Due to the less than stellar performance of a few of the alleged "reef-safe" treatments in my previous experimental trials, I thought it would be worthwhile to continue my trials and delve into the performance of some other claimed "reef-safe" treatments. For this next set of experiments, I chose Aquarium Pharmaceuticals' MelaFix and PimaFix, as well as No Sick Fish's Ich Treatment. All of these medications claim to be reef-safe and yet, to the best of my knowledge, none has been proven either safe or effective. It is a shame that manufacturers don't routinely release to the public the details of their own in-house experiments. If they did, I am sure they would gain greater acceptance and foster far less skepticism and cynicism among advanced aquarists.

Methods and Materials

For this experiment, I reused the acrylic cubicle system that I had built for the previous round of testing (Pro, 2005). Its outside dimensions are 49" long by 16" wide by 19" high, and it is split into 12 equal compartments, although for this experiment I used only 10 cubicles. Each compartment can hold almost four gallons. In contrast to most cubicle display systems at retail or wholesale facilities, each of these small tanks is completely separate from the others; no holes or overflow grids allow water to flow from one tank to the next.

To clean and sterilize the experimental system after the previous round of testing, I bleached all the cubicles. After being bleached, each cubicle was rinsed repeatedly with freshwater to ensure the compartments lacked any possible contaminants. Additionally, the sponges, as well as the airstones in the sponge filters, were replaced with new parts.

Filtration, aeration and circulation for each cubicle were provided by 12 ATI Hydro III sponge filters. Each sponge filter was powered by a White Water model LT-19 linear piston air pump capable of producing 2.2 cubic feet per minute of air through a 1¼" PVC manifold. Due to the cubicles' tall, narrow design, the airlifts created a strong rolling circulation within each compartment.

Lighting was provided by an IceCap 660 electronic ballast powering two 48" 110-watt URI Super Actinic lamps, one 48" 110-watt URI Aquasun and one 48" 110-watt URI Actinic White. In addition to the URI lamps' internal reflectors, the lamps and waterproof end caps were mounted on a standard polished aluminum VHO lamp reflector. The ballast was connected to a common household appliance timer to maintain a consistent 12-hour photoperiod.

    I do have to admit that I am somewhat curious about what problems hobbyists are using MelaFix and PimaFix to combat. MelaFix is marketed for bacterial infections. In my experience, most bacterial infections are caused by something secondary, such as poor water quality, physical damage, shipping trauma or inadequate diet, for instance. Once those underlying conditions are addressed, often the infection clears up with no additional treatment. And when it doesn't, my first instinct is to use a true antibiotic, not an alternative therapy.
    PimaFix is marketed for the treatment of fungal infections. I have always been led to believe that true fungal infections are an uncommon ailment for tropical marine fishes (Fenner, 2001), and that corresponds with my own experience. True fungal infections are rare and are usually misidentified bacterial or viral infections.
    I also feel compelled to comment on the odor that these two products produce. I was dosing only two 3-gallon tanks with each of the products, for a total of 12 gallons treated, yet they produced a significant smell throughout the better part of my downstairs. I would describe the smell as similar to Vicks VapoRub. All I needed to add was the scent of moth balls, cedar and garlic, and I would have successfully converted the aroma of my home into that of my great grandmother's, and likely ended up in divorce court. I can't imagine the stench created if I would have dosed a 100-gallon or larger aquarium.

Each of the test tanks was initially filled with 3½ gallons of freshly mixed saltwater. The water was produced using an Aquatechnik separate stage two-resin deionization unit (Kati-Ani) and Tropic Marin Pro Reef salt mix. The water was measured to have a salinity of 35 ppt, or approximately 1.026 specific gravity at 78°F, with a Sybon Opticon Series FG100sa refractometer having automatic temperature compensation. The refractometer was calibrated prior to taking measurements with a reference sample of pure water (< 18 M-cm and 0 ± 0.01 ppt). The saltwater's initial quality was checked with Salifert test kits and was recorded as follows:

pH 8.2
Calcium 400 ppm
Alkalinity 3.0 meq/l
Ammonia 0 ppm
Nitrite 0 ppm
Nitrate 0 ppm
Phosphate 0 ppm

For this experiment, I also wanted to improve upon my previous trial. In that test I used only one Xenia sp. fragment per cubicle. This limited my number of replicates to two per experimental treatment. For this trial I obtained 48 specimens of what is commonly referred to as Pom-Pom or Red Sea Xenia from fellow aquarist Scott Busche (aka loui on Reef Central). (I did not attempt to identify the Xenia to species level and hereinafter will refer to it simply as Xenia sp.) Because of this, I could place four samples per cubicle and use two cubicles per treatment. This provided eight specimens per treatment.

