An Exploration of Techniques
Still, in the 1980s and into the ’90s, some people were trying out
variations on the Berlin method, as well as another completely different
method. One of the shortcomings of the Berlin method was lack of
nitrate removal, which would lead to its accumulation in tank water
over time. So, ways of removing nitrate were being explored.
One of these alternative methods was the use of macroalgae to
remove nitrate and other waterborne nutrients. It was called algal
scrubbing and basically consisted of using some sort of macroalgae as a
means of maintaining water quality. The algae would uptake nutrients
and grow, and then could be harvested regularly. Thus, it served as a
type of nonbacterial biological filtration.
This is what Eng had done many years before, with the essential
difference being that the algae was grown outside the aquarium in a
lighted sump or on specialized trays in a separate well-lit unit of some
sort that was plumbed to the aquarium. And, of course, this is still done
by many hobbyists today, typically using Chaetomorpha macroalgae
grown either in a sump or in a chamber called a reactor (or “chaeto
Still, Jean Jaubert came up with something very different, which
became quite popular for a time and was widely known as the Jaubert
method. This was another type of bacterial biological filtration, using
anaerobic nitrate-consuming bacteria that prefer to live in low-oxygen
environments. This method basically provided a means of producing
a low-oxygen zone in the aquarium where these bacteria could live in
To do so, a sheet of eggcrate material covered with a sheet of plastic
screen or perforated plastic was placed in the bottom of a tank but
raised a couple of inches off the bottom by risers of some type. The
sheet had to be cut to the exact inner dimensions of the tank and had
to fit snugly at all edges. Then, a layer of course gravel at least a couple
of inches thick was added on top of this barrier, leaving a gravel-free
space under the plastic material called a plenum.
As oxygenated water diffused through the gravel and into the plenum
space, bacteria in the upper part of the substrate would consume the
oxygen in the water, leaving low-oxygen water in the plenum. That’s
where the nitrate-eating bacteria could thrive and pull it from the water.
This did work, except that it was difficult to keep the gravel clean
and prevent it from being chocked with detritus over time. And detritus
would eventually make its way through the gravel and plastic barrier
and begin to accumulate in the plenum space, so it really didn’t work so
well over the long haul, despite its temporary popularity.
Well, it was eventually discovered that the same bacteria could do
their job at the bottom of a thick layer of fine sand. So, out with the
plenums and the gravel and in with the fine sand for most reefers.
Typically, about 4 inches ( 10 cm) of aragonitic sugar-size sand was
added to an aquarium, and this method was aptly called the deep sand
bed method, which was popularized in large part by Ron Shimek.
While hobbyists typically added several inches of sand for this to
work, eventually we realized that having a sand bed that was just a
The author’s reef tank circa 2005 featured a deep sand bed.
Skimmers have come a long way since the 1960s, and now
they can be found in a ridiculous array of shapes, sizes, and
styles for essentially any reef aquarium application.