Saltwater learning curve - what you wish you'd known?

SM1199

In my boredom, I've decided to start up a saltwater tank. Well, next year. hilarious I will be moving late next summer and it's the excuse I need to force myself to wait and not be impulsive. I figure this way I can give myself every chance I need to learn without pressure before I get to the real deal.

I'm quite familiar with freshwater planted tanks, testing parameters, balancing stock, etc. I have not dipped my toes into high tech setups. Once I get started in saltwater, I would love to eventually get into keeping corals but I know I am nowhere near ready to do that right now.

So tell me, what did you learn in saltwater that you wish you would have known before you started? Throw everything you can at me. Feel free to write long posts about anything. Refugiums, filter types, parameters you test for, hardscape placement, macro algae, your favorite fish and inverts and corals and salts and biological media and rocks. I have a whole year to absorb it all!
 

MrBryan723

Get your live rock from a reputable place and make extra sure it isn't carrying any unwanted hitchhikers. If you use bad live rock, you're gonna have a bad time.
 
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SM1199

Get your live rock from a reputable place and make extra sure it isn't carrying any unwanted hitchhikers. If you use bad live rock, you're gonna have a bad time.
Would you discourage starting with dry rock? Do the benefits of good live rock outweigh the risk of bad live rock? I've read live helps cycle a bit faster and creates more stability (especially algae?) down the road but am unsure of the benefits beyond that.
 
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MrBryan723

Would you discourage starting with dry rock? Do the benefits of good live rock outweigh the risk of bad live rock? I've read live helps cycle a bit faster and creates more stability (especially algae?) down the road but am unsure of the benefits beyond that.
I think you can use dry rock with live sand. But the denitrafying bacteria that live deep in the live rock needs to be seeded with something. It's not like the others that will just appear in a tank from the air.
I would use live rock and do a fishless cycle and keep a close eye out for hitchhikers. Most of them aren't really fish harmful but will wreak havoc on corals and such.
 
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Jesterrace

Would you discourage starting with dry rock? Do the benefits of good live rock outweigh the risk of bad live rock? I've read live helps cycle a bit faster and creates more stability (especially algae?) down the road but am unsure of the benefits beyond that.

Dry Rock is perfectly fine and cheaper and becoming more and more popular these days. The trick with Dry Rock is to make sure you cure it properly before use (ie scrub down well, rinse and make sure all the excess dead matter is gone).

As for things to learn, I would first recommend learning the differences between freshwater and saltwater. There are actually a fair number of "bad habits" that need to be shed before converting over. This vid does a good job of addressing the common newbie mistakes folks make when converting over:

 
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SM1199

Does a standard 29 gallon seem like a solid place to start? What would be your ideal equipment setup for a tank of that size?
 
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mimo91088

29 will work but 40B is better if you can swing it. As for dry rock, I personally don't like it. Most hitchhikers aren't harmful. Some are, address them if you get unlucky. But with dry rock you don't get the good hitchhikers like bristle worms, pods, brittle stars etc that clean out all the tiny nooks and crannies in your rock.

As for a random thing I wish I knew: Some corals are bulletproof. I waited months to add coral to my tank under the impression all corals were super sensitive and would die at the drop of a hat. But stuff like mushrooms and zoas can live through practically anything. Dude on my old reef forum legit forgot some zoas in a 5 gallon bucket in his shed for a week and they were fine lol.
 
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SM1199

29 will work but 40B is better if you can swing it.
Is it better just because of more stable parameters and increased stocking space? Any other reasons?

I have to admit, I really prefer smaller tanks. I had a 55 gallon freshwater for a while and I just didn't enjoy it nearly as much as my smaller tanks. I got sick of the larger water changes, struggling to make the space appear full, and my 5'2" self not being able to reach the bottom of the tank even with my whole arm submerged! I absolutely love my 10 gallon. A 25% water change takes just a couple minutes and only one bucket haul. The space is so much easier to fill with hardscape and plants and to maintain. I figured a 29 would be a nice in-between where I have some extra volume for parameters and stock but it's not so big that I find it difficult to maintain.
 
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mimo91088

Is it better just because of more stable parameters and increased stocking space? Any other reasons?

I have to admit, I really prefer smaller tanks. I had a 55 gallon freshwater for a while and I just didn't enjoy it nearly as much as my smaller tanks. I got sick of the larger water changes, struggling to make the space appear full, and my 5'2" self not being able to reach the bottom of the tank even with my whole arm submerged! I absolutely love my 10 gallon. A 25% water change takes just a couple minutes and only one bucket haul. The space is so much easier to fill with hardscape and plants and to maintain. I figured a 29 would be a nice in-between where I have some extra volume for parameters and stock but it's not so big that I find it difficult to maintain.
Yea there's nothing wrong with the 29 at all if that's you're preference. My main reason I like the 40 isn't so much the extra stability (which does help, but not 100% needed, I've kept saltwater tanks as small as 10 gallon). For me I just find it much easier to arrange a scape with big old chunks of live rock in that wider footprint.
 
