1st reef tank, needs to be done cheap (I keep freshwater planted ecosystem aquariums)

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Biokabe

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OP, you're in a very frustrating place.

You're so close to some good ideas, but stubbornly sticking to several wrong-headed or even ignorant positions that will lead, long-term, to disappointment with your tank.

To address your very first question: Yes, it absolutely is possible to do a 20g reef tank for under $450. Mine cost about $850 to put together overall (or would have cost that much, if I were putting it all together new from the store). In reality, mine was much cheaper than that because I re-used equipment I already had. I'm in a very different place from you, though, and I spent on fancier equipment that you do not need to get a reef going.

Petco tank vs IM tank ($200 cost-savings), Amazon black-box lights over my Kessils ($260 cost savings) and a Jebao powerhead instead of my AI Nero ($100 cost savings), and you've already saved enough to cover the addition of a HOB power filter and still come in under your $450 budget.

Having said that:

1) Absolutely do not use saran wrap to cover your tank. It'll work as a temporary measure, but long-term it'll cause you far more trouble than it's worth. Either use a polycarbonate or glass lid (not recommended) or a screen top lid (recommended). You can get a relatively cheap DIY kit for your tank off of BRS for about $30. Go that route and don't look back.

2) You need to dial back your expectations as to what you can do in a 20g tank. Macroalgae, softies, and 2-4 small fish? Totally doable. But the kind of fish you're looking at are mostly unsuitable for that kind of tank.

I know you are hung up on the Clarkii clownfish, but it really gets too big and is too aggressive for a 20g tank. If you don't like Ocellaris or Percula clowns (and I get where you're coming from - it took me years to get over my Nemo hate), then any of the skunk clowns will give you a more peaceful fish that's better suited to a 20g.

Midas blenny, Valentini puffer, lion fish, mandarin, hawkfish - I get it, they're really cool fish. But they all need a much bigger tank to really be happy. Micropredators in particular are a heartbreak waiting to happen. They are all very difficult to train onto commercial foods, and all of them will VERY quickly exhaust your tank's ability to produce food for them. You can externally cultivate food for them, but that adds complication and expense to your build, and I would not try to do that with a limited budget as part of my first saltwater experience.

The thing with fish is that it is not just about how big they get. It's also about:
  • Their temperament
  • The amount of waste they produce
  • How active they are
  • What environment they need
  • How they interact with tank mates
All of those come together to inform us as to how big of a tank we need for a particular fish. Tangs are the posterchild for this - most of them are not that big, and their feeding requirements are totally manageable. But trying to put a tang into anything shorter than a 4' long tank is asking for trouble, and most tangs really need a 6' or longer tank. They like to zoom around. They're accustomed to trolling through the reef looking for spots of tastiness to snatch up throughout the day. If they don't have the space to do that, they get stressed out. This manifests in aggression (harassing tankmates, potentially to death), disease (outbreaks of ich and other diseases) and stunted growth. I know you're not wanting to keep tangs, but they're a great example of why size isn't everything.

A 20 gallon tank is VERY small for most saltwater fish. Some of them can tolerate it, but most of them can't. Clowns, damsels, some gobies, some dottybacks, some blennies, some wrasse, and some basslets. Any of the major predatory fish just aren't going to feel comfortable in that tank, and they'll manifest it by attacking their tank mates and engaging in aberrant behavior. Micropredators like mandarins are out as well; a small tank simply doesn't have the real estate to sustain a copepod population large enough to support a mandarin.

With a tank that size, you need to pick ONE idea and stick with it, and have all of your decisions built around that ONE idea. So, you want to have a lagoon-type tank with softies and macroalgae? Cool. That's doable in a 20 gallon. So you need to research what each of those organisms that you want to keep needs to thrive, and determine whether you can provide that in your tank and with the amount of maintenance you are willing to commit to. That might include dosing, skimmer, filtering, feeding heavy, harvesting macroalgae, fragging back corals, or any number of other activities.

Instead of simply declaring what you are going to do and showing off 'tanks that you like,' and declaring that you can do such-and-such because your buddy says you can do it, tell us what you would like to do, ask for help in how to do it, and recognize that in a 20 gallon tank, you cannot have everything you want and you are going to have to make some compromises.

