So you want to start a reef aquarium?

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Larry M

Moved On
Well, I agree that a good book should be your first purchase, and maybe this is a good time to start a list. For the first purchases, I would recommend:

"Natural Reef Aquariums" by John Tullock
"The Conscientious Marine Aquarist" by Robert Fenner
"A Practical Guide to Corals" by Eric Borneman and Ed Puterbaugh

None of these three books are very expensive, meaning less than $30 each. There are other excellent books too, but I would start with one of the above first.

The other recommendation I would make is try to find a reef club, even if it isn't all that local to you. These clubs are invaluable for several reasons: you get to mix with people of all levels of experience, you get to see member's reef tanks (the reef tanks at your lfs are often quite different from a hobbyist's tank) and the exchange of information that goes on at these meetings is outstanding. If there isn't a club near you, consider starting one yourself.

And, hang out here.

Larry M

Visit Reef Central's Home Site at:
Hi Everyone,

The main thing that I have found to allow myself to setup a successful reeftank was to take my time.

When I setup my first reeftank I wanted it to look like a reeftank that I had seen in many of the books the first day. I read thousands of reef related emails and lurked on boards like these and thought that I could do it better and faster than anyone else. Well after wasting thousands of dollars and countless hours on useless equipment, lost or diseased animals and even getting frustrated to the point of wanting to break down the reef and replace it with a freshwater tank, I finally learned to take my time. I am not the type of person that likes to wait for anything but this hobby has taught me a valuable lesson. Good things come to those who wait! If a water parameter in your tank is off don't panic, take a deep breath, think about the problem and the cause and correct it slowly. I will not tell you how many animals I have hurt by taking drastic measures trying to correct even simple problems quickly that could have been corrected slowly without causing any harm.

There are many different ways to create a successful reeftank with all of the technology available to us but IMHO the only way to have a successful reeftank is to take your time.


Get a good Shrink!
Just kidding. I have been approached by people who where interested in starting a saltwater fish/reef tank. The first recommendation was to lend these people some of my reef books for a weekend and then get back to me with a decision.( I only lent them to people I knew) Most of the time these people backed out and squashed the whole idea. Some are still thinking about it... A year later. The biggest factor that seems to be in common is money. Most people aren't thrilled with the idea of spending thousands of dollars on a reef setup. Even if the person is thrifty and handy, it still is a lot of money. Then after the money problem is figured out, the project can become a bit overwhelming with information and knowledge needed. There aren't a lot of people out there willing to spend the time reseaching the equipment, animals and techniques out there. Only a few people actually do this when starting in this hobby. I've heard so many goldfish at the county fair stories from people who now have reef tanks. I think most people should start small. They should not spend a lot of money on their first setup and spend the first year in this hobby asking questions. Especially from the people on Aqualink and this board.

IMHO, research,research,research and research some more. Ask questions of "knowledgeable" aquarists...not just the "experinced". Books? Books are good. Even today I find myself going to Tullock and Fenner. This BB and others are good sources too! Join a club if feasible. The internet is also a good source, sometime it takes a "little digging" to find a resource but worth the time spent. Don't think your going to have a beautiful reef in six weeks....patience is a must....patience of the snails your trying to raise. Most of all listen carefully and do whats right for your setup.


"You can always tell a marine biologist, just can't tell him much"
I dont want to be a na sayer, but I find that Beginners are ignored, look down on(I know, I'm a beginner). Almost a nucence, did I spell that right. I want to absorb information, and I do read books, but the best way for me is interaction with others. So please answer questions(us newbies are thrilled when we get an answer) no mater how small. We appreciate it.

To expand on what Hesaias said,find a good Local Fish Store [LFS] and spend hours there.Don't make a pest of yourself to the staff, but check out what's available and what catches your eye. Then go home and research what you're interested in and take notes. Same with equipment,research the heck out of it,look at as many tanks as you can. When you think you're done,start over and do it again. When you're ready to take the plunge, post your plan and be prepared to be be blown out of the water. [Link, we're not being mean,but reefers are very dedicated to the hobby. Plus, I've heard that we're compulsive, anal retentive type A personalities who find memorizing latin names of corals relaxing.] Just remember, nobody knows all the right answers or these boards wouldn't exist.
As another person who has just set up a reef, I can offer the following suggestions

1) Buy the best equipment you can, or make your own from QUALITY parts to save money.

2) Find a good LFS to go to for information. Check out their display tanks to see if what they are doing is successful. Especially can tell if they have huge massive corals/clams in their tanks; probably did not buy them at that size. Consider another LFS if all of the corals are small (i.e. just added) unless the store just set up the tank or treats its display tanks as sale tanks and sells the corals from them.

3) Buy good books - I especially like The Reef Aquarium vols. by Delbeek & Sprung.

4) Don't be afraid to ask questions at the LFS or on a online bbs (especially Reef Central
), and if you are not sure if the answers are correct check with someone else.

5) Take your time and listen to good advice.

