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Ok, at least im not a newbie about fish keeping since i breeded guppies for 3 years or so, but this is my first saltwater tank. I have to make the whole tank low budget since im too young to work and my dad has to pay for most of it :-P .


Anyway, I stuck with my 20 gallon horizantal tank that my guppies used to live in and cleaned it out well. I kept my carbon filter and some decor and a heater but that's about it. I bought crushed coral subtrate, 2 live rocks, a powerhead, and a protein skimmer with the help of a nice petco dude. So my first problem already came up when the protein skimmer was to large to fit in the tank (like it was sticking out of the top since the tank is big longways). We had to cut a whole in the hood so it would fit, but I think im using it wrong because there are salt deposits all around the back of the tank and the table the tank is placed on. Is this normal??


I waited maybe 2 weeks or so and added a $5 damsel and a red shrimp. Big mistake... I learned that saltwater takes much longer to cycle than fresh and he died, but the shrimp lived. Since then I did a whole lot of reaserch and I bought a full saltwater test kit. Since then, I've been testing and waiting, testing and waiting...


Right now i have the red shrimp and a few little hermit crabs in my tank. Today I was filling up my tank with new water (dechlorinated of course) and noticed hundreds of little white crab-like creatures in my tank and a snail!! A little reasech told me they where lil pods and harmless, but is it true that this means that my tank is doing good, but according to the tests it isn't done cycling. That lead me to this site.


Today's Test Results:

PH: 8.1

Ammonia: 0.50

Nitrite: 0

Nitrate: 60-100 (in the middle)


This was before the water change. I'm happy about the nitrite because it has spiked and settled to 0 already, but im guessing the Nitrate isn't done spiking. So, my other question was, when do you think I could put in fish? Also, I do want to make it a reef tank, but Ive heard i need special lighting? Is it true? Are there some coral that does not need special lighting?



My 20 gallon tank (currently) *i made room for the new LR that im gonna buy*"


My banded coral shrimp (hes so funny!) and a hermit crab


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Get ready to be flamed...

but i will resist...saltwater tank keepers don't like fake decor.


But instead of writing a book here...go to the library or book store and buy a book on reef/saltwater fish tank keeping. Or there really are some good threads here and on other sites that describe most aspects of reef keeping.


This is really a hobby that has many variables. The trick is to research the crap out of it to minimize your mistakes. They're going to happen but they are costly and remember that corals and fish are living creatures and where they come from.



you may want to wait to get into this hobby due to your lack of incoming cash flow...it does get costly.


good luck.

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Welcome to the hobby! First off, you're off to a better than average start - you've got some live rock, and the Petco guy didn't talk you into buying fish at the same time as the tank.


The best advice to give is to start reading. Go pick up some books at your local fish store or book store and read, because there is a lot to know if you want a successful reef tank that is going to flourish.


As far as basic advice goes, let me get started. Seeing as you bred guppies, I figure you know how the chemical cycle that rules your aquarium care goes. Fish and other life produces waste or dies, produces toxic ammonia, bacteria convert ammonia into toxic nitrite, bacteria convert nitrite into much less toxic nitrate. Right? Okay.


Your main source of the bacteria that convert deadly stuff into not-so-deadly stuff should be live rock, in a reef tank. You don't have nearly enough of that. The general equation that I always hear is 1lb of live rock per gallon of tank water. So you're going to probably want another 17lbs or so of live rock, and it'll probably be expensive, but it's really the most important thing you can put in your tank. Live rock comes covered in these natural toxin-eating bacteria, and once it cycles (yes, you'll probably have another, smaller, cycle, since a lot of that bacteria dies during transport) it will function with far more effeciency than your power filter. In fact, you can then take your filter out all together.


Now, you've already put critters in, and it's too late to do anything about that, but the nifty thing about live rock is that it cycles by itself. You should never put anything more advanced than those bacteria into a cycling tank. Your tank params should be 0.00 ammonia, 0.00 nitrite, and as low nitrate as you can get before anything else alive goes in. Fresh water tanks and fish-only tanks allow a bit more nitrate than reef tanks, but if you want coral, nitrates from 0-10ppm are essential, with 0 being the goal.