There's a lot of experience in this forum, and we're more than happy to help you achieve your goals. But we're also looking out for the long-term experience of you and your eventual fish, and some things simply won't work. You wouldn't put an elephant in a one-bedroom third-floor apartment, but for a lot of the fish you've been asking about, you're basically asking us to help you do just that.
 
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dhnguyen

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I personally think the OP is going to do what he wants anyway regardless of what anyone here suggested otherwise. It seems like he's already made up his mind and doing what his friend said and that's that.

Some people just has to learn the hard way. I can only hope that this tank won't be a complete disaster once he gets it going and not too many animals are harmed in the process.
 

jgirardnrg

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OP, you're in a very frustrating place.

You're so close to some good ideas, but stubbornly sticking to several wrong-headed or even ignorant positions that will lead, long-term, to disappointment with your tank.

To address your very first question: Yes, it absolutely is possible to do a 20g reef tank for under $450. Mine cost about $850 to put together overall (or would have cost that much, if I were putting it all together new from the store). In reality, mine was much cheaper than that because I re-used equipment I already had. I'm in a very different place from you, though, and I spent on fancier equipment that you do not need to get a reef going.

Petco tank vs IM tank ($200 cost-savings), Amazon black-box lights over my Kessils ($260 cost savings) and a Jebao powerhead instead of my AI Nero ($100 cost savings), and you've already saved enough to cover the addition of a HOB power filter and still come in under your $450 budget.

Having said that:

1) Absolutely do not use saran wrap to cover your tank. It'll work as a temporary measure, but long-term it'll cause you far more trouble than it's worth. Either use a polycarbonate or glass lid (not recommended) or a screen top lid (recommended). You can get a relatively cheap DIY kit for your tank off of BRS for about $30. Go that route and don't look back.

2) You need to dial back your expectations as to what you can do in a 20g tank. Macroalgae, softies, and 2-4 small fish? Totally doable. But the kind of fish you're looking at are mostly unsuitable for that kind of tank.

I know you are hung up on the Clarkii clownfish, but it really gets too big and is too aggressive for a 20g tank. If you don't like Ocellaris or Percula clowns (and I get where you're coming from - it took me years to get over my Nemo hate), then any of the skunk clowns will give you a more peaceful fish that's better suited to a 20g.

Midas blenny, Valentini puffer, lion fish, mandarin, hawkfish - I get it, they're really cool fish. But they all need a much bigger tank to really be happy. Micropredators in particular are a heartbreak waiting to happen. They are all very difficult to train onto commercial foods, and all of them will VERY quickly exhaust your tank's ability to produce food for them. You can externally cultivate food for them, but that adds complication and expense to your build, and I would not try to do that with a limited budget as part of my first saltwater experience.

The thing with fish is that it is not just about how big they get. It's also about:
  • Their temperament
  • The amount of waste they produce
  • How active they are
  • What environment they need
  • How they interact with tank mates
All of those come together to inform us as to how big of a tank we need for a particular fish. Tangs are the posterchild for this - most of them are not that big, and their feeding requirements are totally manageable. But trying to put a tang into anything shorter than a 4' long tank is asking for trouble, and most tangs really need a 6' or longer tank. They like to zoom around. They're accustomed to trolling through the reef looking for spots of tastiness to snatch up throughout the day. If they don't have the space to do that, they get stressed out. This manifests in aggression (harassing tankmates, potentially to death), disease (outbreaks of ich and other diseases) and stunted growth. I know you're not wanting to keep tangs, but they're a great example of why size isn't everything.

A 20 gallon tank is VERY small for most saltwater fish. Some of them can tolerate it, but most of them can't. Clowns, damsels, some gobies, some dottybacks, some blennies, some wrasse, and some basslets. Any of the major predatory fish just aren't going to feel comfortable in that tank, and they'll manifest it by attacking their tank mates and engaging in aberrant behavior. Micropredators like mandarins are out as well; a small tank simply doesn't have the real estate to sustain a copepod population large enough to support a mandarin.

