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How to Start a Tank-Cliff Notes Version


Emerald525
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I found this on Reef Central and thought it was a nice quick summary for newbies as well as a good reminder for hobbyists who have been doing this for a while. The author gave me permission to repost it. There of course are going to be exceptions to the rules below but it's a good start!

 

Ok, you asked for it: the condensed "how to start a tank"

1. if you're going to have corals you need to aim at having either an all-in-one tank---or a sump, skimmer, and good lighting. Your rock and sand take the place of a filter.

a. stony coral and clams: need brighter light, good circulation. For sps (colored sticks) you need high flow and a super skimmer.

b. 'soft' coral is more forgiving, can exist without a skimmer if you don't push it, but it's a good idea to have one.

 

2. if you're fish-only you can get by with a filter: you have to change it meticulously. Rock and sand will help it out, but are never as strong in the presence of a filter (up and down of food supply as it's cleaned and not) as without one. Still, with big messy eaters, you may need that filter. Putting a little mushroom rock in your tank is still a good idea: spread-out mushrooms are an indicator of good water quality. Shriveled mushrooms are an indicator of trouble---far ahead of when your fish will announce it by showing distress. Gives you a heads-up visual test and helps.

 

3. TO START: get aragonite substrate, 1 lb per gallon. Dry is as effective as 'live sand'. It all gets live eventually. I prefer medium grade, which does not blow about in a strong current: not as pretty as 'fine,' but in a high-flow tank, it stays put. Do not get crushed shell or coral---it has problems. I lay down eggcrate [lighting grid: Lowes] on the bottom to prevent rocks rolling.

a) rock: you need SOME live rock. about 10% live at 1-2 lbs per gallon. Choose really lacy, holey rock. Limestone. Dry rock will turn live. Takes about 12 weeks to cycle as opposed to 4 with all live rock, but will save you enough to afford better lights.

b) wash the sand before using it. Rock goes down first, then sand, then live rock if you only have a little.

c) use ro/di to mix salt with---usually 1/2 cup salt mix per gallon of fresh water. This yields a salinity of 1.024. Keep it there while you cycle: draw a 'fill line' on your sump or tank representing perfect salinity, and 'top off' with fresh ro/di as it evaporates.

d) marine tanks don't have lids as a rule. But a jump screen is a good idea once you get fish. Most will go airborne if frightened. You WANT that evaporation to go on, and the cooling that results. There are so many pumps and bright lights, heat is your enemy.

e) keep your temperature about 80, day and night. This is another reason to have no lid. It's a good thing to run your lights and everything BUT the skimmer, which just has nothing to skim until you have fish.

f) plan a quarantine tank: no rock, sand, no cycle, just bare glass and water and a heater, not even a light. Keep all new fish there for 4 weeks to be sure they don't bring in 'fleas'. Parasites are not nuisances in this hobby: they kill, and they get into your sandbed and reproduce and infest every fish you own. Quarantine is serious business. You can start a fish in qt 4 weeks before you expect your tank to be ready.

g) don't get 'miracle potions' of bacteria and for gosh sake, don't get a fish. You're good just with the natural dieoff from your rock, but if you just have to do something proactive, drop 4 flakes of fishfood in a day until you spot ammonia in your daily tests. Keep feeding imaginary fish daily---and 5 days after you fail to provoke ammonia, you are cycled.

h) expect sheets and waves of green hair algae. Phosphate is the cause, and rock and sand come in with a load of it. So does conditioned tapwater, which is why we suggest, nay, plead with you to use ro or ro/di water. You can get ro from your supermarket kiosk. Owning your own ro/di filter is a Good Idea, and you reach the breakeven point in about a year for a 50 gallon tank.

i) btw, the optimum tank size is 50-100 gallons for a beginner. The smaller or the larger the tank, the bigger the problems. For little tanks, it's like driving a sports car---every twitch produces a huge, often bad, result. For big tanks---everything is huge, heavy, and spendy, and water changes are (at 10% per week) both spendy and heavy to lift. The 50-100 tanks are middle of the road, let you keep blennies and gobies (50) or some tangs (100). Be sure, however, if the big fish (tangs and angels) are your love, you spring for the big and Lonnnnnnnnnnng tank. These are swimmers, high speed, and they need it, the way you can't keep a race horse in a little pen.

j) read the sticky on acclimation: a refractometer is a very good investment---it saves fish. If you are within .002 salinity, between the fish's bag and your qt tank, you don't drip acclimate: just put them in---and if you've prepared by finding out the salinity the fish's bag will be---you can prepare that tank so there is NO drip acclimation---which can kill. The explanation is in that sticky.

k)don't dose any chemical you don't have a test for.

l) if you have a salinity accident, correct it slowly, no more than .002 per hour. Topping off with salt water is a good way to raise it, just in the natural evaporation.

m) never trust a heater or thermometer. Use 2 thermometers, and touch the glass often in passing, just to be sure.

n) clowns are interesting fish, but they are aggressive---some more than others. The redder, the more so. And you should NOT get an anemone until your tank is about a year mature. Give your clowns a nice hardy coral to wallow in and they'll be quite as happy. Anemones are difficult, delicate, and in the hands of a new hobbyist, downright dangerous to the rest of the tank.

