First saltwater tank 180 gallons - bad idea?

GuppieLuv
  • #1
When I was little I had dreams of being like Henry Huggins, a boy in a children's book who gets guppies and ends up with lots of baby guppies. One Christmas after dreaming of fish for what felt like forever I got a 10 gallon tank (I still have it!) and of course I got guppies and shortly after had guppy fry. I loved my fish and got as into it as I could with my small tank, and thus my username "GuppieLuv" was created. My mom gave me a book of different fish and I always lingered at the lionfish page. One day I would have one! They were so beautiful it was all I could dream of. I've dreamed of that lionfish like some may dream of having a house on the shore. 10 years later (ok I'm only 22) my husband and I bought our first house. To make my lionfish dreams come true, we bought a *gorgeous* 180 gallon fish tank (plus filter, lights, the whole bang) for $800 from someone who took amazing care of his cichlids but was no longer physically able to give them the care they needed. I was finally getting my lionfish! But after looking at them many times at my LFS I realized they just... sit there. And they very much limit other fish you can have (anything that can fit into their huge mouths!) The puffers and tangs (sailfin are my favorite!) are so intelligent and I know they see me and know I'm there that they are some of my favorites to watch at my LFS (that was my idea of fun before covid-19, my poor DH). I really want a fish that is aware of my presence.

So now I'm lost what to do with this 180 gallon tank. It's skinny (18") so it can't hold anything too big, but I also want to take advantage of a tank this size. Someday we plan to move overseas and I don't know if I will get such a big tank again. So I want to do more than guppies this time I really want saltwater but I'm becoming more and more aware of costs beyond the tank and live rock.

I've been very patient and can continue to be patient. I don't have it in mind that we will have fish until this winter, if not 2021, because I want to continue researching and probably culture dry rock. But I'm trying to imagine the cost of filling this tank with coral and try to not have it look empty. We do have money to spend as it's just the two of us in a modest house with no kids, but not as much as many people on this forum.

How realistic is making this 180 gallons a reef tank or maybe just a FOWLR? I imagine the FOWLR would be cheaper (~180 lbs live rock) and then I could have pufferfish. I do love the idea of a reef though and it may be worth not having puffers for that.

We do have a 55 gallon tank I wanted to make into a planted tank with neon tetras and some other freshwater fish, but I'm wondering if I should do the 55 gallon as my saltwater instead and make the 180 gallon a freshwater tank? Thing is I'm not as interested in freshwater fish that need more than 55 gallons anyway and I hate the idea of wasting a 180 gallon tank. But then again a 180 planted tank with a huge school of neon tetras would do so much for my anxiety.

I've been thinking about these tanks so much and I just need someone with experience to give their take and advice. I feel comfortable with freshwater, but this saltwater stuff is pretty foreign to me.

Does it seem doable to fill a 180 gallon tank to not look bare and empty as far as live rock and corals? I'm not too worried about stuffing a bunch of fish themselves since I want to take it easy.

Would a 55 gallon be a more wise decision than 180 gallons?
 
MrBryan723
  • #2
I'm all for the neons in the 180 personally. But the larger tank will be easier to keep stable so it would be the more ideal one for the expensive/delicate fish. Water changes can be a handful and expensive until the tank matures well, but after you get things going and well established, you can do less water changes than with freshwater. It's worth investing in a small RoDi and learn how to mix your own water regardless.
 
JB92668
  • #3
the 180 gal tank is perfect for a saltwater tank lots of live rock corals spunges ananamies and fish
 
tuggerlake26
  • #4
I'd keep the 180 for saltwater, especially if that's what you've always wanted. If you don't want any large freshwater fish, no reason in wasting it.

If it were me, I'd making it a FOWLR versus a reef. Coral is fun, but very frustrating and time consuming. IMO it would take up more of your time to care for a tank full of coral than a few larger saltwater fish. Most fish that are coral safe are smaller, so it could always be an option to have a smaller reef tank in the future if you move.

