Must Read Subjects of Special Interest to
Marine Aquarium Hobbyists.
This article is geared toward the beginner. Someone contemplating setting up a marine aquarium (often referred to as a saltwater tank or reef tank) for the first time. Also, for those that have tried and given up because of frustration and failure. I will refer to all marine aquarium types as reef aquariums or tanks.
I'm going to do my best at convincing you there is a right way and a wrong way to set up a reef tank. That, regardless which way you go, right or wrong, it's exponentially more expensive to do it the wrong way regardless of the size of your aquarium. The differences between the right and wrong way are subtle and often blurred between fact and fiction. A mentor to you is anyone with one day's more experience. A person who means well for sure but, who most likely got his information from an expert who had at least one day's experience more than him. Of course, one day's experience more, is an exaggeration but, used to illustrate the illusion of success with marine aquariums. Many people think they are successful when they have had their system up and running a week or month or two with out a death. Many aquarists are more successful than I and, with their permission will show you examples of their work.
BEGINNER'S LUCK? It doesn't exist in marine aquarium keeping, UNLESS, you discover "The Rules to Successful Marine Aquarium Keeping". And where do you find such rules? The "Rules" are everywhere. On the Internet in reef forums, in general Internet searches (Google), in books, at your LFS (local fish store) and from well meaning friends. The information can be found everywhere. You simply have to research. The problem comes into play deciphering truth from fiction, fact from fantasy and current reliable practice from outdated techniques. Just like everything else in our world, marine aquarium keeping is ever evolving. What was in vogue a few years ago is no longer viable. New techniques are emerging and equipment is changing all the time. Some get better, some do not. So read on and find out what this marine aquarium keeper has learned after forty-one years in the hobby and business. Do I know it all? Absolutely not, because I just told you the science behind the hobby is evolving.
I invite you to venture into this fascinating hobby but, I warn you, if you are unwilling to STUDY, RESEARCH and LEARN along the way don't even begin. For this is an adventure into the realm of the coral reef. As beautiful as anything on earth. As mysterious as the elusive thing we call love. It's challenging, disappointing and rewarding all at the same time. What I'm about to reveal to you will shock you, test your reasoning and make you wonder why you should believe me. I invite you to join a forum (links to my favorite forums at the end) and ask questions. I'll begin with a quote by my friend and acquaintance, Eric Borneman. Eric is an accomplished coral scientist and has studied coral reefs around the world.
"From the moment you start, you are in the negative."
Say, what??? And another...
"My advice on starting tanks is to plan the habitat you want. Find the animals and corals you like. Learn about the tiny area of the reef you will try and recreate, and do not try to make a whole coral reef in one tank. Then, purchase the equipment required to emulate that environment. Then, add the appropriate types of substrate (sand, rubble, rock, whatever) and wait long after “your tank water tests fine” before you add fish and corals. First, add herbivores and maintain water quality. Water changes, carbon, skimming, alkalinity, calcium. Keep the water of high quality, even for things you can’t test for. Wait a few months and enjoy the growth that will happen. Then, add some of the species that you plan to keep….invertebrates and corals. They help create the environment, and also photosynthesize, add biodiversity, stabilize nutrients, etc. Then….then….add fish. The fish will have a reef as their new home. They won’t be stressed by this variable bouilllabaise of water and a strange habitat that keeps changing as things are added or die. They will have a stable tank with real habitat, and then the original concept you imagined will have happened."
Before proceeding, please read the rest of Eric's short article here, "The Building of a Reef (tank)".
It often starts like this, "Honey, I saw a beautiful reef aquarium at the pet shop (LFS) while getting some cat food today. It was absolutely stunning. I talked with the clerk and he/she said it really wasn't difficult to duplicate right here in our home. We could have a living coral reef right here. wouldn't that be a great learning tool for the kids?"
The kids, overhearing this, immediately begin jumping for joy and yelling, "Yeah, I want a NEMO fish"! I doubt there is a parent alive that hasn't seen that movie or heard those words. But, just in case...
The movie, "Finding Nemo" has done a lot of good for the marine hobby and unfortunately a lot of bad. On the good side it probably is driving the current surge in marine aquarium sales. On the bad side, it painted two false pictures, first, that anyone keeping a marine aquarium was a terrible person capturing poor Nemo and keeping him in dreadfully dirty conditions. Secondly, it made many new comers think keeping a Nemo, or any other fish, was easy. IT'S NOT!
Keeping a successful marine aquarium requires you follow a specific set of rules, as mentioned earlier, with a narrow set of variables. In other words the "rules" will have some degree of difference between each aquarium depending size, shape, intended use (reef, fish only, mixed reef), your ability to pay, commitment, willingness to learn and probably other things.
Okay, the decision to buy an aquarium has been made, what's next? Take a look around your home for a place you'd like to set the aquarium. Before you decide on what size to get you'd better take a trip to your LFS to check them out. Check the size tanks and the LFS's expertise. Take a note pad, ruler and pen for keeping notes. Trust me, you will be mind boggled by the choices in size and shape.
What Size is best for a Beginner?
That is best answered by you, AFTER you do some initial research. You must base your decision on answers to the following questions through your research.
1. What do you want
to accomplish with your reef system? If you aren't sure, then
you need to look around at LFSs or talk to friends who
2. Set up a budget! Decide
how much your willing to spend on your first reef aquarium.
Got a figure in mind? Now
3. System size determines the
cost. The aquarium is but one piece of equipment that will
make up the system necessary
I know what
your thinking. The cost of our reef is going to go up, up, up.
Not necessarily. Remember your budget?
4. Narrowing down our choices.