Starter Reef

Setting Up a First Marine Aquarium or Young Aquarist's

Tank Using a Simplified, Natural Approach ften perplexing for those who haven't tried it before, setting up a new aquarium can be simple when done in logical, unhurried steps. The accompanying photographs illustrate a straightforward sequence one might use to create a simple reef system, using the techniques discussed in this book. The theme we have chosen is a bit of Micronesian deep fore-reef habitat, which will be housed in a 20-gallon aquarium — a tank size that offers enough room to create an interesting ecosystem but is small enough to fit a beginner's space and budget, with no expensive lighting or filtration equipment required.

Step 1: Assemble the Equipment

After visiting the local aquarium shops and developing a plan and budget for your system, you will first acquire the necessary tank and equipment. Under no circumstances will you buy the gear (hardware) and livestock (software) on the same first trip. Unlike the typical setup for a child's goldfish bowl, you must have a marine aquarium up and running, with the water quality stabilized, before you bring home the first live organism.


From Aquarium Shop


Lighting hood and bulbs Small skimmer/external filter Small powerhead Heater

Thermometer Hydrometer

Basic marine water test kit Salt mix

Natural coral sand (aragonite)

Background film or paint and brush (optional)


Stand (or other stable, level surface) 5-gallon clean plastic bucket(s) Carpenter's level Transparent (Scotch) tape Duct tape

Single-edged razor blade Light timer

Ground-fault interrupter extension cord

Chapter Two 65

Aquariums CleanerSmall Reef Aquarium

Step 1: Essential components of a basic, inexpensive, beginners natural reef system, including 20-gallon glass aquarium, simple light hood, external skimmer, small powerhead, thermometer, hydrometer, test kit, salt, and aragonite or coral sand.

Step 2: Prepare for Filling

• Rinse the tank with freshwater. Never use soap or commercial cleaners to clean an aquarium. (If you need to remove a stubborn deposit, use a little white vinegar. sin-gle-edged razor blade can be used on a glass aquarium, never on acrylic, to remove anything adhering to the glass. Rinse again with freshwater after cleaning.)

• Apply the background. Before the aquarium is positioned against a wall, take the time to install a background, which will obscure any distracting wires, filtration gear, or man-made wallcovering behind the tank. Pet shops carry waterproof paper or plastic background materials in sheets or rolls; there are many decorative choices, but I recommend a simple black or dark blue as the best choice for a novice. First, clean the outside of the tank glass thoroughly. Fingerprints or splotches will be remarkably apparent against the background when the tank is set up and illuminated.

Use small pieces of tape to hold the background in place, then use duct tape to completely seal the background to

66 Natural Reef Aquariums

Skilter Filter 250

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Skilter Filter 250

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Gambar Lis Aquarium


Starter system: Perfecto 20-gallon aquarium (24 x 12 x 17 inches) and light hood; Supreme Skilter 250 skimmer and filter; Rio 600 powerhead; Ebo-Jager LZ 75-watt heater; fasTesT saltwater test kit; SeaTest hydrometer; Hagen glass thermometer; Intermatic light timer; Levi-ton ground-fault interrupter extension cord; Tropic Marin salt mix; CaribSea Florida crushed coral. Enhanced system: Coralife fluorescent and actinic lights (4 x 20-watts) in oak hood; CPR Cyclone BakPak skimmer; Tsunami HD wavemaker; additional powerhead.

Step 3s Once properly located and leveled on a stable sur- surface. You may need to add shims under the legs of the face with background film or paint applied, the tank is filled with freshwater to check for leaks and test equipment.

tank stand, or you may need to choose another spot. If the tank is not level, chances of an eventual leak are increased dramatically. (Needless to say, the stand should be rock-the top frame of the tank. The idea is to prevent water from solid; if there is any chance of tipping, whether caused by finding its way between the background material and the children playing or by earthquakes, the stand should be glass, where it will evaporate and make a salt stain that will firmly anchored to the wall or floor.) detract from the appearance of your captive reef. Next, seal the other three edges to the tank in the same manner. Trim the tape with a single-edged razor blade. Properly done, the background should last a long time. It is a nuisance to • Fill the tank with cold tap water, dry all exterior sur-

attach or replace the background once the tank is filled, so faces and seams, and check for leaks. Leaks are not corn-make the effort now to do it correctly. (Some experienced mon, but do happen. Most manufacturers provide an aquarists prefer a more permanent solution and paint the ex- appropriate guarantee, and a reputable retailer will quickly terior of the back glass with quick-drying latex enamel, usu- replace a defective aquarium for you. Ask about this before

Step 3: Add Water ally black or a shade of blue.)

you buy, and keep your receipt. If the tank does not show

Locate and level the aquarium. Place the tank in its any leaks within 24 hours, it probably never will.

permanent position, and use a carpenter's level, side-to-

• If the tank appears watertight, unpack, assemble, and side and front-to-back, to be sure it is on a perfectly flat install the skimmer, the powerhead, and the heater, follow-

Chapter Two 67

ing the instructions that are packed in the boxes with the equipment. Do not connect power at this time.

