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Discussion Starter #1
Hello!

edit: wow! sorry for the length!

I'm looking to set up my first reef tank in a month or two after i feel adequately informed on the subject. I just have a few questions as there are topics I've read conflicting information on or have been unable to find any information on period.

I'm an engineer and while sizing pumps and lights will thankfully be a breeze as well as any diy construction I have planned. I'm not exactly a marine biologist but i have a (un)fortune love affair with research so i feel i have a relatively strong grasp on the biology of the reef tank. Although i do feel I have lots more to learn. I'm not asking questions to save money or anything of the sort, just want to make sure my knowledge of the subject is complete so i don't doom any poor little fish or inverts with my lack of care.

One of the things i would dearly appreciate some advice on is filters as I've read several books on salt water tanks I've found some straight up contradicting opinions which could be due to either when they were written or, well, opinion :).

The setup i have planned is a reef tank with live rock and a sand (or gravel, have not decided yet) substrate and with a protein skimmer located in a tank that is a split half-sump/half-fuge. I've read that an in-line chemical filter like activated carbon is essential and I've also read that it's not necessary. If you gentlemen/women have any opinion on that i would appreciate it. I've also seen setups that have a mechanical filter (at the output of the line from the tank to the sump using something like fibers) but have read that the liverock and substrate should do an adequate job mechanically/biologically filtering. although I would assume you would use a mechanical filter in-conjunction with a chemical filter to allow the carbon to "concentrate" on polar adsorption? That's just a guess and I'm not sure on the norm.
So i guess my actual questions on this subject would be:
-Is live rock and a protein skimmer adequate filtering?
-When do you use a chemical filter like active carbon?
-Is a mechanical filter necessary?
-Is it appropriate to use a mechanical filter in conjunction with a chemical filter?

My next question is regarding the substrate. I've seen people religiously vacuum their substrate when using straight gravel but i've also heard of people leaving it entirely up to their cleanup crew. My questions about this topic would be:
- do you only clean your substrate in fish only setups?
- do you still clean the substrate when it is a live sand substrate? Is the sand heavy enough to keep from getting siphoned out during cleaning?
- Is there a number of inverts necessary to keep a healthy substrate? (X number of snails/crabs per gallon/litre?)
- By not cleaning the substrate do you risk detritus build up which will hurt water quality and have the risk of toxin buildup underneath which when shifted will be released?

Also is there an exact method to figuring out the appropriate bioload (I've seen rough math for fish but i'm more talking inverts) a tank could handle or is more of a case of keep adding until water quality gets hard to manage or until your snails and whatnot start running out of food? I realize the experienced aquarium enthusiast will get a feel for this but i'm just curious if there is a starting point to work from.

My final question isn't so much a question as an observation followed by a question. I am literally floored by the amount of bio-diversity people attain on their tanks from copepods to different crabs and algae. I find it amazing that all that life is making it through the live rock transportation and all the curing cycles. Now do you find that you get a large enough amount of bio-diversity in your tank just from the live rock or do you find its helpful to share rock or substrate between other enthusiasts to help "seed"? I do realize the majority of animals you add in but i find the "surprise" of unknown critters to be pretty exciting. maybe i need to get out more ;)

Anyways, thanks to those who read this 2000 page manuscript and I appreciate any feedback you have to give!

Cheers
 

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With the proper amount of LR, proper flow and a properly sized quality skimmer in a sump/fuge that is all you should need for filtration.
I never used carbon when my tank was setup (had to take it down due to medical conditions) but I know of many that run it 24/7.
I wouldnt run a mechanical filter because they tend to trap food and detritus and that in turns breaks down and can cause nitrate issues.
With cleaning your substrate it will depend on what you are running, I like DSB's (deep sand beds) you will want to leave them be and let your CUC do there job, SSB (shallow sand beds) you will want to vacuum and if you run CC (crushed coral) you will need to vacuum it but I dont recomend them because they can trap food and waste and cause your nitrates to rise.
The number and type of CUC will kind of depend on your stocking.
The bio diversity of your LR will depend on what type you get another words if you get cured LR you will get pods, feather dusters, bristle worms and possably a coral or 2, uncured LR you can get almost anything snails, crabs, feather dusters, corals, macro algeas and I have even heard of tiny fish making it but that only if there is enough water in with the rock. When you get LR cured or uncured you run the risk of getting majano and aptasia and you dont want them and with uncured you can get those plus gorrila crabs along with others, pistol shrimp and mantis shrimp and for the most part you dont want any of those. I like setting up tanks with dry base rock and then getting a few pieces of quality LR from a couple of different tanks to seed the base rock.
When you add animals to your tank you need to check the adult size and depending on what they are (carnivores or herbivores or omnivores) and that will give you an idea on the bio load they will put on your tank. I would not buy LS (live sand) because it will become live very soon just like seeding dry base rock with some quality LR because you will want to let it cycle for a couple months at least before you start adding and live stock.
What size tank are you planning to set up and what would you like to keep. I also suggest that you decide how you want you tank to look a year down the road and make sure you buy the proper equipment at the start so you dont waste money because this hobby can be expensive enough without buying things twice and if you setup properly in the beggining you will end up with a nicer setup and get more enjoyment out of your SW tank.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
really good advice! thank you!
I've done some pricing and made up a list of the system
all prices are in Canadian

