Beginner's 12 Step Program

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Choosing the right canopy
The canopy serves many purposes other than just covering the aquarium. It is designed to cut down on evaporation, keep aquatic life from escaping the aquarium, and it houses the lighting system. There are three basic types of canopies; plastic, glass, and wood. The plastic canopies available on the market are an all in one unit, which incorporates everything needed including the lighting system. They are the least expensive of the canopies, and they provide us with the least amount of options. Also, the plastic canopies do not seal an aquarium very tight which allows more evaporation, making them a poor choice for a saltwater aquarium due to the excess amount of salt creep.
Glass canopies are the best choice for limiting evaporation and keeping jumping fish in the aquarium, making them a must for the saltwater aquarium. They can be used by themselves with a common type of strip light placed on top. The glass canopy is versatile, and allows the most flexibility in lighting types and configuration.
The last type of canopy is made from wood, which is usually built to match the design of the stand. They are the most visually appealing canopies as well as the most expensive. The wood canopy is basically just a box that has been built to fit on top of the aquarium and is used to hide all of the lighting equipment. To limit the amount of evaporation from the aquarium, it is still necessary to use the glass canopy inside of the wooden frame. Using this style of canopy set-up will give you the most options when it comes to designing your lighting system on both saltwater reef and freshwater planted aquariums. A retro-fit lighting system can be simply mounted to the top of the wooden canopy and holes can be drilled in the sides for installing fans. It is necessary with the more powerful lighting systems to provide this type of air circulation to dissipate the heat created by the bulbs.
You will need to have an idea of what type of livestock that you are going to keep in the aquarium prior to purchasing a canopy for the system. Again, the glass canopy is the most versatile of the three. And, if you are not sure or are thinking that you may switch the type of species you are going to keep in the future, the glass canopy can always be used.
Where to buy the aquarium
There are many options as to where you can buy your new aquarium, and there are more considerations than just who has the best price. Your options are going to be dependant on your geographical location, but may include the local pet store, department store, mail order, custom acrylic company, or buying the aquarium used. The first choice that comes to mind is the local pet store. Your local pet store which specializes in fish and aquariums will typically have knowledgeable staff that can assist you in your choices, but may not have the best price. The advantages to dealing with your local store is that you should receive good service as well as good advice in setting up your system, and solutions if there are any difficulties in setting it up. General pet stores and department stores are going to offer better pricing, but both the products and the service may not be of the highest quality, and the staff may not be as knowledgeable.
The different on-line sites and mail order catalogs offer a huge selection of products at competitive prices, but you have to pay the shipping. These companies are great for the equipment and supplies, but because of the bulky and fragile nature of aquariums, they typically do not offer a wide selection of aquariums. Many of them, however, have very knowledgeable staff who can help with decisions on choosing an aquarium and equipment.
If the aquarium that you have in mind is either very large or of a special design, your best option may be one of the many custom acrylic companies. Most of these companies require a down payment of fifty percent of the total aquarium price prior to building your aquarium. So, it is wise to get a number of different quotes as well as references from their past customers.
The last option is to purchase an aquarium used from a private owner. If you do choose to go this route, make sure that the aquarium is structurally sound and does not leak. Look at the silicone seals in the corners to see if they are peeling away from the glass or if they have been cut in any way. Make sure that the brace on the top of the aquarium is not damaged or been repaired, and look to see that the glass is not scratched. Aquariums take a lot of abuse with the different ornaments, such as rocks and gravel, and from improper cleaning. Because of these reasons, a used aquarium may not be the best choice. It is important that wherever you decide to purchase your aquarium, you inspect the aquarium for any cracks, scratches, or blemishes of any kind prior to purchase.
Installing the aquarium
Once you have purchased your new aquarium and have decided on a structurally-sound location, it is time to install the stand. Before placing the stand, you need to determine the space that is required between the aquarium and the wall. This space is required for hang-on filters, overflow boxes for a wet/dry filter, and for other hoses and wiring. If there are young children or pets in your home that may try pulling or climbing on the aquarium, it is wise to mechanically fasten the stand to the wall behind it. Place the stand at the required distance from the wall and check the stand for levelness. Use shims made of wood or other suitable materials to level the stand prior to placing the aquarium. Now that the stand is level, you can use either blocks of wood or metal strapping to secure the stand to the wall. It is important that these main ties are either nailed or screwed into the wall in a location where it will penetrate a stud and provide the necessary stability. Once this has been accomplished, the aquarium is now ready to be placed in position on the stand.
Hopefully, the guidelines explained in this article will help you be successful in the fish keeping hobby. Again, the most important part of planning your new aquarium is setting a realistic budget, and staying within that budget without settling for inferior products. Your new aquarium should be an enjoyable and educational experience for the whole family. The more research that you can do on the different types of aquariums, equipment, lighting, and most importantly the type of livestock that you plan to keep, the more successful you will be, and the more you and your family will enjoy the hobby.
Curing and Acclimating Live Rock and Live Sand
Live rock needs to be "cured" to allow the plant and marine life, especially sponges, which live on the rock, to undergo a natural die-back, without polluting the aquarium water. As the organisms on the rock die, they produce a large amount of waste material that creates a very large ammonia spike that can be toxic to an existing system. This die-back occurs in all transported live rock and is necessary to provide a solid foundation for the remaining species to grow and flourish. Most of the very beneficial nitrifying bacteria survive the curing process by hiding deep in the pores and crevices of the live rock. In addition, some of the corals and invertebrates will not completely die off, and will begin to re-emerge in the new aquarium over time.
During the shipping process of all live rock, whether pre-cured or not, some die-back will occur. For this reason, all live rock must be cured again before it is placed in aquariums that contain fish, corals, or other marine animals.
Both pre-cured and and live rock that is not pre-cured are generally available for the reef aquarist. Pre-cured live rock is harvested, sprayed with seawater, and scrubbed to remove unwanted debris. This spraying tends to drive out most unwanted species, including bristle worms and mantis shrimp. Rock that is not pre-cured contains a wider variety of organisms. Either pre-cured rock or rock that is not pre-cured can work well in a home reef aquarium and which one you choose is a matter of personal preference. Both types need to go through the same curing process before placement in a aquarium. The curing process for rock that has not been pre-cured generally takes longer.
