Three Good Protein Skimmers for a Mini Reef

Protein Skimmers

Good hang-on skimmers for the lower to mid-range budgets!

There are some decent low-to-mid priced protein skimmers, though each has its own little flaws and pluses. Yet there is an aquarist for each one. Some aquarists are simply more willing to mess around with their skimmers, so as Stuart Smalley would say, “and… that’s okay!”

Dating back to my newbie days in 2005 to the present, 2014, there are 3 skimmers that I have the most experience with. These skimmers I can say I have used for well over 6 months to 3 years, which is long enough, I feel, to justify reviewing them. Has it been almost 10 years? Wow, so much has changed in the saltwater world! Today there are amazing thermometers with a computer chip to monitor water temperature, turning it on or off for the exact temperature you want, and now we have LED lighting too. I have tried VHO, T5s, and Metal Halide; various substrates and tank sizes; and I have mixed various fish and seen interesting results.

I think we are all waiting for the “AquaScum 2003″ that dentist P. Sherman bought for his saltwater tank in “Finding Nemo”! Since I don’t like to speak on subjects I am not sure about, or a product I have not experienced, these 3 skimmers are the 3 hang-on or HOB (hang-on-the-back) I have had experience with.

I would put these three skimmers in the low-to-mid budget range and I can tell you that all three did their job. The lowest priced skimmer I used is now $80, it originally cost me $60 in 2005. The mid-range skimmer is about $180 today, and higher priced one runs about $260.

Red Sea Prizm Skimmer

Red Sea Prizm Skimmer

I had a Prizm Skimmer for my first saltwater tank, which was a 55-gallon. Being new to the hobby I had spent quite a bit of money on so many things, including live rock. So of course I did what most newbies do, I bought a budget skimmer.

Mind you, I did do a lot of research on skimmers in the $50 to $100 range before I bought the Prizm Skimmer. I also read the “don’t skimp on the skimmer” suggestion along with countless other suggestions. So I went in knowing that someday I would have to upgrade. In my head, I had calculated that my 55-gallon tank, with 60+ pounds of live rock, would probably only hold about 40 gallons of water. So I decided this skimmer should do the job for now.

One thing I did right was to buy the cylinder shaped Pro Surface Skimmer Box along with the Prizm Pro. I will say, after about a month, the Prizm Pro did quite well for my needs. After weeks of tweaking and fiddling with it, I was able to have it product that dark nasty goo on a daily basis. Understandably, today most of us are very busy and don’t have time to “play” with our skimmers! A “plug and play skimmer,” the Prizm is not!

The surface skimmer box is what pulls in all the oils and goo from the water surface which saltwater fish and corals produce. The Prizm Pro Skimmer utilizes the adjustable height of the Skimmer box very well. Then an 18 blade turbo-Jet air injector sufficiently bubbles up the water to form skimmate for removal. Some nice touches with this skimmer are its slim, low profile and being available for about $100. That will include the surface skimmer box and a media chamber in which you can put carbon if desired.

Coralife Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer

Coralife Super Skimmer, Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer

By 2006 I was on to my 150-gallon reef tank. My UPS delivery guy kindly gave this huge tank to me. Yeah, that IS cool! He was delivering a package and saw my 55-gallon aquarium and asked if I would be interested in a 150-gallon tank. Of course I responded, “Why, YES I would, good sir!”

So my research for a new skimmer started up again. It needed to be another hang-on model because there were no drill holes in my new tank for a sump. Due to the location of the tank, size or bulk was not an issue. For inhabitants I had a Magnificent Anemone Heteractis Magnifica, which was about 5″ across when I bought it, and reaching 18″ across by the time it grew up. On top of that I had many other corals and lots of fish.

After a lot of research I settled on needle wheel technology, and purchased the Coralife Super Skimmer Needle Wheel 220, rated for 220 gallons. By now I had learned a few things about skimmers, so I knew that over sizing them slightly was not a bad idea. This skimmer pulled out some of the foulest smelling dark goo I had seen!

Yes, it works and it works well. On the downside, there was again, a lot of fiddling and tweaking. Inconveniently, you must turn the dial that is used for the bubble/skimming levels down all the way in order to clean the cup. This was a bit annoying, since it could take some time to find that exact “sweet spot” again for maximum goo removal! A simple fix that came to mind after the first few cleanings, was to mark the spot where the dial was set with a black magic marker, making it easy to find the original spot the red dial was set. The only time I had an issue with this skimmer was when I used products that caused mass skimmate production. And that is not the fault of the skimmer, but rather user error!

Even though the Coralife Needle Wheel Skimmer does not have a “surface” skimmer, it did quite well at producing that yuck we all want out of our tanks. By using the needle-wheel system with an aspirating Venturi, it caused tons of micro-bubbles and increased contact time, which is needed to be effective. Yes, initially there will be micro-bubbles in the tank, but don’t fret. Some adjustments, doing the hokey pokey, and making a few calls to Coralife will fix the problem. Their customer care is great.

