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brand new to salt, veteran freshwater hobbyist needs advice


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Hello all, I am a 43 year old man living in Bastrop. I have about 15+ years with freshwater tropical tanks of all sizes. We recently had to move into a rental house because our house burned down and we lost almost everything. I still have a 58 gallon tank with these dimensions 36Lx21Hx18D and would like to take the plunge into starting a saltwater FOWLR tank. I pretty much know all the terms in reefkeeping as alot of them are interchangeable with freshwater, but just need some advice on where my jumping off point should be. The tank is in storage and filled with dust, dirt, and cobwebs... so cleaning would be the first thing in order... where should I go next? Just assume I have absolutely no equipment, no nothing about saltwater and want to start with a tank setup that matches the current tank size I have. What would be the steps I would need to get off to a good running start? everything from lights, to live rock. I look forward to hearing from everyone... a bonus would be anyone who lives near me and could help me in person possibly if I needed it. A lot to ask, but willing to learn..

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Patience, patience, patience. And then some more patience.

Find someone breaking down a tank, buy their live rock. Use new sand, get a hang on back skimmer (Nice one was just listed). Buy a good light. Because you will want to start adding corals in the not to distant future. (I've got a great 5x39w T5 setup that will fit right on top (I started with the same size tank) for sale.)

Add the sand, after rinsing if you want. Add the live rock, let it sit about 2 months (more would be ideal) before adding your first fish. Add the least aggressive fish you want first. Wait, repeat.

Start saving for the eventual upgrade.

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There are a lot of different ways to be successful with SW tanks I have a 29g with a hang on the back filter and I change 3 gallons once a week. I have an 18 gallon tank with an all in one setup with cheato, and purigen, also weekly 2 gallon water changes, I have had good success with this tank as well. My new tank is a 100g with a sump, skimmer and bioreactor, LEDs and a wave maker pump.

You can have a successful setup with very little equipment but you will have to be very diligent in your tank maintenance or your can go all out on equipment and save yourself a lot of trouble. But like Robb said patience is important.

I am not quite as patience as he is, there is no way I could wait 2 months before adding stuff to my tanks, 2 weeks maybe but I added microbacker 7 everyday for a week and used 30 gallons of water from another tank.

If you go with t-5's and you decide to add coral later go with ATI or Giesmann bulbs.

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That's a great size tank to start with. Large enough you can create a fairly stable system, but small enough it doesn't become a huge burden to maintain. You're still fairly limited in how much and what species you can stock, but you'll have a lot more options than a nano tank. Just a personal preference, but I would strongly recommend drilling it and running it with a sump. It will keep equipment out of the display and adds more water volume for better overall stability.

I would echo the above comment, patience. Also, do a lot of research into what direction you want your tank to go.This should help dictate what equipment you decide to get and what livestock will work well in the tank. There's hundreds of ways to setup a marine tank. Don't buy any equipment or stock without knowing it's what you want. Any planning you do now saves time and money in the future in not buying equipment or livestock you end up not wanting.

There's many ways to setup a reef or FOWLR tank. I would definitely purchase a light with the intention of possibly introducing coral in the future. If you're hesitant to setup a demanding reef, there are lower tech, low demand coral, that require barely more care than a FOWLR tank. Most soft corals, zoas and palys, most LPS, macro algae's, can make a amazing tank and will have much less demand in maintenance than most reef tanks. The addition of macro algae in the display helps with nutrient stability and many like gracilaria's hayi look great and aren't eaten by herbivorous fish.

There are several members out your direction. We also have great LFS's in Austin, so it's never hard finding good quality fish and corals.

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First read everything you can find. Then find or decide how you want to set up a tank. I recommend drilling an overflow and adding a sump. I've gone without one and I would choose a sump 11 out of 10 times. Next, decide if you want to start with dead rock, cured live rock, or uncured live rock. Then you can start setting everything up.

The main difference between a FOWLR and a reef are the fish and the lights. A FOWLR tank allows you to keep fish or inverts that eat coral or are too destructive for a reef tank. It also does not require expensive lighting. A reef tank limits your choices on fish and inverts but allows you to keep corals. Normally people focus on corals and some have tanks without fish all together. I came from freshwater 14 years ago so I'll always be a fish guy.

Here's what you need to start:

  • Tank
  • Stand
  • Sump - You can build your own for less than $50.
  • Lights - Enough for you to see what's inside if you're going FOWLR or enough to keep corals alive if you're going reef
  • Sand - You can usually get it free on the classifieds
  • Live Rock - $1-3 per pound cured on the classifieds, $5-7 if you buy it in the store, $2.50 for uncured rock on liveaquaria.com, $1.90 if you buy dry rock on www.reefcleaners.org
  • Protein Skimmer - Save yourself the headache and the algae scrubbing. I would use one no matter what tank you go with.

