Starting a Marine Tank

Discussion in 'Beginner Discussions' started by Alan, 4 May 2007.

  1. Alan

    Alan Admin MASA Contributor

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    When starting out in the hobby there are basically 3 considerations, the amount of time you have to dedicate to your system, amount of space available for your system and lastly budget. With regards to budget beware as there are plenty hidden costs that lurk.
    IMO the best investment you can make in this hobby is knowledge, this will ultimatly determine your success or failure, success is not determined by the amount of money you spend on your system.
    One of the most frequently asked questions on forums is: How do we start a marine tank? Here are a few of the answers please read through this if you are new to the hobby and just getting started. The below article is abit dated but still has some very useful information.

    ''Welcome to the wonderful world of saltwater system set-up and operation where we contrive to control all things to keep our livestock alive and happy; but mostly just modulate everything. We've got more components and gew-gaws then "Carter has liver pills", with many more than a few ideas on how they can or should be put together.'' Quoted from wetwebmedia

    The entire article can be found here.
    http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marineSetUp.htm
    http://www.wetwebmedia.com/AqBizSubWebIndex/marsetupho.htm
     
    Last edited: 6 May 2007
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  3. Reef Maniac

    Reef Maniac MASA Contributor

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    There's quite a lot of info for beginners on my website - most is in the form of Questions and Answers gathered from posts from the now defunct IMA email discussion group. Specifically I would refer anyone starting in this great hobby to read the following article: So, you want to start with marines?

    Hennie
     
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  4. DragonReef

    DragonReef

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    Hey Hennie welcome to Marine Aquariums of SA

    Great to have you here.
     
  5. Mashrie

    Mashrie

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    Eric Borneman(I always read this when i think i rush stuff:)) :

    Tank maturity seems to be even more of an issue without the sand bed. The sand bed just takes some time to get enough nutrients in it to sustain populations and stratify into somewhat stable communities and become functional. So, here's the tank reason, and then I'll blow into some ecology for you. When you get a tank, you start with no populations of anything. You get live rock to form the basis of the biodiversity - and remember that virtually everything is moderated by bacteria and photosynthesis in our tanks. So liverock is the substrate for all this stuff, and also has a lot of life on it. How much depends on a lot of things.

    Mostly, marine animals and plants don’t like to be out of water for a day at a time...much less the many days to sometimes a week that often happens. So, assuming you are not using existing rock form a tank, or the well-treated aquacultured stuff, you have live rock that is either relatively free of anything alive to begin with, or you have live rock with a few stragglers and a whole lot of stuff dying or about to die because it won’t survive in the tank. Some, if not most, rock exporters have a “curing process” that gets rid of a lot of the life to begin with and some of this is to keep it from dying and fouling further, but some of it would have lived if treated more carefully.

    From the moment you start, you are in the negative. Corallines will be dying, sponges, dead worms and crustaceans and echinoids and bivalves, many of which are in the rock and you won't ever see. Not to mention the algae, cyanobacteria, and bacteria, most of which is dehydrated, dead or dying, and will decompose. This is where the existing bacteria get kick started. Bacteria grow really fast, and so they are able to grow to levels that are capable of uptaking nitrogen within...well, the cycling time of a few weeks to a month or so. The “started bacteria” products give me a chuckle. Anyone with a passing knowledge of microbiology would realize that for a product to contain live bacteria in a medium that sustains it would quickly turn into a nearly solid mass of bacteria, and if the medium is such that it keeps them inactive, then the amount of bacteria in a bottle is like adding a grain of salt to the ocean compared to what is going to happen quickly in a tank with live rock in it.

    However, if you realize the doubling time of these bugs, you would know that in a month, you should have a tank packed full of bacteria and no room for water. That means something is killing or eating bacteria. Also realize that if you have a tank with constant decomposition happening at a rate high enough to spike ammonia off the scale, you have a lot of bacteria food...way more than you will when things stop dying off and decomposing. So, bacterial growth may have caught up with the level of nitrogen being produced, but things are still dying...you just test zero for ammonia because there are enough bacteria present to keep up with the nitrogen being released by the dying stuff. It does not necessarily mean things are finished decomposing or that ammonia is not being produced.

