Unpopular opinion: smaller tanks are better for beginners

Ben's Pico Reefing

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But this is where the experienced reefer and a complete beginner comes into play.

If your experienced, then a micro or pico reef is easy.
They have all the techniques down, and tricks.
They know how to minipulate the system to work for them.

The beginner on the other hand, some can't even do a basic cycle correctly.
They have absolutely no knowledge of husbandary, and are the mercy of both the angels and trolls on forum for knowledge.

Would i ever recommend a small reef to a new person.
Absolutely NOT. Why? because always, and i say always they get the wrong advice and end up putting something in the tank because that guy at the LFS said it was OK, or they saw someone like Vetteguy who has 21 Tangs in his tank do it, so they assume it must be possible.

But again even big tanks aren't fool proof.
The classic example is Joey, the guy from Youtube known as King of DIY. He is a legend with monster fish, and large tanks ,but he's a complete noob when it came to salt, and did the most complete noobish thing a new person can do... drop in 20 Tangs in improper Quarentine and without knowing or doing more research on Tangs.

If it was vetteguy, 100% sure all the tangs would of survived.
But because it was King of DIY... all of them caught velvet disease i think and died.

Here is the video:


I dont think he even has those Tangs that lived on a recient video even.
Last time i saw his reef tank had different fish.

So 1000% skill level is always at play here.

Same can be said for large tanks. I got bad advice and failed. I restarted and couldnt get the hang of it. Went small and have been succesful. I would recomend either depending on the person. Pico for small tank all you have to do is container with lid, air pump, light and 100 percent weekly or depending on stock biweekly water changes. (Some can get by with even less). Thats it. No dosing, no adjustments and with good lid no evaporation. Dont need to change or play around with anything. Clean glass and change water. Cant get any simpler than that. Same experience for either tank is needed. One is only better based on person. I did not undrstand reef keeping till I went to pico size tanks.

Edit: as I think I miss interpretted what you meant by always. So correcting. You meant that someone will give the wrong advice eventually correct? Not that everyone gives bad advice? This goes both ways and can cause the person to fail either way. So its a mute point in that aspect and I have seen it first hand.

Any person with any size tank will get bad advice. Its up to them to research and know better. It applies to both so this really doesnt make

Even if you have all the knowledge and skill, things can happen and die. It is guidance and learning as nobody has skill in the beginning. You gain skill by learning and applying. Reading and learning doesnt equal skill. Therefore if reefing was 1000 percent skill based as you say, nobody would have the skill to keep one as they would constantly fail.
 
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Dragen Fiend

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Its the freaking lights I tell you! Tanks are cheap in comparison to lights. Seriously. Coming from hydroponics with my grow lights. I thought those were expensive. But compared to reef lights they are cheaper lol.

I think there is a reason why nano's are becoming way more popular... I could have went straight into a large tank. But spending 2k on something that might not work out was on the back of my mind.

But really I see people going with bigger tanks because they want to keep specific fish. Otherwise I'd personally take nano tanks for my needs. 4 months in and I already got an itch for more lol. I have 2 new systems I want to start. A shallow reef tank. I admit these look sooo freaking amazing I wanted to try it. So I bought a reef casa 12 flat. Then I went and started a pico 2g tank lol. The pico just started its cycle this weekend.

I am eyeing a waterbox 65.4 AIO as well. I think this is about max I'm going for the type of fish I want.

I'm done after the waterbox. That will be 4 tanks. Should fill my itch. :beaming-face-with-smiling-eyes:
 

Naekuh

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Edit: as I think I miss interpretted what you meant by always. So correcting. You meant that someone will give the wrong advice eventually correct? Not that everyone gives bad advice? This goes both ways and can cause the person to fail either way. So its a mute point in that aspect and I have seen it first hand.

Any person with any size tank will get bad advice. Its up to them to research and know better. It applies to both so this really doesnt make

Even if you have all the knowledge and skill, things can happen and die. It is guidance and learning as nobody has skill in the beginning. You gain skill by learning and applying. Reading and learning doesnt equal skill. Therefore if reefing was 1000 percent skill based as you say, nobody would have the skill to keep one as they would constantly fail.

yup i am saying that you will always meet that someone that will give bad advice causing it to fail.

