Writing a definitive article about avoiding mistakes in this hobby - need the advice of experienced aquarists!

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polyppal

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Hello Friends,

I am working on a 'starters guide to reefkeeping' article that addresses the elementary aspects of this hobby and how to be (in most cases) fairly successful.

I see so often many who jump into the hobby with little-to-no knowledge, only to fail because they lack the basic education/patience that would have helped them to make a balanced decision on whether to venture into reefkeeping or not (for those who don't know me, I have been keeping saltwater fish for 20 years and designing/keeping reef tanks for a decade)

My goal is to address the following areas where I'm looking for advice (please, FROM EXPERIENCED & SUCCESSFUL MARINE AQUARISTS, PLEASE! Not looking for arguments!)
  • What equipment you (essentially) need and realistic costs to keeping a successful reef tank? One of my goals is to document the realistic budget (not luxury) price-range one can expect to spend to succeed in this hobby, while avoiding needless expenditures on luxuries/'snake oil' solutions
  • PATIENCE! Best practices on thoroughly cycling/balancing a tank UNTIL its mature and ready for coral additions (avoiding the mistake of adding (and killing) corals by adding them to a system too soon
  • Differences in dry rock (basic calcium carbonate/limestone) vs manufactured rock at the outset of a tank (while I agree genuine live rock is the best option, because it is increasingly difficult/expensive to come by, I'm excluding this from this discussion).
  • The importance/benefit of quarantining new fish to your system (in some capacity, whatever fashion you feel appropriate), as many fish are subject to disease through the supply chain and pose a substantial threat to your livestock
Looking for genuine input, let's avoid the drama. Thank you in advance for your advice!
 
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Dan_P

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Hello Friends,

I am working on a 'starters guide to reefkeeping' article that addresses the elementary aspects of this hobby and how to be (in most cases) fairly successful.

I see so often many who jump into the hobby with little-to-no knowledge, only to fail because they lack the basic education/patience that would have helped them to make a balanced decision on whether to venture into reefkeeping or not (for those who don't know me, I have been keeping saltwater fish for 20 years and designing/keeping reef tanks for a decade)

My goal is to address the following areas where I'm looking for advice (please, FROM EXPERIENCED & SUCCESSFUL MARINE AQUARISTS, PLEASE! Not looking for arguments!)
  • What equipment you (essentially) need and realistic costs to keeping a successful reef tank? One of my goals is to document the realistic budget (not luxury) price-range one can expect to spend to succeed in this hobby, while avoiding needless expenditures on luxuries/'snake oil' solutions
  • PATIENCE! Best practices on thoroughly cycling/balancing a tank UNTIL its mature and ready for coral additions (avoiding the mistake of adding (and killing) corals by adding them to a system too soon
  • Differences in dry rock (basic calcium carbonate/limestone) vs manufactured rock at the outset of a tank (while I agree genuine live rock is the best option, because it is increasingly difficult/expensive to come by, I'm excluding this from this discussion).
  • The importance/benefit of quarantining new fish to your system (in some capacity, whatever fashion you feel appropriate), as many fish are subject to disease through the supply chain and pose a substantial threat to your livestock
Looking for genuine input, let's avoid the drama. Thank you in advance for your advice!
Sounds like an interesting project and a very generous effort.

I am wondering whether this has all been written down in ”how to” books. Maybe a “Dummies” guide exists. Might save time to get hold of few books on the subject, have a good read and grab the best ideas. It might also inspire the beginner to follow your example and read.

Definitely stress “learn before doing” rather than “doing to learn”.
 
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polyppal

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Sounds like an interesting project and a very generous effort.

I am wondering whether this has all been written down in ”how to” books. Maybe a “Dummies” guide exists. Might save time to get hold of few books on the subject, have a good read and grab the best ideas. It might also inspire the beginner to follow your example and read.

