RSS My simply stupid mistakes as a reefkeeper

MASA Admin

8 May 2007
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An empty aquarium can either be the source of promise, excitement and anticipation, or it can be a reminder of failure, missed opportunity and wasted time and money. The difference is due to where it is in the time frame of things. It produces a sense of awe and excitement when it sits and the thought is how will I ever fill this up.

And unfortunately when it is taken down it often produces the feeling of what could have been. I have set up many aquariums over the years and have taken down even more, due to my agreeing to take down other people’s tanks. Since I have done this more than I would have liked, I now try to learn what went wrong and what mistakes were made when I take down a tank.

An empty tank like this one can be a disappointment when it does not live up to the potential it has

I recently took down my 70-gallon tank, as I make preparations and clear space to put up my new 90 gallon tank that I spoke of a couple of weeks ago. I consider myself a fairly intelligent man, I know ladies you think that is an oxymoron, but at least when it comes to tanks and how to set them up I thought I had a clue.

I thought that until I took down my 70-gallon tank. After taking it down in one day there is nothing else to say but I am simply stupid. I do not say that lightly and I love to tell you and show you all the cool and fun stuff I do. But after tearing down this tank and taking a big shot to my ego, I realize I’m just plain dumb.

The rush to get things done and fixing things halfway resulted in a tank that was not only dangerous, but also was not very attractive

So reading my admission you are probably wondering what did I see or do that makes me think I am not very bright. The answer is sadly quite simple: I violated just about every tenet of reefkeeping that I talk about when I set up this tank and over the course of the years that I maintained it. Before I get into the specifics I will start at the beginning and where my stupidity started.

As I was going through a divorce I moved into my house, but kept my 1200 gallon tank going in my ex-wife’s house. Yeah I know, stupidity from the start. But despite still having that tank there, my house seemed empty without a tank so I knew I wanted to put one in. At this time a friend of mine was getting transferred and he did not want to move his tank so he offered it to me. Needless to say I jumped at the chance.

This violated the first rule of the hobby: do everything slowly and patiently and with careful planning. I was not a heavy drinker at the time, so I can’t blame it on that, so I took his tank, realizing as I was taking it that I had not seen it in at least 2 years, so how bad could it have been. So with my plastic crates and a full Saturday to work with, I moved everything he had into my house. So since I did not plan anything I simply put it where it would be easy to see, that is I put it right in front of the door in the area between my kitchen and family room. That sounds reasonable right?

After taking it down I now realize how stupid that was. In that location I could not open the door to the outside even a little, so if there was smoke or heat from cooking I could not open the door for a cross breeze. And since I did not plan ahead when I put the tank in I did not realize that having blackout blinds on the doors and windows by the tank would have been a good idea, as sunlight in the summer cooked any corals that I happened to place in areas where the summer sun would bore in.

The same corals and fish moved from the old tank to a new tank that was set up properly. Amazingly it is doing significantly better despite only using 8 electrical receptacles instead of over 20 on the old tank

And lastly and most stupidly I never checked the weather stripping on the door behind the tank. As a result until I took the tank down I never realized that there was a 6-inch gap in the weather stripping that allowed frigid air to come right in the back of the stand of the tank in the winter and hot air to do the same in the summer. Only after taking the tank down and seeing the light pour in through the gap in the weather stripping did I realize why the tank had been such a nightmare to regulate temperature-wise the whole time it was up.

Sadly this realization came only after the entire tank was taken down and removed, most of my other “Ah-Ha I’m clueless” moments came throughout the process of taking the tank down. Now I knew that I was taking down this tank for the last year to be replaced by a nicer tank, so during that time I did a few stop gap measures to keep it going. And doing these further violated the right way to do things that I know.

First and foremost what frightened me the most as I took down the tank was how dangerous my set up had become. And yes I mean it was actually life-threatening. I do not say this lightly, but I am very lucky that I did not burn my house down. First by doing things in a kind of scattershot fashion, fix it as a problem arose mode, I seemingly had added more and more equipment to try and keep the tank going.

When you do things right and unrushed a tank can reach its full potential

As a result the tank used 13 electrical receptacles just for water flow and lighting. Seriously when I was removing the plugs from the sockets and seeing what they went to I kept asking myself “What the hell was I thinking?” Sadly it was clear I was not thinking at all, or at least not in a logical fashion. Obviously since the tank was set up the means to light a tank have improved markedly as have the methods for moving water.

However I was stupid and cheap in my attempt to keep the tank going, and so every time there was a problem like a dead spot where detritus would settle I would add another powerhead or when the corals did not look optimal another light was added. In my own defense when I put the lighting system on the tank LEDs had not matured and halides were too hot, so I went with the then state of the art t-5 reflector with 8 bulbs and an LED nightlight.

Just some of the electrical plugs that were stupidly used on the tank. Note the burn of a small electrical fire on the center yellow plug

Only after removal did I realize that this light had 6 plugs to it and that I am I had most of these plugs going to its own separate timer. I am grateful that the reef gods got a good laugh out of this and decided not to sacrifice me because of my stupidity. All told this tank, remember it was only 70 gallons, had 22 plugs coming out of it when I took it down. After looking at all of the equipment that was used and how bad the tank looked I am having the house checked for carbon monoxide.

However this is only part of the electrical nightmare. Because I did not plan at all for the placement of the tank or sump and much of the equipment, there was no planning for things like what happens if the skimmer overflows, or where to place things in a neat and clean manner in the sump or the cabinet under the tank, and most importantly I paid little attention to salt spray. I never realized how much of a problem salt spray can be and how widely it can spread.

Salt creep was everywhere even 3 feet above the tank behind the curtain

After tearing down this tank and removing salt spray from just about everywhere but under my arms within a 3 foot radius of this tank, I am again grateful I made the gods laugh. I say that, as because of the electrician’s nightmare I created luckily every receptacle had a plug in it. I say lucky because there was salt spray covering most of these plugs, which is lucky in that if these receptacles had been open the salt spray would have gotten in them and either shorted them out or caused a fire. As lucky as I was there were still signs that 3 small electrical fires had occurred on some plugs as indicated by the small black burn marks on them. This further confirmed that obviously I was not thinking when I did any of this.

The mishmash of plugs, cords and salt creep that was under the tank

While these issues, which are now funny, but which were actually quite dangerous are what made me realize how stupid I was or am, there were other things that also made me realize that the neurons were just not firing like they should have when I set up and kept fiddling with this tank. First, as I mentioned controlling the tank’s temperature was always a problem.

So several fans and heaters were employed to keep the temperature relatively stable. But with their use there was significant evaporation. So a dehumidifier was needed in my house even in the winter. Also since this water had to be replaced frequently that meant schlepping up buckets of water 2 or 3 times a week just to replace the evaporated water and more for water changes. If this wasn’t enough all of the fans, pumps, dehumidifier and even the lights all produced noise.

Only after everything was disconnected did I realize how quiet the house is now without this tank, even though I have 5 other tanks in operation. It now is actually quite peaceful, so peaceful in fact that I tested out the new equipment for the replacement tank to make sure they would not ruin this new tranquility. Luckily they passed, so now the empty tank sitting near the old spot is producing the excitement and anticipation that the old one should have produced.

Tearing down that tank made me realize a few important things such as: no matter how smart I think I am the rules of reefkeeping such as proper planning and patience still apply. That you should not try to fix flaws in a set up in a piecemeal manner taking half steps by adding more stuff usually is not the answer. But most importantly, I know that God looks out for birds and fools and I can’t fly.

The new empty tank full of expectations producing the thought of how will I fill it?

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