Hi, Andrej the marine aquarium maestro here!
I want to talk about how awesome a protein skimmer is for ANY aquarium….
The protein skimmer is a very important piece of equipment for your marine aquarium; next to biological filtration protein skimming is probably the most crucial process to ensure a happy, healthy saltwater aquarium. I consider them a must have for a reef aquarium and I would never do without one for any kind of set up. Once you see the amount of smelly brown liquid they pull from your water everyday you will never go back!
Not only this but the bubbles produced by your protein skimmer also help to oxygenate the water.
So what does a protein skimmer do? Basically, at any one time your aquarium water is full of dissolved organic matter (DOM) mostly in the form of protein, this comes from uneaten food and waste products from marine life. Unchecked this DOM puts stress on the biological system and will eventually cause a massive reduction in water quality potentially putting your marine life in danger.
So protein skimming is very important for maintaining high water quality, protein skimmers increase the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, improve water clarity (especially beneficial for coral growth), tend to keep the pH more stable and reduce the chances of algal blooms by removing potential food sources. Most importantly they reduce the need for water changes and keep marine life happier because of the high water quality they provide. But this said they can be expensive and aren’t an absolute necessity if you conduct very regular partial water changes. But as far as I’m concerned they are very beneficial for any marine aquarium and provide huge benefits for water quality, after you have seen how much gunk is removed from your water by these things its not hard to get a measure on the benefit they provide your tank.
Protein skimmers work by taking in water and passing it through a stream of bubbles; the DOM in the water is attracted to the air/water interface and stick to the bubbles, the bubbles then carry it into a cup which is regularly emptied.
My advice would be to not skimp on a protein skimmer and buy a good quality product that is capable of handling around twice the volume of water you have in your aquarium. A lot of new aquarists try to save money and buy inferior products only to find that they are not doing the job correctly and have to be replaced costing more than if you had just brought a good one, in my experience this is the most common error made when purchasing equipment for your marine aquarium – consider yourself warned! Most well stocked systems will generate about a cup of DOM a day, do you really want this skimmate potentially screwing up your water quality Just to save a bit of money that you will only have to pay later? The piece of mind and awesome, stable water quality these things provide make them good investments especially for beginners, your marine life will thank you for it.
There are many different types of protein skimmers, and as I have said before they can be quite expensive. If you have an aquarium with a sump, you should go for a stand-alone device; if you have no sump the hang on type will be fine, but if you can hide a stand-alone one somewhere this will be most beneficial. All protein skimmers work the same way in that they draw in water through a “venturi” type device, pass it through a stream of tiny bubbles and are electric, But as I have said previously ensure you do your research and buy a good quality product that suits your aquarium size in terms of water turnover per hour, ensuring that the skimmer can keep up with the bioload. However you can never over-skim an aquarium so essentially the bigger, more efficient your protein skimmer the better, all this will do is improve your water quality overall.
I also recommend running them most of the day if not all day. They require a bit of cleaning every so often and emptying the skimmer collection cup but other than this they are very simple to maintain and other than biological filtration the most important thing you can do towards excellent water quality in your saltwater aquarium.