BreakIn Period

Live rock and live sand seed the aquarium with beneficial bacteria and a host of other organisms. A fish-only system decorated entirely with dead rock and sand must have a source for these microscopic helpers. When you are finished aquascaping, add a bag of commercially packaged live sand on top of the substrate, or place a few small pieces of live rock in the tank. You can also purchase cultured bacterial tank starters, but I prefer using the natural materials. The bacteria need a source of ammonia. Purchase an ammonium chloride solution made expressly for this purpose, and add it according to the label directions.

If you are aquascaping with mostly live rock, work with your dealer to schedule its arrival. If the dealer is going to cure the rock for you, all you need to do is pick it up, return home, and start aquascaping. If you are going to cure the rock yourself, you'll want a curing tank set up and running at least forty-eight hours before the rock arrives. You can use your quarantine tank for curing the rock, or set up a plastic trash can as an auxiliary tank. During the curing process, it will be periodically necessary to remove some pieces of rock for extra cleaning. Sometimes a piece of sponge or other attached organism dies producing a slimy white patch as bacteria decompose it. If you see this, take out that piece of rock and scrub off the decayed area with an old toothbrush before returning the rock to the water. (Warning, the smell can be quite offensive. This is not a task for the squeamish.) After the first week or so of curing, major die off such as this no longer occurs, and it is not necessary to do anything further except wait. Scrubbing live rock should always be done as gently as possible, and only when required. You cannot avoid removing some beneficial organisms in the process, and you do not want to eliminate them unnecessarily.

How do you know when the curing process is complete? As the rock cures, decay organisms will produce ammonia, which will be converted to nitrite by beneficial bacteria. As curing proceeds, additional bacteria will oxidize the nitrite to nitrate. Therefore, simply test the water for nitrite periodically and keep track of the results. You will see an initial rise, a peak, and then a sharp decline to zero. At that point, the curing process has run its course, usually after about two weeks. The live rock is ready to be transferred to the display tank,

Basic Setup Procedures 103

Basic Setup Procedures 103

Using a Plastic Trash Can as an Auxiliary Aquarium

For curing live rock, mixing seawater, and even quarantining fish, a fifty-gallon plastic trash can can substitute for a glass tank. Sturdy enough to hold water without collapsing, trash cans are impervious to water damage, cheap, and unbreakable. Install a submersible aquarium heater and a powerhead to circulate water. Hang a fluorescent shop light over the trash can if you use it to quarantine photosynthetic invertebrates or for raising brine shrimp nauplii to adulthood.

For an even larger auxiliary tank, look for molded plastic stock watering tubs at an agricultural supply store. They come in various capacities, with the one hundred-gallon size being most useful.

\___y bringing with it all the beneficial bacteria and other organisms that will help create and maintain the minireef environment.

The same thing happens during the break-in period when only a small amount of live rock or sand is added to seed an otherwise barren tank, followed by the addition of ammonia in chemical form. Nitrite testing will reveal a peak followed by a crash as the tank's biofiltration capacity develops. Because the initial amount of bacteria is small, the break-in period for a fish-only tank takes much longer, usually about four weeks.

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