• Being careful to first wipe up any spills, plug in all the equipment. (For shock prevention and peace of mind, connect everything through a ground-fault interrupter power cord, available at any good hardware store.) Check to be sure that the skimmer and powerhead are working properly. Dont expect the skimmer to produce foam at this point. It won't. Adjust the thermostat on the heater, following the manufacturer's instructions. Unless you are attempting to duplicate a special environment, 75 to 78 degrees F is a good starting range for a typical marine tank. (If the heater does not provide temperature settings, you will have to check and readjust the thermostat several times over the first day or two until the correct water temperature, as shown by your thermometer, is achieved.)

• Cover the tank, install the light strip, and connect the light to the timer. Set the timer and check its operation. Step 4s Aquarium salt mix is added and water is allowed to

• Allow the system to run overnight. The next morn- circulate for 24 hours; then check and adjust the density, ing, check to see that the temperature is on target and that no slow leaks have appeared.

Hydrometer Correction Formula

Step 4: Add Salt Mix variations. For example, a hydrometer reading of 1.0240 at 24 degrees C calls for a correction factor of +0.0021. Thus the corrected density reading is 1.0261. The salinity, from the table on page 122, is 35 ppt, the same as full-strength Most salt mix formulas require a little more than 2 seawater. (Some hydrometers intended for marine aquarium cups of dry mix to produce 5 gallons of synthetic seawater. use have the scale already adjusted for a temperature of 75 Add the appropriate amount, about 9 cups total for this degrees F, and thus read directly in specific gravity units.) 20-gallon system, to the tank. The water will turn cloudy. If the specific gravity is too low, add more salt mix and wait Not all of the salt will dissolve immediately. The circula- three or four hours for it to dissolve before checking again, tion created by the skimmer and powerhead will help get the If the density is too high, take some water out and replace salt into solution. it with freshwater. After the density is adjusted properly,

• After allowing 24 hours for the salt to dissolve com- mark the water level in an inconspicuous spot, using a bit pletely, check the water with an aquarium hydrometer. A of tape or a permanent marker. This will make it easy to typical glass hydrometer reading should be 1.022-1.024 at tell when the water level changes due to evaporation.

75 degrees F (24 degrees C). Temperature affects the read-

Next, using your test kit, check the pH of the syn-

ing. Use the table on page 121 to correct for temperature thetic seawater. It should be in the range of 8.2 to 8.3, plus

68 Natural Reef Aquariums or minus 0.1 pH unit. In any case, make certain the tem- of place. Some aquarists prefer to place the sand bed first, perature, specific gravity, and pH are correct before you but additional care must be exercised to ensure that the proceed to the next step. (Rather than mixing the salt so- burrowing of livestock does not undermine and topple the lution in the aquarium, you may prefer to use a large vat or rocks. If the base rocks are resting firmly on the bottom of a new plastic trash can. Such a reservoir will be extremely the aquarium, this should never happen.

handy in the long run, providing a place to mix and age

During aquascaping, the addition of rock, sand, and saltwater. A small powerhead or an airstone to keep the your hands and arms will cause the water level to rise. Re-water circulating in the reservoir is a good adjunct, as is a move excess saltwater to a storage bucket and set it aside submersible heater in cooler climates.) for future water changes; be sure not to let the pumps or heater run dry if the water level falls. As a precaution, you may wish to unplug everything while doing Steps 4 and 5. You will need to have acquired about 20 pounds of live After the aquarium water has been adjusted rock, usually in pieces ranging from the size of a baseball to the correct beginning parameters, it is time to add live to that of a cantaloupe. (You may wish to use fewer, larger rock. We are placing the rock first, before adding sand, to pieces, which may fetch a premium price.)