Each freshly produced fragment was placed into the cubicles and permitted to roll around for several days so that its cut edge would heal. Unfortunately, as many of the readers likely know, Xenia does not ship well, particularly if it is newly propagated. It is best shipped either dry or from a suspended, floating Styrofoam raft, not simply tossed in the bottom of a bag submerged (Calfo, 2001). So, of the 48 samples that Scott provided, only 28 were alive after two weeks. By this point, the remaining specimens had recovered and were healthy by gross appearance. I redistributed some of the remaining Xenia and cut the largest two specimens in half so that I had 30 fragments, with three specimens per cubicle.

At this point, I also placed the Xenia fragments into PVC collars to keep them all in the same approximate location, to reduce flow and lighting variations. The PVC collars were made from ½" schedule 40 PVC cut into ¾" lengths.

I then held the Xenia for one additional month prior to any treatments to ensure that the remaining specimens were healthy and had adapted to their new environment. At the end of the acclimation period, all the specimens were exhibiting good color, regular polyp expansion and were pulsing regularly. As such, I deemed them to be healthy and ready to begin the treatment protocols.

Every day during the acclimation period, I topped-off the cubicles with deionized water from the Aquatechnik Kati-Ani unit, to account for water lost to evaporation. Also, once per week I conducted a one-gallon water change in each of the compartments. The corals did not receive any feedings at any time, as Xenia is thought to be nearly autotrophic (able to produce all necessary energy from light) (Borneman, 2001, Calfo, 2001, and Calfo, 2004) and to reduce additional variables affecting how well the individual Xenia fragments fared.

Experimental Stage

At this time the tanks were labeled so that the experiment could begin. Two of the cubicles were to be positive control tanks and would receive no treatment whatsoever. Two of the compartments were labeled as negative control groups and were to be dosed with Mardel's Coppersafe at a one time dose of ¾ tsp. The reaction of the Xenia exposed to copper would give a baseline for comparison to their reaction to the "reef-safe" treatments, as copper is toxic to invertebrates and this dosage appeared sufficient to kill Xenia in the previous experiment (Pro, 2005). Six of the cubicles were the treatment tanks. They were divided into three pairs. Each pair of experimental compartments was to be treated with one of the following "reef-safe" medications: Aquarium Pharmaceuticals' MelaFix and PimaFix, and No Sick Fish's Ich Treatment. The two remaining cubicles went unused and were simply filled with tap water to maintain a consistent back pressure on the air delivery manifold.

Additionally, I also changed the order of the cubicles from my previous experiment such that the ones that were used last time as negative controls went untreated this time, while the cubicles that were positive controls last time were exposed to copper. I did this to see if there would be any trace amounts of copper left over from the previous round that would interfere with the Xenia sp. Since the untreated, positive controls grew and behaved normally, it seemed that if there was any trace amount of copper remaining in the cubicles, it was negligible and had no effect.

In contrast to my previous round of testing, the dosing schedule for these treatments was relatively straightforward. Both MelaFix and PimaFix had a recommended dosage of one teaspoon (5 ml) per ten gallons, repeated daily for seven days. This converted easily to 1.5 milliliters per three-gallon cubicle. At the end of this period of time, it was recommended that a 25% water change be performed according to the directions provided by the manufacturer.

The cubicles were also alternated to account for differences in the light intensity. Fluorescent lights are strongest in the middle while weakest at the ends (Delbeek & Sprung, 1994 and Riddle, 1995). This difference in light intensity can have a dramatic effect on growth rates in experiments such as this (Holmes-Farley, 2003). To compensate for this effect, the cubicles were arranged in this manner:

Negative Control
Positive Control
Negative Control
Positive Control

In this way, each treatment would have specimens under varying lighting conditions.

