R.E.E.F Methodology: What do i really need?

Discussion in 'Beginner Discussions' started by dallasg, 25 Jun 2013.

  1. dallasg

    dallasg Moderator MASA Contributor

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    Well I see this question a lot of late, and with the plethora of available equipment, gadgets and options available, what does the new reefer really need to successfully run a marine or reef tank.
    I am going to start with a top down approach based on the various systems we want to keep based on livestock requirements and water quality. They are also presented on various levels incorporating the previous level with the current as that is the natural progression. So for example equipment A is needed for option 1 I won’t mention it again in 2, 3 or 4.
    I am also recommending options that I use on my systems, pointless mentioning things I don’t believe in. So I might be bias but the proof is in the pudding.

    The various marine systems are as follows:
    1. Fish only.
    2. Soft coral dominated.
    3. LPS coral dominated.
    4. SPS coral dominated.
    5. Mixed Reef.

    The Tank
    so what do I need first, the obvious a Tank, which tank? What size? starphire? Well the answer is simple, what is your budget, this purchase will govern what and how many of the other "stuff" we need will have to be bought.
    I can list a million points to go big, go nano, but it all boils down to cost, involvement and practicality. Big tanks can take more livestock, but cost more to stock, look barren when empty which leads to rapid stocking which leads to many other issues. Small tanks cheaper to run, can look as great but need self-restraint when adding livestock.

    so now what do we choose, well let’s look at where we want to place the tank, is there enough space to make working on the tank easily, a hard to get to area or difficulty in reaching the sump will eventually lead to poor husbandry which in turn will lead to various issues. So make sure there is ample room to access all parts of the tank, including the back. Some places to avoid are draughty areas, windows as then “might” cause temp swings in summer and winter, but use your discretion.
    Once we have a place in mind let’s move on to size, after many years of building tanks of various sizes there is no correct answer, I have had great pleasure from 40L to 1000+L’s, what made the difference is available time to spend on it, larger tank means more to clean etc.
    Starphire/Low iron or not? Well if your glass thickness is less than 12mm I see no benefit, I have had it and really cannot justify its cost or use. With the right light it won’t make a difference.
    So the best way to determine size is to get the most important, important piece of equipment that we will need for any of the reefs we want. The Skimmer :)
    Another point if one is getting a custom tank or odd size is to get as close as possible to the standard measurements lighting comes in, 1ft, 2ft, 3ft, 4ft, 5ft, 6ft this can prevent buying multiple units which all add up. When it comes to tank width the same should apply, 600mm-800mm is generally wide enough to have one unit front to back depending on the unit, but safely work on anything up too 600mm-700mm, this is covered later on.
    Another point to remember with tank design is the height of the tank, and the height of the water level, generally anything higher than 600mm will severely impact the cost of the tank, due to thicker glass, and stronger light units for coral hosting tanks.

    The Skimmer
    The skimmer is the heart, kidneys and liver of the tank; we should use this to determine our tank size as this will make our experience more pleasurable. Very few reefers don’t overstock so getting a skimmer with a few 100 litres rating extra than the tank volume will always help. If you have a physical tank constraint on size then this selection is easier. So if you have a 400L tank get a skimmer rated for as high as possible or budget dictates, 100-300L over is good, no need to overkill. Once the skimmer is purchased we have now got the piece of equipment that will allow us to keep what our heart desires.

    The Auto Top-up Unit
    Probably the most simple piece of equipment we will have and yet to me one of the most crucial. This can come in many forms and will be one of the key pieces to achieving water stability by preventing salinity swings. While it seems minor, keeping the water stable will prevent stress and give a good foundation for stability along with one less thing to worry about. Here we should use 0 TDS RO water, if you plan on keeping corals I do suggest using Kalkwasser at this point as this will be most beneficial in stabilising PH and keeping Calcium, magnesium etc. at optimal levels once again resulting in better stability and water parameters.

    The Reactors, do I need them???
    I would like to mention the following about reactors, they are not necessary! There are plenty options that don’t require reactors and the essentials I recommend can be used both actively and passively.

