20 gallon long with ocellaris clowns after coral possible? How hard is saltwater compared to fresh?

nobettasinbowls

HI everyone!

I have attempted to start (started gathering equipment, did a ton of research) a saltwater reef tank twice over the last 10 years (once a 55 gallon, the other times a 10 and 20 gallon long due to apartment size restrictions), but each time I chickened out and switched back to a freshwater planted community/male betta planted biotope.

A family member is starting one now (29 gallon), and it really has got me wanting to give it an actual go.

I understand a lot of the differences of saltwater compared to fresh (live rock/sand is the main filter, you need a powerhead for flow/filtration, you need to make saltwater and use a refractometer to test the salinity, corals need other nutrients and other test kits are recommended for reef tanks besides the normal API saltwater kit, you need RO/DI water not tap, dry rock may need time to cure, daily/weekly top offs are needed to prevent swings in salinity, lighting is very important for corals, 10% weekly water change is the recommended amount, it will go through stages of algae/diatoms while cycling, drip acclimation is essential, etc.) and a lot of the similarities (you need to cycle the tank first, stocking lightly is better, add fish slowly, NO RUSHING).

I am currently reading through the fishlore marine and saltwater book that I downloaded, and have read through most of the stickies on here as well.

My main question before I actually start investing more than time it is this adventure, is it possible to do a reef tank first, get that established for several months, then add fish?

I know most people start with FOWLR, then go reef, but I would *much* rather lose a couple corals due to not having perfect water conditions, then stress out or kill a fish from my errors.

I also prefer to get any sort of living creature (snails, shrimp, hermit crabs, and fish- corals I will go either way) from a local aquarist who is wanting to get rid of them or has a few they'd share, rather than buying from a store.

This is my tentative plan, I just want to know if this is feasible?

NOTE: I am only allowed a 20 gallon tank in my apartment, and I want to do a long to give fish more room to swim. For corals, I want mainly softies: green star, pulsing xenia, mushrooms, maybe zoas, and maybe an LPS like frogspawn/hammer (I want to give my clowns options on corals to host in if they choose to, as I don't want to attempt caring for anemone. I also like these corals in general). I mainly only want a pair of ocellaris clownfish, but if the person who is rehoming them has another small fish that they are looking to rehome as well (like a small goby or something) I might consider them as well. I also am a renter who has no desire to mess with the plumbing to install an RO/DI unit, so I will be getting distilled water from the grocery store.

1. Get equipment (20 gallon long tank w/ stand, AC 70 modified for a refugium most likely, heater, thermometer, 2 powerheads (1 for tank, 1 for mixing saltwater), led light- will research which specific ones, refractometer, test kits-salifert, API saltwater chart, tds tester-since I'm getting water from the grocery store, salt, buckets)
1.5- Get a ton of water from store
2. Get dry rock (I don't want to worry about any hitchhikers!) Most likely marcorocks from BRS, approximately 25-30lbs
3. Cure dry rock in bucket- will research specific technique, and use this time to research more
4. Get sand (Most likely 20lbs CaribSea SPECIAL GRADE ARAG-ALIVE! LIVE REEF SAND, as that was recommended in sticky)
5. Put sand and rock in tank, cycle using Dr. Tims fishless cycle method
6. After cycle is complete, start getting and adding corals (dipping them before adding, is a QT necessary if I am only getting small frags from local people?)
7. After my reef as been thriving for at least 6 months, find a pair of ocellaris clownfish
8. Add clownfish
9. Happily watch fish in reef instead of TV

A couple specific questions
1. Is a CUC needed?
2. For those who switched from freshwater to saltwater, how much more time and maintenance was needed to maintain a saltwater reef tank? How much "harder" is it overall? It seems that after initial equipment/livestock purchases, the main ongoing cost is the salt and DI water if you are buying it. Is there anything else I'm overlooking?
3. Just to confirm, is it possible to have a reef tank with no fish? My family member is going through Petco and was told it was impossible, but they also are not experienced fish keepers (How do I say this nicely, they have had fish-saltwater and fresh, and the fish have managed to survive). The same guy at petco also told them that they could get a MANDARIN!!!!!! to stir up the sand (in a NEW TANK, only 29 gallons)....so I don't really trust what he says.

I'm looking to keep it on the cheaper side (most months, I can probably afford $100 to dedicate towards fish care), but I also have no problem waiting a few months to save up for better equipment (ie light).

I'm currently slowly in the process of starting a 20 gallon long planted betta tank, which will be running for a few months before I start this tank. I have PLLLLEEEEENNNNNTTTY of time.

Thank you!
 

Zachsnanotanks

I've avoided salt water over all because of the extra expenses and maintenance required but if you truly love it and want to have a salt tank by all means its worth the effort
 

nobettasinbowls

I've avoided salt water over all because of the extra expenses and maintenance required but if you truly love it and want to have a salt tank by all means its worth the effort
My sister says the same! Lol.
 

saltwater60

Saltwater is not that bad. You just need to pay more attention and not slack on tour water changes. Also if you’re doing LPS you’ll need to test calcium, alk, magnesium.
If you can do fresh water successfully you can do salt water.

