Questions About Starting Saltwater Reef Tank Soon

abarb

I might be setting up a reef tank soon. What’s a good size that doesn’t need a sump but large enough to have a few small fish? Is it cheaper to mix water or buy water? My lfs sells saltwater for 99cents (us) per gallon. I’m thinking of buying this ro/dI system . I will probably do fowlr first then add some corals when the parameters are stable. Are there any cheaper lights that can grow soft corals and lps, or are they all $100+?
 

Lchi87

What an exciting prospect!

For a sump, I believe tank volume in the 50s is the tipping point. Definitely cheaper and easier to mix your own after the upfront investment of buying an RODI unit, salt, etc. The other perk is that you’re in control of your water and not at the mercy of someone else’s level of care. By no means am I saying that your lfs sells bad water, but mistakes and accidents do happen and I feel a lot safer making my own water at home.

Good choice going with a fowlr first! As for a good light for corals, I’m not the expert there and not too knowledgeable about all the different kinds out there but in my first year of sw keeping, I’ve learned that it pays to go with quality because you not only get a fantastic product, you also get amazing customer service. When my cobalt aquatics heater stopped working, they immediately sent me another one, no questions asked.
 

abarb

I think I will use a fluval heater either 100 watt or 150 watt since I have some old ones. What brand of filter should I use?
 

Jesterrace

I would agree that once you get into a 4 foot long or longer tank (ie 55 gallon) then you really do want a drilled tank with a sump. A popular choice for newbies looking to keep it relatively inexpensive is a 20 Long FOWLR. With FOWLR a cheap basic LED will do the job (white and blue mix is favored for the look though). A 30 inch White/Blue LED mix can be had for $30-$50. It might be able to handle some softies but it will be hit and miss with which ones do well and which ones die. If you have any thoughts about LPS then yes you will be just over $100 for the cheapest light that is full spectrum and good for coral growth (ie 165 watt Mars Aqua LED). You can't go cheap with coral lighting unless the tank is 10 gallons or less (and that will greatly limit your options for fish). With a 20 Long you can handle 3-4 smaller fish and could go with any of the following:

1 or 2 ocellaris or percula clownfish
Royal Gramma Basslet
Cardinalfish
Smaller Gobies
Smaller Blennies
Firefish
Possum or Pygmy Wrasse

Probably the biggest sumpless option that I would recommend would be a 40 gallon breeder. It would give you a really nice tank and allow more fish and a few extra stocking options (ie Flasher Wrasse, Cherubfish aka Pygmy Angel). Just remember that longer tanks require more lighting, rock, and filtration. The advantage with the 40 breeder is that you will be more likely to be content with it long term and it will give you more stable water parameters which make it more forgiving for newbie mistakes.

As for the tank heater, I strongly caution against using a used tank heater for several reasons:

1) While many tank heaters are suitable for freshwater or marine environments, some are not. I don't recommend using a tank heater unless it specifically states it is for use in both freshwater or marine tanks. Aqueon makes a line of fixed temp tank heaters that are definitely not suited for saltwater long term. They have an enamel type coating that flakes off in saltwater (happened to me on my first saltwater tank), so for this reason I recommend verifying things

2) It's not uncommon for tank heaters to fail and when they do it's hundreds of dollars flushed down the drain for you in a saltwater tank. A used one is by nature more prone to this happening since it has had more wear and tear

3) a brand new tank heater of that size runs about $20-$25. In otherwords it's such a comparably small investment that it simply isn't worth skimping on it when you weigh the whole risk/reward factor.
 

abarb

I can buy a new heater. I guess I will buy a 20 long since I don’t have space for a 40 gallon tank. I just have a table that can fit two 20 long tanks or two 29 gallon tanks. I think I will do 2 ocellaris clownfish and a royal gramma because my lfs almost always has them in stock. I don’t know what to do for the other fish though. Is there one that eats algae?
 

