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Old 01-17-2007, 10:17 AM   #1
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The differences between FW and SW

Hi Guys,

What would you guys say were the major differences between Sw and Fw fishkeeping? In terms of maintenance and difficulty?

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Old 01-17-2007, 10:33 AM   #2
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The water? Just kidding.

This is a pretty broad question and I guess the answer would be it depends on how far you're willing to go. I'm sure the experts will be chiming in shortly. If you compare a basic SW setup to a basic FW setup, the FW setup will definitely be easier and cheaper to maintain. Also, if I'm not mistaken, SW livestock tends to be more expensive in the US compared to FW livestock.

In some cases, such as those into high-tech planted tanks, things could be more complex than maintaining a fish only SW setup. If you're going to go all out on a full-blown reef setup, on the other hand, the expenses could pile up pretty quick (refugium, chiller, protein skimmer, etc.)

I think the best course of action would be to determine the direction you want to go and how much your willing to spend, then base your decision on that.
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Old 01-17-2007, 12:23 PM   #3
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For an overall general difficulty, I'd say saltwater is more difficult. They seem to be a bit more sensitive to condition changes and may require extra equipment.

It's all a matter of just what you want to do and how in depth it will be. Like Stephen mentioned, a high-tech planted tank can rival a reef setup in difficulty.
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Old 01-17-2007, 12:27 PM   #4
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I've never tried saltwater. Saltwater equipment is more expensive though and livestock is more expensive as well. I'm told by some people who've done saltwater that it is more difficult than freshwater. I've also been told by some SW experts that it's no harder than FW it's just different and requires different equipment.
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Old 01-17-2007, 12:28 PM   #5
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Your bank account tends to drain faster with SW vs. FW. I had a large SW reef setup before i turned to FW and my bank account loves me for the switch.

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Old 01-17-2007, 01:04 PM   #6
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I have both SW and FW

Here are some of the key differences:

1.) biggest one is cost. SW is probably 3 to 5 x as expensive for everything. Right down to the water

2.) SW is much less forgiving on water quality. Rather than striving for nitrates below 40, you need nitrates below 5. Any chelated metals in the water will harm the fish and inverts. Reefs are very very sensitive to everything. Things you use intentionally in FW to fertilize plants will harbor algaes and cyano that will smother and kill your corals. Tap water is absolutely out of the question.

3.) Filtration. You can't use floss or biomedia in SW. You want as much of the filtration as possible to come from your live rock, wet/dry sump and protien skimmer. You can't get away with cheap HOBs as much (you can ,but you will have to fight with your water quality a lot more).

4.) water movement. You have to have powerheads to move the water in your tank. No stagnant water or dead spaces, or as little as possible

5.) storage storage storage. You need big empty clean vats for storing fresh RO/DI water and mixing and storing SW.

6.) Many small water changes as opposed to fewer large ones. You want to change water about 10% 2x a week rather than 50% once a week or two. Keeping nitrates and pollutants down is a big key

7.) lighting. unless you plan to go FOWLR, you need intense, expensive lighting

8.) Feeding. Lots of target feeding

9.) stocking guidelines. You can have much fewer fish in SW than FW

10.) testing water. takes more tests, and they are more expensive than the FW ones

11.) evaporation and top off. You have to keep your SG in line. Evaporation brings it up. You need to add FW regularly for evaporation not just for looks, but to keep your chemistry straight.

Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
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Old 01-17-2007, 01:14 PM   #7
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Do those rules all apply if you're going with a simple FO tank?
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Old 01-17-2007, 01:25 PM   #8
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even a FOWLR tank or even FO is going to be quite a bit more expensive. Most of those rules apply. I'd say you might be able to get away without a protien skimmer in an FO tank, but you still need LR filtration, or at the bare minimum LS filtration. Even in an FO tank, you have to keep nutrients in check or you WILL get algae...and algae in SW is a bear to deal with. That stuff takes over your tank in mock speed, and will kill things.
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Old 01-17-2007, 01:28 PM   #9
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also, in FO or FOWLR tanks, you shouldn't put reef fish. Reef fish belong in reef tanks. They often have symbiotic relationships with the reef critters, and will be stressed without the inverts, sessile and mobile.

so you would be limited to mostly aggro non reef fish, like SW angels, lionfish, eels, etc. No clownfish, reef wrasses, tangs or butterflies. You can put them in FO tanks, but they will be stressed. It isn't natural for them.
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Old 01-17-2007, 01:57 PM   #10
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SW isn't all as hard as most people make it sound. Actually, it's relatively easy if you have the money and patience. Like said...the number one thing is cost. A reef tank is much more hard on the pocket than FO or FOWLR tanks. But innovations nowadays are making tanks more and more cheaper to own.

RO/DI, which is much prefered, isn't neccesary. I only say that beacuse I've used it tap water almost 5 years now with no problems except nitrate issues and some algae. Of course, it isn't always as easy and I'm very lucky with my water. It doesn't contain nitrate or phosphate from the tap like most well water does. My nitrates stay around 20, which is about as high as you want to get. Most SW fish and inverts can handle more than we think they can. Nitrates of 20 are fine for them, but like always, lower is better.

I'd say that anybody who wants to start a reef tank or SW tank in general should, if they have the money. It's expensive...very. I have probably spent around $2,000 on my 29 gallon tank alone. But, after the initial costs of setup, maintaining the tank is relatively easy. A water change twice a month and monitoring water chemistry. Of course, just like FW though, there are varying difficulties depending on the species of animal you wish to keep (high light coral, low light coral, anemones, fish, etc.)

MCD gave some good examples of the differences between FW and SW in regards to filtration, lighting, water movement, etc.
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