First Month of Starting a Saltwater Aquarium

 December 26, 2008
Posted by Rashed Talukder

After approximately a month of having my saltwater tank setup and filled with saltwater, here is where it is. I have fixed up a few of the equipment issues I was having and I have completed my nitrogen cycle and begun the algae cycle/battle. I added a bunch of new equipment and got rid of a lot of others. I also added a few fish, clean up crew (CUC), and corals. I still have to get more live rock and I will probably make a few changes to my aquascaping, since I am not very pleased with how it looks right now but all the live rock came with my used tank purchase so I can’t really complain.

My saltwater tank after 1 month

The nitrogen cycle is basically the formation of bacteria that eat/convert different compounds of nitrogen and really essentially create a less toxic compound. When organic matter is decomposed – either from die off from live rock or introduction of some organic matter – a by-product is ammonia. The ammonia is highly toxic to fish and other organisms. Then after the ammonia reaches a peak point, it will start dropping down and forming nitrite, which starts a new group of bacteria to grow and consume the nitrites as food. Eventually the ammonia drops to zero, the nitrite level peaks and then begins to drop, by which point nitrates will start to show up. Once this happens you can pretty much add some fish to your tank. My ammonia level reached 3ppm and then leveled off. My whole cycle actually only took 1.5 weeks until my ammonia and nitrites were zero and I had a nitrate of 30ppm. This was probably largely due to me getting some live rock that was cured from my local fish store (LFS) and sticking it in my HOB filter and also filling up with 10 gallons of ocean water. I went out and got a Percula Clownfish after another day of zero ammonia and nitrites and doing a 50% water change.

My Percula Clownfish

Now, some people suggest waiting another week or two before actually adding fish – my question to those people is why? If the bacteria do not get a constant supply of food (organic matter), it will die and the whole cycle process will be for nothing or the biological filter will be weakened so even adding one fish might cause a spike.

Anyways, with the clownfish in there (I call it Nemers) and the cycle being done I began to see a brown algae bloom. The brown algae are really just diatoms which have their structure made out of silicon instead of carbon like you and I. I went ahead and got a CUC of about 20 snails, 15 hermit crabs, a cleaner shrimp, and a peppermint shrimp.

A Nassarius Snail looking for food

My Peppermint Shrimp and Red Legged Hermit Crab

In about no time though, my diatom bloom was getting pretty out of control and even my clean up crew couldn’t even keep up. I kept the 12hr lighting cycle because I’d rather have brown everywhere than having nitrates show up. My original fill and also first water change was all done with conditioned tap water and ocean water which probably contained a ton of phosphates and silica. I switched to Reverse Osmosis (R.O.) water after it finished cycling and the diatom bloom shrunk very rapidly with some daily water changes for about a week. I also switched out my Aqua C Remora HOB skimmer for a Octopus 200 which sits snugly (it is HUGE) in my sump. I took out the junk power heads that it came with and replaced it with a higher flowing but low wattage Koralia 4. With my sump pump and the koralia I probably have around 2000gph turn over after headloss from the sump return pump. Lastly, I moved the HOB filter and put it in my refugium and removed the filter floss which just added nitrates even with daily cleaning and placed some LR in there.

My Saltwater Aquarium Equipment & Livestock:

  • 1500gph return pump
  • Koralia 4
  • Octopus 200 Protein Skimmer
  • Marineland Stealth Heater
  • 9w UV Sterilizer
  • Phosphate Reactor
  • Marineland Powerhead (will be replacing it soon with something smaller. I just use it for vacuum for the siphon system)
  • Aqueous 10g HOB Filter
  • 250W x2 Metal Halide
  • 40W x2 (One 10k w/Actinic and one Daylight) VHO
  • Moonlight
  • 23W bulb for refugium

My Sixline Wrasse named Plexi

After constant 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, 0 nitrate readings I decided to add another fish and some easy coral. I went ahead and got a six line wrasse (so much personality and also a pain because it eats my CUC), and some purple mushroom coral. The six line seemed to be happy right away after being drip acclimated to the tank for about an hour. The mushroom coral took about an hour to open up fully. In just about 1.5 weeks, they have grown a considerable amount from what they were at the LFS to in my tank. They are too crowded together now and they fold up a bit to stop overlapping each other.

My purple mushroom coral

Pretty soon my diatom bloom was being taken over by some more welcomed green algae. I didn’t even use any phosphate remover in my phosphate reactor. The water fill ups and changes with RO water was enough to do the job.The skimmer also seems to be doing a really good job at keeping the nitrates down because even the green algae isn’t really showing up and my nitrates are daily at 0ppm. With things seeming to be fairly stable and monitoring my dKH and Calcium, I decided to add a few more corals and also another fish.

My zoanthid rock

My Pulsating Xenia

I had decided to keep going with the easy to keep corals and bought a bunch of zoanthids. My LFS had a large rock with 3 different species of zoanthids on it and it also had a few hitchhikers in it as well that the six-line ate. There was also a small rock with a good sized Pulsating Xenia that I had to snatch before anyone else did. Lastly, I also got a Bullet Goby to keep my sand clean but I seem to have to supplement his feedings a good bit right now so I probably got him too early since my substrate has almost no food for it. It also stays hidden whenever I show up so I couldn’t really get a good picture of it.

My Bullet Goby Hidding

My Green Zoa Frag

I also paid for a cool looking green Zoa frags that day and had them hold it at the LFS until my tank was a bit more stable instead of just adding it right away. I got it put in yesterday and all of its polyps open up with joy.

My Saltwater Tank

First Saltwater Month Conclusions and Water Parameters

So that is pretty much my tank for now. It’s been a pretty good introduction to saltwater. Reading a lot of books and forums has really helped me start off pretty well. I hope my algae doesn’t get out of hand. I began to have some cyanobacteria show up but a slight adjustment of the Koralia and it hasn’t come back. My water parameters as of today are:

  • Ammonia – 0ppm
  • Nitrite – 0ppm
  • Nitrate – 0ppm
  • pH – 8.2
  • Hardness – 8.5dKH
  • Calcium – 400ppm
  • Phosphate – 0ppm
  • Salinity – 1.024
  • Temperature – 78*F

One of the next things I plan on doing other than changing out the marineland powerhead is to actually paint the background on instead of using that plastic which sucks.


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