In comparison, dosing the No Sick Fish Ich Treatment was slightly more complicated. It called for adding one drop of the product per 25 gallons of water daily for seven days. Because the test cubicles were topped-off at only three gallons, this called for the medication to be diluted. One tenth of a milliliter was extracted from the dropper bottle. This was added to a test tube, to which 2.5 ml of deionized water was added. This should have resulted in a concentration such that one drop would be adequate for one gallon of water. Three drops of this dilution were added daily to both of the No Sick Fish cubicles. Additionally, a fresh batch of this mixture was created every day for the experiment, with the unused portion of the dilution discarded.


Untreated, Positive Control:

All of these specimens continued to thrive and grow during the entire testing period. This demonstrates that nothing was wrong in the environment that caused obviously detrimental effects to the control specimens. Results show that Xenia can and, in fact, did do well under the circulation, filtration and lighting conditions in the experimental setting. They all exhibited a healthy color, regular polyp expansion and pulsed regularly throughout the experiment's duration.

Copper-Treated Negative Control:

All six specimens of Xenia exposed to copper were dead in less than 24 hours. After the first two hours they stopped pulsing and contracted. By six hours they had changed from their normal light pink color to a light gray, and remained contracted. After 12 hours had elapsed the corals in these cubicles had turned mostly white and were no longer contracted, but instead were what I can best describe as listless. They did not seem to be able to right themselves and their polyps were blown around by the water's movement. By the next morning, the specimens had largely disintegrated and appeared to be completely dead with nothing more than a nondescript blob of tissue remaining inside the PVC collar.

MelaFix, PimaFix and No Sick Fish Ich Treatment Groups:

All of the specimens exposed to these various "reef-safe" treatments appeared unaffected by the medications. They exhibited no change in behavior, color or general appearance. They all were indistinguishable from the untreated control groups.

Negative Control
No Sick Fish
Positive Control


Even though all these treatments passed this round of testing, I still am not prepared to declare them totally safe or to recommend their use. I believe a lot more testing is still in order. Particularly, I would like to see similar testing conducted on some worms, sponges, crustaceans, echinoderms, and perhaps a few other cnidarians. To me, a reef tank is much more than corals and fish, and I would like to see what effects, if any, exposure to these drugs has on these other important parts of a mature reef environment.

Additionally, it is important to note I have done no testing to ensure that these treatments are actually effective for their designed purpose. Once I am convinced that they are truly safe, their effectiveness would be assessed in the next stage of testing. Until such time, or until their manufacturers release their own in-house studies, I am reluctant to recommend any of these treatments.


I would like to thank Gene Schwartz (aka zhenya) for buying and sending me the No Sick Fish treatment. While all the other treatments were purchased off the shelf at the local fish store, the No Sick Fish treatment had to be purchased directly from the manufacturer. Since I didn't want them to know that I was the one buying it, Gene was kind enough to help me out, buy it for my use and reship it to me in its original packaging.

If you have any questions about this article, please visit my author forum on Reef Central.


Borneman, Eric. 2001. Aquarium Corals. Microcosm/T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, New Jersey, pages 62 and 153.

Calfo, Anthony. 2001. Book of Coral Propagation. Readingtrees.com Publications, Monroeville, Pennsylvania, page 302.

Calfo, Anthony. 2004. "To Pulse or Not to Pulse?: Identification and Behavior of Xeniid Corals in the Aquarium Hobby." Reefkeeping Online Magazine, February 2004.

Delbeek, Charles & Julian Sprung. 1994. The Reef Aquarium: Volume 1. Ricordea Publishing, Coconut Grove, Florida, page 484.

Fenner, Robert. 2001. The Conscientious Marine Aquarist. Microcosm/T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, New Jersey, pages 158-159.

Holmes-Farley, Randy. 2003. "Iodine in Reef Tanks 2: Effects of Macroalgae Growth." Advanced Aquarist Online Magazine, April 2003.

Pro, Steven. "The Effects of Various 'Reef-Safe' Treatments on Xenia sp. in a Controlled Setting." Reefkeeping Online Magazine, Dec. 2005.

Riddle, Dana. 1995. The Captive Reef. Energy Savers Unlimited, Inc., Harbor City, California, pages 252-259.

Related Reading:

MSDS Sheet for MelaFix -

MSDS Sheet for PimaFix -

Reefkeeping Magazine™ Reef Central, LLC-Copyright © 2008

The Effects of Various "Reef-Safe" Treatments on Xenia sp. in a Controlled Setting, Continued by Steven Pro - Reefkeeping.com