What substrate would you recommend for a new saltwater tank?

ramsbee

I have been studying for a couple weeks after deciding to look into saltwater aquariums. It has been over whelming looking through all the articles online and the amount of information. I want to give a try at trying to make the switch to saltwater. Before I do I want ask some questions to people who have been caring for saltwater tanks as online articles seem to contradict one another and the LFS lately will say whatever gets you to spend money.

If this works I plan on building a 120 gallon tank (I get glass for free so more cost effective) with a sump for filtration. However, before doing all that work I want to start with supplies I have from past freshwater tanks to make sure this is for me. Currently I have a 40 gallon breeder to work with.

What would you recommend stocking for this small of tank and someone new to saltwater?

What substrate would you recommend for a newbie?

I read that the hob is just to catch debris not biological filtration because of the rocks. Is this true? If it is should I remove the media from the filter besides floss?

What's the best way to figure out which power head will work best for that size of tank?

I really would really like to make this a reef tank as well (which I also knows effects stocking)

Which corals would be good for someone starting out? (Online seems to always give scientific names which confuses me still)


What lighting would be best? Has anyone had any diy lighting that worked well?


My main concern is of course safety of the fish and corals. I am still nowhere near ready to set up this tank. I am just trying to get as much information from people who have had plenty of experience so I am educated when and if I decide to make the switch. As stated I understand that a 40 gallon is small. However, if I decide it's not for me my LFS has a program to donate this fish back. I would rather be out the cost of fish,coral and lighting than an entire tank. Any help and information you can provide would be wonderful!
 

Katie13

I'm not too good on stocking as I'm new to SW, but I would try Clownfish. I would look into good beginner corals then we can help you chose your lighting. I would recommend soft corals to start out.
 

ramsbee

I'm not too good on stocking as I'm new to SW, but I would try Clownfish. I would look into good beginner corals then we can help you chose your lighting. I would recommend soft corals to start out.
That's one I'm trying to figure out. What corals people would recommend for beginners. There are lists and lists of them when I was researching online. Some say one coral and other articles say don't start with about the exact same coral.
 

Katie13

That's one I'm trying to figure out. What corals people would recommend for beginners. There are lists and lists of them when I was researching online. Some say one coral and other articles say don't start with about the exact same coral.
Live Aquaria has a list of beginner corals:
 

PoorBigBlue

Welcome to the salty side!

For stocking, it's most definitely up to your tastes. You'll want to stock hardy and light, to avoid water quality issues long-term. I don't think you could go wrong with a pair of False Percula Clowns and a Royal Gramma, to start - they're hardy, colorful, and are kinda "classics". You can definitely keep more than three fish - I just don't have a ton of suggestions at the moment!

Aragonite, or bare bottom. IMO, there is NO substrate that works as well as aragonite in saltwater - crushed coral can work, but it's too coarse for a lot of the creatures we keep, IMO. Bare bottom allows for easy cleaning, but it looks kinda funky until you get used to it.

Yes! A hob filter serves only for circulation and chemical media in a saltwater tank. I keep a small sponge in my HOB so that I always have cycled media for QT tanks, but you shouldn't be running much biological filtration in your filters. As for floss, don't use it all the time. I throw some into my HOB after a water change, to clear the debris that I stirred up - but if you leave it in there for multiple days, you'll just be causing nitrates and phosphates to rise as they debris in your floss decays.

IMO, you'll probably want multiple weaker powerheads versus one strong one. I'd say that two Koralia Evo 850's (one on either side of the tank) would be a good place to start - there may be better brands for larger tanks, though. I have a Koralia in my 10 gallon, and have 0 complaints with it thus far. As a general rule, I'd be shooting to turn over your tank's volume around 50 times per hour at the minimum. Preferably a bit more.

In general, zoas, palys, mushrooms, leathers, duncans, and euphyllia are all great places to start. All are pretty hardy, come in different varieties, and should be rewarding with color and growth. There's not going to be a specific list of corals for you to start with - it's different for everyone. Some people can't keep zoas alive for whatever reason - others can't keep them from overgrowing other corals. I'd just recommend to find a few corals you like, and research. Learn if they require supplemental feeding, what kind of lighting and flow they like, if they're known for being aggressive, etc... Then, buy a few frags.

