New 20 gallon saltwater tank

Discussion in 'Saltwater Beginners' started by Kamie427, Dec 5, 2009.

  1. Kamie427Valued MemberMember

    Hi, I just started a saltwater tank a few days ago. I'm 21 years old and a full time college student, and I can't afford a I started a 20 gallon. I know I should go bigger, but I have a tiny apartment, tiny budget, and tiny amounts of that's that. My dad always had an amazing saltwater tank while I was growing up and my friend is a saltwater buff and has a cool 75 gallon tank, so he encouraged me to set one up (really he set it up).

    SO. As of right now I bought a 20 gallon tank from his friend that is just a standard tank with a standard light, filter, and heater. I bought a second filter that's a lot better and made the water much more clear (a power filter penguin 100) All else I've bought so far is live sand, 1 piece of 2lb live rock, two damsels, and two little crabs. My friend lives in the apartment below me so he brought up water from his tank and put it in mine so it has already got plenty of bacteria in it...I'd assume? Then my dad gave me some instant ocean, a hydrometer, and a few pieces of coral he had left over from his saltwater days.

    My intent for the tank would ideally be a reef tank someday...but that is going to be a very long process just buying small things as I get the money. So without proper lighting right now or a protein skimmer or much else... i just want some fish.

    I'm a beginner, so cut me slack...and don't hate me for saying what i'm about to say...but I'm really not going to do copious amounts of research to learn how to do this the right way...I'm too busy doing research for school. I'm using this small tank as a sort of learn as I go set and I just assumed to get small bits of information here from you all then do a little reading on what you say and go from there.

    My biggest dream is a cow fish...sadly I realize my tank is too small. But I do want a fish with personality. My damsels look pretty ... but they just remind me of stupid brainless goldfish. I LOVE animals, so think before you judge, but would it be cruel to buy a baby cowfish and keep him until he gets too big for my tank and then introduce him to my friends tank? I don't want to cause him too much stress because I know there's the possibility he'd poison all else in the tank.

    But i guess my main questions would be, what do i need right now? Tester kits? do i absolutely need a protein skimmer at this point in time? do i need chemicals? do i need a hose thing to clean it? I just need to know the basic tools to get before I go any further.

    I'm not trying to make this amazing on my budget, I'd rather put a ton of money into an expert bigger tank once I get the hang of everything. So please don't be too discouraging...
  2. ShadowbeamValued MemberMember

    I don't know much about Saltwater tanks, but I often prefer to get everything in advance so I know it's there when I need it.
    But I'm sure a more knowledgable member will be along soon to help out :) But I'd probably avoid getting the cowfish, seems like alot of stress for the fish.

    Even though you don't want to do loads of research I'd suggest doing some, it will be better for you and your fish in the long run
  3. Shawnie

    ShawnieFishlore LegendMember

    welcome to fishlore!!!!!!!!

    we have a few salty members and i hope they are able to help out!!! but I can say with this statement,

    ...."I'm a beginner, so cut me slack...and don't hate me for saying what i'm about to say...but I'm really not going to do copious amounts of research to learn how to do this the right way" ....

    that I hope things turn out ok!!!!! salties are tough for me and id not dare to attempt one without a ton of research...i do that now with freshwater fish because i cant stand to make a mistake where a fish pays for it...good luck tho!

  4. nemo addict

    nemo addictWell Known MemberMember

    Your friend hasnt gave you any good advice so far , i see from your stocking list you have 2 different types of damsels and this in a small tank can be a bit of a problem as damsels are pretty aggresive for there size , and will proberbly end up fighting ,

    without research you really are just wasting your money and causing the fish to have a poor exsistance , SW is a very unforgiving hobby , its not just you learning the hard way its also the fish you are keeping

