Filter Medias for Bacteria Fixation

By Ricardo Pinto 10 years ago9 Comments







Some of the old-school reefers (or if you had a freshwater tank) must remember using Bio-Balls, Ceramics or Siporax for bacteria fixation about 10 or more years ago.

The disadvantage pointed at that time was that these media will enhance the production of Nitrate. And that using Live Rock, Deep Sand Beds and strong skimming was the best filtration method.

More recently, I found out on a Brazilian web-forum that they’ve resurrect the use of Siporax (I’m originally from Portugal and we share the same language with Brazil – Portuguese). This has came to my attention because it has sparked a huge debate on different threads, with very interesting comments by the users.

The question that rises to me at this point is: – “Why won’t we use filter medias (bio-balls, ceramics) for bacteria fixation?”

Theoretically, filter medias have everything to work as filtration methods, it makes perfectly sense that by promoting bacteria fixation you will have more nutrient reduction.

So… – “Why didn’t that worked in the past? Has anything changed over the last decade?”

That’s an easy answer… Yes, these are changing times! There have been a lot of progress on the pro-biotic field and we now understand better our reef’s biology. I think the obvious reason for filter medias not working in the past was because we were up-regulating the bacteria production and back then we didn’t know that this process is a large Carbon consumer.

Looking it retrospectively, what I postulate that may have happened is that Nitrate (and Phosphate) was building up onto the aquariums because there was few carbon sources present. Carbon was acting as a limitative reagent of this process, because it was swiftly consumed by bacteria and therefore they stopped “consuming” NO3 and PO4.


Thus, what I would like to see is more people debating the answer for the initial question. Convince me, tell me… Why shouldn’t this work?

In light of recent discoveries, I think If we use a carbon source – let’s say Vodka, Bio-pellets, or any other carbon sources of the market – I believe that filter medias will provide a shelter for bacteria fixation and it will dramatically reduce the nutrients on the aquarium. (Feldman, K. 2011)

Finally, what’s the advantage of this new (old) method when we have so many “pro-biotic” options nowadays? Besides turning our reefs more efficient biologically, it can draw back the use of Live Rock to a minimum (just for decoration). Meaning, less cost ($) with live rock and more important, your reef become Eco-friendly (= less harvesting of live rock from natural reefs).

One thing I have learned from all these years in the hobby, there are many ways for you achieve success and none is absolutely perfect. As a matter of fact, that is one of the most beautiful things on reef-keeping, it keeps me motivated.

We have now several “methods” at our disposal to setup a reef filtration: Jaubert method, Berlin Method and more recently pro-biotic methods. Can I dare the reef-community and name the method that I briefly summarized on this article as  the “Brazillian Method”?

 This aquarium belongs to a Brazillian reefer – Roberto Denadai. He barely used live rock and he has 2L of Siporax in the sump. He has a Ultra Low Nutrient System, with constant levels of Nitrate and Phospate close to zero.



Feldman, K.S.; Place, A.A.; Joshi, S.; White, G.; 2011 Bacterial Counts in Reef Aquarium Water: Baseline Values and Modulation by Carbon Dosing, Protein Skimming, and Granular Activated Carbon Filtration. Advanced Aquarist, March 2011

  DIY, Equipment, Tanks

 Ricardo Pinto

  (6 articles)

I am from Portugal (EU). I am a medical doctor and I also run the European reef blog H2O + Something. I´ve been a hobbyist for the past 15 years. I´ve started with freshwater aquariums - planted aquariums and African cichlids - and I´ve been doing reefkeeping since 2004.


  • Chiefmcfuz says:

    The bio media is fine all in all however, while it allows for the bacteria to colonize it also allows for other particulate matter to get caught and degrade causing the nitrate issue. Routinely they are located in isolated areas where clean up crews and fish cannot get to and remove. For this reason most reefers refer to them as nitrate factories. Not because they actually produce nitrates but because they trap food and other debris that can and does. Live rock colonizes the same bacteria but it is in the fuge or the display tank and the fish or inverts in the tank can clean up the live rock at their leisure.

    • Ricardo Pinto says:

      Hi Chiefmcfuz,

      You are absolutely right on that subject. That’s one of the first things that Brazillian reefers improved. If you think about it, it’s just a matter of better planning your sump, NOT placing the media in a high water-flow area and some-kind of regular maintenance… maybe shake the filter media on every other day, like the zeolithes in Zeovit method.
      It’s far beyond my knowledge and the point of this blog-entry to discuss the method in detail. I have no intention to start here a “forum-thread”.
      My only purpose was to raise you the question that has risen to me over the last months…. Why shouldn’t this method work?

  • Christine Williams says:

    Please, can we agree on some basic terminology so we all are on the same page? A “probiotic” is a bacteria or other microorganism given to an animal (or plant maybe) which benefits that larger organism. The typical ones we think about are Lactobacillus for human gut health. In fact, these probiotics have shown good efficacy in aquatic organisms. Just because something is a “good bacteria” doesn’t make it a “probiotic”. And we can’t call every bacteria we dump in our tanks “probiotics. Just because some articles and speakers at meetings call them “probiotics” doesn’t make that so.

