A guide to new reef keepers - My experience from Failure to Success to Quasi state equilibrium !



Active Member
Review score
+0 /0 /-0
View Badges
Oct 7, 2020
Reaction score
Review score
+0 /0 /-0
Los Angeles
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
Reef aquariums is a rewarding but expensive hobby. Its not a 2 month hobby either and has little to no instant gratification. Everything is new everyday - your tank, corals and organisms. This guide is for a new reef keepers. My aim here is not to give you a complete guide for each and every step there is a-lot of information out there and many many better experts than I will ever be. However my aim with this write up is giving you the framework so you can avoid headache, heartache and wallet-ache.

1) Take time in setup - When i say take time - i mean every aspect of it. My first 6 months went into my struggle with stray voltage only to realize that the wiring extension did not ground. Alot of it is avoidable with proper planning and slow and careful execution. Please take your time and just think what you are building is foundation and need to last - sometimes for decades - avoid shortcuts, half-hearted rush process. For example my platform on which my 150 gallon established 3 year old reef sits is inclined by few degrees - It bothers me everyday and I know for a fact that soon i will have to fix it - but once reef is established its a very very difficult process without enduring loss of some of your precious corals and growth.

2) Its an eco system - be patient - Theme is same - from the moment you put rocks and fill up the water and imagine the future dream reef - just know its not just salt water + fish and corals that exist in a sylos. First comes micro organisms, algae, copepods - every thing has a role to play to establish a reef tank which can only be achieved if you give it time to thrive. Rushing here will only cause heart aches. You might hear stories about folks being comfortable in 2 weeks but just know more time you give - better it gets again whats few extra weeks for a decade long plan with minimal heart and cash ache.

--> First key point - Patience is the key. Meticulous planning and through execution is success. When in doubt - ask your self have i tested and retested for it to last for 10 years.

3) Water - Water - Water : quality of water is everything in a reef. your corals may not thrive but also may not die if lighting is low or flow is less than preferred example one of my bounce mushroom who tragically got moved to my sump through a rock is still florishing after 6 months however nothing will survive without proper water quality. It starts at clean water at source - use RO/DI (if preferably 6 - 7 stage) - no shortcuts sometimes the things you put in will manifest in a way thats long term impact and no one wants to see a coral die after 6 months of struggle in your reef.

This brings me to few sub topics -
3.1) Monitoring - Its essential to monitor vital water parameters - Ph / Alk is above all the most important, along with ca, mg, salinity, temp. Have a regular cadence to check these parameters. I can not stress enough on this for a long term success.
3.2) Do not forget about trace elements - Alot of time even though above levels are perfect but your corals may seem stressed or " not looking good " trace elements are as much important as any other aspect for good coral growth.
3.3) Dosing - Monitoring pretty much sets the stage for making sure that the levels are within acceptable ranges. There are multiple 2 part, combined, kalk, ca ractor all seem to be very good ways to make sure that essential levels are maintained. Again while dosing do not forget to dose up for trace elements.
3.4) Nutrient control - Fish poop and waste need to be converted, I will strongly constitiute there is a way for you to perform nutrient control.

Even though all seems very easy - its not most of the time tuning your nutrient control, dosing is an iterative process. Start slow and ramp up slowly to adjust your levels. There is nothing worse than having whacky parameters.

--> Second key point - Water quality is mother of all - do your due diligence in ensure it.

4) Rock work / sand : Make sure you take time setting up your rock work, after all these rocks look good, provide habitat for bacteria, host your corals and are essential part of a reef. I have heard bare bottom reef (without sand) but never heard a no rock reef, and if it exists its more of an exception and not a practice for those who are level 10 in this hobby. But key here is make sure you ahve enough and make sure you have given it enough time. if you want to follow just one piece of advice get it from a reputable source. lot of time you might get rock which had problems - different bacteria, different algae, etc and could ruin your asthetic and functional aspect of your reef. Once i had to move almost 50 lb of rock out of my system just because i put a dirty rock and macro algae took over.

