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Stocking a Refugium

First some definitions by what we mean by "sump" and "refugium":

  • Refugium - a safe place in your system. It is usually a tank that is plumbed into your main system where you keep delicate species, or try to grow copepods, etc.... Many people also use them to help filter the water from their display tank.
  • Sump - a tank that is plumbed into your display tank whose purpose is to add water volume or a place to store your filtration hardware etc...

Since the purpose of this article is to discuss how to use macro algae in each of these systems to help filter the water in a separate tank, (usually a display tank or a prop/frag tank), I will use them interchangeably. In most cases, if you have a separate tank plumbed into your aquarium system that is separate from your display and have installed a light over it, you have a refugium.

Our Philosophy:

You want both consistent nutrient uptake and pulse nutrient uptake macros and saltwater plants in your tank.

Here is what I mean by those terms: (They use similar terminology in phycology by the idea is exactly the same)

Consistent Macros- Macros that need nutrient at a high levels, all the time to thrive. They filter out nutrients quickly and are effective at dealing with established nutrient problems.

Pulse Macros -
Can handle periods of low nutrient levels well, and are long lived plants

Middle of the Road Macros - as you may have guessed, these macros and plants are somewhere in the middle. They grow quickly in high nutrient tanks, but can endure longer periods of low nutrition as well.

Consistent Macro Algae and Saltwater Plants: (High nutrient uptake - not in any particular order)

  • Cactus Caulerpa
  • Caulerpa Mexicana
  • Caulerpa Prolifera
  • Chaeto
  • Dictyota ciliolata
  • Fern Caulerpa
  • Manatee Grass
  • Grape Caulerpa
  • Saw Blade Caulerpa
  • Spider Algae
  • Suction Cup Caulerpa
  • Oar Grass

Middle of the Road: (Medium nutrient uptake -grows quickly under high nutrient conditions - not in any particular order)

  • Red Mangroves
  • Black Mangrove
  • Botryocladia (Red Grape)
  • Christmas Tree
  • Green Gracilaria
  • Halimeda (Monile)
  • Halimeda scabra (Money Plant)
  • Halymenia
  • Halymenia duchassaignii
  • Red Gracilaria
  • Mermaid's Wine Glass
  • Mermaid's Shot Glass
  • Pencil Cap
  • Scroll Algae
  • Shaving Brush
  • Ulva
  • Acanthophora spicifera (Spiny Algae)

Pulse: (Low nutrient uptake - can store nutrients when they become available - not in any particular order)

  • Codium
  • Mermaid's Fan
  • Laurencia
  • Spatula Algae
  • Red Titan Algae
  • Sargassum
  • Fauchea
  • Fire Fern
  • Flame Algae
  • Liagora
  • Pink Galaxy

The most ideal refugiums offer a combination of all 3. The slower filtering algae is there for when your tank stops producing such high nutrient levels. Because they all compete for space, proper trimming of the consistent macros keeps them in check. The slower growers hedge your bet so to speak in case the faster growers have some die off because of lack of nutrients. (You can limit this with proper pruning) There is a long article about this at chuck's addiction that explains the idea better.

He recommends a more conservative approach than we do. We think that the ideal setup is the following:

 Basic package for a sump: (Easy to care for, does the job)


 Red Mangroves* (note the height requirements)

Basic package for a refugium:


Red Mangroves

Ulva - (Amphipods and copepods love Ulva)

 Basic package for a sump/refugium that produces food for fish: (Easy to care for, does the job. Plus if your fish eat this food you reduce the importation of nutrients in your tank):


 Red Mangroves

Ulva - can be fed to fish

Red and Green Gracilaria  -can be fed to fish

Easy to Care for Better Package (Refugium or Sump):


 Red Mangroves (note the height requirements)

Ulva -can be fed to fish

Red and Green Gracilaria  -can be fed to fish

Codium - can be fed to fish

Best Package (Requires attention from you):

Caulerpa (You pick the species, these will be the trouble makers if not pruned regularly)


Manatee or Oar grass

Red Mangroves (note the height requirements)

Black mangroves (note the height requirements)

Ulva -can be fed to fish, copepods love it

Red and Green Gracilaria  -can be fed to fish

Codium - can be fed to fish

A deep (4 inches or more) sand bed. If the bottom inch or so is mud, then you are another step ahead of the game.

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