Friday, July 30, 2010

New Fish!!! Scooter Blenny & Canary Wrasse

We got new fish yesterday! A "Scooter Blenny" and a "Golden Coris Wrasse". Here's what I've found out about these guys so far:

Golden Coris Wrasse (aka "Louie"):
It's actually a Wrasse, not a Coris so it should be called a Golden Wrasse or Canary Wrasse. We have a reef tank and are hoping this guy gets along with our corals. From what I've read, it generally shouldn't be a problem, although I have read of a few cases of these guys eating some inverts like shrimp. The majority from what folks have said is that these guys are great for a peaceful, community reef aquarium. They are peaceful and small (a max of 5" long). They look like slender, bright yellow autumn leaves with a black eyespot on its dorsal fin. Absolutely gorgeous. They are carnivorous and my guy had no problem eating frozen mysis. These guys also eat parasites off tankmates and coral, like flatworms, tubeworms and fireworms. They are leapers when nervous (and they get nervous pretty easily). I can attest to this; this guy wanted to jump out of the acclimation tank desperately. They love to dive into the sand to sleep or when scared. Louie likes to hide in the live rock when scared as well. However, within 12 hours, he was out and about all day! I think giving him lots of places to hide made him feel comfortable. He's definitely dirunal. Out, swimming about all day, and as soon as he had eaten dinner, poof! Louie disappeared into the sand for bedtime. These guys are also pretty hardy; perfect for beginners like us!

Scooter Blenny ("Waldo"):
So named because finding him is a bit like playing Where's Waldo. He blends in perfectly with the live rock! This guy is very friendly and perfect for a community reef tank. He's peaceful and small (5") and loves to crawl about in the sand and on live rock. At night, he sleeps under the substrate; all you can see is a pair of eyes. The only problem is that he's not recommended for beginners, mostly because he prefers to eat debris off live rock of a well-established tank. Oops. Our first major mistake. He's a slow eater and does not accept food easily. I tried feeding him frozen mysis/brine shrimp; he was very interested and swam after the particles but failed to actually ingest any of it. Damn! I even turned the pumps off for 5-10 minutes to give him a longer chance to eat. He prefers to sift through the sand and live rock in search of arthropods that live in the algae growing there. Looks like I'm going to need to invest in a refugium (more on this later) STAT! to save this guy. I'm determined to be a good aquarium mom, however, and try to take good care of him to the best of my abilities.
Can you find Waldo?

Where's Waldo?

Bonnie and Clyde, happily swimming around, just a few weeks later. They don't seem to mind their new tankmates.
Travis and Floyd, some of our other pets, snuggling at bedtime. These guys are best buds!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Aquarium Maintenance Checklist

Maintaining a saltwater aquarium can be very intimidating. What to do, how to do it, how often. I was sure I would forget something. Here's a checklist I put together from reading a compilation of books and websites. Of course, there are huge amounts of variation depending on personal preference so feel free to edit to your liking!

1. Turn lights on/off (or on timer).
2. Check fish and inverts for health.
3. Make sure all systems functioning (skimmer, pumps, powerheads, heater, etc.)
4. Check water temp and specific gravity (pH, if you want).
5. Feed fish accordingly.
6. Empty protein skimmer cup.
7. Top off water as needed (use RO freshwater).
These chores, done 1-2x/day, only take 5-10 minutes.

1. Remove algae from glass with magnet (I actually do this 3x/week).
2. Remove salt creep from outside of aquarium and light fixtures.
3. Slightly more thorough cleaning than daily chores.

1. Perform 10-15% water change.
2. Conduct water tests (before and after change).
3. Clean off algae from inside tank before changing water.
4. Clean out skimmer more thoroughly.
5. Clean filters (change out filter sock).

1. Replace activated carbon from media reactor.
2. More thorough cleaning of filters and skimmer and outside of aquarium.

1. Thorough examination of aquarium and all systems.
2. Replace/clean as needed (inside-and-out).
3. Clean powerheads and all pumps.

