Where can you cut corners with procedure?


Staff member
RC Mod
...and when's it not a good idea?

We start everybody out telling them the ideal basics. "Do these things as an ironclad rule and you won't get hosed"...unless by meteor strike or your local power grid.

Obviously the longer you're in this hobby the more you know WHY you have to do certain things, and the more you can make some choices.

Let me suggest to you where it's safe to cut corners, ultimately---but remember your tank has to live long enough to 'mature' in order to use these things.

1. there's no short cut for quarantine. The most experienced reefer can get stung by the one 'typhoid mary' of a fish that kills the tank.
But you can greatly reduce part II, the hospital treatment of a fish that proves to be infested or infected.
How? By going clean-source, and not getting 'bargain' fish at the lowest price. Major dealers and distributors (who cost more, often) tend to run their own 'clean' procedures that mean the fish you put into qt is very UNlikely to develop a problem that will require 4 more weeks of treatment and lots of meds.
NOTE: DON'T take this as encouragement to skip quarantine even with 'clean-source' fish, because systems glitch, and Murphy rules. You KNOW if there's a typhoid mary to be had, you'll get it someday. If you have immunity through sheer luck, I want to go with you to Vegas.

2. there is no shortcut for equipment: get it first, so your fish won't die. A refractometer for successful acclimation/quarantine; a sump for a tank that's going to be a reef; and while you can run a fairly good softie or lps reef skimmerless, you really need a skimmer for other kinds of tanks, and a fantastically good one (requiring a sump for it to live in) for heavy loads or sps corals. THere are people that keep a big-fish tank with only a wet-dry and filters, but it's a LOT of work.
Lighting: if you're going to be a reef, go at least T5.
And Everybody needs an autotopoff!!!! you can't live your life topping off evaporation every day: you have to go out of town now and then; and your fish prefer a steadier salinity.

3. tests, supplements, and logbook. For fish-only and softies: get alkalinity and buffer.
For a stony reef: get alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium.
You'll need these within your first 3 months. Keep a logbook. Test daily at first, then weekly, once you know how your tank behaves, then bi-weekly once you're, say, dripping kalk.
Use those test results to adjust your water BEFORE it gets not-good. This will save fish.
Shortcut: Ultimately, use that logbook to rapidly shoot in reagent until you're within spitting distance of last test's results, and then go slow: close enough for accuracy-enough. If you get a lousy reading, re-test the slow way. I can run the whole salinity, alk, cal, mg series inside 5 minutes. A novice following the directions may take 30 or 40. Here's a major place where you can save time.

Kalk: Another major time, money, and test-saver: experienced reefers with big reefs usually have a kalk drip, which supplies everything your reef needs in one dose that needs attention only once a week---or if you've got a really big topoff reservoir, once a month or so. Big reefs are like a garden: if you've done your groundwork, there's a time when you can just look at the flowers and do a little pruning here and there.

4. don't get sold on 'stuff'. Check it out on RC before you let your lfs sell you bottles of miracle stuff and weird equipment. ASK: most tanks don't need chillers or UV, autofeeders, they don't need a whole array of weird supplements and growth-stuff, some of which can actually do damage; and while a controller or wavemaker is great, you don't need them in start-up and there's plenty of time to shop. I use a wavemaker, but not a controller, I don't need a chiller or UV, or autofeeder, and I've been at this 40-odd years.

5. if you're getting a sump, and want to keep a reef or mandarins, get a sump of about 30 gallons with room in it for 20 gallons of fuge; and don't get sold on wet-dry filtration if you're a reef.

6. places you can save most time---and fish and corals.
a) ultimately, going kalk
b) going reef (reefs don't have filters to change and maintain);
c) having enough skimmer for your situation;
d) learning how to keep and use a log with your tests;
e) having the right equipment;
f) putting lights on timer;
g) using an autotopoff from the start;
h) running a ro/di filter (cuts down on algae agony); using a fuge or gfo to slow down pest algae.
i) Getting fish that feed themselves off sand and rock (sifters, algae eaters) more than fish that have to have meat (most all of them like shrimp). Notice I didn't say 'miracle critters to eat algae or some bizarre bloom you have in your tank' ---those are always more trouble than they're worth. In 40 years, I have found nothing to beat a yellow watchman, nassarius, and fighting conch for sand-cleaning; and nothing to beat a combtooth blenny for keeping film algae at least at bay. For the rest, never import caulerpa, and you'll save yourself the need for rabbitfish if you don't want one (and they don't have a good record in small tanks).

It's a long list, but I hope it gives you some ideas. Fix things by proper setup and good water quality and you won't be running around putting out brushfires (problem algae) and trying to catch all your fish to treat them for an imported case of gill flukes or worse. Be aware about invasive species (caulerpa: don't use it at all; mushrooms, green star polyp, xenia, encrusting corals---don't let them get on structural rock; don't mix softies and stonies for a starter (they don't like each other much)---you can do it, but it's hard to do well; and don't mix sps and lps; don't even get sps unless you've got the lights for it and a really great skimmer and don't mind being on the bleeding edge of experimental reefkeeping where things go wrong now and again.

The first thing to ask when you've got a problem is NOT 'what eats this' but "what's encouraging this to grow?" SOlve 'conditions' first. That'll keep you out of more trouble than I can readily explain.
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New member
This is great info. Not only for newbees.
Thank you for taking the time to post. We all like to hear from someone with your amount of exp.
I have saved several of your posts for future ref. and problems.
Thanks again!!!


-RT * ln(k)
I like the way you think. Most of your corner cutting actually involves doing MORE work up front. I've been following a lot of your advise Sk8r, and I have to say slow and steady and doing the up-front work has led me to a very happy and low maintenance LPS / softy reef.


New member
Have you considered writing a book about reefing?
Every subject you post about is easy to understand, not the case with most of the books on the market. (IMO).
I would be first in line to buy it.


New member
Maybe we should start a book drive. LOL
Sk8r how about it? You have already sold two copies!!
I know a crap load of people here in The Great NorthWest will also want a copy.


New member
Good stuff! Can you make videos????!!!!! Lol but seriously, I would definitely soak up all that knowledge.


Staff member
RC Mod
:lol: You're very kind. I have, over time, collected some of my more detailed posts for reference for people just starting out. Just poke the blue number under my avatar and you'll be in the blog, with other parts of my reefing quasi-book.