Hi my name is Craig. I'm a recently graduating molecular biologist and now that I'm finally making money I might be able to finally afford the mythical reef tank : ). I've previously only done 20 gallon freshwater setups, but I've always leaned towards live plant setups that mimic natural filtration as best as I can. As I figure things I'd like to blast off a series of random questions. I'll be researching as I wait for answers but I'm curious if you guys will beat me to the answers, in which case, thank you.
Goals in tank: I'm very interested in corals and invertebrates. Standard cleaning crew fascinate me enough. Maybe serpentine starfish and tiger tail sea cucumber as well. Live sponge? For vertebrates I've onlly really thought about some sort of sand sifter or goby.
1) Tank size- a 55 gallon seems like a nice size to me. I'm honestly a little intimidated of the 125 gallon tanks, just from a simple standpoint of not being able to reach the bottom of the tank with my arm to attend maintenance. (i'm average 5'11"). My question is would the 125 be uncomparably more stable though? I wouldn't need the extra space for fish, just water stability.
2) Alot of the predrilled tanks come with a little sump. If I want a true refugium, would you add it next to the sump in the cabinet, or take the sump out and just replace it with the refugium.
3a) Not enough bioload? Given most of what I want are detritivores, should I really get at least a couple traditional fish to produce poop?
3b) Also i was told traditional fish provide movement in the live rock where power heads can't reach. If I don't any free swimming topside fish, will my reef be lacking here?
4) Bioballs- does the trickle water-air exposure environment provide a unique bacteria that consume nitrates better, or is this more for supersaturating this filter with the same old stander nitrogen cycle bacteria found in the rest of the tank. I ask because I read that this trickle environment is where most evaporation is lost, and with a large refugium I'm wondering if it is necessary.
5) Sand- a local friend told me if I have time to cycle it longer, just buy normal sand, not the live sand. That it would pick up everything eventually from the live rock I seed it with.
6) crushed coral- To help supplement calcium for the live corals and in the hopes that I wouldn't have to add as much regularly, I was wondering if I could mix crushed coral with the top layer of sand to help boost calcium levels.
7) Say I want to wait 10 weeks before the first corals, what percent of live rock would I need of the total rock in order for full rock to be live on schedule. I'm guessing I'll be looking at 120 lbs of rock based on pure gestimation.
8) Reverse Osmosis water- I like how you clever marine biologist limit phosphates to encourage coral growth while limiting algae growth, very clever. Still I have to ask the cheap guy questions, is RO absolutely necessary? Would I be drastically effecting my tank's good looks by not going RO water. I'm on well water in an agricultural area, so i'm betting my shallow well water has plenty of phosphates.
9) Last question is a megaquestion- To buy the initial setup to begin cycling sand and liverock, I need?.... drilled tank, sump, sand, live rock and dead rock, sea salt, refugium with sand but without algae (algae will be added when theres actually nitrates to eat), protein skimmmer, sump pump, powerheads, metal halide light fixture for later, syringe to control unwanted coral growth, heater. Some sort of auto refiller for topping off. Am I missing anything?
I haven't bought anything yet, looking to grab some bargains off Craigslist failures and 'move-aways'