Curing Process for Live Rock
There are many different ways to cure live rock. Two methods we recommend include:
Method A
The curing process of live rock for the established display aquarium that already contains fish, corals, or any other marine animals is as follows:
Rinse each piece of live rock in a small bucket of saltwater to remove any loose organic matter, debris, or sand.
Place the live rock in a new 30-gallon plastic garbage can. Consider adding bottom drains to the container to speed draining and water changes.
Completely cover the rock with freshly mixed saltwater, with a specific gravity of 1.021-1.025.
Provide a heater and keep the water temperature from 76-84ºF. In general, the higher the temperature, the faster the curing process will occur, since it speeds the die off of unwanted organisms.
Create constant water movement with a power head or air stone.
Keep the area dimly lit to prevent algae blooms.
Perform 100% water changes twice weekly.
Scrub the rock with a new nylon bristle brush or toothbrush between water changes to remove any white film or dead material.
After 1 week, check the ammonia and nitrite levels periodically. When the water conditions stabilize and ammonia tests are zero, the rock is considered cured, and ready to be placed into the display aquarium.
Using this method, most rock will be fully cured in 3-5 weeks.
Method B
The curing process of live rock for the new aquarium that does NOT contain fish, corals, or any other marine animals is as follows:
Live rock may be used to cycle a new marine aquarium. Follow the manufacturer's directions on the installation of all filtration devices and accessories. Fill the aquarium with water and add salt to achieve the desired specific gravity of 1.021-1.025. Activate all filtration equipment, check for leaks, and set heater and/or chiller to the desired temperature of 76-84ºF.
Rinse each piece of live rock in a small bucket of saltwater to remove any loose organic matter, debris, or sand.
Place the live rock into the aquarium to create a stable foundation for corals or decorations.
Keep the lighting system off during the cycling period in order to reduce the likelihood of undesirable algae growth.
Scrub the rocks periodically with a new nylon bristle brush or toothbrush to remove any white film or dead material.
Perform 50% water changes weekly while siphoning out any organic matter and loose debris that accumulates at the bottom of the aquarium.
Check the ammonia and nitrite levels in the aquarium weekly.
When both the ammonia and nitrite levels are zero, perform a 50% water change on the aquarium.
After 24 hours, check the pH of the water and adjust as needed to achieve the desired level of 8.1-8.4.
Depending on the equipment that is installed, most aquariums will cycle within 3-5 weeks using this technique.
Helpful Tips for Controlling Unwanted Pests
Important: Do not place live rock directly into an aquarium containing fish, corals, or other marine animals until it has been cured.
Before (or after) curing your newly arrived live rock, you can submerse the new rock into a bucket filled with saltwater with a specific gravity of 1.035 to 1.040 for one minute. Any invertebrates including: mantis shrimp, bristle worms, and crabs, will quickly evacuate from the rock into the bucket of water. Bristle worms still attached to the rock can be removed with a pair of needle-nosed pliers or tweezers. After removing the live rock from the bucket, you can then sort through the invertebrates in the bucket that you want to add to your system and discard the unwanted pests.
Curing Process for Live Sand
Live sand should be well rinsed in saltwater to remove any organic matter that may foul the water in the aquarium. After rinsing, the sand may be placed directly in any marine aquarium.
Pour the sand from the shipping bag into a new 5-gallon bucket, filling the bucket 1/2 full with live sand.
Add saltwater from the aquarium until the bucket is 2/3 full of water and sand.
Slowly stir the sand by hand until the water within the bucket becomes cloudy with debris.
Discard the dirty water from the bucket and place the sand back into the shipping bag.
Submerge the shipping bag to the bottom of the aquarium and slowly dispense the sand evenly over the bottom.
Repeat steps 1-5 until all of the sand has been placed into the aquarium.
By following these methods to cure live rock and sand, your aquarium will be off to a good start, and you will have created a healthy environment for the coral, invertebrates, and fish you will adding.
Fish-Only-With-Live-Rock Aquariums
A fish only with live rock (FOWLR) aquarium is a great way to enjoy some of the most colorful and fascinating marine species. FOWLR aquariums contain fish and live rock, but no living corals or invertebrates that fish may eat. Invertebrates that can be part of a FOWLR system include snails, stars, crabs, urchins, and lobsters. A FOWLR setup has an advantage over a fish-only (FO) aquarium in that the live rock in a FOWLR system adds biological filtration. In addition, FOWLR setups are typically less expensive, easier to keep, and less demanding than coral reef aquariums.
Types of FOWLR aquariums
There are two major types of FOWLR aquariums, those with aggressive fish, and those with more peaceful community fish.
FOWLR systems with aggressive fish
Many aggressive fish, though beautiful, will create havoc in a confined reef system with invertebrates and live corals, but in a live rock aquarium, you can enjoy their unique splendor without worry. Common colorful fish species for this type of aquarium include:
Large Angelfish are very colorful and hardy. They have interesting swimming patterns that can add appeal to your aquarium. Many species of angels will also help control algae as they continually graze upon the rocks.
Pufferfish are slower moving fish with beak-like mouths and two fused front teeth. Their jaws are extremely strong, which helps them feed on their favorite food, crustaceans. These fish are very personable, and will learn, in time, to feed directly from their owner's hand.
Because aggressive fish will destroy delicate live corals, you can use some beautiful, lifelike artificial corals in your FOWLR aquarium. They will withstand abuse and do not require the effort and care level of their counterparts.
Tangs, commonly referred to as Surgeonfish or Doctorfish, have small scales and one or more scalpel-like spines on each side of the tail. These spines are used in aggression and for defense. Tangs appreciate hiding places, plenty of room to swim, and a diet of algae and dried seaweed.
