Nitrogen Cycle in your aquarium
Now here is an oversimplification of the cycling process that occurs in a freshwater aquarium. Also similar in a saltwater aquarium but a saltwater aquarium has many more factors that come into play so in this instance we will focus on freshwater to introduce us to the process.
Many people believe that all you have to do is put in water and make sure the filter runs. Oversimplified but yes. There are also many other factors that come into play. Overfeeding is one. There is bacteria that lives on every surface in the aquarium but it can only work at a certain speed. Bacteria breaks down the food and waste that accumulates in your aquarium which starts off as Ammonia and is VERY lethal to an aquariums inhabitants. If you feed faster than the bacteria can break down the food you will begin to see problems. Having real plants will help in the process of waste breakdown and usage but do not confuse these tools for HELPING the cycling process as a magic pill of NEVER doing regular maintenance on your aquarium. There will be the accumulation of Nitrates at the end of the cycling process which need to be removed either through water changes or through other chemical / mechanical means.
These pollutants need to be removed regularly through maintenance. In doing so you have a better chance of displaying a beautiful aquarium for your enjoyment.
Photo coutesy of Christina Manriquez.
So if anyone has ever had a saltwater aquarium you might have used one of these or perhaps heard about it. Its called a protein skimmer.
There are MANY types and brands but BASICALLY they run on the same idea. Foam fractionation. This is just a big word for tiny bubbles. These pieces of equipment just make the smallest bubbles it can at the bottom of the skimmer and as it rises these bubbles collect aquarium waste (fish poop) and rise to the top. There is a collection cup that collects this waste which you clean out periodically.
These pieces of equipment are a huge help in a saltwater aquarium but are notorious for being a headache sometimes. For example they might change the level at the neck where they become ineffective. Sometimes overflow...and become ineffective.
The takeaway from this is that they do help tremendously but sometimes give you a headache. Well worth it for the results though.