I personally love lion fish- though they aren't very active as you mentioned. You could look at some of the larger angelfish or butterflies. They have a lot of personality and there are quite a few hardy species of them nowadays. You could do a small group of Heniochus. If you're open to just one fish, a triggerfish could be a lot of fun.
 
FishBoy101
  • #5
Saltwater must be much more under stocked than a freshwater tank. Keep that in mind.
 
MomeWrath
  • #6
if you're going to do saltwater at all, a 180 is a great size. No reason you couldn't have a sailfin tang (or a yellow, or a tomini, or any of several other kinds) in a tank that size, especially if you stick with FOWLR. Also, look up fuzzy lionfish. They are extra adorable and are also small and won't eat their roommates.
If you want to do coral, you always have the option of buying the $15 frags and growing them out yourself. That's what I always did and in a year nobody knows the difference. The thing with coral is it just keeps on growing - you start out with a huge colony and pretty soon it's too huge. It's cool to buy this little skrimmel and watch it turn into a colony, which you can then sell back to another hobbyist and buy six more little frags.
Reef tanks are a lot more work but so worth it IMO. Especially if you are young and have few obligations on your time. I had reefs (two different reefs) for seven years along with a busy family and it ended up being too much. Do it now while you still have the time and the disposable income
 
A201
  • #7
I'll provide the opposing view. In the early 90's, I kept a 58 gal. Marine tank. Although the fish were interesting & beautifully colored, the expense was quite overwhelming. Just like in a FW tank, big weekly water changes keep things healthy. Replacement salt water in my area cost $15 per five gallons. Do the math.
Consider the treatment of disease. Even the most simple fish disease, Ick, is easy to treat in FW, but is very difficult & often diasterous to treat in a marine situation. SW fish are very fragile as compared to their FW counterparts & much more expensive.
To keep a successful marine / reef community is an awsome accomplishment.
Doing so elevates the fishkeeper to the highest level in the hobby.
In my situation, the expense just became too much. I donated the fish to the local zoo, then transitioned to a Discus community. No regrets.
If you just want a reef with colorful fish, consider building a limestone reef & stock African Cichlids.
Good luck with your new tank.
 
GuppieLuv
  • Thread Starter
  • #8
I'm all for the neons in the 180 personally. But the larger tank will be easier to keep stable so it would be the more ideal one for the expensive/delicate fish. Water changes can be a handful and expensive until the tank matures well, but after you get things going and well established, you can do less water changes than with freshwater. It's worth investing in a small RoDi and learn how to mix your own water regardless.

I did read about RODI units in a sticky and thought it would be a wise investment. Are the water changes expensive until the tank matures well because they need to be more frequent or in larger amounts?

I'd keep the 180 for saltwater, especially if that's what you've always wanted. If you don't want any large freshwater fish, no reason in wasting it.

If it were me, I'd making it a FOWLR versus a reef. Coral is fun, but very frustrating and time consuming. IMO it would take up more of your time to care for a tank full of coral than a few larger saltwater fish. Most fish that are coral safe are smaller, so it could always be an option to have a smaller reef tank in the future if you move.

I personally love lion fish- though they aren't very active as you mentioned. You could look at some of the larger angelfish or butterflies. They have a lot of personality and there are quite a few hardy species of them nowadays. You could do a small group of Heniochus. If you're open to just one fish, a triggerfish could be a lot of fun.

Maybe skipping the coral this time around as you suggest would help me ease into saltwater since this is my first time. That's good to know, that there are many smaller reef safe fishes. Maybe that could be a project for something smaller in the future.

The group of Heniochus sounds nice! My husband and I did decide we weren't a fan of triggerfish. We like a lot of kinds, although we are aware they aren't all compatible, such as clownfish, tangs, puffers, moray eels, gobies, dottybacks, fire dartfish, blennies, butterfly fish, cardinal fish, marine bettas, and I'm sure more.

I do really like angelfish and butterfly fish so I will look into hardy breeds!

Saltwater must be much more under stocked than a freshwater tank. Keep that in mind.

