What a Difference a (Good) Protein Skimmer Makes!

Jeff's new Coral Vue Reef Octopus protein skimmer

Jeff’s new Coral Vue Reef Octopus protein skimmer

Here at Saltwater Smarts, we’re not, generally speaking, in the business of writing product reviews. But when we have positive personal experiences with products that we think can make your life easier—and are available at a reasonable cost—we want to pass that information along. Such has been my experience with the Coral Vue Octopus AC20287 (aka NWB 150) needle-wheel protein skimmer I recently purchased and added to my 125-gallon system.

Before making this purchase, I was long, long overdue a protein skimmer upgrade. The skimmer I had been using in this system was barely adequate, producing minimal skimmate and clogging frequently. Regular teardowns and vinegar soaks were necessary to keep the components clean of calcium-carbonate buildup so I could get something approximating a good air/water mix in the reaction chamber.

The low-cash conundrum

So, why did I put up with this sub-par skimmer performance for so long? Simple: cash—something my wife and I usually have in very limited quantities. As I’m sure many of you can appreciate, when you’re a middle-class family scrimping to get by, buying a new protein skimmer falls somewhere around number 3,278 on the list of priorities. So, basically, what I lacked in protein-skimming efficiency, I had to make up for with greater frequency of water changes.

Lighting upgrade and algae issues

I was finally forced to move on the skimmer purchase after tearing down my 75-gallon reef tank and upgrading the lighting on my 125-gallon so it could house some of the displaced corals. As I fully anticipated, the new, far more intense lighting—a 72-inch Current USA fixture, containing three 150-watt metal halides, 8 39-watt T5s, and 4 clusters of LEDs (courtesy of Caribbean Chris)—kicked the growth of algae into high gear in the 125.

Every day—sometimes twice a day—I’d have to run the algae magnet over the entire tank interior to prevent the algae from building up to the point that it completely obscured the panes. I knew I had to step up nutrient export in a major way before things really spiraled out of control.

My wife, recognizing the dilemma I was in and not wanting 125 gallons of pea soup in the middle of her living room, finally gave the go ahead for the new skimmer. She felt the purchase was justified since the 75-gallon was no longer in operation and siphoning money out of our budget. Not to mention, she enjoys a nice-looking aquarium as much as I do!

The 125 and it's inhabitants are responding well to the new skimming power!

The 125 and it’s inhabitants are responding well to the new skimming power!

Easy setup and assembly

The skimmer arrived a few weeks ago with all components accounted for—always a plus. Setup was fairly easy and intuitive. (For reference, if I find something easy to assemble, a trained chimpanzee could probably put it together in less time.) My only complaint is that the directions that came with the unit left out the actual steps for assembling the water outlet pipe system. Step 3 merely read, “Setting up the water outlet pipe system.” No worries, though. I found a complete set of assembly instructions on the company’s website. Plus it was easy enough to figure out how to assemble that part of the skimmer just by looking at the photo on the box.

A different sump solution

I’d originally intended to put the skimmer in my existing sump (a small acrylic sump from an old wet-dry system) inside the cabinet-style tank stand, but that would have been a pretty tight fit. With the skimmer being 22 inches tall, the top of the collection cup would have come almost to the bottom of the tank, making it very difficult to remove for emptying and cleaning. Also, the skimmer’s 12.2” x 8.7” footprint would have made it difficult to fit the system’s return pump in the same sump.

My solution was to use an old 29-gallon tank for the sump and place it on the floor just behind the tank. While I would have preferred to have it completely hidden from sight, I really love the ready access the setup affords and I was able to fit the skimmer, return pump, and heater down in the sump with room to spare.

Skimming along most satisfactorily!

As far as the skimmer’s performance is concerned, so far I’m very pleased. The manufacturer recommends allowing three to four weeks to break in the unit, but it started to produce a decent amount of foam and skimmate within a few days and now, just a few weeks after setup, it’s really starting to pull out the gunk. The water level in the chamber is easily adjusted with just the turn of a gate valve, and the silencer that comes with the unit allows it to run at a pretty modest decibel level.

Even more encouraging is the fact that the algae buildup on the tank glass has declined steadily. From a heavy buildup developing over just a matter of hours, it quickly dropped down to a light buildup over the course of a day, and now it’s down to what I would consider a more reasonable rate of growth, requiring moderate cleaning once every several days. Not bad, I’d say, for a budget-friendly skimmer costing only $240!


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About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.


  1. I currently own a 10 gal freshwater. Been considering saltwater and found this review.
    Loved it! Just subscribed, keep up the good work.

  2. I am considering use the 29-gallon tank for my living room and prepare skimmer, return pump, and heater for it. What should i do?

  3. A good skimmer and a good canister filter really do make all the difference with saltwater aquariums. You have a really great looking setup there. Any plans to get another aquarium or go bigger than what you have now?

    • Jeff Kurtz says

      Hi Sean! Actually, right now my wife and I are getting our house ready to sell and shopping for a new home, so I’m not sure what sort of space we’ll end up with once we move. Of course, my fantasy is that I’ll end up with a bigger system, but the wife might have other ideas!

  4. I’ve used the Coral Vue in one of my tanks before, thought it was great for the cost. Lovely reef tank by the way, looks incredibly clear! I have a 100 gallon reef tank at home and it’s a huge workload, let alone adding an extra 25% to the capacity.

  5. Enjoyed reading that story! Lovely aquarium by the way!

  6. My eshopps in sump works excellent. The only complaint I have is the sound coming from the pump. Now I could improve that, but it doesn’t bother me enough to. It’s the ps-100 by the way.

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