Once you have it dialed in this is truly a great skimmer for the money. Currently the Coralife Needle Wheel Skimmer comes in a 65 gallon size for under $100, a 125 gallon size for about $150, and the 220 gallon size for about for $180.

AquaC Remora Series Protein Skimmer

AquaC Remora Protein Skimmer

Fast forwarding several years, I downsized my tank to a 60-gallon and again bought a Coralife. Due to limited space however, I needed to buy a new skimmer so the tank was not so far from the wall. This is when I bought the AquaC Remora Series Protein Skimmer. Currently, I have an AquaC Remora Pro Hang-On Skimmer rated for 50 to 120 gallons on my 75-gallon tank. I will say it gets out some nasty stuff, even with only 3 fish and 60 pounds of live rock!

What can I say… this is a great skimmer. This one IS “plug and play”, no muss no fuss! There is a break in period, as with all skimmers, but for the most part just adjust the collection cup for a darker or lighter skimmate (like you would the other two), and you’re done! The AquaC Remora uses a spray-injection. This is a powerful, high-pressure, air-induction spray that causes enormous amounts of goo removing bubbles.

I also purchased the skimmer box, which neatly hid the pump. This produced a lot of gooey icky skimmate and was easy to adjust by adding a thick round rubber band around the square cup. When it comes time to clean the skimmer cup you need to be careful not to move this band. However it isn’t a big deal if you do move it because the skimmer responds quickly to adjustments. The boxes are sized appropriately for the differently sized skimmers and pumps. You can also use the smaller pump and the smaller box with the larger skimmer, but that would just be silly. The square design does make it a little more challenging to clean, but hey, if that is the worst of it, I’ll take it. Plus this skimmer will not overflow!

The AquaC Remora Pro Hang-On also has a drain option for both sizes, which will drain into a 5-gallon container that is hidden under the tank. I recommend getting it, especially for those vacation days. But if you choose not to use the drain, you can just turn it upward and put a plug on it. The body of the skimmer has a special cut out area for the drain plug so this is not something you can do yourself.

I honestly struggled with my decision when it came to buying a skimmer for my present 75 gallon tank. Would I buy a Coralife or another AquaC Remora Pro Skimmer? Well, the flat, wide rectangular design of the AquaC won me over. After all, the tank is already intruding in a walkway of my house, and if I added the Coralife, I may have had to build a bridge over my tank! Okay, so it isn’t THAT bad! One thing I also like about the AquaC is there are just 2 small sections you have to cut out of that black strip in the back of your glass lid if you have a cover! I am planning to buy a Snake Eel, and I need a completely sealed top! Upon researching the AquaC Remora Pro Skimmer, I stumbled across an ad in my local Craigslist! I scored one that was only a few years old for LESS than 1/2 of the retail price!

Their customer service is second to none! The skimmer started to produce aa lot of excess, foamy skim production that was basically a clearish tan. Perplexed, I called their customer service number only to find out the culprit was a product called “Instant Ocean de-chlor” which is great, but has a “slime protection” for the fish. They said most skimmers over skim when this type of de-chlor is added, so avoid any that say “slime coat or slime protection.” Besides the fact, our saltwater fish don’t really need that like freshwater fish do! I had forgotten that little bit of information! You will typically speak to the inventor or one of his well-qualified employees! He was happy to help me, knowing full well I got this last AquaC on Craigslist! I told him that just to see what his reaction would be and he could care less where I got it, but just that I was happt with the product!

The AquaC Remora Hang-On for 20 to 75 gallons runs about $160 and the larger AquaC Remora Pro, for 50 to 120 gallons, runs about $250. An additional $10 buys the Pro Hang-On with the drain fitting. AquaC now has a “new and improved” Remora-S for 20 to 75 gallons. I have not used that one, so I cannot comment on it, but it is supposed to be even better.

Getting the best with your skimmer

Removing the goo from the aquarium is important. Yet too large of a skimmer on any tank can cause over skimming, which is not good for your tank. There are natural things found in the water that corals and other organisms need to thrive. Many suggest, especially in Europe, that you turn the skimmer off at night once the tank is well established. Some find their corals do better with this action. Yet if the skimmer is under powered, turning it off at night wouldn’t be necessary. So basically this suggestion needs to be tempered with the size of the skimmer, the contents or bioload of the aquarium, and the tank size.

Gladly, many companies are now stating the size of the skimmer based on the size of the tank and it’s bio-load, which is very responsible! This makes a skimmer purchase almost dummy proof, and that is great because no hobbyist wants to buy the wrong thing.

What are your protein skimmer experiences? We all should experiment to find a happy medium with skimming, and with discovery, share our new observations with others. This is how we all learn because no one knows everything! Happy skimming!

Carrie McBirney is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.

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