First a little history. My interest in the hobby began back in college, which for me was the early 90's. I had a roommate that had been keeping fish for a number of years. He had an extra 55 gallon tank sitting around as well as a funky all-in-one HOB filter system that he let me have. At his suggestion I read the Marine Aquarium Handbook by Martin A. Moe (the Bible for many at the time) and began my journey into the world of saltwater.
I set up my 55 as a FOWLR tank. I used crushed coral as a substrate, tap water treated with AmQuel, and about 30lbs of live rock. In addition to the all-in-one HOB, I also used an undergravel filter and two HOB Whisper Filters. I kept (let's see if I can remember) a three stripe damsel and a domino damsel (the survivors of my tank's cycle), a coral beauty angel, a sailfin tang, a porcupine puffer, a snowflake eel, a green wrasse, a chocolate chip star, and though it didn't last long... a caribbean anemone. I really enjoyed the tank. Never really considered coral as I knew maintaining the necessary water quality was out of my starving student price range.
Over the course of a few years my roommate and I experimented with keeping some unusual critters including jellyfish and an octopus. We also experimented with DIY'ing some equipment including a fluidized sand bed "Sea Storm" filter that was all the rage at the time. At one point, I had a 55 FOWLR, a 55 freshwater, and a 20 tall feeder fish tank all running at the same time. It was fun, but my hobby was always on a shoestring budget. I promised myself that one day when I had the resources (money) I would do it right.
Fast forward about 10 years... After being bored with a freshwater tank for the past six years (one of my original 55 gallons with an Eheim canister filter) I decided it was time to get back into salt... the right way this time. I did an obscene amount of research on the internet picking out my equipment and I joined TRT. I have been going (relatively) slow and trying to make sure I satisfy my inner perfectionist as I set my tank up. For details on my tank build, see my tank build thread.
AquaVim 93 gallon seamless glass bowfront reef ready tank ~48x18x26
DIY acrylic sump ~35 gallons
IceCap 660 T5 retro kit with 4 x 39W bulbs
IceCap 430 T5 retro kit with 2 x 39W bulbs
Orion 51cfm canopy fan x 2
ASM G4 skimmer
Velocity T3 return pump
AquaController Jr. - DC8, DC4, lab grade pH probe, temp probe, and serial port connection
Won Brothers 200W titanium heat tube x 2
Hydor Koralia 4 powerhead x 2
MaxiJet 1200 powerhead x 2
SpectraPure MaxCap RO/DI
Instant Ocean salt
40 lbs - Fiji Live Rock
20 lbs - Marshall Island Live Rock
20 lbs - Vanuatu Live Rock
5 lbs - Tonga Slab Live Rock
50 lbs - #0 (sugar sized) aragonite sand
20 lbs - Carib Sea AragAlive Bahama Oolite live sand
5/9/07 - The tank fill begins! Using the RO/DI top-off line in my sump, I filled the sump with about 20 gallons of water and then pumped it into my tank via my return pump. Over... and over... and over... and over... well you get the idea.
5/10/07 - The tank is finally full. After dropping off my freshwater fishies at the LFS and picking up some salt, it was time to drain the old tank. I added heat and salt to the new tank and just let it run for a few days until I could pick up my rock.
5/14/07 - Added about 85lbs of live rock, 20lbs of live sand, and 50lbs of dry #0 aragonite sand to the tank (along with my DIY Fly Guy rock lift) and everything disappeared! Maybe I should have rinsed my dry sand before adding it? Maybe a cloudy tank is just part of the tank set up process? It just looked so nice after running with just water for a few days.
Well the tank has settled nicely. There is a fine layer of silt on everything in the sump, but the water itself is nice and clear. The Koralia 4's were causing some sand dune issues for me but after a few hours of playing around with aiming them I found a happy balance between them, my MaxiJet 1200's, and my dual return nozzles. We'll see if any more trouble spots develop in the next day or two.
Only two days into it and my ASM G4 is starting to collect some skimmate. Not real dark yet, but all I have in the tank is cured rock and sand. Actually the 5lbs of Tonga Slab I added wasn't fully cured yet but I'm figuring that in the grand scheme of things it won't cause me any serious problems.
I did my first water test using some of the cheesy dip-n-read test strips. I'm not sure how accurate the numbers are, but I have been told at this point in my tank's life I just need to test for the presence of different compounds, not necessarily the actual amounts. I am using a refractometer for SG measurements and my ACJr.'s probes for temp and pH so those should all be accurate. These results are 2 days after adding my rock and sand.
