Amateur Hour

MapleLeafReefer

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Hey kids, it's story time....

I am an amateur reefer. I had a 50 gal freshwater tank years ago but lost faith in the structural integrity of my tank. So I rehomed everything but the tank itself and got out of keeping wet creatures. I always said "if I ever do it again I'm going saltwater" - low and behold here I am doing saltwater. My tank has been set up for almost 2 weeks now, and things seem to be okay but before we move forward, lets backtrack a bit.

I've been researching reef tanks, fish and aquatic creatures generally for months now. I'm a researcher by nature. Seldom do I buy on impulse. I weighed the options between new vs. used setups, tank size, lighting, sump vs. HOB, livestock etc... If there was a video or article likely I read it. After weighting the options I decided I would start looking for used systems but if I couldn't find the "right" system I would just go new. I looked around in my area and lots of people were parting out systems or asking what I thought was a ridiculous amount of money for a used setup. I went and saw a few and was either overwhelmed or disgusted. Then a friend sent me a facebook marketplace link for a 120g tank with sump. I contacted the seller went over and was pleasantly surprised so I confirmed cost and put down a down payment.

The system I bought was - 120 gal DT with a 50-60 gal sump (I should know the volume but I'm not %100 sure), Jebao DC return pump, 3 heaters, coral box skimmer, ATO, R.O system, UV light, current usa loop lights and powerheads (2), 3 other 'unknown' power heads, a salinity tester and a ph/nitrite/nitrate/ammonia test kit. Inside the tank were (and still are) 3 clowns, 2 damsels, a fox face rabbit fish, trochus (sp?) snails, turbo snail, some hermit crabs, bristle worms, a starfish, a sponge of some description and likely other creatures I can't see and/or don't know about. There are also corals and anemone - GSP, mushroom leathers, devils hand leathers, 3 unidentified corals (2 look like flowing trees and one looks like a branch of a tree) and some aiptasia (yaaaay). The anemone are bubble tip i think, purplish in colour with yellow/green tips. Oh and a mountain of rock...100lbs at least, and sand.

Pretty exciting right? I was and still am stoked. So tank move day arrives (3 days after house move day) and I go to meet the seller. I am armed with buckets, rubbermaid containers, a van, determination and blissful ignorance. Have you ever moved a tank? I haven't and as it turns out it SUCKS. I had no idea what I was in for. Long story short, 4 hours and 10,000 steps later everything is in my van and I'm on the road. Battery powered bubbler bubbling, I'm physically tired but mentally excited. I arrive home and start the set up process. Stand in, DT in, sump in, much of the sand in, water in (1st big mistake), rock and coral in (2nd big mistake), fish in, battery powered bubbler now bubbling in the DT, heater(s) in....I take a breath and assess. Water is green and murky, rocks are - well who knows, cant see ****, fish same problem. OK lets get the sump set up and the filters filtering. But wait, I cut the bulkhead and the previous owner didn't leave any pipe between the bulkhead and the ball valve. Call the LFS and ask my wife to go pick up supplies. She's like what do we need? I hand her a bunch of parts and say show them these, they'll know what to do (LOL). In the meantime I use the gravel vacuum and crate a syphon which terminates into a filter sock, flows through the sump and to the return pump. It's loud but working - kinda. Then I remember about this recent thing called COVID...and I don't know where you live, but where I live everything is locked down. Stores are closed or curbside only, interacting with people is challenging, and getting supplies even more so. My wife calls and says the guy are the LFS had some, but not all of what you need. He even went to his car to get me some stuff he had rattling around that would help, but it wasn't everything. Luckily she works for a plumbing supplier and was able to cobble the rest together...or so we thought. She arrives back, I start the plumbing and all is well until I discover that we need a male pipe thread and we only have a female pipe thread. Its now 9 or 10 PM and I'm exhausted. We're filtering water, heating water, livestock is all in so lets cut our losses and regroup for tomorrow. All I have to do is balance the flow so that the sump doesn't overflow or the return pump doesn't run dry (remember the syphon "overflow"?). THat should be easy enough! Wrong. Now its 1:30 AM, I've been fiddling with pump speed and valve flow and I'm so close to perfect but any deviation from perfect will ultimately result in a major problem and I give up. Tap out. Goodnight.

It wasn't a good night. I was worried sick about the fish and corals, every noise I heard I thought was a catastrophe. When day light broke I went downstairs at assess. It was better than I thought. The water had cleared up a bit, I could see the fish and rock and coral, nobody was floating and there wasn't a small lake on my living room floor. nothing to do now but get back at it. I call the LFS and ask for 40 gal of premixed water. Got it. I go to my place of work and get the fittings I need for the plumbing. Got them. Back home and lets get this puppy up and running. Several hours later I have what could resemble a working filtration system and sump set up. Lets test the water. Salinity - 1.025, Ammonia is low, not 0ppm but low, Nitrites also low and Nitrates also low, PH just above neutral. Not great, but not bad. Lets assess the coral - most are upright, some anemone are squished, and of course the GSP and aiptasia are fine. The scape looks like crap, but that can be fixed. I plumb in the R.O system and start making water. I decide that I need a break so I take one and just watch the tank. Despite everything it is very enjoyable watching the goings on. Almost relaxing.