    Nutrient Export: why?
    Whether its fish-only or full SPS we need nutrient export so we can prevent unwanted algae’s and achieve pristine water quality which will reduce stress on the livestock. Here I have tried them all, DSB, NitraGuard Bio-cubes, NP Pellets, Zeovit, NeoZeo and good old water changes. While some worked, others worked better, what I was looking for was something that worked without intervention, was simple and had no on-going running cost and provided the best return for my cash and time. The winner was Orca’s NitraGuard Bio-Cubes. They just need a simple air pump with air stone to run, they come with a bag to run them in, and last several months and simply just work. Despite the many threads on them, if one follows the RECOMMENDED way of running them, they do what they claim, so what cons do they have, well I view these as pro’s, no need to fiddle with reactors, worry about if they working, no more water changes for NUTRIENT EXPORT, and I only have to worry about topping them up. So for simplicity, effectiveness and peace of mind these fall into my list for tank success.


    The Mechanical Filtering Team
    So this team is the cheapest to add, Filter socks, carbon and floss, the skimmer belongs here too but he is important enough to have his own section. By employing efficient mechanical filtration, and KEEPING IT CLEAN, we can eliminate most of the material that will be broken down in the Nitrogen Cycle. However if it is not kept clean then can work in reverse and become the start of a nitrate problem. For Carbon recommend here 1ml per 1L of system volume changed every 30 days. Filter socks and/or floss cleaned or replaced as they start turning brown/black, generally every 3-5 days.

    Key Factors
    The key factors are simple, stability and good husbandry, that’s all it is.
    So without out further ado, let’s start!

    The Reef Options
    So by using the above as the base we can proceed:

    1. Fish Only: Here the prime requisite is a skimmer, these tanks while simple in nature carry large bio loads due to the feeding and stocking levels. A good skimmer will keep the water and parameters in pristine conditions and prevent most unwanted algae’s. Lighting here is only for viewing pleasure so no need for LED units to start unless you plan to move to corals at a later stage. The additives I would recommend here are Seachem stability and Seachem Safe. If you plan on heavy stocking adding extra biological media such as Seachem’s Matrix will help and keep the nitrogen cycle at its peak.
    a. Suggested Parameters:
    i. NH4, NO2 always 0! – If these are > 0ppm you have inadequate biological filtering.
    ii. NO3: between 0ppm and 10ppm (Algae Prevention)
    iii. PO4: between 0ppm and 0.03ppm (Algae Prevention)
    iv. Alkalinity, Calcium and Magnesium are not important but for the growth of coralline algae they can be tweaked, while not to critical as this point but strive for natural sea water levels.
    v. PH: 8.0-8.5
    b. Possible Additives:
    i. Vitamins
    ii. Trace Elements
    iii. Amino Acids
    2. Soft Coral dominated: same as before but now we need to consider light. Soft and leather corals are more forgiving when it comes to the nitrate side but I wouldn’t go higher than 5ppm of NO3. If you plan you venture to Clams, LPS and SPS getting a good unit will save in the long run. A good T5 light unit will be more than ample with Metal Halide and LED being options, the misconception that Soft corals need low light is far from the truth, they do prefer moderate to bright lighting. Flow for this tank can be medium to strong. These are great corals to start with and offer ease of maintenance.
    a. Suggested Parameters:
    i. NH4, NO2 always 0! – If these are > 0ppm you have inadequate biological filtering.
    ii. NO3: between 0ppm and 5ppm (Algae Prevention)
    iii. PO4: between 0ppm and 0.03ppm (Algae Prevention)
    iv. Alkalinity: Based on the salt you use alkalinity level, choose a value and stick to it, not critical for soft corals but good to keep things stable. If the salt you use has an Alk of 12, pointless aiming for an Alk of 9.
    v. Calcium and Magnesium are not too critical as this point but strive for natural sea water levels.
    vi. Iodine: Soft corals will consume iodine, getting a good iodine additive will keep corals happy.
    vii. PH: 8.0-8.5
    b. Possible Additives:
    i. Vitamins
    ii. Trace Elements
    iii. Amino Acids
    iv. Strontium
    3. LPS Dominated: Now we are moving up the ladder of complexity, expenditure and the value of a good skimmer. These Corals generally prefer moderate to Low light, there are some exceptions, with low to medium flow, that said always read up on the corals specific requirements. We also need to take more notice now of Calcium, Magnesium and Alkalinity as they now will directly affect the health of the coral. A key point now is stability; in fact this should always be a key point! Despite the extra requirements LPS corals are fairly hardy.
    a. Suggested Parameters:
    i. NH4, NO2 always 0! – If these are > 0ppm you have inadequate biological filtering.
    ii. NO3: between 0ppm and 5ppm (Algae Prevention)
    iii. PO4: between 0ppm and 0.03ppm (Algae Prevention)
    iv. Alkalinity: Based on the salt you use alkalinity level, choose a value and stick to it, not critical for soft corals but good to keep things stable. If the salt you use has an Alk of 12, pointless aiming for an Alk of 9.
    v. Calcium: 400ppm - 450ppm
    vi. Magnesium: 1250ppm – 1350ppm
    vii. PH: 8.0-8.5
    b. Possible Additives:
    i. Vitamins
    ii. Trace Elements
    iii. Amino Acids
    iv. Strontium
    v. iodine
    4. SPS Dominated: well here with SPS we need to have great husbandry, great water quality, and stable parameters. SPS require strong flow and bright lighting. Generally these are classed as the more difficult corals to keep due to the points mentioned before. Here T5, LED and Metal Halides are all great options. One would need to definitely have an adequate nutrient export solution to keep parameters as close to perfect as possible.
    a. Suggested Parameters:
    i. NH4, NO2 always 0! – If these are > 0ppm you have inadequate biological filtering.
    ii. NO3: between 0ppm and 1ppm
    iii. PO4: between 0ppm and 0.03ppm, as close to 0 as possible
    iv. Alkalinity: Based on the salt you use alkalinity level, choose a value and stick to it, not critical for soft corals but good to keep things stable. If the salt you use has an Alk of 12, pointless aiming for an Alk of 9.
    v. Calcium: 400ppm - 450ppm
    vi. Magnesium: 1250ppm – 1350ppm
    vii. PH: 8.0-8.5

