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Old 08-25-2011, 09:21 PM   #1
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Adam's quest: FOWLR -> Reef

I have a 150G Saltwater tank that is currently FOWLR. The tank has been going strong for about a year and a half, and it's currently in a stable state -- I haven't added fish in several months, and I haven't had any casualties in even longer.

Here's a page on my tank specs: Tank Specs | Adam's Flog

Here's a page on the livestock in the tank: Roll Call | Adam's Flog

From the time I first started saltwater, I wanted this tank to be a reef tank, but I wanted to get a FOWLR tank well-established before I attempted to put any corals in there. I've come up with a goal that I want to have my first coral/anemone in the tank (and surviving) by the end of the year.

The purpose of this thread is to document my journey during the process of getting my tank reef-ready. Hopefully I can get some pointers from some experienced people, and hopefully other people who are doing similar things can use this as a resource.

At this point, I have done very little research on how to care for corals. I know that I need to consistently keep my nitrates at zero in order for corals to survive, but past that I know pretty much nothing about caring for corals.

I realize that the things I need to look out for in my tank are very dependent on what corals I choose to have. I know this because I've asked the following question before: "What do I need to do to my tank to keep corals?" and the response I got was "It depends entirely on what corals you want to have." While this answer may be accurate, it doesn't help give me a starting point for what kinds of test kits I need to get, or where to start my research.

I don't have my heart set on any specific type of corals. I probably want to start with some corals that are easier to care for, but I don't know what those are, and I don't know what levels have to be where to keep those corals healthy.

Perhaps it would be useful for some people with established reefs to tell me what test kits they have and where they keep their levels, so I have a baseline for a couple of the important ones I'll need to start with...

Anyways, I'm still in the planning stages of this transition, but there are a few things I'll most likely do before corals ever go into the tank:

- Switch to RO/DI water: I've been using tap water ever since I started this tank. For fish this is fine, and I'm sure it's not fine for a reef. I own an RO/DI unit and a booster pump for it, but my membranes are old and I've moved since I last attempted to use it. My goal is to be able to get 20 gallons of RO/DI water in at most two hours, not having any of my components outside (I live in Ohio, it gets cold in the winter here).

I'm having some plumbing work done on my house in the near future, so hopefully I'll be able to get a hose spigot or something I can hook my RO/DI up to on the inside of my house in the process.

I'm hoping that with the large PWCs that I'll end up doing as part of lowering my nitrates, just switching to RO-DI water for water changes will be enough for a good reef tank...

- Get a protein skimmer: I'm using my live rock for biological filtration, so from what I've read, a protein skimmer fits very nicely into my setup, especially for a reef setup. I have a place in my sump where I want the skimmer to be, but I don't know much about what kind of skimmer I want. Also, I don't know if this will be a problem or not, but I'm a little concerned about physically getting the skimmer where I want it to go, since the sump is in the bottom of my tank stand at the moment.

Perhaps it would help if I learned what types of skimmers people with established reefs use...

- Get more of a Clean-up Crew: I have maybe 10 Nassarius snails in the tank right now, though I haven't really seen any of them in a while. I think I need more than this. I'm not sure if this is related to changing over to a reef.

- Replace the bulbs in my lighting system: I've been using the same lights for over two years now. The fish like having a day/night cycle, but I've never bothered to replace the bulbs, so they probably aren't adequate for keeping corals. Should I replace all of my bulbs? The light is a Nova Extreme Pro T5, which I think should be good for basically any type of coral I would want, right?

- Get my nitrates down to zero: This is something I actually know a little bit about. My nitrate reading is somewhere between the 40 ppm color and the 80 ppm color. I haven't had any big problems with algae in a while, and the fish seem to be doing OK, but I know I need to sustain a zero nitrate reading for corals. I know to get it down there, I'll have to do a LOT of PWCs, but keeping it there is a little different. My normal maintenance for the tank is a 10% PWC every other week. I think this will have to be increased when I have a reef.

The other thing I have is a ball of chaeto in my refugium. It isn't really growing all that much, probably because I just have a desk lamp with a boring CF light bulb on it. I imagine that I'll have to make my lighting setup a little better down there for the chaeto to really help export nitrates.

So, I'm not quite sure what my priorities should be at the moment. I think the things I want to do shortly are to get my RO/DI system working, get a protein skimmer, and improve my refugium lighting. I plan to order RO/DI membranes soon and try to get a setup working, but I'll probably want a little bit of advice on the other two before I go spending money on them.

