General knowledge of the reef:
Before you start to set up your aquarium it is important to know what you are getting into. Keeping a nano reef can be quite pricey and time consuming at times. Before setting up a tank be sure to make sure you have the time, money, and commitment to keeping an aquarium. Despite the previously stated, keeping nano reefs can and will be an amazing experience.
What you will need:
Before you can dive into keeping a nano aquarium you must collect some supplies first. Remember that in reefing you get what you pay for so be sure to purchase quality products. Research your purchases in advance here on the forums to see how other hobbyists review them.
Here is the bare minimum of what you will need:
Powerhead or wave maker
Quality reef lighting
Sand (unless you are going bare bottom)
RO/DI water or distilled water
Reef aquarium salt mix
Below are some things I recommend, but are not absolutely necessary:
Aquarium lid or screen cover
Purigen, carbon, or other filter media
Automatic top-off system for evaporation
Sump for external filtration
Extra tank and supplies for quarantine
Basic medications (if you plan to keep fish)
Finally you have everything you need and are dying to set up your aquarium! I highly recommend leak testing your tank before setting it up, just use tap water for the test. Once your tank is drained from the leak test you'll be ready start by adding live rock to your tank in a way that is visually appealing, but also that is sturdy. Some people recommend placing the rocks on plastic egg crate grids to make them more stable. Be sure to leave enough space between the rocks and the sides of the aquarium for easy cleaning. Next, add your live sand (if you are adding sand) to about 1.5 to 2 inches of depth. After adding the sand, begin to add your heater, filter, etc. but do not plug them in yet. Now, begin to add saltwater pouring it in slowly in order to avoid extremely cloudy water from the sand. If you are not using pre-mixed saltwater you will first need to mix in the appropriate amount of reef salt with RO/DI or distilled water before adding it to the tank. Finally, plug in the appliances and wait for the sand to settle. You’ve successfully set up your first nano reef!
Some of the most common mistakes in keeping a reef aquarium are moving to fast, not doing enough research, and not setting their tank up correctly. Remember keeping an aquarium is not a race or a competition so take your time and move slowly. The most common advice given on starting a nano reef is to research, research, and research, then to research more. This advice should not be taken lightly and can help to ensure you piece of the reef stays happy and healthy all the time. The simpler mistakes in nano reefing are things within the tank setup. Remember to make sure your heater is working all the time and that the temperature is not fluctuating. Another good thing to do is to test your salinity and water parameters at least weekly if not more. When placing your powerhead or wave maker in the tank make sure it is facing slightly down without stirring the sand, but rippling the surface of the water. This allows for the proper oxygen exchange that is vital for all sea life.
Cycling the tank:
An important thing to remember after setting up your tank is to let the tank cycle before you anything to your tank. Yep, I mean everything: no snails, crabs, or fish until the tank is done cycling. A brief summary of cycling your tank is that the tank is going through the nitrogen cycle. The tank will produce the toxic ammonia, convert the ammonia into nitrites, and finally convert the nitrites into less toxic nitrates. When you have zero ammonia, zero nitrites, and under ten nitrates it is safe to assume your tank is done cycling.
Finding a good aquarium store:
Before you can start adding things to your tank you should find a quality aquarium store where you can go for advice as well as livestock. You should look for a store that is under a hour away from you with good reviews. The store should be clean with healthy looking livestock and friendly staff member that are willing to provide strong advice regarding your nano reef. If there are no stores like this in your area buying online is always an option. Please note that if you choose this option there will be an additional cost for shipping and you will need to home for delivery. Some of my favorite online stores are, Cultivated Reef, Vivid Aquariums, and Live Aquaria.
Adding your first inhabitants:
So your tank has cycled and you have found a quality source for livestock. You are ready to start adding livestock to your tank! I like to add things like snails and crabs first, then fish, and finally coral. Be sure to not overstock your tank and to only add at most two things per week. Furthermore, it is not recommended to add 6 fish into a 10 gallon tank all at one time. Not only is that way to many fish for such a small tank, but they were also added all at once. You should also stick to beginner fish/corals/inverts to start. Here's a list of easy inhabitants to start with:
Maintaining the reef:
Your tank has finally been set up and has been thriving for the past few week to months. It is important to continue to move slow and do your research. Make sure to complete partial water changes at least every 2 weeks if not more often, and to test your water regularly. Also be sure to monitor your tank for any signs of disease or weakness. And most importantly enjoy your magnificent piece of the reef.
Happy reef keeping!!!!!!