Brand new to saltwater tanks - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #1 of 9 Old 08-29-2009, 02:34 PM Thread Starter
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Brand new to saltwater tanks

I have had a freshwater tank for several years, and have never once lost fish. I love fish very very much, am looking to make things a bit more interesting for myself. My mother this morning decided that she needed to move my fishtank and proseded to dump all my fish on the floor and killed all of them. As horrible as that is, it has left me with an empty fish tank, and I have wanted a saltwater tank for awhile now. Being that I have had freshwater for so long, I know pretty much nothing when it comes to the set up for saltwater. I was wondering what is the best stuff to start with and how much would it all cost?
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post #2 of 9 Old 08-29-2009, 03:23 PM
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Great question. Obviously, you will want to spend a lot of time reading and learning about the marine side of the hobby. I would suggest you start by visiting the "Pictures and Videos" area of this website. You will see many successful aquariums of all sizes. As you do this, you will find one common theme to the marine hobby, which is the setup.

Marine aquariums which are properly set up can be very rewarding and much less time consuming that you would ever imagine. You want the guts of your setup to be a Protein Skimmer, Live Rock, and Live Sand. Regardless of what type of livestock you wish to keep, this basic concept enables you to achieve the best water quality for the stability and health of your system.

What size tank do you have? What is your overall budget? What livestock do you like?
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post #3 of 9 Old 08-29-2009, 03:42 PM Thread Starter
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I have a 20 gallon, which I know is a little small, but I would like to start with this size for now. My budget is about $300, with a possible $100 later on. I would like angles, clowns, and others, but I know I need to get some starter livestock to start with.
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post #4 of 9 Old 08-30-2009, 06:11 AM
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Originally Posted by russprimm View Post
but I know I need to get some starter livestock to start with.
When you say starter livestock, i assume you are referring to fish which are capable of surviving the cycling of bacteria. This concept will not exist in the marine aquarium, not as you are used to seeing in freshwater. There is no need to purchase a fish for the sole purpose of establishing the aquarium. You can create a stocking list based on your desires in fish.

Lets start with the basics, and you should see that setting up a marine system is dramatically different from a freshwater system, not only with equipment, but with what you are trying to accomplish from the first 4 to 8 weeks of the aquariums life.

For a 20 gallon tank I would start by adding between 4 and 6 inches of aragonite reef grade sand. This depth of sand bed will allow for denitrification to occur, which is the processing of Nitrate into Nitrogen Gas, which is harmless and leaves the system naturally. Eliminating Nitrates is a concern in the marine hobby, and a goal of zero Nitrate is attainable.

Next, I would add a mix of live rock and dry rock. I personally order my dry rock from Marco Rocks The finest aquarium rock available, base rock, live rock, reef rock, marco rock, reef tank saltwater fish, live corals, Marco rocks, Fiji live rock, Tonga Live rock, and have had great success with this product. You can see what this looks like on my 180 build thread here:

I would suggest you order a 25 pounds shipment of dry rock, and then add another 7 or 8 pounds of live rock to "seed" the system. This rock will be the foundation of your filter system, and will create a great amount of stability for the environment, as well as harbor small critters such as copepods and amphipods, which are a natural food source for your fish.

Finally, you will need to pick out a Protein Skimmer. The skimmer will directly REMOVE organic waste (acids) from your system, before the acids have the opportunity to break down into Nitrate. This removal of organics from the water is entirely different than the freshwater concept of biological filtration. It is the removal of organics that allows us to keep alkalinity, calcium, phosphates, and Nitrates at the desired levels for long term marine success. The protein skimmer should be your most expensive purchase and will pay for itself many times over by saving you money on salt mix (for water changes), water supplements (for buffering), and livestock loss (overall stability).

Assuming you want a protein skimmer that hangs on the aquarium, here are a few suggestions.