Definitely stress “learn before doing” rather than “doing to learn”.
will definitely include the idea of ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ -Ben Franklin
 

TnFishwater98

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Mistakes and Problems in this Hobby is like a Box of Chocolates...You never know whatcha you’re gonna get....!
~But you’ll probably get a taste of all of them..LoL
 
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polyppal

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forrest gump GIF

Mistakes and Problems in this Hobby is like a Box of Chocolates...You never know whatcha you’re gonna get....!
~But you’ll probably get a taste of all of them..LoL
Good point! Regardless of how careful you are, be ready for some setbacks!
 

NS Mike D

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I think one of the most common mistakes is trying to do a mixed reef tank from the start. While it's possible, putting corals that have different needs is much harder than a tank that focuses on corals that have similar needs

On your second and third points, I don't think start up information makes it clear how bacteria and coralline provide a natural barrier to help keep nuisance algae away and thus best practices to mature your rock.

Along those lines, in thread after algae thread the first posts often are lower your nutrients - changing zeros is, IMO, the most common newbie mistake - and chasing zeros is a sure fire way to create bigger problems like cyano and worse Dinos.

This one is anecdotal about my experience, but based on what I learned from other successful reefers, and that is IMO too much live rock in the DT. IMO live rock should be added as the corals grow and can occupy space on the rocks. I visited a commercial coral proprietor near me and during the tour of his set up, he mentioned he got rid of all the live rock in his sumps and went with commercial filtration blocks that he can replaced as they get used up. His theory was that live rock gets clogged and losses it filtration benefits over time and even becomes nutrient sinks for nuisance algae. His method is to remove older blocks in his sump replacing with new blocks - which makes this filtration capacity more stable over time. He keeps just enough live rock in his DT. Doesn't view that as filtration but rather surface for his mother colonies.
For me, I tried to put frags on every square inch on a wall of live rock . The tanked looked great for a while, but I couldn't keep the corals happy - especially the sticks and as they died, algae moved in. I eventually removed more than half the rock in my tank DT redoing my aquascape reducing the empty space that algae loved. Plus, I can more easily remove rocks to scrub them when the algae gets too much. I do keep a basket of rubble rock in my sump in lieu of filter blocks.

Nano tank owners advice: When looking at large tanks, keep in mind the often have a tang or more that pick at the algae on the rocks all day long. This is not an option for medium and small tanks (and a fast growing segment of the hobby). be prepared to remove and scrub them as per Brandons thread to remove algae (sand washing too).
 
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polyppal

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I think one of the most common mistakes is trying to do a mixed reef tank from the start. While it's possible, putting corals that have different needs is much harder than a tank that focuses on corals that have similar needs

On your second and third points, I don't think start up information makes it clear how bacteria and coralline provide a natural barrier to help keep nuisance algae away and thus best practices to mature your rock.

Along those lines, in thread after algae thread the first posts often are lower your nutrients - changing zeros is, IMO, the most common newbie mistake - and chasing zeros is a sure fire way to create bigger problems like cyano and worse Dinos.

This one is anecdotal about my experience, but based on what I learned from other successful reefers, and that is IMO too much live rock in the DT. IMO live rock should be added as the corals grow and can occupy space on the rocks. I visited a commercial coral proprietor near me and during the tour of his set up, he mentioned he got rid of all the live rock in his sumps and went with commercial filtration blocks that he can replaced as they get used up. His theory was that live rock gets clogged and losses it filtration benefits over time and even becomes nutrient sinks for nuisance algae. His method is to remove older blocks in his sump replacing with new blocks - which makes this filtration capacity more stable over time. He keeps just enough live rock in his DT. Doesn't view that as filtration but rather surface for his mother colonies.
For me, I tried to put frags on every square inch on a wall of live rock . The tanked looked great for a while, but I couldn't keep the corals happy - especially the sticks and as they died, algae moved in. I eventually removed more than half the rock in my tank DT redoing my aquascape reducing the empty space that algae loved. Plus, I can more easily remove rocks to scrub them when the algae gets too much. I do keep a basket of rubble rock in my sump in lieu of filter blocks.