Jesterrace

Tailspot blennies eat algae and would be a good choice for a 20 long. I would wait to add it until algae starts growing in your tank.
 

Katie13

I got my reef light on sale for $70. It's generally a $150 light. Look out for sales!
 

Jesterrace

Lawnmowers are not a good fit for a smaller tank and tend to get big and grumpy as they mature. You also have to supplement algae feedings for them. Most people recommend the starry blenny over the lawnmower as they perform a similar service but aren't as delicate, but once again too big for your tank.
 

abarb

So 2 ocellaris, 1 royal gramma, 1 tailspot blenny. Can I have any other fish or would it be fully stocked?

What about the clean up crew? Can I have a cleaner shrimp and blue hermit crabs? Also, which specie(s) of snails and how many should I have?
 

Jesterrace

You would be fully stocked at that point. I wouldn't do any more than 4 fish in a tank of that size.
 

stella1979

Sure, you can have a cleaner shrimp... errmm, but they are for cleaning the fish, so aren't generally considered clean up crew, (cuc). A good cuc will eat algae and detritus in your aquarium.... but the cleaner shrimp looks pretty cool and still performs a service, so why not? I'll have to answer my own question there. I didn't get one because the average cleaner shrimp gets pretty darn big and I have the feeling he'd look a bit disproportional in our 20 gallon long reef.

Yes to the blue hermits. Just be sure that you get reef safe blue hermits. I am unfamiliar with species names but there are blues that are safe, and those that aren't. Generally, unsafe guys can be spotted because their legs look a bit furry. If you are going FOWLR in preparation for corals someday, well, it's just best to stick with reef safe critters from the beginning. Then you don't have to catch anyone later, (catching quick fish and tiny cuc members can be a daunting task.)

I definitely recommend Trochus snails. They'll make quick work of diatoms, (which most tanks encounter quite early on) and other types of film algae. They're known as one of the best algae eating snails and one of their best qualities is being able to right themselves if they fall upsidedown... lots of other snails can't and in these cases, the aquarist must remain vigilant, or stuck overturned snails will fall victI'm to easy predation or simply starvation Turbo snails are great algae eaters too but they are absolute bulldozers and we don't like that for reef tanks in which they'd knock corals loose.
 

abarb

Is there any other shrimp that is a better choice? The hermit crab is this one. Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crab - Tiny How many trochus snails?

Can I have dwarf yellow tip hermit crabs?
What species of shrimp can I have besides cleaner shrimp?
When algae starts to grow I'll buy around 5 trochus snails and if there is still algae I'll buy some more.
 

Jesterrace

FYI blues tend to be more opportunistic feeders and a bit more likely to cause trouble with fish and inverts. I would go with just a few of the dwarf red hermits as they tend to stick to more of getting the job done. As for shrimp a cleaner shrimp will actually perform the work of a clean up crew member. Mine would definitely eat extra food bits around the rockwork and would help eat dead snails, etc. That said I agree it would be tough to keep a cleaner shrimp well fed in a 20 gallon. A smaller shrimp would be better suited to that size tank. As for trochus, the general rule is one per gallon but I would ensure algae is growing in your tank before you put that many in.

Still seems a bit like a blue to me, but it wouldn't hurt to try a couple. As for shrimp, you could try a pistol shrimp, although they generally do best when they are paired with a sand burrowing goby. A unique addition would be a Harlequin Shrimp, although they generally require a bit more care:
 

abarb

Is there any sand burrowing goby I could have instead of one of the other fish? Could I have another species of fish if I only had 1 clownfish?
 

Jesterrace

Yes you could if you just had a single clownfish. If I had to give up a single fish, I would probably give up the tailspot blenny. It won't be as visible as other fish and it's algae eating capabilities could be replaced by other inverts.
 

abarb

I think there are red banded pistol shrimp at my lfs. Which goby would you recommend?

