The Truth About Bio-Balls

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Riverserver

i r 2pro4u
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Apr 13, 2007
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Any new person to the hobby of marine fish keeping is often drawn to bio-balls as a filter media. It's cheap, readily available, and works in almost all filtration. Only to learn that this filter media has earned the name "Nitrate Factories" and is severely looked down on by any "senior" aquarist.

The truth is that we WANT biological filter media to produce nitrates. Nitrates are far less deadly to our aquatic life than its two predecessors, nitrite and ammonia.

So why does the marine community look down on bio-balls? Bio-logical filter media houses nitrifying bacteria that turn ammonia into nitrite, then the less deadly nitrate. In order for a filter media to produce excess nitrates then there has to be an excess of ammonia. Most people who setup bio-balls do not provide the necessary mechanical filtration prior to the bio-balls so they trap solid particles that break down into ammonia. Mechanical filtration should be cleaned and rinsed much more often than your biological media.

But there's the argument of "if you clean them often enough then you wont have a problem." Wrong, rinsing any bio-media like its a mechanical media will eliminate the nitrifying bacteria, thus anytime you perform filtration maintenance will give you a "mini cycle."

So, it could truthfully be said that bio-balls are a great biological media, since they've earned the name nitrate factories, but anyone using them must provide proper mechanical filtration prior to the bio balls.
 

ooja3k

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Jul 3, 2007
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San Luis Obispo
but!

often they are not used in conjunction with proper mechanical filtration, thus trapping excess decaying matter, creating an excess of ammonia, nitrites, nitrates etc... using a media such as LR fragments, offers IMO a much better form of filtration... it will do just as good of a job as the bio-balls for turning ammonia and nitrites into nitrates... but at the same time it won't get clogged with detritus...

so if mechanical filtration is used... bioballs are an acceptable filter media...
even in this case though, i would still use LR... assuming the system is marine...

if mechanical filtration is not used properly... then the use of LR is a much more beneficial option... it will keep the detritus in the water column, to be removed my the inhabitants/protein skimmer instead of becoming trapped within the bio-balls, creating excessively high ammonia nitrites and nitrates...
 

wantvws

AC Members
Jul 15, 2007
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Waynesboro, VA
often they are not used in conjunction with proper mechanical filtration, thus trapping excess decaying matter
So what would be an acceptable mechanical filter prior to the bio balls? The first thing after my overflow box is the bio-balls, but I also have a protein skimmer.
Robbie
 

ooja3k

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Jul 3, 2007
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San Luis Obispo
some sort of sponge media that can be thoroughly cleaned and replaced... and when it is removed to be cleaned, not wipe out the major means of biological filtration...

basically... IMO the bio-balls do more harm then good.. they offer an area for to detritus to collect, which is what many people strive not to do, i.e. preventing dead spots in the aquarium etc... if you are using mechanical filtration, it makes sense to leave the bio-balls out, and use LR rubble that provides a natural area for bacteria to grow, and never has to be cleaned instead...
 

Riverserver

i r 2pro4u
Original poster
Apr 13, 2007
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So what would be an acceptable mechanical filter prior to the bio balls?
Something like Eheim Ehfimech with a sponge filter or poly filter.

basically... IMO the bio-balls do more harm then good..
Did you even read what I said? I said it's a good filter media if proper mechanical filtration is provided. And live rock has very small surface area compared to a lot of the other medias.
 

wantvws

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Jul 15, 2007
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Waynesboro, VA
Excuse my ignorance, as I am very new to sw:newbie:.
I am running (or will be running as soon as I buy my first fish) a Coralife super skimmer, a wet/dry filter w/bio balls, and a Magnum 350 canister filter (forgot to mention that) that is empty at the moment....I used no media during the cycle. And 60lbs of live sand, and I am slowly adding live rock to my dead rock.
So I can put some sort of sponge or poly media in my Magnum, and that will reduce the frequency that I have to clean the bio balls? I assume the protein skimmer will help too?
 

OldManOfTheSea

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Mar 21, 2007
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I believe that bio balls was giving a bad rap from most due to only their handling of it for which myself had used it in FO (or eel only) tanks for a long time now and I not had the problems of high nitrate levels as most or saying. Now of course I giving up with FO only tanks that I only keep eels and the two reef tanks for the remaining years I`ve left in the hobby.

For one thing people, you who did have bio balls, how were they set in your sump, were they submerge in water or what? For if submerge in your sumps water, this I'm afraid is what be the difference to what those who giving bio balls a bad name.

wantvws, when you start to have issues with high nitrate levels, I would have to point the finger to your soon to be canister filter. Sure, all of what were saying here is nothing more then a matter of our own opinion and being that those who check out this thread will see those who more issue against bio balls than in favor for them.
 
...So why does the marine community look down on bio-balls? Bio-logical filter media houses nitrifying bacteria that turn ammonia into nitrite, then the less deadly nitrate. In order for a filter media to produce excess nitrates then there has to be an excess of ammonia. Most people who setup bio-balls do not provide the necessary mechanical filtration prior to the bio-balls so they trap solid particles that break down into ammonia. Mechanical filtration should be cleaned and rinsed much more often than your biological media.
This holds true for an "old" type fish-only setup, but is not what you want for a "reef" type tank containing corals and other sensitive invertebrates. Let me explain...

Corals and other sensitive invertebrates (such as anemones) are harmed by an elevated level of nitrates. Whilst most fish can tolerate a nitrate level of 50 - 100 ppm, most hard corals begin to show signs of stress at a level of only 10 ppm (or less...).

The lighting in a reef aquarium is normally orders of magnitude higher than in a fish-only aquarium, and this will lead to algae "bloom" problems with even a very low nitrate level. Corals and algae compete for living space in nature, and even more so in our aquaria - it is thus obvious that one would like to restrict algae growth to a minimum, and the best way to do so is to restrict the algae's food (being mainly nitrate and phosphate).

Bio ball filtration is an aerobic process, and the ammonia is only broken down to nitrite, and then nitrate (as you have mentioned). Using "modern" filtration methods such as live rock and/or a deep live sand bed, one still has the aerobic filtration taking place on or near the surface (changing ammonia into nitrite and then into nitrate), but one also has the added anoxic filtration deep inside the rock or sand, which changes the readily available nitrate into inert nitrogen gas, thus completing the nitrogen cycle.

It's really sad that people are still advising newbies to use bio-balls for filtration, given our current level of aquarium-keeping knowledge.
 
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