Here are some links I recommend to get you started:

Live Rock as a Biological Filter - The building blocks of a saltwater tank.

Reef Chemistry - Important to know.

Berlin Filtration - Berlin is the modern style of filtration that most people use in reef tanks.

The Clean up Crew - Great advice on the bottom of the page for stocking, especially for someone that used to do FW.

Hitchhiker Guide - So you can identify little critters

Marine Plant Book - So you can reference any plants that pop up in your tank.

www.reefcleaners.org - Good prices on rock and the best on clean up crews.

www.liveaquaria.com - Decent descriptions of animal behavior and requirements. Also a good guide for pricing.

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One extremely useful tool that most people overlook is the Tank Builds section of the forum. Looking at these threads gives you a very valuable opportunity to see what people are doing and the results. Find a tank that you want to emulate and use some of their techniques and equipment as a guide.

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Thank you everyone for your input. I realized today that I no longer have a stand or hood for the tank, they must have burned up in the house fire, so I will either have to build one ( I do do hobby woodwork on the side so shouldnt be a problem) or buy one if its cheap enough. I agree I definitely think I need to figure out what exactly I want to stock the tank with while I get it cleaned up and ready to setup. I dont know what fish are compatible with each other, I just know what I like the looks of from what I have seen in pictures, and in other peoples setups. I am not sure how long we will be living here in this house, probably 2-3 years minimum and dont think I want to go full reef until I am settled into a more permanent place. I have a 130 gallon tank/stand/hood I am saving just for that purpose, just want to try and get my feet wet first and learn as much as I can now. Besides, I miss having my finned friends around to chill with and enjoy. I will put up a list of what I was thinking as a starting point for the livestock in the next post...

BTW are all big box pet store employees totally clueless? I went in for new dog tags for my dogs and decided to just have a look around through the aquarium section. I looked at the different brands of salt, and substrate types to figure out how I wanted to set that up. When I asked the employee who was in charge of the aquatic section about an RO/DI she literally had no idea what I was talking about... I explained to her briefly what it does and she was amazed that there was such a device that existed. I was speechless... I just bought my tags and left the store. It was a Petco by the way...

So first real question: previous poster mentioned cured liverock versus uncured... whats the difference? How hard is it to cure? How long does it take? Whats the process in a nutshell?

Second question: The H2O - just add salt (preferred brand?), and water, stick in the liverock and let it cycle, then wait? or can I use tap water and marine water conditioner, check the levels with a master test kit and be good to go with minor changes and daily monitoring? Whats the best way to go? I would rather not kill any fish if I can help it...

Substrate? - layer of sand (live or otherwise)and depth? or crushed coral, or is BB the way to go... BB seems like it would be the easiest to maintain, but I assume there is some benefit to having livesand, especially if you have certain types of cleanup crew and adds a bacterial layer to the tank to help with filtration or is my thinking incorrect.... what are your opinions?

Sorry this is long... I am a fast learner and would rather make as few mistakes as possible from the get go. I realize some of this will be personal preference, and I will definitely check out the tank builds section for ideas and strategies.

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Cured live rock is ready to go, no cycle (or little), add to your water and add fish/coral/etc. The downside is it costs more and may have undesirable issues (aiptasia/bad crabs/etc). Dry rock, or uncured live rock, will need a month or two being cured before it is ready to go.

I recommended existing live rock due to the ready to go method. If you are willing to wait, dry rock is really the best way because there are no undesirables. Curing it involves having a place to keep it and waiting. Mix up salt water, place rock in, circulate the water. Adding something (a uncooked shrimp, pure ammonia, something like BioSpira) to get the cycle started will help.

Yes, you can use tap water. RODI is ideal, IMO, especially with a smaller tank. I started my 58 and then 75 with RODI, and used nothing but in them. My 215 was started with tap water, and currently using tap water, due to needing such a large amount. Yes, add water, add salt, let mix, get to correct salinity, add sand/rock, and let it cycle/sit and mature.

Waiting for the maturity is the hardest part. When I started my 58 I used live rock from a tank being taken down and let it sit about 2 months. I ran a skimmer, did water changes and just watched all the life on the rock. I then added fish and lost the first few I added. IMO, the best practice would be nothing but live rock and clean up crew for 6 months.