Any advice would be appreciated, of course. I'll provide as much detail about my setup as I can if it's necessary. Thanks in advance for your help, and I hope I can create a nice-looking reef setup so I can take pretty pictures and post them in this thread!
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Old 08-25-2011, 09:48 PM   #2
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Soft corals are very hardy and can survive in less than prestine systems. I have a 220g skimmer on my 150g FOLWR. Also, more of a CUC will help you out A LOT. Get about 30 more nassarius snails, a lot of astreas, hermits, and emerald crabs are good too. Also, Im not sure what fish you have, but the more fish you have, the more maintenance your going to have to do. Also better equiptment if you dont want as MUCH maintenance. Corals as you know get a lot of nutrients from photosynthesis. You also have to supplement water with iodine trace elements etc. I hope someone else will chime in because I have actually never had a reef. Im not sure what calcium level you need. Also, corals will eat zooplankton. Make sure you get compatible corals/fish. Good Luck.
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Old 08-25-2011, 11:30 PM   #3
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a protein skimmer is a great investment. when i'm setting up a system, i usually buy a suitable skimmer, and then build the sump around it. since you can't do this at this point, what is the skimmer compartment's dimensions? what is the max clearance?

i disagree on extra inverts, adding iodine, trace elements, or anything you aren't testing for and are absolutely sure you need. 10 nassarius snails are plenty. why do you need extra inverts anyway? you said you don't have algae problems. inverts aren't going to lower nitrates. only removing nitrates can lower them.

as far as the lighting- yes, i would change the bulbs before you get your first coral. how many lamps in this fixture? hard to say if you'll be able to keep whatever you want without knowing how many lamps.
i would replace them with high end lamps like ATI and/or giesemann. they are much more potent than the stock current lamps and also look better.


you can reduce your feeding to lower your nitrates, along with the water changes. feeding the fish 3 times a week is plenty to keep them happy. i've maintained a reef tank and feed the fish in that particular tank twice a week for over a year now, and they are fat and healthy.

i would suggest more flow also. those 2 koralias aren't going to be enough IMO. maybe rearrange the rock work a bit so that flow can get in and out of it, instead of just a pile against the back wall like that. perhaps buy a couple big pieces to replace some of those smaller boulder type chunks, and stack off of those. that would go a long way towards reducing the nitrate levels. keeping organics in the water column until they can be removed by your tanks filtration.

a common mistake is thinking when fish food disappears, it's gone. the truth is, it never leaves the tank, until YOU remove it. make sure when you do your water changes you blast the rock with those power heads or wave your hand vigorously at the rock work to shake up and debris that's laying on it.
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Old 04-04-2012, 11:08 AM   #4
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Hello.

Yes, it's been quite a while since I updated this thread, but I've reached the point where I'm not quite positive on all the details of where to go next, and this seems like the best place to write about it.

I'll start by updating on stuff I've done since the last post. First, I've gotten a new light for my refugium

JBJ Macro-Glo Adjustable Refugium Light

I have a total of about 20 Nassarius snails in the tank now as well. I recently had an issue that I wrote about in this thread:

Fish dying in SW tank

I've since gotten the nitrates back below 40 ppm, and one of the main things I want to see about here is the best way to keep my nitrates at an appropriate level...

I also got a protein skimmer

Tunze DOC Protein Skimmer

The protein skimmer appears to be working pretty well, but if I understand correctly, it could be working a lot better. I think I need to "tune" it, but I'm not sure what it should look like when it's working properly, and the instructions weren't very helpful in saying what I should be looking for... Is the best way to just tweak it, wait a day, and measure how much skimmate is produced?

At least a part of what was causing my nitrate problem was the fact that my chaeto died. I think I can take measure to prevent this from happening again by using egg-crate to keep it in one part of the fuge. I plan to get another large ball of chaeto. Will this light be adequate for the chaeto to do its job? Should I begin putting the fuge light on a reverse timing schedule as opposed to keeping it on all the time?

Are there other things I can/should be doing, aside from getting my skimmer and macro algae happening, to reduce the nitrate level? The plan right now is to go back to my original maintenance schedule of about 20 gallons every week for a few weeks, just to make sure nothing is continuing to leech nitrates into my system after my lovely issues. I was under the impression that large PWCs would work well to reduce nitrates until they got below 40 ppm, and then the course of action would be to rely on macro algae and skimming to reduce it from there. If there's something else I can do, I'd certainly like to know about it.

I'm still using tap water for all of my water changes. I've decided I'm not too happy with my RO/DI filter setup with Air, Water, and Ice. Is it possible to have a successful reef system without using RO/DI water? If so, I imagine it depends heavily on what is in my tap water, but if I shouldn't even bother trying, I'll look into a new RO/DI system.