    b. Possible Additives:

    i. Vitamins
    ii. Trace Elements
    iii. Amino Acids
    iv. Strontium
    v. iodine
    While I have tried to keep this as cost effective as possible in my designs, there are plenty ways to have a stunning reef tank without investing in every bit of equipment. The major players are protein skimmers, lights and flow. There are numerous ways to do nutrient export without reactors, dosing without dosing pumps if one just spends time planning and designing a system that fits one’s lifestyle and budget.

    Conclusion
    Placing a piece of the ocean in your living room is a huge responsibility, and commitment. Before you make a decision on whether you are able to supply the time and money to this hobby you need to research. You must be dedicated to supplying the best possible conditions for your livestock. Your research will inform you as to how you should run your system. From low budget, minimal maintenance, to high tech, maximum maintenance. Adjust your system to create an enjoyable hobby.

    Remember the 5 Freedoms:
    1. Freedom from hunger.
    2. Freedom from discomfort.
    3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease.
    4. Freedom from fear and distress.
    5. Freedom to express normal behavior.

    While some will describe this as being a difficult hobby, in truth, with planning, patience and some research it is real simple and most rewarding hobby!

    Thanks to my fellow reefers who constantly listen to my wild ideas! @carlosdeandrade , @butcherman , @459b , @MistaOrange , @Hails , @Toolboysa , @Nemeziz_za , @KillerWhale

    Other R.E.E.F Articles to follow:
    R.E.E.F Methodology Series: Reef Strategy: a Primer
    http://www.marineaquariumsa.com/showthread.php?t=39927

    R.E.E.F Methodology Series: chemistry primer
    http://www.marineaquariumsa.com/showthread.php?t=39925

    R.E.E.F Methodology: What is this thing called cycling?
    http://www.marineaquariumsa.com/showthread.php?t=44723

    Your First Marine Invertebrates - Choosing a Clean up crew - CUC
    http://www.marineaquariumsa.com/showthread.php?t=22197

    Your First Hard Corals: LPS Hard Corals
    http://www.marineaquariumsa.com/showthread.php?t=22187
     
    Last edited by a moderator: 26 Nov 2015
    oliver, Jenaid, Fishcrazy and 10 others like this.
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  3. Nemeziz_za

    Nemeziz_za

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    Dallas, you done it again. A fantastic post!

