My First Go into Saltwater - 5 gallon Fluval Spec (w/ Pics)

  • #1
Hey All,

A few months ago, my father and I decided to finally start a Saltwater tank. We have kept Freshwater fish for as long as I remember and realistically started talking about getting a Saltwater tank last summer. After doing some research and getting an idea of the cost involved in the endeavour (we were looking at a 55gal), we agreed to wait until it was a little more feasible.

A few months ago, I purchased the Fluval Spec and decided to give it a shot in a nano to curb the cost. We figured if we're able to keep a 5gal going, a 55gal+ would be cake (with the exception of 11gal water changes...I can't even imagine).

I purchased 5 lbs of Arag-Alive! live sand, about 8lbs of LR and got the saltwater from my LFS and waited a few weeks for the tank to cycle. Its been almost 12 weeks now, and the current inhabitants of the tank are 2 firefish, 1 hermit crab, 1 duncan coral, 1 ricordia, and 1 blue xenia. We keep the salinity at 1.0125 and test the water every few days. Ammonia and Nitrate are obviously 0, and Nitrate doesn't really get lower than 30ppm. As it stands, we do water changes about once every 5-8 days, as need.

The Duncan has pretty much thrived since its been in the tank, and as you can see below, is starting to split. The Ricordia seems to be doing fine, but the hermit crab is constantly sitting in the middle of it so it doesn't really spread out as much as it can. We just got the blue xenia 2 days ago and it hasn't really opened yet. I'm going to give it another day or two before I move it to a spot a little high on the rock.

As for hitchhikers...we have what looks like a mussel that is affixed to the LR (to the right of the Duncan). It looks to have a seam going down the middle of it and it opens from time-to-time..its actually a little open in the picture included. Is that what it is? Or is there something else living in what used to be a mussel or some other mollusk? Also, there is a clam that is in a small crevice in the rock that you can also see below.

Anyway, just wanted to share the tank and my experience as a first time Saltwater aquarist.

Thanks for looking...any comments or advice is much appreciated.


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  • #2
Looks fantastic!!

I just purchased a 6G Fluval Edge and am still deciding what to do with it (SW nano, or Freshwater planted nano). Did you keep the original lighting, or did you modify?

Question about the sand; does the live sand help cycle the tank? I'm not familiar with live sand, so apologies if it's a silly question.
  • #3
Welcome to the Forum.... Hninden
  • #4
We keep the salinity at 1.0125 and test the water every few days. Ammonia and Nitrate are obviously 0, and Nitrate doesn't really get lower than 30ppm.

I am hoping that the Specific Gravity at 1.0125 is a typo

Other than that and 30ppm N03 being a bit high it is looking good, well done.
  • #5
Hi, welcome to Fishlore
It looks good, great job for such a tiny space.
I agree with Malc, 30ppm nitrate is a little high. Do you have a phosphate reading? Keeping both of these parameters as close to 0 as you can will help reduce the chances of nuisance algae.

Do you have a protein skimmer on this setup? If not, it will help reduce nitrate levels.
  • #6
Nice. Great pictures too.

Do you have a hood on the tank? Firefish have been known to carpet surf.
  • Thread Starter
  • #7
Mamajin I believe the live sand helps with the cycling process although I'm not entirely sure...I'm sure there are many on this forum that would be able to provide more detail about that
Malcolm my apologies...1.025
ryanr I don't have a test kit that has phosphate at the moment...I can bring a small cup of water to the LFS though to get a reading. And I don't have a skimmer at the moment. My dad and I don't mind doing the frequent water changes to offset the eyesore that is the protein skimmer. That said, is there any other way to get the nitrates down? It seems like 30ppm is as low as it gets (that is the reading we get after a water change)
Mike Thank you. And yes there is a hood. Thanks for the heads up though.