    Now, if things are decomposing, they are releasing more than ammonia. Guess what dead sponges release? All their toxic metabolites. Guess what else? All their natural antibiotic compounds which prevents some microbes from doing very well. Same with the algae, the inverts, the cyano, the dinoflagellates, etc. They all produce things that can be toxic – and sometimes toxic to things we want, and sometimes to things we don’t want. So, let's just figure this death and decomposition is going take a while.

    OK, so now we have a tank packed with some kinds of bacteria, probably not much of others. Eventually the death stops. Now, what happens to all that biomass of bacteria without a food source? They die. Some continue on at an equilibrium level with the amount of nutrients available. And, denitrification is a slow process. Guess what else? Bacteria also have antibiotics, toxins, etc. all released when they die. But, the die-off is slow, relative to the loss of nutrients, and there is already a huge population, and yet you never test ammonia. "The water tests fine.” But, all these swings are happening. Swings of death, followed by growth until limited, then death again, then nutrients available for growth, and then limitation and death. But, every time, they get less and less, but they keep happening – even in mature tanks. Eventually, they slow and stabilize.

    What's left? A tank with limited denitrification (because its slow and aerobic things happen fast) and a whole lot of other stuff in the water. Who comes to the rescue and thrives during these cycles? The next fastest growing groups...cyanobacteria, single celled algae, protists, ciliates, etc. Then they do their little cycle thing. And then the turf algae take advantage of the nutrients (the hair algae stage). Turfs get mowed down by all the little amphipods that are suddenly springing up cause they have a food source. Maybe you've bought some snails by now, too, or a fish. And the fish dies, of course, because it may not have ammonia to contend with, but is has water filled with things we can't and don't test for...plus, beginning aquarists usually skimp on lights and pumps initially, and haven't figured out that alkalinity test, so pH and O2 are probably swinging wildly at this point.

    So, the algae successions kick in, and eventually you have a good algal biomass that handles nitrogen, produces oxygen through photosynthesis, takes up the metabolic CO2 of all the other heterotrophs you can’t see, the bacteria have long settled in and also deal with nutrients, and the aquarium keeper has probably stopped adding fish for a spell because they keep dying. Maybe they started to visit boards and read books and get the knack of the tank a bit. They have probably also added a bunch of fix-it-quick chemicals that didn’t help any, either. Also, they are probably scared to add corals that would actually help with the photosynthesis and nutrient uptake, or they have packed in corals that aren't tolerant of those conditions.

    About a year into it, the sand bed is productive and has stratified, water quality is stable, and the aquarist has bought a few more powerheads, understands water quality a bit, corallines and algae, if not corals and other things are photosynthesizing well, and the tank is "mature." That's when fish stop dying when you buy them (at least the cyanide free ones) and corals start to live and grow and I stop getting posts about "I just bought a coral and its dying and my tank is two months old" and they start actually answering some questions here and there instead of just asking questions (though we should all always be asking questions, if not only to ourselves!).

    So, ecologically, this is successional population dynamics. Its normal, and it happens when there is a hurricane or a fire, or whatever. In nature though, you have pioneer species that are eventually replaced by climax communities. We usually try and stock immediately with climax species. And find it doesn't always work.

    Now, the "too mature" system is the old tank syndrome. Happens in nature, too. That whole forest fire reinvigorating the system is true. Equally true on coral reefs where the intermediate disturbance hypothesis is the running thought on why coral reefs maintain very high diversity...they are stable, but not too stable, and require storms, but not catastrophic ones....predation, but not a giant blanket of crown of thorns, mass bleaching, or loss of key herbivores.

    This goes to show what good approximations these tanks are of mini-ecosystems. Things happen much faster in tanks, but what do you expect given the bioload per unit area. So, our climax community happens in a couple years rather than a couple of centuries. Thing is, I am fully convinced that intermediate tank disturbance would prevent old tank syndrome.

