How NOT to set up your first reef tank.

Discussion in 'New To The Hobby' started by GeejEx, Mar 27, 2008.

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  1. GeejEx

    GeejEx Skunk Shrimp

    Feb 20, 2008
    San Bruno, CA
    First off, my apologies for the long post.

    After struggling, changes, and all the usual newbie mistakes, I thought I would offer up my experiences as a short diary for those others getting started in reef-keeping. I’m estimating most of the dates and prices, since I didn’t start keeping a log (except water parameters) until recently.

    February 3, 2008: My daughter asked for a fish, so we trekked down to PetC* for a look. On sale was a great little Eclipse 3 29 gallon setup- tank, hood with T8 Normal Output bulbs and built in bio-wheel filter, heater, stick-on thermometer, Instant Ocean salt, hydrometer, test kit. I bought the setup for about $200 and spent another $60 on 60 pounds of live sand. One tufa rock and one lava rock were the “decorations”
    Cost: $330 after tax
    ·I didn’t get a stand, and after the fact don’t like where I placed the bookshelf the tank sits on.
    ·The same tank would have cost under $50 at the local fish store.
    ·It took about a day to find out (on 3reef) that for what I wanted to do the filter and lights would have to be upgraded.
    ·The tufa was ugly and kept flaking off in the water, the lava was ugly and supposedly can leach iron and other heavy metals. Either one is nigh useless.
    ·I didn’t have any buckets so I filled the tank using conditioned tap water, carrying gallons in the live sand bags. I poured the salt directly into the tank and stirred. J

    February 9, 2008: The water had finally settled down to a fairly clear and stable specific gravity (as measured by the cheap plastic hydrometer). At this time I added 3 raw bay shrimp to get the cycle going. Local Fish Shop sold me a $30 bag of bio-gunk, supposedly to add nitrifying bacteria. I also changed out one of the bulbs for an actinic. I had been running the lights on a hardware store timer I had laying around, 12 hour cycle off set so I could see the tank after work. I bought about 15 pounds of “pre-cured” live rock. This I scrubbed in the bath tub under cold fresh water.
    Cost: $105 (bio-goo, bulb, shrimp cocktail, rock)
    ·I used the little bay shrimp- they pretty much dissolved into cloudy muck after three days. I tried to fish them back out, but they fell apart.
    ·The actinic bulb wasn’t need yet, since there was nothing in the tank. I ended up replacing the entire light fixture later, so that was wasted money.
    ·I probably should have cured the rock and cleaned it better. As it was, it essentially cured in the tank.

    February 15, 2008: By now I was getting bored with an empty tank. I had been testing the water for NO2, NO3, NH4, etc. All had remained at pretty much 0, so I thought my tank had just cycled quickly. I found a new Local Fish Shop and bought a pair of turbo snails, a pair of tiger cowries, and a pair of hermit crabs. I also picked up an Odyssea Ex-100 power head to add some flow. Did a 10% water change.
    Cost: $45
    ·I wasn’t cycled!
    ·The cowries are opportunistic omnivores, and will eat anything slower than they are.
    ·One of the crabs was missing a claw- this ended up growing back and he’s now very aggressive toward his tank mates (rough childhood?)

    February 19, 2008: Around this time I added more live rock and bought a gravel vacuum, two 5 gallon buckets, extra power head and heater for water changes.
    Cost: ~$60
    ·I bought a cheap power head, heater, etc. The power head flow outlet broke.
    ·The extra live rock probably extended the cycle.

    February 24, 2008: One of the snails and one of the hermit crabs died randomly. I eventually found hermit parts buried in the sand. Despite the losses I went to the LFS and picked up the ubiquitous yellow tailed blue damsels and 6 more turbo snails.

    February 29, 2008: Around this time I decided that the bio wheel filter and T8 lights weren’t going to cut it. Back to LFS! This time I came home with a Fluval 205 canister filter, power compact 50/50 lights with moon LEDs, and a Coralife electronic timer/power strip.
    Cost: $215
    ·Replacing the filter at this point probably started my cycle all over.
    ·I wasn’t careful when unpacking the lights- THERE IS BUBBLE WRAP INSIDE THE FIXTURE! LFS was kind enough not to laugh at me when I went back for new bulbs, the old ones had melted plastic on them.

    March 5, 2008: Feeling pretty good about things now, I returned to LFS and bought a Sebae anemone and clown. These I acclimated by titration, slowly dripping tank water into a bucket over the course of about an hour.
    Cost: $35
    ·The tank (and my skills) were way too new to support the anemone.

    March 19, 2008: I awoke to find a Cowrie chewing on the anemone. As the shop where I bought the cowries was closed, I moved him to the other side of the tank.