1. Take apart skimmer and clean every 6 months.
2. Replace light bulbs every 6-9 months.
3. Check aquarium for cracks and leaks once a year.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cycling of the Saltwater Aquarium

You may have heard that your tank needs to "Cycle". No, you don't have to put your new aquarium on a stationary bike. This is the Nitrogen Cycle. It's the reason we can't just add all the fish we want immediately after getting our new tank. Some of you probably found out the hard way and lost most, if not all, of those new fish. Commonly known as "New Tank Syndrome" for those of us who have a hard time with patience (

Basically, the main cause of all these problems poop. Yuk! Fish poop causes a sharp rise in ammonia, which is very toxic to the fish. Normally, bacteria present in the substrate and live rock break-down the ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate, which is much less toxic to your fish. In a new tank, the beneficial bacteria haven't had a chance to populate yet, and they can't keep up with the fish poop produced by the new fish. So the fish die, and you get, whallah! New Tank Syndrome. So you need bacteria. This is one of the few cases where a clean tank is an unhappy tank.

The key is patience. It takes 4-6 weeks for your new tank to fully cycle. In the meantime, use your test kits to track the changes in ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels. When the ammonia level drops to 0 and the nitrate levels begin to rise, it's time for your first water change (about 50%). You'll know when your tank has fully "cycled" when the ammonia levels drop to 0. You're then just about ready to add fish. Be sure to add only a few (1-3). The addition of each fish will actually trigger a 2nd "mini cycle" in your tank. Your beneficial, nitrifying bacteria population is still growing, and the addition of too many fish can easily overhwhelm the entire system. Add a few at a time, allow the good bacteria to grow for another month, and then add a few more.

If you have live rock, you're in luck. You have a well-established seeding of nitrifying bacteria ready to go. All you have to do is wait. You may never see any ammonia or nitrite levels. You will know when it's ready when the nitrate levels rise a bit after a month or so. Yes, it still takes the same amount of time. However, down the road, your biological filter (live rock) will be enormous and able to support the bioload produced by your fish.

You may have heard the best way to begin the cycle is to introduce a hardy fish, such as a damsel. However, this is not a great idea. First, it's very cruel to the fish. Second, damsels, which are most commonly used for this, become quite the aggressive pest to your other prized fish down the road.

Also avoid additives that claim to remove ammonia from the water or boost the cycling process overnight. These products are highly unreliable and can actually interfere with the cycling process. Be patient, and you will be rewarded. You will have much happier fish in the end!

Nitrogen Cycling in the Aquarium Links:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Brief Primer on Water Chemistry

Measuring the parameters of your aquarium can be a bit daunting if you don't know much about chemistry. However, a basic understanding of what's happening with the water in your tank can be instrumental in preventing things from going wrong (and knowing what action to take when it does).

Keep the Water Constant
Saltwater fish (and coral) are much more sensitive to fluctuations in the water than freshwater fish. Freshwater fish live in an environment that is very dynamic. If you live in a little pond, you have to adapt to varying amounts of rainfall, evaporation, and large temperature swings. If you are a fish living in a coral reef, you don't have to adapt to any of these things. The ocean is an enormous body of water. The immense size of the ocean acts as a giant buffer; it takes a lot more than a thunderstorm or a cold winter to change the water in the ocean. Therefore, if you only learn one thing about the water in your reef aquarium, remember that your fish and coral HATE change. The absolute values of the different parameters of the water (e.g. specific gravity, temp, pH, etc.) don't matter as much as preventing them from changing.

Testing Your Water and Test Kits
Everyone has different opinions on how often to test their water. I test a bit more (about once a week) but this is because our tank is still young and we're still learning the ropes. As a rule of thumb, test your water before and after each water change to keep track of changes. And check the temperature on a daily basis, especially during the heat of the summer, when temps can soar (more on this in a later post).
Important parameters to check include:

  • Temperature: 78-80 degrees Farenheit
  • Specific gravity (or salinity): 1.024-1.026
  • pH: 8.1-8.3
  • Nitrates: as low as possible (0-10 ppm)
  • Ammonia and Nitrites: 0 ppm
  • Phosphate: as low as possible (below 0.05 ppm)
  • Calcium (reef tanks only): 375-475 ppm
  • Alkalinity (reef tanks only): 2.5-3.5 meq/L or 7-10 dkH

