Bad for the Aquarium Hobby – Miracle Cure Chemicals

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Instant Ocean BIO-Spira

A short time back we started a new series of articles called “Giving the Hobby a Bad Name”. We are continuing on with that series, but renaming it slightly to “Bad for the Aquarium Hobby”, as we feel this will better encompass issues that show up with fish stores, aquarium products, or techniques. The focus of this installment is miracle cure chemicals and additives.

Aquarium chemicals and additives are touchy subjects, as they can be quite tricky to master and everyone has an opinion on them, myself included. Many hobbyists feel that you should never dose what you cannot test for, with others thinking frequent water changes should alleviate any need for dosing. While both of these are sound and good advice, they play to the old school form of reef keeping. Quality test kits haven’t always been available and hobbyists haven’t always understood how different chemicals act in our closed systems. So, out of fear of unforeseen reactions and regurgitating advice they found to make sense, these hobbyists often shy away from wonder chemicals and the new popular additives. However, not every hobbyist shares this approach. Many fall for the cool new additive that either doesn’t do what it is marketed to do or has greatly exaggerated abilities.

Unfortunately, several “miracle additives” exist on the aquarium equipment market. They make fantastic claims and lure in the unsuspecting hobbyist. Making matters worse, the results of these additives are often not directly measurable. For example, how does the average hobbyist measure things such as amino acids or the amount/type of bacteria you are adding to your system? Sure, you could measure the effects of bacteria by testing for things like ammonia, but who’s to say the additives you are dosing are true to what is stated on the bottle?

The main additive that provoked this soap box talk is the Instant Ocean BIO-Spira. I’m not here to claim that this product is ineffective or shouldn’t be purchased. However, I am here to question a phrase written on the front of the bottle. Just under the company’s name, there is the statement “Makes Marine Aquariums Fish-Safe Instantly”. This statement is very dangerous, especially for new saltwater hobbyists who are not familiar with the nitrogen cycle or the effects of ammonia or nitrite on aquarium livestock. Additionally, many newly converted hobbyists that come from the freshwater realm might assume that adding fish the same day (a very bad habit of casual freshwater aquarists) is perfectly fine. Regardless of the claims, there is no possible way that BIO-Spira can reduce the cycle time of a newly established aquarium from several weeks to instantaneous. This is especially true if the aquarium has newly imported live rock. Can BIO-Spira effectively speed up the cycle time of a new aquarium? Probably, but it certainly cannot make a new marine tank instantly fish-safe. Instead, belief in this product’s ability to do just that may actually lead to massive amounts of fish death.

The main point I’m trying to get at with this article is to question fantastic claims from aquarium equipment, techniques, or additives. Don’t outright assume the company putting out the product is lying, but understand that what you read on a label or on an aquarium forum may not be wholly accurate at the time. Saltwater aquariums require patience, plain and simple. Don’t fall for miracle cures for fish diseases or additives that turn you cyano-ridden tank into Tank of the Month material overnight.

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  • I will say from personal experience with BIO-Spira when they used to make the FW version, that fish safe means fish safe, beginner, expert, period. I personally tested this mainly out of curiosity. Setup a brand new 75 gallon with tap water and sand and an out of the box Eheim 2026 filter on it, and threw a 2"+/per gallon bio load on it from day 1. At no point was ammonia or nitrite ever detectible. I did have the existing tank ready in case the experiment failed, but it didn't.

    I can't say if the saltwater version is as reliable and I can't say why they discontinued the fw version, but it definitely lived up to its claim for me as far as the initial cycle went. This doesn't mean the tank is inherently stable as I do believe that there is quote a lot more going on in a fish tank than what a bottle of anything could provide.

    In any case, just because there is a product that can do this, doesn't mean that it should be used. I think that fishkeeping needs to come with a responsibility to understand what is happening in a fish tank. I come across so many people, freshwater and saltwater, that have no idea about the chemistry of a tank. Some have been keeping aquariums for years. Many of them don't care and don't want to know what is going on in their tank. These are often the ones who stock without regard for space or the quality of life of the inhabitants in their tanks. Discus with aggressive cichlids. Multiple angel fish or goby's or a tang or 2 in a 30 gallon nano…

    Cycling a tank and waiting for the bio capacity to establish is a right of passage, and just the first one, for FW and saltwater. It's just the start of creating a stable and flourishing environment. If you can't wait to cycle a tank (excluding an emergency) you don't have a lot of business in the hobby in general.

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