    My advice on starting tanks is to plan the habitat you want. Find the animals and corals you like. Learn about the tiny area of the reef you will try and recreate, and do not try to make a whole coral reef in one tank. Then, purchase the equipment required to emulate that environment. Then, add the appropriate types of substrate (sand, rubble, rock, whatever) and wait long after “your tank water tests fine” before you add fish and corals. First, add herbivores and maintain water quality. Water changes, carbon, skimming, alkalinity, calcium. Keep the water of high quality, even for things you can’t test for. Wait a few months and enjoy the growth that will happen. Then, add some of the species that you plan to keep….invertebrates and corals. They help create the environment, and also photosynthesize, add biodiversity, stabilize nutrients, etc. Then….then….add fish. The fish will have a reef as their new home. They won’t be stressed by this variable bouilllabaise of water and a strange habitat that keeps changing as things are added or die. They will have a stable tank with real habitat, and then the original concept you imagined will have happened.
     
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  6. Copperband

    Copperband

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    Hennie welcome to MASA, nice site you have there.

    Thanks Mashrie, thats well worth the read.
     
  7. Ridwaan

    Ridwaan

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    Excellent info there Mashrie.It anwered quite alot of my questions.Thanks Bru!!
     
  8. Awvince

    Awvince Here fishie fishie

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    Thanks Mashrie
     
  9. 2balive

    2balive

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    To skim or not to skim

    Do you run your skimmer in those first few months of "breaking in" the tank?

    I have read some reports that it limits the biodiversity and that you should let it cycle without the skimmer for the first three to six months.

    Does not make sense to me, as the toxin levels will reach higher peaks and thus kill more stuff during the process?
     
  10. Alan

    Alan Thread Starter Admin MASA Contributor

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    I would run the skimmer from the beginning which will keep the nutrient load as low as possible, therefore less algae issues.
     
  11. Reef Maniac

    Reef Maniac MASA Contributor

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    Agreed - skimming is a must, if you are using "nearly dead" uncured live rock with lots of dead & decomposing critters in it (like most of the LR available in SA).

    If you are fortunate enough to receive "fresh" live rock which still has most of it's critters alive, one would have to cycle more slowly, doing frequent water changes to keep the toxic levels down. In this case, skimming might be advantageous in lessening the toxic levels, but would also remove lots of small life just recovering from the LR "harvest". Personally, I would not skim in this instance.

    If you have "dead" cured LR, with only the nitrifying bacteria surviving, it would do no harm to skim from day one, but not skimming would result in a higher initial ammonia level, which should cause a quicker cycle, albeit with higher "spikes".

    On the same note - many people believe in keeping the tank in the dark during cycling - I believe that having a decent amount of light from day one could result in the survival of many corals and macro algae which would otherwise have perished.

    I guess each person should weigh up the pro's and con's, and decide for themselves.

    Hennie
     
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  12. Copperband

    Copperband

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    Len skim from the start, you'll be suprised what comes out whilst the tank settles and also just after yopu add LR.
     
  13. djmurray

    djmurray Email me about anything

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    Ya i ran my skimmer from the 1st day and after the secound week lots of LR,LR is the key to a good aquirium
     
  14. brentnorm

    brentnorm

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    Beginner

    Hi all. Just starting up a marine tank and nll the help I can get.
     
  15. DragonReef

    DragonReef

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    Hey Brentnorm, welcome to MASA. You've come to the right place :D

    Start a thread in the new members section and we will give you all the help you need ;)
     
  16. Kanga

    Kanga Retired Moderator MASA Contributor

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    Welcome BrentNorm, you've come to SA's very best marine forum:)

    Start a thread in the new members section, tell us what you want to keep and we will help you all the way.
     
  17. brentnorm

    brentnorm

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    Just gotta get my head around all this posting stuff too.
     
  18. Kanga

    Kanga Retired Moderator MASA Contributor

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  19. Mike

    Mike Retired Moderator

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    Damn good sticky - great info for the n00b, well done all.
     
  20. brentnorm

    brentnorm

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    You guys on in the evening ? Would like to chat a bit when I am not at work.
     
  21. Mike

    Mike Retired Moderator

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    Hell, most of us are here all day and night:whistling:
     
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