These are just a few things off the top of my head to aid new reefers. This hobby can have its up’s and down’s, so its important to plan ahead and accordingly. These are only recommendations, not requirements. There are million different ways to build a successful reef.
1. Place a powerhead in sump. The powerhead will help keep detritus waste in suspension making it easier for skimmer and corals to take up. You should also make it a habit to stir up any detritus that has settled in sump at least once a week. People often neglect this simple chore and it creates problems down the road as the waste builds up. I have a Tunze 6045 in my sump and it keeps all waste and particles in suspension.
2. Keep your lighting systems as clean as possible. You should make it a habit to clean your reflectors, bulbs, etc at least once a month. Even a little salt spray can reduce lighting but up to 30%! Also, if you’re running Metal Halides please check the bulbs for any cracks or warping. The UV leaking from a cracked Metal Halide can absolutely wipe out any corals under it in no time at all.
3. Carbon. I highly recommended that everyone run carbon, either in a mesh bag in the sump or in a Phosban reactor. If you run it in a mesh bag replace it once a month, in a reactor replace it every 2-4 weeks. Carbon is the simplest and easiest way to maintain a healthy and thriving reef system. Without carbon, Compounds such as yellow phenol can build up. Yellow Phenol is great at absorbing light, thus reducing the amount of PAR reaching your corals. Carbon is also good at removing compounds released by corals. Corals can and will release compounds to fend off other corals in the tank, the carbon will help keep all stress and damage to a minimum. Carbon is also a good insurance policy as it will absorb any harmful chemicals and contaminants that can enter the tank, such as aerosol air fresheners.
4. Create a routine and stick with it. Once a month you should clean out any detritus in the sump, clean ALL powerheads, pumps, probes, and inspect all equipment for defects. A dirty power head has been found to reduce performance, in some cases up to 40%+.
5. Account for everything that you put into the system. Chemicals and compounds build up over time and need to be accounted for. You must find a proper method to export the food and chemicals that are put into the system. Water changes work well and are probably the simplest method of halting the build up of harmful compounds. A refugium is also a good idea and it will aborb and process nutrient and may give off compounds that are beneficial to some corals. Bacterial driven systems such as Zeovit, Prodibio, and Fauna Marin are also good methods for keep parameters in line. Personally, I do daily additions of bacteria and a carbon source(Vodka). I have found a bacterial driven system along with a large skimmer to be the most efficient and cost effective means of keeping nutrients in line.
6. Get the biggest skimmer you can accommodate. I believe that a protein skimmer is one of the most important parts of a healthy reef system. The skimmer I have on my system is rated for 3-4 times more then my system volume. With a larger simmer you can keep a higher bio load and effectively keep the nutrients down. The skimmer will help add oxygen to your system and is a good insurance policy against unforeseen events in the system.
7. Plan ahead when purchasing and placing corals in your system. All to often, people pack more corals into their tanks then they can support. In the beginning this fine but corals soon grow and problems arise. Corals can chemically detect the presence of surrounding corals, and if corals are too close this will stunt their growth. I found the best success with giving corals ample space to grow stress free. when considering what corals to put in your tank, take the time to look up what they will look like as they mature. Do you really want a monster montipora cap. taking over your reef? This brings me to coral placement. By knowing what a coral will look like when it matures you can place it accordingly. obviously you would not want a Montipora cap. placed high up in the tank, as this will only lead to corals beneath it to eventually die due to lack of light from the shade.
8. Backup Power. While I hope that you’ll never need to use one, a backup source of power can save your system from certain disaster. A generator powerful enough to power the heaters and powerheads is usually all you would need for a power outage lasting 1-2 days. So long as the aquarium has adequate flow and heat the inhabitants will be fine. Anything longer than 3 days and you would be looking for a larger generator to power lighting, as the corals will now be starting to brown out. If you are running EcoTech Vortech pumps a great insurance policy against power outages would be the EcoTech Battery Backup.
9. Keep Fresh Saltwater on Standby. Mishaps can occur in the life of a reef aquarium. You could accidentally dose too much of a given element, a clan may spawn, or some other chemical agent may have gotten into the system. I would recommend that you keep at least 25% of the aquariums volume in fresh saltwater on standby. I have always had at least 60 gallons of fresh saltwater on standby for water changes and mishaps. Yes, it will add to the expense of the hobby, as the water will need to be heated, housed, and circulated. But, I cant tell you how many time the fresh saltwater has prevented a major disaster.
10. Dip your Corals. These days, there are many pests floating around the hobby. From AEFW to Red Bugs, one can never be too careful when introducing a new coral into your system. Personally, I use ReVive Coral Cleaner. While Revive will take care of Red Bugs and live AEFW, it will not have an affect on AEFW eggs. For This reason, I prefer fresh cut Acropora fragments. This way, I know that I am not importing any pests or algae into my system.
11. Combat Chronically Low Ph. A simple method for combating low Ph is to run a refugium on a reverse light cycle. The added benefit of this is that you will also be reducing P04 levels. The refugium lights should come on 30 minutes after the main system lights have gone off. The refugium lighting should run for the duration of the night, and turn off 30 minutes before the sun rises on your reef.
12. Write Things Down. Its easy to forget when you replaced a light bulb or changed out your carbon. The simplest solution is to keep a record of any changes you have made to the system. I used to keep a written log near my system as a reminder to change out certain components. With the advent of smart phone it is now much easier to keep track of system. There are many built in applications that will allow you log and set reminders for maintenance items such as replacing light bulbs and carbon.
13. Stock up on Vinegar. One of the best investments for your system is vinegar. From cleaning calcium build up on pumps to helping feed bacteria in your system, vinegar does it all.
14. Proper Feeding Protocol. One other thing I feel that needs to be addressed is proper feeding protocol:
From what I have seen and read, people overfeed their tanks. I feed my fish every other day. My fish are fat and happy, and I have never had any issues even with the Anthais I have. If you do not keep up with a means of waste export, such as PO$ remover, Bacteria/carbon dosing, or water changes you stand the risk of having reduced corals health and an algae outbreak.
Now, how much you feed your fish is just as important as how often. Some people feed their fish five times a day and their systems look great. I suspect that they are feeding very small amounts of food, or that they are diligent about exporting waste. Unfortunately, not all reefers are as diligent and they quickly end up having issue related to elevated waste. For those who just cant get corals to grow or color up to the desired level I suggest that you rethink what,how, and when you are feeding.
15. Keep It Simple. The simpler your system, the better. All to often we tend to over-think and complicate our setups. With more components come more opportunities for things to go wrong. Focus on water flow, lighting, and nutrient export. A reef aquarium should be enjoyable and not a job or laborious task. Have fun, and try not to make too many changes at once.
Well, I hope that this list will help reefers, new and experienced. I will be adding to this list from time to time.