Triggerfish are best known for their striking triangular shape and variety of different colors and patterns. They also swim in an unusual fashion, using their dorsal and anal fins. They earn their name from the first dorsal fin, which has a very strong bone that can be locked into place, helping aid these fish in maintaining a position within rockwork.
Wrasse are best known for their bright colors, elongated body, and pointed snout. Some Wrasse will pick parasites and dead tissue from larger fish, including predators. Most Wrasse bury themselves in the sand at night, and also when threatened.
Other aggressive fish that are commonly kept in FOWLR aquariums include predators such as groupers, lionfish, eels, sharks, and rays.
FOWLR systems with peaceful community fish
Gobies and Dartfish are members of the largest family of marine fish. Most are small, with many interesting color variations. Although prawn gobies should be kept in aquariums with shrimp, the other species in this family can do well in a FOWLR system. Be sure to provide a secure top to the aquarium, because these fish like to jump.
Cardinalfish are interesting fish with amazing color patterns and elegant fins, which are often overlooked as wonderful additions to an aquarium. They are often found in groups and prefer live rock with multiple caves. They are mouth brooders, and given the right conditions, it is possible to breed these fish in your tank.
Squirrelfish bring a dash of the color red to an aquarium. Although shy at first, they will soon become bolder in a home aquarium. They have the unusual ability to make clicking and grunting sounds when they interact with other fish.
Chromis are bright, active fish usually found in shoals. They are hardy, long-lived, and often used to cycle a tank. The Blue Green Chromis would make an excellent choice.
FOWLR set-up tips
Choose the largest aquarium that is appropriate for its intended location; ideally, a 6-foot setup or larger is recommended.
Although live rock supplies good biological filtration, many FOWLR aquariums require an efficient external biological filter due to the size and the quantity of fish. A great choice of filter is a wet/dry, or a sump/refugium.
Along with the filtration, an efficient protein skimmer is needed to help control nutrients within the system.
Choose a lighting system that provides between 1 to 2 watts of light per gallon. Keep the lighting on the low side of the recommendation if the room is not air-conditioned.
Every FOWLR aquarium starts with a sand bed. Sand beds add aesthetic appeal, aid in filtration and pH buffering, provide a habitat for burrowing fish, and help seat and stabilize your live rock.
Live rock for this type of aquarium needs to be very porous. Fiji, Lalo, Tonga, and Kaelini are all good choices. Live rock will need to cure with the filtration in operation for about 2 to 4 weeks, until the ammonia and nitrite levels are zero, before you can add fish.
Stock your aquarium gradually over a period of a few months, introducing an entire species group at a time, in order from, the least to the most aggressive species. This will allow your fish to become accustomed to the aquarium and will reduce aggression as other fish are added.
With all of the different species available to the hobbyist today, a FOWLR aquarium can prove to be an exciting aquarium that will bring years of enjoyment.
Household Hazards and Your Aquarium
Pet owners often speak of puppy proofing or kitten proofing their homes, but homes need to be aquarium-proofed as well to protect tank inhabitants as well as people and other pets. Potential hazards include:
Other pets and children
Water supply
Air pollution
The following tips can help you keep your aquarium and household members safe:
Electricity and water are a dangerous combination. To protect you and the fish, ground all electric cords and use ground fault interrupted (GFI) outlets. One drawback of these outlets is that they are very sensitive and even the tiniest amount of stray voltage can trip them rendering a loss of power. When using these devices, make sure they are installed by a professional and ensure that all of your electrical equipment is functioning properly and appropriately sized.
When plugging cords into an outlet (or power strip), be sure part of each cord hangs below the outlet. This will prevent water from running down the cord directly into the outlet. It is very important when using power strips, that they are mounted in a vertical fashion to reduce the chance of water entering the strip. This is especially important for saltwater aquariums, as saltwater is very conductive and will cause a power strip or outlet to start on fire.
Periodically check all wires, bulbs, and heaters for any cracks or breakages. If you will be removing more than 2 inches of water from your aquarium, remember to unplug the aquarium heater first to prevent breakage. Allow it to cool for at least 15 minutes to prevent burns if you accidentally touch it.
Other pets and children
Non-fish pets can be hazardous to aquariums. Dogs may tip over an aquarium, especially if it is not on a sturdy stand. Cats, ferrets, and birds may find the aquarium inhabitants very appetizing.
Young children can pose safety concerns for aquariums. They may inadvertently tip them over when playing next to them or by trying to climb up to see the tank inhabitants. Children may also try to add things to the aquarium – their own food, toys, or items they see you introduce into the aquarium such as fish food, medications, or supplements. For the safety of the children and your aquarium keep all aquarium supplies out of the reach of children.
Be sure the aquarium is on a sturdy stand, and if necessary, secured to a wall. Use an aquarium stand that fits the aquarium and has been specifically manufactured to support aquariums. Keep a tight-fitting lid on the tank. Securing the lid with a bungee cord or similar device may help prevent children from removing it.
Water supply
The first place to start in keeping your aquarium toxin free is evaluating your water source. Municipal or city water is commonly treated with chlorine that inhibits bacterial and algae growth within the water lines. Chlorine is toxic to fish and other aquarium inhabitants. It can also kill bacteria, which will have a negative impact on the biological filtration of the aquarium. In addition to chlorine, chloramines may be present, which are also toxic. When performing water changes using untreated city water, the chlorine will kill off a percentage of the bacteria within the filtration system resulting in an increase in ammonia and nitrites. These two chemicals are extremely toxic to the aquarium, and should always be maintained as close to zero as possible.
To remedy the problem of chlorine in the water, consider:
Chemical conditioners: There are many available tap water conditioners, such as Stress Coat or AmQuel, which will quickly detoxify chlorine and heavy metals that are within the water.
Physical removal: Another procedure to remove chlorine is to simply aerate the water with an air pump and stone for a few days prior to use. This will dissipate the chlorine into the atmosphere making it safe for aquarium use. However, this method will not remove any heavy metals that are contained within the water, and should only be used with source water that does not contain high concentrations of these metals.