And you said the second time you did reefing... you already accumulated enough knowledge the second time to be more sucessful on the smaller tank.

I was in a simular situation as you were.
I started my reefing a very long time ago in a 60gal.
I learned fast that was not for me, because the cost of lights, halides at the time, were very expensive, and HOT.
Water change was a chore, and since it was a chore and i was new, i felt i could always wait next week.
Don't even get me started on how often i would test my water params... lol... Id be like test water why?
After years of struggling, then only deciding on keeping softies, that quickly failed, and i swore i would never do a large tank anymore after that.

Then i got back into the hobby like 5 yrs ago. I went smaller this time with a 24g cube.
However i knew enough from my 60, not to go smaller then that unless i was intending to have only gobys and dartfish.

So was happy with my 24G, and then I ended up where a lot of people in this hobby end up.. Anthias <3 + TANGS <3 , oh crud my euphyllia is out of control, and i want more corals, but no room to place them~

Well, im at 150G now, ironically much larger then what i swore i would never do again, but here again.

Is my 150g easier then the 24g? No... honestly its not... because i know how to manipulate that system with things like ATO, and auto dosers, and it takes a lot less to fix something in a 24G then a 150G.

However would i recommend a 24G? possible a 24G, but something like a sub 15G, probably not.
Because that person isn't the type to spend money on a ATO, or auto dosers, or probably even dilligent enough to keep up with water changes weekly / biweekly like you state.

Very few beginners have this kind of mindset... its something the advance reefer more has because its burnt into them like a routine.

This is what i mean't about skill level.

For example... i can totally see you doing all those maintance to keep a nano, and doing the constant water changes. On a new person in this hobby i give them a month, to possibly two before they get burnt out and unhappy things aren't growing as planned.

But a larger tank could buffer the maintance cycle, and extend that to 4 months instead of said 2, and by then that new reefer might get some routines burned into them to keep them in the hobby.

I hope i am making some sense... I am just trying to reinforce the experienced reefer is nothing like a new starter, and sometimes things that the experienced reefer takes for granted is just that, a product of something they burned in with the many years reefing, that a new person would get overwhelmed in.

But really I see people going with bigger tanks because they want to keep specific fish. Otherwise I'd personally take nano tanks for my needs.

without a doubt... who doesn't want beautiful tangs... or a school of anthias... or a shoul of evil chromis which are destined to kill each other off.

But its also because i have some corals i also do not wish to frag, and allow to get large, and they really outgrowed that cube.
 
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KK's Reef

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I think cutting your reef teeth on a small tank forces you to learn good husbandry and teaches attention to detail. Maintenance is a breeze. Initial setup cost is low. If you can have corals thrive in a pico/nano, running a bigger tank may be significantly easier.

BUT, eventually you're going to want more coral, more different kinds of coral, and more finicky coral. That's where it gets tricky. Finding a sweet spot for flow, lighting, parameters that all of the corals like is a pain in the butt. But I don't think that's necessarily a small tank issue. It's more of a mixed-reef issue.
 

Ben's Pico Reefing

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yup i am saying that you will always meet that someone that will give bad advice causing it to fail.

And you said the second time you did reefing... you already accumulated enough knowledge the second time to be more sucessful on the smaller tank.

I was in a simular situation as you were.
I started my reefing a very long time ago in a 60gal.
I learned fast that was not for me, because the cost of lights, halides at the time, were very expensive, and HOT.
Water change was a chore, and since it was a chore and i was new, i felt i could always wait next week.
Don't even get me started on how often i would test my water params... lol... Id be like test water why?
After years of struggling, then only deciding on keeping softies, that quickly failed, and i swore i would never do a large tank anymore after that.

Then i got back into the hobby like 5 yrs ago. I went smaller this time with a 24g cube.
However i knew enough from my 60, not to go smaller then that unless i was intending to have only gobys and dartfish.

So was happy with my 24G, and then I ended up where a lot of people in this hobby end up.. Anthias <3 + TANGS <3 , oh crud my euphyllia is out of control, and i want more corals, but no room to place them~

Well, im at 150G now, ironically much larger then what i swore i would never do again, but here again.

Is my 150g easier then the 24g? No... honestly its not... because i know how to manipulate that system with things like ATO, and auto dosers, and it takes a lot less to fix something in a 24G then a 150G.