Also...anyone have any idea about that "mussel" affixed to the live rock? I alluded to it above and you can see it in the pictures.
  • #8
HI there again

Yep the live sand does assist with nitrification and once it is fully matured it also helps to a certain extent in de-nitrification, IMO though the main job of a live substrate is to be home to the many many thousands of tiny creatures that actively consume the accumulated detritus after the lights go out.

Phew, 1.025 is just about perfect

For a small tank a skimmer is not needed IMO but as said don't miss the water changes or the chemistry will very quickly get out of control.
The 30ppm definitely needs addressing, especially as it is that right AFTER a water change, Have you tested the new saltwater before you change it ? and where are you getting the water from also what brand of salt are you using as some are known to contain both nitrates and phosphates.

The mussel is exactly what it will be, a saltwater bi-valve of some description, it may or may not survive dependant on the available food, unfortunately being heavy filter feeders it is often hard to get them enough and the right type of planktonic food to sustain them for long.
I had a large piece of rock many years ago that was home to two common oysters, I managed to keep them alive for about 6 months but it was just so hard to constantly keep a good food supply flowing over and around them.
  • #9
@Mamajin I believe the live sand helps with the cycling process although I'm not entirely sure...I'm sure there are many on this forum that would be able to provide more detail about that

HI there again

Yep the live sand does assist with nitrification and once it is fully matured it also helps to a certain extent in de-nitrification, IMO though the main job of a live substrate is to be home to the many many thousands of tiny creatures that actively consume the accumulated detritus after the lights go out.

Thanks you two... very much appreciated!!
  • #10
With the nitrates, watch how much you feed. Excess/uneaten food will add to your nitrate levels (and phosphates).
What are you feeding? If frozen food, it can help to rinse it in RO water before feeding. If you're feeding flakes/pellets, feed a little more often and watch to make sure it gets eaten.
You could also consider a larger cleanup crew - maybe some nassa snails, and shrimp (peppermint and/or skunk) - shrimp are excellent scavengers, and will generally find most left overs.

Also - what test kits are you using? You want to make sure you're getting accurate readings.
  • Thread Starter
  • #11
Malcolm We use distilled water from the supermarket and add Instant Ocean salt. My dad tested the water alone and found no trace of nitrates.
ryanr We feed frozen mysis shrimp. My dad isn't really a fan of snails (bad experience with the unwanted kind in our Freshwater tank), will other crabs be compatible with the hermit we have in their currently? We will look into a shrimp as well. Also, we are using the standard API Saltwater Test kit.

I also have a bad news update on the tank...

On Thursday I noticed that one of the firefish didn't really look right. He was kind of just wading and going with the be honest, he kind of looked drunk; swimming sideways and upside down. I recalled reading somewhere that such is the product of nitrate poisoning (which made sense considering the nitrate problem we're having). I immediately did a 20% water change, and about 15min after it was done, he was upright and sitting in his cave (acting normal). I then went away for a few days, only to find when I came home Saturday that BOTH firefish were dead on Friday.

I'm not entirely sure what happened, but logic leads me to believe it was the result of high nitrates. I guess I'm just confused because only 1 fish seemed to be affected by it Thursday, and he then seemed to snap out of it after the water change.

As this is now the second set of fish we have lost in this tank (2 damsels in the beginning), my dad and I are seriously considering just keeping it strictly corals and inverts.

That said, we still want to figure out this nitrate issue. As stated above, we checked the distilled water we're using for nitrates (thank you Malcolm) and didn't find anything. My dad is planning on doing 40% water changes the next 3 days in an effort to get the nitrates down below 30ppm. I personally think it may have something to do with the filtration in the tank (currently I have the bioballs and charcoal it came with as a filter), so we are going to replace the charcoal and see if that helps.

I'll keep ya'll posted. As always, any comments/advice/etc is much appreciated.
  • #12
HI there

There is the problem right away.........................
Take the bio-balls out and the carbon (only really need it for medication and heavy metal removal) and in place of the balls put some similarly sized live rock rubble, If the filter has any sponges then these MUST be cleaned weekly.