This low, low nitrate count is reached through controlled, limited feeding, a good protein skimmer, and frequent (weekly) water changes.


You didn't mention what brand your skimmer was, but the bad news is, that if Petco sold it to you, it prooobably is a crappy one. It'll do for awhile, but you'll eventually want to research skimmers and get yourself a better one if yours is a poor brand. Sorry. :(


As far as light goes, it is very true that corals need special lighting. They come from the ocean, obviously, where they get nothing but natural sunlight, and the sun is the most intense light you'll ever see. Notice how you feel like you're getting burnt just standing under the sun on a bright day? Try that with your lights, and you'll see the difference in intensity.


There are a few types of lights that work for reefs. The cheapest are power compact flourescents - they're like yours, except the light tubes are bent back several times, creating more light and intensity in the same area of space. For your tank, PCs are the best bet. You can get the same setup I run on my 20l - a Current USA PC hood with dual 65watt bulbs for around $120, if I recall correctly. That'll be all the light you ever need, unless you really get into this hobby and want to keep stoney corals or clams, or other extremely high-light critters. At that point you'd probably want to upgrade to T-5 or Metal Halide lighting, but don't worry about those (very expensive) things now.


For now, I recommend you go out as soon as possible and round out your 20lbs or so of liverock. Keep your heater set to 78ish. Make sure your PH is around 8.3, although this will fluctuate a lot while you're still cycling. Once that live rock is in your tank, sit back, relax, test the water daily, and don't do a single thing (except feed your shrimp, if he is still alive) until your ammonia is ZERO and your nitrites are ZERO. Your nitrates will fall with frequent water changes.


Most importantly? Go buy some books. A couple of them, cause every author will have a slightly different opinion. But get reading, because there is a lot to learn if you want a nice tank.


Good luck!


*edit* Oh, and all that salt build-up is called "salt creep". It's completely normal. Just clean it up with a damp rag whenever you see it. If it builds up on plugs or the like, it can cause fires, so be a bit cautious.

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That is a banded coral shrimp--it may harm small fish. You need more LR--I'd recommend about 20 lbs. The salt deposits need to be regularly washed off with a sponge. You need to get your nitrates down.

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for typical reef tanking, you'd need 'special' lighting (intensity and spectrum issues). i'd suggest you look over the FAQ/Info sections to see the lighting requirements you'd need for most corals. while there are some non-photosynthetic ones but they're usually more difficult imo (as they need more care/maintenance than lighting).


the salt deposits are normal. 'salt creep' is a natural result of splash and evaporation involving saltwater.


i'd hold off on adding fish until the nitrate starts lowering into the <40 range. i'm a little surprised the shrimp isn't lethargic or keeling over with nitrates hitting in the 100-range but sometimes they're tough.


i'd recommend a basic reef or saltwater book as your next purchase. it'll likely go over many issues more step-by-step than what you can normally find around here. on the other hand, this forum (and others) are probably more info-packed than any book out on the market imo. distilling that info out takes time and patience though. a book, while not 100% inclusive, would be a good foundation for you though.


good luck and welcome to the hobby!

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Wow!! Thanks soo much guys! You have no idea how much that helped!! I knew I needed LR because my tank looks completly empty (thats why i put the two random decor peices lol), so I'm going to buy the 20 or so pounds of it tonight. I am kind of surprised my banded coral shrimp (thanks Magelvs!) is thriving. And i am planning to buy a new skimmer, the one i have now was only $60 (Lee's Counter Current Protein Skimmer). Planning to go to the library soon too :-P . Again, thanks for all of your help you guys!! Ill keep updating this though incase something comes up :)

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And i am planning to buy a new skimmer, the one i have now was only $60 (Lee's Counter Current Protein Skimmer).


holy... :blink: i hope you're not talking about the lee's cc skimmer that costs around $20 online. start shopping dry goods online and reserve live purchases or emergencies to the lfs.


the lee's might be a crappy little skimmer but frankly it's probably ok for your setup at the moment (low bioload). save your money for now and don't get anything else until you determine what you'd really like to have. then you can plan around that central target, e.g. anemone, sps coral, a particular fish, zoanthids, etc.