    Definitely vote as a stickie
     
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  4. dallasg

    dallasg Thread Starter Moderator MASA Contributor

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    Thanks, def trying to get beginners a better start :)
     
  5. carlosdeandrade

    carlosdeandrade

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    @dallasg, WOW, I love this write up. Simple to read and digest. It feels like a hole has been filled in vast amounts of reefing mumbo jumbo that is out there and I love the way all the important aspects of beginner reefing has been easily explained and put down on paper.
    In terms of listening to your wild ideas, well you express them so well and thanks for making the hobby exciting for so many of us!
    :yeahdude::thumbup::thumbup::thumbup::thumbup:
     
    Last edited by a moderator: 26 Nov 2015
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  6. the fish

    the fish

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    wow very nice @dallasg vote for sticky
     
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  7. Rookie

    Rookie

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    I second this idea. Good read Dallas and a great summary to all the loads of info out there!:thumbup:
     
  8. dallasg

    dallasg Thread Starter Moderator MASA Contributor

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    thanks for the great comments!!!
    inspires me to write more

    i did forget to mention that @Paul B is a great inspiration
     
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  9. butcherman

    butcherman Moderator MASA Contributor

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    Good read there dallas. a nice starting point for new-comers
     
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  10. MistaOrange

    MistaOrange

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    Awesome read not only for the Nuubs but for the experienced guy & gals too.. Thanks bud you desrve some rep...
     
  11. the fish

    the fish

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    why has this not been sticky'd yet!!??
     
  12. Jayceew

    Jayceew

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    Very nice piece.

    Just to add my opinion to anyone starting out and this adds on to what Dallas mentions around skimmer and buying a slightly overrated skimmer. This actually goes for all equipment, trust me, you will start this hobby and think the equipment is expensive and sometimes we buy what we can just afford. In the long run it's better to save a bit and buy the piece of equipment that's a bit better quality or rating for your system.

    Almost every single reefer I have ever met started small(cheap) only to upgrade tanks/equipment a couple of months later with the result being that a lot of the initial equipment bought was wasted.

    As Dallas mentions, buy the essentials that we have all seen will work, let the system mature and then you can add the fancy goodies when you know what will really work for your system.
     
    Last edited: 3 Jul 2013
  13. 459b

    459b Moderator MASA Contributor

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    Agree with buying the best you can, but remember to budget for monthly maintainence too. A lot of people start this hobby and blow their whole budget on setup then need to sell up a few months later cause of general running costs.
     
  14. 3dd

    3dd

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    Ain't that the truth. And together with running costs of the tank, livestock is also expensive, so stoking that 500L system and keeping everything healthy also puts a dent in the budget.
     
  15. dallasg

    dallasg Thread Starter Moderator MASA Contributor

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    i have found over the last years that the ideal tank size is between 400-500L as those metrics fit the most affordable dosing, additives etc. it also makes lighting more affordable as that foot print is the sweet spot
     
  16. 459b

    459b Moderator MASA Contributor

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    Something you've said to me that maybe you should add....design tank around light unit.
     
  17. dallasg

    dallasg Thread Starter Moderator MASA Contributor

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    yes, buy the best skimmer and light unit and work around that :) everything else is just fluff
     
  18. Black Powder

    Black Powder

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    Beginners thanks for a great article.

    Many thanks for such a great article, exactly what we beginners need. Please tell us what the abbreviations SPS and LPS stand for.
    Thanks,
    Black Powder
     
  19. carlosdeandrade

    carlosdeandrade

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    LPS stands for large polyp stoney corals and SPS stands for small polyp stoney corals.
     
  20. nudibranch

    nudibranch

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    @dallasg, great read thanks. Just to be clear then a mixed tank would be a combination of soft, LPS and SPS as indicated above?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: 26 Nov 2015
  21. dallasg

    dallasg Thread Starter Moderator MASA Contributor

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    yes, so even a SPS dominated is technically a mixed reef
     
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