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Reef Tips

When we started our first saltwater fish tank I really wish that an advanced aquarist would have sat me down and given me all of the knowledge they have learned while keeping a reef tank.

I started this section of the site to give some quick tips on things that have worked for us while keeping a saltwater tank. We are by no means advanced reef keepers, but these tips should really help a beginner in this challenging hobby

These tips are not gospel, but for anybody starting in this hobby following these steps can save you thousands of dollars and a ton of headaches.

• Use RO Water - Depending on the area you live in, the water can vary tremendously. Water districts will randomly treat their water with all sorts of chemicals that you really don't want in your tank. Using a reverse osmosis (RO) system helps you sleep better at night and will also cut down on a lot of algae build up. If your water is really bad, you can get an RODI system to make your water even that much better. The cost of a simple RO system is only around $150, well worth it in my opinion.

• Always Quarantine - When we first started keeping saltwater fish, I read about quarantining new fish but thought it was too much of a hassle. After losing fish to ICH and fighting flukes in our display tank, nothing goes into our tank without sitting in quarantine for at least 4 to 6 weeks. It lets the fish get used to you and you can monitor and treat any infections in small doses and only on the new fish. Also a 20 to 55 gallon tank is cheap and minimal hardware is needed to run a quarantine tank.

• Use The Best Filtration - Unlike freshwater tanks, you shouldn't just slap a filter on the back of your reef and think you're done. We started our 55 gallon tank with a hang on the back (HOB) filter with no skimmer. This didn't really do much, next we moved to a big canister filter and a HOB skimmer. This setup worked when we replaced the canister media with live rock rubble, but is still not optimal since it's a nitrate factory. A reef tank really needs to have a sump system with a large protein skimmer and if you can a refugium. Cutting corners here will effect the long term success of your reef.

• Rock and Sand Choices - When we started our 55 gallon tank we were sold live sand to use as our substrate. Unlike live rock which is stored in water or moist conditions, live sand is kept in a bag and once heated and dried out is hardly live anymore. You are paying a premium for "dead" sand. Also avoid crushed coral substrate, since the big pieces will trap debris and raise nitrates. I've been a huge fan of live rock, but make sure you cure it for at least a month before using it. Uncured live rock WILL KILL your fish. Dead/Dry rock is fine as well, but it will take some time to generate beneficial bacteria. **Edit** On Our 470 gallon tank, I decided to go with Dry Rock. With so much rock going into the tank, I decided it best to start perfectly clean when it comes to rock. I just didn't want to chance starting out with hitchhikers and nuisance algae.

• Research Your Fish - It's very easy to walk into a local fish store and see a bunch of pretty fish that you'd like to have in your tank. Little do you know that that baby cute Picasso Trigger will turn into a monster and dine on your fancy fish and shrimp. Also the Dory Blue Tang can really only live happily in a 200 gallon on larger tank. Going deeper, I've having problems with wanting similar tangs (Achilles & Sohal, Yellow & Purple) that will likely not get along even in a large tank and end up killing each other. Do your research!

• Water Changes - The biggest PITA for keeping a reef tank is keeping up with water changes. By rule you should do monthly 20% water changes with new RO saltwater. Depending on your bio load (fish size and quantity to tank volume and filtration) this can vary a lot. Also if you plan on keeping coral, a lot of coral needs much more pristine water to thrive. I plan on doing a 55 gallon water change once every 6 weeks on the 240. This will probably go to every 4 weeks once more fish are added and grow, and as we get into more SPS coral.

• Lighting - Often overlooked in this hobby is lighting. We didn't even think about it at first. Our 55 gallon came with LEDs and it looked fine. If you're just keeping fish, it's not too important, but it's critical for keeping coral. We decided to go with LEDs on the 240, since they create no heat and use a fraction of the power the other solutions use. On an 8 foot long and 2 feet deep tank, we're using 4 fixture with 55 - 3 watt LEDs each. They are also dimmable so we do not bleach our corals with too much light. Our next fixtures are 40 times more powerful than those on our first tank, hopefully that's enough

• Test Your Water - The smaller and newer your tank is, the quicker the water conditions can change. Reef fish are very delicate and even the smallest change in water parameters can kill them. There are a host of tests you can run on your tank, with a lot not being needed down the line. At first testing PH, Nitrites and Ammonia are crucial to a stable tank. Now I pretty much try not to overfeed and monitor both coral and fish to see if anything looks a bit off. Mainly I only test for Nitrates now, but as more coral goes into the tank a whole host of new tests need to be done.

• Water Flow - A brand new reef keeper will not think about the flow in a tank. Many fish love to be in a high flow tank, especially if they are found in surge zones. A lot of corals also require a high rate of flow to thrive. Another thing having the right flow in your tank will achive is keeping debris from building up on your rocks and not getting into the water table to be skimmer out. Adding powerheads with the right amount of flow to your tank, along with return lines, will make sure your tank has proper flow for its inhabitants.

• Be Patient - One thing you can not do in this hobby is rush anything. A quality reef tank takes months if not years to mature. The first thing you do when starting a new tank is let it cycle, which can take over a month to happen. During this time your hands are tied, and you just sit and wait. The waiting will never stop either, especially when your prized showpiece fish is forced to sit in quarantine for weeks. In the end it's all worth it, trust me!

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