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Old 12-17-2009, 11:12 AM   #1
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20 gallon reef - first SW tank

Hi all,

I'm a FW veteran, but completely new to SW. I've got a 20 gallon (that's UK gallons, so probably 22-25 US gallons) that I would like to convert from freshwater to salt. I've been doing a lot of research into marine aquaria, and believe this to be about the right size for what SW hobbyists consider to be a "nano reef". Ideally I would like a larger tank to achieve better stocking and water quality, but this not possible due to both space and cost.

My current FW setup is a fairly simple one. I've got a TetraTec EX700 canister, and a decent quality TetraTec heater.

After researching and researching, and finding a lot of conflicting information on the internet, I've come up with what I believe to be a fairly stable setup that I would like to attempt. Before I start though, I'd like to run it past you guys to see what you think.

Here's what I'm thinking:

Remove substrate from tank, and take out filter media. Buy a stack of activated carbon ready for use.
Lay down some decent white sand.
Buy 2lbs of LR per gallon. Allow LR to seed sand.
Place LR fragments, Bio Home, or similar into canister.
Purchase a decent PH or two.
Either purchase or DIY a protein skimmer.
Get some decent lighting, thinking somewhere in the region of 150 watts.
I have a 3 gallon glass tank that I'm thinking I could use as a sump. I really like the idea of being able to top off the tank from a sump rather than having to pour water into and therein disturb the main display tank.

Also I've read that many people with tanks of this size have found that they have been successful without filters or skimmers, and instead simply rely on just a sump. I'd be interested to know more about that because the low tech approach is very appealing to my wallet!

As for the reef element, that will come later as I get to grips with things! I want to aim toward reef, but I want to work on getting things stable first. This will probably be a single fish setup, three fish at most. I'd be happy keeping a clown or damsel. I'm unlikely to keep anything else because there aren't many other small marine fish that I really like. Also I prefer light stocking in marine tanks, I think it just looks better. I find the reef life so fascinating, with all the little hitchikers that come along with it. Plus I'd eventually like to keep some anemones - not too bothered about the clown living in it, I just like anemones! If the clown decides he likes it then so much the better!

Also, I have a question, a simple one, that I haven't been able to find a straight answer to on the internet: How often do you do water changes with a SW tank? I've read that SW water changes are not as bad as FW changes, being something like 10% every two weeks or so.

Anyway I look forward to reading your replies, and thanks for taking the time to read!

Thanks,
Scott.
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Old 12-17-2009, 12:48 PM   #2
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You really need to do a PWC weekly on a tank that size probably somewhere between 20 and 30% water changes a part of life with any tank. You do have to top off your tank usually daily to keep it from getting to salty. On my 8 gallon I top off twice a day on my 2.5 I top off 3 to 4 times a day only a little bit but it is enough to keep the SG steady. If you are planning on an anemone stay away from CF go with MH or T5 lights. I don't know how well anemone do with LEDs.

The best purchase is a refractometer for a nano tank.

Nothing good happens fast in a saltwater tank.

Last but not least WELCOME to one of the best forums online
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Old 12-17-2009, 03:04 PM   #3
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You won't need the HOB filter if you have live rock in the tank. You mentioned 2lbs of rock per gallon....well, that's just a ball-park. It really depends more on the porosity of your live rock. Some rock is more dense than others, and some are very porous, which give more surface area for the nitrifying bacteria to thrive. You could probably shoot for more towards 1 to 1.5lbs per gallon.

I'd recommend ditching the HOB filter and look at a HOB skimmer

You will need be more strict with your PWCs with a smaller tank. Some people do weekly changes. I end up topping up my tank with anywhere from 2L to 4L of RO/DI water to compensate for evaporation and do about a 30% PWC once a month. That's on a 90G. You'll need to do them more often and be a lot more careful with a 20-25G.
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Old 12-17-2009, 08:17 PM   #4
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You won't need the HOB filter if you have live rock in the tank. You mentioned 2lbs of rock per gallon....well, that's just a ball-park. It really depends more on the porosity of your live rock. Some rock is more dense than others, and some are very porous, which give more surface area for the nitrifying bacteria to thrive. You could probably shoot for more towards 1 to 1.5lbs per gallon.
I'm aiming to get a mixture of dense and porous if I can, so that I can support pretty much even quantities of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. If you're American don't forget that the British gallon is a lot bigger than the US gallon, so 1.5lbs per US gallon is probably about the same as 2lbs per UK gallon. Either way, I'll take your advice and look at it more as a rough guide.

Quote:
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I'd recommend ditching the HOB filter and look at a HOB skimmer
My filter is a canister, not a HOB, I dunno if that changes things. I'm thinking of ditching it anyway because from what I've read mechanical filters become more of a pain in the *** than they're worth on an SW tank. Actually a HOB skimmer is exactly what I'd had in mind. I do not want any internal equipment, as it reduces precious water volume.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jaybird View Post
You will need be more strict with your PWCs with a smaller tank. Some people do weekly changes. I end up topping up my tank with anywhere from 2L to 4L of RO/DI water to compensate for evaporation and do about a 30% PWC once a month. That's on a 90G. You'll need to do them more often and be a lot more careful with a 20-25G.
I find that with my tropical FW tank I lose maybe about an inch per week, unless the room temp really drops, in which case I can lose that much in one night.

