Profile of a Reef Aquarist (1)

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Nov 14, 2018
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Seawitch submitted a new Article:

Welcome to our first profile of a reef aquarist. We thought it would be interesting for our audience to read about different people who keep saltwater aquariums. I’ll tell you a bit about the person, and then we’ll move to a question and answer format, so you can hear about the person’s experience in his or her own words. So, without further ado….


In the foothills of the Bluegrass mountains in the southeast US, there’s a reef aquarist, P.R., who has two (2) saltwater tanks, a dog, and a 22-year-old pet python. He grew up near the Atlantic and spent countless hours playing on sandbars and in mangroves catching minnows. His parents were pretty tolerant and allowed pet cats, dogs, snakes, frogs, turtles, lizards, birds, sugar gliders, and rabbits, but they drew the line at a saltwater aquarium.

So, even though he always wanted aquariums, it wasn’t until he was grown and married that in 2014 he finally set up his first freshwater aquarium, closely followed by a second freshwater (FW) tank. And it was only a matter of days before he was starting planning for saltwater.

He had wanted clownfish for as long as he can remember, so, he started with a 10-gallon tank and a pair of clownfish, a common ocellaris and a black and white ocellaris. When he later tore down that tank for a larger one, he returned that pair of clownfish and a couple of other fish to the pet store [LFS].

Returning those fish is his single biggest regret since he has started with saltwater. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but he was attached to those fish and had given them a good home. And still to this day, he wishes he hadn’t done it.

He has been very successful with saltwater, although he modestly does not consider himself very experienced. Fish have always been his primary interest, but now he’s exploring coral and developing those skills.

So, I asked him some questions, and now you can hear his own words:

Do you think it's a good idea to have some freshwater aquarium experience before SW?

Personally, I did not feel that my freshwater experience helped too much with saltwater. It did help me get a firm grasp of the nitrogen cycle, but that is where the similarities end, in my opinion.

Do you remember feeling nervous about it or were you pretty confident at the beginning?

I remember feeling overwhelmed at times during the initial research, but by the time I started ordering equipment (I researched for about 6 months before buying anything), I remember feeling like I had a firm grasp on the fundamentals and was just really excited.

P.R.'s first reef tank, dismantled in 2016.

Photo courtesy of P.R. Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved.

So, how many SW and FW tanks are you running right now?

I have two saltwater tanks currently running. No freshwater. I have a display tank that’s 73 gallons, a Red Sea Reefer 350 with an 18-gallon sump, and a 50-gallon frag tank with a 20-gallon sump, all in the same room.

The sump for the bigger tank has gone through some changes lately, and I am in the process of setting up an algae reactor (instead of the refugium) and will be removing the sand and some of the rock and adding a skimmer. For years I ran no skimmer with rock, sand and a chaeto refugium in the sump.

[The frag tank is for growing out cuttings (frags) for sale or trade.]

P.R.'s current display tank, 73 gallons.

Photo courtesy of P.R., Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved.

Do you routinely quarantine?

No, I have never quarantined new fish, but I try to buy Diver’s Den fish [from an aquaculture facility in Wisconsin that go through an extensive quarantine procedure] so I at least have a better chance of not bringing in any nasty parasites or infections.

Do you still have a pair of clownfish?

My second pair of clownfish was a "designer" ocellaris pair. They died unexpectedly in an established tank and no other fish were affected. I still don't know what happened to them. I currently have a pair of standard ocellaris clowns in my frag tank and a single female maroon in my Reefer 350.

Are they hosting in an anemone?

The Maroon hosts in several green and rainbow bubble tip anemones.

Your anemones look fantastic. You have several bubble tips in the same tank?

Thanks! Yes, I have a smaller rainbow bubble tip that has split several times and a larger green bubble tip that I have had for almost 3 years and has split many times over the years. I currently have two of each of the anemones in the Reefer 350.

Clownfish in a bubbletip anemone.

Photo courtesy of P.R. Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved.

What fish and inverts do you have in your two tanks?

The 73 gallon display tank:

- Maroon Clown
- Orchid Dottyback
- Melarunus Wrasse
- Yellow Wrasse
- Banggai Cardinalfish
- Kole Tang
- Flame Angel
- Spotted Mandarin
- Blue/Green Chromis
- Azure Damselfish (oldest fish inhabitant - 3+ years old)
- Ruby Head Fairy Wrasse
- Copperband Butterflyfish

- Cleaner Shrimp
- 10-15 Astraea Snails (I have had 3-4 of them for over 5 years)
- 100+ Dwarf Ceriths
- 30-50 Florida Ceriths
- 10-15 Nassarius snails
- 2-3x Emerald Crabs
- Red Banded Pistol Shrimp
- 10 Conchs (4 tiger and 6 fighting)
- 10+ hermit crabs (mix of blue leg, red leg and scarlet)

- ORA Sinularia Coral
- Neon Green toadstool
- Neon Green long polyp toadstool
- Yellow Fiji Leather
- 5-6 kinds of mushrooms
- Corky Sea Finger
- Purple Sea Rod
- Purple Feather Gorgonian
- ORA Grube's Gorgonian
- 5 Mini Maxi Nems
- 15-20 kinds of Zoas
- 4 Rock Flower Nems
- 2 Green BTA - (down from 5, all splits)
- 2 Rainbow BTA
- Blasto
- Torch coral
- Cabbage Leather
- War Coral
- Acan echinata
- Pineapple leather
- ORA Fuzzy Lobo
- Green Ricordea
- Orange Ricordea
- Birdsnest coral
- Montipora Capricornis
- ORA Peach Montipora Digitata

And what are all the fish and inverts in the frag tank (50 gallon)?