Okay, the reasoning why.

Bio-balls can do the nitrifying part of the cycle as they can house the aerobic bacteria (oxygen loving) however they cannot complete the cycle as live rock can due to them not being capable of supporting anaerobic bacteria (oxygen hating) anaerobic is the type that uses Nitrate and converts it into Nitrogen that freely gasses off at the aquarium surface as part of the complex gas exchange that occurs there, Therefore using bio-balls means that they can take ammonia and convert to Nitrite and then to Nitrate, however this is where it stops leaving the N03 in the water for the Live rock in your system to try and remove (generally unsuccessfully)

Using carbon can polish the water by removing DOC's (Dissolved Organic Compounds), medication and heavy metals but gets depleted pretty fast at which point it releases them back into the water column so unless it is changed weekly or every two weeks at most it really can do more harm than good.
I always have some in stock and ready to use in an emergency as it works pretty fast and can help with any sudden problems.

I think I may have misled you, I meant to say to test the newly mixed salt water for N03 not just the distilled water, when you test it leave the water mixed and aerated for at least 6hrs for it to stabilise before you test or even use for a water change, Unlike freshwater newly mixed saltwater needs time to age and fully stabilise as there are some extraordinarily complex chemical compounds involved that don't just happen instantly (contrary to a manufacturers claims)
Also contrary to salt manufacturers claims many salts DO contain N03 (nitrate) and P04 (phosphate) and do indeed vary from one batch to another hence me saying to test it.

Okay, mega post over sorry.

Sorry to hear about the fish, work on the Bio-ball issue and get the N03 down below 10 and you should be fine and remember mix your waterchange water the day before and aerate/heat it till you use it.
  • Thread Starter
  • #13
Thanks for the info Malcolm...MUCH appreciated. I had a feeling it was filter related.

I'm on the train now, but when I get home I'll take the carbon out and make a trip to the LFS for some LR rubble. Just for clarification, the rubble will be my only form of filtration in the filter area? And if so, how much should I get? Right now the carbon and bioballs take up less than a quarter of the space behind the overflow. (Let me know if you need me to reword that)

Thanks again.
  • #14
Hi, don't be scared of snails in SW, they are a very important member of your cleanup crew.

Unlike Freshwater snails, Saltwater don't tend to reproduce and over run a tank. Yes they reproduce, but nowhere near the level of Freshwater snails. I have cerith snails, nassa snails, astrea and turbo snails in my tank. They all play their part in keeping my reef clean

EDIT: As for LR rubble, you won't need a lot, as most of the bio filtration will take place in your display. Just enough to fill the same space as you have, without packing it in. You want the water to freely flow over it.
  • #15
+1 to this ^^^^ guy
  • Thread Starter
  • #16
So I just got back from the LFS with LR rubble and a Nassa snail.

I noticed when I was going through the rubble that several pieces were slimey, had color to them, or both. I actually found a piece with what looked like eggs on it (bubble algae?) Should I be looking to filter something specic out before adding to my tank?

Thanks that we don't have fish, do we still need to feed the corals, hermit crab, and snail? Or is it relatively self-sustaining at this point?
  • #17
If you've got bubble algae, be sure to carefully remove it (do not pop the bubbles). Bubble algae is hard to get rid of, IIRC, emerald crabs will eat it.

What sort of slimey? Is it cyano bacteria? If so, just rinse it off first.

Feeding - yes, you'll need a food source for the corals. You can feed cyclop-eeze (sp), Reef-Roids, rotifers, phytoplanktons or any other filter feeder food. Given the size of the tank, probably a little feeding once every 3 days should be enough.

The crab and snail, should find plenty of food, but wouldn't hurt to drop a little meaty food in there once every few days. The nassa snail will spend most of its time in the substrate, and suddenly appear like a zombie when some meat hits the sand.
  • Thread Starter
  • #18
I actually saw the snails do just that when I went to the cool. I showed my dad the video and he's on board.