Water purification: The final method of purifying tap water will not only remove toxins from the water, but also other impurities that are contained within the water. This method involves using a water purifier. Many types of water purifiers are commercially available, and they range in both price and efficiency.
DI purification units: A simple DI (De-Ionization) unit is very economical and will remove chlorine and many other impurities as well as metals from the water. These systems are very inexpensive up front, but the frequency of cartridge changes can make them impractical if treating large amounts of water. The amount of water that can be produced in between cartridge changes will vary on the purity of your source water.
RO purification units: Reverse Osmosis (RO) units are the most efficient at removing a wide range of impurities from tap water, and can be combined with a DI cartridge to provide water that is over 99% pure. This method of purification is ideal for aquariums that are heavily stocked such as freshwater planted and This method of purification is ideal for aquariums that are heavily stocked such as freshwater planted and saltwater reef aquariums. For more information on RO units (see our article Reverse Osmosis: Selecting a Unit).
Please note: Some municipalities within the United States will "shock" the water lines a few times a year in order to combat bacterial and/or algae blooms within the water system. This is typically done in the warmer climates within the southern states. A simple phone call to your municipality will alert you as to what time of year this will occur, as well as the type of chemical that will be used. If you do not use either a DI or RO unit, it is advised to use bottled water during these periods of municipal maintenance.
If you are moving into a newly constructed home, and the water lines are copper, these lines will leach copper into the water for a short period of time until the lines oxidize and become stable. Only use water from this new home if you are treating it with a DI or RO unit for the first few months. A simple water test kit for copper will indicate as to when the water becomes safe for you to use.
Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations on the storage and use of salt, chemicals, trace elements, medications, and other chemicals. Make sure you know how to accurately calculate how much of these you need to add to the aquarium, and how often. Store all chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
There are a number of common chemicals that can become very toxic if mixed together. Mixing bleach and ammonia, for example, can produce toxic chlorine gas. Do not mix aquarium chemicals unless the manufacturers have assured you that the chemicals are compatible.
When placing your hands inside of an aquarium, wear gloves. Lotions, residual soap, or chemicals on your hands and arms can be introduced into the aquarium and potentially contaminate the water. Always wash your hands well after servicing your aquarium, also.
Evaluate your water source and use the appropriate chemical or filtering methods to remove possible contaminants.
Fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, so care should be taken to prevent breakage and to properly dispose of used bulbs. Find out if there is a household hazardous waste collection program that will accept these.
Air pollution
Airborne contaminants are the most overlooked and underestimated toxin source for an aquarium. They include a wide range of sources from common household cleaners, to remodeling activities, to invasive pest control.
Household cleaners: Common household cleaners and aerosols such as glass, wood, and oven cleaners, as well as deodorants and air fresheners release an airborne mist of tiny droplets of the chemical of which it is made. If these products are used in close proximity to the aquarium, they enter the water and quickly turn into ammonia. This will cause a drop in the water's pH as well as stress on the aquarium's inhabitants. Even in small amounts, this ammonia over time can lead to algae problems, as it provides added nutrients for the various forms of microalgae.
Remodeling activities: Remodeling activities including painting, staining, the production of airborne dust, and any chemical that causes a strong odor, will have the same results as the cleaners and aerosols mentioned above. Airborne dust is less dangerous to the system, but it can be a major contributor to the phosphate level in the aquarium, leading towards even more problems with algae.
Pest control: Fumigating and using bug bombs to rid your house of pests and insects is more of a serious situation, as the chemical used will stay within the air for a longer period of time. It is best in this situation to move the aquarium out of the treated environment. This may not be possible with a larger or heavily stocked aquarium like a saltwater reef aquarium.
The best solution to these airborne contaminants is to avoid using them. When cleaning around the aquarium, do not spray the cleaner into the air. Instead, spray the cleaner into a cloth and wipe it onto the surface. If cleaning in the kitchen, close off the area where you are cleaning, and turn on any exhaust fans that are present.
If the airborne toxins are unavoidable and will remain in the air for only a few hours or less, simply cover the aquarium and the filtration system with plastic sheeting or a plastic wrap to keep the contaminated air out of the system. If remodeling, follow the above recommendations, and provide the aquarium with fresh activated carbon.
Pest control, using a fumigation procedure is going to present the most problems. Many of these products or services will saturate the air for many hours or even days at a time. If it is not possible to move the aquarium, the only choice that you may have is to completely seal the aquarium with plastic so it is airtight. An aquarium will not survive for very long without oxygen, so an oxygen source is mandatory in this case. One solution to this problem would be to locate an air pump outside of the house, and to pump fresh air into the bubble that you have created around your aquarium. Make sure that the air pump is strong enough to push the air through the amount of tubing that is necessary to reach the aquarium. If using this method, you will also need to run a second airline from the aquarium back outside to provide venting.
In areas where earthquakes are common, special precautions need to be taken. Some aquatic experts have advocated that acrylic tanks are less likely to break or leak than glass tanks should an earthquake occur. Secure your aquarium to a stand that has a lip on all four sides. Bolt the stand to the walls and floor. Secure other equipment, such as skimmers, to the stand as well.
Live Rock: Selection Guide
Thanks to its vibrant colors, interesting inhabitants, and water clarification benefits, live rock continues to grow in popularity among aquarists. Each year, aquarists add thousands of pounds of live rock to new or existing reef aquariums.
What is live rock?
Live rock is actually small pieces of stony reef rubble that were naturally broken off during storms or by wave action. These pieces then washed into shallower water where they were colonized with naturally occurring marine life including nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria, corals, algae, macroalgae, zoanthids, sponges, annelids and other worms, delicate tunicates, bryzoans, and other invertebrates such as snails, crabs, and limpets.
Curing live rock
Live rock, while a huge benefit to reef aquariums, requires you to perform a few extra steps – especially curing – to ensure the health of your reef inhabitants. Regardless of the type of live rock you choose, it is imperative to cure live rock and have stable water conditions before adding it to your tank.
