The use of activated carbon on most online reef forums is often a highly debated subject. There are several benefits and drawbacks of using carbon, but I think the general opinion is turning towards the positive aspects of activated carbon. We need to know what exactly activated carbon is to dissolve the bad vs the good. Check Pacific Coast Carbon LLC.
Activated carbon is carbon that was treated with oxygen to open up millions of tiny pores between the atoms of carbon. Carbon can be manufactured from products dependent on rocks, animals or plants, such as bituminous coal, lignite coal, various trees, coconut shells, peat and animal bones. There are three types of granular, pellet and powdered activated carbon. Granular is primarily used in reef tanks while other applications use pellets and powdered.
So now that you know what carbon is relevant to know why we are using it in reef aquaria too. Activated carbon provides certain advantages for saltwater aquariums, including organic elimination. Some individuals believe that instead of a skimmer, they could use carbon and have a higher rate of organic removal, as well as saving on extra wattage by not running a skimmer. It also extracts contaminants and polishes the water. The use of chemical warfare in the tank is infamous for soft corals, activated carbon is a safe way to kill any of these chemicals.
Any of the reasons why activated carbons are not used are that all carbons are of organic origin. From the second paragraph you will see that carbon is all normal and so they are also rich in phosphates. A solution to this is that some industries are going to acid-wash carbon there and this removes some phosphate from leaching from the carbon. Some people would say the water tanks trace elements from there using activated carbon strips. While this is more than likely valid, if you are making weekly water adjustments, it should not be much of a problem.
I use carbon in my reef tank, personally I like the “safety net” that comes with me if one of my soft corals tries to nuke the tank one day. I recommend that others adjust activated carbon once every two weeks, so that you do not give the carbon the ability to release organic matter back into the tank.