course. Even matching the color of the drapes with a Purple Tang is acceptable, as long as this results in an aquarium that reflects the natural habitat of this fish, which happens to be the Red Sea.
After you have created a Must Have list and a Goes With list, inspect the lists carefully, perhaps doing a bit of research and note-taking, to identify the one Pivotal Species in your scheme. The Pivotal Species is the one that will make the greatest demands upon the system for its long-term survival. (The Must Have and Pivotal Species are not always one and the same.) The system must be designed with the needs of the Pivotal Species clearly in mind. If attention is given to this aspect of marine aquarium keeping, success with the rest of the community of species within the aquarium is virtually assured.
For example, among the more popular aquarium subjects are clownfishes and their host sea anemones. Every beginner who has ever inquired of me about keeping these species asks first what size tank will accommodate them. Subsequent questions often involve filtration and the addition of nutrient supplements to the water. Seldom am I asked about providing adequate light for the anemone, which is the key to succeeding with this plan. Even less often am I asked about the distinctions among the different species of host anemones, which range from one species nearly impossible to keep to another species that can be readily propagated. If the anemone does not survive, and a high percentage of them do not, the whole point of this aquarium is lost. Obviously, once you are aware of this, the anemone becomes the greater challenge and is thus the Pivotal Species in the plan.
Practicality will dictate that choices be made with a budget in mind. The relationship of the cost of the completed system to the size of the tank becomes readily apparent when one prices aquariums. Although the tanks themselves are often sold at very low margins (most dealers subscribe to the theory that a person who does not own a tank has little use for anything else in the store), the capacity of the tank will influence the cost of the complete system more significantly than any other factor. Achieving a natural marine aquarium within a given tank requires thinking about the space requirements of the proposed inhabitants. Thus, if a shark is something you are longing to own, consider that its need for space at its adult size will probably require a larger tank than most people can provide at home. Another common example of size consideration is the Volitans Li-onfish, which easily reaches 12 to 18 inches in length and can live to be 20 years old. Trying to shoehorn this species into a 50-gallon tank is inappropriate and will shorten the fish's lifespan significantly. Species that grow large will often be your Pivotal Species.
In general, buy the largest aquarium that your available space and budget can accommodate. With any aquarium system, the bigger, the better. Consider how immense is the structure that you are trying to recreate. For example, a small patch reef in the Florida Keys can be larger than a two-story house. One can have a very small tank, but one must be prepared to limit the inhabitants to a selection of species whose size and behavior are compatible with this restriction. One must consider, further, the total cost of the complete system and not just that of the tank itself. I suggest an allowance of about $30 to $50 for each gallon of tank capacity as the final cost of a completed system. This includes not only the tank and the equipment to run it, but also the biological components, such as live rock, seawater, and the inhabitants, whether fish or invertebrates. Any size aquarium can be simple to maintain, if it is populated appropriately.
On a counter at my store, Aquatic Specialists, we have had, for several years, a 10-gallon aquarium that has evolved into a remarkable representation of a rocky Indo-Pacific habitat. Soft corals and false coral polyps are the dominant species. There are two fish. A tiny blenny, scarcely an inch in length, occupies a tubelike hole in one of the rocks, and a 2-inch Jordan's Fairy Wrasse glides in and out of the many small caves created from chunks of live rock. There are dozens of small, encrusting invertebrate species that have grown in the tank. Most of the larger specimens, such as small colonies of leather corals, have been propagated from bits and pieces deliberately or accidentally detached from larger colonies in the store's inventory. Every Christmas, we are asked repeatedly to quote a price for recreating this system. At the time of this writing, it amounts to $300 and several years of patient attention. Care, however, is minimal and straightforward. I would like, once and for all, to dispel the myth that a marine aquarium must be big to be successful.
Since "big" and "small" can mean different things to different people, it is useful to define these terms as I use them in this book. A "really big" aquarium is anything larger than about 300 gallons, the upper limit to commercially available, standard tanks. Anything above 100 gallons, but less than 300, is "big." Tanks in the range of 30 to 75 gallons are the most popular with marine aquarists and are of "average" size. Anything less than 30 gallons is "small." The lower limit, in my experience, is about 1 gallon.
Julian Sprung, a noted author and well-versed expert on reef tanks, has helped foster the notion that anyone can create a fully packed reef tank in 15 gallons, as he has done so splendidly. To do this successfully, however, takes considerable skill and attention to an appropriate maintenance routine. Most beginners add a massive overload of fish and invertebrates and thus end up with a mess. Approached correctly, however, small tanks can be quite rewarding and are a relatively low-cost way for a beginner to become involved in the marine aquarium hobby. Later chapters in this book will be of great help in setting realistic stocking goals. Depending upon what one has in mind in terms of space and money, I suggest that beginners choose a small to average tank: a 20-, 30-, 50-, or 75-gallon system. If the plan is to go for a big tank, then 120 gallons is a good choice for a reef system. (See suggested setups, pages 64-79.) All of these sizes provide a reasonable ratio of surface area to water volume, standard lighting equipment works well with them, and the broad base design (18 to 24 inches front to back) of the larger tanks allows for easily installed and visually appealing decoration. For systems intended to feature many, or larger, fishes, a really big tank will be needed.
