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Presented by Charles & Linda Raabe

Mactan Island, The Philippines
© 2009 All Rights Reserved

  Since this is a single web page, it could not of course be all inclusive. I will try to at least give you a starting point to work from though. Please keep in mind that as with everything within this hobby, there are many methods that can be used. All to reach the same end goal. Which is your first decision to make. What is your goal with this new setup?  

1. Pick your tank, acrylic or glass? And its a good idea to buy the largest one that you can afford right away, most of us have gone through at least 3 tanks before we were satisfied with its size, unless of course you have a specific tank in mind such as a small desk tank for your office.

2. Decide right now what your tank will hold, will it be fish only, corals only and so on, this decision will dictate what equipment you should have. A fish only tank will not need reef grade lighting and has concerns of its own.

3. The rest of the tips will assume a reef tank is being set up.

4. Get a RO/DI water unit, this is THE most critical piece of equipment that I can think of. It will provide ultra pure freshwater for making up your saltwater and to replace what freshwater has evaporated. By doing this from the start, you will avoid alot of water quality and algae issues that any one who has ever used tap water can attest to.

5. Research what lighting systems suit your needs. You can buy ready to use systems or you can buy the components separately and save some money. Keep in mind that a good rule of thumb for a reef tank is a minimum of 5 watts per tank gallon size. (example= 100 gal tank should have 500 watts of light over it.) This can be accomplished with using METAL HALIDES or VERY HIGH OUTPUT or POWER COMPACT systems/bulbs. Keep in mind also that the bulbs used in these systems should be of at least 6,500 to 10,000 Kelvin, which is the color rendition of the light.

6. Research and decide what filtration methods you will use, I prefer to be able to use the best of each type of system. The following items go a long way in helping your tank remain stable and to provide many other benefits.

My list of what I feel is the bare minimums for starting a reef tank using what I like to call, a "natural" method, one that does not rely upon equipment to such a great extent as is possible. 

1. A tank/stand combination

2. A RO/DI water unit

3. A reef grade lighting system

4. A skimmer - its use will depend on your system, its occupants and what goal you have set for this tank as well as how you plan to get "there".

5. Powerheads

6. Enough salt mix to fill your tank plus the sump.

7. A Hydrometer

8. A sump (with plumbing parts and pump)

9. Test kits for detecting Ammonia, Nitrites, Nitrates, PH,

10. An aquarium thermometer

11. A water heater

12. Enough Reef Sand to have at least a two inch layer on the bottom

13. Base rock, at least 1 pound per tank gallon size. Live rock to be added after the system has cycled.

14. A 10 gallon Quarantine Tank for future purchases. (research how to set one up and use it).

15. Some form of nitrate export right from start up of the tank, mangrove plants and/or macro algae grown either in the main tank itself, or as is usually done, within a separate refuge system or a compartment of the sump used as a refuge area.

Each of these items will take some research on your part to determine what you feel is the best model/make.

The best advice anyone can give you is to spend ALOT of time researching every detail and get alot of opinions. There are plenty of hobbyists out there who are willing to share their lessons learned the hard way. (as I am now).

Once you have learned just about everything you can think of, then its time to set up your tank and get it going. This is where your patience will be tested. Once you have everything set up and running, you will need to cycle the tank. For the methods and procedures to do this, please read my page concerning CYCLE METHODS.

CLIMBING THE BIOLOGICAL LADDER  -  With every new aquarium set up, it never fails to amaze me that the first life forms going into the aquarium are those that should be the last ones going into the aquarium. Which is the cause of just about all of the problems encountered with newly established systems. If we were to follow the natural chain of events that will occur within our aquariums, and give such events their due time to get established, much trouble can be avoided. If you wish to have a much more successfull and enjoyable experience in starting out. I suggest that you stock your new aquarium as such:

Please read Number 15 of  THIS ARTICLE.

1. Place a two inch layer of dead "play" sand within your aquarium and fill the tank with saltwater. Add your ammonia source, such as a small piece of shrimp or fish meat and allow the tank to get past its initial cycle. Once you have detectable nitrates of .10 or more, remove any remains of the shrimp/fish meat and do a large water change.

2. Add another two inch layer of live sand on top of the play sand layer.

3. Add your base rocks and live rocks, wait three months and let the algae bloom happen, which will take up waste and further the "cycle"

4. After three months, add a variety of herbivores and let them eat the algae that has grown and now provides really clean water, this article will be of use to you  -  Clean up Crew.  

5. Wait another three months, during this time the algae will get eaten, coralline will grow and you will become much more familiar with water quality issues and gain the experience of maintaining your system. This time is also well spent studying and planning for your future livestock additions.
6. After those three months are over, then begin to add your corals untill you have what you consider to be a reef. This process should take you a few months and is best if you stretch it out over the course of six months. Doing so, gives the biology of your system to further mature or stabalize.

7. NOW you can add a fish! and continue to stock your preplanned fish at the rate of one every two months. Do not forget to quarantine each of them.

As you can see by how it should be done,  you are allowing the biology of the system to become established and able to handle each step up with the addition of ever higher life forms. It makes no sense to add fish as the first occupants since all the lower steps are not in place and able to help you keep your fish alive.  Please be patient and do it right, for the sake of the animals involved.

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This mirror is being hosted with the permissions of the original content creator for preservation and educational purposes.