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Saltwater Section Specialist
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I'll give you just a bit of background before I start. My love of the hobby is reef aquariums. I have my own 200 gallon system which is over 4 years old. I started in freshwater in 1965 and in saltwater in 1972. I've had many tanks in my years and have made tons of mistakes. I'm still capable of making them.

I put together this brief list of questions I've heard and my answers. My hope is that is may help some of you avoid making some of the mistakes that I have.

Here are a few of my answers to common newbie questions. I hope that some of you will find it helpful!

How big a tank should I have?

Generally the largest tank that you can afford to set up properly. You must consider that maintaining the best water quality possible and keeping conditions that way all the time is what you are after. A larger tank is easier to maintain stability in. The smaller the tank the quicker changes take place.

What kind of filter do I need?

Most of us use live rock as our primary biological filter. You will need between 1 and 1 ½ lbs per gallon for adequate bacterial colonization. Some folks use canister, bio wheel, or wet/dry filters unfortunately these types of filters produce Nitrate which must be reduced for optimum health of tank inhabitants. Each has it’s advantages and limitations (Nitrate Factories).

Do I really have to have live rock?

If you are certain that all you will ever want is fish, the answer is no. A properly sized wet/dry, canister, or bio wheel type filter can adequately handle the conversion of ammonia to nitrate. In fact most of us consider them to be nitrate factories. You will have to perform regular water changes (probably weekly) to keep nitrates at an acceptable level and clean the filters frequently to reduce particulate matter.

Do I need a protein skimmer?

Protein skimmers are designed to remove dissolved organic compounds (DOC). They are probably the most effective method of eliminating DOC before it degrades to Ammonia. They eliminate a problem at the source so to speak.

How many fish can I have?

Since you are just starting I’m going to recommend that you add fish one at a time (after your tank has finished cycling) and figure on not having more than 1” of full grown fish per 5 gallons of water. Once you have gained some experience you will find that you can have more if you select certain types but let’s not consider that now.

How do I cycle my tank and how long does it take?

Cycling your tank is the establishment of enough bacteria in your system to convert all of the ammonia in the tank to nitrate. It can be done as simply as adding a couple of grocery store shrimp to a mesh bag and placing it in your tank. It will decompose and start your cycle. The cycle is complete when you no longer detect any ammonia or nitrite for several days. Normally it takes about 6 to 8 weeks.

My tank finished cycling, how many fish can I put it?

I’d suggest one at a time and allowing a good amount of time (I suggest a month) between additions. You also need to know what fish are compatible with not only the other fish but all the livestock and what order to enter them in. You probably wouldn’t want to have a nice shrimp in your tank and add a triggerfish. All you’d be doing is providing the fish with a tasty dinner.

My fish all seem to die, what am I doing wrong?

How many and what kind of fish did you have? Did they all die at once or one at a time? What are your readings for pH, Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate? What is your salinity? What is your tank temperature during the day and at night? These are the basic questions that you need to be able to answer before anyone can help you. Always be prepared to give honest answers and to tell us everything you can think of.


I just can’t understand it the guy at the fish store said…..


Remember that the primary job of the guy at the fish store is to sell. Some folks are better than others at helping others but if they don’t make sales, they don’t have a job. It’s merchandise to the retailer. The folks here are here because the want help or they want to help. They don’t get any of your money by helping you out, just the satisfaction in knowing that they have done a good deed.


Why should I have a sump?

A sump is a very valuable addition to any tank. It increases your system volume which helps to increase stability. It allows you to move items such as the skimmer, phosphate reactor, heater, etc. form the tank to sump thereby improving the appearance of the display. It allows many more skimmer choices than using a hang on the back of the tank type. It also gives you a place to set up a fuge which is out of view.


Well folks, that should be enough to get this thread started. I’ll add more newbie info as I get the time. Please remember that these answers contain my opinion and should not be taken as absolute. My hope is that someone who reads this thread avoids one mistake. Happy reefing!

Here are a few additional thoughts that I've had since I originally posted this thread. This advice is for the benefit of successful freshwater hobbyists who are thinking about going to saltwater. I know that some of it is redundant but I feel it bears repeating.

Many experienced freshwater fish keepers eventually decide that they want to do a saltwater tank (I know I did). I'd like to pass on a few tips to hopefully help folks out.

First, forget about filters! I don't care if you have a huge Fluval or a dynamite wet/dry, don't use it!!!

Think live rock. Maybe I should say think of lots of live rock. It's your primary biological filter. One and a half to two pounds per gallon is an absolute minimum. More is always better! Chemical filtration usually isn't needed and particulate filtration is accomplished by your clean up crew. Sand is secondary to rock in importance. There are lots of successful reef tanks that are bare bottomed (no sand).

Also, avoid crushed coral. It traps detritus which leads to lots of problems. In salt water you don't want to disturb the substrate. In other words, you don't mess with the sand and you don't clean the crushed coral (which you really shouldn't use) with a siphon like you would the gravel in your freshwater tank.