Step 5: Mi Live Rock create a completely stable rockwork structure, with no pieces

Starting with the bigger, heavier, and/or less interest-

precariously balanced or in danger of tipping or sliding out ing pieces, build up a reef structure, using any arrangement that suits your fancy. Assuming you select cured live rock, all you will need to do is remove it from the container in which it was transported and place it directly in the tank. Try to have an open arrangement that allows for water movement around each piece, rather than a solid "brick wall" effect. Use your imagination. Since the habitat we have chosen for this tank is a deep fore reef, try to create a cave, arranged so that a view into the cave will be the focal point of the tank. Here is where your fishes or shrimp will likely retreat to avoid disturbances or to sleep.

• If possible, position the powerhead and skimmer so they will be hidden by the rockwork, and direct their currents to flow either across or through the reef structure.

Aragonite Substrate

Step 6: Md Substrate

Steps 5 & 6: Once the proper water conditions are

Pour aragonite sand from the bag in which it is sup-

achieved, 15-20 pounds of cured live rock are assembled in a plied into a clean 5-gallon plastic bucket until the bucket is stable structure and approximately 2 inches of sand added.

about one-third full. (You should buy a new bucket or two

Chapter Two 69

to use only lor aquarium chores. Never use buckets that have held any commodity other than food intended for human

Step 7: Add Livestock consumption. Sometimes restaurants and bakeries will have Over the next few weeks, the tank will begin to grow such buckets free for the asking.) Run tepid freshwater from algae. You may want to clean the front and side panels with a tap or garden hose into the bucket, swirling the sand a brush or razor blade, but the appearance of algae is a clear around with your hand. The water will become cloudy, due call to bring in biological helpers. I believe that the most to the fine particles that have accumulated in the sand during shipment and storage. Pour off the water and repeat the washing process a time or two. This step is

Salt Water Aquarium Sand

not absolutely necessary — the dust is harmless — but the aquarium water will clear up more quickly if the sand is rinsed in this fashion. As each batch of sand is rinsed, add it to the tank, creating a uniform layer on the bottom. Don t worry if the tank becomes cloudy; this is virtually inevitable at this stage and it will clear up in a day or two.

• Now add, without rinsing, a pound of purchased live sand or introduce hardy livestock, including hermit sand obtained from a long-estab- crabs, snails, and perhaps a damselfish or two.

7 s Once the rock and sand are placed, appropriate first inhabitants are herbivorous species that will industriously attack the algae growing on the rock and tank walls. For this tank, 10 snails and four tiny hermit crabs would be good choices. You may be able to order Pacific species of both kinds of organisms, but if necessary, make do with Astraea snails and Blue-legged Hermit Crabs (Clibanarius tricolor), which are native to Florida. After obtaining specimens, float them (in their plastic bags) in the tank for about half an hour, then release the animals, but not the bag water, into your aquarium. Wait a week before adding any other specimens. If no algae growth is apparent yet, add a tiny pinch of fish food for the benefit of the hermit crabs.

Many, if not most, marine systems are started with lished, healthy reef aquarium. Spread this in a layer on top of the aragonite sand.

* Restart the powerhead, skimmer, and heater and turn on the tank lighting. Double-check to make sure everything rugged little damselfishes to feed the nitrogen cycle. This is is working — although the skimmer will still be producing still an acceptable approach, but not necessary, and you may very little or no foam. Recheck the temperature, specific want to think twice before adding fishes with scrappy ten-gravity, and pH. If all seems well, leave the tank alone for a dencies, especially if later inhabitants will be shy or easily day or two, or until the water is completely clear. If some- harassed. Remember that any fish you place in a reef tank thing is amiss, correct the problem, and let the tank again sit can be difficult to remove later without upsetting or refer a day or two. Now is a good time to begin a log of your moving the rockwork. To my mind, the emerging life on water quality parameters (see pages 138-139).

good quality live rock and the hermit crabs will provide suf-

70 Natural Reef Aquariums rock. A Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp (.Lysmata amboinensis) would also be at home in this reef environment. The Feather Dusters are filter feeders, and the Scarlet Cleaner is a scavenger, so feeding need not be too frequent. Once or twice a week, a very small amount of frozen fish food can be added for the shrimp. The Feather Dusters will feed on bacteria and other small particles stirred up during maintenance of the tank. Plan on doing a 20% water change about 30 days after the live rock is first added and each month thereafter. Check the nitrate level each week and start doing partial water changes if it rises above 20 ppm. This may be more or less often than every month, depending upon the individual circumstances of your tank. Check and record the pH every week, and check the tempera-

ficient show for the first weeks. You will be amused at the ture each time you observe the tank. Add water, preferably antics of the crabs as they scurry for the food, and the rock distilled or purified, to compensate for evaporation. It is best can easily provide living surprises of its own. to do this as soon as you notice that evaporation has oc curred. If you forget, and the water has evaporated far below the mark you made earlier, add distilled water a little at a time to correct the specific gravity by no more than 0.001 After the tank has been home to snails and her- units per day. Use your hydrometer to determine how far the mit crabs for a week or more, you can complete the system specific gravity has shifted and to determine the rate at which your corrections are proceeding. Your motto should

