. With this obsession we call a hobby, some tasks or husbandry practices we perform can monopolize our schedule and soon turn us into a slave to our system. With azooxanthellate corals (azoox), you will find that their constant feeding requirements will consume your time quickly. But don't let the dark side of reef keeping discourage you! There is a way around it....automate your feeding!

    There are a few companies on the forefront of supporting the nutritional needs of azooxanthellate corals and their loyal non-photosynthetic coral loving aquarists; Reef Nutrition/Reed Mariculture, Fauna Marin, Argent, Piscine Energetics, H2O Life are just to name a few. With traditional methods of dosing their foods by hand, turkey baster, syringe, or spoon can get tiresome after a few weeks, months, or years. These techniques still have their purpose and need in non-photosynthetic aquarium keeping but the bulk of the feeding regime can be automated.

    Dry feeds can easily be automated by using a simple Fish Mate Automatic Feeder and floating feeding ring.

    By using this method; dry feeds can be dosed at your desired interval and the feeding ring assists with keeping the food all in one place.

    On to the fun part...refrigerated automated feeding

    With discussions on a few forums, inspiration from the system used on Steve Weast's coldwater
    , a few beers, and voila! This refrigerated automated feeding system was born.

    The concept was simple; use controlled dosing pumps inside a refrigerated source and have it feed through the aquarium's return line. The doser chosen inside the refrigerator was a Bubble Magus BM-T01. After a week plus of testing it was found to be a reliable choice for the project. The next challenge was finding an unintrusive refrigerator to put next to my aquarium that could be stable at 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Dorm type refrigerators work perfectly for this application, but locating a energy efficient, thermal-electrical cooled model that was capable of being stable at 38F was slightly more difficult. The model of choice was by Avanti.

    Now, before you go off and start drilling a holes in a refrigerator, test it first to make sure it holds the required temperature since any modding voids the manufacturer's warranty. There is also a wire to a contact switch that runs parallel on the right side of the refrigerator that if cut, controls more than just the light when the door is open. How to cut through the fridge and not get the wire, you ask? First, using a 3/32" or similar size bit, drill a pilot hole where you want the pipe to pass through. Next, using a Milwaukee Hole Saw Arbor (49-56-7210) with a 1-1/8" Milwaukee Hole Saw (49-56-9611) attached, slowly cut through the liner of the inside of the refrigerator, only cutting the liner and going no further. Using a spoon; scoop out the insulation out of the hole so there is clear path to the outside shell of the refrigerator. Now, you are good to go with cutting through the shell with the hole saw.

    With the system up and running for a few months the subject of possible failures of the system came up. Most importantly, if the lines connected between the doser and return line tee's were to fail/rupture my entire tank would drain out and put on a similar display as the fountain show at the Bellagio.

    Matt Wandell from Steinhart Aquarium came up with an ingenious idea on how to solve the issue...replace the tee's with a venturi valve. So now I was able to sleep easy at night again.

    Everything was working well with the system, but I wanted to re-evaluate its use; what my likes and dislikes were, and what could be improved upon. The doser worked well but I wanted something that I could have greater control of and have support if a problem arose and parts were needed. The logical choice was to have a GHL doser connected to my Profilux 3. Below is an image of the newest version of the system which has been running for the last month. According to the North American distributor for GHL/Profilux, putting the doser in a refrigerator voids its warranty. In all honesty, inside the refrigerator with all the access points sealed (used 3M Marine Grade Silicone Sealant around pvc pipes and wires), and the door not being opened constantly, humidity is not an issue. A GHL humidity sensor is scheduled to be installed to monitor the actual humidity inside the refrigerator.

    So are you ready to take the plunge and build your own...here is the shopping list to make your own

    1. Avanti SHP1701B 1.7 cubic foot refrigerator
    2. Two 1/2" PVC slip x slip union
    3. One 1/2" MPT x 1/2" slip adapter
    4. One 1/2" slip x 1/2" FPT adapter
    5. Kent 1/2" venturi valve
    6. A few feet of 1/2" PVC pipe, standard airline tubing and tee's
    7. On to dosers of choice: Bubble Magnus BM-T01 or GHL Profilux Stand Alone 4 pump doser. Both come with built in controllers and if you already have a Profilux II or 3, the GHL Dosing Unit 4 will best fit your needs.

    With most realities of this hobby, nothing comes easy or cheap. Taking on a project like this will set you back a minimum of 450 bucks in parts or about three 50-liter kegs of Guinness (depending on how you measure your money), not including the food in the refrigerator, which can run you up to $70 per bottle.

    Systems like this can be used in other applications as well, not just for azooxanthellate coral and filter feeders. With the recent joint venture between Reef Nutrition and Piscine Energetics with the creation of Mysis-Feast you now can even start thinking about dosing mysis via this method.

    Now, I can't leave out an very important factor in setting up an automated feeding system...managing water quality. With food constantly being added to your aquarium, you have to have systems in place to keep your parameters under control, otherwise nitrates and phosphates will quickly rise. Azooxanthellate corals may be forgiving of these elevated levels but the other inhabitants may not. As a good practice, whenever adding any new foods to your system, start off slow and adjust you dosing and husbandry as needed.

    If you would like to see a few videos of the non-photosynthetic corals, crinoids, and fish that inhabit my aquarium check them out at http://www.youtube.com/user/aquabacs?feature=mhum

    -Michael Lukaczyn
    Comments 7 Comments
    1. Adam Blundell's Avatar
      Adam Blundell -
      What an awesome article!
    1. dahenley's Avatar
      dahenley -
      just curious, do you need to run some kind of bubbler. (like what is used for phyto) to keep these foods from settling, and creating a concentrate at the bottom, and a water mixture at the top? or will the introduction of air in the food cause something bad to happen?

      Very sweet idea!
    1. smoothie's Avatar
      smoothie -
      Thanks bro.
      That was a really great and inspiring read
    1. syedjilani's Avatar
      syedjilani -
      Amazing. awesome article....
    1. Aquabacs's Avatar
      Aquabacs -
      Thanks guys!

      For the feeds they really dont have an issue with settling, Reef Nutrition/Reed's Mariculture have a formula for keeping the food in suspension I do give the containers a swirl every few days still. If it ever turns to an issue, I can go the route of adding 4 small magnetic stirrers and put the foods in glass lab flasks.
    1. Largo Reef's Avatar
      Largo Reef -

      I appreciate your dedication and ingenuity.

      Well Done.
    1. baker.shawn's Avatar
      baker.shawn -
      you may want to check out my DIY kalk reactor and have a look at the stir plate i made. it could be useful in this application