Tips and ideas for a beginner?

Apatheia
Member
I’ve been in the freshwater hobby for some time now, and despite only a relatively short time I’ve got plenty of experience with aquariums and know all the basics.
Recently I’ve been wanting to give myself a challenge and hop into the saltwater community. I currently have an open 20G long. Yes, I’m very aware that a smaller tank is higher maintenance and less stocking but I much prefer constant small work as I like my nano tanks. I know the basics to a degree and just need the supplies to get ‘er filled and cycled. Now, any tips and tricks? What’s some advice to save me in the longrun? And what are some stocking ideas?
 
Jesterrace
Member
Apatheia said:
I’ve been in the freshwater hobby for some time now, and despite only a relatively short time I’ve got plenty of experience with aquariums and know all the basics.
Recently I’ve been wanting to give myself a challenge and hop into the saltwater community. I currently have an open 20G long. Yes, I’m very aware that a smaller tank is higher maintenance and less stocking but I much prefer constant small work as I like my nano tanks. I know the basics to a degree and just need the supplies to get ‘er filled and cycled. Now, any tips and tricks? What’s some advice to save me in the longrun? And what are some stocking ideas?
The 20 Long is arguably the best small footprint tank you can go with for saltwater and usually the smallest tank I recommend, so good choice on that.

Here are my recommendations

1) Regardless of which route you go (ie Fish Only, Corals) I strongly recommend an RODI Water System or reliable RODI Water Source (ie LFS). Even in Fish Only tanks Treated Tap is very prone to causing you struggles with unwanted algae (ie Green Hair Algae, Red Slime Algae aka Cyanobacteria).

2) An Auto top off system will help make things easier for you especially on a smaller tank. Keep in mind that water evaporates but salt doesn't, so you need to top up with fresh RODI water between water changes to keep salinity levels balanced.

3) As long as you stay on top of water changes, keep your bioload relatively light (ie no more than 3 fish) and are careful not to overfeed (ie no more than the fish can eat in 2-3 minutes) then you should be fine without a protein skimmer. There are a few HOB Skimmers that are worth the money but they are spendy and honestly not really worth it on a smaller tank with a lighter bioload.

4) To go along with the above a clean food source goes a long way to helping you maintain the tank. Also having a diverse food source will help keep your fish, corals, inverts all healthy. After experimenting with numerous types of food (both dry and frozen) I have found that frozen LRS Reef Frenzy was by far the best bang for buck (unless you are making your own fish food from scratch). It has a wide variety of things that it offers in one food source and also doesn't use cheap fillers like many of the others do. I actually did a comparison when I had my skimmerless 36 gallon bowfront and there was a visible difference in the appearance of the water at the end of the week between when I fed nothing but reef frenzy and when I fed nothing but other types of food. The water was visibly cleaner at the end of the week with Reef Frenzy.

Here is some more info on it if you are interested:

5) HOB Filters are the best option for a smaller tank like that. Particularly those with an open platform for easy maintenance (ie Fluval/Aquaclear) or Seachem Tidal. Canister filters tend to be more trouble prone on saltwater tanks. Not saying it can't be done, just saying that you will have less hassle in the long run with HOB on a smaller tank.

6) Powerheads not Bubblers should be used for underwater current in a marine tank and is a crucial part to a healthy tank. Make sure that above all you get one that is magnetic backed as the suction cup ones wear out quickly in saltwater and the last thing you want is a powerhead breaking loose and spraying saltwater in every direction. The magnetic backed powerheads keep them firmly in place regardless.

7) Don't go super cheap on lighting if you plan on coral, anemones, etc. If you want a light that will cover those plan on spending at least $130-$140 for that tank (ie Viparspectra 165 watt LED reef light). If you are doing Fish Only though any LED light bar will do.

8) in terms of stocking I would say no more than 4 fish MAX (and that would be a heavy bioload, 3 would be better). I would say any of the following would be good choices for that tank:

Ocellaris (ie Nemo) or Percula variety Clownfish
Cardinalfish
Smaller Gobies (ie Yellow Watchman, Court Jester Goby, Clown Goby)
Small Blennies (ie Tailspot, Barnacle)
Royal Gramma Basslet
Possum or Pink Streaked Wrasse (Pink Streaked is more likely to be visible and provide pest removal services)

Fish that many people are drawn to due to cost and color but should be avoided for your tank:

Damsels of any kind (barring the Clownfish mentioned)-not good community fish
Dottybacks of any kind (Sometimes the Orchid is okay but still a gamble)-not good community fish
Lined Wrasses (ie 6 lined, 4 lined) they rank high on the list of fish people regret adding to their tanks due to not playing nice with other fish in the community.
Mandarinfish/Dragonets-Very difficult to keep fed and not newbie friendly or well suited to a small tank in most cases.

9) Inverts that would be good for the tank

Small Red Legged Hermit Crabs-Eat excess fish food and waste and don't bother much beyond the occasional snail
Trochus Snails. More expensive but great all around cleaners and can flip themselves over unlike many other snails
Nassarius Snails- Great for cleaning the sand bed if you have one, it will take several of them for your tank though
Conch Snail-A bit of a stretch for your tank but a smaller single one could work for that tank. They clean the sand bed like no other snail available in the hobby (takes about 5-10 Nassarius to match what one conch does). Definitely no more than 1 for your tank though. They are arguably the most entertaining snails to watch.
Smaller Shrimp-ie Pistol Shrimp paired with Watchman Goby, Sexy Shrimp
Cleaner Shrimp-I would have this as the only shrimp in the tank though as they won't get enough to eat/clean otherwise.
Soft Corals and easier to keep LPS (Large Polyp Stony) Corals.
Bubble Tip Anemone-ONLY AFTER THE TANK IS WELL ESTABLISHED AND ONLY IF YOU ARE DEAD SET ON HAVING ONE. There are some drawbacks to them.

10) Inverts to be avoided for your tank

Urchins of any kind (although a Tuxedo Urchin might work if your corals are well glued down and you don't mind them ripping up and wearing Zoanthid Corals as hats). Most Urchins get huge and are very destructive and can bulldoze corals that are glued down, destabilize rockwork, etc.
Coral Banded Shrimp-Can be aggressive and pick things off
Starfish-Very sensitive to water parameters and pretty much all of them get too big for that tank
SPS (Short Polyp Stony) Corals-Arguably the most sensitive and demanding corals in terms of lighting, water flow and dosing of trace elements to keep them healthy. Also very sensitive to nitrate levels.
Condy, Carpet and most other Anemones-Prone to eating fish and some get way too big for that tank
 

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