SPS Losing Color


Premium Member
I've been researching this for a little while now and have read all kinds of different suggestions so I decided to do what I probably should have done first: ask on DFWMAS.

All of my SPS corals were purchased as frags from other users here. They all looked great for a little while, and they've all continued to grow, but they've started to all turn the same color: an ugly orange/tan. Soft corals are fine and my one big LPS frogspawn is growing and looks great.

I should mention up front that I'm also currently battling a green hair algae outbreak. Is it related? Maybe. I don't know.

I know the first response for things like this usually involves questions about the tank so here's everything that I can think of that's relevant. [smilie=smile.gif]

<u>Tank Details:</u>

Tank: 50g with a 20L sump. 36"L x 18"W x 18"D.

Lighting: Two Kassil A160WE lights that run about 10 hours, including an hour ramp up in the morning (at 10K) and a 3 hour ramp down in the evening (from 10k to an actinic blue).

Filtration: SCA-301 skimmer and Carbon / GFO reactors. I have automatic water changes setup to change out about a gallon every day, so roughly 10% a week. I have two dosing pumps for Ca and Alk.

Livestock: 2 Clownfish, 1 Orchid Dottyback, 1 Melanurus Wrasse, assorted shrimp/snails/crabs.

Feeding: A mix of Ocean Nutrition Prime Reef Flakes and New Life Spectrum pellets. Once or twice a week I put in some Rod's Food (Original).

Readings and test kits are:
Salinity: 1.025 (Refractometer)
Temp: 79.5 - 80 (Apex)
pH: 8.2 - 8.4 (Apex)
Ca: 500 (API) - A little higher than usual.
Kh: 7.73 (Hanna) - A little lower than usual.
Mg: 1220 (Red Sea)

The Ca and Alk are off from normal but I know why and will be adjusting the dosing pumps accordingly. I'm pretty sure the issue with coral colors started happening before those numbers went higher/lower than they should be so I don't think that's related. I could certainly be wrong.

I don't have a phosphate test kit and I know I need to fix that so I'll probably be ordering a Hanna checker this week. In the meantime I'll be taking my water to one of the local stores to have it checked tomorrow and make sure that none of my readings are way off. I'm actually taking three samples: one from my RODI container, one from my new saltwater container, and one from the tank. Since I bought these containers off Craigslist I want to be sure they aren't leaching phosphates into the water or something. They were cleaned with both vinegar and bleach more than once before I used them and were cleaned again a few months ago but I'd still like to make sure it's not related to those just in case.

Anyone ever had this problem before and have any suggestions?

Oops, I forgot to include Nitrates in my list of readings. Ammonia/Nitrites/Nitrates have been reading 0 for a long time now. I'm assuming the algae is just consuming whatever nitrates are there.
I would also consider a lack of nutrition if your readings are 0... Dosing red sea colors and foundation or some other additives... although, normally bleaching is due to ALK and PH swings.
@Steve wrote:
I would also consider a lack of nutrition if your readings are 0... Dosing red sea colors and foundation or some other additives... although said:
Alk and pH have both been stable. The past week the pH has had a low of 8.17 and a high of 8.44.

I hadn't really thought about a lack of nutrients because I'm dealing with the hair algae.

I've turned off the GFO reactor and started feeding the Rod's frozen food a little more. I've also started using BRS Reef Chili twice a week. No real visible difference in corals yet. I'm still battling the green hair algae but it doesn't seem to be coming back as quickly as before at least.

Current readings:
Temp: 79.2 - 79.8
pH: 8.3 - 8.5 (Alk and Ca dosing doesn't run if pH is above 8.4)
Nitrate: 0
Phosphates: 0
Alk: 7.62
Ca: 440
Mg: 1220
Salinity: 1.025

Starting today I'm disabling the daily automatic water changes. I've also considered turning off the skimmer but I don't want to go too far the other direction with things.
What was the results of all 3 tests you run at the LFS?

Your parameters look good outside of pH in the high side; maybe is time to recalibrate.

