How do I know if reef-keeping is for me?
You know this hobby is for you if:
* you're so broke you have to build your own tank.
* you have never kept any type of aquarium before.
* you flunked the only chemistry or biology class that you ever took.
* you pay your own electric bills.
How should I get started in setting up the aquarium?
* By all means, don't read up on anything first. Don't read the FAQ,
don't read any FAMAs, and whatever you do don't waste $70 or $80 on
that dumb Delbeek and Sprung book. Thats a lot of money for a
book... you could get a 20-year old marine aquarium book plus a
newer one by Albert Thiel for half that. State of the art
undergravel filters and automatic ozonizing systems here we come!
* Be sure to start with the smallest aquarium you can imagine. Pioneer
* Get an acrylic tank so you can explore coralline algae growth from a
* If you are going to have any flourescent lighting in your tank, then
whatever you do, don't buy a tank that is four feet long! Get a
3-footer, a 6-footer, anything but 4. Those cheap, readily available
in massive diversity 4-foot bulbs are gonna take over the world if
people like you don't stand up for individuality and shell out twice
as much each month for the only 3-footer to be found in the entire
* Buy all of the newest, most expensive, most experimental equipment
you can find ads for. Don't bother with that boring old skimmer when
you can spend five times as much on Bikini Atoll Live Sand and a
fluidized bed filter based on the latest in powerplant technology.
Remember, if you fall behind in the technology race now, you may
never catch up!
* Be sure to run out of money before you get the live rock; you can
always add it later. And be sure to do the plumbing when you will
have to smoke test it with real salt water instead of that fresh
* You can save lots of money by using table salt instead of the
expensive kind that they sell in fish stores.
What about lighting?
* Lighting, shmighting, plenty of sunlight gets in the room.
* By all means, get the brand new Terminator(tm) 50,000K ultraviolent
metal halides, guaranteed to kill any germs, microbes, or other forms
of life in your tank.
* Get the SHO (Stupendously High Output) flourescents. If they sell a
couple more of these fixtures, the bulb manufacturer will be able to
stay in business another year.
* Do not get NO (No Output) flourescents. All those rumors about being
able to grow soft corals, tridacnas, halimeda, and some hard corals
under these primitive conditions are untrue. Besides, the profit
margins on these are so low the manufacturers can't afford the really
splashy (ouch) ads in FAMA.
* Halogen lights are the same as metal halide lights, and they cost a
lot less. Same with mercury vapor lamps.
What's this stuff about cycling my tank?
* You don't have to do that for invertebrate tanks.
* Seed your tank with plenty of damsels. These fish are not agressive
and territorial. They will not hide in every nook and cranny in your
live rock, killing your expensive fish and driving you crazy until
you finally break down and spend an entire Saturday tearing your tank
apart rock by rock until you nail every last one of the little...but
* Be sure to buy one of those bottles of insta-bactizyme. Each of
these bottles has possibly as much viable bacteria left alive in it
after sitting on the pet store shelf for 8 years as a whole atom of
* If you have a hundred pounds of live rock in your tank, you have to
wait a really long time when you cycle, possibly forever. Remember,
don't buy any livestock until after you see the ammonia spike!
What should I stock my tank with?
* Buy your first invertebrate before your aquarium is even set up so
that you will have a reliable indicator of bad water quality.
* Get a really big anemone and a clown fish to go with your corals.
* Plan on lots of fish - make it a "hybrid" aquarium with both fish and
invertebrates. Then, be sure to feed your fish a lot; they're
happiest when they eat.
* Add some really good reef fish, like triggers or butterflies, to get
rid of your aiptasias.
* If you see an exciting invert that you have never seen before and
know nothing about, buy it quick before someone else snaps it up.
* Buy the unusually colored corals, like the bright orange or yellow
ones. These have especially hardworking zooanthellae.
* You can grow acropora under NO flourscents if you perch it on a
precarious pile of live rock so that its really close to the lights.
* If you ever notice any critter in your aquarium that you can't
identify, its important to kill it immediately. Unidentified life
forms cannot be tolerated in the controlled environment of your reef
tank. And if you see any of those little half inch long spiny pink
worm things in your gravel, they could be fire worms that will kill
and eat everything in your tank. Tear your tank apart to find them
all, or use chemicals (see below).
Can I truly have "A Better Life Through Chemicals"?
Yep, its true, and the more complex and organic those chemicals are
the better! Chemicals should be the first thing you think of when a
fish gets sick. If its a $20 fish, treat your tank with $60 worth of
antibiotics. The bacteria that cycled your tank and keep it alive
won't be affected because they are not a disease.
If you get red slime algae after you cycle your tank, treat it with
chemicals! When you kill the algae with chemicals, they release
needed nutrients back into the water.
To really enjoy the sense of adventure you get when you walk into a
pet store, go find a bottle of Mystery Chemicals. Check out a bottle
with a bright, colorful label. Does it have a clever name? Does the
label imply that its good for your reef, without making any specific,
measurable claims? Are the ingredients top secret? Then buy it and
add it to your tank today!
If you cannot find a Mystery Chemical, look for something with no
expiration date that says its full of complex organic compounds like
vitamins or something. These are Mystery Chemicals in hiding.
What if something goes wrong?
If something goes wrong, immediately implement a series of major
sudden changes to your reef environment. This is the only way to nip
whatever it is in the bud. Within the first hour, you need to
* Add chemicals (see above)
* Raise or lower the temperature several degrees
* Do a massive water change.
* Change your lighting regime.
Remember, only by suddenly varying everything about your reef's
environment at once can you figure out whats wrong. And by shocking
your system you harden the organisms living in it.
How should I ask the net for help?
* Don't be too specific with your questions; nobody likes to be bored
with lots of details. Here are some uncluttered posts that are sure
to get lots of helpful responses:
"Help! Everything in my tank is dying! Can someone tell me why?"
"Can anyone tell me the exact chemical composition and valence shell
structure of this rock in my tank? Its light colored".
"There is this small pink thing in my tank that suddenly appeared
yesterday. What is it?"
All of the above got extra credit because they failed to mention
anywhere in the post that the tank was marine.
* Ensure that everyone knows what you are talking about by using common
names for organisms, such as "clown", "tube coral", "star polyp", or
my own personal fave, "spiny urchin". You don't need to provide a
* Ask questions that are answered directly in the FAQ. If you don't
have the time to look for it there first, someone else will be happy
to do it for you.