Guidance at middle age - or how I got divorced and learned to.....reef again


New member
I will make this short since I have taken the time of this generous community a couple times in the last 10 years (or more!) and not acted on any of the advice.
Last time I chimed in was around 10 years ago......I should just log off now!
I am now way into middle age (53), all my kids are grown, my wife left us, ugh. Too much water under or in the tank!

Anyway, I'm at a place where I can dedicate some time to a reef build. Not only do I miss having a tank but I think it might do me some good. I just need some guidance (again).
30 years ago I would have devoured a few books (mostly Sprung and Tullock) and read lots of magazines. Now I suspect that books are not necessarily the way to go (and I know magazines aren't) with so much online. Problem is I have no idea where to start. I know nothing about modern filtration methods, lighting, water, etc.

Though a lot of this is a repeat of past posts I will reiterate here (I promise, if I bail this time I will not bother you all again!).

What I did in the past:

30 gal
bare bottom
canister filter (mostly AC and bio balls)
power heads
live rock
MH lighting
Kalkwasser drip

What I think I want:

50-100 gal (glass unless there is something I don't know)
simple filtration (algae refugium? skimmers? no idea!)
live rock...I think? Unless that is also now out of fashion!
soft corals
few fish/shrimp
ripple lighting

I just need a good direction to go, there is so much out there I don't even know where to start and I've forgot almost everything I ever knew. What I'd like is a trusted step by step but I know that's not realistic nor probably prudent.
Just my opinion. I'm older than you. I still like most of my older systems. I run fuges and a skimmer. I still like live rock. You can go with Tampa Bay Saltwater. There are others, but I used TBS on the last tank, and will use them again. The rimless thing does look better than a framed one,, but that's just my perspective. Now the lighting, over most of the last thirty years, I've used VHO's or MH. I've gone to LED on my last two tanks and will use them on the next. They've come a long way over the last ten years. They can also provide a shimmer depending on the brand. Welcome back!!!
Dang, reading your title I thought this was going to be free therapy session.


I like rimless with black silicone. Bevelled edges and thicker glass are two of the bonuses. You can also get starphire glass which is ultraclear (no green hue) although a little easier to scratch. If you have jumpy fish and require a screen top there are some modern ideas that are not so ugly now.

Simple filtration. Skimmers are still skimmers, they're just mostly cones now, have adjustable air (we've learned balanced air is better than more air) and you can get DC pumps for ultimate controlability. Refugiums still work fine and are still popular. A newer refugium-like concept is the turf-algae-scrubber. Grow dense algae under intense lights on a screen and harvest regularly to export nutrients. About a simple as it gets.

Live rock. Yep, still a thing but much more expensive and usually kind of pesty. There are still good options. Maybe @JohnL could chime in with his live rock purchase and experience. Newer options are man made and aquacultured rock that minimises pests but often result in unbalanced microbiome and problems related to that. Search "dinoflagelletes" if you want to know.
I just want to say welcome back to the hobby!! I hope we can answer all of your questions! Judging from this thread, yeah...keep the questions coming!!
Welcome back Dumont. I'm just a little bit older than you and have been keeping SW/Reefs since 1985/86-ish. Over my time in the hobby, I've had tanks ranging from 15 - 450 gallons. I currently have a 40 breeder with plans to upgrade to either a 75 or 120 in the future, "sometime." ;) Okay, I've been planning this upgrade since 2017, but things are looking like it might actually happen this fall or winter:) Based on you post, you'll understand, 3 kids in little league sports (I coached most of their teams), all 3 kids in High School sports, all 3 kids in college with one playing football in college 3 hours away. Now, all three are out of college.

I'm still a bit old school when it comes to equipment.

For my current tank, I used about 1" of Caribbsea live sand as substrate, about 20-lbs of dry base rock, 20-lbs of Caribbean live rock from KP Aquatics.

My lighting consists on 1 175-watt 10K metal halide pendant (old school) and 2 Actinic LED light bars.

Filtration consists of a homemade 10 gallon sump (no room for a fuge), filter sock, an eShopps needle wheel cone skimmer, and a Bulk Reef Supply GFO/Carbon reactor.

I have used Coralife salt (again, old school) since it hit the market way back when and still use it today.

I have a 7-stage RO/DI system that I've pieced together over the years consisting of: 5 micron sediment filter, 5 micron chloramine carbon block, 1 micron carbon block, 75 gph RO membrane, Cation cartridge, Anion Cartridge and finally, a mixed bed DI cartridge. I get about 7 TDS out of the membrane and ZERO after the DI cartridges.

In tank water movement is provided by the return pump (Rio) and 3 Sicce powerheads hooked up to a Red Sea Wavemaster (very old school:ROFLMAO:) wavemaker .

For my future upgrade, I do have an IceCap sump sitting unopened in the basement that has a fuge, which I really wish I had on the current tank.

One recommendation I would make is to NOT get an acrylic tank. My 450 was a beautifully built tank by Envision Acrylics. James did an amazing job building it. BUT, despite being extremely careful, by the time I had to sell it (due to a layoff), I had tons of scratches.

And definitely have a fuge with Macroalgae. I've been battling cyano for quite a while with my current tank and believe that if I have a fuge, the battle would be a lot easier to win.

I also recommend, if you can afford it, go with all live rock. If not, use some dry base rock and top it off with live rock.

Good luck and hope you stick around.