1. Go to several sources. Never read just one author or visit just one LFS.
2. Good beginning books are Fenner and Tullock as mentioned above, and also Mike Palettas new one "The New Marine Aquarium". Very inexpensive and very straight-forward. The magazines are also good sources.
3. Good LFS's have knowledgable staffs, particularly the owner. They do not carry unethical animals (which you can determine after reading Fenner!). They support captive breeding and support local clubs. Good LFS's are also "hang-outs" for the people you want to meet and become friends with: other addicted hobbyists.
4. Good friends are friendly people with any level of experience from beginner to expert. They have a desire to learn as much as they can, even if they seem to you like they know volumes already. Egos get large in this hobby sometimes. If you can, shrug that off and take the advice for what it is. Good friends aren't secretive about their methods and will often let you visit their tanks.
5. Good clubs are just about any club. Unless it has degenerated into a political-fest or social-fest, any club is better than no club at all. Look for the retailers that frequent club meetings. Go to their stores. Introduce yourself to everyone and muscle into conversations. Believe it or not, marine aquarists are a generally friendly and fun-loving group of people.
6. The internet is dangerous territory. Pure psychopaths can post stuff and make it seem legitimate since it is in print. Go to a message board (like Reef Centralwith dictatorial mean with friendly people and maybe a famous name or two, so you know any totally bogus info will be pointed out as such. Lurk for a while, but don't be afraid to get involved. And don't get shy if your first post is slaughtered by 7 regular posters in the first 28 minutes. That's why you're there. The regulars slaughter each other regularly anyhow...especially the experts.
7. Make sure you have a very loving and understanding spouse or significant other.
8. Have fun. If it seems like it isn't fun, you're either doing something wrong, or the hobby isn't right for you. If your tank make you tense, get rid of it. It is supposed to be relaxing.

This is the first in a series of threads to be archived, in order to help people with frequently asked questions about the reef hobby. Thanks to Brian D for the idea. (See the thread "ATTN: Larry M, hcs, MIKE, I have an idea..what do you think (THE SEQUEL)" for an explanation of his idea.
This thread will remain open for a week or so, please everyone contribute so we can have some good suggestions for people when they ask this question in the future. I know it may seem a little strange to be replying to a hypothetical question, but think of all the folks that will benefit from it down the line!
And now, what do you say to someone who is contemplating their first reef tank?

Larry M

Visit Reef Central's Home Site at:

IMHO the most important thing is to read as much as possible before you purchase any equipment. It will save a lot of money and possibly animals. Read, read and read some more. Also don't be affraid to ask questions.

Go shopping, look for, and price what you NEED(not what you want) first. Start with a plan for your reef and stick to it. What do you want to keep? Set up according to the answer to this question. , Then research those animals.You may find that the animals you want are not compatable and save yourself some grief and frustration by reading a little.
My .02
At the risk of being immodest, may I suggest, as a book...

The Coral Reef Aquarium - by Ron Shimek

A book designed specifically for beginners.

Cheers, Ron
Ron--We understand immodest.
I had heard you were writing a book, but I had no idea what it was about or when it would be out. When was the book published? Are there any on-line vendors that carry it?

Larry M

Visit Reef Central's Home Site at:
Hi Larry,

It was published in late July. and Barnes and Noble both carry it.

It is cheep. cheep. cheep. Like a 60 lb canary...

Cheers, Ron
Well I am exercising my right to disagree with the notion you MUST read books, research, blah, blah, blah. It is totally up to the individual to use the best media that work for them to determine how to start. If I just started to read books about this hobby in the beginning I would have never started out as one of you mention. After I was in this hobby a couple of years there were finally some ââ"šÂ¬Ã…"œGOODââ"šÂ¬Ã‚ books written and I still did not understand them or were bored so I ventured on my own. I am a hands on person and need to ask the question ââ"šÂ¬Ã…"œwhat would happen if I do this?ââ"šÂ¬Ã‚. While this has consequence(everyone will say MONEY LOST ON DESTROYING ANIMALS!) but that is not true. It is TIME. If you are used to this method of learning you would proceed with caution and thus not go to the extreme and kill the animals. Some of you know what I am talking about and I will leave it at that.

I guess my point is use what ever method you are comfortable with in terms of learning this hobby(i.e. talk to friends, use books, visit public and university aquariums, experiment), but start small. Doing so will limit your failures and if you do not fail at least once, you have not achieved your potential.

My 2 cents.
If I was helping someone start out, I would tell them:

1) Remember that almost every piece of equipment you buy will be dependent on the size of aquarium you buy. Your lighting, filtration (skimmer), pumps, sump (if you have one) all are tank-size dependent. Don't buy a tank based on its cost. That is just a fraction of the final cost. Price all the equipment at once.

2) Don't buy live rock without going to several LFS and seeing different varieties. If you can avoid buying LR mail order, good. It will be so much better if you can pick out rocks to your tanks specifications.