  5. OP

    Kamie427Valued MemberMember

    Thus far my damsels have gotten along great. At least Christmas is coming, so i'll actually have some time to read up on the basics. But I'm an intelligent girl, and my dad was an expert saltwater fish keeper so i can always ask him...but he's more interested in what i learn. But I'm not going to go buy a $100 angel fish and just hope for the best. I'm going to stick to the cheap damsels for a bit.
  6. reefdude

    reefdudeValued MemberMember

    Hello Kamie427! With a 20 gal tank you may not need a protein skimmer, I will double check for you on that to be sure though. I would definitely advise getting test kits- ammonia,nitrite,nitrate,Ph for starters. With the corals you will want to get a calcium test kit and an alkalinity kit. If you're keeping corals you'll want to upgrade the lighting too. A lot of salties use damsels to help the cycle but, I don't care for them. A bit of a pain in the rear type of fish. There's a good bit of fish species you can get comfortably in a 20G, this site has a very good listing of SWF and their requirements. With Christmas around the corner you might ask Santa for some of these things!:;santaclaus Anyway, best of luck to you and if I can help you along the way just drop a line. (put up some pics when you can!):;rocker

    P.S. If the damsels are new to the tank they're both getting adjusted. Once they are they may begin to fight!
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 6, 2009
  7. sgouldWell Known MemberMember

    Welcome Kamie! If you are sticking with fish only at this point, you can do without a skimmer. But, the trade off is that you need to be more diligent about periodic water changes. So...yes, you would need a vac tube to change 15-20% of the water and clean the substrate with every week to 2 weeks. A liquid test kit is recommended as reefdude mentioned. As you are able, you might consider adding a bit more live rock, and a powerhead or 2 for improved circulation, which will help the live rock do it's thing, as well as prevent algae/cyno outbreaks due to areas of low water movement.
  8. OP

    Kamie427Valued MemberMember

    Okay, I'm getting great information!! Thank you for the help. So I went to the store today and compared prices and ideas and I have a few questions....
    As for the test kits..I saw a thirty dollar test kit that test nitrate, nitrite, pH, hardness, and ammonia for $30 at a pet store. This kit you collect the water and add drops. But there were test strips that test for the same stuff for $10. Does it make a difference if I get the strips or drops?
    Secondly, I'm planning on getting two power heads. So if I have a 20 gallon tank can I get two 10 gallon power heads to put on opposite sides or should I get two 20 gallon heads?
    Lastly, I know I'll need a special light that emits the different wave lengths for reef to thrive under, but can I just get a light bulb to fit my standard light? I've priced the single bulb reef light at my local pet store at $60. But I guess I don't understand why I couldn't just get a special light bulb.

    Oh also, what low cost/good quality protein skimmer would you all suggest for a 20 gallon? Thank you soooooooo much! I can tell already this is going to become an addiction for me. I'm spending way more time than I have reading up and walking the fish aisles. Special thanks to reefdude and sgould for being extra helpful!! I love this site already!
  9. iloveengl

    iloveenglWell Known MemberMember

    Hi Kamie :)

    I'm only able to answer your first question about liquid and strips. There is a definite difference in the quality between the two. The strips are unreliable and inaccurate and will cost you more within a few months than the liquid kit. It's a bunch of money up front, but totally worth it. Make sure you're getting the saltwater kit (not the freshwater one). :) The API Master Test Kit is the one commonly recommended on this site. Check the expiration date - this is really important because stores sometimes carry expired kits.
  10. harpua2002

    harpua2002Fishlore VIPMember

    +1 about liquid kits vs. test strips. There is a definite difference in quality.

    Unfortunately, a normal output flourescent light isn't going to be enough for corals no matter what bulb you put in it. I'd suggest power compacts at the least, and HO T5s would be even better. The lighting is going to be the most expensive part of your setup and if an upgrade is out of the budget right now, it's perfectly ok to start with just fish and live rock and upgrade later.

    I don't know if it will be of any help to you, but here is a link to the 20 gallon reef I used to have (I later upgraded to a 50 gallon with sump and skimmer).