I don't have any recommendations for fixtures, but DIYing LEDs isn't hard. While not for aquariums, I've put together a few different LED fixtures for use as overhead room lighting, and it was relatively cheap and easy. I'd recommend going solderless, as soldering everything together was by far the hardest part. You can probably find people building fixtures for 40 gallons online - shouldn't be too hard to replicate.

Believe it or not, 40 gallons really isn't that small! I keep a 10 gallon, and several others keep tanks much below 40 gallons. Bigger is always better, but I think smaller is easier, to a point - you've got less volume, sure, but it's less to maintain, too.
 

ramsbee

Welcome to the salty side!

For stocking, it's most definitely up to your tastes. You'll want to stock hardy and light, to avoid water quality issues long-term. I don't think you could go wrong with a pair of False Percula Clowns and a Royal Gramma, to start - they're hardy, colorful, and are kinda "classics". You can definitely keep more than three fish - I just don't have a ton of suggestions at the moment!

Aragonite, or bare bottom. IMO, there is NO substrate that works as well as aragonite in saltwater - crushed coral can work, but it's too coarse for a lot of the creatures we keep, IMO. Bare bottom allows for easy cleaning, but it looks kinda funky until you get used to it.

Yes! A hob filter serves only for circulation and chemical media in a saltwater tank. I keep a small sponge in my HOB so that I always have cycled media for QT tanks, but you shouldn't be running much biological filtration in your filters. As for floss, don't use it all the time. I throw some into my HOB after a water change, to clear the debris that I stirred up - but if you leave it in there for multiple days, you'll just be causing nitrates and phosphates to rise as they debris in your floss decays.

IMO, you'll probably want multiple weaker powerheads versus one strong one. I'd say that two Koralia Evo 850's (one on either side of the tank) would be a good place to start - there may be better brands for larger tanks, though. I have a Koralia in my 10 gallon, and have 0 complaints with it thus far. As a general rule, I'd be shooting to turn over your tank's volume around 50 times per hour at the minimum. Preferably a bit more.

In general, zoas, palys, mushrooms, leathers, duncans, and euphyllia are all great places to start. All are pretty hardy, come in different varieties, and should be rewarding with color and growth. There's not going to be a specific list of corals for you to start with - it's different for everyone. Some people can't keep zoas alive for whatever reason - others can't keep them from overgrowing other corals. I'd just recommend to find a few corals you like, and research. Learn if they require supplemental feeding, what kind of lighting and flow they like, if they're known for being aggressive, etc... Then, buy a few frags.

I don't have any recommendations for fixtures, but DIYing LEDs isn't hard. While not for aquariums, I've put together a few different LED fixtures for use as overhead room lighting, and it was relatively cheap and easy. I'd recommend going solderless, as soldering everything together was by far the hardest part. You can probably find people building fixtures for 40 gallons online - shouldn't be too hard to replicate.

Believe it or not, 40 gallons really isn't that small! I keep a 10 gallon, and several others keep tanks much below 40 gallons. Bigger is always better, but I think smaller is easier, to a point - you've got less volume, sure, but it's less to maintain, too.
I appreciate the information! I was also wondering about rocks. I have read about live, man-made and dry. I am looking at either live or dry. In your opinion which of the two are better? I was leaning more dry mainly because I don't exactly have a set up to cure the rock. I read that even if you buy it cured you still want to cure it awhile yourself as a safety measure. Is this true?

I also, read that live is mainly preferred just do to helping speed the cycle? If this is the case I am a patient person when it comes to setting up a tank properly so extra time wouldn't bother me.
 

PoorBigBlue

I always recommend dry.

Live rock comes with a lot of benefits, but also with a lot of potential pests - aiptaisia, red bugs, fire worms (the bad kind), majanos, and nuisance algae, to name a few. Dry rock comes with none of the benefits, but also none of the pests - and the beneficial organisms (pods, worms, etc...) can be added later pretty easily.

Cured live rock is just live rock that's been cleaned of most of the decaying matter on it - meaning that if you add it to a tank, you're not likely to see a large ammonia spike from it. While you CAN take the time to cure it yourself, I'd just put it straight into the tank if you're cycling a tank with it. Curing it won't kill off any potential pests or anything anyway.

Live rock CAN speed the cycle, but not always. It depends on where you buy it, how it was stored, and when you buy it. In general, it won't be a large boost, and even if it does cut down on cycle time, it's not worth the potential issues, IMO.
 