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Yep, thats the one ^-^.


I took your advice and I've been searching around amazon.com, marine depot.com, and a whole lot of other online aquarium websites for a protein skimmer and new lighting. I was overwhemled by the choices and was wondering if anyone knew some good choices for my 20 gallon tank. The lighting I have right now is only a 20W floressent light. I wont buy these things for quite a while since I have to buy the LR and let it finish cycling, but i'm just trying to plan and prepare anyway :) . When it comes to appliences (things i need), the budget isn't too low, but im not looking for a $150+ light or a $200+ skimmer. Any suggestions??

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coralife super skimmer 65, or the ASM mini for skimmers. With the lighting, you may want to determine what you want to keep before you get into lighting. I would suggest going PC for right now since your starting out and I highly doubt your gonna jump right into SPS corals. There is a plethora of pc lighting fixtures that will work for you. If you have some diy skills you may want to fabricate a hood and just buy a retrofit kit, Should save you some money but cost a little more time.

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You can find good lights at marine depot--you want about 65w.


A good book that I got for less than $10 on amazon.

The New Marine Aquarium: Step-by-Steap Setup & Stocking Guide

Author: Michael S. Paletta.

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I went out and bought a really good book on probebly more than i need to know about marine aquariums. My dad flipped out when he saw the price of the LR... so still working on that lol. Hopefully he lets me keep the hobby :mellow: .


I was wondering about something with the retro fit kit. Does it come with a hood? Or do you have to drill it into your hood?? Mine only holds one floressent light, and i think it's pretty cheep so i dont think it can take any more wattage than it has right now (20W).

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I was wondering about something with the retro fit kit. Does it come with a hood? Or do you have to drill it into your hood?? Mine only holds one floressent light, and i think it's pretty cheep so i dont think it can take any more wattage than it has right now (20W).


A retrofit kit is only the bare hardware for the lights. Ballasts, cords, plugs, and sockets. Generally it'll all be hooked together to a "base" for easy installation. May or may not come with bulbs. You'll need to get a hood that it will fit into and drill it in yourself.

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A retrofit kit is only the bare hardware for the lights. Ballasts, cords, plugs, and sockets. Generally it'll all be hooked together to a "base" for easy installation. May or may not come with bulbs. You'll need to get a hood that it will fit into and drill it in yourself.


So, in your opinion, do you think it would be cheaper and more "for me" to buy a hood with the PC lights together (if there is PC hoods like that out there) or should i buy the retrofit kit and a hood (which sounds pretty complicated to me and remember i dont want SPS corals incase the kit is "pro"). I have enough time on my hands for DIY projects, so im looking for the cheepest way, not the easiest lol. Sorry if that was confusing :huh:

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Well, when I was setting up my 30g tank with Metal Halide lamps, it was much cheaper to buy a retrofit kit and actually design, build, and paint my own hood to put it in. But in the case of PC lamps, you'll almost certainly be better off with just buying a hood.


As I mentioned before, Current USA makes a hood, the Satellite, that has 2 65watt bulbs and fans all built in - more than enough light for anything but very advanced corals and clams. It's what I use on my own 20 long, and think it's a great product.



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Please do more research and reading before you buy ANYTHING else. People on this forum will help as much as possible, but it sounds like you don't even know what you want yourself.


Decide on some fish and corals you might want to keep, and then purchase accordingly with the guidance of people here, if need be. You are going to get pulled in a million directions with a million variables. You need a game plan. I did 3 months of research before I even considered ordering a tank, and I still would make different choices if I could do it again.


The best advice... find your local reefing club, check out their tanks, get a plan, and go for it. Take Dad with you, and let him take some ownership for the tank. I do this with my girlfriend and she lets me buy more :)


Don't trust the LFS. They are in business to make money, and newbs are their primary victims. They aren't bad folks, but they gotta eat too. Figure out what online dealers are charging to avoid getting fleeced.