The Coralife Hang on is effective and capable of handling almost anything you want to do in a 38 gallon tank or smaller:
Super Skimmer with Needle Wheel - Up to 65 Gallon | Venturi Models | Protein Skimmers | Aquarium -

The SeaClone is similar in price and efficiency, but requires more daily tinkering with the water flow:
Seaclone Protein Skimmer 100 - 17 3/4 in. high | Venturi Models | Protein Skimmers | Aquarium -

The Octopus 100 hang on model is just a touch more in price, but is also effective on small sized aquariums, and is much more user friendly. You just plug and go, and it is easy to service:
Reef Octopus BH 100 Hang on Back Protein Skimmer - AquaCave

You should allow the live rock and dry rock a couple of weeks to mature in your system prior to adding any livestock. This will allow your copepod and amphipod populations time to spread. After a week or so you can add some small inverts, such as a couple snails and hermit crabs. If you want to add a tiny pinch of flake food every few days during this period, this will be fine. Odds are very good that you will never see an ammonia or nitrite reading when setting up the aquarium as described.

I generally like to wait 4 to 6 weeks prior to adding any fish, which will allow time for the water to entire system to mature. Life will begin to show on your live rock, and the dry rock will quickly seed and become live as well. You will probably have a diatom bloom, which will come and go on its own. You should also be testing for alkalinity and calcium during this time, and modifying your dosing routine to reach the desired levels.

Adding fish is not a critical decision. It can be done within a few short days, or you can wait several weeks. However, especially in smaller tanks, the longer you wait to add fish, the more stable the system will be over the long run.

I strongly suggest you read the entire thread on my 180 build. This will give you a great idea of how the progress of an aquarium environment will be achieved for the first several weeks. There are many other great build threads as well that you should spend time on. After reading this post and reading some build threads, the majority of your questions will be answered and we can focus on specifics.
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post #5 of 9 Old 08-30-2009, 10:56 AM
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Great response and its good to see people pushing the idea of researching before you purchase... The key to saltwater fish keeping it 1) know your fish, their habits, food requirements, etc. 2) be patient... the set up process is tedious and requires a lot of time before a new tank can be safe for fish.... especially when saltwater fish are expensive.

I was unclear in your original statement as to whether your mother dumped the fish on the floor on accident or on purpose????

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post #6 of 9 Old 08-30-2009, 01:49 PM
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I really hope it's by accident. I am filled with dread entertaining the thought that someone would dump fish on the floor by purpose. D:

No offense to OP's mom, though.

Your fish love watching you as much as you love watching them. So please practice responsible fishkeeping.
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post #7 of 9 Old 08-30-2009, 05:08 PM
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Yes, I agree with Pasfur, you will want to get as much information as possible about SW....before, during and at the end. The research, new ideas and technology never stop. However, if you are talking about starter fish...once your tanks has been recycling for oh I would say 3 weeks (altho I do 2 weeks), 3 weeks or more is probably better. Good starter and hardy fish would be Blue Chromis Damsels or True Percula Clowns. Those are pretty good fish to get your tank more established with the bacteria needed for further recycling. Angels are usually for the more advances SW aquarist and most grow 3"+ Thanks
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post #8 of 9 Old 08-30-2009, 06:14 PM
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In my opinion, you MUST get another tank for quarantining your saltwater fish! since almost all marine fish are wild caught most have some sort of parasite. If you add new fish to your tank, you can not treat for things like marine ick or marine velvet without killing all of the other organisms on your live rock and sandbed.

I promise you, quarantine tanks are a must when dealing with such expensive fish. Also marine tanks are very expensive because you always want to upgrade, but to me it's all worth it.

"Fish are friends, not food"... finding Nemo
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post #9 of 9 Old 08-30-2009, 10:16 PM Thread Starter
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The incident was completely by accident. I just moved to college, leaving the tank back at my house. The tank was in my room on a tall dresser, and she wanted to move it into the living room, so she could remember to feed them better. She emptied the tank of most of the water, but I believe that there was still about 5 gallons left in it. When she went to move it, the tank fell over on its side and dumped everything inside of it on my mother and the floor. Most the fish were dead before she could do anything about it, but the pleco was still swimming, but died hours later.
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