5) Lighting - There are so many blogs, videos about this topic that its insane. I got into this trap and perhaps you can find me in this very forum quoting that blackbox lights are crap . However when i started getting growth on my corals I figured the only role for light is adequate light - with decently enough spectrum - which can be achieved by a regular reef light or an high end one. Currently my SPS use hybrid of AI 64 and blackbox and i have seen my growth to be robust and color to pop. When i say adequate light - do borrow a par meter and set it - forget it. As long as enough light with decent spectrum is there corals will grow - you can fine tune your spectrum as you go. Remember its a long term hobby and before you can look at pretty corals - you want them to grow. Remember people grow very good reefs with all available light options , LED, Blackbox LED, T5 etc. etc.

6) Flow - Make sure there is adequate flow - not so much that your sand is washed away not so little that nothing moves. Just adjust it and forget it. As corals grow you might have to readjust it and thats a good problem to have and by that time your learning would have really come far. Usually there are calculator or water mark (10X water volume etc) which are a good place to start when choosing your equipment.

7) Equipment - This is a long term hobby which is unfortunately susceptible to failures - Only piece of advice i have here is that buy an equipment which will last - ask / explore and research. Nothing is worse than middle of the day trying to fix your powerhead or return pump because you picked the rock bottom price one from online store. I rely on branded primary equipment and supplement it with secondary cheaper equipment.

8) its not an exact hobby- This is not an exact hobby , no calculator where you can say your water volume and size and it will give you everything you need to do. Even the most successful hobbyist have shared that they fail and restart and grow. You only learn to avoid mistakes but learning and having an exact understanding of everything is not available right now. Alot of it is observation - adjustment - and reaching to your equilibrium with your system where you know exactly what you put - how many times - and it becomes a self sustained system with minimal interference.

9) Maintenance - Yes, I watched the videos of 0 water change reef too. Well here is the fact i will associate maintenance as a graph with age of reef tank. What do i mean by that ? Well the only extent i will go is "you will get away with stuff" if you dont do regular maintenance. For well established tanks with established dosing, trace replenishment and nutrient export you might get away for a longer duration than a new tank which is still finding its happy equilibrium. This equilibrium is not same as being cycled - its when all corals are established and more or less have their cadence determined. So basically in a summary keep up with husbandry and slowly you will find how much you can get away with - and trust me in an established reef tank its quite alot.

10) Pick a system - Any time you watch a video - the are trying to sell you something and making it seem like without this your corals have no future. Please don't fall into those traps. As long as you have basic done right. Find "a system" (balling method, KZ system etc. etc.) and stick to it. You will find many reefs with 100 different ways done differently having same beautiful results the failure happens when you swing between many methods. Pick one stick to it and be consistent (when i use word consistent - i will say 80% + is pretty pretty good). Based on system you pick your point 3 will need to be adjusted. I picked KZ method - I dose 15 different solutions - however there are reefs which are way better looking than mine with only 2 part. the key here is consistency - not a system is better than the other. Everything else as a beginner reef keeper is an intellectual debate which has its separate value.

11) Learn and Enjoy - Keep in mind its a hobby. it will make you learn every day - now when i hear someone who has a reef for 25 years says - i am learning it rings a bell to me as well - cos i even though I am in pre-KG while he is in PhD program but process is the same, always remember the idea is to have your cup of coffee and just look at the slice of your ocean that warms your heart - and the dragon we all have been chasing - so enjoy.

--> Third key point - Learn and Enjoy.

Lastly remember your reef is never concurred - its in a quasi state equilibrium, you cant own the nature - it owns you. So once established don't disturb it and enjoy while it lasts - no matter how many decades that could be. Good luck and happy reefing.

Fish food fine-tuning: What are your challenges when feeding your reef?

  • Maintaining water quality

    Votes: 116 52.0%
  • Feeding best amount of food

    Votes: 96 43.0%
  • Selective eating

    Votes: 48 21.5%
  • Competition and aggression

    Votes: 19 8.5%
  • Frequency

    Votes: 59 26.5%
  • Other

    Votes: 9 4.0%
Dr. Reefs Quarantined Fish