You already rushed in, so it's damage control at this point, ie. most people here will tell you that crushed coral substrate in a reef tank is bad news...


Always remember, whatever you budget for, triple it... that is closer to what you actually be paying in the end.


Research, research, research.... and of course patience.

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I totally agree with Idog. Dont do anything else for a while. One of the things you learn with reef tanks is that patience is key. The more time you let your tank sit and mature with just live rock in it before you add fish the better.


I can tell your obviously young and on a budget since dad is has to approve your putchases. So here is what I would do. First off use whatever money you can spend and get more live rock. Forget about fish, lights, misc equiptment, etc. You already have what you need which is basic lighting, water circulation (powerhead), and live rock.


Throw all the live rock in the tank, there may be a mini cycle. Once its done cycling completely and only nitrates remain do your first water change and begin doing your regular WC's. You may also add the clean-up crew at this time as your going to be getting algae blooms.


After that just let it sit for a while. The life that will come from your rocks (known as hitchhikers in the hobby) and your shrimp will keep you entertained for atleast a month. During this month, try to get nitrates as low as possible, get used to the maintenace of the tank (ie how often to top off with RO/DI water to maintain Specific Gravity (this is the first thing you learn to keep stable) and also use the time to do as much research as you possible can. Read til your eyes fall out.


Use a quality hydro to maintain salinity, until you can afford a refractometer or digital guage in the future. The hydro will serve you well at first though.





For cheap lights that are already in a custom fixture. Check out www.aquatraders.com They sell really low budget stuff that is pretty ######ty most of the time. Dont buy skimmers, MH lighting, or anything else from them. But for PC lighting. They are great!!! Very cheap and work fine. The only good thing they offer...



Good luck with everything, I hope it all goes well. A well known saying is: "Only bad things happen fast"


So that just means take your time.


Sorry I thought of a few more things I wanted to tell you. Get rid of that stupid skimmer. First off, you paid too much (try to return it) second of all you dont need it at first. ###### if you keep up with water changes and the tank doesnt read lots of nitrates or you have low bioload you dont need it at all)


Second, do NOT go back to petco. EVER!!!!


Buy rock from the Local Fish Store.

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i agree with idog, hold off on anymore purchases, period.


research and determine what you want and then plan your setup (and allocate your budget). don't bother with anything (skimmers, LR, lighting, livestock, etc.) until you determine what you want.

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and do it right the first time if you can. dads are hard to crack, but its possible. keep working and show him pics of what your tank could look like. just dont mention the increase in the electrical bill.

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No, I know i wont buy ANYTHING other than LR for a pretty long time. I'm reading every day using books, this website, and all over the web. I'm taking that stupid skimmer out and seeing if i can get a refund (think i threw away the box :o ) I did read up and found that the crushed coral is pretty bad... but do you think its to late to change it out now? What if i mixed it with coral sand?


I actually do have a sort of game plan though. The fish that I want are 2 common clownfish and a yelllowtail damsel to start out with. Later on im planning to add a firefish and royal gramma and a wrasse. I don't want big fish at all, just small cute ones, although my dad wants to buy a peaceful threadfin butterfly or somehting. Then i would wait a month or so and get some money to buy the lighting and the skimmer and then buy the soft coral and such. I might buy an annenome earlier though for the clownfish, even though they say they dont need one to live.


But, my dad forced me to go to petco "just to make sure about the prices of live rock" and heard that they where going to have a 55 gallon salt water tank setup on sale for $250. It was tempting since the guy said there was a $150 skimmer included and everything, but i shouldnt give in right? I mean, I dont think i want a huge tank like that anyway.


Ill keep reading everyday like i have been doing and buy the LR at this amazing marine aquarium fish store and wait for now. Thanks agian for posting here! (And having to put up with me lol).


Edit: My dad already found out about the more electricity when he saw the 65W light that ill need to buy someday compared to my lil 20W. I might have to pay him monthly just for the extra money in the bill! :0

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If you want all the fish you listed, then go for the 55. Salt is unlike fresh in that you can't stock as much. One fish at a time too. The key is balancing the waste your livestock produces with your biological filtration( bacteria living in your liverock and sand). Maybe 3 or 4 small ~2 inch fish is all. You will crash your system if you add more and don't know what you are doing.