    When this tank was set up it was pretty low tech. Lighting was 2x 65W PC 50/50 bulbs, and I didn't use a sump or skimmer. Even with the PCs I was able to keep some of the less demanding SPS corals (encrusting montipora and green birdsnest). Without a skimmer, I'd suggest weekly water changes (depending on your bioload of course). I used an Aquaclear 50 hang on filter with the media removed and added live rock rubble for extra bio filtration. In addition to the Aquaclear, I used 2 Koralia 1's for circulation. I like the Koralias and would highly recommend them.

    Welcome to FL! :)
  11. sgouldWell Known MemberMember

    I think you'll find that opinion on strips vs liquid tests to be pretty widespread...go with liquid as they are more reliable/accurate.

    Just building on what harpua said a bit...if you are planning to keep corals you are really talking about a reef tank, which means to be successful you are going to have to spend more money and more time on the tank. Upgraded lighting and a skimmer become much less optional for a reef setup, and neither are inexpensive. You can get a decent skimmer for around $100-150 depending on where you get it...I would be extremely skeptical of anything less than that. For lighting you will need to upgrade at least to power compacts, if not T5s. Like harpua said, the PCs will allow you some basic, lower light corals, but there are many other varieties out there that I would not suggest attempting without at least T5s. If cost is an issue, than I totally agree with this:

  12. reefdude

    reefdudeValued MemberMember

    Anytime Kamie427!:;nw
  13. lorabellWell Known MemberMember

    GREAT info!!!!!!! I just learned a ton from it myself!!!!!! And it can be done...especially with the help in here and some research....if u take your will b well worth it....making me think I may have to do an empty 20 like this also....I just did a SH was the first one I really took my time with and thankfully so far it has paid off and has been soooooooooooooo rewarding...good luck...If theres any way we could help just ask....Harpua...yours came out awesome!!!!!!
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2009
  14. OP

    Kamie427Valued MemberMember

    Okay, finals week is over and it's winter break so I'm back with more questions!!!!
    I have a friend who was getting rid of his reef tank and sold me some stuff for super super cheap. Currently in my tank I have: a few mushrooms, some long star polyp, hammer coral, and a couple small feather dusters. I also have maybe 10 snails, two crabs, and a coral beauty. (I don't have the damsels anymore, I got rid of them because they DID start causing trouble like many of you predicted).
    NOW, this guy has worked at fish stores since he was 16 and has his 30 gal reef tank and a 125 gallon saltwater tank. HE told me that in lieu of a protein skimmer I can buy those blocks of calcium and drop those in the tank as needed. That's all he did for his 30 gal reef tank and it was beautiful. SOOOO what do you guys think? I really shouldn't spend money on a protein that was music to my ears. I will eventually buy one....maybe when I graduate college and become ridiculously wealthy....but what do you think of this dropping calcium blocks in? (and obviously testing the calcium levels regularly).
    Also....I don't have a reef light. I'm hoping santa pulls through for me, but my friend did give me another regular old tank light and told me to just use mine combined with that and I shouldn't have a problem. So is that okay to do? I WILL be putting a little money away each month to get a light because that's my biggest worry.
    I mean, so far so good....but it has only been a few days! I'm learning so much about corals and I'm totally fascinated by it all!! So i REALLY don't want to mess up. So all of your input, negative and positive, is so valuable to me! I appreciate it immensely!
    Thank you!!!
  15. OP

    Kamie427Valued MemberMember

    Oh also, I forgot...I go to my local fish store a lot and the guy that runs it was appalled that I use tap water. I don't just throw it in wam bam....I use those drops that rid it of the chemicals, I mix the salt and filter it in a bucket over night....but he told me I should be buying reverse osmosis water. Really? I mean, I knew getting into this it wasn't going to be a cheap hobby.....but I've had many people tell me that tap water's fine and other people tell me i'm stupid for using tap water. I think he's using scare tactics so I will give his fabulous business more of my hard earned money....what do you guys do?
    And what's the purpose of an external water pump?
    I keep thinking of questions to add, because now that it's winter break I'm sitting here trying to understand lighting. I read the lighting page here on fishlore that broke everything down really well, but can someone explain to me the differences between actinic lights or 50/50 lights etc.?
    I know I should have 4-10 watts per gallon for my reef tank. I have 20 gallons so assuming I went with 5 watts per gallon I'd need a 100 watts....and I really love the look of blue I'm trying to look around online for a reef light with moonlights, but when I do that I get confused because I don't understand the different bulbs.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2009
  16. Meenu