I've read about quite a successful (it was a "tank of the week" on one of the other sites) 20g skimmerless filterless reef tank that got a 10% change bi-weekly, as well as the regular top offs. This tank had a pretty heavy pile of live rock and reef, and seemed to have a fairly advanced and well-established biological colony of various mushrooms, anemones and such. However I'm guessing that the reef fauna/flora was responsible for feeding on a lot of the waste and detritus.

In this case, would a protein skimmer potentially starve a heavily populated reef?

It sounds to me like stocking density also has a lot to do with how often water needs to be changed. I imagine that since I am intending to keep only one single fish, there will be a smaller bio-load, and that my water change regime will be rather different to someone who was keeping more in the same size of tank?

Thanks everyone for the welcomes and of course the advice! And sorry about the long posts!

Thanks,
Scott.
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Old 12-17-2009, 09:20 PM   #5
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I've read about quite a successful (it was a "tank of the week" on one of the other sites) 20g skimmerless filterless reef tank that got a 10% change bi-weekly, as well as the regular top offs. This tank had a pretty heavy pile of live rock and reef, and seemed to have a fairly advanced and well-established biological colony of various mushrooms, anemones and such. However I'm guessing that the reef fauna/flora was responsible for feeding on a lot of the waste and detritus.

In this case, would a protein skimmer potentially starve a heavily populated reef?
This is probably a tank that has achieved a stage where the nitrates being produced are balanced and removed by natural biological filtration in the tank, thus the tank requires no extra assistance with filtering (exactly like the ocean). Having a Protein Skimmer will not at all strave a heavily populated reef. Welcome to AA.
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Old 12-18-2009, 09:51 AM   #6
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This is probably a tank that has achieved a stage where the nitrates being produced are balanced and removed by natural biological filtration in the tank, thus the tank requires no extra assistance with filtering (exactly like the ocean). Having a Protein Skimmer will not at all strave a heavily populated reef. Welcome to AA.
I just pulled up the website. Tank of the Month - July 2002 - Reefkeeping Online Magazine

It says the tank is 16 months old, and that they currently do a 25% change monthly. They cite clams as being the main reason for their success without a filter. It makes for pretty interesting reading.

Thanks for the welcome, this seems like a great place to be.

Next thing I need to do now is figure out how to go about making a sump out of my 3 gallon tank. Is it likely that my canister filter will have any use on my SW setup in future apart from just running carbon media?
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Old 12-18-2009, 10:42 AM   #7
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If you are going through all the trouble of making a sump I'd go with a bigger tank. A 3g UK tank is to small. If you can get a bigger unit it will give you more volume and make your setup more stable.
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Old 12-18-2009, 07:01 PM   #8
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If you are going through all the trouble of making a sump I'd go with a bigger tank. A 3g UK tank is to small. If you can get a bigger unit it will give you more volume and make your setup more stable.
I was only thinking of using the 3g because I have one lying around. What sort of size am I looking at? Is there a particular recommended ratio of sump to tank size?
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Old 12-18-2009, 08:35 PM   #9
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Well as big as you can fit or have. The bigger the volume of water, The easyier its to have chemicals under control and the slower it has time to change.
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Old 12-20-2009, 06:38 PM   #10
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Well as big as you can fit or have. The bigger the volume of water, The easyier its to have chemicals under control and the slower it has time to change.
Ah I see... so a sump acts to add volume to the tank... believe it or not I never thought about it like that before! I can really see the merit of having one now. Ha, you must think I'm such a novice for not even knowing that already.

Anyway I've been doing some thinking. See the problem I have is that the tank is on top of a chest of drawers, rather than a dedicated tank stand. Because of this, I have no room under the tank to place a sump, so I'm a bit limited in terms of space. I've got maybe roughly a 9 inch by 24 inch space beside the chest of drawers, which is currently where I've got the filter.

I guess what I'm saying here is maybe it would be a better idea to wait until I have some more space - that way I can have a tank stand and figure all the rest of this stuff out when I'm not doing everything on such a shoestring budget in a space the size of a darn postage stamp. I'd rather give my livestock the best chance at life as I can give them, than put that factor at risk simply because I'm so eager to give it a go.

I think I probably got carried away with the idea of going saltwater! I'm not discouraged... just wiser. Like you guys say, nothing good in saltwater happens fast. Mark my words I'll be back on here one day when I get my dream reef tank started. Thanks so much for all the advice, I've learned a whole lot in a short space of time.

I'll keep lurking. Speak to you all soon!

Thanks,
Scott.
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