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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The more books I read, internet research I do and pet stores I
visit, the more discouraged I am to start a reef/saltwater tank. I have a 20 gallon aquarium on a stand. I would like a tank with a live plant and/or coral with a few small fish (colorful). What do I need? type of filter, lighting, sand, water, fish, plants, rocks, testing kits, fish food, etc.

I have bought a Second Nature Challenger aquarium air pump for 20 to 55 gallons and a Penquin 125 bio-wheel power flilter for up to 30 gallons.

I am writing as I am looking for someone with experience. For
the most part, I'm being told at the pet stores that it's a lot of upkeep and I'd be better off with a freshwater tank. That's not what I want. I would appreciate any information you can share with me.

What I think I know so far....
It will take at least 6-8 weeks to cycle my tank with 2 Damsel
fish. At that time, I should return them to the pet store and purchase a couple of the fish I want to keep in my tank (probably percula clownfish). Without purchasing a skimmer for approximately $170, I will have to run a fish-only tank. The
water needs to stay between 75 and 82 degrees. I need to have a live rock in the sand (sand without silicone). I should plan on one inch of fish for every four gallons. I will as well need a cleaner fish (shrimp or wrasse).

As you can see, I'm clearly confused on the steps to set it up and
important rules I need to follow. Please help.

852 Posts
Yeah, pretty daunting to someone starting out. I'll tell you how I would set up a 20 gal 'fish-only-with-live-rock' (FOwLR), which might give you some ideas:

1... One inch of crushed coral as a base -- a deep sand bed doesn't do much good in a tank that small - not enough surface area, and the c.c. is easy to siphon the dirt out.

2... 20 to 30 lbs live rock - you'll need this for filtration and natural setting for the fish.

3... trade in the air pump for a powerhead -- the salt creep from the bubbles of an airstone will make a real mess around your tank.

4... the pengiun filter is fine as long as you change the filter cartridges every month or so.

5... Weekly water changes of about 20-25 % (religiously!).

6... A couple of hardy fish like clowns and maybe one more small fish down the road.

7... a double-light florescent fixture (with one daylight bulb, and one actinic bulb) so the coralline on the rock will grow nicely. Also, once the tank is established, you can probably add a few easy soft corals.

I wouldn't use the damsels to cycle, if you buy uncured live rock (cheaper) , it will cycle the tank for you in about 6 weeks. You can also add a piece of frozen shrimp from the grocery store to help.

This is probably the minimum you can do and have a successful tank if you monitor it closely. I would feel more comfortable if there was a skimmer on the tank, but that can come when you have some extra cash.


Premium Member
34,435 Posts
Welcome to TRT!!!


it is rather daughting setting up your first SW tank. great advice so far. glad to see you are asking questions before getting started!

cycling with LR is the way to go. damsels are impossible to get out of a tank once thay are in there. besides the ammonia levels in the tank are toxic when cycleing. no need to subject the poor fish to that when LR will do just fine.

get some test kits. nitrite, nitrate, ammonia, calcium, alk.

ask away!

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