Nano tank owners advice: When looking at large tanks, keep in mind the often have a tang or more that pick at the algae on the rocks all day long. This is not an option for medium and small tanks (and a fast growing segment of the hobby). be prepared to remove and scrub them as per Brandons thread to remove algae (sand washing too).
Very good points!
 
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polyppal

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Common mistake: spend a fortune on equipment and livestock, but not a dime on back up power. you can get a 2 stroke 1000W generator for $200 these days.
Yeah, emergency power kinda becoming a necessity these days :/
 
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I have begun an article many times on this subject as I get asked so often when I bring my traveling tank to schools and events. I just keep getting side tracked, so it is still in very beginning starts.
I have written easy to follow steps for keeping a tank after I set it up for a couple class rooms too.

Good to have a source that is concise and accurate.
 

Ippyroy

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Instead of only trying quarantining, it might be a good idea to help teach how to source quality fish that have already be quarantined. Medicating fish is a whole new challenge with in itself. Plenty of sites online and LFS precondition and quarantine fish before selling them. Teaching newbies what to look for and which questions to ask would go a long way. Also going over which fish are best and why would be super helpful. How to find out "why" a fish is questionable for a reef tank would be fantastic.
Basically, beginner fish keeping would be slightly better than reef keeping IMHO. Start with a FOWLR and slowly switch to a Reef tank.
 
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Instead of only trying quarantining, it might be a good idea to help teach how to source quality fish that have already be quarantined. Medicating fish is a whole new challenge with in itself. Plenty of sites online and LFS precondition and quarantine fish before selling them. Teaching newbies what to look for and which questions to ask would go a long way. Also going over which fish are best and why would be super helpful. How to find out "why" a fish is questionable for a reef tank would be fantastic.
Basically, beginner fish keeping would be slightly better than reef keeping IMHO. Start with a FOWLR and slowly switch to a Reef tank.
That’s a good point, I recommend to people to just plan on having a FOWLR for the first several months, learn how to keep healthy fish and start thinking about corals when you notice coralline growth.

in terms of QT, I’ll surely recommend genuine pre-QTd sources, but I think in the long term many people are going to encounter some kinda disease and should be prepared to treat it. I think it’s just a reality of marine fishkeeping these days, and though a new person likely isn’t going to want to deal with meds, they can take safer approaches (like hyposalinity) to protect their livestock

I think the constant live sales/ Black Friday/mega deal stuff tempts new people to rush into livestock purchases before their system is ready, which generally leads to disease/losses/algae and discouragement
 
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NowGlazeIT

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There is so much to learn. It might help the reader if you make a beginner section followed by intermediate hands on knowledge then expert. In the beginning you have a lot of research then in the middle it’s all happening and the direction can shift any which way but towards the end you’ve mastered your tank trends.
 

Ippyroy

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That’s a good point, I recommend to people to just plan on having a FOWLR for the first several months, learn how to keep healthy fish and start thinking about corals when you notice coralline growth.

I think the constant live sales/ Black Friday/mega deal stuff tempts new people to rush into livestock purchases before their system is ready, which generally leads to disease/losses/algae and discouragement
I wish there were more articles and videos on how to research some of this stuff. Like what questions to ask. How to tell if the information is relevant or not. More info on how to find quality equipment. What to look for instead and why instead of always looking at reviews.
Basically help teach HOW to FISH instead of feeding them a fish.
 
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polyppal

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There is so much to learn. It might help the reader if you make a beginner section followed by intermediate hands on knowledge then expert. In the beginning you have a lot of research then in the middle it’s all happening and the direction can shift any which way but towards the end you’ve mastered your tank trends.
That’s turning into a whole book! I can’t even find the motivation to do the dishes :)
 

NowGlazeIT

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That’s turning into a whole book! I can’t even find the motivation to do the dishes :)
As long as your still doing your normal water changes or tank maintenance, I say screw the dang dishes.
 