Live rock must be cured to allow the plant and marine life – especially sponges which were living on the rock – to undergo a natural die back without polluting the aquarium water. This die back occurs in all transported live rock and is necessary to provide a solid foundation for the remaining species to grow and flourish. As the organisms on the rock go through a die back, they will produce a large amount of waste material and cause toxic levels of ammonia to be released into the aquarium. Most of the very beneficial nitrifying bacteria survive the curing process by hiding deep in the pores and crevices of the live rock. In addition, some of the corals and invertebrates will also not die off completely and will begin to re-emerge in the new aquarium over time.
You must cure your live rock, even if it arrives precured. Precured live rock is harvested, then continually sprayed with a mist of sea water and scrubbed to remove unwanted debris. The spray tends to drive out unwanted species such as bristle worms and mantis shrimp. Uncured live rock contains a wider variety of live organisms. Either type of rock can work great in your home reef aquarium. Regardless of whether your rock arrives uncured or precured, you must cure your rock in its new aquarium.
Selecting live rock
How alive your "live rock" will be when you get it depends upon how it is harvested, shipped, and maintained prior to purchase. Always purchase your live rock from a reputable source that uses the highest ethical standards and passively removes the rock from the ocean floor, not manually breaking it off of any live or existing reefs.
There is a wide selection of beautifully-colored live rock on the market today. Factors to consider in choosing the right kind of live rock for your reef aquarium include tank conditions, equipment, care level, and the desired overall look of the aquarium display. Different varieties of rock also require varying curing and acclimation procedures. The following chart should help you choose which live rock is ideal for your marine system.
Live Rock Varieties Statistics Characteristics
Green, Pink, Purple
Tank Conditions
sg 1.023-1.025
pH 8.1-8.4
dKH 8-12
Calcium, Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements Usually consists of coral heads that have been reencrusted with coralline algae, sponges, tunicates, and macroalgae
Has many open areas, which enable better water circulation, provide a natural appearance, and make it lighter in weight
Some aquacultured Florida specimens are available, and are much denser than many other types of live rock
Pink, Purple, Red
Tank Conditions
sg 1.023-1.025
pH 8.1-8.4
dKH 8-12
Calcium, Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements Very porous, which aids biological filtration
Excellent foundation for corals
South Pacific
Green, Pink, Purple, Red, Orange, Yellow
Tank Conditions
sg 1.023-1.025
pH 8.1-8.4
dKH 8-12
Calcium, Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements Various forms of macroalgae are common with this live rock
Lightweight and very porous calcium carbonate, flatter in shape, and often well covered in pink, purple, and red coralline algae
Indonesia, South Pacific
Green, Pink, Purple, Red, Yellow
Tank Conditions
sg 1.023-1.025
pH 8.1-8.4
dKH 8-12
Calcium, Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements Precured to greatly reduce cycling time
Maintained in filtered holding systems, and shipped moist to limit die off
Semi-dense with a diversity of shapes from branching pieces to oblong or oval shapes
Well covered in different colors and types of cooraline algae
Excellent foundation for smaller corals
Aids biological filtration to maintain a stable environment in the smaller reef aquarium
Assorted sized pieces are ideal for the smaller "nano type" reef aquarium that require smaller pieces to create a natural looking display
South Pacific Live Sand
South Pacific
White, Pink
Tank Conditions
sg 1.023-1.025
pH 8.1-8.4
dKH 8-12
Trace elements Excellent substrate for sand sifting marine life
Adds biodiversity
Teaming with nitrifying bacteria, worms, and other beneficial organisms
Tonga Branch
South Pacific (Tonga)
Green, Pink, Purple, Red, Orange, Yellow
Tank Conditions
sg 1.023-1.025
pH 8.1-8.4
dKH 8-12
Calcium, Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements Semi-dense, elongated branches
Used to provide ample room for circulation
Adds vertical dimension to the aquarium, and unusual shapes
Tonga Slab
South Pacific (Tonga)
Green, Pink, Purple, Red, Yellow
Tank Conditions
sg 1.023-1.025
pH 8.1-8.4
dKH 8-12
Calcium, Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements Available in a number of varieties, colors and shapes; often called Kaelini, Lalo, or Tonga Deepwater
Very porous calcium carbonate that is less dense and aids biological filtration
Provides a wide diversity of life that may include sponges, macroalgae, encrusting hard corals, and plating and branching coralline algae; often has recolonized heads of ancient coral
A natural food source for many marine fish and invertebrates
Placement of Corals in the Reef Tank
Up until the last few years, if you asked under what conditions a coral would do best, 80% of the time the reply would be "good light with moderate current," 10% of the time, the reply would be "toward the bottom with little current," and 10% of the time, the reply would be "take your best shot." Fortunately, for the most part, these answers were correct in that most tanks used fluorescent lights of some type and the only types of corals being kept were soft corals, large polyped stony (LPS) corals, and mushroom anemones. The only precautions that we had to take in terms of coral aggression was to keep the soft corals far enough away from Hammer (Euphyllia ancora), and Elegance (Catalyphyllia jardinei) corals to keep them from being stung. Otherwise, not much thought was actually given to coral placement and its long-term effect on the animal's well being.
With the dramatic improvement and widespread use of metal halide lighting, and the increasing availability of new coral species, particularly the small polyped stony (SPS) corals, these stereotyped answers to coral placement questions are no longer valid. The three main factors to consider in placing corals are aggression, lighting, and water movement.
Today, more attention needs to be given to reducing aggression, since many of the newer species of corals that we are now keeping are much more aggressive. This aggression has also become more of a problem as a result of our being more successful at keeping corals in general. That is, as we have become more skilled at actually growing coral colonies, our corals are growing to larger sizes. As the size of these corals increases, so too does their proximity to each other, and as a result, more of their aggressive nature manifests itself. Thus, while their aggressiveness was hardly observable and not a problem when they were a small, three inch colony, their effect on neighboring corals becomes dramatically noticeable when they are twelve inches across.
Types of coral aggression
Corals have developed several specialized mechanisms for protection and competition with other corals. These include sweeper tentacles, mesenterial filaments, and terpenoid compounds (Ates, 1989).