It’s absolutely completely fine and no issue with just doing a reef tank without fish. Actually your tank will be cleaner. A pair of clowns and a small goby is perfect for a 20 long aquarium.
Soft corals are relatively easy as well as some LPS.
Watch having yourself clown host in an LPS as the clowns can irritate the coral. Just be known that you’ll need to feed the reef tank sparingly without fish. Like once to twice a week.
Also for a refugium I recommend large than an AC70. Larger you can get the better. Also look into getting a protein skimmer.
Also many RO/DI units can hook up to regular sink faucets. Also LFS can sell RO/DI water.
 

nobettasinbowls

Saltwater is not that bad. You just need to pay more attention and not slack on tour water changes. Also if you’re doing LPS you’ll need to test calcium, alk, magnesium.
If you can do fresh water successfully you can do salt water.

It’s absolutely completely fine and no issue with just doing a reef tank without fish. Actually your tank will be cleaner. A pair of clowns and a small goby is perfect for a 20 long aquarium.
Soft corals are relatively easy as well as some LPS.
Watch having yourself clown host in an LPS as the clowns can irritate the coral. Just be known that you’ll need to feed the reef tank sparingly without fish. Like once to twice a week.
Also for a refugium I recommend large than an AC70. Larger you can get the better. Also look into getting a protein skimmer.
Also many RO/DI units can hook up to regular sink faucets. Also LFS can sell RO/DI water.

Thank you for the response!

I will look up more about the refugium and protein skimmer. I have thought about a sump, but I had a 75 gallon flood my apartment do to bad piping to the sump and it scared me.

Something that I am not fully understanding with an RO/DI unit is can I just hook it up to the faucet just to get the water for my water change/top, than detach it and store it elsewhere (similar to using a python during a water change)? Or does it need to be hooked up constantly? My kitchen sink has a fancy faucet/extendable sprayer hose thing combination so I don't want to mess with it, but my bathroom faucet fitting? is easily unscrewable. But I wouldn't want to have a hose or pipe sticking out from it to under my cupboard on a daily basis. That would be a LOT better than hauling water though.
 

Jesterrace

You might be the perfect candidate for one of these:



It's designed to be portable so you can hook it up as needed. As long as you don't live in an area with a ridiculously high TDS (ie NYC) then it should work just fine.

It sounds like you are off to a good start with some solid research there and are aware of many of the things that trip up newbies in the hobby (try to bring over bad habits from freshwater). Lighting is definitely a consideration given that you are going with corals. Many LED lights are poorly suited for coral growth so you want to go with something that is proven to do well with corals. If you don't need a bunch of programming options, one of these will work nicely on that size of a tank: Amazon.com : VIPARSPECTRA Timer Control 165W LED Aquarium Light Dimmable Full Spectrum for Coral Reef Grow Fish Tank : Pet Supplies

As for going corals first? It can be done but your logic is a bit backwards as Fish are less demanding than corals (require fewer tests and are more adaptable to newbie mistakes). Clownfish are fairly hardy and relatively inexpensive by marine standards if you go with the plain jane Ocellaris.
 

nobettasinbowls

You might be the perfect candidate for one of these:



It's designed to be portable so you can hook it up as needed. As long as you don't live in an area with a ridiculously high TDS (ie NYC) then it should work just fine.

It sounds like you are off to a good start with some solid research there and are aware of many of the things that trip up newbies in the hobby (try to bring over bad habits from freshwater). Lighting is definitely a consideration given that you are going with corals. Many LED lights are poorly suited for coral growth so you want to go with something that is proven to do well with corals. If you don't need a bunch of programming options, one of these will work nicely on that size of a tank: Amazon.com : VIPARSPECTRA Timer Control 165W LED Aquarium Light Dimmable Full Spectrum for Coral Reef Grow Fish Tank : Pet Supplies

As for going corals first? It can be done but your logic is a bit backwards as Fish are less demanding than corals (require fewer tests and are more adaptable to newbie mistakes). Clownfish are fairly hardy and relatively inexpensive by marine standards if you go with the plain jane Ocellaris.

Nope not in NYC! That is super awesome, thank you for the link! The idea of lugging around water all the time sounded daunting. That is very affordable and seems user friendly as well.

I've removed zoas/palys off the list after discovering they have palytoxin. I'm thinking now skipping LPS and just sticking to softies- toadstool mushroom, green star polyps, regular mushroom, and pulsing xenia.

Thank you for the link for the light. Would you recommend the 165W or the 300W?

I know my logic seems a bit backwards, as the fish are more adaptable to newbie mistakes, but I am very worried about causing them unnecessary suffering if I make a mistake. I'm probably being overly paranoid, but I would rather be safer than sorry.
 

Jesterrace

Keep in mind that corals technically are animals as well and would suffer from an experienced newbie, so killing a coral is no different than killing a fish in the grand scheme of things. If you are really wanting to keep the damage to a minimal in terms of cost and threat to life, I would start with simple inverts first (ie snails and hermit crabs) and then go from there at least then you can get something in your tank that eats algae and waste. As for the lighting definitely the 165 watt, the 300 watt would be way too powerful for a 20 gallon long.
 

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