Fiji Devil Damsel

Step 8: The completed reef, with Fiji live rock, Golden or Canary Wrasses, a Blue Devil Damsel, and a selection of easy-to-keep Feather Duster Worms.

Step 8: Complete the Ecosystem with additional invertebrates and fishes.

Because of the modest lighting used on this system, be "test, then tweak." Trying to correct a problem too confine your selections to hardy, nonphotosynthetic inver- quickly may cause more harm than the problem itself.

tebrates. An excellent choice for the beginner is the Feather

When you feel comfortable with the maintenance rou-

Duster (Sabellastarte indica\ S. sanctijosephi), and several tine, it is time to add the fishes. The choices available are specimens can be placed attractively in crevices in the live many. The photograph on this page shows a system with a

Chapter Two 71

trio of delightful Golden or Canary Wrasses (Halichoeres chrysus), which are commonly available and make an interesting, active display. Also shown is a Blue Devil Damsel (Chrysiptera cyanea), the classic beginner's fish and an ultra-hardy selection. An alternate choice might be a pair of cardinalfish, also quite content in a small tank.

Remember that any new specimen will require a few days to become accustomed to its surroundings, so do not become alarmed if the fish hide and/or fail to eat for a brief period. Healthy specimens should start feeding within three or four days. If there appear to be problems, consult with the dealer from whom you purchased the fish.

Purchase a selection of frozen foods at the same time you obtain the fish. Feed a small amount each day, observing carefully to make sure that all the food is consumed within an hour of feeding. Watch for normal behavior and check tank conditions (including temperature and equipment functioning) at each feeding.

Congratulations! You have now succeeded in establishing your first natural reef aquarium.

Upgrading the Hardware

With only a couple of modifications, the 20-gallon system just described could easily become a typical

Indo-Pacific fringing reef, representing a shallower habitat between the shore and lagoon. First, install a four-lamp fluorescent lighting system instead of the single strip light in the previous example. I would also recommend installing a second powerhead, directing the outflow perpendicular to that of the first powerhead (to the extent permitted by the rockwork) and control both powerheads with a wave maker.

Upgrading the "Software"

After your starter reef system is established, it will begin to exhibit periodic algae blooms. If you follow my advice on pages 136-138, however, the algae blooms should abate after about six or eight weeks, and small patches of purple and mauve coralline algae should begin to appear here and there. Once this coralline algae growth develops, you can add an assortment of soft corals and mushroom polyps. A variety of these might be found in any shallow, fringing reef habitat. You may choose to populate this reef with different or more exotic fish species, but use caution: a 20-gallon system with this filtration system will support only a light load of fishes and/or mobile invertebrates.

As you gain confidence with your skills as a reef aquar-ist, you will likely want to set up a larger system, and to try your hand at keeping a wider variety of species. Relax and enjoy. You are well on your way to a lifetime of learning and pleasure as you gain experience with the denizens of Earth's most interesting ecosystem, the living coral reef.

Aquarium With Bakpak

Enhanced four-bulb lighting, upgraded skimming, and increased circulation allow for the addition of mushroom polyps and other relatively hardy "beginner's" corals.

72 Natural Rui Aquariums

The COMPLETE guide to Aquariums

The COMPLETE guide to Aquariums

The word aquarium originates from the ancient Latin language, aqua meaning water and the suffix rium meaning place or building. Aquariums are beautiful and look good anywhere! Home aquariums are becoming more and more popular, it is a hobby that many people are flocking too and fish shops are on the rise. Fish are generally easy to keep although do they need quite a bit of attention. Puppies and kittens were the typical pet but now fish are becoming more and more frequent in house holds. In recent years fish shops have noticed a great increase in the rise of people wanting to purchase aquariums and fish, the boom has been great for local shops as the fish industry hasnt been such a great industry before now.

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