    MeenuFishlore VIPMember

    welcome to fishlore, kamie! I totally understand being a student and not having tons of time to devote to research. I think between your dad and your friend, though, you've probably got a head start over most new salties. :) And even if you don't, at least you have a support system if things go wrong.

    the only thing I know about saltwater tanks is that I am jealous of every single person on the planet that has one. I just wanted to say welcome and to point out that just the fact that you are on this site and asking good questions shows that you are researching your hobby :)
  17. OP

    Kamie427Valued MemberMember

    Thank you for the welcome, Meenu! I've had this tank for a little over two weeks and already I've learned sooooo much! I'm loving every minute of this. My dad has told me numerous times, "having a saltwater tank is a lot like having a boat. The two best times you'll have with them are when you first get them and when you sell them." He's discouraged me from starting this hobby because he knows how difficult and frustrating it can be at times. It's only been a couple weeks, so luckily I haven't hit any bumps YET.... :)
  18. Meenu

    MeenuFishlore VIPMember

    you're welcome. the people on this site really care about fish and are good people. they have no other reason to dedicate their time to this website other than to be helpful.

    when you start out your post saying you won't devote time to reseaching your tank's proper care, you are sure to raise some hackles - not because of you but because the people here don't want to see fish hurt unnecessarily.

    in your case, is wasn't even true - you are researching the care of your fish, through your friend, dad, and us. you sold yourself short in your first post, in my opinion... a more accurate comment would have been "I'm a college student without tons of time to devote to research, but I am excited about this hobby. I have a good friend who is helping me, and my dad is experienced and available to help me as well. I'm going to do my best to keep a tank of healthy fish and research as necessary. So to start my research, I have a few questions. Can I use strips or is a liquid kit necessary? Can I wait to get a protein skimmer? etc..."

    Now I'm going to get off my soap box and kindly request photos of your tank so that I may privately seethe in jealousy. lol...
  19. rileyrk190

    rileyrk190Well Known MemberMember

    hi there, i just started my second attempt at a saltwater tank this summer and am a full time college student. I have had it up and running now for six months with only a few minor setbacks. Basically i spend about 20 minutes a week working on the tank if that..the more you do water changes the faster it gets. I actually just packed up my tank today to bring it home for break (three hour drive) and didnt have any casualties. Here is a link to my thread i started about it if you are looking for some ideas. My saddleback clown has so much personality it greets me now every time i walk by the tank and will nibble on my finger.

    Also, have noticed that i tend to have algae outbreaks when i use tap water. I have been using distilled water to top off my tank and it has been quite successful although a real pain to recycle all those water jugs! I also dont have a protein skimmer, just a regular overhang filter with chemi-pure in it which really cleared up the water.
    hope this helps!
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2009
  20. ATP

    ATPWell Known MemberMember

    Yes, you should use an RO/DI (reverse ormosis) water. Although you have removed the chemicals in tap water, the worrying part is that it contains a lot of nitrates. Tap water usually causes numerous kinds of algae. GHA, diatoms, and mainly red slime. Even if you have a skimmer and you use tap water, it could still lead to bad nuisance algae problems. High nitrate levels could all so affect your tank inhabitants. Especially corals

    External pump: Used for big skimmer and return pumps.

    The calcium drop thing and the skimmer is totally different. The calcium buffer it to increase calcium and the protein skimmer is to remove nutrients. A skimmer would help a lot with corals and make things a lot easier.

    You should upgrade your lights. Don't know how long the corals could survive with insufficient lighting.

    Last edited: Dec 19, 2009

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