Jesterrace

To add, I think a 40 breeder is a great starting size. It gives you some options without being cumbersome and more complicated with extra equipment to maintain/contend with. One of the things you will discover is that length followed by width are the most important dimensions with dealing with saltwater fish and as such any tank that maximizes those (which technically a 40 breeder does) is best.

For HOB Filtration (which would be fine on a 40 breeder) a Fluval (Aquaclear) 70 or 110 will be fine. Due to their flexibility with their media baskets and being easy to modify for a refugium for Biological Filtration and their generally low cost ($50-$70 from Petsmart's site to store option, which is the cheapest). You can do DIY lights for less but you do need to have some skill to pull it off and the support and options for it are fairly limited since the DIY community for reef lighting is relatively small.

There are several options for Rock and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Dry Rock Rock is generally the cheapest options ($2-$3lb for decent stuff from BRS) and pretty much pest free, but it can take longer to cycle and even longer to really establish a decent biofilter. Live Rock has the established bacteria and biolife (but will likely have some die off if it has been out of the water for any length of time). It is generally the most expensive option (About $5-$7lb), but tends to cycle faster (particularly if it has been kept in a tank, in which case it will have virtually no die off). As mentioned though it has the serious disadvantage of coming with an assortment of unknown pests. The last is the assortment of man made options which are a compromise of sorts between Live Rock and Dry Rock (ie Caribsea Life Rock). Basically it's cleaned and scrubbed dry rock with an added man made bacteria coating, so you get the pest free nature of dry rock, while getting a solid source of established bacteria as well. A 40 lb box (right about what you want for your tank) runs $156 shipped from Amazon (Roughly $3.90 per lb). Some will claim it doesn't need to be cycled and I can say that is complete ****, I have used it twice and it needed to be cycled both times. The only rock that really doesn't really need to be cycled is rock that has been cycled in another tank and has been kept wet in saltwater other than the direct act of transferring.

As for fish, Clownfish of the Ocellaris (ie Nemo) or Percula varieties are very logical choices (Steer clear of the other varieties as they are bigger and are borderline Flat Out Aggressive). That said even the Occ and Percula variety can be territorial/aggressive once established and don't be surprised if they bite you (repeatedly) while attempting to clean the tank, make adjustments in the tank, etc. They won't draw blood but you will get a pinch. If you go with the bigger/meaner varieties expect blood to be drawn at some point if you put your hands in the tank for any reason. Admittedly I am not the biggest fan of Clownfish simply because they are the Beta Fish of Marine Aquariums (ie dime a dozen, everyone and their dog has one) Royal Grammas are great choices for their durability, color and relatively low cost. With a 40 gallon breeder it does open up some options to you that are denied to other folks. Arguably the most UNDERRATED FISH IN THE HOBBY are the generally Peaceful variety Wrasses. With a 40 Breeder I would look into something like a Flasher Wrasse (ie McCosker's, Carpenters) as they offer tons of color, personality, visibility and pretty much leave other tank mates alone and will leave your corals and inverts alone as well (aka Reef Safe). Another atypical option that is a bit of a gamble with corals but would give you something more unique for your tank would be the Pygmy Angel (ie Cherubfish, Flameback Angel). They have big attitudes and are super active but should be okay in a 40 breeder. They tend to be less prone than the slightly larger dwarf angels at coral nipping (particularly if you wait until the tank is well established with algae growing and feed them seaweed often).

Here are some of the options I mentioned (ignore the Lamarck's Angel, not sure why it came up with the Flasher Wrasses):










Oh and here is a review I did on the Caribsea Life Rock:

 

ramsbee

To add, I think a 40 breeder is a great starting size. It gives you some options without being cumbersome and more complicated with extra equipment to maintain/contend with. One of the things you will discover is that length followed by width are the most important dimensions with dealing with saltwater fish and as such any tank that maximizes those (which technically a 40 breeder does) is best.

For HOB Filtration (which would be fine on a 40 breeder) a Fluval (Aquaclear) 70 or 110 will be fine. Due to their flexibility with their media baskets and being easy to modify for a refugium for Biological Filtration and their generally low cost ($50-$70 from Petsmart's site to store option, which is the cheapest). You can do DIY lights for less but you do need to have some skill to pull it off and the support and options for it are fairly limited since the DIY community for reef lighting is relatively small.

