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SubscribeStarting Marines
Calilasseia
 
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Starting A Marine Aquarium

You're a newcomer to marine aquarium keeping, and you've finally decided to take the plunge. First of all, congratulations! Marine aquarium keeping, while challenging, is immensely rewarding ... if you get it right. If you get it wrong, however, the heartache is matched only by the expense. Before you go any further, remember that the dice are loaded against anyone who doesn't exercise the brain cells before plunging in, and Nature has a habit of punishing mistakes in a big way when she's angry enough. Climate change should have taught us humans that by now, and the same principle applies in the marine aquarium. Ignorance and stupidity with coral reef fish and invertebrates invites dire retribution. Ensure that the rational part of the brain is in gear before pressing hard on the credit card accelerator!

So, how can you enhance your chances of success?

First step - READ AND LEARN. There is a considerable body of theory to be mastered with respect to the marine aquarium, and newcomers are strongly advised to acquire this core knowledge before a single penny is spent. Acquiring the knowledge now, while you have time to relax and digest it, will mean you're better prepared for any emergencies that DO occur with an operating aquarium, than if you try learning as you go along. Core knowledge to be absorbed and mastered includes the fundamentals of marine aquarium water chemistry: without this knowledge in place, you're heading for disaster. It will also improve your chances of success if you know how fishes function in a marine environment - the basics of osmosis between body tissues and the surrounding seawater, respiration, feeding and waste production, all of which impact upon the aquarium's water chemistry and add to your management tasks. If you're planning on becoming a reef aquarium keeper, then the core knowledge required also includes extensions to the theory that takes invertebrate life cycles into account. For example, intense lighting is needed for live corals, because of the presence of symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) within the polyps' body tissues, and if these algae die, so do your expensive coral polyps.

Once you're mastered the core theory, then you have more reading to do - with something like 2,000 species of coral reef fish to choose from for your aquarium, belonging to something like 70 different Families, you need to know which fish will coexist happily, and which won't. And, in a reef aquarium with invertebrates, which ones in addition will be safe with your expensive invertebrates. For example, dropping a Butterfly Fish into a reef aquarium full of live corals will make your Butterfly Fish very happy - because it will eat the corals! Likewise, large Lionfish plus small Damselfishes equals very full Lionfish burping away after a Damselfish smorgasbord.

Second Step - TEST YOUR WATER. Do this BEFORE you start setting up a marine aquarium if possible. Why? Because you might be unfortunate, and live in an area whose water supply is adversely affected by unpleasant phenomena such as agricultural runoff. It's a bit pointless splurging a small fortune building a reef aquarium full of live corals and sponges, plus compatible fish, if your tap water dumps 200 parts per million of nitrates into the aquarium before you even start. And if you have copper piping, you can't keep invertebrates at all without special measures, because copper is lethal to invertebrates in tiny conentrations, far lower than those that will kill fishes. Which is why proprietary medications for important fish diseases contain copper! If you're REALLY unlucky, you might have to invest in reverse osmosis (RO) equipment to be able to set up a marine aquarium at all, but even if you're lucky and your water supply is fine, RO equipment produces almost laboratory standard pure water from your tap. While the initial capital outlay for RO equipment may be considerable, it will repay itself many times over if as a result of using it, you end up with an aquarium full of inmates that live out ten year lifespans and more. More and more marine aquarists are turning to RO equipment, as it solves a LOT of water chemistry management problems at source. But, like everything else, it isn't a panacea, it just makes the job somewhat easier. You'll still have to do the hard work of managing the water chemistry once the water is in the aquarium!

Third Step - PLAN YOUR SYSTEM. Each hour spent in careful planning before a penny is spent will save weeks of headaches down the line. Make sure you know in detail what each piece of technology does, how it works, what to do if it fails, whether you need to keep spares in stock, and what contribution said piece of technology is going to make to the health and longevity of your prized fishes etc. And, make sure you locate the aquarium somewhere sensible before you start filling it - seawater is heavy! (Not to mention the rocks, corals etc ...) If you're putting your aquarium in a basement with a thick concrete floor, you'll have far fewer worries than if it's in an upstairs bedroom on a wooden floor. A 100 gallon (UK) aquarium (450 litres metric) tips the scales at close on 1,200 pounds (500 Kg) when up and running - that's half a ton. You don't want that crashing down on top of you through the ceiling when you're in the bath. So, if you're lucky enough to be able to afford a 300 gallon aquarium to give your fishes growing room, that's 1 tons or thereabouts to locate safely in advance, before it becomes an immovable object.

Once you've planned the aquarium and its technology, plan the occupants. Work out in advance your ideal first choices, and appropriate compatible substitiute choices if your first choices are [1] unavailable, or [2] way too expensive. Make sure that the permutations won't throw up unexpected surprises if you find yourself forced down a particular path, or better still, exercise patience until your first choices are on stream, or best of all, make sure your first choices are likely to be compatible AND available AND not too pricey.

