If you’re new to maintaining a reef aquarium, mistakes are inevitable. Ask any avid hobbyist or experienced aquarist out there and you’ll see that everyone has at least one disaster story to share.
By being aware of where other aquarists have gone wrong, you’ll increase your chances of maintaining a successful reef tank. Read on to learn about the most common mistakes and how you can avoid them.
1. Diving straight right in without sufficient research and planning
One of the biggest mistakes, particularly of those who have maintained a freshwater tank before, is starting right away without researching and planning first. If you think that it’s going to be more or less the same, think again.
The truth is, maintaining a reef aquarium is more complex in terms of setup and maintenance. You have to consider the water chemistry, lighting, and flow, not to mention that there are special pieces of equipment to keep your tank healthy.
So do your homework and decide what types of corals, invertebrates, and fishes you’d like to keep and learn about their specific requirements and compatibility. You should also research the various equipment so you can plan which one to buy, and designate a spot in your home for your reef aquarium.
2. Starting with a small aquarium
Another common mistake of novice aquarists is starting with a small tank. You might think that a small aquarium means it’s easier to maintain, but the opposite is true to some extent.
Why? Because small tanks are more prone to significant and drastic fluctuations in water chemistry and temperature than larger tanks due to the volume of water they can hold.
To explain more simply, just imagine adding food coloring to a glass of water vs. a bucket of water. You’ll notice that a single drop can quickly change the color of the water in the glass, while the food coloring will spread more slowly and there will be much less noticeable change in the bucket of water.
Basically, when something happens that changes the water chemistry in your aquarium, larger tanks provide more wiggle room for you to correct and balance it again compared to small tanks.
So if you’re starting out, the smallest that you should opt for is a 29-gallon tank. However, if you can afford it, a 55- or 75-gallon tank is recommended.
3. Cramming too much livestock and overloading your system
I know this is such an exciting time for you, but don’t move too fast and cram too much livestock in your reef aquarium. Make sure that your tank is properly cycled first.
Also, keep in mind that when your inhabitants consume food, they also produce waste. When these waste products and uneaten food break down, ammonia which is toxic to fish is produced.
Good bacteria that live in the substrate and live rock can break down that toxic substance into nitrites and then into nitrates, which are less harmful and can be removed through routine water changes. However, the more inhabitants you have in your tank, the more bacteria are needed to handle the biological load of the aquarium.
So when you keep your tank crowded and add inhabitants too quickly, you overload your system and exceed your biological filtration system’s ability to break down ammonia.
You can easily avoid this by buying a water test kit and testing if the water has fully cycled once you set it up. You’ll know that it’s ready when both the ammonia and nitrites are down to 0 ppm.
4. Overfeeding your fish
The thing with fishes is that they will eat as much food as you offer them. Overfeeding your fish means running the risk of ruining your aquarium’s water chemistry.
The rule of thumb is to feed them as much as they can within just five minutes. Depending on their needs, you may have to feed them several times a day. Also, ensure you buy high quality food to keep them and your tank healthy.
5. Improper lighting and circulation, and inadequate filtration installed
Corals have varying needs in terms of lighting and circulation. Remember, they are photosynthetic creatures that require light to survive, so make sure that you know what each type needs.
Circulation is equally important because they rely on the flow of water to deliver the nutrients and carry away the waste these corals produce. Finally, the filtration system is important as it keeps the tank water clean and of high quality.
Maintaining the right balance in your aquarium requires a bit of trial and error at first. There will be a lot of water testing involved and it’s important to record your ideal parameters once you achieve them. Doing this will help you get everything back to ‘normal’ and keep optimal balance easily.
6. Misdiagnosing a disease and overmedicating
Some diseases such as Oodinium and White Spot Disease can be confusing because they’re similar but are caused by different parasites. Hence, different types of treatments must be done.
Also, some aquarists tend to throw in remedies in an attempt to treat a sick fish without even knowing what the real problem is. The best thing to do to avoid doing more harm than good is by consulting with a trusted aquatic veterinarian or an experienced aquarist.
Further, it is recommended to isolate the fish and use medications in a quarantine tank. This will not only target the ailing fish but will also avoid infecting other inhabitants and wiping out the entire tank.
Seeing marine life blossoming right before your eyes is exhilarating. However, things don’t always go as planned and it can sometimes get the better of you.
Hopefully, this article has equipped you with the right knowledge to maintain a thriving reef aquarium. Remember, in this hobby, knowledge and foresight are power.
If you’re ever looking for live corals or more knowledge on how to set up a reef tank, you can visit Pieces of the Ocean for more information. They are suppliers of a variety of live corals like SPS corals, LPS corals, Zoanthids, and more.