15 Gallon Column Saltwater Rookie

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Twas the night before Christmas and I finally said %#&* it. I've been researching for over a year, I had the tank, I had the rock, I had everything needed to start except the salt and sand so off to Petco I go. After a hour of playing with rocks + sand + saltwater and my dream of owning a saltwater tank was real.

On Christmas I spread the cheer to Amazon and picked up the light I've been eyeing for months (Hipargero 30w), Dr Tim's ammonia, One and Only, as well as a Jebao OW-10. These things arrive today and conveniently my wife is gone for the weekend with her sister so it's just me and the tank this weekend.

Now for a few specifics. The tank is an Aqueon 15 Gallon Column which measures 113x13x18 of usable tank space. For filtration I have a AquaClear 50 HOB which I haven't quite decided what I will fill with. My initial thought is carbon and gfo but I don't want to start that too early. My concern is until the tank is "established" I'd be removing the nutrients before any corals could use them.

My goal for this tank is simplicity. I do not want to have a tank that has all kinds of fancy equipment hanging out of it. I don't want to have a complicated dosing schedule and honestly I'd prefer to not have to dose at all and maintain the tank chemistry through water changes.

For stocking my original plan was 3 fish but I am leaning more towards 2 now. A clown and another fish that is still undecided at this point. For corals this will be a softie dominant tank with a few LPS sprinkled around. The current plan is xenia, Kenya tree coral, GSP, finger leather/gorgonian, and frogspawn/torch corals.

This tank is my way of dipping my toes into the hobby. If everything is alive and thriving in a year and I still enjoy it I plan on moving to a bigger tank and giving this one to my father. If not there will be a great deal on Craigslist in the Annapolis area. Thank you for taking the time to read this and feel free to leave your thoughts both positive and negative. I'm here to learn and look forward to growing in the hobby.

Thanks!

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RobZilla04

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Please, for your sake, go slowly. Patience is key with salt water systems. This is especially true with a small tank like yours. A small swing in nutrients or a small problem becomes a bigger deal when you have less water to deal with. On the flip side and quick 50% water change is easy and can quickly solve issues if found soon. Issues can be algae blooms, bacterial blooms, high/low nutrients, etc.

Get some good test kits (Salifert or Hanna IMO). API ammonia and nitrite will get you through the cycle, but ditch that brand afterward.

Best of luck and Happy Reefing.
 

SPR1968

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Here we are 2 weeks into being a reefer and my only regret is I didn't start sooner.

The biggest issue I ran into was surprise surprise the cycle. But not the usual problems I've read about on here and Reddit. Using the ammonia the One and Only had all the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in check in about a week so off to the fish store I go and come home with a 3 stripe damsel. After a long drip acclimation in to the tank he goes and we're on the board. The next morning I check on the tank and my ammonia is reading 4 ppm... I figure there's no way that's possible as the fish is still alive. I do the test again and I get 6 ppm... Now I'm thinking something is up with my tests. Currently only have the API which I will have to replace as these have proven to be incredibly unreliable. I use a friends kit who luckily lives down the street (still API) and get the same results so I do 50% WC with the Pacific sea water sold at petco because I figured that would give me a solid foundation until I get my rodi setup running. This got the ammonia down to 1 ppm and I hoped the worst was over but I was wrong. This happened two more times over the next couple days before the levels finally stopped rising and things started getting under control. During that time I also bought a bottle of Bio-Spira and Seachem Stability to try and help get the bacteria moving. I also went through a ton of Seachem Prime to try and keep the tank safe enough for my fish. I also grabbed some rubble from my friends tank to help as well. Thankfully that disaster is over now and everything is where it should be.

Lesson learned, check a few times that the bacteria are able to handle the bio load before buying a fish. Not just once.

Now that things are up and running I've started filling this tank in. Got some xenia and tree coral from my friend, neither of which have done well for me so far. The xenia seems to just shrivel up and die and the tree coral just kinda sits there, not getting better but not getting worse either. Now that there was some life in my tank I could not wait to get more.

There's a great shop I found in Springfield, VA that actually had $5 frags so I picked up a 2 polyp zoa colony and added that to the tank. I'm a little perplexed by this coral as it has never opened up and I've had it for over a week at this point. There was one time 1 of the polyps half opened but nothing more. They do not look like they're getting worse but they don't look like they're getting better either. I have not moved them since adding them to the tank.