Look for the best protein skimmer that you can afford and make sure that it's rated for a tank that is twice the size of the tank you want to use. Also remember that there is nothing wrong with a used skimmer. Chances are good that the person selling it is either getting out of the hobby or getting a larger tank and needs a bigger skimmer. Your skimmer is responsible for removing Dissolved Organic Concentrates (DOC) which will otherwise turn to ammonia. You are essentially eliminating the cause before it becomes a problem.

Everyone seems to be giving hydrometers the thumbs down when compared to refractometers. Personally I've been using hydrometers for over 30 years without incident. I prefer a simple bulb hydrometer that should cost about $10. That way the swing arm can't get stuck or have bubbles on it (which would have a negative effect on accuracy).

Finally, remember that the smaller the water volume, the quicker water parameters change and the more difficult success becomes. Also, most marine organisms are used to a very stable environment and do not do well when changes occur rapidly. For this reason I will say that the larger the tank you have, the easier it will be to maintain. I've had many tanks from 29 gallons all the way to my present 200 gallon and I can honestly say that the 200 is the easiest tank to maintain by far. Everything from tank, to live rock, to equipment was purchased second, third or fourth hand (even some of my fish). The only thing I bought new was the sand. I saved a bunch this way and you could to.

I hope that this post is of some help and recommend highly that you go slowly. Read, research, ask lots of questions and be prepared to learn. If you do decide to dabble in saltwater, I wish you all the best.
 

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Fish Guru
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I just can’t understand it the guy at the fish store said…..

Remember that the primary job of the guy at the fish store is to sell. Some folks are better than others at helping others but if they don’t make sales, they don’t have a job. It’s merchandise to the retailer. The folks here are here because the want help or they want to help. They don’t get any of your money by helping you out, just the satisfaction in knowing that they have done a good deed.


AMEN to that!! but here @ petland theres a few of us (me and phil) that actually take the time to discuss and questions they may have and we"re not afraid to tell them "no you dont need that"... but on the other hand, if they have a HUGE established tank we try selling them EVERYTHING!!!! lol its totally fair game!! lol*w3
 

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*blackback butterflyfish*
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208 Posts
i think it`s awesome what you do here at aquarium forum, because of advice i received here i decided to build a sump for my tank and its a project, but i know it`s better for my fish and the future reef i dream of.... so thanks for all your advice, i know i will have more questions and i know you all will be there to answer them. i wish one of you worked at my petco..you wouldnt have said yeah our most expensive canister would be great for your salt water..
 

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*blackback butterflyfish*
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208 Posts
at least someone is on my side...but wait you pretty much talked me in to building a sump lol. i want to do a reef tank evenually anyway. is the canister really a nitrate factory?
 

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Any filter not properly maintained is a sludge pit, that gathers debris from your tank and holds it while it slowly decays, then pumps that sewage back into you tank in a liquid form. FREQUENT, cleaning of the filter media is #1, along with gravel vacs, and water changes.
 

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*blackback butterflyfish*
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208 Posts
Any filter not properly maintained is a sludge pit, that gathers debris from your tank and holds it while it slowly decays, then pumps that sewage back into you tank in a liquid form. FREQUENT, cleaning of the filter media is #1, along with gravel vacs, and water changes.
i already do weekly water changes and clean the filter baskets in a tub of water drained from the tank. however i am just wondering is a canister worse than a sump/refugium when both are regularly cleaned.
 

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~/root
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661 Posts
Thanks for your input. I added it to the questions list. Sumps are a big plus IMO. I recommend them on any but the smallest nano and pico tanks.
In my opinion In different applications a good Canister filter (FX5 or Ehiem ProII wet/dry) would do just fine.

I don't think its fair to say "use a sump all the time, period"

There is a time and place for both.
 

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Saltwater Section Specialist
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411 Posts
Discussion Starter #13
In my opinion In different applications a good Canister filter (FX5 or Ehiem ProII wet/dry) would do just fine.
Absolutely. If you are doing a tank in which your nitrate level isn't important, such as a fish only or possibly FOWLR, a canister or wet/dry might be just the thing.

I don't think its fair to say "use a sump all the time, period"
I don't think that I did say use a sump all the time. What I said is that I highly recommend one. The added system volume alone adds stability and is worth the addition IMHO.

There is a time and place for both.
Again, I agree however, I find that most folks who start out with a FOWLR later want to build a reef. I feel that the benefits of adding a fuge far outweigh those of either a canister or wet/dry. That's why I recommend them.

Honestly, my next set up an 80 gallon hex that I'm going to rebuild, will operate with only T5 lighting, a sump with a turf scrubber, and live rock. That isn't something that I would recommend a beginner try.

The approach that I'm taking in this thread is to provide an easy approach for someone who is new to the hobby. I'm not going to get into dosing, sugaring the tank, vodka dosing or anything advanced. I'm also not saying that my way is the only way or the best way. I do think that it's the easiest way.
 

