Who thinks SW tanks are easy? A tale of how quickly things can go bad

Discussion in 'Saltwater Beginners' started by ryanr, Jan 4, 2013.

  1. ryanrModeratorModerator Member

    Hey everyone,
    I debated where to post this, but I think SW Beginners is a good spot, because I've just had an (unfortunate) experience with my reef tank today. I'm not seeking advice on how to fix it, but I want to demonstrate how quickly things can go pear-shaped in a SW/Reef tank.

    This is your chance to poke fun at a moderator who dishes out 'expert' advice if you so desire, but more importantly, I hope you take it as the voice of experience as to why some of the advice given is so 'certain', or why myself and others try to help you avoid potential problems that seem 'insignificant'.

    On to the story:
    Keep in mind I'm referring to a 66G display with ~15G in sump, total 80+G. Weekly water changes of 10%, using RO/DI water and Seachem Salinity Salt mix. All the good gear (check my member spotlight). Tank has been setup for 13 months.

    Yesterday: Tank temp 26 C (78-79F), parameters unchecked, but Salinity 33ppt (1.025 SG), As at last Sunday: Phosphate 0.07 ppm, nitrate <1ppm. Ammonia and Nitrite 0ppm. Didn't check alkalinity, magnesium, calcium.

    Today: (24 hours later) Tank temp 29C (84.2+) - I now have a very sad looking Bubble Tip Anemone (retreated, lost some colour), and some of my mushrooms didn't come out today :(
    Just to make sure, I ran a check of the majors: Salinity 33ppt, NH3/NO2 = 0 (API Liquid), NO3 0.75 (Red Sea), PO4 0.07 (Hanna Checker), Alkalinity 8dKH (API Liquid).
    Now, PO4, NO3 are a little high, but nowhere near too high, and are about 'standard' for the setup. Alkalinity is a little low. I didn't test Ca/Mg (I assume Ca will be low, hence low alk - my tank does consume some Ca)

    The only thing that has really changed............. Temperature, by 3C/7F!!!!!!!

    We had 110F/41C today, and that was enough to raise the temperature to the point that an anemone and some corals started to suffer.

    I read a book that described the effects of climate change on the reefs of the world, and the tolerances were much less (about 1C/2.5F) before animals started to suffer.

    Suffice to say, I'm investigating a chiller, and I admit, I should have known better! But I hope those that wish to start a SW (particularly a reef tank) appreciate the delicate nature of these environments. When we talk about stability in parameters, the above highlights how one simple change can potentially affect the whole tank.

    Like I said at the beginning, I'm not seeking advice (temp reduction plan is in place), but I hope this highlights the "only bad things happen quickly in SW" phrase that I often quote. 24 hours could be enough to take out some of my tank (though I think it will be ok).

    Cheers everyone!
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2013
  2. AquariaUKValued MemberMember

    Wow. Good luck fixing it! I knew they were hard but not that bad.
  3. ryanrModeratorModerator Member

    Thanks AquariaUK.
    My only concern at the moment is for the animals. I got caught out, and I hope they don't suffer for it.

    Fingers, toes, legs and arms are crossed tonight..........
  4. TylerLovesFishWell Known MemberMember

    I always had the impression they were easier than fresh water once they got established. I plan on starting one in a year and a half/2 years with my dad, we will most likely have an expert set it up, anyways, good luck!
  5. ToniaWell Known MemberMember

    So sorry to hear that your anemone and corals are suffering and hope that the chiller helps them recuperate. I'm sure with your care and interest in their well being, that they will do their best to get stronger for you again.

    and poke fun at you?? noooo... I see this as a chance for everyone to see that even someone with vast amounts of experience can also encounter problems with a tank and with identifying the problem and taking steps to manage or solve that issue you can help your fish or in this case anemones and corals to recover.
  6. ryanrModeratorModerator Member

    They are very easy (IMO), as long as you keep things stable. Stability is the key. This tank had been running fine for many months (probably 10), but a 'small' weather event caught me out. It highlights how import stability in all parameters is to the overall health of the reef.