After confirming a few days in a row that all the parameters were in check I bought a yellow clown goby and my first LPS frogspawn and I couldn't be happier. The frogspawn opened up within a hour of being added to the tank and looks very happy.

Here are some current photos of the tank as well as some from when I was modifying the hood to accept the light. Two weeks in and I am very happy with both the light and pump I purchased.

Thanks for reading and happy reefing!

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View Under the hood after cutting hole for new lights.

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Top view with new light.
 

dantimdad

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I always loved those tanks.
 
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It has been a trying 3 months. After a rough start with the cycle and watching the recent videos from BRS I was religious with my water changes. Every Sunday morning a thorough tank cleaning and 2 gallon swap became my new routine. After about a month I noticed my corals were starting to recede. The frogspawn stopped opening up, the tree corals and xenia died, and my zoas were only opening halfway. I tested all the parameters of my water and nothing was out of the ordinary for a new tank. Nitrates were elevated (60ppm) but these corals were supposed to do fairly well in "dirty" tanks so I was stumped. I kept up with my routine because everything I've been reading and watching points towards consistent water changes leads to a higher chance of success.

Fast forward another two weeks and the frogspawn is nothing but skeleton, some new xenia died, and my zoa polyps were starting to melt. I tested my water again and everything was where it should be except my nitrates were around 30 ppm. After a few hours of racking my brain the only thing I can think of is something has to be off with my salinity. When mixing the new water I felt like I was using a large amount of salt but I was getting readings of 1.025 with my refractometer so I kept going about my water changes. Things continued to get worse. All my corals had died but my fish was still doing fine.

As a homebrewer I have an older style hydrometer that looks similar to an old thermometer that you put into the solution to measure the SG. I figure what do I have to lose and SG is SG whether it's wort or salt water and I immediately discovered my problem. My refratometer's calibration was HORRIBLY off. The refractometer read 1.025 and my hydrometer was reading 1.042. I couldn't believe I had killed all my corals.

Lesson learned, check and double check even the most fundamental processes when things go awry. 5 Gallons of distilled water later my water was back to 1.030 where I kept it for a few days before dropping down to 1.025 so as to not shock my fish too much. Thankfully he is alive an well and my tank is back on the rise.

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FTS

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Beginnings of a zoa garden


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Happy Xenia
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Some more mushrooms and probably my favorite coral right now a Grubes Gorgonian that my hermits keep rearranging.

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Slim64684

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You might want to look into getting some refractometer calibration solution. I check the calibration on mine before every water change just to verify my levels.
 
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You might want to look into getting some refractometer calibration solution. I check the calibration on mine before every water change just to verify my levels.
That may be my next move. Between my brewing hydrometer, my cheap saltwater hydrometer I picked up over the weekend, and my now "calibrated" refractometer I would hope I'm good to go. Even when it was acting all screwy I tested it on distilled and got 1.000 so I thought it was good but clearly I was not. I'm all for redundancy but I would have never guessed I would need this many layers for salinity alone. I have to remember though that the investment in the calibration solution is minuscule to the cost of dead corals.
 
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I seem to be settling in to a 3 month update pattern. Last night when the tank was looking good I realized it's been a while since I posted an update so here we go.

The name of the game lately has been maintaining. After the salinity fiasco I've just been trying to keep my hands out of the tank and let everything settle in. I was successful for a few weeks until I noticed the temperature on my tank had shot up to 84*. I confirmed this with another thermometer and put some plans into action to figure out what was going on. My first thought was the calibration was off on my heater so I turned that down to 70* (it's lowest setting) to see if that made a difference. Nope. Luckily I had just torn down a freshwater tank that was close in size so I had a spare heater and swapped that in. Temps settled back to where they were supposed to be just in time for me to leave for a weeks vacation. We have a pet sitter that has watched my tanks a few times so I was at ease that if anything went wrong she would let me know.

Turns out this one slipped by her... I get home and the tank is a mess. Xenia shriveled up, zoa's all closed, mushrooms balled up, and my thriving gorgonian had all it's polyps sucked and went from pink to white.

The heaters I am using are the Hydor ones that I've used for years in freshwater. Even though it says they work in salt that has not been my experience so far. That night I bought an Inkbird and started manually controlling the temp of the tank by plugging and unplugging the heater. During this time all the flesh fell off the gorgonian leaving a twig sticking out of the sand which was tough as this was my favorite coral.

Thankfully the Inkbird has taken care of my problem. I am looking for a new heater so that I have some redundancy but in the interim the controller has been working flawlessly.