Well the water is nice and clear now. There seems to be a light dusting of white something on the rocks (silt?). I have found a few feather dusters on the rock as well as a little shrimpy looking thing that was flying around in the current today. The coralline that was on the rocks seems to be slowly bleaching out where it is exposed to the lights. It's maintaining it's color pretty well in shaded areas.
Really not sure about these test strips I'm using... How are you supposed to match a blue colored test result to a scale that is all shades of green? Again I guess it's not the quantities that are important, it's the presence of the compounds in the first place... Planning on bringing up my SG just a little today. Maybe a nice even 1.025 will work.
Well, it's been a week since I added my rock and sand and I don't seem to be experiencing much of a cycle in my tank. I'm guessing it's because I used cured rock. My water testing has been showing a consistently small reading of about .40 - .25 Ammonia, 0 Nitrites, and 20 Nitrates. I've been using the dip and read strips for my testing and I was beginning to doubt my ammonia reading as it had not been changing much like I figured it should if my tank was going to cycle. I decided to do a control test and I checked some plain RO water for ammonia, it too was reading in the same range as my tank! Now I'm pretty certain my RO water has no ammonia it so I'm guessing the strips are giving a false reading.
I added a False Percula Clown and a Green Chromis as they are supposed to be peaceful fish and will hopefully not bother future tank mates. I also got a big bunch of Calerpula growing on some live rocks for my fuge. It came with a few tiny little snails that I dropped in my tank. It's been a couple of days and everyone is still looking very happy. I'll continue to test for ammonia and nitrites for the next couple of weeks, but I really don't think I'm going to experience much of a cycle.
I have noticed a couple more feather dusters on the rock. I have also spotted what I think may be an Aiptasia. Guess I better try to get rid of it. The white dusting on the rocks has changed to a brown dusting in some areas so I'm guessing it is just a little algae die-off. I have been skimming pretty wet so skimmate production has been good but has been fairly light in color.
Everything seems to be progressing nicely. The tank is looking great and my white/brown dust issue seems to have taken care of itself. I do have some algae growing in the tank now, but it's not the ugly stringy red and green stuff I'm used to. Some of it looks like little green feathers, some of it looks like little wavy blades, kind of like tiny green kelp. There may be a little green hair mixed in with it, but the other kinds seem to be more dominant. Although I know it doesn't belong, it actually brings some nice color to the tank at this point in the tank's fairly empty existence. The coralline in the shaded areas is still maintaining its color but the stuff in the exposed areas has not regained any color yet.
I found one small pink glass anemone/aiptasia on a piece of live rock last week. I tried zapping it with boiling water while it was in the tank, but no luck. I ended up pulling the rock out of the tank and squirting it with boiling water and it shriveled right up. I removed the remains and it doesn't seem to be coming back. I did notice a small brownish one right where my sand meets the front glass. I'll have to get rid of him tomorrow. Also I'm not sure, but I think I have been getting small ones developing on the glass. Not 100% sure, but they look like little tiny (smaller than a pinhead) pink algae spots. I've been knocking them off with the mag float and hopefully the skimmer is picking them up.
Skimmer is working great now. It has yet to go crazy on me without reason. My skimmate seems to usually be green in color though as opposed to the brown I usually see in pictures. Not sure exactly why though.
The fish I got are doing very well. They didn't have much appetite and were sticking to the corners the first day or two. After adjusting my Koralia's (which were also causing sand dunes) they are now much happier. They are both eating and swimming continuously about the tank.
My biggest problem thus far has been regulating the temperature of the tank. It just keeps getting too hot (around 87 by the end of the day.) I think the combination of the Velocity T3 return pump, the T5 lights, and the enclosed canopy is proving to be a warm one. I just about have it under control now though. I have been playing with my ACJr. and I think I have almost found a happy balance. I shortened my daylight hours and cut back a little on the cycles that the powerheads are on. I also set my fans to stay on until lower temperatures were reached. I am now averaging between 80 and 85 degrees. I would still like to bring it down another degree, but I think it is getting there. I know I could just get a chiller, but I really don't want to.
I saw my first pods today! I really wasn't looking for them, they just kind of appeared. I was working on something in my sump, and I noticed a few crawling around in my fuge. Some about 1/16", some almost 1/4", just cruising around on the macro.