    Thanks. I don't have a chiller yet. It's a fair investment, so I'm researching my options. If I'm going to spend $500+ I wanna make sure I spend it wisely ;)

    And thanks, I did get caught out, thankfully knowledge and experience allowed me not to panic, I knew what to do. I just have to do the best I can at the moment, hope the animals survive, and that I can prevent it happening again.

    Side note/update: temperature is back down to almost 'reasonable' (another couple of degrees F and I'll be happy) - I won't know for another 12 hours how bad it might be (when everything wakes up).
  7. ButterflyModeratorModerator Member

    Thanks for sharing Ryan.
    Anything can happen at any time to anybody, the difference being having done the research and knowing what to do about different problems. In your case how high weather temps affect your tank and what to do. seems your doing everything you can.
    Please keep us posted on how your animals do.
  8. LyleBWell Known MemberMember

    I agree with Ryan, SW isn't necessarily "Hard", but there are a few more factors to keep track of. Also, things can go down the tube quicker, especially when you are talking a reef tank. Not to mention there are few $2 fish or critters, much bigger investment.

    That's why most folks REALLY stress larger tanks for SW - the bigger the better - and also why adding refugiums/sumps are highly recommended. More water volume means more time to react to changes.

    Even though my first Fish Only salt tank was a 29 gal (many decades ago, before I knew better), I always cringe when I hear of someone who wants to go that route, or worse yet, a nano tank to start with. Those are for very experienced salt water aquarists in my opinion. Hate to see them displayed at the LFS as it encourages folks to try it.

    Best of luck getting things back to normal Ryan.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 4, 2013
  9. FashoogaFishlore VIPMember

    Everytime I have the thought of starting a saltwater tank I just cringe...because I'm afraid I might mess it all up. I don't even know where to start...obviously a tank...sand...the water? I'm not even sure how to go about that.

    See I'm already lost!
  10. JessiNoel21Well Known MemberMember

    I hope all works out in the end. That is why some of my tax money will go to two chillers for my tanks. I am good right now winter time and fish room and Taleigh's room are at 60F.
  11. ryanrModeratorModerator Member

    Thanks everyone!
    Well 12/14 hours on, the tank is back down to 82.4 - still too warm, but at least it's bearable. It normally sits at 78-79.

    I may not know for a few weeks/months if any major damage has been done. But here's hoping. If I keep it stable, things should recover.

    Oh, and BTW, this thread isn't meant to scare anyone away from SW. This is one of those "had I followed their advice" stories. When I was setting up, local reefers told me I should get a chiller, I foolishly thought "nah, won't happen to me", our house stays cool enough. Those with much more experience than me, who live in the same area were right - go figure :) :rolleyes:
  12. ryanrModeratorModerator Member

    Wish me luck :)

  13. EthanWell Known MemberMember

    to late ryan.. i will never keep SW fish because of this... this... Disaster :(
  14. ryanrModeratorModerator Member

    And it's installed:
    Here's what it said when I first turned it on:

    29.1 degrees Celsius!!!!!!!! 84.4F

    In the space of 15 minutes or so, it's down to 28.1 (82.6)..... It's working!!!!!!!!!
    It'll take a little while to completely cool the whole tank, so it's not a drastic temp change.

    Yay.... (although it is quite loud :( )

    Disaster? What disaster? Learning experience ;)

    Besides, if you just keep fish, temperature isn't a massive problem. It's some of the corals and anemones that can test your wits :)
  15. EthanWell Known MemberMember

    i made the massive leap to house angels just a little bit ago so i am slowly working myself towards a small salt water maybe a little 5gallon or something :eek:
  16. ryanrModeratorModerator Member

    5G is harder than 100G ;)
  17. EthanWell Known MemberMember

    oh god.. i just didn't want anything so big lol what is a nice beginner size that doesn't have to be so big? * sorry for derailing the thread lol
  18. monkeypie102Well Known MemberMember

    My brother and i agree that something betwen 20-40g is a good starter size... I am doing a 29 and my brothers working on a 40g :)
  19. EthanWell Known MemberMember

    i have my 29 gallon i could convert in to a SW when i get the 75 i am dreaming of :)
  20. ryanrModeratorModerator Member

    Not derailing necessarily. It's still about keeping SW.

    IMO, a 30G is a good starter size. It's easier to find suitable fish, it's versatile, equipment isn't ridiculously expensive.