What do I need for a Successful Reef Tank?
By Robert M. Metelsky
Author of the book Simplified Reefkeeping, 3rd ed. available at simplifiedreefkeeping.com
Is Planning an important step?
The most important thing to do is to plan. The reason this
chapter is so important, in my opinion, is that so many people would like to get into this
hobby, but they dont plan. They walk into a pet store, see some nice live rock and
coral and invertebrate, and they want to start a tank with that. After their purchase,
they find their light is not strong enough, their water isnt pure enough, they
dont have test kits or the right size protein skimmer. Their tank has not been
properly conditioned, so the livestock they bought dies. At this point, they are shocked
at what it will cost to get the proper items, and many just give up. Some others try to go
on with half of the items they really need, still with bad results. Do not take this
Summary: Understand what is involved
Can you afford a reef tank?
Write a plan
List actual costs of items in your area
Get an idea of a tank size
1. What size tank?
Its location, preferably near a sink (for water supply and
drain). Will the floor carry the weight of the tank? Preferably away from direct sunlight.
How much floor space will all the equipment take? Is there enough power supply to run all
the equipment? Will there be enough room to service behind the tank?
2. Your budget.
Can you afford it? List and plan (very important). You may
not be able to have everything up and running right away. But if you are patient and plan
ahead, buying what you need as you can afford it, you will end up with the largest, most
pleasing set-up you can have. Put a lot of effort into the functioning of the system
first, before adding live creatures to it. Plan for the ease of water changes and waste
water drainage, the location of your tap water purification system, a large protein
skimmer, and high-power lights with the proper bulbs. Once you have these in place
(proceeding to each item as you can afford it), you wont have to worry about
jeopardizing the livestock you will buy. This is definitely the best approach.
3. Your time.
Remember: only bad things happen fast in this hobby, usually
due to lack of time spent. Patience is invaluable. Keeping a reef will take a considerable
amount of time, especially if you fabricate the components yourself. However, the rewards
are exceptional! You will get tremendous satisfaction from knowing that you built
components that are practical to maintain, and far exceed factory-built standards. But all
this takes time, a lot of time. Are you willing to do water changes every two to three
weeks? Are you ready to change your prefilter every week? Make limewater as needed for
evaporation? Remove algae as needed? These are all responsibilities you have to take into
All the items here are needed for a successful reef
ITEM w/APPROX. COST (Note: these are approx.
retail prices, in U.S.$$$, as available in the U.S., - your cost may vary).
1. Deionizer or reverse osmosis water purifier $ 270
2. Resin for above, to replace every 6 months: 1 gal. $ 60
3. Bulbs: 48" actinic blue & actinic white, 4 @ $25 $100
4. 30" protein skimmer (Venturi)* $300
5. Pressure pump for skimmer, 500 to 600 GPH $90
6. Carbon pre filters for tap water: 1 @ $60, 1 @ $25 $85
7. Cartridges for above: 2 @ $12, 1 @ $5 $29
8. Sump box (for prefilter)* $150
9. Material, 6 packages floss prefilter $50
10. Main pump 500 to 600 GPH $90
11. Tank: 55 gallons* $70
12. Tank stand* $75
13. Light canopy to house four 48" bulbs (with VHO ballast)* $300
14. Salt mix: 1 for set-up for 55 gallon tank $18
15. Salt mix for water changes $18
16. Phosphate test kit $20
17. Test kit for ammonia, pH, nitrite, nitrate $45
18. Test kit for K.H. $12, calcium $12 $24
19. Specific gravity meter $12
20. Misc. (books, power strips, Kalkwasser, trace elements, etc.) $100
* These items can easily be made by the hobbyists to save
money, my book Simplified Reefkeeping shows you how! Plus! other items not
on the list. . .
What else do I need?
There are a couple of items I left out, such as a wave maker
or surge buckets, timers for the lights, electronic pH testers, a generator in the event
of a power outage, etc. I omitted these from the start-up figure because they are not
absolutely essential at the very beginning. They are important, beneficial components, but
they can be added to the system later on if you prefer.
What about the livestock?
I recommend that the largest population of livestock in the
reef tank be shrimp, starfish, clams, urchins, snails, and harmless crabs. Next, in a
lesser amount, would be the corals; they produce a minimum amount of waste, and in fact
some of them will process waste. Finally, fish should be added, in the smallest numbers.
They are the largest consumers of food, and therefore produce the most waste. Having only
a few fish will mean that you will be putting in less commercial food. This reduces the
risk of food going uneaten and accumulating in the prefilter, possibly becoming food for
algae and/or leading to diminished water quality.
Your fish should be reef-compatible only; that is, they should eat algae but not
coral. Nearly all of the creatures we put into our tank should be able to consume their
fair share of naturally-occurring algae. The selection of livestock is important for algae
I recommend that nearly all of the livestock in your reef
tank be algae consumersfish especially. To be allowed into your reef, just about
every creature should consume its fair share of algae. This way, not only are the tank
inhabitants interesting and beautiful, but they will serve an important function! They
will manage the unavoidable, naturally-occurring algae that would be a major inconvenience
for you (the reef keeper) to remove manually. Let the fish, snails, crabs, and urchins
remove it for you, naturally!
Livestock and approximate cost:
1. Mat for live rock frame (egg crate) $ 15
2. Sand aragonite: 1 10-lb. bag 10
3. Live rock: 1.5 lbs. per gallon, x 55 gallons = 83 lbs. @ $10 $830
4. Turbo snails (herbivores): 10 @ $5 $50
5. Coral banded shrimp: 1 $15
6. Cleaner shrimp: 4 @ $15 $60
7. Serpent starfish (scavengers): 2 @ $12 $24
8. *** Brittle starfish (scavengers): 2 @ $12 $24
9. *** Hardy corals: 4 @ $45 $180
10. Tridachna clam: 1 $50
11. Yellow tang, small: 1 $35
12. Hippo tang, small: 1 $35
13. Sailfin tang, small: 1 $35
14. *** Basselette: 1 $35
15. *** Goby: (your choice of type): 1 $35
16. *** Misc. invertebrate (your choice): 1 $35
***To keep costs down you may use less livestock on the items