This is long, sorry.
It doesn't have to be outrageously expensive, these are the steps I've taken thus far with my current system. I had a few false starts (wet/dry filter etc.) with equipment before I started actually researching, but I'm not counting those costs. This is approximate and doesn't include shipping for stuff I ordered. I'm a big do-it-myselfer and love figuring things out. As such I build my own equipment whenever I can, and that helps.
55 gallon tank with 40w strip light, $120
Stand $ 50
150 pounds play sand $ 6
60 pounds base rock $ 60
3 pieces good live rock $ 50
Pump/Powerhead x 2 $ 30
Bag 'o' salt $ 20
Water, free since I stole my neighbors hose : )
Sand critters, free if your lfs
is nice about it.
Sump/Fuge (not a requirement but a darn fine idea)
10 gallon aquarium $12
Plexiglass/misc plumbing $10
Macro including bugs $10
I'm currently upgrading my lighting to do a simple reef system.
If you absolutely MUST have a wet/dry as your lfs
will tell you, add about $400. Or you can make your own for about $40 and I'll gladly donate the bio-balls as I want them out of my closet. Be prepared to clean the filter often. If you must have a manufactured fuge, add on $350 to $450. If you must buy preman'd lighting... that is very pricey. Easily the most expensive part of this hobby is the lights. If you must have all LR
from the beginning, its about $200 - $400 for enough for a 55 gallon.
Lighting in this system is obviously not great, but is fine for fowlr
. When the upgrade is complete it will be good for shrooms
and some other nice corals, but not for the light intensive ones. The filtration I've chosen is all natural, with the exception of the PH
's to do the flow since I can't get natural tides no matter what I do : )
One of the great things about this hobby is that it can be done in steps, as long as you have the patience. The rock is a great example. Starting with base rock is fine. The nitrifying... bacteria will collonize throughout it and will add to your filtration. Adding a few pieces of "live" will seed the tank, and the life will spread to all the base. It just takes some time. Saves a ton of $ tho'. And if you keep an eye on your paper, you can get a lot of this equipment for pennies on the dollar. If money is no object, please send me some 'cuz payday ain't for a while yet.
Having said all that, on to your ?'s.
is not difficult to maintain. IME
it's been easier than many FW
systems I've done. Before I started SW
I believed it would be very difficult, but I've found it not to be so. Once your system is setup and established correctly it maintains itself wonderfully. The diversity in life your tank will have works well to keep things in check. But it does require you keep an eye on it a little more than FW
, and be prepared to make adjustments to keep everything working. Good testing supplies are a must. You'll have to test very often in the beginning until the tank establishes itself, after that you can space them out a little. But you will be testing water as long as you have your tank.
There are a variety of filtration methods available and they all have their pro's and cons. And they all have their followers who will of course recomend their method. Their will likely be tons of posts debating the different methods. I suggest you do some reading and decide on the method that will work best for you. Again be prepared to make adjustments to your plans. I started with a wet/dry system and after about 6 months converted to DSB
(deep sand bed), and have been very happy with it ( hint hint
). It's all natural and easily the least expensive to start.
Livestock... decide on the 1 fish or fish type you absolutely must have. The rest of your livestock have to be compatible with this fish or else you won't be happy. So if you must have a very docile fish, you can't give him a group of triggers as playmates. If you must have very agressive fish, your invertibrate selections will drop to nill. A lionfish is great, but if you want some nice shrimp you'll just end up spending $30 per meal for your lion as he eats your shrimp.
Having inverts with your fish is no problem, and is a requirement if you want a natural system. With the proper setup you'll have snails,crabs, corals and all kinds of interesting life. With live rock in your tank, you'll have a nice supply of invertibrate life anyway. All life is susceptible to disease and parasites, some more than others. I have a simple system right now, but I've only lost 1 crab in the last 9 months. Not sure what got him, but I think it was another crab. No diseases to date.
Having said all that, how long will you be in your apartment? If you move every semester you will need to stick with some very hardy animals and I'd recommend staying away from the corals until you have a permanent place. Also, if you're above ground level make sure your floor can support the weight of the tank. All that water, rock, sand, and salt adds up fast and will weigh much more than a FW