How to Raise Nitrates in Reef Tank (The Easy Way)

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Do you have a problem with low nitrate levels in your reef tank? If so, you are in the right place. In this article, you will learn how to raise nitrates in a reef tank, how fast you can do it, and all the problems low levels of nitrates can cause in a saltwater aquarium.

In the last couple of months, I’ve had a problem with a low level of nitrates (almost undetectable) in my reef tank. 

I keep mainly soft corals, zoanthids, and LPS corals, so keeping the nitrate levels within the range is vital for the health and growth of these animals.

I don’t know the exact reason why my nitrate levels plummeted. I suspect it was a combination of many factors, such as adding more corals, excessive algae growth, and increased frequency of water changes.

Whatever the reasons were, I knew if I didn’t act immediately, I would encounter many problems soon. I also knew that nothing good happens fast in this hobby, so I made sure that I made gradual changes.

How to raise nitrates in a reef tank

Here are the best methods for raising nitrates in a saltwater aquarium.

Feed more fish and coral food

The best, and frankly the most fun method; is to increase the feeding in your reef tank. 

Feeding the fish and corals in a reef tank is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this hobby. At least, it is for me.

The extra food will break down into ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.

Add more fish

Adding more fish to the system is another way to increase the nutrients in your reef tank. More fish means more feeding, therefore more waste in the reef tank.

Keep in mind that adding more fish and food to your system will also raise the phosphate levels, not just nitrates.

Turn off your protein skimmer

The protein skimmer is filtration equipment mainly used in saltwater aquariums. It removes the organic nutrients from the water column before bacteria process them.

Turning off your protein skimmer for some time will increase the nutrients in your reef tank. Make sure that you test your water parameters regularly so you won’t have large swings.

Do fewer water changes

One of the first things I’ve done when my nitrates were undetectable was to cut back on water changes. 

I used to do weekly water changes but transitioned to doing them every second week.

Slowly but surely, my nitrate levels started to rise.

Dose nitrates artificially

If you still can’t raise the nitrates in your reef tank with the methods mentioned above, then dosing nitrates is the way to go.

There are a lot of products on the market today that can help you with that. Just make sure you follow the instructions and don’t overdose on your reef tank.

Do low nitrates cause a problem in a reef tank?

The nitrate levels in the ocean are almost undetectable (less than 0.1 ppm), but we should not compare it with our reef tanks. In the sea, there is a lot of prey for the corals to eat.

We can’t provide the same biodiversity in our reef tanks, so we need to keep the nitrates slightly elevated compared to the ocean.

If you have zero nitrates and phosphates in your reef tank, you are risking getting dinoflagellates, an algae that are very hard to get rid of.

How fast can I raise nitrates in a reef tank?

Nothing good happens fast in the saltwater aquarium hobby. Patience is your best friend. How do I know?

The last time I tried to increase the nutrients in my reef tank, I had a polyp bailout on my hammer coral. Learn from my mistakes and the others before you, and slowly increase your nitrates.

Make one change, test, and observe. You should never do more than one change at a time.

How to raise nitrate without raising phosphate

Increasing the nitrates without raising the phosphates is difficult if you rely only on increased feedings and adding more fish.

If you want to increase nitrates and not phosphates, you should add a dedicated nitrate supplement to your reef tank. In addition, you can try adding amino acids to your system (your corals will thank you).

Final Thoughts

As you have seen, there many ways to increase the nitrate levels in a reef tank. And most of them are cheap and easy to do.

Keeping the nitrate levels stable is key to keeping your corals happy, healthy, and thriving.

Now, I’d like to know. What is your preferred way of raising nitrates in a marine tank? 

Let me know in the comment section below!

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