On live aquaria it says yellow prawn goby needs 30 gallons. I will probably have a 20 long. Maybe I will replace the clowns with something else. Kind of boring and overrated.
 

Jesterrace

I think there are red banded pistol shrimp at my lfs. Which goby would you recommend?

Honestly any of the burrowing ones I listed in my previous posts would be great choices. My wife and I are seriously considering the Tangora due to it's beautiful spots, but the Yellow Prawn Goby with it's comical frown face would be a close second.

On live aquaria it says yellow prawn goby needs 30 gallons. I will probably have a 20 long. Maybe I will replace the clowns with something else. Kind of boring and overrated.

It gives me courage to see that I am not the only one who feels that way about clownfish. I get that from a smaller tank/bang for buck perspective that Clowns offer a fair bit, but they are also the "dime a dozen" or "Everyone and their Dog has one" fish of the hobby. I had a snowflake occ in my old tank for a few weeks and it was a complete jerk. I miss the always there visibility that they can offer, but beyond that I would rather save my room for fish that not everyone has. One of the alternatives to the Clownfish if you want something similar to the shape and behavior of clowns (not nearly as aggressive or territorial), yet more unique would be the Clown Gobies:



Being a Wrasse guy, I feel the need to make my oblagatory plug for them:
 

abarb

I like wrasses but they are a bit expensive. Can I have one of the sand burrowing gobies, a clown goby, a royal gramma, and possibly a pink streaked wrasse?
 

Jesterrace

Yes, all 4 of them will work as the Clown Goby and Sand Burrowing Goby are pretty different from each other.
 

abarb

Are there any other inverts I can have besides hermits, pistol shrimp, and trochus snails? How much sand do I need for the pistol shrimp and sand burrowing goby?
 

Jesterrace

A sand bed 2-3 inches deep would be plenty. As for other inverts I would just stick to those for a 20 Long other than maybe a single fighting or tiger conch snail to help keep the sand clean.
 

abarb

I’ll have to see if any of my lfs has those conchs. I think one of them does but I am not sure. I can buy 30 pounds of live sand for about $20. Do I need to rinse the sand?

Which wave maker/powerhead is a good brand? Is a 500 gallon per hour one enough with an aquaclear 70?
 

Jesterrace

With most substrate I would, but with Live Sand it should be fine as is.

Trying to remember are you doing FOWLR or Corals? 2 200 gph would be okay for fish only, but woefully inadequate for corals.
 

abarb

I’m going to do fowlr first then reef when the tank is stable. Is a 1100 gph or 2200 gph wave maker enough for corals?

The reason I asked is because the 2200 gph is only $2 more than the 1100 gph. What about 1600 gph?
 

Jesterrace

I would say the 1100 would be fine for a 20 gallon long for corals. 2200gph would be an underwater hurricane in a tank that size.

1600 would be pretty strong for a shallow tank like that. The issue is not only flow for fish but if you get a powerhead that is too strong it will start blowing sand, which isn't fun (creates a sand storm in your tank).
 

abarb

The flow rate is adjustable. I’m not sure what the lowest setting is.
 

Jesterrace

Interesting, that's the cheapest powerhead I have seen with a magnetic backing. I might have to try one in the future.
 

abarb

Any recommendation for a heater? Eheim jager?

What size tank do I need for a qt? Do I need to qt the first fish I add since it will be the only fish? Can I add more than 1 fish at a time?
 

Jesterrace

Ehiem Jagers are great. As for qt, you could do s 10 gallon given the size of the display tank.
 

abarb

Do I need to qt for 1 month? Can I first get the pistol shrimp and goby to the display tank without qt (since the goby would be the only fish) so I don’t have to use sand in the qt?
 