Thank you for the reminder. That is why I'm a little hesitant to use the 55 gallon because it would limit the saltwater fish a lot. A couple clowns, a fire dartfish, and a royal dottyback maybe?

if you're going to do saltwater at all, a 180 is a great size. No reason you couldn't have a sailfin tang (or a yellow, or a tomini, or any of several other kinds) in a tank that size, especially if you stick with FOWLR. Also, look up fuzzy lionfish. They are extra adorable and are also small and won't eat their roommates.
If you want to do coral, you always have the option of buying the $15 frags and growing them out yourself. That's what I always did and in a year nobody knows the difference. The thing with coral is it just keeps on growing - you start out with a huge colony and pretty soon it's too huge. It's cool to buy this little skrimmel and watch it turn into a colony, which you can then sell back to another hobbyist and buy six more little frags.
Reef tanks are a lot more work but so worth it IMO. Especially if you are young and have few obligations on your time. I had reefs (two different reefs) for seven years along with a busy family and it ended up being too much. Do it now while you still have the time and the disposable income

You know I hadn't considered the dwarf lionfish. It will still eat anything that fits into it's mouth though, right?

Can I start with a FOWLR tank and later transition to a reef tank, assuming I only have reef safe fish? Will some reef fish be unhappy with only live rock?

Our pets (2 cats, 2 ferrets) and garden are our lives right now and I'm not very social so I have time. A good excuse for my DH to visit his family while I work on the tank

I'll provide the opposing view. In the early 90's, I kept a 58 gal. Marine tank. Although the fish were interesting & beautifully colored, the expense was quite overwhelming. Just like in a FW tank, big weekly water changes keep things healthy. Replacement salt water in my area cost $15 per five gallons. Do the math.
Consider the treatment of disease. Even the most simple fish disease, Ick, is easy to treat in FW, but is very difficult & often diasterous to treat in a marine situation. SW fish are very fragile as compared to their FW counterparts & much more expensive.
To keep a successful marine / reef community is an awsome accomplishment.
Doing so elevates the fishkeeper to the highest level in the hobby.
In my situation, the expense just became too much. I donated the fish to the local zoo, then transitioned to a Discus community. No regrets.
If you just want a reef with colorful fish, consider building a limestone reef & stock African Cichlids.
Good luck with your new tank.

Wow that is a lot for water. I read you can get a RODI to be able to make your own aquarium water? I read you don't want to add more salt since the water evaporates and leaves the salt behind.

It's good to be aware that diseases are more difficult to treat for saltwater fish. I am definitely nervous about their price tag and messing up.

African cichlids are beautiful but I'm not sure they are for me. For some reason they never interested me much. I do like some of the other cichlids though, like the discus and rams.
 
MrBryan723
  • #9
Yes because of the extra water changes (both more frequent AND larger amounts). You do want to add salt on the water changes, but not on top offs.
 
GuppieLuv
  • Thread Starter
  • #10
Yes because of the extra water changes (both more frequent AND larger amounts). You do want to add salt on the water changes, but not on top offs.
Oh right, of course, you'll lose it in the water changes. Thank you!
 
tuggerlake26
  • #11
Can I start with a FOWLR tank and later transition to a reef tank, assuming I only have reef safe fish? Will some reef fish be unhappy with only live rock?

It depends on the fish. Some fish need to pick off the live rock for food even apart from being fed. Some tend to graze throughout the day. However, something like a clownfish, dartfish, cardinalfish, or tang would be fine. Just keep in mind you may need to upgrade some of your systems (lighting, skimmer, etc.) if you add coral.

You could always start with FOWLR and get comfortable with keeping the fish, and then test out some easier corals that are okay with lower lights, like mushroom corals. Like Momewrath said, you normally can find $15 frags. You could always just buy 1-2, test things out, and see how it goes. Not a huge loss, and you'd be able to say you tried.

Either way, a 180 is a fun size, so definitely look into fish that typically need larger tanks to take advantage of it.
 

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