Show Aquarium
Tank (72-90 Gal w/ built in overflow) 350.00
Live Rock ($250 for 50 lbs) 750.00
Substrate (4 20lb bags) 100.00
Powerheads (2) 110.00
Lighting ( 1 150W MH, 2 65 W blue power compact, 2 1 W 470 nm LEDs, housing, reflectors, fans) 500.00

Fuge/Sump
Tank (30-50ish Gal? As big as the stand will fit) 80.00
Protein Skimmer 200.00
Lighting ( 1x 96W power compact) 150.00
Return Pump (950 GPH at 0' from head) 115.00
Heater (2x 300 W) 130.00
Live Rock (included above)
Substrate (2x 20lb bags) 50.00
Plumbing 100.00
supplies to modify tank for fuge/sump setup 100.00

Quarantine Tank
Tank (30ish gal) 80.00
Filter (hand on power filter) 50.00
Lighting( 1x 96W power compact) 150.00
Heater(1x300W) 65.00
Power Head 55.00

Misc
Stand w/hood 400.00
RO/DI Kit 200.00
Refractometer 50.00
Test kit (pH, alkalinity, ammonia, nitrite,nitrate) 35.00
test kit (phospate,silicate,iodine,iodide) 35.00
Test kit (calcium 30.00
Salt (2 x 23 kg buckets (or 2x150-180gal)) 150.00
Magfloat cleaner 25.00
misc supplies (nets,gloves etc) 100.00

total $4,160.00 CAD

Is there anything i'm totally out to lunch on? The protein skimmer is much cheaper than expected but i couldn't find one at the LFS that was much more expensive than 300. and they were all a German brand so i unfortunately couldn't make out any details. I'm also surprisingly enough have a difficult time finding the right kind of aquarium. I'm looking for a standard box shaped glass with a built in overflow but the LFS only had crazy 2000 dollar all in one packages.

Also is a power head required in the fuge? or is the flow of water falling through the overflow sufficient?

And one more question! In a setup like i have planned with a combined fuge/sump for the skimmer should i have mostly seen the fuge being feed by overflow directly. Which i assume is to give your macroalgae a chance to grab at the nutrients it wants before the skimmer has its way with the water. But because of this are you loosing/damaging a significant amount of beneficial things like celapods in the skimmer and getting them chopped up in the return pump?

again thanks for the help archer, and anyone else who has a fancy to help! I know it must get tiresome to answer all these questions!
 

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#1 I would go with about 2/3 dry rock and the rest LR that will save you some cash
#2 I would go with Koralia power heads
#3 I think you will need 2x 250 watt MH's
#4 what brand name is the skimmer you have picked out
#5 just use one of those clip on lights and use the screw in flouresents in a 6.5 k rating, here in the states about $15
#6 the sump/fuge any old tank that is big enough and holds water works and then just get 3 pieces of glass cut to fit and a small tube of silicone. Here is a pic of mine and the water flows in from the left and the return pump is on the right hand side and you can see the light I am talking about.

 

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Discussion Starter #6
I apparently just jotted down the price and not the manufacturer or model. bah silly me. Is there a particular brand you recommend, then i restart my research from there?

That base rock looks great, unfortunately doesn't look like they ship to Canada. Do you know what i would reasonably expected to pay per pound at the LFS?

Once again archer you are a hero! thanks so much!
 

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The price per lb of LR will vary depending on the type but I would think $6-$12/lb. I like the ASM's, Euro Reef's, ATI Bubble Master, Octopus and what I think is the best out there Bubble King. I personally like this one and it would work on an upgrade to 150 gallons IMO

Super Reef Octopus XP 2000 IN-SUMP Cone Protein Skimmer by CoralVue* - AquaCave

If you want the Mercedes of skimmers then look at the BK's :) but you dont need one but they are nice to look at

Protein Skimmers, aquarium protein skimmers & Foam Fractionators
 
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