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On the Rocks

And now, only moments later, part two of the ongoing reef tank set up. A 37 gallon tank is not a large aquarium, either for freshwater or saltwater. Sure, in fish stores you see tons of fish swimming around in 20 gallon tanks but those are overpopulated and typically very stressful environments for the fish. To insure happy fish that live a long life you need adequate room and hiding places for them, as well as proper food and water quality. Saltwater fish, in particular, can get pretty darn big and have large space requirements. Thus the 37 is a small aquarium, at least in my opinion.

So why go with something small? Multiple reasons. The space we decided to put the aquarium would not support a larger fish tank. It fits almost perfectly in a corner, whereas something longer and larger would not have physically fit. Reason number two is that I wanted to go small to keep it more easily manageable – maintenance on a saltwater tank can be time consuming. The third and final reason to keep it small is cost. Marine tank setups are expensive, but I’ll be getting to that shortly.

So the tank, stand, and a single light / hood came at a package deal from Pet Supplies Plus. I don’t remember the cost, but it was up there. By the time I threw in the necessary add-ons (salt, sand, filter, powerheads, heater, thermostat, and water testing kit, another hood with a 50/50 actinic light in it) I think the cost was getting close to $500. No protein skimmer or sump tank because, frankly, I don’t have room for it. Pity, since those can really round out a saltwater tank and improve the water and tank experience.

So I put it all together, mixed the salt and water and started up the tank. Then I let it run, hoping the live sand (sand harvested from the ocean or a marine set up elsewhere) would help start the cycling process. A week and a half later, with my ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels in great places I picked up 30 pounds of live rock (90% of it fully cured, 10% partially cured) and a dragon goby (bottom dwelling scavenger style fish). They acclimated well to the tank. Live rock, for those not in the know, is nothing more than rock harvested from the ocean or elsewhere that is full of holes and beneficial (hopefully) bacteria. This bacteria serves as a filter that helps remove and process harmful chemicals and waste from the water. Not to mention it provides landscaping and hiding places for fish.

One week later, with my chemical levels still looking great, I went back and picked up three ocellaris clownfish, a magnificent anemone, and three emerald crabs. The clownfish are the Nemos everyone knows so well. The kids love ’em and they are a lot of fun to watch, especially with an anemone. The emerald crabs are part of a cuc, or clean up crew. They exist to scavenge up uneaten food, eat algae, and keep the tank natural and in good shape. The magnificent anemone was not something I’d intended to purchase. As such I had done no research on it and wasn’t sure what I was getting into. We saw it at the fish store and thought it was pretty cool. It was about 6 – 8 inches across.

The anemone and clowns did great together at first. By the end of the first week things had changed. The anemone had moved from the bottom up to the top of the tank, then started back down towards the bottom. It was looking rougher as time went by, then finally just yesterday I noticed two of the clowns had abandoned it and the third was still hanging around, but it was nipping and tearing at the flesh of its ‘foot’. If I had to make a guess I reckon it was a few hours away from being dead, if not closer.

Words of wisdom to any beginning marine aquarist – stay away from anemones at first. They are cool and very tempting, but until your tank is fully cycled and has been running great for a while (read: months), they can be very complicated to keep. They have high lighting requirements and need very pristine water. I had good water flow, but as time went by my chemical levels started to rise. The anemone wasn’t meant to be, or at least not for a while.

My rising chemical levels are far from critical to most things, but the anemones are sensitive. I’m sure they are climbing because of the anemone. One that size puts out waste equivalent to 3 – 5 fish, or so I’ve read. What’s worse is that it was sick and dying and putting out even more bad stuff into the water. Anemone is now gone and the clowns are doing fine without it.

I also noticed some algae coming in. Some on the glass, but mostly on the sand and rocks. Algae’s not bad, it’s a natural food source and helps with filtration. It can also be unsightly and can take over the tank, which is bad. So on the same day the anemone went buh-byes we scoped out a new fish store just west of Cleveland. Very nice place with some great livestock and tons of rocks and coral. Couple of cool display tanks too, as well as a few massive fish available for sale. Massive as in you could go deep sea fishing for a couple of those guys!

Anyhow, I came back how with three good sized Tonga snails which are doing a great job of burrowing into my sand and stirring it up, 3 Mexican turbo snails (for cleaning up the rocks and the glass), and 5 hermit crabs. Oh, and my wife has been taken with the though of getting a powder blue tang so we got one of those too. One day later the tank is doing great. The cuc is making it look clean and pretty and all the fish seem to be establishing themselves nicely. The only additional fish I plan to get is a flame angel, and preferably one that has some experience in a tank with corals and does not nip at them. Aside from the fish I want a few corals as well, although the exact kind and type remains to be determined (leathers, mushrooms, brains, colts…I’m just not sure).

So, between the $500ish in the tank, the $200 in rocks and such, and then another $200 in fish and invertebrates (and a dead anemone), I’m closing in on the $1000 mark for a little 37 gallon aquarium. I need some better lighting still too. In a few years when we move from renting to owning we’re talking about a much larger saltwater tank – 125 gallon or bigger. That’s going to get pricey!

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