Fourth Step - KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS. You're starting out in this game, so crawl before you walk before you run. Start with forgiving, adaptable, hardy creatures and acquire experience with these first. Move on to more delicate and finicky creatures once you've acquired experience. Stocking your first aquarium with Platax pinnatus Batfishes without having learned the ropes with something more robust is a recipe for an expensive disaster. There are plenty of brightly coloured, compatible creatures that will be a joy to watch and still be forgiving enough to let you make mistakes without leaving you with a tankful of dead fish and a large hole in the bank balance. So choose them as your first marines!

Fifth Step - GET HELP. Seek the wisdom of those who have gone before you. Learn from their expensive mistakes and their successes alike. See what works in action. Share your ideas and plans for the future with others, so that they can be refined and the bugs ironed out before you go 'live'. The fact that you're reading this post on the FishProfiles board is a good start. This Board is full of people who have been there, done that, seen the film, read the book, worn the T-shirt and eaten the pie (that's a bad Watership Down joke, by the way). Here you'll find enough expertise to get you up and running with, hopefully, no headaches. This includes people who have kept members of the marine 'awkward squad' - namely creatures that need endless amounts of TLC and hands-on management - and have lived to tell the tale. Some of the people here are professional biologists, and give their advice, here on this Board, to you, free of charge. Ask yourself how much you'd pay in consultancy fees if you wanted that advice elsewhere, then be duly grateful to the nice, kind people who choose to exercise generosity of human spirit here on the Board instead of avarice.

Sixth Step - WATCH, OBSERVE, NOTE. You've finally gone 'live', and your marine aquarium is up and running. You've followed all the precautions, made the plans, made wise choices, and now you're the proud owner of a sparkling gem with scintillating inmates all strutting their stuff before you. And you are duly proud of your hard work. However, marine aquarium keeping is still developing. The science and art are by no means finished. There's still a lot even professional marine biologists don't know. And consequently, careful, detailed observation of your inmates, and assiduous note taking, pays huge dividends. If you can shoot still or video footage, even better. Because you just might get lucky - you might see something in your aquarium that makes the pieces of the jigsaw fit together for someone else. And you'll then have the satisfaction of feeling the nice warm glow that comes from helping your fellow humans, the same warm glow the other Board members all felt when they lent you a helping hand. It might not feel quite as spectacular as a night of passion with Jennifer Lopez, but the long term rewards will be immense. Your willingness to help and share your observations will repay itself many times over when you're moving on to that Centropyge Angelfish spawning project you've set your heart on, and need to know all kinds of intricate details to get it off the ground. First, the beginners who come after you will thank you for saving them from disaster. And second, you might see something that even makes the professionals' eyes pop out on stalks, and teaches them something. If you REALLY hit the jackpot, your observations might end up in a peer reviewed journal with your name alongside. Remember, marine aquarium keeping is still very much evolving, and your contribution, however small and insignificant you may at first think it is, all goes to make that evolution take place a little faster.

Take a look in Bottom Feeder Frenzy for an example. I spent hours watching my Panda Corys and taking lots of notes. Most of which now occupy 40,000 or so words on the Board. If a Panda Cory has done it, chances are I've seen it, and chances are I've posted an essay on the subject. Which means that all the Panda Cory keepers can go out and try their luck at keeping and breeding these cute little guys. In fact, some have already reported successes following in my footsteps. Believe me, that is a great feeling - I've helped other people share the same joys as me, and helped bring some more cute little Panda babies into the world into the bargain. If you do the same with your marines, chances are you'll earn yourself friends for life. Friends who will share neat little titbits with you when you decide you'd really like to try and breed Chaetodon semilarvatus, because no-one else has done it before. Just remember to give them credit when you write the article for TFH magazine!

Step Seven - ABOVE ALL, ENJOY IT. That includes the messy, mundane tasks. Learn to enjoy those, because then you'll do them religiously the way you're supposed to if you're going to be successful at keeping a miniature marine ecosystem going in your living room. And if you enjoy doing the messy, mundane stuff, you'll REALLY enjoy the end result. Especially if that end result several years down the line, when you've acquired experience, is the first ever captive spawning of Mirolabrichthys tuka in your aquarium, and you've been alert and astute enough to video the whole thing. Which will be a real achievement, because right now, even experts have trouble just keeping that species alive for any length of time. As I said, the science and the art are still evolving, and you could be a part of that evolution. Another reason to enjoy it!

And after another huge dissertation, I'll leave Oleta to search for the aspirins once more



[span class="edited"][Edited by Oleta 2003-09-23 16:10][/span]

Panda Catfish fan and keeper/breeder since Christmas 2002
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile Homepage PM Edit Report 
dthurs
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Great information. Now all we need is for people to read it.

Dan
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bonny
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great article- someobody should pin this.
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile MSN PM Edit Delete Report 
Tom
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great article cali

now i really do want to start a marine tank but im still not too sure, its when im moving out of our home after 2-3 years and having to either give the tank away or take it with me wherever i go that im not looking forward to.
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
Ausie Fish
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Some great advise there, I have done all the steps there, mind you it took me a couple of years planning and saving once I decided to go SW.