Now that we've gotten the bad out of the way on to the good! The fish are great and appear to have become friends and swim around the tank together. Still entertaining the idea of a 3rd fish but I'm not sure what I would get. There are a few new coral additions and coraline is growing everywhere on my rocks and powerhead, nothing on the glass yet though. I bought another one of the gorgonians along with a favia and just yesterday I bought a hammer. It's so nice having a euphalia in my tank again. Enjoy the photos and let me know your heater suggestions!

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I am considering setting up one of these and look forward to following the progress of your setup.
It's been good to me so far. In all the research I did before I set up this tank the biggest thing that came up was people we having a hard time getting adequate flow through out the tank. When I was setting this up I kept that in mind and six months in the only problems I've encountered had nothing to do with the tank itself.
 

HunterW

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I seem to be settling in to a 3 month update pattern. Last night when the tank was looking good I realized it's been a while since I posted an update so here we go.

The name of the game lately has been maintaining. After the salinity fiasco I've just been trying to keep my hands out of the tank and let everything settle in. I was successful for a few weeks until I noticed the temperature on my tank had shot up to 84*. I confirmed this with another thermometer and put some plans into action to figure out what was going on. My first thought was the calibration was off on my heater so I turned that down to 70* (it's lowest setting) to see if that made a difference. Nope. Luckily I had just torn down a freshwater tank that was close in size so I had a spare heater and swapped that in. Temps settled back to where they were supposed to be just in time for me to leave for a weeks vacation. We have a pet sitter that has watched my tanks a few times so I was at ease that if anything went wrong she would let me know.

Turns out this one slipped by her... I get home and the tank is a mess. Xenia shriveled up, zoa's all closed, mushrooms balled up, and my thriving gorgonian had all it's polyps sucked and went from pink to white.

The heaters I am using are the Hydor ones that I've used for years in freshwater. Even though it says they work in salt that has not been my experience so far. That night I bought an Inkbird and started manually controlling the temp of the tank by plugging and unplugging the heater. During this time all the flesh fell off the gorgonian leaving a twig sticking out of the sand which was tough as this was my favorite coral.

Thankfully the Inkbird has taken care of my problem. I am looking for a new heater so that I have some redundancy but in the interim the controller has been working flawlessly.

Now that we've gotten the bad out of the way on to the good! The fish are great and appear to have become friends and swim around the tank together. Still entertaining the idea of a 3rd fish but I'm not sure what I would get. There are a few new coral additions and coraline is growing everywhere on my rocks and powerhead, nothing on the glass yet though. I bought another one of the gorgonians along with a favia and just yesterday I bought a hammer. It's so nice having a euphalia in my tank again. Enjoy the photos and let me know your heater suggestions!

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Starting one of these next week, I will keep watching your thread. TFS.
 

HunterW

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OMG..cool. Wrecked my back this past weekend, then we had a total loss of power due to someone texting/driving & crashing into a poll by my home Sometimes the bear gets you...the 'you' being me..encouraging to see your tank doing good tho
 
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Just a quick update. Over the last few weeks I got a bit of a hair algae outbreak after getting a little lazy on my WC's. Nothing too crazy but enough to become annoying so I've made adjustments and it's already improving. Back to the weekly WC's and I did pick up a emerald crab. He is really entertaining to watch.

One big update is coraline has finally started growing on my glass! It's been growing on the rock slowly for some time now but it has finally started growing on the glass. I've also noticed it's picking up the pace in covering my rock.

I've gotten a few new corals that I am excited about, the red and green blasto, yellow and purple leptastrea, and the rock flower anemone. This little tank is coming along quite nicely and I'm very excited to watch it mature.

My original plan was to keep this tank for a year then upgrade if I am still interested in the hobby but I'm really enjoying this tank.


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Every day after work I am so excited to get home and look at my tank. I recently purchased so new corals and I can tell I'm finally starting to get things dialed in. The GHA is still there but slowly disappearing so I know I am on the right track, with some patience I expect it will be nearly completely gone in a few more weeks.

Today my tank is 234 days old and I have officially begun to search for my next bigger tank. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I'm looking for something in the neighborhood of 65 gallons preferably an AIO but I am entertaining the idea of using a standard tank with an oversized HOB filter just like this tank is set up. I like the depth (front to back) you get out of aquariums around this size.

Anyway here are some photos of my tank and new corals from last night after they were placed.

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