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I wish there were more articles and videos on how to research some of this stuff. Like what questions to ask. How to tell if the information is relevant or not. More info on how to find quality equipment. What to look for instead and why instead of always looking at reviews.
Basically help teach HOW to FISH instead of feeding them a fish.
I think places (like most notably BRS) have provided tons of useful information over the years and have greatly advanced the hobby - but yeah they are a business and the goal of the video is to make you think you need to buy “X…

I want to help people approach and solve a problem instead of jumping online and purchasing ‘blah blah blah’ product thinking it’ll magically fix everything
 

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Major missing point seems to be an attention on complexity, buying and patience (what for a newbie may mean sit back and do nothing, while expecting only good things to happen, the longer you wait).

Much more useful should be what was posted in Reef chemistry section of R2R:
  • keeping detectable nitrates and phosphates,
  • adding biodiversity and maintaining it by feeding and stability,
  • knowledge what to expect (nuisance microorganisms and algae) and be prepared to dealing with them, kind of first aid kit,
  • compensating what was consumed, testing to know what was consumed. Some folks are on low end of the hobby and trying to get by without testing, if you know visual signs for them, it would be good to share
  • light acclimation, especially in accidental ULNS when high alkalinity salt mix was used,
  • basic knowledge of the salt mixes: low and high alkalinity, for this purpose.
Most critical for being successful in this hobby, IMO, is:
  • if you can afford this hobby at all,
  • having time and physical ability for attending tank
  • individual mental ability to notice what is going on in the tank and take action when needed
  • not biting more than can chew, aiming for a system that will need a lot more than a planned equipment, getting out of budget in the first half of year.
Equipment:
  • from none, other than light and premixed water (PJ Reef, DIY jarrariums, Jaubert xenia bowl)
  • through the added basic source of flow and heating (reef vase and reef bowl)
  • to heating, any flow and filtration of your choice, including protein skimmer when necessary
  • marine or reef spectrum light, providing required PAR for planned tank and inhabitants
  • saltwater mixing setup, including mixing pump, heater, refractometer
  • the source of water could vary, from buying premixed water and checking it each time or making own, with RO filter that will need replacement cartridges and membrane on regular basis. There are options for renters, and when amount of waste water is a problem, hauling already made water home is the only option.
Patience:
Anything but that, tell what they should be doing at this and that signs, instead of sitting on own hands and doing nothing. Not native English speaker, this concept is more like waiting in my language.
  • Tell what is cycling, practical part,
  • what is balancing (in details, to make it available for practical use),
  • that live systems will not mature without feeding and required nutrients (NO3, PO4),
  • what biodiversity is (practical, usable part of it), where to get it if live rock is not available
  • corals, depends on kind of coral of course, can be added early and they can do well, this is not an issue in a balanced, bio-diverse system. It's hard to kill corals, but recovery from half dead is very possible.
Rock:
Minor issue, the same for live sand. LR is better if available. If not, dry reef rock add biodiversity in any other available way. Making own rock from cement and long curing is not for an everyone.

Quarantine:
Basic advice for any aquarium, SW or FW, not followed in most cases because of the lack of the second tank, space and other issues.

Testing, additives, dosing. Short version of it.

First aid kit and procedures: for cyano, options for dinos, bryopsis, aiptasia, flatworms (variety of them). Dealing with nuisance algae.

CUC:
Getting over idea that adding a lot of invertebrates that have nothing to eat in a new tank will solve any potential problems in the future, excluding manual work. Larger shells for hermits or stick to snails.

Types of corals
that have specials needs or have special features (like NPS and aggressive corals). Avoiding a concept of "beginner corals", assuming that beginners have high nitrates, high phosphates and a lot of fish, when could be an opposite, and reader will see that this is just for him, being a beginner.

Cutting back theory (or add it as links to advanced topics), keeping short, concise "how to" manual for an absolute beginner. Without skipping essentials and preventing them getting an idea that buying the best equipment for their money will make tank successful. There is a vast amount of knowledge they will have to find and consume to make things work, in many cases. Something that money can't buy.

Repeating someone's setup will not necessarily lead to the same results, not everything was disclosed and each biological system is unique, you have to see what is going on and make adjustments.

If only i knew this when I started.
 
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