There are several options for Rock and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Dry Rock Rock is generally the cheapest options ($2-$3lb for decent stuff from BRS) and pretty much pest free, but it can take longer to cycle and even longer to really establish a decent biofilter. Live Rock has the established bacteria and biolife (but will likely have some die off if it has been out of the water for any length of time). It is generally the most expensive option (About $5-$7lb), but tends to cycle faster (particularly if it has been kept in a tank, in which case it will have virtually no die off). As mentioned though it has the serious disadvantage of coming with an assortment of unknown pests. The last is the assortment of man made options which are a compromise of sorts between Live Rock and Dry Rock (ie Caribsea Life Rock). Basically it's cleaned and scrubbed dry rock with an added man made bacteria coating, so you get the pest free nature of dry rock, while getting a solid source of established bacteria as well. A 40 lb box (right about what you want for your tank) runs $156 shipped from Amazon (Roughly $3.90 per lb). Some will claim it doesn't need to be cycled and I can say that is complete , I have used it twice and it needed to be cycled both times. The only rock that really doesn't really need to be cycled is rock that has been cycled in another tank and has been kept wet in saltwater other than the direct act of transferring.

As for fish, Clownfish of the Ocellaris (ie Nemo) or Percula varieties are very logical choices (Steer clear of the other varieties as they are bigger and are borderline Flat Out Aggressive). That said even the Occ and Percula variety can be territorial/aggressive once established and don't be surprised if they bite you (repeatedly) while attempting to clean the tank, make adjustments in the tank, etc. They won't draw blood but you will get a pinch. If you go with the bigger/meaner varieties expect blood to be drawn at some point if you put your hands in the tank for any reason. Admittedly I am not the biggest fan of Clownfish simply because they are the Beta Fish of Marine Aquariums (ie dime a dozen, everyone and their dog has one) Royal Grammas are great choices for their durability, color and relatively low cost. With a 40 gallon breeder it does open up some options to you that are denied to other folks. Arguably the most UNDERRATED FISH IN THE HOBBY are the generally Peaceful variety Wrasses. With a 40 Breeder I would look into something like a Flasher Wrasse (ie McCosker's, Carpenters) as they offer tons of color, personality, visibility and pretty much leave other tank mates alone and will leave your corals and inverts alone as well (aka Reef Safe). Another atypical option that is a bit of a gamble with corals but would give you something more unique for your tank would be the Pygmy Angel (ie Cherubfish, Flameback Angel). They have big attitudes and are super active but should be okay in a 40 breeder. They tend to be less prone than the slightly larger dwarf angels at coral nipping (particularly if you wait until the tank is well established with algae growing and feed them seaweed often).

Here are some of the options I mentioned (ignore the Lamarck's Angel, not sure why it came up with the Flasher Wrasses):










Oh and here is a review I did on the Caribsea Life Rock:

Thank you for the information and links! I love the wrasses! I never even thought that would be an option! I really appreciate the info it gave me more to think about for sure! Luckily as I said before I can be patient about setting up tanks with everything to research. I am learning something new everyday! I can see saltwater being very addictive for a hobby!
 

Jesterrace

You won't be getting any big fish (ie Tangs, Full Size or even Dwarf Angels, Butterflyfish, Groupers) but it doesn't mean that there aren't some cool and unique options for a smaller sized tank. It's when you go under 20-30 gallons that things get a lot more limited.
 

ramsbee

One more question. I have been reading alot. Would a protein skimmer be better than a hob? I only need to run one of the two correct?
 

ramsbee

One more question. I have been reading alot. Would a protein skimmer be better than a hob? I only need to run one of the two correct?
 

Jesterrace

There are in sump and hob variety protein skimmers. In sump skimmers are more effective than HOB due to size and water flow capabilities among others. There are a few decent HOB Skimmers (ie Eshoppes PSK-75H or 100H models and the Reef Octopus Classic 100). It's up to you if you want to run an HOB skimmer on that size tank. Weekly water changes in the 10 gallon range, going with a clean food source (ie LRS Reef Frenzy) and not overfeeding will allow you to get by without one if you want. HOB Skimmers can be touchy and it means the difference between saltwater spilling out all over or not skimming at all. It usually takes about 10 days for them to settle in properly. So it's all your choice. I ran an Eshoppes PSK-75H on my 36 gallon bowfront and it was a decent unit. I definitely prefer the in sump skimmer that I have now on my 90 gallon setup though.

You do need to run at least an HOB power filter (ie Fluval 70 or 110) regardless. Skimmers are great but I would never use it in the place ofa regular filtrer.
 

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