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Saltwater FAQ


By Doc Hank

I'll give you just a bit of background before I start. My love of the hobby is reef aquariums. I have my own 200 gallon system which over 4 years old. I started in freshwater in 1965 and in saltwater in 1972. I've had many tanks in my years and have made tons of mistakes. I'm still capable of making them.

I put together this brief list of questions I've heard and my answers. My hope is that is may help some of you avoid making some of the mistakes that I have.

Here are a few of my answers to common newbie questions. I hope that some of you will find it helpful!

How big a tank should I have?

Generally the largest tank that you can afford to set up properly. You must consider that maintaining the best water quality possible and keeping conditions that way all the time is what you are after. A larger tank is easier to maintain stability in. The smaller the tank the quicker changes take place.

What kind of filter do I need?

Most of us use live rock as our primary biological filter. You will need between 1 and 1 ½ lbs per gallon for adequate bacterial colonization. Some folks use canister, bio wheel, or wet/dry filters. Each has it’s advantages and limitations.

Do I really have to have live rock?

If you are certain that all you will ever want is fish, the answer is no. A properly sized wet/dry, canister, or bio wheel type filter can adequately handle the conversion of ammonia to nitrate. In fact most of us consider them to be nitrate factories. You will have to perform regular water changes (probably weekly) to keep nitrates at an acceptable level and clean the filters frequently to reduce particulate matter.

Do I need a protein skimmer?

Protein skimmers are designed to remove dissolved organic compounds (DOC). They are probably the most effective method of eliminating DOC before it degrades to Ammonia. They eliminate a problem at the source so to speak.

How many fish can I have?

Since you are just starting I’m going to recommend that you add fish one at a time (after your tank has finished cycling) and figure on not having more than 1” of full grown fish per 5 gallons of water. Once you have gained some experience you will find that you can have more if you select certain types but let’s not consider that now.

How do I cycle my tank and how long does it take?

Cycling your tank is the establishment of enough bacteria in your system to convert all of the ammonia in the tank to nitrate. It can be done as simply as adding a couple of grocery store shrimp to a mesh bag and placing it in your tank. It will decompose and start your cycle. The cycle is complete when you no longer detect any ammonia or nitrite for several days. Normally it takes about 6 to 8 weeks.

My tank finished cycling, how many fish can I put it?

I’d suggest one at a time and allowing a good amount of time (I suggest a month) between additions. You also need to know what fish are compatible with not only the other fish but all the livestock and what order to enter them in. You probably wouldn’t want to have a nice shrimp in your tank and add a triggerfish. All you’d be doing is providing the fish with a tasty dinner.

My fish all seem to die, what am I doing wrong?

How many and what kind of fish did you have? Did they all die at once or one at a time? What are your readings for pH, Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate? What is your salinity? What is your tank temperature during the day and at night? These are the basic questions that you need to be able to answer before anyone can help you. Always be prepared to give honest answers and to tell us everything you can think of.

I just can’t understand it the guy at the fish store said…..

Remember that the primary job of the guy at the fish store is to sell. Some folks are better than others at helping others but if they don’t make sales, they don’t have a job. It’s merchandise to the retailer. The folks here are here because the want help or they want to help. They don’t get any of your money by helping you out, just the satisfaction in knowing that they have done a good deed.

Why should I have a sump?

A sump is a very valuable addition to any tank. It increases your system volume which helps to increase stability. It allows you to move items such as the skimmer, phosphate reactor, heater, etc. form the tank to sump thereby improving the appearance of the display. It allows many more skimmer choices than using a hang on the back of the tank type. It also gives you a place to set up a fuge which is out of view.

Well folks, that should be enough to get things started. Please remember that these answers contain my opinion and should not be taken as absolute. My hope is that someone who reads this thread avoids one mistake. Happy reefing!


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Does the club have an upto date meeting schedule for 2013? Does the Gulfarium still support the club since the Gulfarium having a new management team?



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