Skip forward a couple days the water is clear, the levels are bang on (surprisingly) fish are eating, anemone have moved to a place they seem happy, and the corals have perked up. I have cleaned the wave makers, leveled out the skimmer, cleaned the filter socks, got the ATO going and life is good. I still have so much to do when it comes to aesthetics, lots of sand moved around with the introduction of the water and some spots are bare. I bought 10 hermit crabs and 2 shrimp to help clean up - the crabs are awesome, the shrimp must be millenials cuz they dont do any work and just sit there but I still have hope for them. I've ordered brachia nudibranchs for the aiptasia and done multiple water tests.

Now let the games begin. The plan is to figure out a waaay better scape, power head placement, refine the sump, add/move sand, and get some more CUC going. If you're still reading my long winded story I hope you had a laugh or 2, could relate to some of the madness and have some helpful tips and tricks for me. I'm open to any and all advice, creative criticism and down right call outs on mistakes. Like I said in the title of this post it's amateur hour, but my goal is to become competent and proficient and I'm going to need your help. Thanks for reading and enjoy the photos so far....

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Screwgunner

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Wow I can not believe you said that in one breath. If you saved all you are my hero. I got evicted from my home after my wife sold the house out from under me. 20 degrees out I was not so lucky . Fish made it lost all my crabs brittle star lost 3 legs but grew them back. Shrimp all gone. Kenya tree made it and green star polyps. I tried to nurse it back to health. Then the 6 way plug caught fire in the middle of the night. There was no fixing all the cords lost all. Now I am back at it again 3 months in.
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MapleLeafReefer

MapleLeafReefer

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Wow I can not believe you said that in one breath. If you saved all you are my hero. I got evicted from my home after my wife sold the house out from under me. 20 degrees out I was not so lucky . Fish made it lost all my crabs brittle star lost 3 legs but grew them back. Shrimp all gone. Kenya tree made it and green star polyps. I tried to nurse it back to health. Then the 6 way plug caught fire in the middle of the night. There was no fixing all the cords lost all. Now I am back at it again 3 months in.
20210416_173309.jpg
Glad to hear you're safe, electrical fires are scary and no fun. Sucks to be forced to relocate, but looks like you're on your way again.
You've got a ton of rock as well, but yours looks much more asthetically pleasing. Not sure what to do with my scape yet...im thinking 3 islands. Big medium and small
 
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Pico bam

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I would have done the very same thing. No need for a new tank. They coral looks great! I'm always looking for a deal myself, im glad you found a good setup there few and far between. I think your well on your way to a successful reef tank. That toadstool looks huge BTW. Thought it was a carpet anemone at first.
 
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MapleLeafReefer

MapleLeafReefer

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Straight up high five man whoo! Never bought A tank full of coral but I've bought enough coral to fill a tank at once and its a handful.
Thanks, appreciate it. My guess is that there has been a lot of luck involved in everything living. It was a total handful for me. I'm really happy to have this tank though, I think its gonna be a blast.
I was on the fence about keeping the toadstool or not initially, but its grown on me. And besides the clowns love it. Its their home...
 

Screwgunner

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Yes sir you lucked out finding that set up . I have been at it for 20 years . Think I got it down to a science now. After aptasia ,red flat worms ,hair algea,slim, and electrical fires. I am glad I had smoke detectors . Got up to one going off and there was a glow in the living room . Good to know where your fire extinguisher is to. Put it out in short order. Left a black streak on the wall. And a melted plastic mess on the floor.
My tank is young so all I got is 12 zoas to start 2 gardens one on each end of my tank. Will wait for sps might get some hardy lps soon . Hope to see you on reef to reef again. Enjoy your your little piece of reef . God Bless !
 
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MapleLeafReefer

MapleLeafReefer

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Update...
I rescaped the tank yesterday. Much happier with the asthetic now. Once I get some colorful corals in there and some more fish I think it'll look great.
Got some bioblock on the way so I can turn part of the sump into a refugium. If anyone has any lines on a light/flow/pump module please let me know. I need to turn this hodge-podge into something more sophisticated. Here are some updated photos for y'all
 

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Have you ever had a reef tank with no sump and how did it go?

  • YES and it was just fine

    Votes: 184 58.8%
  • YES but it was difficult

    Votes: 60 19.2%
  • NO

    Votes: 61 19.5%
  • Other (please explain)

    Votes: 8 2.6%
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