I picked out the suspicious pieces of rubble and replaced the bioballs and carbon. Now ill wait a day and then test the water. Fingers are crossed, but I have Faith. Can't wait to see that nitrate reading be low!

Thanks again everyone. Ill keep you updated.
  • #19
looking really good. you have just gave me a boost to go think seriously about a saltwater cube. I too have been keeping fw for a long time and want to venture into sw...but the list of equipment needed for a standard tank alone has frightened me. Not to mention the water. THAT feels like the biggest $ inthe long run. But a 5G with distilled water. mixed with salt seems doable (though I know requires more monitoring).

What equipment are you using and if I may ask, what was the total estimated cost for the entire thing?
  • Thread Starter
  • #20
Malcolm So after 2 days with the LR Rubble (replacing the carbon and bioballs) and 1 water change, our Nitrates are still sitting at 40ppm. My Dad forgot to test the distilled water after aerating with Saltwater mix overnight, we will do so this weekend. So if the filter wasn't the issue, what else do you think it could be? I was reading up on the AC70 mod for chaeto as a way to lower nitrates...would this be overkill/unnecessary in a 5gal tank?

Priya Glad I can be an inspiration. I definitely hear what you're saying...the cost of setting up a proper Saltwater tank (55gal+) is a bit scary financially. And no worries, currently my equipment is as follows:

Fluval Spec V Aquarium - $85 on Amazon
Hydor Pico Evo-Mag 180 - $28 on Amazon
50w Aqueon Pro Heater - $30 on Amazon
API Saltwater Test Kit - $18 on Amazon

~7.5lbs of LR @ $7/lb = $55 (although you can find cheaper)
CaribSea AragAlive! Live Sand (10lbs) - $20 or so at LFS
Pre-mixed Saltwater from LFS to start out - $8 or so
Instant Ocean Salt Mix - $18 on Amazon
Hydrometer - $10 on Amazon

So overall, I'd say the cost of getting the tank up and running (albeit with high nitrates :x) is about $280. (Just a tip, I signed up for the free trial of amazon prime right when I started my tank and got free shipping on pretty much anything I ordered...definitely saved some $$. Just remember to cancel it before it automatically renews in 30 days.)

While it definitely requires a lot more monitoring and we have hit/are hitting some bumps along the way, IMO learning to care for a nano reef as your first Saltwater tank will make caring for the inevitable large tank purchase down the road a lot least in regards to water chemistry and fluctuations.

Good luck with your setup. I will continue to post about my experience here...feel free to reach out with any questions.
  • #21
Add the fuge it'll be a huge help to add chaeto to the tank!
  • #22
The LR will remove the N03 given a little time, it cannot do it instantly, as with all things it takes a little time to stabilise and settle itself down.

Even though the rock will remove the N03 you really need to find the source of it hence the testing of the new water.
  • Thread Starter
  • #23
My dad tested the water today with the salt mixed in and there were no trace of nitrates, so back to square one I guess.

Malcolm I don't know how familiar you are with the Fluval Spec V tank, but in order to have the overflow work properly, I plugged a small slit that comes in the lower half of the overflow box with a piece of sponge. Is there a chance that something that small can be the source of the nitrates?

Also, does anyone think I'd be able to get away with a smaller AC fuge mod? Seems like the 70 may be unnecessary (I am also limited with space behind the tank).
  • #24
How small is the foam ? I doubt it is that but you can never tell.

Is there any build-up of muck at the bottom of where the bio-balls went or in any of the other chambers ?

Are there any dead spots where muck has collected in the tank ?

Is there anything that has come in on the live rock and then died ?

There MUST be an N03 producer somewhere in there.
  • Thread Starter
  • #25
I would say no bigger than 1-1.5 sq in (squished into a smaller space).

