For most of the time that I had my first reef tank, it wasn’t very pretty. I’ve come along way since then, and I want to share with you some key lessons I’ve learned along the way. I could have avoided many of the mistakes I made when first starting out, if I had known what I know now. Do yourself a favor and learn from my mistakes. It will save you time, money, and a lot of frustration. If I can help one person with this post, then it was worth it.
Lesson #1: Correct Issues Fast
No matter how perfect you try to keep your reef tank, there may be a time when you have an algae bloom, or notice the health of your livestock declining. Most likely these issues won’t correct themselves and if you ignore them, they will only get worse with time. It is much easier to correct something when you first notice it then to wait and try to correct a bigger problem later.
My 30 gallon reef tank had a hair algae bloom for a lot of the time I had the tank set up. The hair algae obviously didn’t appear overnight. I remember seeing hair algae and leaving it there instead of trying to remove it or correct the problem that was causing it. In fact, in the picture above, you can see the start of the hair algae problem by the anemone. Bad past Eric!
Lesson #2: Quarantine
Quarantining your livestock is the best way to prevent unwanted critters in your tank. It doesn’t matter if it’s coral or fish, hitchhikers can be introduced to your aquarium without properly quarantining them. Parasites can be brought in from a new fish and could end up killing all your existing fish. Hitchhikers like flatworms, aiptasia anemones, and nuisance algae could end up in your tank from new corals. Instead of putting your whole aquarium in jeopardy, it’s much easier to just quarantine everything before it enters your tank.
In my first tank, I used to put everything in my tank straight from the fish stores, which was a recipe for disaster. There were a few times I noticed things like flatworms and aiptasia after the coral was already in my aquarium, and by then it was too late. Do yourself a favor and have a small quarantine tank.
Lesson #3: Be Dedicated & Have Enough Time
Back when I started my reef tank aquarium I was still in college. I was living away and naive to think the reef tank wouldn’t need daily attention. I came home every weekend and thought that would be enough, and my mom helped me with the tank by feeding it when I wasn’t there. She did a great job of keeping things alive, but because I wasn’t there to inspect my reef aquarium every day, things went unnoticed and caused issues. Before setting up a reef tank, you have to make sure you are going to have the time needed to dedicate to caring for the tank. You should also make sure you have a plan for when you eventually take a vacation. You should have someone you can count on to feed your fish and top off your tank.
Lesson #4: Do Your Research
We’ve all been there, you go to a fish store and see something you’ve never seen before and just have to have it. Don’t do it! Until you have researched what you are about to buy, you could be walking into problems. You should always make sure to do your research before you get to the store or at the very least pull out your smart phone while you’re there. There is nothing worse than buying something and being all excited only to get home and realize you can’t care for what you just bought. Save yourself and the new critter the trouble and do a little research before you buy.
With my first reef aquarium, I am ashamed to admit I had many impulse buys. I would see a cool coral and then believe what the fish store employee would tell me about it. Sometimes it was fine, but other times I got home and when I did some research found out that the corals I bought were extremely difficult to care for in a home aquarium.
Lesson #5: Don’t Use Tap Water
If you are starting a reef tank, whatever you do, DON’T USE TAP WATER. If you do, you will more than likely run into big problems with either algae blooms or bad water chemistry. When I had my first reef tank I stupidly used tap water for most of the time I had it. I was essentially dumping in nutrients and who knows what else into the aquarium every time I topped the water off or did a water change. So many stores sell RO/DI water now, that you have no excuse not to use it. You could also be make your life easier and buy your own RO/DI filter, which would probably make sense depending on the size of your reef tank.
Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and not have the same problems I did with my first reef tank. Don’t be like me from 15 years ago making all these mistakes, start your reef tank off right! For those of you that already have aquariums, what was the worst mistake and lesson you have from your fish keeping experience? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.