The last time I had a marine tank was ten or twelve years ago. I've missed it a great deal and have often pondered getting back into it but haven't had the time or been ready to spend the money for a system I'd really like.
Last week a friend of mine who has shared the hobby with me all these years (but stuck with it when I haven't) decided he no longer has time and wanted his system to go to a good home. In rather short order (my head is still spinning), I've gone from no tank to a gorgeous acrylic 90 gallon with wet/dry, protein skimmer, Kent Marine 24GPD TFC RO
unit and all the miscellaneous support equipment. More importantly, I'm inheriting an established ecosystem that has been wonderfully healthy from the beginning (it was probably his fourth system and he had quite a bit of experience before building it).
The tank has a couple of inches of substrate, a good amount of live rock that he's carried across his various tanks for somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 years, two clownfish, a pair of brittle stars, and one rather attractive Double Saddle Butterfly. As I stated earlier, there is a wet/dry (BioFil 1) and protein skimmer. There is also a Little Giant 465 GPH
pump, fluorescent (actinic) lighting, etc. Throw in a black laminated stand and hood and it's one gorgeous addition to our living room.
We moved the system yesterday. On Monday (the day before), I picked up the RO
unit from him and bought a couple of new 34 gallon plastic trashcans (which I hosed out thoroughly). I started making water with the RO
so we'd have additional water if we needed it after the move. On moving day, I picked up some new 5 gallon buckets and four more trashcans (for a total of five during the move with the sixth being on the RO
We siphoned water into a 5 gallon bucket and moved the three fish there for the coming hours. We then started siphoning a movable amount of water into the various cans and distributing the live rock through several of them so they would stay submerged. We shoveled out most of the wet substrate into a couple more of the 5 gallon buckets. The tank got wrapped in a heavy blanket. We filled two trashcans heavier than we could move (on purpose) so that the other three were mangeable. I bought one of those ratcheting loadbars (like you use for holding a toolbox in place) for my parents' pickup truck. The three movable cans with live rock were pinned against the cab with the loadbar and had
their lids bungied in place. The tank, stand, filtration gear, etc., were loaded in the remainder of the bed and we took the first batch to my house.
Once there, we set up the tank, dumped in the substrate and started loading in the water. Once there was a decent amount of water, we added the live rock (so it was submerged). We took the now empty three cans back to his house and distributed the overly heavy two cans across a total of four and took those to my house. In the end we managed to move MOST of the water from the running system. We mixed salt into the water I had generated with the RO
and topped off the tank. The salt we used was from his existing supplies and the same stuff that has been used on this tank all along (Kent Marine brand, I think). We set the heater to around 72 and cranked up the protein skimmer, pump and (inherently) the wet/dry unit.
In the process we also added a bag of larger substrate that I bought. It's mostly pieces of shells about the size of your thumb or smaller and added some nice variety to the more plain, fine-grained substrate that was already in the system. My wife washed it thoroughly while we were moving things despite the bag saying "pre-washed".
Needless to say, the tank looked like poop for the next couple of hours. The fish remained in the five gallon bucket with the addition ofan airstone to keep them xygenated. I wrapped the bucket up in a towel near a radiator and it stayed around 72 degrees all night long. I did some aquascaping before I went to bed since it was getting clear enough
to work and I figured it made sense to get most of the craziness over so I didn't have to distrupt it so much later.
By morning the tank was quite clear, the water was in the mid 70's and the salinity read around 1.020. I checked the fish in the bucket and their salinity and temp were virtually an exact match to the tank, so I went ahead and moved them to the tank. They seemed quite calm and eagerly ate the food I gave them a few minutes later. They have showed no signs of stress throughout the day and the tank has gotten nothing but clearer. I cleaned off some algae this morning and, as of now, it's just this side of crystal clear.
Tonight I did my first water tests so I could start getting a feel for my new system. The test kit I used was the one he gave me with his supplies, so I'm not sure of its age. I'd guess a few years. Most of the little bottles feel like they are mostly full.
pH checked out at a solid 8.2 on the color chart.
Ammonia came in at zero on the color chart.
Nitrites came in at zero on the color chart.
Nitrates, however, hit the end of the chart with the best coloar match being the 160 ppm
reddish box at the bottom.
I'm glad the first three were so ideal, but the nitrate part has me puzzled.
I've been thinking on it and was wondering if any of the following
are a factor:
A) Obviously, the nitrates could have been screwy for a while and he wasn't aware of it since the tank has been healthy and I'm not sure of his most recent testing...
B) Stirring up everything to such a monstrous degree has unleashed all kinds of crapola in the substrate, etc., that will freak the nitrate level but naturally come back into balance in the coming days... ?
C) The additional substrate I added was funky? Doubt it, but just throwing out all the variables for consideration...
D) The test kit is hosed? I don't know the lifespan on these things... ?
Everything seems healthy and the first are happy. I am worried, though, about the nitrate levels until I can better understand the cause and possibly correct it (if it needs correcting and I imagine it does).
Needless to say, I'm thrilled to be getting back into the marine tank scene and especially now with all the new technology, Internet resources, online livestock options, etc. My wife is new to saltwater and is equally excited by the possibilities. It's definitely fun getting a jumpstart on the process with an established system, but also a little daunting not having gone through the process from scratch and knowing all the variables.
Any insight on the nitrates would be appreciated. I'd also be curious for any input on our method of moving everything (it's water under the bridge already, but any constructive "you screwed up, jackass" comments would still be useful for the future). If I left out any helpful details on the nitrate issue, don't hesitate to ask (email or response
to this post).
Sweet Briar, Va