One of the perhaps more subtle developments in reef-keeping over the last couple of years has been the general consensus that absolute zero levels of phosphate and nitrate can actually be a bad thing for a reef tank. While it’s always been accepted that soft corals and LPS corals like some dissolved organic nutrients in the water column, some SPS keepers have striven to eliminate all dissolved organics other than those purposefully added. In some cases, this can not only negatively impact on coral health but can also lead to an imbalance through which cyanobacteria can gain a hold, ruining what appears to be an otherwise pristine aquarium.
Given that it is arguably easier to take nutrient levels to absolute zero (through aggressive use of biological and chemical filtration methods for example) than it is to maintain a small amount of nutrients at a stable and balanced ratio, it perhaps isn’t surprising that a company has brought out a solution to more accurately measure such parameters, and thus monitor, balance and control the levels of these nutrients. Again, it is likely to come as no surprise that that the company behind this is Triton, already known for their revolutionary role in advancing reef-keeping techniques. Actually, Triton were the first company to develop an ICP testing service specifically for the reef-keeping community and are now innovating further. They also possess machines located in multiple countries. Ehsan Dashti, Triton Applied Bio Reef Science Founder, summarises; “The nitrogen cycle in reef tanks is more complicated than the nitrate measured with traditional test kits. Likewise, carbon and alkalinity exist in more forms than have been measured in the past. Collectively, these compounds feed the bacteria and algae that cause problems in reef tanks. N-DOC solves this problem by accurately measuring the relevant organic compounds that trigger bacterial and algal blooms. N-DOC puts the aquarist in complete control of reef husbandry.”
Key to Triton’s approach here has been an extensive period of research and development and part of this has involved the analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data much of which has come from esteemed partners such as Horniman museum, the London Aquarium, and location work carried out on the Great Barrier Reef in connection with Cairns Marine. It is such research that has not only perfected the testing technology, but has also allowed for critical ratios to be developed and thus useable recommendations to be made on N-DOC results. This latter service ties in neatly with Tritons supplement range which can be used to correct or maintain specific levels (although use of these solutions isn’t compulsory).
We’ll touch on this again later in this review but firstly let’s take a look at the product and process more generally. First, the test can be purchased from any Triton retailer and the cost is £31.50 per test (much the same as the ICP), and can be purchased in advance and stored at home until required. Once purchased, your N-DOC will arrive in a small, recyclable cardboard box and this contains everything you need to get the test completed – instructions, a pre-addressed padded return envelope, two water tight vials and two bar code stickers. All you need to do it fill the vials with tank water, stick the barcodes on, pop them in the envelope and post them. It is also fine to send both N-doc and ICP samples in one envelope, but make sure it has a large first-class stamp and that your aquarium ID number is written in the box provided on the envelope. Next, you need to head to the Trtion-lab website, create an account (if you don’t already have one), and enter the barcode numbers against the tank you are testing (you may only have one tank of course which is fine).
After following the procedure above, it took around a week for us to receive our N-DOC (and ICP) results and their readiness was notified by an email to the address which we set-up our Triton-lab account. Using this email link, we were taken to view our results online. Here, the graphical presentation was easy to follow and it was also possible to download our results as a pdf, as was sharing them with others. As well as the results themselves, tabs allow for viewing both recommendations and actions (including dosage amounts specifically based on your results). It’s worth noting here that the N-DOC doesn’t give you a phosphate reading but you can input your own using a hobby kit or if you have an ICP done at the same time, you can bring the result across. Given that a nitrate reading can potentially change in a sample while in the post, the same applies here. Once you’ve entered these readings, a slide bar will come into operation on the results screen, and the aim here is to attain results that match the static bar above, the ratio between nitrate and TNB is approximately 2/3rds nitrate to 1/3rd TNB. UK distributor Vincent Thomas of Aquarium Connections explains “The interesting part is that many people may have zero nitrates on their home test and believe they therefore have low total nitrogen, but this is far from true, in fact the lack of nitrate may be the very thing that is holding back the biological chains from converting the higher nitrogen forms, hence why there is great Importance in keeping this balance correct. One of the greatest benefits of the N-DOC is to have a true value over TOC (total organic carbon). How many people dose a carbon source in one form or other, that may be vodka, vinegar, sugar or a commercial additive? Well, you will now be able to not just guess, but actually see if you have the correct level of dosage, by monitoring your TOC. This can also highlight any unintentional additions, such as air pollution from pollen and other causes. Optimum conditions are achieved when you balance the 3 values of NCP, but you will note that there are ratios within ratios, that are equally important to achieve, such as the ratio between Nitrate and TNB along with TOC and TIC (KH), these values can be adjusted using the Triton N-DOC supplements. Once you have achieved a good balance, you can help maintain it by using Bio-base which is a perfectly balanced supplement containing Nitrogen/Carbon/Phosphorous. By dosing this product, you will speed up the metabolism of your aquarium, making it far more efficient at cleaning up waste material, but at the same time, insuring you are giving everything back to the aquarium that it requires”.
To summarise, the N-DOC test provides unprecedented insights the interplay between critical nutrient ratios in your aquarium and has the potential not only to rectify common problems but also to generally foster a far greater understanding, and therefore control, of these parameters. Initially, interpreting the results may seem somewhat daunting but take note that Triton should be releasing some video materials shortly which will discuss the testing service, corrective measures, plus further developments and guidance on the test platform itself.
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