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SM1199

What tends to be the general consensus on the best saltwater test kit when intending to keep corals?
 
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MrBryan723

What tends to be the general consensus on the best saltwater test kit when intending to keep corals?
Fluval??
Really there isn't one like that here. The API saltwater kit is about the same.
As a saltwater keeper your main focus needs to be on nitrates and carbon/calcium. And specific gravity obviously.
I'm a very patient man so I say add a little and watch it do a lot. TAKE TIME.
You can do darn near anything with time. Use it to your advantage.
The 40 breeder is huguely better than either a 29 or 55 for your goals.
 
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mimo91088

I used API. There's another one that's supposed to be better though. I forget if it's salifert or redsea
 
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SM1199

I'm a very patient man so I say add a little and watch it do a lot. TAKE TIME.
You can do darn near anything with time. Use it to your advantage.
That's what I intend to do. I'm quite a busy person so I have plenty to keep me occupied during waiting periods! Beyond initial setup, I plan to give it a good while to cycle, maybe add a clownfish or two, let that sit for a month or so... Maybe get a refugium going... Then let that sit for a month or so...

I know there is some overlap between the functionalities of HOB filters, canister filters, sumps, refugiums, and skimmers. What is your preferred combination? I have seen some people with a refugium and skimmer and no filter. Some people with a canister filter and no skimmer. Some people with a little bit of everything. And then of course powerheads. Unlike freshwater where most people just stick on an HOB, equipment setup seems very personalized in saltwater, from what I can tell. But it serves as part of the foundation of the tank so I'd like to have a solid plan before starting.
 
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mimo91088

Most guys use a sump in reef tanks. Put your skimmer and heater and such down there out of sight. Can grow macroalgae for nutrients removal in it too.
 
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SM1199

Most guys use a sump in reef tanks. Put your skimmer and heater and such down there out of sight. Can grow macroalgae for nutrients removal in it too.
Are sumps still worth it in a tank that is not drilled?
 
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MrBryan723

I think so. It's pretty easy to make a "hob" style sump with some notched PVC you can paint any color you like.
A sump, protine skimmer, and small hob filter are my go to items. The refugium can be included in the sump. The hob is for emergencies so I always have cycled media in case I need to set up a hospital tank.
 
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kanzekatores

Are sumps still worth it in a tank that is not drilled?
It adds quite a bit to the budget to need an overflow box and return pump; the cost is what swung me towards not doing a sump. They’re a very useful thing to have, but add quite a bit to the cost.

My advice is to start slow. I started with nothing but a clownfish pair for months, and they are doing great as I transition into adding more fish and inverts. Just don’t jump into this too quickly
 
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SM1199

Thanks for the input, everyone.
What are people's thoughts on internal sumps? It seems like an attractive, all-in-one kind of option to my inexperienced eyes.
What I've been trying to ask is, if you were to set up a tank for a beginner, what baseline equipment would you set it up with? Nothing with a lot of frills. Simple enough for a beginner to understand, maintain, and afford.
 
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Jesterrace

Thanks for the input, everyone.
What are people's thoughts on internal sumps? It seems like an attractive, all-in-one kind of option to my inexperienced eyes.
What I've been trying to ask is, if you were to set up a tank for a beginner, what baseline equipment would you set it up with? Nothing with a lot of frills. Simple enough for a beginner to understand, maintain, and afford.

In your case it might be best to start with an all in one setup as it does take most of the mechanical guesswork out of the equation for you and gives you a rear sump compartment chamber built in. If you plan on keeping the setup long term I would look at investing in a Waterbox, IM Nuvo Fusion or JBJ setup. If you want just something to get you by for the short term to learn and then upgrade to another setup in the future then a Biocube would be a good choice as it also comes with lights (really only good for Softies and easier LPS Corals though).

Here is a link to the Biocube:

Robot Check

An example of a Waterbox:

Cube 20 Starphire Ultra Clear 20 Gallon Aquarium - Waterbox Aquariums - Marine Depot
 
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Katie993

I don't have any saltwater experience. Actually trying to get the stuff together for our first tank. The original plan for our first tank was a canister filter because of the cost. I've been watching facebook marketplace and the Band app for tanks for my freshwater breeding projects. I've ran across TONS of sump equipment VERY cheap in my area. Might be an option if you don't want to spend full price. I think I've got most of my expensive equipment for our tank and we've spent less than $250.
 
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Jesterrace

I don't have any saltwater experience. Actually trying to get the stuff together for our first tank. The original plan for our first tank was a canister filter because of the cost. I've been watching facebook marketplace and the Band app for tanks for my freshwater breeding projects. I've ran across TONS of sump equipment VERY cheap in my area. Might be an option if you don't want to spend full price. I think I've got most of my expensive equipment for our tank and we've spent less than $250.

Agreed. Used Reef Ready Setups or equipment can save tons of money and hassle.
 
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