With a tank that size, you need to pick ONE idea and stick with it, and have all of your decisions built around that ONE idea. So, you want to have a lagoon-type tank with softies and macroalgae? Cool. That's doable in a 20 gallon. So you need to research what each of those organisms that you want to keep needs to thrive, and determine whether you can provide that in your tank and with the amount of maintenance you are willing to commit to. That might include dosing, skimmer, filtering, feeding heavy, harvesting macroalgae, fragging back corals, or any number of other activities.

Instead of simply declaring what you are going to do and showing off 'tanks that you like,' and declaring that you can do such-and-such because your buddy says you can do it, tell us what you would like to do, ask for help in how to do it, and recognize that in a 20 gallon tank, you cannot have everything you want and you are going to have to make some compromises.

There's a lot of experience in this forum, and we're more than happy to help you achieve your goals. But we're also looking out for the long-term experience of you and your eventual fish, and some things simply won't work. You wouldn't put an elephant in a one-bedroom third-floor apartment, but for a lot of the fish you've been asking about, you're basically asking us to help you do just that.
Best response thus far.

I get why some people are cringing in their seats over this thread. It took me a couple days to get through it because I keep running away screaming. The OP is back and forth and up and down with ideas... all over the place. That's pretty much every 13-15 year old I've ever known, myself included. It's a frustrating read for sure watching people of extensive experience giving advice that's ignored or argued against. If you weed through the insanity there are moments where you can see the gears turning and wanting to research and learn. I think once the ball gets rolling the best teacher will be hands on. Once engaged in actually setting it up and doing things it will become more apparent that nothing in this hobby is easy or fast. Keeping freshwater tanks and reef tanks have as much in common as driving a big rig and nascar racing. This is going to be a baptism by fire and that's fine... some people need to learn that way. I'm hoping care is taken that no livestock pays the price of failed experimentation though.
 

Paul B

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Put the mud down first then the plates and the sand and crushed coral on top of the plates.
You don't need or want mud under the UG filter plates to start any tank. You can collect just a little, but don't gocrazy.
also would weathered beach wood be a bad idea?
No, you can't put that in a salt water tank
Also I wanna get lettuce nudibranch and inverts
Lettuce nudibranchs are not nudibranches. They are slugs. "elisia crispata" and they live on briopsis algae when young, then sunlight. They will not live in your tank.
I don’t want like fish that hide 99.99% of the time so micropredstors that look like jawfish and other things like barnacle blenny would be very cool
Jawfish hide most of the time as do pipefish and mandarins. Many interesting fish hide most of the time. But come out and be interesting occasionally.
Ok so the back will be a wall of LR then here’s the diagram
What the heck is that? ;)
And can I use potting soil for mud?
Definitely not.
Do you know if mandarins would eat pearls? I
A Mandarin will not live in your tank. Forget that particular fish.
I hatch fresh brine shrimp babies every day, so I add them every morning. You might be able to get mandrins to eat pellets but it's going to take a while.
Brine shrimp heat for the light at the surface and mandarins eat at the bottom. You are just wasting shrimp unless you put them in a feeder I designed like you posted.
Your friend has a weird method if he starves his fish.
Crushed coral is the worst substrate to put in a tank. He’s just asking for nutrient problems to start.
I prefer dolomite but it is hard to get now so crushed coral is my next choice for a reverse undergravel filter because you can't use sand with that. As for a nitrate trap, my tank is 50 years old and my nitrates are 5
I would not suggest keeping a mandarin. Your intended tank (20g) is too small and won't be able to have a pod population to support one,
Don't think about a mandarin.
 

Dcal

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You don't need or want mud under the UG filter plates to start any tank. You can collect just a little, but don't gocrazy.

No, you can't put that in a salt water tank

Lettuce nudibranchs are not nudibranches. They are slugs. "elisia crispata" and they live on briopsis algae when young, then sunlight. They will not live in your tank.

Jawfish hide most of the time as do pipefish and mandarins. Many interesting fish hide most of the time. But come out and be interesting occasionally.

What the heck is that? ;)

Definitely not.

A Mandarin will not live in your tank. Forget that particular fish.

