Don’t Panic! Create a Panic Protocol.

When it comes to caring for our reef tanks, panic is never a good state to be in. When we panic, our ability to make rational and productive decisions decreases, significantly. Unfortunately, at some point, we are all likely to face a situation with our reef tanks that will cause a certain amount of panic (if we haven’t already). Maybe you’ve already come home from work to a large puddle on your floor and a half empty aquarium. Or when you returned from a vacation your aquarium was the milky murk of an entire bottle of alkalinity component from a dosing pump mishap. Or perhaps you got a little too heavy handed with your sump drain plumbing and ending up cracking your tank from top to bottom, causing an unstoppable cascade of tank water to pour over your head (at least one of these has happened to me, im not telling you which one though). In short, accidents are going to happen, though these are somewhat worst case scenarios.

Discovering a receding coral could cause you to take actions that do more harm than good in the long run. It’s more likely that only a small adustment is needed to correct the issue.

The Definition of Panic

In these situations, and often rightly so, we panic! Interestingly the Encyclopedia Brittanica has this to say: “Physical symptoms may include shortness of breath, palpitations or accelerated heart rate, chest pain or discomfort, choking, dizziness or faintness, trembling or shaking, sweating, nausea, abdominal distress, numbness or tingling, and hot flashes or chills. Psychological symptoms may consist of a . . . a feeling of unreality, . . . a fear of “going crazy” or losing control . . .”. These are quite serious symptoms, and although they might not last long, making decisions while in this state is unlikely to yield positive results. So how do we avoid this?

What is a Panic Protocol?

Enter the ‘Panic Protocol”. A set of instructions you write yourself on what to do in the event of a specific emergency. Now, we’re not really talking about the worst case scenarios we mentioned above, hopefully these never happen to you. We’re talking about the 2 degree jump in your alkalinity or the LED that accidentally falls into your tank. In these comparatively minor situations we tend to panic and react quickly without thinking things through. For example, quickly reducing your alkalinity could do more damage to your corals. And thrusting your hand into your tank to retrieve your fallen LED could get you electrocuted. These are situations where a Panic Protocol could help you to make a better decision to rectify the situation to the benefit of your reef inhabitants and your health.

Make sure you have easy access to your Panic Protocol so that you actually use in an emergency.

How to Write a Panic Protocol

The best thing to do is write down as many situations as possible and a short description on what to do if that happens. Then post it to the inside door of your tank cabinet or on the side of your sump. The best thing to do in a given situation can vary from system to system. For example, the way you react to a significant change in alkalinity could be different if you have a lot of SPS compared to a tank with no SPS at all. So think carefully about what’s best for your system. Here are an example to give you an idea of where to start:

High Alkalinity / Phosphate or other reading: Check expiry date on test kit. Visually inspect corals before taking action. Test alkalinity again to ensure test kit accuracy. Consider water change and adjusting daily 2-part dosing program. Check calcium and magnesium (or other parameters) as well. Make small adjustments.

Taking the time to write your own Panic Protocols will help you to think about what would be best to do in these situations BEFORE they happen. Hopefully this will help to ensure your own safety and that your tanks inhabitants receive the best care possible.

Think of it as a cheat sheet for emergencies. A small preventative measure that could save you in the long run.