A “protein skimmer” certainly sounds like a strange name for an aquarium product.
So, what does it do? A lot, actually. Have you ever stood on a beach and watched a wave roll up on the shore? When the water pulls back, you can see a line of bubbles left on the sand. Then another rolls up onshore and the same thing happens. What are those bubbles all about? That’s mother nature’s protein skimmer, basically.
It’s all about surfactants, yet another strange aquarium term. Surfactants are a type of debris that accumulates on the surface of water, stemming from fish waste and other dissolved organic matter. In your aquarium that organic matter is largely made up of fish waste and excess food. That debris accumulates at the surface of the water and may give your aquarium that “oil slick” look.
Surfactants, if not removed, will cause nitrates and/or phosphates to develop, a whole another problem for aquariums. Also, surfactant accumulation will make for a poor gas exchange, not allowing carbon dioxide out and oxygen into the water, resulting in low oxygen levels and potentially low pH levels.
If you’ve ever seen what a protein skimmer removes from water, you’ll be convinced of the unit’s usefulness. It’s hard to believe that this “mud” (as I call it), came out of your seemingly crystal clear aquarium water with happy, healthy fish in it.
Skimmers are a critical component of your saltwater aquarium, and they need to be sized, maintained, and installed properly. They come in many styles, shapes, and sizes and, as we discussed in my last post, are sometimes paired with low voltage, energy efficient pumps as well.
So, how is your skimmer working?