Sand is personal preference although you can find proponents of shallow sand bed, deep sand bed, and bare bottom. They all have merits but in the end comes down to how you want it to look. Your livestock choices will impact this too. (You don't want sand sifting starfish in a bare bottom tank. Or jawfish.)

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Livestock list based on looks... (Again no idea which fish are compatible so I will let you guys chime in, also these would be a couple at a time not all at once, and probably will wind up being too many for my tank without a large sump)

Coral Beauty or Tibicen angel

Dwarf Flame angel

Fairy wrasse ( maybe the Sixline or McCosker's Flasher)

Purple firefish

Azure or Tracey's or Blue Spot Jewel damselfish

Bi-color dottyback or Royal gramma basslet

Humu Picasso Triggerfish (havent decided on this one for sure, but heard it was an easy keeper, might get too big too fast for my tank size though)

Black and white Clownfish

Green Mandarin (although I heard these may be for more experienced reef keepers)

Dracula or Pinkbar goby

Blue Dot Jawfish

Moorish Idol

Royal Blue Tang

-and for cleanup crew-

Bumblebee Snails

Peppermint shrimp or Fire Shrimp (Heard these sometimes eat Aiptasia if you are so unlucky as to get stricken with them)

Blue Velvet Shrimp

Emerald or Pom Pom Crab

Electric Blue Hermit

Red Knob star (Heard starfish were really sensitive to water quality as they have no way to filter out toxins at all? So may skip this one)

Let me know what you all think

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Thanks Robb... your info really helped alot. I guess I will be going with a thin layer of Sand. Should I use "Live" sand, or just get plain old aquarium sand? I think I will go dry rock, unless I can find someone who would be willing to give me some live rock from an established tank and knows for sure it has no bad stuff hitchhiking with it. then clean-up crew once things start to settle down. Def Protein Skimmer, RO/DI at some point.

Did you use some type of water conditioner when you used the tap water? or did you just let it cycle until it balanced itself out? With Freshwater tanks I always had to use a conditioner...

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For your invert list, I would knock them all off except the Peppermint and Blood Shrimp. Blood Shrimp hide a lot, but look cool. A Skunk Cleaner will be more out in the open if that's what you want. Aside from Peppermint, Blood, and Cleaner I would stay away from all shrimp. Most have special requirements or high death rates in new tanks. I don't have any hermit crabs. They literally cause problems and fix none. If you want a crab then go with Sally Lightfoot or Emerald.

The trigger is too big for your tank, and he'll eat any crabs or shrimp you put in your tank.

One dwarf angel in a tank your size is okay, two and they will kill each other.

Royal Gramma is less aggressive than Bi-Color and looks better.

Knock off anything with the name "damselfish" except Clownfish.

Blue Dot Jawfish is okay, Pearly Jawfish aka Yellow Head Jawfish is better. Both require at least 4" of sand to make a burrow, but you'll have more luck with the Pearly than the Blue Dot.

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Ok, so got the fish list narrowed down thanks to you guys... The tank is Glass, so either I will have to figure out how to cut holes in it for the plumbing which I have never done before, or just get hang on stuff to take care of filtration and movement. Any suggestions? I dont want to try and cut the holes myself if its too easy to mess up the tank... if I did try, what do I use? Diamond tip hole saw?

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Ok, so got the fish list narrowed down thanks to you guys... The tank is Glass, so either I will have to figure out how to cut holes in it for the plumbing which I have never done before, or just get hang on stuff to take care of filtration and movement. Any suggestions? I dont want to try and cut the holes myself if its too easy to mess up the tank... if I did try, what do I use? Diamond tip hole saw?

You will need to use a diamond hole saw. They're not super expensive to purchase and several LFS's and members cut holes for a small fee. It's actually really easy to cut holes, just takes a while. Lot's of water and patience is all you need besides the saw.

If you do decide on a traditional overflow that goes straight through the bottom of the tank, make absolutely sure the bottom pane isn't tempered. It's impossible to drill tempered glass without shattering it.

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hmm, ok... might attempt to do them myself. I think the tank is an oceanic brand. Will have to double check and make sure...

So does anyone have any suggestions on good local fish stores in south austin, and ones to avoid if any? Also has anyone had any good experiences with ordering from online retailers, and again any to avoid?

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If you use tap water, yes you will need to use something like Prime. If you use RODI, nope.

Don't waste money on live sand. I would use 'SW' type sand though. I used CaribSean sea floor special grade. Go with what you like the looks of.

There is (was?) a member here who has a giant outdoor tank that he would allow people to use for curing. Not sure if he still does but you could always ask. Look up user subsea.

South Austin fish store; AquaDome. All you need.

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