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How do you know you're doing things right?

less than bread

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less than bread

I think a better title for this might be WHEN do you know you're doing things right? Tank health is obviously very complex. There are things that can harm/kill reef dwellers very quickly but also things that seem to kill them very slowly. I have been in this hobby for 6 months (feels a lot longer) and up to this point I feel I have been successful, but from experienced reefers, can I honestly say that I've been successful at this point yet? From peoples' experiences that have been doing this a lot longer than me, how long into a tank do you typically see things go wrong.


I guess maybe what I'm getting at is do you see a typical threshold period of time after setting up a tank where many problems occur and if a reefer makes it past that point they are "in the clear" for lack of a better term (obviously you always need to put in the work and keep on top of things, just using "in the clear" as more of a relative term)?

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For me, success is measured when i can see my fish and corals growing and not dying.. lol  

Every living thing in your tank has it's own particular needs and if your able to meet them all and see them propagate, that's success in my eyes..  

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2 hours ago, less than bread said:

I think a better title for this might be WHEN do you know you're doing things right? 

My limited experience ( about 10 months ) you know when things look good and parameters are stable.  


I felt like things were going quite well for about 6 months ... I wasn't doing any testing.  I never got an ugly phase in my tank and I started with dry rock & 1 fish. Picked up a few cheap frags locally that didn't thrive much but didn't die either.   Then I got whomped over the head with DINO's for a couple of months.  UGLY.  Started testing is where I found 0 Nitrates / 0 Phosphates  - and I had to learn / adjust my tank habits.


It really depends on the tank you're making. 


If you just want a FOWLR, water changes and keeping salinity & Temp stable will probably keep you in simple world ok. If you heavily stock - may need to add Protein skimmer


If You're going for a Reef Aquarium, the High intensity reef light with nutrient imbalances (  low or high ) can cause things to get out of whack and cause headaches. If you have corals, they will tell you when they are happy and water conditions are good, but testing water weekly for basics Alk / Phos / Nitrate will give you a clue - if things go a bit haywire. 


Just always strive to learn more and grow your knowledge / skill and you'll be fine.


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6 hours ago, Jakesaw said:

My limited experience ( about 10 months )

Speaking generally, not about your experience, I think most reefers go through an "adjustment" of one kind or another around this time frame...let's call it "about 1-2 years in".


Bad habits, whatever flavor they may be, have had enough time to accrue by this point...even if the effects in any moment were low and subtle.


You can also be a victim of your own success....which is what I think your situation is @Jakesaw.  


Doesn't sound to me like you had "bad habits" per se, but you just hadn't experienced the changes that come with LOTS OF GROWTH.  Your tank literally ran out of fuel.  Importantly it's not a mystery to you what happened.  (No testing when you needed it...no "feel" for it yet.)


On the whole I like @DevilDuck's answer to your (oops) @less than bread's thread because it accounts for all possible variables.  If you're having a miserable time, you're probably doing it wrong!  And unless you're strange, you should be doing it correctly if you're having a good time at it. 😉 🙂 

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3 minutes ago, mcarroll said:

Doesn't sound to me like you had "bad habits" per se,

Ii had Fresh Water tank habits. 


Was trying to use the eazy Button but it was broken!

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I think even if you’re doing it right, and still being relatively new to it, what you will gain over long term are experiences that show you what you enjoy and what you don’t and how you make it work for you. 

No one puts a rock in the middle of a 10 gallon and is happy with that for the rest of their lives. You’ll change tank sizes multiple times to figure out what works best for the space it’s in. Maybe you want a shallow tank because you also like to look down into the tank or you don’t like to go past your elbow when working in the tank. You might try a rockwall scape, double island, arch, etc. and realize one is easier to clean, one  creates more coral space, one creates more swim space, etc. 

I got back in with a pico since I moved a few years ago just to test the space in my house and it’s quirks and to figure out what I think will be the optimal upgrade. And to test my wife out for a little while before I do. 
Things I’ve learned long after I knew what I was doing, in no specific order:

- I don’t want to do more than a 5 gallon bucket of water change. 
- I like long and/or shallow tanks. 
- I don’t like to go past my elbow in a tank. 
- I still haven’t settled on a specific scape and am always exploring that. 
- Certain corals that are easy for me might be difficult to others and vice versa and I’ll probably never know why. 
- Heat and salinity control are the biggest contributing factor of stability that can be fully automated so you can focus on other things. Heat controller and ATO. 
- I don’t like sumps. I feel like AIO are quieter, the cabinet underneath stays dry and cleaner and can be used for a lot of storage. I’m afraid of flooding no matter how well it’s plumbed. 
- I hate lids. The clean look of an open rimless tank makes it more of an artwork. I like to look down into the tank. Gas exchange is better without one. The fish might jump. 
- Dip everything that can be dipped before going into your tank. 
- Nano-Reef is so important because nobody in your regular life really wants to hear about it. 


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If your corals are growing after you've had them in your tank for 6 months, you are able to handle the normal problems that come with ecological succession as your tank begins to mature, know how changes you are making will affect your tank looking forward in the following weeks and months (and then have that happen), and your parameters are reasonably stable over that time period, you can pretty confidently say you are doing things right.


For the first 1-2 months a coral is in your tank, it's success, growth, and coloration has pretty much nothing to do with how you are doing things and is more of a product of how the source tank was doing so long as you aren't actively killing them. After that, the coral starts adjusting to your tank and over the next few months is where you see the most change in color and growth. If you still have good color and growth once you reach that 6 month mark when the health of a coral is totally in your hands, you know you are doing things right.


On the flip side, having a coral absolutely thriving for a couple of months and then have it decline over the next few months isn't a sign that you were doing things correctly and then something went wrong - it's a sign you were never doing them right in the first place.

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IME, this is not a matter of threshold in time, maturation, or inhabitants' health. Things can start going wrong at any time, for some even after decades of experience with largest highest end tanks. You will learn from experience,  researching solutions for every problem you  encounter, each tank has own specifics. What works for some or even majority not necessarily will work for you.


Building biodiversity and maintaining a delicate balance are most important, not incessant hardware upgrade in hope that this will solve all possible problems, this is not something that money could buy. Years and even more years later you can encounter some new problem in the tank that needs a solution to find.


I have 3 picos, most stable and reliable one spiraled down once I didn't look there for long enough time, being occupied this planning, getting, doing and moving the 2nd one in the improved 3rd. Now dealing with consequences.

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