08-27-2008, 06:19 PM
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Great question. For starters, I agree bigger is better, but there comes a point where daily aquarium care can become very time consuming. For a starter size reef, i think a 75 gallon to 125 gallon would be perfect. When selecting a tank, choose a shallow aquarium when possible, with the maximum surface area. In other words, a 180 gallon is not better than a 150 gallon. The 180 is taller, but has the same surface area. This results in less light penetration.
For the setup, regardless of tank size, I would use the same basic equipment. You want a 3'' to 4'' layer of aragonite sand, live rock, and a protein skimmer as your basic filtration. You will supplement water flow in the aquarium with a number of strategically placed power heads. Ideally you will have a built in overflow, with water running to a sump under the aquarium. The sump will house all of your equipment, including the skimmer and heater. The completes the required and generally accepted equipment necessary for a reef system.
Personally, I would also utilize a bag of activated carbon in the sump. The carbon absorbs organic acids, which allows for greater light penetration. I would also use a UV Sterilizer, which I have found to be very effective in preventing the spread of disease within the display aquarium.
Some aquarists use Calcium Reactors for larger aquariums, but this is generally not used on beginning systems. Instead, you will use a calcium supplement that is added daily to the sump. On aquariums under 400 gallons in size, this is not an overly expensive or difficult process.
When it comes to lighting, you will probably want metal halides, perhaps combined with compact florescents.