3) Aquasculping (placement of live rock) is SO SO IMPORTANT. Make sure you don't just dump your LR in the tank. You need to place the rock in an attractive arrangement, with plenty of nooks, crannies, and ledges for placement of corals and hiding places for fish. Do not create any dead spots where water isn't circulating.

4) Space permitting, add a sump. No details here, just trust me on this one. You will probably add it eventually, so go ahead and start out with one.

5) When you buy your tank, buy one with overlows if possible. Again, you will be glad you did.

6) Lighting can be confusing. Go to the LFS and have them show you what actinic lighting, daylight bulbs, metal halide, etc look like in a tank. Once you see the "glow" of each one, you will better be able to decide what look you want (keeping in mind the requirements of your livestock).

7) Hand-pick every coral you can. Mail order prices are tempting, and you may have to mail order items you can't find locally, but you will be much happier with your tank if every coral in it was personally inspected and picked out by you. Again, you will be glad you did. Think of it this way: you go through 100 apples at the supermarket to get a dozen, so why would you
buy a $50 coral sight unseen?

8) Don't rush. Don't rush. Don't rush. You may be in a hurry to get things up and going, but you will regret it. I guarantee you that if you hurry, you will end up redoing the tank anyway. Let your live rock and live sand perculate in the tank by itself for a few months. Give your coralline algae a change to grow. You can spend the time when you don't have livestock arranging powerheads, fiddling with circulation, fine-tuning equipment, etc. Save yourself some major $$$$$ and let the tank age before you subject livestock to it.
You may need to take down the tank to fix things, and you don't want to worry about livestock.

I could keep going, but I don't want to bore everyone

I would make out a budget that my significant other agrees with-this may be the toughest of all steps to take. I would also figure out how I am going to find the time to work on my tank(s). Finally, I would make a sober assessment of my own fabricating skills to see just how much of my own equipment I could build myself. I learned how to cut glass and build an aquarium first, then I figured out how to make my own fishfood...then I wired my own fixtures (and discovered the invaluable grounding probe, a hair raising experience). Finally, I found out that I don't know anything about keeping fish and inverts and started to read, and read, and read...fwiw, kas
hey there
well since i am a beginner i have found that these boards are wonderful. but make sure you stay at the moderated ones until you know when someone is giving you a pitch . watch out for people telling you this one chemical or product will solve all your problems becuse it wont . in fact it could make it worse time is the best thing sometimes well most of the time.there is no such thing as a mentence free tank besides that would take the fun out of it .
never just go to one source be it a person a pet shop or a book because you will find out everyone has a opinion and not all of them will work for you. just because it works for one person does not change the fact it might not be right for your system .with careful thought you have to find what ultimatly works for you.
i think it is important to read read read and talk to everyone you can in fact every pet shop in this town and the surrounding towns know me by my first name. all books are not created equal there are some bad ones out there.
when i first started reading 2 years before i got a tank i red two books back to back and they were both horrible now that i think about it but i did not know that then . now so look out.
you are going to need lots of money then when you kinda figure out how much you need then double it.
in this hobby your tank grows with you be prepared to change things and be flexible with yourself. there are always better ways to do things but you will learn that in time.
dont rush rushing is very very bad you cant get away with it with salt water tanks.

also there are alot of animals who really are hard to take care or not even be in a aquarium. though some times in freshwater you can get really lucky and keep a delicate fish. in saltwater more then likly it will not work .learn your limits and your systems limits. even if it is beautiful fish and you want it dont do it unless you really research talk to others and have the envirment that could support that animal.

ok there is much two cents

after you get over some big project take your signficant other out to dinner because more then likly you have not talked to them enough latly and if you dont you might be in hot water.
I too canââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢t reiterate enough on the patientââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s. as ------ said go to your local LFS and see what catches your eye and then find out if every thing is compatible and what there requirements are, ie food, light, current. Some thing will be quite compatible when they are small but as they grow they may not be. ( I for one had a psudecromis (I know the spelling isnââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢t right so shoot me) that started eating my shrimp, and other stories. Go to several LFSââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s, ask and see what all they think you need. Some places will only be interested in selling you everything in the store. Once you think you have everything you need ( BEFORE YOU BUY) post it in several Boards and see what everyone thinks. Remember though what works for one my not work for you, itââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s not an exact science. Watch the paper you can usually find some great deals on used aquariums, (if possible buy one that have overflows built in, I believe they are call reef tanks or reef ready) and other things. If your handy there are some Great DIY projects that can save you thousand of dollars. I built my own light hood. If I would have known how easy it was I would not have purchased the single lightââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s one at a time.
As others have said, Patientââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s, Read, Ask Questions, Patientââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s Read, Ask Question, Patientââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s Read, Ask questions it my sound redundant, but it will save you a lot of anguish and head aches, not to mention money. I almost quit this hobby five years ago because of all the misinformation I was getting until a new LFS opened in my area. I think BrianD has some good point to his post. This by far is one of the best BBââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢ve run across. I hope they keep up the great work. THANKS to al concerned.
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