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wow that post is really good.

i just wanna say that the 1 inch per 5 gallons is very out-of-date. i know of an 8yo girl who at 1 point had 1 inch of fish per 13/4 gallon of water in her 40gal-Breeder reef tank(which was run completely by herself, aside from bills and overall cost for equipment), which was equipped with MH lighting, a 20Long sump, 3gallon picoreef serving as a fuge, a Coralife Super skimmer, and 1 year of SW reef-keeping b4 that in the 20Long being used as a sump. her dad has a membership on this forum(cesstern), and im guessing she inherited SW from her father's 75reef.

so the 1in per 5gal is a great way to start but it isn't necessary. i'd say, running sumpless, 1 inch of fish per2-3 gallons is good.
 
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Saltwater Section Specialist
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Discussion Starter #15
wow that post is really good.
Thanks, I appreciate your kindness.

i just wanna say that the 1 inch per 5 gallons is very out-of-date. i know of an 8yo girl who at 1 point had 1 inch of fish per 13/4 gallon of water in her 40gal-Breeder reef tank(which was run completely by herself, aside from bills and overall cost for equipment), which was equipped with MH lighting, a 20Long sump, 3gallon picoreef serving as a fuge, a Coralife Super skimmer, and 1 year of SW reef-keeping b4 that in the 20Long being used as a sump. her dad has a membership on this forum(cesstern), and im guessing she inherited SW from her father's 75reef.
I will agree that you can probably exceed the 1" per 5 gallons rule. It's an old rule but then, I'm an old person. I'm also guessing that although the 8 year old in question may have been just a beginner, she received considerable guidance from her Dad. Many of our folks just starting out don't have that advantage.

so the 1in per 5gal is a great way to start but it isn't necessary. i'd say, running sumpless, 1 inch of fish per2-3 gallons is good.
Personally, I have never heard of anyone loosing fish or crashing a tank by understocking it. Conversely, I have heard of many problems caused by overstocking, overfeeding, inappropriate fish selection, etc. I prefer folks just starting out have too few fish rather than too many.

This topic is second only to the Tangs issue in opposing views but here is some excellent rationally if you would care to review it on stocking levels.

Marine Fish Stocking Limit - Reef Sanctuary

Thanks for your input.
 

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So I've been keeping fw fish for little more than a year now and I have an extra 10 gal lying around that I'd like to set up as sw. I was just wondering if it would make sense for me to have a sump on that? and if so, how large?
 

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~/root
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So I've been keeping fw fish for little more than a year now and I have an extra 10 gal lying around that I'd like to set up as sw. I was just wondering if it would make sense for me to have a sump on that? and if so, how large?
Probly not as that is an incredibly small tank.
 

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what's aquarium tool?
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I think another kinds of aquarium tools are needed to help you to contral the environment of you marine....

Such as aquarium thermometer to test the temperature,use salinity refractometer to test the salinity of water ,so that your marine live in a comfortable environment and away from illness....

Contact detail:
Tel:+852-66536346
MSN& Email:[email protected]
 

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OMG!!! I think I've gone cross eyed!! I thought I was pretty smart until I came here!!! This is SO much more involved then taking care of my freshwater tanks!!!

Okay, can someone talk me through this a little (drhank seems to be a good choice) but I'll take help from anyone who knows what they are doing (cause I sure don't).

1. The tank I have available is a 15 gallon. I wanted to start with something very small simply because of the cost of outfitting the tank and the cost of the fish for it and room for the tank. Is that okay. I know bigger is better because if the tank conditions change they will change quickly but is this size a 'no way' or a 'watch it'?

2. Filtration. I would like to use a canister or hang-on-the-tank filter. Is that a good way to go and what should I look for in a filter? I would like to have live rock and a fish or 2.

3. Okay, by the time you answer this question we have the tank and filtration figured out. Next thing; what do I need to add to the water? Would it be a good idea to just get actual water from the ocean?? (I live across the road from it).

4. Cycling the tank. Someone above mentioned something about shrimp and a net or something.....Can you please dumb that down and explain it to me again. I want to make sure when I get to that point I know EXACTLY what I'm doing (including buying the right shrimp).

5. Live rock. Should I buy from a store or a private individual? What should I look for? What is cured? Should I transport it in water? Is there a special way to introduce it into the tank?

6. Fish comes next right?? I assume for the first fish anything would be fine (ie. compatibility is not an issue)? Anyone have any tips on an internet site with good information on these fish? I would not want to get one that is difficult to maintain and while I want something beautiful I would also like it to be docile.

7. Introducing it into the tank. Does the same method apply that I use for the freshwater tank? Floating the bag for awhile then slowing introducing the water in the open bag and etc etc you know that drill.

8. Feeding: Do they just eat the stuff already in the water? Or will they need food and what type of food?

9. Maintenance: what do I do here?? Weekly water changes?? How much of the water? A detailed step by step of someones maintenance with a tank like this would be helpful.

Sorry to be such a pest but I want to make sure I do this right. I had an advantage when I got my freshwater tanks. I knew the basics already from my mom and just needed to advance them. But this is starting something entirely new to me. I don't want to mess it to. Tanks and fish are too much work to have to just bury them. (Not to mention it upsets my daughter-she cried all day when our black molly died)
 
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