 

Most of all-----come here and ask BEFORE you do something, and NEVER impulse-buy a fish or invert. It mostly ends badly, and sometimes takes out a tank in the process. There's nothing your fish store gets that they won't get again, especially if you ask. Don't buy 'rare' things: translation: it usually doesn't thrive and often dies. Don't buy exotic fish. Same reason. These aren't decorator items. Get tough little guys that eat plain food and can put up with a few beginner mistakes. Leave room in your tank for them to grow. Many fish we keep reach a foot in length: know how big your fish will grow, and pick what will be happy in your tank.

 

Good luck---and always ask. There's a 'why' for all of this. It's better to know one sure way that works and get experience at this---and then you can try new theories. Don't get in a hurry, don't take chances, and don't shortcut. If there were a faster way, I assure you, everybody would do it. This is a hobby that's been around for more than a hundred years, and people have tried almost everything, finding many things that don't work. We've sifted out the things that do work, and if you can just get through your first year, you'll find this all makes basic good sense.

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Good question I am in the same boat. Was hoping that 2 weeks would be a good enough for a qt tank. Dont i wand to have some sand a and a few rocks in there as well?

 

What i've read before you want it bare and everytime you put new fish you want new water but thats where i'm lost. don't put fish in a tank until its cycled but always use new water in a QT ??? (nutty)

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What i've read before you want it bare and everytime you put new fish you want new water but thats where i'm lost. don't put fish in a tank until its cycled but always use new water in a QT ??? (nutty)

 

Good question.....Hum (scratch)

 

I think we need a expert who has done this to help us new folks out here. Our critter need a QT that won't kill them. I defeats the perpouse DOH!

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A quarantine tank is meant to be temporary. You are not trying to produce bacteria hence the not using live rock or live sand and going through the cycling process so fish do fine. You do not need to produce a large quantity of bacteria because the biological load in a quarantine tank should be small as it is only a temporary housing. I use my frag tank currently for a quarantine tank and I do have live rock and sand in there and it works out well. When the frag tank is plumbed into the main tank, I plan to set up another tank for quarantine but not as a temporary structure like is mentioned here because I intend to quarantine corals too.

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IF I was to do a quarantine tank I would use a small tank and fill it with my tank water then keep changing it out with tank water and maybe a little new saltwater since you are also wanting to acclimate the new fish to your main system not a totally new salt system

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So then it doesnt hurt anything to have a cycled tank for a quarantine....

 

Well the reason against using a cycled long term tank for quarantine is if a fish does have something like ich or marine velvet or some other parasite it could take root in a more permanent quarantine system.

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IF I was to do a quarantine tank I would use a small tank and fill it with my tank water then keep changing it out with tank water and maybe a little new saltwater since you are also wanting to acclimate the new fish to your main system not a totally new salt system

 

That makes total sense. that way I can do my water changes and instead of wasting the water I use it on my QT! thnx

 

Well the reason against using a cycled long term tank for quarantine is if a fish does have something like ich or marine velvet or some other parasite it could take root in a more permanent quarantine system.

 

So wouldnt that be the point of a QT tank. If theres nothing wrong with the fish then theres no reason to change out the water. I guess my thinking is the only downside of cycling a QT is that if the fish does have something then I have to dump the water but if they dont then i'm good i guess lol.

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For me the main purpose of a qt tank is to not introduce a sick fish into the main tank and wipe out my entire population of fish in the main system. Sadly I have had this happen. The other big advantage is if needed you can treat the QT with cuparamine , melafix, etc without fear of causong harm to tankmates. The other advantage is the fish gets acclimated and fed before getting thrown into the bigger display tank.

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How long do you QT a fish befor you put it in the display tank? Also does it make a diffrence if the fish is tank raised or wild caught as to the lenght of QT?

In order to answer this question, you first need to ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish...

 

If you are using a QT tank to get the fish eating, and check it out for any nasty diseases, then I would say about two weeks (there is no maximum for any of these).

 

However, sometimes fish will carry something, or have a hidden illness (or parasite) that you cant see. This is when people start thinking about preemptive treatments. You could dose copper, keep the fish in there for a week or two, and then put it in your tank (just to be safe). This is a controversial issue, and many people are split on wether or not this is fair or safe to the fish.

 

You can also do hyposalinity, meaning less salt in the water, like 1.015, (NEVER COMBINE THIS TREATMENT WITH COPPER!!!). That will take around three weeks.

 

So here is the bottom line: if your are very meticulous, you would want the fish in qt for around a month. I personally think that one week, while lightly dosing copper is the most effective, then get them into a healthier habitat (like your DT). Now the one thing to keep in mind, and I have made this mistake, is how well are you going to keep the fish. a real qt tank can take up as much time as your DT, and if you start to forget about the QT, then you can lose fish.

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I keep my QT up and running all the time. I have had terrible luck when trying to use it on an as-needed basis. The last time I used it fresh, the ammonia spiked because it wasn't cycled. I ended up doing 50% water changes daily for almost 4 weeks. It is a 40B, so water changes weren't fun.

 

Now I keep it running with one lonely clownfish to keep the bacteria going.

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