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Old 11-11-2008, 08:04 PM
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Default Three Steps To A Reef Aquarium - Step 1

This is part 1 of the 'Three Steps to a Reef Aquarium' series that started this entire site. Originally written around 1996. These articles were all that 3reef was for a while when it was threestepstoareefaquarium dot com!

Step One: Hardware.

The Aquarium

When it comes to reef aquariums, I personally would go with a glass aquarium. They tend to take abuse better. Acrylic tanks are nice, but require more effort. You're call. If you do go for an acrylic, be sure to get a algae scrub-pad made for an acrylic tank. The normal scrub-pad will scratch an acrylic tank. Let's assume you've bought a nice glass tank with a strong stand. The stand should be enclosed, as it will probably contain a couple of pumps that 'hum' and a sump with gurgling water.

The Filter

Now, the filter. You main mechanical filter should be a protein skimmer. The protein skimmer can be placed in a sump below the aquarium, in a wet/dry filter, or 'hang' on the back. It does not matter as long as sufficient amount of water is pumped through it. If you already have an existing wet/dry filter, you can remove the 'bio-tower' and place the protein skimmer in the old filter's sump. There are plenty of good skimmers on the market. The Berlin, Remora Pro, TurboFlotor, and the Kent Marine 'nautilus te' on this page all seem like very good mainstream skimmers. Let me know what you think on the product review forums. Are you hardcore? Check out skimmers by Euro-Reef, Reef Concepts, Tunze, A.E. Technology and LifeReef. Jeez, did I leave any out? Man there are a lot of great skimmers these days! You will need two pumps, one for the protein skimmer and another as the 'sump' pump. The protein skimmer pump is typically a submersible pump. The 'sump' pump may be either external/inline or internal.

The inline pumps usually offer a stronger flow, but may be loud. Dolphin Aqua-Sea AMP Master, Iwaki, and Little Giant 'Q' series are all great inline pumps. The internal pumps are very quite, but may raise the temperature of the aquarium if the flow is restricted. Mag Drives, Eheim, and SEN are great internal pumps. On small to average aquariums, an internal pump will do fine. In order to control the temperature within the aquarium, you should buy either a heater, or a heater/chiller combo. The heater/chiller is a great luxury if you can afford it - the cheapest one starts around $500.00! It will keep your aquarium within a degree or two of the setting all year long. Chiller's are not necessary unless you live in a very hot climate where the aquarium temperature would exceed 85 degrees. If you 'opt' for just the heater, get a submersible one that will fit in your filter sump and has adequate wattage for your size aquarium.

The sump should have room for the heater, skimmer, the pumps, a couple ChemiPure bags, filter floss or pads. It should also have a additional room for switches or float valves and other stuff should you want to add them later on. A 10 gallon sump for tanks up to 40-55 gallons will work fine. Higher than that and you may need a 20 gallon sump or larger.


The last piece of the puzzle is lighting. Really nothing is more critical than what type of lighting you use for your reef aquarium. This will ultimately determine coral growth, algae growth (and what types of algae will grow), and general health of your reef. Hands-down, I firmly believe that, unless you have a very small tank, a metal halide lamp is the best way to go. Especially when supplemented with actinic lamps. The actinic lamps should provide the transition from dark to light and light to dark. Metal halide lamps have the closest light spectrum and intensity to the sun. Corals quickly react to halides with expansive growth. Generally, metal-halide bulbs are most expensive, but this price is offset down the road since you will only need to replace one bulb (in most cases). One metal halide bulb at $90.00 is a lot for a light bulb, but add up the replacement cost for the equivalent in normal fluorescents, VHO's, or compact fluorescents, and you will see the bigger picture.

Let's say that one 150 watt metal-halide is lighting a 3' foot aquarium. That bulb is $90.00. Now, say you lost your mind and decided to switch to fluorescent lighting. It would take five 3 ' foot bulbs at 30 watts a piece to have the same output. At $20.00(at least) a bulb! That's at least $100.00! In addition, where as metal halides have life-span of 10-15 months, fluorescents need to be replaced every six months!! If you are one of those people with metal halide phobia, then get VHO's or compact fluorescents. VHO's are like fluorescents on steroids. They are powerful and their coolest feature is the dimmer timer which allows for smooth transitions from dawn to noon to dusk. Compact fluorescent fixtures are great for small or shallow tanks and have some flexibility. Since several bulbs fit in one fixture, you can have mixture of actinic blue's and daylights, or even a couple 'reds' for night time viewing (fish can't see light in the red spectrum). Although these are legitimate options to metal halide fixtures, they are not necessarily cheaper.

Last edited by Matt Rogers; 11-14-2008 at 04:53 PM.
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Old 05-15-2012, 07:48 PM   #2
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I am starting a 55 gallon saltwater tank, i'm not rushing into it because i am new to the saltwater community. I am just concerned, is a sump pump and a protein skimmer the only two filter systems that you can use or are there others? Another thing if i want to put corals or sponges on rock and have them continue to grow would i need live rock?
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