Brine shrimp heat for the light at the surface and mandarins eat at the bottom. You are just wasting shrimp unless you put them in a feeder I designed like you posted.

Your friend has a weird method if he starves his fish.

I prefer dolomite but it is hard to get now so crushed coral is my next choice for a reverse undergravel filter because you can't use sand with that. As for a nitrate trap, my tank is 50 years old and my nitrates are 5

Don't think about a mandarin.
just wait for his response lol
 

Ribo15

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I am hoping these softies you keep referring to that you want to keep are more commonly known as aptasia because then you might have some success.. other than that not sure anything will thrive in this described set up.
 

Afaylenerich88

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Radion gen2, 20gal long, 15 lbs of dry rock, HOB filter (sized for aquarim), power head any cheap one will do as long as you keep it clean (once a month) or so, and another pump to push water around the bottom of the reef keeping poop suspended for removal.

Top off by hand every day.
Can be done, but your asking for head aches.
Smaller the system. The bigger the problems. As they can turn in a flash.

So most ppl well us experienced reefers that have been in the hobbie long enough know cheap dosent work unless your ready to make it work.

I run a 20 gallon long the same way in just told you in my bed room, no protien skimmer or any of that jaz.

I keep 2 fish. And about 20 coral, dont forget coral = bio load. Do weekly water changes then after its stable do 2 week changes.

Best advice I can give for a person with your approach twords the hobbie.

I cared for FW for over 15 years before I had my first salt tank. They are on Opposite
Sides of the spectrum, literally. So the attitude of oh I keep fresh and my friend does this and that dosnet mean it's going to work.

Your mentality has to be there this isn't just a tank, it's a life style. Live it or quit it. And based on the research. Most ppl fail almost 80% of the time in the first year.

Forming a clear path to success is your best method for a reef.

Good luck
 
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Sharkbait19

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Just gonna throw in my two cents:
REEFS ARE NEVER CHEAP!!

I started out reefing thinking that I could get away with only spending a couple hundred bucks, and then tousands of dollars later, here we are. If you want to keep a cheap tank then just stick to FOWLR, or just stick with freshwater fish for now....

I know this isn’t the advice you’d like to hear, but it’s true...
 
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The Camaro Show

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I’m not paying 800$ for a light this is exactly what I didn’t want. I’m ignoring this thread now
That $800 light is the best thing you could do. This is not a cheap hobby and you get what you pay for. Lights are a world of difference.
 

Ricksreeefs

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It seems like your fairly young me myself I’m in my early teens, I have two successful reef tanks one 25 and the other 130. The best thing is to do all of your research and buy the right stuff for your tank. If that seems boring to do a whole bunch of research and stuff it’s probably not a good hobby for you. Learn from everyone and don’t discount anything. Keeping reefs are not easy and if your buying fish before you have your tank set up your not gonna be successful in this hobby. Be patient my tank took a month before it cycled even after I used fritz because of some bad info that I got. Be careful because it’s not a good feeling to have fish/corals die :/
 

Sharkbait19

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I’m just gonna say that reef tanks are nothing like freshwater. They take a certain level of patience to do properly and it takes months of research to even begin setting up the tank. You can certainly plan livestock, but you really shouldn’t set anything in stone until you have a plan of setting up the aquarium. As your first tank (and given your cost limit), I advise you skip corals and difficult fish for now, and start with some live rock and a pair of clowns, and you could always add corals and other new life a few years down the line...

When I started out I was also impatient and jumped right into things. The whole thing crashed, and I started over. I became highly successful by doing research and going slow. If patience is not your thing, then you may want to stick to freshwater.
 

Ricksreeefs

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I’m just gonna say that reef tanks are nothing like freshwater. They take a certain level of patience to do properly and it takes months of research to even begin setting up the tank. You can certainly plan livestock, but you really shouldn’t set anything in stone until you have a plan of setting up the aquarium. As your first tank (and given your cost limit), I advise you skip corals for now, and start with some live rock and a pair of clowns, and you could always add corals a few years down the line...
Yeah I’ve had high tech planted tanks and it’s no where near reefs. That being said I hope you do your research and plan everything strategically so you can be successful and enjoy the hobby.
 
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