Hello. I am new to this site, but old to keeping fish. One of the things I am perplexed by is the idea that you have to have a super set up, that means hundreds and hundreds of dollars spent, to enjoy a salt tank. When I add up the cost of all the things I see listed as "have to have" in the various posts on this site it becomes immediately obvious that the family who spreads an average income over a number of family members can not afford the beauty and fascination of a salt tank if they follow the advice of the creme de la creme tank. The reality is a fish manager can keep a very satisfactory salt tank without all the bells and whistles. A small tank, say 20-55 gal
, means you must change water more often and go for appropriate numbers and size of fish who do not get big. Chromis for example are inexpensive, hardy, stay small, beautiful, eat almost anything, seem to live forever. You don't need to spend lots of money on special lighting or filtration. Less expensive units that hang on the back of the tank, often salvaged from an old fresh water set up or bought at the goodwill are fine. Simple household grade florescent tubes are fine. YOU CAN KEEP FISH ONLY UNDER THIS KIND OF LIGHT. It is also very necessary that you keep species to a minimum. Increased the inches of water to inches of fish substantially.
I got this idea a long time ago when I wanted a salt system, but had no $$$. My store for fish was Massi's Aquarium; an institution in south Seattle. I immediately noticed their filtration consisted of dirt filters in the corners of huge salt water tanks. Their philosophy of fish keeping was different from every other shop in town. The point is, you can have a salt system for about the same cost as a fresh system if you forgo the pains and pleasures of inverts and corals and other salt water critters that need lots of light. In exchange for more frequent water changes, you can have a system that is small and lots of fun. It helps to keep the tank in the kitchen where you can get to water and have a water proof floor to spill on. Just remember you MUST either limit the number of inches of fish in your tank and/or change water more frequently. For a little more investment in lighting, you can support live rock and all the fun things that come with it, and have a more stable system chemically, ie. nitrate control. Buy a test kit or two. Nitrate and PH at least. Test often. Put the tank somewhere you will observe it EVERYDAY and where water changes and tests are easily done. In my house this is the kitchen.
Some of yo may be wondering what I am currently keeping that fits this philosophy. I have in my kitchen a 20 gal
tank with about 20 lbs of live rock and unfiltered sand. The lighting is natural light from the surrounding windows (it is not in a window). I keep a Snowflake eel in it. I change 5 gallons of water every two or three weeks. I feed her twice a week, two large prawns or the equivalent in scallops, white fish etc. She is fascinating for everyone. I also have a 55 in the entryway to the kitchen (observable from the breakfast table). It is stocked with 6 inches of fish, three crabs and has maybe 50 lbs of live rock. I change 20% water every month or two. The live rock keeps the tank chemistry stable. I light with coralife tubes in a shop light. I feed my own "fresh market mix" and limit feedings to a "tiny" bit, four or five times per day, five out of seven days a week. I bought the tanks at the Goodwill, I bought the rock at the Fish Store, as well as the fish, I bought the lights on sale at a Pet Store. I got the fixture at Home Depot. It fits in a home-made cradle about 8" above the tank to prevent rust. I use Coral lite tubes and Vitalite. When I didn't have live rock I used ordinary household grade florescent tubes. The 20 gallon is filtered with an old magna double filter. I filter the 55 with three old, old, old, aqua filters that hang on the back of the tank. I have a persistent algae problem in the 55 because of the light but no problem in the 20. The 55 requires rock scraping when I change water. Both are covered with panes of window glass to allow light penetration.
You can go for bigger tanks if you want. $200 will buy you a very nice plexitank with a hood in the 100 gallon range. Remember that the biger the tank the more water you have to change. Salt runs about $35 on sale for enough to change 50 gallons of water. That is about $.70 per gallon for a top quality salt that includes trace minerals and chlorine control. I change 10% of the 20 gallon every two weeks for a cost of $2.80 per month. I change 20-30% once a month on the 55 for a cost of between $8 and $11 per month. I am looking into setting up my 100 gallon again, but am being very careful.
The tank is free as I paid for it 20 years ago. I have a stand I refurbished last year ( scraped, sanded and painted). BUT in spite of the size the only thing I intend to change is the number of inches it will safely carry with simple filtration and a corner of live rock and simple invert species under appropriate light. (That's right. the tank may look a little lop sided at first with bright light on one side and low on the other and living specimens on one side and fake ones on the other, but I get the best of both worlds for a lot less $$. Will report on what happens. :silly
DISCLAIMER: ANYONE WHO SETS UP A SMALL TANK MUST COMMIT TO FREQUENT WATER CHANGES:TO NOT DO SO WILL SENTENCE THE FISH TO DEATH. DUM DA DUM DUM.