However would i recommend a 24G? possible a 24G, but something like a sub 15G, probably not.
Because that person isn't the type to spend money on a ATO, or auto dosers, or probably even dilligent enough to keep up with water changes weekly / biweekly like you state.

Very few beginners have this kind of mindset... its something the advance reefer more has because its burnt into them like a routine.

This is what i mean't about skill level.

For example... i can totally see you doing all those maintance to keep a nano, and doing the constant water changes. On a new person in this hobby i give them a month, to possibly two before they get burnt out and unhappy things aren't growing as planned.

But a larger tank could buffer the maintance cycle, and extend that to 4 months instead of said 2, and by then that new reefer might get some routines burned into them to keep them in the hobby.

I hope i am making some sense... I am just trying to reinforce the experienced reefer is nothing like a new starter, and sometimes things that the experienced reefer takes for granted is just that, a product of something they burned in with the many years reefing, that a new person would get overwhelmed in.



without a doubt... who doesn't want beautiful tangs... or a school of anthias... or a shoul of evil chromis which are destined to kill each other off.

But its also because i have some corals i also do not wish to frag, and allow to get large, and they really outgrowed that cube.
I agree here. Its not actual size issue but what a person wants. Will they be satisfied with livestock limitations.

We both just have different views on easyness of tank is all. I never needed to have an ato or top off to my picos. My current nano of 7g I do but hopefully lid coming in today will fix this.

For me larger tanks I see usually require weekly testing and math to dose. Some people have it down where everything is set and they know what to dose and when. Picos is change and go.

For me I understood less going smaller because this is different the larger. How I learned about limitations, water chemistry and husbandry. Changed my way of thinking. Also money was limited do to my large tank failures and being layed off.

It is going to be different for everyone. Some will be able to do bigger some smaller. Some will start off being fine with bigger or smaller.

For those getting in that want to try pico but low maintenance, they could do soft coral. This could push out to a month. There are a few pico and nano tanks where all some do is a cup in and out once a month. Its all on how you setup and want.

Issue like you stated is most wont be happy with nanos or picos and want bigger. This is where it needs to be decided. For those wanting to stay small pico is great. But if they want the larger things and to see how big, they maybe better off starting out big to save money with equipment. You can setup picos for under 100. Nanos is a bit harder under 100 but can be done but really looking under 200 for cheap or 1k for yop end high tech. Then large tanks, lights alone can put you over 500 to 1k depending what you want.

Chromis are murderous to each other lol.
 

vetteguy53081

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Ive had both and large
TL;DR: yes, a smaller tank requires more oversight and closer monitoring than a bigger tank does. But that does not mean that it requires more effort than a larger tank does. In fact, it's the opposite.

I am by no means an expert on reef tanks, but as of now, it has been about a year since I set up my ~50 gallon tank, and although it has experienced several issues, I have been able to keep your average beginner/intermediate fish and coral with moderate success. I remember doing research back when I was a beginner and basically every guide said 'the bigger the better' to start out with, but after one year, I've come to the conclusion that the vast majority of the problems I have had with reef keeping has been due to the larger size of the tank and the hassle associated with that, and my tank wasn't even that big. My reasoning for this basically comes down to one thing: effort (and cost but that's obvious).

Firstly, a bigger tank is just much harder to set up and requires more space in your house, and this becomes even worse if your tank comes with a sump and a stand (the latter of which is absolutely necessary with bigger tanks). For a big tank or even just a tank of the size I had, you will need copious amounts of time and the help of multiple people for just the set up alone. As a complete beginner, I had zero clue on how to set up a sump, and my tank came with barely any instructions. This was the largest hurdle to setting up my tank, and I struggled with figuring out how to make everything work while minimizing noise and leakage until I finally got it to run smoothly. On top of that, I also had to build the stand, which was less vexing than the sump, but was still annoying and took the better part of a day even with the help of multiple other people. You also need other people to even help you move all this heavy equipment around the house. Furthermore, there is the aspect of filling the tank with saltwater. For bigger tanks, you will almost certainly need to set up your own RODI system and reservoir for mixing and storing clean saltwater, which is an entire process in and of itself. I opted to not do this and to just buy saltwater, which again is still fairly labor-intensive as now you're lugging 50 gallons of saltwater to the tank in order to fill it up, but it was still less effort than making my own saltwater.