    March 22, 2008: LFS was open and I was able to get one cowrie out. I traded him for a small feather duster. I just don’t learn! The water was looking very cloudy- 20% water change. I now suspect that although the anemone was dying and polluting the water, some of the cloudiness was due to nitrogen bubbles rising from the sand bed.

    March 23, 2008: The anemone had been shrinking since the attack, and was a wrinkly gray lump with mucous coming from the mouth. I removed him and did another 10% water change. At this time I noticed the clown had an injury on his back and was breathing heavily.

    March 26, 2008: Clown died. I woke to find the hermit and shrimp dining on his little orange body. The water was still very cloudy, but better. Another trip to the LFS got me a Red Sea hang-on skimmer and “polishing pad” (fine filter media) for the Fluval.
    Cost: $103

    I’m sticking with this, and plan to set up a 75 gallon main tank in the living room soon. Having made these mistakes and wasting money has at least taught me something about this hobby- PLAN AHEAD AND BE PATIENT. When I do get to the 75, it’ll have decent stand, a good sump (maybe fuge) and skimmer from the get go. I’ll get the sand and live rock from another vendor, probably order it online from reputable shops that 3Reefers have suggested. I’ll have a RO/DI set up and mix my water a day early, like I do now. I’ll have bigger pumps and better ideas of how to direct water flow. The rock will be supported by a PVC frame, possibly drilled and attached to a pump for extra flow. I probably won’t even buy lights for the first month, depending on how good a deal I can get on metal halides. I’ll stick with the ghost feed/shrimp method, but use the bigger shrimp or just let them dissolve in the tank while I wait for the cycle. Week 6-ish I’ll add the cleaning crew.
    Although I wish I could have saved the $1000 and got what I wanted the first time, nothing teaches like experience! If anyone made it this far, I hope this will help you avoid the same mistakes I made. Plan ahead, read a lot, go slow!

    24 people like this.
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  3. Crabby Jim

    Crabby Jim Sea Dragon

    Jan 4, 2008
    New Jersey
    Great Post!!!! karma to you and good luck in the future.
  4. aquaboy

    aquaboy Panda Puffer

    Jul 27, 2007
    Tatamy, PA
    This should be stickied and called "The diaries of failure, why research is important" ;)
  5. Calawah

    Calawah Astrea Snail

    Jan 30, 2008
    Sorry you had to go through that. Good luck in round two!
  6. SmittyCoco

    SmittyCoco Fire Shrimp

    Apr 7, 2007
    Wow John sounds like an experience! Glad you are deciding to stick with the hobby after all that. I myself would suggest that you go even bigger than a 75 gal. You sound like you possible have got the hang of things now and are going to quickly grow unsatisfied with just 75 Gal. At least a 125 gal. or more would be ideal for living room viewing. And provide you the room you need to keep some bigger fish like tangs and such. Good luck ! keep on reefin!
  7. bawest

    bawest Fire Worm

    Jun 25, 2006
    I don't know if I can speak for everyone, but for me, I can say that I did that same thing. I was excited about getting a tank and bought the quickest cheapest method. But that's why it so much more enjoyable and brings so much pride when its done right.
    1 person likes this.
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  9. lunatik_69

    lunatik_69 Giant Squid

    Jul 10, 2007
    Miami, FL
    Heres a classic example why you should do research, more research, ask alot of Q's and go slow. Im sorry for your rough journey and thank you for sharing it with us and hopefully at least one person can benefit from it. Karma for your honesty and post. Luna
  10. Eli_The_Eel

    Eli_The_Eel Fire Worm

    Mar 19, 2008
    Same here. At first I just wanted the quickest easiest route to having a badass reef. Takes a while to realize there's no such thing. That attitude already has cost me the lives of 3 damsels, a clown, and a nudibranch. (the latter two are just really bad calls from a stupid lfs guy)
    1 person likes this.
  11. baugherb

    baugherb Giant Squid

    Sep 8, 2007
    southington, ohio
    Sorry for your troubles... That sucks, hope everything works out better the 2nd time around...
  12. bmshehan

    bmshehan Fu Manchu Lion Fish

    Jan 4, 2008
    Columbus, Indiana
    That has to be the best newb post I have read!! It should be saved as an article for beginners to read!! I was telling Kogle TODAY about how some newbies on here have jumped headfirst and screwed some things up, and how lucky I was to have him and Otty here locally to help me out, otherwise I might be in your shoes! Keep with it and don't give up, I am going to save this post so I can put it in replies when people talk about their tank cycling in a week, what a miracle!!! Karma to ya for honesty and trying to help out fellow reef newbies!! Keep us posted on the new tank.