Sweeper Tentacles: Sweeper tentacles are the most common defense mechanisms in the hard corals, and also occur in some soft corals. Specialized stinging cells called 'nematocysts' are present in these tentacles and can attack a competing coral and literally "burn" it to the point of either killing it or severely damaging it. The length of these sweeper tentacles is not correlated to the length of the normal coral polyp and may, in fact, be many times longer.
Mesenterial Filaments: In addition to sweeper tentacles, several hard coral species can produce mesenterial filaments (also termed mesenteric filaments) from their stomachs. Corals of the genera Favia, Favites, Scolymia, Pavona, and Cynarina all have this capacity (Chadwich, 1987). These filaments can kill or devour other coral polyps through a process similar to digestion. Some corals even have the capacity to produce both sweeper tentacles and mesenterial filaments, enabling them to fight a battle on several fronts (Wallace, 1984).
Terpenoid Compounds: The soft corals generally compete with the hard corals by releasing 'terpenoid' or 'sarcophine' compounds into the water to injure or impede the growth of neighboring corals, and then overgrow these impeded individuals in a process called "allelopathy" (Delbeek and Sprung, 1994). Like their name implies, these compounds are similar to turpentine in chemical structure and in most instances, are just as toxic. By releasing these compounds, the soft coral injures these neighboring stony corals and can thus grow above them, eventually blocking out the light that they are both dependent upon and thereby killing the underlying hard coral.
Use correct spacing
While a miniature reef does not contain the great diversity of life that an actual reef does, provisions should still be made to try and minimize the aggression among corals. This can be accomplished by providing adequate spacing and reducing tip over potential. When setting up a tank, adequate space, which is invertebrate free, should be given around each coral head.
Hard Corals: For LPS corals, this zone should be at least 15 cm in all directions, as sweeper tentacles have been reported to be at least this long (Sheppard, 1982). The distance between SPS corals does not need to be as great; a distance of 5-8 cm is usually sufficient. However, it should be noted that these are the fastest growing of all corals, so extra space should be allowed for this. For this reason, I suggest that a buffer zone of 30% of the coral colony's size be used when originally placing the corals in order to allow for growth. This may seem extreme and may initially make the tank look sparsely decorated. However, in a well-designed and maintained reef tank, this space will be almost completely filled within the first year simply from growth. If growth space is not provided, there will be a constant need to prune corals lest they burn and kill one another.
Soft Corals: For the most part, the space between soft corals does not need to be as great initially, since soft corals do not burn each other to the same degree as the hard corals do. Consideration in placing soft corals needs to take into account:
A faster growing coral will overshadow a slower growing coral and eventually starve it out for light.
These corals should be positioned so that their mucous and terpenoids do not come into direct contact with their neighbors. That is, these corals will do the least harm to other corals if the water movement in the tank is such that after the water moves across them it flows down an overflow and into a sump where the harmful compounds can be removed with either skimming or carbon.
Minimize tip over potential
Tip over potential is the likelihood that one coral will tip over and land on another coral, and as a result, burn or be burned by the other coral. The burned area becomes infected and consequently, the whole colony dies. Tip over is particularly troublesome for SPS corals, which usually arrive unattached to anything. Therefore, when placing these corals on a live rock structure, use a dab of waterproof epoxy to hold them in place until they encrust over the area themselves. An alternative is to use rubber bands or plastic cable ties to anchor the colonies in a less permanent manner.
Light preference
When placing a coral, consideration of its lighting and current requirements should be made long before it is placed in a particular location. This is because moving a coral, even a small distance once it has adapted to conditions at one spot, causes the coral to "re-adapt" to these new conditions. It has been my experience, that it takes at least one month and closer to two for a coral to adapt to new conditions and start to grow. Therefore, placement should be planned so as to not inhibit the coral's growth by constantly moving it from place to place.
There are multiple types of lighting systems that can be used for corals.
Fluorescent lighting
Fluorescent lighting is still the method of choice for most reef enthusiasts, particularly those keeping predominantly soft and large polyped stony corals. Fortunately, even in fluorescent lighting there are now many choices. In addition to standard bulbs, high output (HO) and very high output (VHO) bulbs are also now available, as well as compact HO and the very latest T-5 (HO) lights. As their names imply, these bulbs differ by the amount of light that they produce. It is my opinion, that for the majority of tanks housing soft corals and LPS corals, fluorescent lighting will provide all the light necessary to meet the animals' needs and allow them to thrive and grow. The goal should be to get between 4-6 watts of light per gallon of water over the tank.
However, even with fluorescent lighting and more so with HO and VHO fluorescent lighting, care needs to be exercised when placing the animals under a new lighting regimen. This is because many of the lighting sources that we utilize contain more ultraviolet (UV) light than the corals are accustomed to on a reef. Because of this difference, I have found it advantageous to slowly acclimate new corals to artificial light. If the corals are not acclimated slowly, it may cause them to bleach or burn. This is particularly the case with the HO or VHO "blue" bulbs that we use, as well as with many of the metal halide lamps.
For this reason, when I obtain a new coral, I usually place it at the bottom third of the tank for at least one month. After this one-month acclimation period, I gradually move it up to its desired final location over another two-month period. This may seem extreme, however, I view my tanks and the tanks that I have helped set up as long term, five-year plus projects, so there is really no need to hurry. I use this method for SPS corals, which show the least tolerance for being shocked, owing to the thin veneer of living tissue that is actually present on the colony. It is also useful for large polyped stony corals like Brain corals (Symphyllia, Favia), Open Brain corals (Trachyphyllia), Elegance (Catalyphyllia), as well as any other corals that contain a large amount of bright green pigment in their tissues. It has been my unfortunate experience, that if I immediately place these corals high up in the tank, they bleach and die very quickly. Because of this, I now employ this system of acclimation, and as a result, I have achieved much better results when adding new corals to a tank.
