Starting a SW System - Part 1 - Where to start your Research Hi everyone, So having recently setup my Reef tank, I've taken some time to reflect on my experiences, what I learnt, how did I do it etc. So I thought I'd take some time to share the experience, and maybe impart some 'wisdom' so to speak. In what I hope will be the first of a few little guides for our community, I hope to be able to take you through some of the topics and things that they don't tell you. A bit of warning - this is not intended to answer every topic, just to guide or prod the reader to further readings. There are many books and internet sites out there that discuss this in detail. Introduction Upon reflection, it's easy to sit back and say "that wasn't nearly as bad as I thought". But in reality it was a struggle, the journey started in January 2011, with the dream of a reef, and thus began my research. We've all heard the advice "Research, research and then do a little more research", and we've been given the Beginner Guide links etc. Most will have been told to decide what system you want (FO/FOWLR/Reef) and research those setups. But if one hasn't done any research, how do you know what type of system might interest you. For those interested in SW, it's a common theme, and often a deterring factor is the Research... Why? Well I feel it is because very few will tell you where to start :;dk It leaves the hobbyist in a bind, reading beginner guides is easy, but it still doesn't really tell you what you want to know. So where do you start? That's easy, at the beginning of course The beginning - The Reefs of the World Appreciate the Scale of your project The very first concept any hobbyist needs to get their head around is that of the natural reefs, and develop an appreciation of the scale of the project and the environment we try to replicate. If we take the Great Barrier Reef (located off the North East Coast of Australia) as our example, the enormity of this natural wonder of the world is mind-boggling. At approximately 2000kms in length (1200 miles) and many kilometres wide, the GBR is simply one of the biggest natural aquatic eco-systems in the world, covering an area estimated to be 344,400 square kilometres, or 133,000 square miles The whole eco-system is self-sustaining, it endures tropical cyclones/storms, commercial shipping routes and commercial fishing, yet this beautiful eco-system keeps on going. 2000kms of natural wonder - and we want to take some of it and put it in a 1m (3ft) glass box, or even smaller. Keep in mind that most of the specimens we keep in our small boxes are hand-caught off the reefs, and shipped all over the world [yes Finding Nemo is frighteningly representative of the SW trade] Is the "go as big as you can" concept starting to make sense now? Whilst I recommend reading about some of the world's reefs, it's not important to know everyone of them, but you must take the time to appreciate the scale of the project. To completely understand a reef is near on impossible - there is so much that happens out there that science still doesn't have all the answers. What makes a Reef Next on the list, is understanding the construction of the reef environment. Our reefs are thousands of years old, they have developed over-time. Predominantly formed by dead-corals building up, and allowing more corals to grow on top, and then they die, and so-on and so-forth. And here's the next comment "Nothing good happens fast in SW". If it took thousands of years to create it, how can we possibly expect to recreate 'overnight' so to speak :;sh The reef environment is a complex accumulation of a complete life-cycle. It's a dog-eat-dog world on the reef (so to speak). The reef cleans itself, replenishes itself, feeds itself, and thus is the circle-of-life. In addition to the foundations, each and every animal on the reef has a purpose. Shrimp, snails, abalone, sea cucumbers all play their part in keeping the reef clean. Some shrimp even have a dual purpose, notably the Skunk cleaner which will also clean other fish of parasites etc. Certain species of fish feed on inverts like shrimp, others feed on corals, others the algae that grows, and some are carnivores. So why does this matter to me? Well enter the concept of Live Rock (more on this later) as a foundation for a SW setup (FOWLR or Reef). The live rock as we call it, not only makes a perfect base to build your SW system around, it has the added advantage of being an extremely good biological filter (there's plenty of topics on the net that explains this, and maybe I'll discuss it more detail later when we get to filtration) If we are to replicate a natural environment, it makes sense to use what Mother Nature uses...... doesn't it? Next is the fish and inverts - understanding the role the fish, corals and inverts etc play in the reef helps us to determine what we want in our system. I'll split the rest by phases, it may be easier to follow.