That brings up another point. Aside from nitrates, I'm not sure what all I should be testing for to make sure my system is reef-ready. In fact, I don't even know what an appropriate level of nitrates is, since I recently learned that said "appropriate level" is not zero. If anyone knows all of the test kits I should be getting and what the numbers should look like before I start adding corals, that would help out a bunch.

Thanks a bunch for the help so far, and hopefully in the future as well.
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Old 04-04-2012, 12:53 PM   #5
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Ok. Im on my phone so i will try to hit all your questions. Ill get em later if i miss one.

Nitrate levels are ok under 20. Obviously the closer to 0 the better. You might be right aboit your macro algae dying causing the spike...i would be more worried about what is causing so much nitrates, like overfeeding or overstocking. Can discuss this further when you give more details about your tank...or i just forgot.

To have a successful reef, ro/di is a must. Even the best tap water contains things you dont want in your tank. Example, i have spring water. No chemicals to worry about...until the neighbors spray the fields with crap to make the crops grow. Now chemicals leach into the water...and also literal crap... not good for a reef tank. My ro/di is def not the best on market. Simple coralife unit. You can get better for less money. Good unit is ~100 off ebay.

As for your skimmer...i dont know about tuning it in. My skimmer, seaclone 100, is garbage and cant be tweeked. Another example of why research is a good thing. It skims, but could be so much better.
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Old 04-04-2012, 12:55 PM   #6
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Oh, and as for test kits for reef. Calcium, alkalinity, magnesium. Just to name a couple.
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Old 04-04-2012, 06:25 PM   #7
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20 nassarius snails will need meaty foods to survive, or they will die. This is not going to help with nitrates.

IMO, that skimmer is underpowered for your system. You can buy a much more efficient skimmer than that for a similar price.

Your chaeto died because the nutrient level was too high. Ammonia will kill algae. If you had detectable ammonia, that could have been the reason.

Water changes, and reasonable feeding, will keep the nitrate level in check.
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Old 04-04-2012, 07:33 PM   #8
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The skimmer was the best thing I could find to fit where I wanted it to go:

Finding the right protein skimmer

I realize that I should have built my plumbing around my skimmer, but I didn't think of that a couple of years ago when I was setting up the tank.

So during the really bad times when my house was messed up and the temperature was 95 degrees in the room, I also had to travel for work on short notice. There were a couple of times where the evaporation was so quick and I wasn't able to get to it, that the water level got down really low in the refugium. I found the chaeto dried up on top of some LR I had in there.

With everything going on at the time, I can't be positive of all of the initial causes of the problems I was having, but my goal is to prevent that stuff from happening again, which is why I want to cage off that part of my fuge so the chaeto can stay in that one section. That should make the lighting situation easier as well.

I test for ammonia/nitrite periodically and I haven't had any nonzero readings in over a year.

I know there are things about my setup that are working for/against me here. What I want, ultimately, is to have a system where I can do a 20-gallon PWC every week or two and maintain a healthy nitrate level. I suppose the best way to see if what I have is working is to try feeding a certain amount and watch how the nitrates go.

Is it a safe thing to say that the main factor in how many nitrates go into the system would be what I feed the tank? That is, assuming I'm feeding enough for my fish to survive, and they eat everything I put in the tank (that's rarely a problem for them), my nitrates-in is proportional to the food-in...

...and then the skimmer, macro algae, PWCs, etc. Those are how nitrates leave the system; and my goal is to feed the correct amount so that my nitrate level stays between, say, 5-20 ppm. Does that sound about right?

Finally, I've been having some issues finding an RO/DI system that I can use inside -- what kind of system do you use that you can run entirely indoors (in case it's snowing outside)?
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Old 04-05-2012, 07:11 PM   #9
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Either feeding, or source water, or both would be the cause of nutrient addition. Yes, you can keep them in check with water changes and reasonable feeding. Algae can help as well.
You can purchase a basic drinking water R.O.D.I. unit that mounts under the sink or in the utility room.
Bulk Reef Supply, Purely H20, or even Ebay are good places to look for R.O.D.I. units. I haven't seen any that are meant for outside use.
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Old 04-11-2012, 03:14 PM   #10
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Update: After one week of no macro-algae, the nitrates went from (20-40 ppm) to (about 40 ppm) before water change. I suppose this should be expected, but I guess it would be nice to get a more precise measurement. I think it's time to get some macro algae -- I plan to stop by the LFS soon and get a big ball of chaeto.

This RO/DI unit that mounts under the sink - does this thing make all of the water that comes out of your sink RO/DI? How exactly does that work, and how often do you have to replace the membranes?
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