Metal halide lighting
In tanks utilizing metal halide lighting, I suggest using the same system as described above, with a few addendums. First, for those corals that contain a lot of zooxanthellae (the symbiotic algae that lives in the coral's tissues), as indicated by their coloration being dark green or dark brown, in addition to starting these corals low it may also be necessary to initially place some type of screening material (eggcrate, fiberglass mesh, etc.) above them. This is necessary to prevent these corals from suffering from oxygen shock due to the overproduction of oxygen from the zooxanthellae when initially placed under bright light (Delbeek and Sprung, 1994). This screening material needs to be above the corals for two to three weeks to gradually allow the corals to acclimate. Once this is removed, the corals can continue to be acclimated as described above. This screening technique is also useful for tanks that are shallow (16 inches deep or less) where it is difficult to move a coral farther away from the light. In addition, during this time, the light cycle should be dramatically shortened to further reduce the risk of shocking the corals. Cutting the light cycle in half for the first week, and then gradually adding an hour to it each week is a good way to reduce the risk of light shock.
In terms of placing the corals once they have acclimated, the general rule is the brighter the color of the coral, the closer to the lights it should reside. Thus, bright pink Bird's Nest (Seriatopora hystrix) or Cactus (Pocillopora verrucosa) corals usually should be placed higher in the tank than their brown counterparts. The reason for this is that the brighter color indicates pigments in the tissue have been produced to protect the coral from ultraviolet (UV) light that is present in the shallower depths (Delbeek and Sprung, 1994). Once a coral has been acclimated to this bright light and begins to grow, the growth tips will usually be of a brighter color than the original colony itself.
This same pattern also holds for soft corals. Brightly colored soft coral colonies like Yellow Tonga Leather corals (Sarcophyton elegance), bright green Finger Leather corals (Sinularia sp.) and white Xenia colonies all seem to do better with brighter lighting than their brown or beige counterparts. If the lighting is inadequate for these brightly colored corals, these bright colors will gradually fade over time. Therefore, a good indicator of whether a coral is in the proper place and under adequate lighting is how its color compares with what it looked like when it originally arrived. If the lighting is better and the coral is acclimated properly, it is even possible to bring out the colors of a coral, so that over time, it may be more green or pink than when it was originally collected. This is the result of more UV light being present in our reef tanks than the coral was exposed to in the wild. Thus, to compensate for this, brighter pigmentation occurs.
Under metal halide lighting, many corals can remain at the bottom of the tank. Mushroom anemones (Actinodiscus sp.), Plate corals (Fungia sp.), Tongue corals (Herpolitha sp.), and Brain corals (Favia, Favites, Symphyllia, etc.) all do quite well in the lower depths of these tanks. In addition, Elegance (Catalyphyllia) and Bubble (Plerogyra) corals seem to do better under metal halide lighting when placed lower and to the far sides of my tank. In fact, in my tank, the Bubble coral resides under an overhanging Leather coral and is doing quite well.
Water movement
The last factor to be concerned with in terms of coral placement is water movement. Most corals have very little means for cleansing themselves, and rely on strong water movement around them to perform this task. That is why powerheads or some other source of water movement are so essential in a reef tank. Otherwise, detritus will settle on the corals and decay, which quickly leads to algae formation and the demise of the coral. However, not all corals require the same amount of water movement.
Strong Current Corals: Corals that do best with strong water movement usually come from areas where wave action is greatest. These corals usually have small polyps and are either bulky or encrusting in form (Veron, 1986). Corals such as Porites, Turbinaria, Symphyllia, Acropora paucifera, etc., fall into this category. These corals can take the strongest water movement in a reef tank, as they live on the outermost slopes of the reef.
Moderate Current Corals: The next group of corals requires moderate current, as they come from the lagoons and back reefs where the current is not as great, and in fact, may be limited to the changing of the tides. Nevertheless, if adequate water movement is not present, these corals will not thrive. Most of these corals have either large polyps or are fairly large polyped encrusting corals. Corals such as Star polyps (Clavularia sp.), Flowerpot (Goniopora sp.), Leather and Finger Leather (Sarcophyton and Lobophyton), and Plate (Fungia) corals fall into this category. The next group requires even more moderate water movement and includes Soft Finger Leather corals (Sinularia, Nepthea), Colt coral (Cladiella), Polyp rock (Zoanthid sp.), and Euphyllia and Elegance corals.
Low Current Corals: The last group still requires water movement, but it is only a trickle relative to what the first groups of corals should receive. This group includes Mushroom anemones (Actinodiscus sp.), Elephant Ear anemones (Rhodactis sp.), and Bubble corals (Plerogyra).
In many instances, the difference between success and failure with a particular coral specimen has often been the result of moving an animal several inches in relation to the water movement. Also, when I have had an animal that was not thriving, it was generally due to inadequate water movement rather than too strong of a current.
Besides the three aspects of coral placement described above, there are many other factors that need to be considered. My goal, however, was to provide general guidelines and factors to be considered rather than the actual requirements for every coral species. However, I would like to point out two rules that are generally true:
Corals hate to be moved and require time to acclimate to new conditions.
If a coral is not thriving in a location after two weeks, then chances are it will die unless you move it.
Sorry for the ambiguity, but the real message of this article is that only by observing your animals and experimenting will you find the optimum location to place your charges.
Stocking Your Saltwater Aquarium
Ask any saltwater aquarium hobbyist and you will discover that the process of setting up and stocking an aquarium is definitely worth the work and the wait. Saltwater aquarium setup and stocking requires careful effort, especially now that the Internet has afforded hobbyists access to many rare and/or demanding species of fish and invertebrates. Many of the available species also have special compatibility requirements which you must address during the stocking process. This article details the five phases involved in successfully setting up and stocking a marine aquarium.
Phase 1 - prepare your aquarium water
Set up the aquarium and install all filtration equipment. Fill the aquarium with freshwater that has ideally been treated by reverse osmosis. If you must use untreated city water, add a quality liquid dechlorinator to remove chlorine from the water. Next, add salt by carefully following the instructions on the salt mix. Use a hydrometer to monitor and raise salinity to the desired level. Install the aquarium heater and set to the desired temperature. Allow the system to run for a few days to ensure a constant water temperature and proper operation of all equipment.
