I’d hate to call this an experiment as it deals with living creatures, many of them plucked from the ocean and thrown in to my new saltwater tank in the hopes they survive, but it is my first attempt at keeping a saltwater tank – so in essence – an experiment. ;–)
So far the inhabitants of this tiny ecosystem are:
Two Clownfish. (Laurel and Hardy)
One Peppermint Shrimp. (Pepe)
One Haitian Anemone, also known as the Pink-Tip Condy.
5 Hermit Crabs.
2 Turbo Snails.
Thousands of little copepods floating around being eaten by Laurel and Hardy.
An Asterina starfish (that I did not buy) missing 4 of his arms.
A bristleworm (that I did not buy). This thing is hideous and I wish I could kill it, but it does serve a purpose scavenging.
The Good News
Almost two months in to it, no one has died, and new life/creatures are springing to life from the rock and sand bed.
Kids love it – although the initial awe has worn off, they’re always finding something new moving around.
Hermit crabs and Turbo snails mow through the initial algae spike like a fat guy at an all you can eat buffet.
Maintenance is no more time-consuming than my freshwater tanks.
Luckily I had a lot of the initial equipment, keeping costs low.
Live Sand was given to me by Sal at AllReef in Acworth, GA, which I would think he pulled from his tanks. This surely helped speed up the initial cycling process.
The Bad News (Or what I’ve learned so far)
“Nothing good happens in nature quickly. Only bad thing happen quickly in nature.” After you set everything up, you have to sit around for at least a month until the Live Rock “cures” and your ammonia dissipates and your nitrites lower and your nitrates rise. There’s an elaborate chemical cycle that has to complete before you should add even a snail. It’s too much to go in to in one blog post – books have been written over this subject.
Lighting, arguably the most important piece of equipment for coral growth, is extremely expensive. A 24” T5 High-Output fixture (with blue LEDs for night-time awesomeness) will run you about $90. Metal Hallide, the gold standard for coral growth, will run you your left arm and part of your left leg.
Something I wish I would’ve known: Apparently the smaller the tank in this hobby, the greater the chances of it completely failing (ie, everything dying). Chemical changes in a large tank simply dillute faster over a larger area.
To successfully keep a reef tank that is in the 100+ gallon range, you’re talking thousands of dollars on initial setup, and on top of that try and figure out how you’re going to handle water changes or topping off water, because you can only use water that is distilled/reverse-osmosis. My 5-gallon buckets won’t cut it.