    • Ricardo Pinto says:

      Hi Christine,

      Your comment is very interesting. I totally agree with you when you say not all “good bacteria” (or probiotic) are suitable for our aquariums or will be good for our aquariums. Due to my professional background I’m familiarized with those terms.
      Having said this, I´ve used the term probiotic in a broader sense. I always thought that when aquarium companies and/or speakers at meetings were using the term “probiotics”, they were using it to define a population of bacteria or other microorganism given to an aquarium which benefit that aquarium and indirectly benefit corals and fish.
      Perhaps I’m wrong and I’m over-interpreting what they say.
      Of course this isn’t a very “scientific” definition and as you brightly pointed … it could mislead people to think all “probiotic” bacteria (generally speaking) are beneficial to aquariums.

      • Christine Williams says:

        Sorry if I was unclear, Ricardo. I did not intend to state an opinion about whether any one bacteria is “good”, or whether all “good” is truly good. I simply am trying to clarify that all bacteria are not “probiotics”, the same way that all fruit are not apples. It isn’t a catch-all term. And in fact, “probiotics” is a scientific term, it just needs to be used correctly 🙂

        As for good or not good, I welcome anyone with actual data to contribute!

  • Rich Ross says:

    I think that this ‘method’ has been tried in the past and is not really new. I think it was abandoned mostly because people use live rock and it seems to give more than enough surface area for bacteria. It seems that if you are already using live rock in your tank, additional, artificial areas for bacterial colonization make the system more complex without adding significant benefit. A real question that would be fun to have looked at with controls is how much surface area for bacteria is actually needed to process the water for our tanks.
    I question the idea that using a manufactured product is more ‘eco friendly’ than using sustainably collected live rock or artificial live rock.
    I am a little bummed that probiotic has become another word in the hobby with a scattered meaning.

  • Pedro Nuno Ferreira says:

    Ricardo, the method is not new and I would not call it Brazilian (and you know that very well … anyway you just made a suggestion and you can call what you want or suggest) … in fact Denadai is somewhat a controversial person and it is known that in the past his thoughts and writings about this subject were negative but somehow he keeps his mind open (and you know that as well to) . He tried many things and just about anything and it seems that finally he found a way to keep his sps (and you know that to) So perhaps the best to say would be “Denadai has finally got it for his system … for now”. This filter media maintenance is demanding or can be, it can clog quite easily, especially if one has a heavy biological load, not only 2 fish and a few corals, such as Denadai has (well as shown in the picture, as now he might have more or not … never mind), and places the media in the wrong place. The method works like several other methods do but I would be careful as to recommend it, especially for beginners. I do not want to convince you that it does not work or that it works … its just a matter of clarification.

    As for the fact that you point about it being eco-friendly, well I deal with ceramic production and I know the fumes and pollutants it produces and they are not at all eco-friendly and even if they were, to produce ceramics one has to collect them from open sky mines for example such as Clay, Kaulin, Feldspar, etc… these are not renewable in nature, at least not in short periods of time, they do generate over long periods of geological time. And even if we recycle, one has to grind it to fine powder, which produces large amounts of dust that cannot be spread in the atmosphere, so you need water walls and filters and then you do not just dump that industrial effluent in the river and sea, you have to treat it before hand and meet the legal parameters for clean water which is quite different from potable water but is the base to produce potable water … The grinding process also produces lots of noise, and you know the law about that… a special hammer mill has to be built and encased so that noise is not a problem besides the other problems. So it may not be that eco-friendly … balance impact has to be established and then we can compare and decide case by case and in some places A will be best than B and in others B will be best than A.

    This method is a possibility, it works for Denadai and its good for him since now he will enjoy finally his reef system. It may work for other reefers however it may prove demanding as far as maintenance is concerned as it needs special attention like do the zeolithes for example, to avoid clogging, trapping debris, to avoid it becoming a NO3 and PO4 factory. Well case by case … and for now we know that at least for Denadai it is working … so far and possibly more … time will show
    Again I do not want to convince you about it working or not, what I say is that there are many ways, chose the one that best suits you should be the rule. Others may follow and have followed the method and regardless of that one thing is clear, Denadai as finally chosen one! Good for him at last.

  • Ricardo Pinto says:

    Well… I understand that this issue is rather controversial. Like I said, it has sparked a huge debate on different Brazillian threads.
    I didn’t name this post “Reasons to use Siporax or other filter media”. I went the other way around and question myself why won’t this work. The thing is, that no one has showed (at least to me) why couldn’t this be considered an option, especially nowadays when several hobbyists are dumping Carbon sources into their aquariums, to enhance bacterial growth (I’m avoiding the use of probiotic from now on).

    I don’t like to quote myself but one of my remarks was: “One thing I have learned from all these years in the hobby, there are many ways for you achieve success and none is absolutely perfect”. I’m not saying this method is some kind of aquarium holy-grail, because it isn’t.

    Finally, you’re right and I must apologize for using the term “Eco-friendly”… in fact, it probably isn’t at all. Though, it’s cheaper than live rock… so it’s only pocket-friendly.

  • Rich Ross says:

    I think this ‘debate’ is rather odd. It should be incredibly easy to set up several small systems and do some minimal testing to get a little bit of data. That will go much further to answer questions than asking what people think will happen. 😀

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