Phase 2 - build your aquarium "foundation"
After your aquarium has run successfully for a few days, start building your "foundation" of aragonite-based substrate and live rock. You might also consider adding 2-3 inches of live sand, which seeds the sand bed with beneficial bacteria and micro-organisms. Be sure to cure the sand before adding it to the aquarium (see further information on curing, below).
After you have added your substrate and live sand, add your live rock. Live rock is porous, aragonite-based rock harvested from the rubble zones of ocean reefs. In addition to harboring large amounts of beneficial bacteria and micro-organisms, live rock also provides aquarium inhabitants with safe hiding spaces and helps maintain healthy water parameters. Live rock offers aesthetic appeal and biological filtration while providing the necessary habitat and nutrition for your fish and invertebrates.
You can choose from several varieties of live rock - variations in color, shape, and associated marine life are dependent upon the geographic area in which the live rock originated. As a general rule, add approximately 1-1/2 pounds of rock per gallon of water in your aquarium. The exact amount you should add will vary by the type of rock you choose. Be sure to follow the recommendations that accompany your chosen live rock.
Your live rock must be fully cured before you can add any fish or invertebrates to your aquarium. The curing process, which initiates the Nitrogen Cycle, typically takes 1-4 weeks, depending upon our equipment, amount of rock, and method used. During this time, you must also perform weekly water changes. To start your live rock curing, stack the rock loosely in your aquarium. Try to build as many caves as possible. This allows fish to swim freely within the rockwork, and provides the rock with good water circulation. Also, be sure to stack your rocks right side up - turn the side of the rock with the most color upward. This will help ensure proper lighting conditions for both the colorful coralline algae, which requires bright light, and the sponges, which require low light. Please note: during the curing process, you must keep the aquarium dark to inhibit algae growth - provide illumination only briefly when checking progress. For a more detailed, step-by-step curing process, see Curing and Acclimating Live Rock and Sand.
Phase 3 - add lighting and algae eaters
At this time, you should also set up your lighting system with a common appliance timer set to illuminate the aquarium 10-12 hours per day. The following few weeks after adding lighting, you will most likely experience an algae bloom. To combat this, you should add those fish and invertebrates that eat algae. These are often sold together under the name 'Algae Attack Packs,' and may include crabs, snails, and certain gobies and blennies. Follow the acclimation procedure included with the additions and allow your aquarium's biological filtration to catch up to the new increased biological load. The biological filtration will quickly accommodate the new inhabitants, due to the fully cured live rock in the system. After a few days, test the ammonia and nitrite levels - when they reach 0, you can begin adding fish and invertebrates.
Phase 4 - begin adding fish and invertebrates
After you have cured your live rock, illuminated your aquarium, and taken care of any subsequent algae blooms, your aquarium is ready for fish and invertebrates. Before adding any fish and/or invertebrates, be sure you are familiar with any compatibility issues that may exist among your desired species. Also, be sure to stock your aquarium gradually to allow the biological filtration to catch up to the new aquarium inhabitants. When planning your additions, first test ammonia and nitrite levels and make sure the levels reach and remain at zero for at least a few weeks. Once the levels are stable at zero, you can safely add new fish and/or invertebrates.
The first series of fish and invertebrates you add to your aquarium must be the most docile of your desired species. This will allow them to become accustomed to the aquarium before you add larger, more active, more aggressive species. After giving your new arrivals at least a few weeks to become acclimated, follow up gradually with the larger, more active species.
You may also be wondering just how many fish you can successfully keep in your aquarium. While many variables affect that answer, a general rule is to stock no more than ½ an inch of fully grown fish per gallon of water in your aquarium. For example, if you have a 30-gallon aquarium, ideally stock no more than 15 total inches of fully grown fish. Remember to consider your desired fishes' maximum size when calculating this amount.
Phase 5 - add detritus feeders
Now that you have established your aquarium and added fish and invertebrates, you should add invertebrates (usually sea stars) that feed on detritus ('Detritus Attack Packs'). This will help maintain healthy water parameters. The invertebrates in these attack packs feed on leftover food and waste from fish and other invertebrates. If insufficient detritus-eating invertebrates are present, the unconsumed food and waste will ultimately serve as nutrients for unwanted algae. Choose the number and type of invertebrates that fit the size of your aquarium.
In conclusion
The above steps should simplify and demystify the process of successfully setting up and stocking a marine aquarium. Most importantly - and prior to investing in and setting up aquarium equipment - research the needs of your desired fish and invertebrates to ensure from the start that you have the time, energy, and resources to invest in their care. And be sure to resist the temptation to add all your inhabitants at once; by stocking your aquarium slowly, you will greatly increase your inhabitants' chances for survival, as well as your chances for long-term success. With the proper set-up, as well as diligence, patience, and care, your saltwater aquarium and its inhabitants will thrive while you enjoy a beautiful, fascinating ocean setting in your own home.
And i bet your saying, "FINALLY!" Your right. Again, hope this helps ALOT!


Staff member
Good job! I'm going to sticky this in Advise for New Hobbyists! Thanks for taking the time to write it up.
New to saltwater hobby. Im 16 years old and know little about saltwater. I have heard of the nitrogen cycle, but know little about it. My dad and I currently hve just bought a 360 gallon and in good condition. All the crushed coral in it is used and thoroughly washed, and a refegium with used sand. There is around 145 pounds of liverock plus some going in it in a few days to finish that off. There is also, 200+ pounds of lace rock in there as well. Will any of the used substrate and sand do something to the cylce? The tank has ruuning for around a week now and refigium getting hooked up a day after I type this message. The Ammonia, I think has already spiked and came down; however, the nitrite has not down nothing but stay at 0. When can we add a clean up crew for the tank? Manly snails and hermit crabs at first, but some shrimp after like the fire and cleaner shrimp. Any info would be helpful.