Nutrients versus nutrition: they seem terribly similar; however, they’re probably one of the most frequently misunderstood words in reefing. Once you comprehend the distinction between nutrition and nutrients, it will certainly transform the way you think about everything that enters the container and out. Nutrients can really indicate a wide variety of things, but often only refer to nitrate and phosphate from the plant world. This is plant food runoff from farming, hydroponics, and water pollution.
Nutrition, however, is food energy, proteins, and mineral resources that contribute to health, growth, reproduction, and disease resistance with organisms or animals like our corals. There are a couple of crucial differences between nutrients and nutrition. The first is that every living organism on Earth needs a source of nutrients, being nitrogen and phosphorus, to survive. That includes our corals as well as the cooperative algae called zooxanthellae that lives within the coral reefs.
Here’s the other essential distinction: the coral reefs, to survive, actually obtains 90 percent of its nutrition from the zooxanthellae that lives within its cells. However, the zooxanthellae isn’t capable of producing nitrogen and phosphorus out of thin air or providing it directly to the coral. So, this is part of that 10 percent that actually really matters, that the zooxanthellae cannot provide. So I mean the zooxanthellae isn’t directly creating nitrogen and phosphorus or nitrate and phosphate and then passing it onto the coral.
However, indirectly, it definitely is. Indirectly, it’s creating energy resources and amino acids that do contain nitrogen and phosphorus and passing that onto the reefs. However, the important distinction here is that it’s the coral that is responsible for acquiring and dispersing the nitrate and phosphate to the zooxanthellae and the coral itself.
So, you can start to see the gap now, that gap between 90 and 100. This means that we know that the coral is actually going to get 90 percent of the nutrition that it needs from the zooxanthellae that lives within its cells. But what about the other 10? Does the 10 percent matter? Well, that 10 percent now we know consists of nitrogen and phosphorus, and we also know that every single living microorganism on the planet needs nitrogen and phosphorus to survive.
So, definitely, it does matter. But it goes beyond that as well. There are things like missing types of amino acids that algae just has a difficult time replicating or cannot at all, and promotes healthy cell production. There are also minerals that usually come from prey. So, that 10 percent that is missing isn’t just a small amount; it’s things that the algae cannot produce at all. In an all-natural strategy to general metabolic health, another important distinction between nutrients and nourishment is that with nutrients or nitrate and phosphate, more is definitely not better. With elevated levels of, say, phosphate, you’ll see slower calcification.
The coral will have difficulty laying down additional calcium carbonate crystals for its skeleton. And with elevated levels of both, you’ll also see increased amounts of population or density of zooxanthellae within the coral’s cells, which can lead to bleaching when combined with other stressful events. So, with nutrients or nitrate and phosphate, the correct amount is the best solution. Elevated or unacceptably high nitrate and phosphate in almost any application, including aquaculture, farming, hydroponics, or even just general water quality in the ocean, is all considered polluted water, end of story.
However, with nutrition, more is better. The answer is often yes, to a point. Meaning, if there’s more prey or suspended organic particles for the corals or polyps to catch, there’s more amino acids or other nutritive elements for the reefs or polyps to absorb. It will usually result in better health for the animal. However, I say this to a point because not if it results in polluted water. Meaning, not that there is too much prey in the water, but if that prey isn’t captured and then breaks down into nitrate and phosphate, which is, by definition, pollution.
So, filtration is really a foundation of an overall strategy to heavy nutrition, meaning filling in that ten percent gap that the coral reefs and zooxanthellae can’t produce for itself without polluting the tank. This is also closely connected to the difference in the nutritional values of the ocean as well as in our tanks, why they’re so different, and which one we should be mimicking.