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Calilasseia
 
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Be patient, young fellow ... I'm still planning my first marine setup over 20 years after first wanting one ... there but for the money go I ... but then, at least when I do start, hopefully I'll do it right

If I make a mess of it after 20 years' boning up on the theory, I'll *really* deserve a spanking ...

Panda Catfish fan and keeper/breeder since Christmas 2002
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Tom
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yeah, best thing to do will be wait, and get it right when i have the chance to, after my 150gal is set up, i do have my eye on a nice 75gal (350 ish with everything).
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Stipajio
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That was great Calilasseia. Everyone should read this, even if they aren't thinking of saltwater. Lots of it also applies to Freshwater tanks too.
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile ICQ MSN PM Edit Delete Report 
Calilasseia
 
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The irony is that some of the biggest failures are experienced by FW aquarists crossing over to marines, who aren't prepared for the considerable extra workload. After all, FW aquaria can be relatively low maintenance affairs because most of the popular FW fish are pertty robust, but the same does NOT apply to marines ... Marines are NOT low maintenance by ANY stretch of the imagination!

Panda Catfish fan and keeper/breeder since Christmas 2002
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misha
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Right! So what is a good start up for a marine start up? What size tank and do the filters, air pumps and lights - are they all different considering the size of tank that you keep or ?? I am not too sure - you see so much stuff around and different sizes of pumps etc, that i am not too sure which you need and speaking to salesmen is so hard cause all they want is your money most of the time. I would like to set up an octagonal tank - say about 95 litres, but not too sure what pumps etc to get for it? Please let me know. By the way I love the start of this conversation Calilasseia- very awe inspiring - i am raring to go now! i am excited!!!!
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile Homepage PM Edit Delete Report 
Calilasseia
 
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Misha, the golden rule is this: buy the biggest tank and most efficient filtration setup your wallet can stand, and stock it very lightly

If you have in mind what you're going to keep from the onset, tot up how many inches of fish you'll be looking at when they're fully grown. The usual rule quoted in the textbooks is one inch of fish needs about 6 gallons (UK) of water, but for safety I'd understock and go for 1 inch of fish per 10 gallons - you can NEVER have enough spare capacity in a marine aquarium!

So if you're looking at a dozen Humbug Damsels, for example, which reach about 3 inches, that's 12x3=36 inches. For safety, you're looking at 360 gallons to keep them happy

Panda Catfish fan and keeper/breeder since Christmas 2002
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misha
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Thanks, but what type of filtration do I need? What size?? I am going to start buying things soon and would like sizes per size tank/litres. Like if it was a 95 litre tank then I would need this size pump etc. How big do clown fish grow and is ther a site which tells you about marine fish and pictures of them which is easy to understand?
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bonny
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I think 1" to 10 gallons is going a little overboard.
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raider_fish
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Great article. I am preparing to set up a 58 gallon reef right now and I could use all the help I can get. I don't know about the water chemistry of SW yet, but I haven't set up the tank either. Where can I find that info? I also need recommendations about what equipment I will need. Thus far I have a sump. I know I need a heater, water pump, and lighting. What other equipment should I get for this size reef? Thank you for your help.

Raider_fish
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Calilasseia
 
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Late breaking news ...

I wrote a review of a book by Michael Paletta ... look up the thread in this forum. This book is pretty damned good. Tells you a lot of things that most other books don't, and taught me a few new things into the bargain!

Oh, as for filtration, Paletta says you can get away with living rock as your bio-filter, and has apparently done so very successfully .... this came as news to me, used as I am to the doctrine of the undergravel filter But, such is progress ...

Grab a copy of the book, read, digest, etc., it's very helpful and informative. Oh, and Paletta recommends you use a protein skimmer.

Panda Catfish fan and keeper/breeder since Christmas 2002
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Zack
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The thing I don't understand about the live rock only filtration is where is the mechanical filtration in that? What keeps the water looking sparkling clean?

I, too, think that 1 inch per 10 gallons is a bit too much. However, for a new person, at early levels of stocking, I guess it's not bad.
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lil_mikey69
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This is a little off topic, but Zack I was just wondering how your big water change and gravel vacing went. Have you seen an improvement in the nitrate levels? Or are they still high? Just looking for an update, I dont remember hearing anything else about it after people reccomonded things to you.
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raider_fish
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Thank you, I can find a good protein skimmer without any problem. I will also look up the book. Thanks again.

Raider_fish
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DarkRealm Overlord
 
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your mechanical filtration comes from all the tiny filter feeders that come with the live rock....also all the pods and worms. I dont run any mechanical, or chemical filtration on my tanks.....with the exception of a protein skimmer, and never have problems with cloudy water.

Also, 1 inch per 10 gallons is a good stocking level if you are keeping coral....1 inch per 3-5 gallons is the general stocking levels for fish only and fowlr tanks.
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raider_fish
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I have looked and I can't find the thread about the book. Could you please post a link or give the title of the book. Thank you.

Raider_fish
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