Jesterrace

Ideally it should be a couple of months at least in qt to give any parasites time to manifest themselves. I definitely wouldn't simply stick the first fish in the display tank without qt first. If it has disease it can drop it's eggs in your sandbed and you have to go 3 months or more without fish inyour display tank or newer fish can be reinfected even if they go through QT. You are correct to go bare bottom with QT since a sandbed will only trap medications, parasite eggs, etc.
 

abarb

So the sand burrowing goby is ok without sand for qt? Is 2 or 3 months enough?
 

Jesterrace

Should be. Worst case scenario you can get a disposable plastic food container (ie ziploc) and put a bit of argonite sand in there. That way the goby has access to sand and you can easily dispose of it once the QT is done. 2-3 months should be fine. Ich can stay dormant for a while but should manifest itself in some form during that time period if it is present.
 

abarb

How do I keep the display tank cycled while the fish are in qt?
 

Jesterrace

Some inverts in there should work. Hermit Crabs will produce a bit of nitrates and with light feeding it should keep the tank balanced while you wait to add fish.
 

abarb

What brand of food should I feed the fish and inverts? Can I feed them HikarI frozen food?
 

Jesterrace

LRS Reef Frenzy is arguably the best food for you tank for everything involved. I have tried a wide range of food and all of them left the water and filter visibly dirtier than LRS Reef Frenzy does. You get a wide variety diet in one food source:

 

abarb

Should I soak the food before adding it to the tank? Should I make an overhead sump?
 

Jesterrace

For a 20 Long, I would definitely go sumpless. Don't get me wrong Sumps are great on larger tanks but on smaller tanks the benefit is generally marginal unless you are willing to match the size of your 20 Long or go bigger than your 20 Long. Furthermore it adds a needless degree of cost and complexity to a tank that will be fine without one. As for the overhead sump, I would never do one unless it was on a tank that required one and I had no option for doing a sump in a stand underneath my tank. It's much easier for topping off RODI water in a sump under a tank (be it manual or ATO), easier to work on and clean equipment and change filter socks if the sump is underneath the main tank. Furthermore to me it's somewhat unnatural as your sump basically has to fight gravity for the drainage portion of it. Either way, go sumpless and keep this 20 Long as simple as possible. The more equipment you put into it the more money you waste if you upgrade (which is very likely) as very little of the equipment used for a 20 Long will transfer to a significant sized upgrade.

As for soaking the food, I don't really do it as the longer the food spends in the water (unless you are soaking it in garlic) it tends to become less appealing to fish and you don't get any real benefit from it. What I do is use a small disposable plastic cup and take just a little bit of water from my tank, then drop in a pre-chopped bit of food (ideally between 1/8 and 1/4 inch would be plenty for 3-4 fish) and mash it up with a turkey baster, then dump it in and make sure that any residue is cleaned out of the cup. That's it.
 

abarb

Do I need to make a hang on back filter refugium for chaeto algae when I get corals?
 

Jesterrace

Do I need to make a hang on back filter refugium for chaeto algae when I get corals?

You don't have to do one, although it could be helpful if you want macro algae benefits. Some people just use that in their regular HOB filter and use filter floss in there and put a small light on it to grow some Chaeto. I think Stella is setup that way on her 20 Long, so ask her.
 

abarb

stella1979 ?
 

abarb

What order should I buy the fish in? Can I only buy another one after the first is done with qt?
 

Jesterrace

For any fish except the Royal Gramma, I would say it doesn't really matter as they are all pretty peaceful. The Royal Gramma tends to be a bit more assertive, so I would add it last. As for the QT, I would definitely drain it and clean it out between fish just as a precaution. It will ensure that any potential parasites don't make it.
 

abarb

Is this stocking ok
pink streaked wrasse, clown goby, tangaroa or orange spotted goby, royal gramma. Can I buy 2 of the fish at the same time?
 

Jesterrace

Stock list is fine. You could add 2 fish at the same time but it does somewhat increase the risk of infection in QT with 2 fish in QT at the same time.
 

abarb

Which one is most likely to have disease? Are they all wildcaught?
 

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