Also see if you can trade in your shrimp when you get more LR... I've a feeling he won't handle the huge ammonia spike of adding LR.


Don't even consider an anemone until your tank is up for a few months. It Will die.

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Not really planning to buy all thoes fish, just thoes are some of the ones I'm thinking of getting. And dont worry, corals and anemones are last on my list. And i am returning my shrimp for the reason you listed and because hes not a very nice shrimpy.. no no lol. He actually pinched me, and im afraid hes become territorial so IF he does survives (which is actually kinda likely because he survived a HUGE cycle before) he would fight the fish.


I went to a new marine place just to check it out because it just opened and it blew me away. The tanks where so clean and everything and the corals where brilliant. Plus, the guy was extreamly nice. I actually talked to him for 2 hours or so about fish and coral. He "gave" us a 20 dollar cupon hehe and i got 17 pounds or so of kailiny live rock. It came out to be only $80!!! Plus, he said if i turn in jacque (yes, i named the evil shrimp) i can get a cute cleaner shrimp (i saw the fish lining up to get cleaned... it was awesome) for free later.


Heres a picture of it right now... still kinda dusty from me moving around stuff. The live rock came with so many baby zoos and this one pink thing, not really sure what it is yet.


New Live Rock

One of Many Hitchhikers

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It looks like you got some base rock. Nothing wrong with it, but diversity of life may be limited on it.


This is waht good quality LR looks like:



These shots are from www.liveaquaria.com. Theyare also a good reference site.


Really good quality LR may cost up to 10$ a pound depending on where you live. LFS's that sell LR for around 3-4$ will be selling reef bones(chunks of dead coral) that have been cured in tanks with real LR. You will get hitchhikers, but not the great diversity that you may want. People use baserock to build up their reefs and put a few pounds of the expensive stuff on top.


Heres a pic of my gross tank during my cycle, baserock is underneath, the good stuff on top.


the brown crud is a diatom bloom, and you will become well aquinted with this.



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Yeah, I might resccape it later on (and when i mean later on i mean a couple of months lol) and put some expensive stuff on top, but for now i think this will do ^-^. Never knew LR could be so... colorful? Thanks so much for the pictures :D they helped alot!


Oh, and tiny question to toss out in the open. If you look at the "New Live Rock" on my last post, you can see i put the powerhead on the right- the oppisite side where all of the LR mainly is. I know different corals need different "flow rates" or something like that (forgot the term :P ) , so do you think they would get enough "flow"? Or should I move it to the other side where all the coral is. The only problem is the LR is blocking most of the flow when i put it on the left. Again, just a tiny question, if i had to judge, i think it would be fine where it is.

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The trouble with adding LR later is that depending on the amount, you can kick off a whole new cycle. There is always die off when you are dealing with LR, even if it is cured. Death=ammonia=new cycle. The cured stuff is the most $. BTW, this plan may cost you more time in the long run.


For your 20 gallon tank you will want at least 10X flow. So 200+ GPH rated pump is minimum. With a long tank like yours, you may want to split it up and have a powerhead on each side. On this site, Maxi-jets and Rio's are popular. Try to create a circulating flow and don't point the pump directly at anything ie. you could bounce it off the glass. Not enough flow will cause detritus buildup and algae blooms. It will also prevent you from getting many types of corals. Personally, I have 600GPH in my 24. As long as it's diffused and not kicking up your substrate, you are fine. If you have a simple PH left over from your FW days, you will probably need to upgrade.



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Wow, thanks so much idog. Since my powerhead didn't even come with an instructions manual, I had to look on the actually thing to find a model number and reaserch it on the internet. Found out it's 600GPH . I guess that's enough? I might get a really small one to put on the right side someday if i get some high flow corals.


Thank you guys so much for all your help :) . Right now I'm just waiting, testing, reading, waiting, and testing and reading. Oh, and watching my evil but cute shrimp eat, run into glass, and try to pinch the hydrometer. Again, thanks!!!

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