Kalk disaster


Active Member
Reaction score
I've had some scares over the past 3 years with my latest tanks, but I finally got hit hard. I came back from my Solomon Islands trip and the tank looked great- new growth on a lot of corals, and even enough to mount 10 new frags of green slimer for people for the next meeting.

Just 4 days after I got back, though, I shot myself in the foot. The last time I had reloaded my kalkwasser / Neilson reactor was about 6 months ago. I took it apart, added about 5 more cups of kalk to the reactor, and closed things up.

The problem came in the how I normally run it vs. the initial loading. Normally I keep the reactor going 24x7 to keep the alkalinity up. This works fine because the vast majority of the kalk is packed at the bottom of the reactor; stirring it only saturates the water with the very top layer of kalk. However, when I was loading it, I decided to just keep the stir bar going to keep it from clogging, and closed it up after adding my new kalk.

I filled the reactor and left about an hour later. I came back after running some errands and found the tank all cloudy and my fish gasping at the bottom. It took all of 3 seconds to realize what happened. The past I didn't think about when filling was that the kalk was still suspended, resulting in my automatic top off adding a slurry of kalk directly to the tank for 4 hours. I evaporate about 5-10g per day, depending on the ambient temperature, so I added a couple of gallons of straight kalk solution.

The pH of my tank was 9.8 (!!!) when I got to it. In a panic attempt to get things under control, I added almost a gallon of vinegar to bring it back down to 8.2ish range (I have a 350g system - takes a lot to do anything). I overshot and then added 8.3 buffer that I had sitting around to bring it back up. It's been at 8.1ish ever since.

Then I setup a quick hospital tank, found as many of my fish as I could, and dumped them in, but it was already too late.

My losses so far:
power blue tang (~5" - had him for almost 3 years :sad:)
blonde naso tag (~9")
sohal tang (~4")
yellow tang (~3")
about half my acros, including:
a bright blue tort that had just started taking off
an acro I've had for almost 3 years - was almost 10" across
about half the flesh from my 12" wide green slimer
about 10 new frags for ARC members
yellow millepora

What has made it so far:
two percula clowns
one firefly goby
all six of my clams, from 2" to 8"
my large BTA
most of my LPSs, including frogspawns, hammers, and others
my 8" yellow fiji leather
those d*mn green zooanthids (figures)

I've done two 60g water changes so far, and maureen3177 and tsciarini have lent me their RO/DI filters; I can make about 140gpd of RO right now, and have about 500g of salt on hand - I'll probably keep doing 60gal water changes per day until I run out of salt.

The financial loss, while still fairly large, doesn't bother me near as much as the time and attachment that I've had with the fish and the corals.

I may also add (and make a big warning to everyone else with a kalk reactor) a pH controller to my auto top off, so that the kalk won't be used when the pH is over 8.4 or something.

It's an interesting lesson for everyone with a kalk reactor. You're dealing with a chemical that has a pH of 13. To not have a controller on it is just waiting for a disaster...
A great write-up and a valuable lesson. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

(and I'll have my bill for daily RO/DI usage and salt to you by the end of business tomorrow)
:lol3: just kidding :)
well, i dont have much, but i'd be glad to donate any frags of anything i have to help you repopulate. i dont have much that real extravagant, but youre welcome to what i have.
That really sucks Chris. Sorry to hear about it. Thanks for sharing. I know it must be hard.

man chris, so sorry to hear that. If I can do anything for ya, let me know.
I'm sorry Chris.

I hope that everything that you've got in the QT survives and that there will be no more coral die off.

So sorry to hear Chris. That truly sucks and I know what you mean about being attached to your fish and corals and having them for several years.

Let me know if you want any of my sps.
Let me know when you're ready for frags again. On another note... did you buy the ReefKeeper 2 during the power buy? I thought you had it all under control and stuff.
Yeesh. Clearly, it happens to the best of us. I'm sorry about all your fish, and the corals, too.
Thanks all for the condolences. Except for the fish, I'm going use this opporunity to look for spectacular corals to replace the ones I lost. It's about the best I can hope for from the situation...

Actually, I only have the original ReefKeeper. I bought it about 3 months before the #2 version came out, and it doesn't have pH control. I'm thinking about buying a new one now that I need to get a pH controller anyway...
Sorry to hear about that chris. If there is anything else you need (including salt) let me know.

Sorry man I hope things get back to normal for ya.
If I can help please let me know.
Well, I've done my third 60g water change. I did some math and after you figure the thickness of my tank walls (3/4" really does add up), the vacant volume in the sump, estimate for rocks, etc, I think I have around 230 gallons of only water. Of course, this is rough, but the best I could come up with.

Doing a 60g each change means that I'm changing 60/230 = 26% of the current tank each time. Therefore, with each subsequent water change, I have:

<pre class="code">
water change # original water left
1 74%
2 55%
3 40%
4 29%
5 22%
6 16%
7 12%
8 8%
9 6%
10 5%
16 &lt;1%</pre>

There's not much change after the 9-10th water change (and arguably not much after #6). If I can keep up two per day, then my water should be in good shape in less than a week.

Some of the corals have a small amount of flesh on them, only visible when I have only the actinics on. A few are completely dead.

I'll try to take some pictures tomorrow when the lights come back on.
I also decided to feel some cyclopeeze tonight. This decision was based on Borneman's comments in his book about corals getting a large portion of their nutritional need from food in the water column, rather than from light. I think I may bump my light schedule down from 9hrs to 4hrs to help keep algae at bay and give the corals a fighting chance (remember I have 1000w halides- they're still getting some serious light).

Cyclopeeze isn't going to make the water any cleaner, but my 6' skimmer is efficient enough that I have to turn it off when I feed normally to keep it from all being removed within 15 mins...
Hi Chris, I am so sorry to hear about your incident. If theres anything I can do pls dont hesitate to contact me.
Sorry to hear about that chris. My whole reef tank was also wiped out overnight couple week ago when I plug in a faulty heater. To my suprise, the only thing survive were the clam and coco worm.
Simon- there are two coral frags that I'd like to get from you when I get back on my feet. I had grown one of your frags by about 5x, and the other one was the frag I gave to you a while back.

I'll contact you when I get to that point. Thanks a lot!
You may want to look at the ACIII Pro. It can set off alarms and email you. It also has a built in web server so you can check on your tank whenever you want to view the parms.

When I set up my new tank a few months ago I decided that I would spend most of my time and money on equipment for the first year. I also bought a really nice network camera to be able to see the tank remotely. I put the link in the Reef Web Cam post if you want to see it.

Thanks for the warning about the reactor. I have been thinking about getting one and now I will not put one in unless It is under control by my ACIII. My ACIII Pro turns off the co2 to my cal reactor is the PH drops to low.

Thanks for the suggestion. However, I actually bought an ACIII about 6 months ago, only to sell it two months later out of disgust. I could go on and on, but the biggest problem was that the device control was just too unreliable. I would come downstairs and find one of my halides on at 2:30am or whatever bizzare time. While lights are non-critical, I can't trust my more critical things. I was indeed using the DC-8. I felt the web interface left a lot to be desired, the reaction time was annoyingly slow, etc. I just had a lot of complaints for that amount of money.

I am glad to hear it works for you, though - maybe I was getting some stray EMF in my house that made my DC8 not want to function correctly... don't know...