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@rickyb wrote:
What was the results of all 3 tests you run at the LFS? Your parameters look good outside of pH in the high side; maybe is time to recalibrate. said:
I never had the LFS tests done. The store I went to didn't have a phosphate test at the time and I meant to go back (or to another store) and never did.

That's a good call about the pH, though. It's been a while since I calibrated the probe and I'm sure it's overdue.
The only other thing I can think of is the lights. Kessils are pretty good, but wondering if they are not putting enough par for the corals.

I'll suggest getting on the apogee meter list.

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My guess would also be lighting. Darker colors absorb more light, so if they are turning dark that could be why. Good luck and make sure you post back here with what you find!
@integra3g wrote:
My guess would also be lighting. Darker colors absorb more light said:
I should probably clarify that the "orange/tan" color I'm talking about is very light. They aren't getting darker, they're actually getting lighter. I don't think it's too much light bleaching them, though, since they were in the tank for some time before they started losing their color and the lighting has been the same setup since before any livestock was added.

I'm thinking the issue is my trying to get rid of any nitrates and phosphates to fight off the green hair algae has resulted in me starving the corals. I'm hoping that extra feeding combined with shutting off the GFO and daily automated water changes will help.

I'll post another update when/if anything changes.
If your tank measures 0 nitrate and 0 phosphate, you need to feed more. There's a thread on reef2reef where people are adding nitrate (which is crazy to me), when all you need to do is feed. What's going on with the algae situation? Is it gone, or still present? If present, you don't have 0 phosphate - it's simply bound up in the algae and giving you a false reading. And I'd suggest getting a Salifert or Elos test kit for Phosphate; I'm not impressed by the Hanna Checker. Heck, buy mine so I can recoup the money I spent on the darn thing.

tan/orange/brown usually means high nutrients. But, it could be lights running too long. I'd aim for about 7 hours a day, not 10. Four of which would be high noon (full blast).

Regarding your other parameters, bring up Magnesium a little more. 3x the calcium level, to be exact. Alkalinity can be a bit higher as well. 8-11 dKH is the general range.
@Marc wrote:
If your tank measures 0 nitrate and 0 phosphate said:
I actually bought the ULR Phosphorous Hanna Checker because I liked their Alk checker so much but it's definitely not as simple to use with the powdered reagent. I agree that I'm not getting a valid reading because of the algae. I'm trying to spend a little time every evening pulling out the algae, and I"m definitely making progress but I'm certain there's still enough left that it's using up the phosphates.

@Marc wrote:
tan/orange/brown usually means high nutrients. But said:
OK, I've adjusted the lights down to be on 8 total hours: 2 hours ramping up, 4 hours full on, and 2 hours ramping down (with an hour of just moonlights after that).

@Marc wrote:
Regarding your other parameters said:
That's also in progress. I just wasn't sure how quickly I should bring up the Magnesium so I've been adding about 50ml of the Kent Marine magnesium each day. I've also increased the Alk dosing a little to raise that.

Thanks for the advice. We'll see what happens. [smilie=smile.gif]
Thought I'd update this:

It looks like the colors are (slowly) starting to come back. I've managed to get rid of the majority of the hair algae and it's just down to the short parts that I can't pull out by hand but the snails, crabs, urchins, etc, will eat.

In addition to reducing the lighting to 8 hours a day, I've started feeding more and a few times a week I'm adding in some BRS Reef Chili.

Current readings:
Temp: 78.0 - 79.0
pH: 8.1 - 8.3 - after recalibrating the pH probe
Nitrate: 0 - probably a little over that but not 5 which is the next reading on the API color chart
Phosphates: .01 PPM
Alk: 9.58
Ca: 380
Mg: 1360
Salinity: 1.025
The parameters are looking good; I strive to keep my calcium at 450~, and I'm a believer that we cannot give corals too much light. Mine run from 8am to 11pm with high noon for 9hrs.Glad to hear everything is improving.