Develop a Successful
Reef Keeping Strategy
In this monthly column I hope to guide
you, from start to finish, on how to create and maintain a
successful reef tank. In this first article I want to describe
my personal philosophy for reef keeping success.
Develop a successful reef keeping strategy.
Plan for today and tomorrow
If there is one thing you can do to better your chances for
a successful reef tank, it is to develop a solid reef keeping
strategy before you step foot in to your local fish store
or place that first on-line order for equipment
It is all too easy to start a reef tank
without taking in to consideration the needs of the animals
that you want to keep, and the requirements to keep them healthy
for many years to come.
How many new reef keepers walk in to their local fish store
or watch a television program and at that moment they decide
that they want to keep a reef tank? That happens to many more
people than you think, including myself.
A little history about a new reef keeper:
Me. I happened to walk in to one of the local fish shops,
near my house, to buy some food for my freshwater fish that
I was keeping at the time. As I walked down the isle in the
store I noticed an area in the back of the store that had
these very brightly colored fish and strange looking plants.
I quickly asked the store owner, "what is that fish and
what are those plant looking things in those tanks?"
and he said "saltwater fish and corals". From that
very moment in time I was suddenly hooked on the hobby and
that very day came home with a brand new tank, heater, a bag
of salt. Then my fun began. Without any idea of what to do
and armed with the advice of my LFS owner I had a saltwater
tank. I had no plan except to have fish and corals in my tanks
as soon as possible. Needless to say I was not the most successful
reef tank owner and considered leaving the hobby many times
in my first year because of the continuous failures that I
Since then, I have learned that I have
to develop a detailed strategy before setting up a reef tank
if I want to be successful. Even though things do not always
go the way that we plan them, if we have a good strategy from
the beginning it will help keep our mistakes and failures
to a minimum.
Let's get started on our reef keeping strategy.
Choose the types of animals
that you want to keep.
One of the most important things to consider when setting
up a reef tank is the type of animals that you want to keep.
This area, in particular, will have the biggest impact on
your success or failure as a reef keeper. You must start by
choosing the animals that you would like to keep, and then
research all of their needs and requirements before you purchase
Researching the needs of the animals up
front will save you time, money and great frustration. More
importantly, it will not cause the needless death of these
spectacular creatures because of poor planning or incompatible
equipment or animals.
If you like Tangs or other large fish you
must be willing to give them the space that they need to stay
healthy in captivity. A 20 gallon tank with a Tang is not
an option and even if you see others doing it, it does not
mean that it is the right thing to do or healthy for the animal.
If you want to keep SPS (Small Polyp Stony) corals but do
not want to invest in high-powered lighting you should consider
different types of corals. There are many other do's and do
not's which we will discuss in the coming months.
A few questions to ask yourself:
|Do the fish that you want
keep require certain sized tanks?
|Do the fish require specific
diets that you are willing to provide for them?
|Do the corals have special
lighting requirements and can you afford the equipment,
increased electric costs and can you deal with the heat
that they produce?
|Do you have the time to
dedicate to your animals for required feeding and maintenance
to keep them healthy?
|If you are away from your
tank, for periods of time, do you have someone who can
care for your animals in your absence?
|Can you afford the animals
While those sound like simple questions
they are very important to the health of your animals and
if you ask them up front you will save yourself a great deal
Having patience is a very important aspect in the reef keeping
hobby, which we all must follow, if we want to be successful.
Like fine wine and vintage cars, your reef tank will not be
built in a day. It will not be built in a week, a month, or
a year, because it is a constantly evolving system. Many reef
keepers feel that a reef tank is not considered mature for
many years after the initial setup so do not expect that your
tank will be finished in a day. There are so many complex
processes at work from the initial cycle to the point to where
the tank becomes a stable, miniature ecosystem that there
is no way possible for it to happen quickly.
In the short time that I have been keeping
reef tanks, I have found that my single biggest mistake was
trying to create a world class reef tank in a very short time.