I don't believe there is any real muck anywhere in tank itself (there is a little slI'm buildup on one of the rocks)...I'll do a more thorough search of the chambers this weekend. Also, there is a chance that there is die-off from the nearly purchased LR rubble, but that obviously wouldn't have been the cause of the already high nitrates.

Any thoughts on a fuge? Or is that essentially putting a band aid on a broken bone?
  • Thread Starter
  • #26
Hey Guys,

So its been about a month since my last post, and I just wanted to give an update.

The Bad:

The past 30 days has definitely been another learning experience for me in this hobby. I made an effort to do the Fluval HOB filter refugium mod using the Fluval 50. I read up on several posts of this mod and it seemed easy enough. I assembled everything and let the refugium dry for a week. I then added it to my system and IMMEDIATELY noticed a change in coral behavior. My duncan, which had been flourishing, closed did the zooanthids, blue xenia, and even my ricordia. I originally assumed the behavior was a result of increased water flow at a different angle in the tank, so I let it run for a few days to see if they would adjust.

Well a few days later there was no change, except that my blue xenia was gone...must have died off and been swept away, nowhere to be found. That was when I unplugged the refugium and had the system run normally, bypassing the filter (I hadn't even added chaeto at this point). I also did 20% water changes like 4 days straight.

Anyway, once the ricordia and zooanthid SLOWLY showed a little improvement, it hit me what I did (and these are words you never want to find yourself saying as an aquarist...I POISONED MY TANK!...I remember reading somewhere (more than 1 location) that silicone is silicone is silicone, and don't bother with the specific aquarium safe stuff as it is a marketing ploy to jack up prices. Well, I used silicone I had around the house, but I'm now 99% sure it was toxic in some way and was the cause for the sharp downward spiral my tank took.

The Good:

About 3-4 weeks later, and my tank is showing signs of improvement..finally. The ricordia looks like it pretty much back to where it was "before". The zooanthid, which had about 5-6 open polyps prior, has only 2 now, but at least they are open and look to be doing well enough. Nitrates, which have been a big problem for me, were most recently tests at about ~5ppm and I have copepods EVERYWHERE in this tank...I can't imagine there is anything toxic to be found anymore. Also, my hermit crab and astrea snail are doing very well.

The Curious:

As mentioned earlier (and seen in pics previously posted in this thread), my Duncan was doing very well in my tank "before". However, since the incident, it hasn't come out at all. My dad has chalked it up to being dead more than once, and to be honest, there have been times that I too have thought it was gone. That said, while it hasn't come out of its tube, I can see the coral move ever so slightly within the tube every once in a while, almost as though its getting ready to come out again. I don't think its dead, it just seems to be almost still in shock to what happened.

Anyone have any opinion on this? I'd like to think that if it was dead, it would be fairly obvious (I have lightly pushed water onto it using a turkey baster to see if it would disintegrate, but it just stood there).

In conclusion, I actually debated whether or not to post an update about this tank because I am so embarrassed that I could do something so stupid, especially when I take pride in my due diligence around this hobby. That said, this was just another learning experience for me...and if me writing this prevents 1 person from making the same mistake, than it was worth it.

Thanks for reading
  • #27
Generally non aquatic grade silicon sealant contains anti-fungal agents that are pretty bad news for anything aquatic so this will be what caused your problem, do some 20% water changes and add some carbon to the filter or in a high flow area and it should remove it.
The extra paid for aquarium safe silicon is not for what is in there but for what is NOT, after 24 hrs aquarium safe sealant is inert as far as potable water is concerned but non aq safe remains anti-fungal for many months.

As a reminder just think what oil you use in your car, do you go for the cheapest oil you can get or do you insist on something that will treat the engine well and give it a long life !!!
  • Thread Starter
  • #28
Yea I definitely won't make that mistake again.

What do you think about the Duncan, Malcolm? Think the carbon will bring him completely back?
  • #29
Possibly but in the world of corals nothing can be guaranteed, Maintain the best stability that you can and you will stand a chance.

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