My water parameters are staying very constant. I really think the rock I bought must have been fully cured and is not going to cycle. I'm still going to wait a little longer before I make my final determination though. I'm just about positive the ammonia is a false reading as I noticed today the strips already show .25 before being exposed to water, they're not actually changing after dunking them. Here's my water test parameters according to my cheapy dip test strips (I'm going to be switching my Alk units from meq/l to dKH now):
I got a frantic call from the wife while I was at work last night... "I can't find my fish!" I told her to check the sump, the floor, the overflow, etc. but still no luck. The new clown was missing in action. When I got home in the morning, I looked and couldn't find it either. I figured I'd wait until the lights came on and that hopefully he'd turn up. Lights came on and he was still not to be found. Time for a more thorough search. I finally found him by looking into my overflow from the bottom. There is a little foam cut away around the bulkheads and I saw his shadow cruise by a couple of times. Took out my standpipe, fished him out, and the world is right again...
Algae is continuing to grow quickly. Went to pick up a clean up crew today but did not find anything I liked at the LFS. Maybe Tuesday with the new shipment... Also blew all the build up and some loose algae off the rocks with a powerhead again today.
Well, a number of things have changed over the past couple of weeks. Most importantly, I found out for sure that my ammonia readings were incorrect. I borrowed a friend's (quality) test kit and found that my ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate were zero across the board. Today was actually the first time I've tested since then but I'll get to that in a bit.
Temperature is also under control. I bumped all my temperature related functions on my AquaController down a couple of degrees and added a 7" fan inside my stand to cool the sump. My temperature now ranges between 80 and 82 degrees.
Apparently my clown was not deterred from risk taking after the overflow incident. He decided to hang out inside one of my Koralia's and lost. He's still alive (this happened about two weeks ago) but he has no tail. He seems to be getting along just fine with a missing fin. I guess now he's really a Nemo fish.
My hair algae was getting really out of hand so I picked up a cleaning crew (very small one) about two weeks ago. I got 3 turbos and 3 nassarius. One of each type died within a few days, but the others are doing well. The turbos just munch their way around all day. The nassarius I rarely ever see.
Aiptasia was next on my hit-list. There were about 5 of them that I had been keeping an eye on. I got 4 peppermint shrimp and within 24 hours they were all gone. I was pleasantly surprised as I had heard they were hit and miss with their appetite for aiptasia.
Clean up crew was looking over worked and was continuing to fall behind so I got them a helper. His name is Lebowski and he is a lawnmower blenny. He's been a great addition to the tank but almost met an early end the other day when he decided that one of my Koralia's would make a great cave. I now have covers over the openings on the front of the Koralia's that I made out of plastic gutter guard. I really didn't want any sushi to show up in my tank.
Even with the snails and the lawnmower, the hair algae was way out of hand. I'm guessing it's phosphates purging out of the rocks because I'm getting almost no algae growth on the glass and the rocks had hair so long it was twisting into dreadlocks in the high-flow areas. I finally decided it was time for a "haircut". Armed with a scraper and a pair of scissors, I trimmed all the algae on the rocks and scraped all the algae off the rear glass. I removed a good sized handful of the stuff. The haircut combined with frequent blasting of the rocks with a powerhead seems to be swinging the hair algae war back to my advantage. Can't wait until it is totally gone!
Today I stopped by a friend's place that has been offering to give me some sturdy frags when I was ready. I decided today was as good a day as any and I picked up a good sized piece of Green Star Polyp and a branch off of a Colt Coral. He also gave me a Xenia that he had moved into his aggressive fish tank last week due to overcrowding in his reef tank. And just for fun, he gave me a little frag of an Acro that he had accidentally broken off. So this brings me to why I finally tested my water again today. I decided if I was going to try to get some SPS to survive, I better find out my other water parameters.
It was off to the LFS for some B-Ionic 2 part and some Salifert test kits for Cal and Alk. Here's my results:
From what I understand the Alkalinity was on the high end of the scale and the Calcium was pretty low so I added 60ml of the B-Ionic Calcium supplement to my tank. I'll test again tomorrow and see if it brought it up to around 350 like I'm expecting. I really need to learn more about the whole Cal/Alk balance thing so I can be sure I'm doing this right...
The 60ml of Calcium brought the Calcium level up 10ppm from yesterday. I added another 30ml Calcium to continue to bring it up.
Found a coral that was just calling out to me today at the LFS (it was on sale too!) I got a orange and yellow cauliflower softy. I've trying to find a little more info about it but most of my searches have brought up information about about an SPS coral by the same name.
Also added another 30ml Calcium.
6/19/07 @ 1800
Decided to see if some type of phosphate remover would help out my hair algae problem. Added a 100g bag of Tropic Marin Elimi-Phos. Also added another 30ml Calcium.