Now compare this to a 5 or 10 gallon that you can just pick up yourself and set on a piece of furniture. Buy a couple boxes of saltwater and that's it; you're done. No hassle and no one else needed but you.

And that's not even getting into maintenance... With a big tank, a water change becomes a big undertaking, requiring the use of one or more big buckets, a siphon, and more saltwater that you have to transport to your tank again either from your reservoir that you made or from the store. You will need to dedicate a decent chunk of time to this, and you will probably get yourself and the entire surrounding area of the tank wet with dirty water. The hassle associated with doing a water change just made me not want to do it at all, and this probably led to a lot of the problems I experienced since I was doing way fewer water changes than I should have been. Other aspects of maintenance are just as bad. Need to clean the rocks or sand or glass? You will have much more to clean in a bigger tank. Need to replace the evaporated water? Even in a tank with an ATO like mine has, I was still manually replacing like a gallon of distilled freshwater every day because of how little water the ATO reservoir held, which became incredibly annoying over time.

Compare this to the maintenance on a smaller tank: just put an empty gallon carton in there and fill it up and throw out the water, then replace with another gallon of saltwater and your 10-20% water change is done instantly.

And the cost aspect of all of this speaks for itself. Everything you will need for a bigger tank will be bigger, and therefore more expensive than the items required for a smaller tank. Given how much equipment you need to merely start a reef tank, this adds up. Even if you completely fail on your small tank and have to start over, replacing all the livestock and water even multiple times in a small tank is still probably less expensive than just simply maintaining a healthy bigger tank.

In conclusion, I will agree that logically, smaller tanks will require more maintenance and more closer monitoring of parameters, but I would say that doing this extra maintenance on a small tank is less work than just doing your standard or even below-standard maintenance on a big tank. Most beginners are not willing to put in immense amounts of money, time, and manual labor into maintaining a big tank. Instead, they should start on a small tank and really get good at understanding parameters and water chemistry before upgrading to a bigger tank. And if you mess up on your small tank, it will be no big deal; your wallet will take less of a hit, and the number of fish you harm or kill will also be fewer than you would have had you messed up on a big tank.

As I said in the title, I'm sure this is a rather unpopular view, and it's just my opinion in the end. But I am curious if there are other likeminded people out there who believe smaller tanks are actually better choices for beginners. Or, if you still believe bigger is better for beginners, feel free to share your counterpoints. I know that personally, if I ever start another reef tank or even a freshwater tank, I'm going 10 gallons or smaller.
tanks for me are way easier, forgiving, less time consuming for maintenance and has room for anything.
For me its like watching an 8-10 ft screen than a 30" screen of the ocean
 

kaifish

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Went from a 40 gallon which was a very successful mixed reef. To a 180 gallon SPS dominant mixed reef and now a small 30 gallon bare bottom mixed that I think I like most because of the ease of ownership.
 

4n6doc

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I’ve had everything from 20 gallons to 60 and the 20 gallon has by far given me the biggest headaches. I’d consider myself intermediate in skill, and I generally don’t keep anything that’s high maintenance. When parameters swing in small tanks, it happens fast and it’s very easy to overcorrect. I currently have a 20 gallon because I wanted to pick up the hobby again and had successfully managed a 30 gallon in the past (how hard can a 20 be? It’s only a 10 gallon difference….). It took about 2 years to get the 20 gallon running smoothly and still I worry if I change anything in my usual maintenance I could run into issues again. It is true that bigger tanks mean bigger water changes, but you’re already mixing the salt and lugging water regardless. My 60 was the only tank I’ve ever had where it ran well from day one once it was set up. There’s nothing wrong with nanos, but you really need to know what you’re getting into and what limitations you’ll have before trying it. Bigger tanks will always be more forgiving, which is why I think that’s recommended more often to beginners. As soon as I’m in a spot where I can move to a bigger tank, I’m doing it…the nano life is not for me!
 