I have lost many incredible fish and corals due to my own
shortsightedness and impatience, and I do not want any of
you to go through that same frustration. While there are some
things that will shorten the length of time that it takes
to setup your tank, you cannot shorten the one critical thing,
time. It takes time for the tank to become stable and
I do not want to discourage anyone from starting in the reef
keeping hobby, but I will be honest and say that this is not
a low budget hobby. Depending on the size of the tank and
the animals that you want to keep this hobby may be very expensive,
as both I and my wife can tell you. It is very easy to spend
hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the equipment and
animals depending upon what type of reef tank you desire.
There are many ways to save money by building
equipment yourself, but if you are not capable of doing so,
most of your equipment will come from mail order suppliers
or your local fish store. Many of the animals that we desire
can also be very expensive. While you may save money by purchasing
your livestock from reputable mail order sources, you have
the added expense of shipping, which may easily cost as much
or more than the livestock itself.
The most common mistake that I see in this hobby is the constant
purchase of inadequate equipment with the intention of replacing
or upgrading it in the future. I constantly see questions
on Reef Central from new hobbyists asking " is skimmer
X is okay for my tank for now?". For now, normally
means that the new hobbyist is purchasing equipment as they
go along, or in a crisis, and has not created the game plan
that I described above. I can speak from experience in this
area because I also started out in this hobby by purchasing
low cost or inadequate equipment and soon found that it did
not fit my needs. Suddenly I had a crawl space full of junk
equipment and I spent sometimes double or triple what I would
have if I had just sat down and planned things out.
Unfortunately, in this hobby, the costs of many products do
equate to the performance and quality of the equipment. One
the other side of the coin, there are some advanced hobbyists
that produce reef related equipment, which rivals or surpasses
the performance of many name brand products at a substantial
While you may keep a smaller aquarium, which will reduce the
overall cost, you must be willing to realize the limitations
of the system on animals that you can keep. You must also
pay very close attention to details, such as water parameters,
because of the reduced volume.
One of the costs that few new reef keepers
think about is the time involved with maintaining a reef tank.
I have spent countless hours doing water changes, installing
equipment, mounting corals, and many other time related tasks
involved in keeping a healthy reef tank. For the first three
years that I was in the hobby, I did not go away on vacation
because I did not have anyone to look after my tanks while
I was away. Even now that I have a very competent tank sitter,
I will only go away for only one day at a time. There are
ways to automate your tank to help relive some of the issues
of being away from your tank, but those have a cost related
to them. The key here is to try to define the system that
you desire up front so that you can buy the proper equipment
once and save yourself a great deal of money and frustration
in the long run.
A few more questions to ask yourself:
|Can you afford the proper
tank and equipment that you have chosen?
|Can you afford the animals
that you have chosen?
|Can you afford the increased
electric costs associated with larger tanks?
|Can you afford that time
that it takes to maintain your tank?
Again, these are simple questions but they
are also important. Even though some of the questions are
not related to monetary costs you need to be sure that you
can afford the hobby.
Do your homework!
Another key to a successful tank is doing your research
up front. With the Internet, we now have a huge amount of
information at our fingertips. There are hundreds of reef
tanks that we can look at and learn about which will help
us choose the type of tanks and animals that we want to keep.
There is also a great number of high quality books
that are just loaded with information about livestock and
equipment. One of the most valuable resources that I found
was the various message boards. Some of these, such as the
one here at Reef
Central, even have forums
dedicated to the new reef keeper. Here you can ask all of
your reef keeping questions. Do not be afraid to ask questions,
and you can even choose a mentor
to help you with your reef tank. When I first started in the
hobby I was following the advice of my LFS owner and did not
realize that I could have avoided most, if not all, of my
original mistakes if I would have just done my homework.
After doing your initial research, you may now go about choosing
the animals that you want to keep. You can decide if you are
able meet the requirements that they have, based on the particular
animals, and cost in both money and time. Also, you have a
few places to start your research to accomplish your goals
of a successful reef tank.
Be sure to come back next month when we
will create a detailed checklist on the various equipment
needed to start our tank.