- Squaretail Tang
- Ornate Wrasse
- 2 Ocellaris clowns
- Sapphire Damsel

- 4-5 trochus snails
- 2-3 astraea snails
- 1 turbo snail
- 1 large emerald crab
- 1 peppermint shrimp
- 4-5 scarlet hermit crabs

Changes constantly, but a mix of the coral from the display tank, usually zoas.

Do you name your fish?

I have never named my fish, I have only named my cleaner shrimp, Jacques, and Jacques Jr.

P.R.'s new copperband butterfly fish. The bright green on the right are green star polyps (GSP). On the left is a green hairy mushroom, another soft coral.

Photo courtesy of P.R. Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved.

Your tanks are beautiful, and the livestock is clearly thriving. Have you ever had any of the terrible problems that some reef aquarists are plagued with? Flatworms? Cirolanid isopods? A bobbit worm?

Not that I can remember. I have had several unexplained deaths over the years and several jumpers, but nothing catastrophic. I do have [marine] ich in both systems, but I don't view ich to be problematic for healthy fish and I have never lost an established fish to ich. It almost never presents itself either, but maybe once a year I will see a fish with a couple of spots on its fin for a day or two, then nothing.

As far as pests like flatworms, nudibranchs, etc. I (usually) dip my corals before adding them to the tank, and I keep several wrasses that are known to eat all kinds of pests, so I have never seen any of them in any of my tanks.

Is there anything else you'd like to have in your aquarium or are you planning another one?

I always have something I'm planning or working on. I am currently in the process of redoing part of my aquascape to accommodate SPS [small polyp stony] coral. I am also making some other changes to filtration to help prepare for them. SPS will be new for me, and I'm excited for the challenge. I have plans to upgrade to a larger tank, but that will be several years out. I am also looking to set up a larger frag system and possibly farm some coral.

Does your wife help with the tank?

She enjoys looking at the tank but isn’t terribly interested beyond that. She does help me out by making RODI water [reverse osmosis/deionization] and filling up my ATO [automatic top-off] reservoirs.

What advice would you give beginners?

The most general advice would be to join Reef2Reef’s [R2R] forum, follow BRS’s youtube channel [Bulk Reef Supply], take it slow, be patient, and aim for stability above all else.

NB: Please note that Reef2Reef recommends quarantine for a suitable period for anything wet that goes into your tank.

A special thanks is due today to the following individuals:

P.R., who kindly answered a never-ending stream of questions over several days.


We encourage all our readers to join the Reef2Reef forum. It’s easy to register, free, and reefkeeping is much easier and more fun in a community of fellow aquarists. We pride ourselves on a warm and family-friendly forum where everyone is welcome. You will also find lots of contests and giveaways with our sponsors.


Author Profile: Cynthia White

Cynthia received her BA in English from NYU during the Paleozoic Era. She has been a freelance writer and editor for over 20 years. She has written for newspapers and magazines, both in print and online and was formerly a marketing manager for a small oil company. Now she is a writer and editor on staff at R2R, where her forum nickname is Seawitch.

For 15 years, she kept a dozen freshwater tanks, bred cichlids--Cyphotilapia frontosa--and sold them to pet stores in Calgary. Finally, after years of study, she has come to saltwater side. She lives in British Columbia, Canada, with her husband and three special-needs dogs, a five-minute walk from the Georgia Strait.
Top Shelf Aquatics


Water, water everywhere,
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Nov 3, 2018
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Vancouver Island
Thanks @NY_Caveman. @ca1ore I agree. But I need some volunteers. I'll write profiles on those who wish to be profiled. I have one other very experienced reefer in the queue, otherwise it's radio silence. And I have posted asking for volunteers. @revhtree


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Aug 11, 2013
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Sheboygan, WI
As always - great writing and info !!!

UM Aquarium Club

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Oct 17, 2017
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Miami, FL
Thanks @NY_Caveman. @ca1ore I agree. But I need some volunteers. I'll write profiles on those who wish to be profiled. I have one other very experienced reefer in the queue, otherwise it's radio silence. And I have posted asking for volunteers. @revhtree
I can't speak for all of our elected board but I think at least several of us or as a group would be willing to answer some questions. Many of us are marine science students which definitely influences our experience with keeping aquaria. Many of us also have very different backgrounds with keeping tanks, some who have had aquariums in their home for ages and some of us (myself) who only started keeping tanks 4 years ago when I joined the club my freshman year of college.
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