Let's get back to why people are often told that small tanks won't do. An oft-cited problem is temperature control, with the suggestion that a small tank will be subject to severe temperature fluctuations. The high heat capacity of water tends to stabilize the temperature of the tank, as compared to the fluctuating temperature of the surrounding air. This tendency is constant, regardless of the size of the tank. Much depends upon the shape of the tank in relation to its volume. Tall, narrow tanks with relatively little surface area are the most difficult to cool in dangerously hot weather. To be sure, evaporation of water from a smaller tank will change the salinity more quickly than would be the case for a larger tank housed in the same room, although evaporation rate depends upon many factors.
Possibly the greatest misunderstanding arises in regard to bioload. Overstocking the smaller water volume will not, as is often erroneously suggested, result in a faster decline in water quality than would be the case with a larger tank. The rate at which pollutants are released into the system will be a function of the metabolism of the animals present. If two systems are stocked with the same biomass, or grams offish, per gallon, the pollution rates will be the same. In other words, the mere number of animals present is not
Novice marine aquarists should think twice before starting a too-small tank, despite the lower cost. I have had many an inexperienced person tell me that the only reason dealers recommend larger tanks is that they want to make a bigger sale. Having been a dealer, I can refute this categorically. The successful hobbyist is most likely to be a repeat customer, and any good dealer's basic philosophy is to cultivate successful hobbyists. The consensus among experienced hobbyists is that the greatest likelihood of success with a first-time marine aquarium is to be had with a system of around 40 to 100 gallons. The stability of a larger system works in your favor. Therefore, it is good business to encourage people to buy something that will give them satisfaction. It is not good business, however, clearly outside the realm of what they are able, or A small but obviously successful 10-gallon acrylic setup designed willing, to pay. When only a small system will do, I as the Micro-Mini Reef by Coral Reef Eco-Systems of Windsor, CA
to try to talk a customer into something that is try to encourage success by pointing out that the rules are rather strict for a tiny reef tank. Here are the most important points to remember if considering a marine aquarium of less than 40 gallons:
1. Absolutely rigorous attention must be paid to maintenance chores, such as water changes and evaporation replenishment. Neglecting topping off for one day in a 2-gallon desktop tank, for example, can result in a salinity increase that will kill starfish.
Stick with shallow-water species, such as leather corals and mushroom polyps, that are tolerant of less than pristine water quality. No beginning marine aquarist should start with SPS (small-polyped scleractinian) corals under any circumstances. Spend time developing aquarium-keeping skills to avoid the needless sacrifice of demanding species.
3. For best results, do not put fishes into a small reef tank. Fish put the greatest demand on any aquarium system. In a small volume of water, pollution levels can rise
Filtration components: back-of-tank power filter, hang-on venturi skimmer-filter, and hidden under-sand plenum.
Filtration components: back-of-tank power filter, hang-on venturi skimmer-filter, and hidden under-sand plenum.
rapidly when fish are present and being fed. A single diminutive fish might be the limit for a tiny tank; if you must have more, it may be best to make yours a small fish tank and limit the invertebrates to hardy species like shrimps, fan-worms, and small hermit crabs.
4. Overfeeding the fish always leads to trouble. Few experienced hobbyists, much less beginners, have the patience and restraint necessary to provide several marine fish housed in a small aquarium with an adequate diet, while at the same time avoiding an accumulation of excess nutrients in the water. One of the characteristics of a seasoned talent is the ability to make an inherently difficult achievement appear simple. Novices would be wise to note that the most celebrated small marine reef aquariums are the creations of expert aquarists.
important, their mass per unit of water volume is. (We are assuming here that the metabolic rates of the animals are the same. Say all the animals in the tank are the same species, a school of blue damsels, for example.) In this regard, the problems most often seen with small tanks result from a lack of restraint on the part of the aquarist, rather than an inherent defect of the system. Like a small garden, a small aquarium can be as rewarding as a large one. What is required is understanding and finesse on the part of the aquarist or gardener and a controlling hand to rein in the exuberance of nature confined. Bigger tanks offer more leeway, perhaps, in stocking and design capabilities, but also require more resources to maintain effectively and are no more forgiving of gross carelessness than smaller systems. If you are willing to practice the techniques for success with a marine aquarium, it matters little what size you choose.
Using $30 per gallon as your cost estimate, decide what you can afford to install and stock, remembering that not all of this investment will be required immediately. About one-third of the expense will go for the tank and equipment, another third for live rock, and the remaining third for additional live specimens. Your budgeting efforts should also take into consideration the ongoing costs of food, seawater, and replacement parts such as lamps. These costs increase in proportion to the size of the aquarium.
Once the tank size is decided, most aquarists will select a predrilled tank with an internal overflow box. The overflow box normally consists of a rectangular plastic chamber, a little taller than the maximum water level, installed in one corner or along the back wall of the tank.
Two such boxes are recommended in tanks over 4 feet long.
The box is notched near the top to create a "fence," preventing fish from being swept over the edge. The overflow
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