Mangroves? Invertebrates?

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So after 3 months of research and 6 books later (and working at my local zoo for an internship), I finally feel ready to start my new saltwater tank. The tank is a 40 gallon, 36x18x18. It will be a rock and fish only tank. I would like some answers/opinions on when I should add certain items/animals to my tank. My LFS and my LEFS, along with the internet keep giving me conflicting information and Im totally lost.

So let me state that I am currently at the beginning stages of my tanks. Today I just added my live sand, my live rocks, and 3 red mangroves. The next step (?) is to start the cycling process. I do not wish to cycle my tank with live fish even though my local stores keep pushing me in that direction. I planned on adding fish food to start the cycling process. Is this how most people start their cycling process?

I also would like opinions on how my mangroves will affect the cycling process. In the wild, mangroves will remove ammonia and nitrates/nitrites (among other minerals) from the water, thus it is safe to assume that my mangroves will do the same. Does this mean that my cycle time will be less than 6-8 weeks? I know to do water test daily, was just curious about other peoples experience.

I would also like some opinions about my future fish and invertebrates. My plans for my tank include
2 clownfish, 1 B. Cardinal, 1 firefish, 4/6 green chromis, and 1 jawfish. For my invertebrates I had plans on 1 lettuce sea slug, 2 snapping shrimp, 1 shortspine urchin, 10 naddsrius snails, and 4 porcelain crabs. My goal was to have my invertebrates outnumber my fish to keep the water cleaner and my animals happier.

So my last question is when should I add my invertebrates? My LFS says to add them right now but I am not to sure about that. They also said that i needed to add more fish but i do not wish to over whelm my tank.


Staff member
Good for you not cycling with fish and NOT listening to the fish store.

Mangroves are interesting plants. Not likely to be a big help in keeping tank clean at least initially, I don’t like to add macro algae because it slows the cycling down but mangroves are different. The cycle will be comparable and don’t rush it. Be sure you have some sort of grow light for them. They need a different wavelength than the tank. On a side note, I did a kayak tour of the mangroves on Bonaire while on a dive trip. It was an amazing learning tour. Going back in July hope to convince my 81 yo Dad to do the mangrove tour with me.

Clowns are a great choice. Two oscelaris or percussions or one of the others. Cardinal would be great, I have a PJ that I’ve had for years. The fire fish also a great option.. skip the chromis,They are prone to uronemea marinum which is a nasty parasite that can’t be eradicated from the tank and multiple will end up as one in a small tank. Jaw fish often starve in small tanks so I’d skip that or wait a year or more. I would suggest a royal gramma or orchid dotty back.

Sjomething you didn’t mention is quarantine. We always recomend quarantining at least 30 days, one fish at a time (except if you have a pair of clowns). This prevents disease from getting into your display, it allows the fish to start eating in a low stress environment, and it prevents anxious new aquarists and some old timers like me, from adding too much too fast.

Your cleanup crew isn’t bad. Skip the niibranch (lettuce sea slug)it will die. One pistol shrimp, Kind of cool if you get it with the shrimp goby. Nice symbiotic relationship. Crabs are fine, I like an assortment of small hermits, nasarius snails are fascinating to watch but mix it up with others like certification and margarita snails. Wait on shrimp, probably crabs, and definitely the urchin untillthe tank is at least a year old. You want just enough CUC too much they add to the waste or just starve. In the end snails and hermits tend to equalize on their own. Shrimp and crabs are more active feeders and don’t do much to clean up.. fun to have and watch, especially skunk cleaner shrimp. Urchins will not do well in a new tank. They eat algae but will starve if there isn’t a lot. I’m partial to tuxedo urchins. Fairly easy to keep if water is good, there is plenty of food, and you acclimate very slowly. Pretty, spikes don’t hurt and they don’t eat things you don’t want them to eat.
Snails and hermits can go in before fish when the cycle is done. The rest you need to wait.
I do have a small Q.Tank, just thought it was common knowledge to put fish in them first before the tank. LOL. Thank you for the warning about the chromis. I only added them to have a flash of color.

So would a good course of action be as followed:
Step 1: QT in June - 10 snails and 2 hermit - add to tank in July
Step 2: QT in June - 2 clown fish - Add fish to tank in July
Step 3: QT in July - 1 B.cardinal - add fish to tank in August
Step 4: QT in August - 1 Shrimp Gobi - Add fish to tank in September
Step 5: QT in September - 1 Fire fish - Add fish to tank in October
Step 6: QT in October - 1 royal gamma - Add fish to tank in November
Step 7: OT in November - 1 piston Shrimp - Add to tank in December
Step 8: Wait one month
Step 9: Qt in January - 2 porcelain crabs. - Add in February
Step 10: wait one month
Step 11: QT in April - 1 short spine Urchin - Add to tank in May

After one year the tank would have:
2 O. Clown fish
1 B. Cardinal
1 Shrimp Gobi
1 fire fish
1 royal gramma
1 piston shrimp
2 porcelain crabs
1 SS urchin
10 snails (various)
2 hermit crabs
and three mangroves


Staff member
Sounds like a pretty good plan. Add the pistol shrimp and goby together. You can often buy them that way. If your inverts come from a place that has no fish in their tanks, no need to QT them. I have a specific place I get them for that reason. I’d also read up on the various fish diseases and have the treatments and test kits on hand if something pops up while they are in QT. for sure copper safe and the API copper test kit and prazipro. You’d be surprised how many people don’t think they have room for a QT then we here from them after they add a fish and all the fish died a few days later. don’t put rock or sand in your QT. I use a cheap sponge filter with an air pump. I seed the filter in my tank prior to using the QT. If you end up dealing with a disease in QT, I like to sterilize all the equipment with 10% bleach then letting it dry for 48 hrs before I use again. I like to have 2-3 sponge filters on hand in my sump ( could be tank) when I’m adding fish, you never know when you’ll need them. They also suggest setting up QT tanks at least 10 feet from the display to prevent contamination. To me it seems unlikely but I do it anyway.
I was going to buy my fish online from My local fish store looks a little worse for wear. The fish are all dull in color and 2 mangroves (i originally wanted 5 in my tank) came with black mold on their roots and looked like no one has washed their leaves in weeks. I have small gravel in my QT plus 1 plastic plant. I was told to keep it looking as close to real as possible


Staff member
QT should always be bare bottom. Plastic plant is fine but you need something for them to hide in. Reef fish hide. Most use PVC elbows as hiding places. I have a couple cheesy aquarium decor pieces, a castle and pyramid that I use. Everything in QT needs to be easy to decontaminate and can’t absorb meds. Gravel absorbs meds. Anything you use in the QT (nets, pipets for testing, etc) needs to be designated QT only and decontaminated using 10% bleach after use and allowed to air dry befor you use again (usually 24 to 48 hrs). This goes for hands too. It is so easy to accidentally cross contaminate. I’d also suggest a seachem ammonia alert badge in QT. Constant visual indicator of ammonia.