plutz

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Yes please! One just like this. Whoever’s this is….awesome job!
IMG_2438.jpeg
 

jhadaway

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I have a wb 100.3 at home and a 13.5 at work. A kessil a80, sincra1.5 with 2 rfg’s, filter floss and a center refugium with a 12w light. Everything in it does better than the waterbox including annacropra and 2 digitatas. Things that never grew in the waterbox took off in the 13.5. The lesson is, you can clean the water way too much without trying that hard. I think the nanos and picos are a great way to learn lessons in a less costly way. By having 2 tanks i can figure things out a lot faster. All that being said, im planning a 72x30x25. Gotta have some bigger fish and room for sticks!
 

keef reeper

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I've heard smaller tanks are harder. Ive only started my im15g a little over a year ago. So far so good, but i keep a pretty consistent schedule with wc every monday. Not the fastest grower but everything is alive and growing at some rate or another haha. Would love to get a bigger tank so that i could keep a bigger variety of fish for sure.
 

Katrina71

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We started in an 8 gallon tank. I think it really comes down to what volume your husbandry can accommodate.
 

KC2020

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There is a lot of good information in this thread. Many valid opinions and a myriad of definitions for easy. I think they're all easy because I just love reef tanks.

I've been in the hobby for over 50 years. I've had all size tanks with different goals. They all had their funky stage, then glorious years and ultimately I've never had a tank crash.

In my experience 50 gal on up is more stable because, as others have pointed out, things don't go to extremes as quickly. Under 50 is fine when you change water weekly and don't over crowd.

I just took down a 225 and will be selling it because I moved to a second floor apartment. It was a lovely tank and yet I won't miss it. My new WB20 has been cycled for a couple of weeks and is still dark until I get pods in it. Then a very slow progression of corals, clean up crew, in 4 months a fish, in 6 months it'll be ready for the SPS I kept from the big tank.

They're doing just fine a cheap 40 breeder. 5 Kessils, a reefbrite, lots of flow, a HOB skimmer and weekly 25% water change. Bad photo but you get the idea. The really dark areas are just rock.

So the corals that I grew out in a 225 are now in a 40 and continue to grow because in both the parameters were / are stable.

40b.jpeg
 
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Roatan Reef

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After studying reef tanks for 10+ years, I finally decided to do one on my own...Reef builders with Jake Adams did a 20 Nano, and it took off almost instantly.

So I pulled the trigger, and set up my 40GB...boy what a nightmare that was for the 1st year and some. I come from Freshwater, and have many successful builds for family and friends, still have a 125 S. American Cichlid Tank going, and it's sooooo easy.

After the first 1.3 years 40GB started taking off. Now I got it running great.

My nephew who helped with the og 40GB tank decided he wanted his own tank to keep here with me..so for Christmas he got the 13.5 fluval Evo Tank, and maaaannnn...I will tell you his tank cycled much faster and almost skips the ugly phase I suffered through.

His tank is doing great, and it's only 13.5 gallons...so there is some truth to this.
 

KC2020

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After studying reef tanks for 10+ years, I finally decided to do one on my own...Reef builders with Jake Adams did a 20 Nano, and it took off almost instantly.

So I pulled the trigger, and set up my 40GB...boy what a nightmare that was for the 1st year and some. I come from Freshwater, and have many successful builds for family and friends, still have a 125 S. American Cichlid Tank going, and it's sooooo easy.

After the first 1.3 years 40GB started taking off. Now I got it running great.

My nephew who helped with the og 40GB tank decided he wanted his own tank to keep here with me..so for Christmas he got the 13.5 fluval Evo Tank, and maaaannnn...I will tell you his tank cycled much faster and almost skips the ugly phase I suffered through.

His tank is doing great, and it's only 13.5 gallons...so there is some truth to this.
Do you think your experience with the 40 helped with the 13.5 ? Or is it just the size difference ?
 

Rhetoric

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discredit your rhetoric
Did someone say my name??

At any rate.

I ran a 90 gallon for 3 years and really cut my teeth on fish keeping, basic chemistry, controlling that chemistry, and basic easy coral care. (2008 - 2011)

I now run a 20 gallon AIO mixed reef. It's been set up for about 18 months. (2023-current)

My unsolicited thoughts.

The little tank drives like a race car (and it's kind fun)

I hate that nano tanks are synonymous with beginner tanks.

I can't keep cool bigger fish (tangs ect)

/Cheers
 

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