Water Parameters for our Reef Aquarium:

  • Temperature:
  • I've seen anything from 75 to 83 (Farenheit). The important thing is to keep it stable (+/- 1 degree). Ours runs at 80 (now that we have a fan in the hood to help cool the lights). I'll allow it to go 79 in the winter but that's it. Keep in mind cooler temps prevent algae growth. The actual temp depends on the species you keep in your tank. It seems reef tanks run a bit higher (around 80 vs 78) than fish-only (or FOWLR). It's easy to maintain with a heater and a thermometer. The hard part is cooling the water off. Temps can rise, especially with lights (and especially in the summer). A strategically placed fan in the hood and/or sump usually does the trick (our hood fan lowered the temp by 2 degrees). The downside? Our fan is cooling via evaporation so we have to refill the tank more frequently (about every other day). Also, temperature is the one thing I recommend checking daily (I actually check it 2x--am and pm).

  • Salinity:
  • This is measured by specific gravity. Recommended values are 1.023-1.026 (low end recommended for fish-only systems, higher end recommended for coral). Interestingly, a lower specific gravity retards parasitic growth. This is why aquarium shops often keep their fish housed at a specific gravity of 1.023 (or lower), not to mention why it's so important to carefully acclimate your new fish before dumping them into your tank! Also, keep in mind that while water evaporates, salt does not so when the water levels in your tank lowers, the salinity actually increases! That's why topping off with freshwater is critical. Also, smaller, more frequent top offs (daily) prevent large fluctuations in salinity. I use a refractometer to measure the specific gravity. Remember that temperature affects specific gravity so you may want to invest in one that is set to your tank's temp to avoid extra math in converting values. What exactly is specific gravity and what does it have to do with the percent of salt in the water? Specific gravity (or relative density) compares the density of the saltwater to pure water (therefore, pure water has a specific gravity of 1). Because saltwater has a lot of minerals in it, the specific gravity is higher than that of freshwater. We keep our tank at 1.025. I measure it with our refractometer about every other day. Convert your specific gravity to ppm here

  • This is the measure of hydrogen ions (H+) in the water. Freshwater is neutral (pH=7). Saltwater is slightly basic (our tank has a pH of 8.3). Again, keep your pH constant and your fish will thank you. pH is especially important for the calcification process, important for corals (especially stony ones). Interestingly, the act of photosynthesis conducted by your coral and algae in the tank will increase the pH. Therefore, expect small, normal,daily fluctuations when the lights go on (pH will rise) and off (pH will drop). This fluctuation should be no more than about 0.2. Briefly, because photosynthesis consumes CO2 and releases O2, this results in a pH increase (more basic). Once photosynthesis halts (when the lights go out), this process reverses, resulting in a slight acidification. I recommend using a pH probe to more easily test the water rather than the cumbersome test provided in many kits. More on pH here.
  • Ammonia, Nitrites, Nitrates:
  • This is basically produced by fish waste and, unfortunately, is very toxic to your aquarium denizens. Luckily, all the live rock you put in your system acts as a powerful biological filter, utilizing beneficial nitrifying bacteria to convert the ammonia (NH3), then nitrite (NO2-) and finally, the less toxic form, nitrate (NO3-). (More on this nitrogen cycle later). Nitrates are less toxic than ammonia but promote algae growth and are harmful at higher levels. Ammonia and nitrite levels should always be 0. Nitrates can be tolerated at slightly higher levels (~10 ppm). You can significantly lower your nitrate levels with excellent filtration equipment and live rock as well as small, frequent water changes. Also, NEVER overfeed your fish. Scavengers, such as hermit crabs, snails, and shrimp, can also aid in getting rid of excess debris before they produce these harmful chemicals. I test the nitrates before and after a water change and the ammonia and nitrites only if there's a problem.

  • Phosphates:
  • Ideally, this should be as low as possible (below 0.03) because, quite simply, phosphates promote algae growth. Phosphates (PO4) are typically introduced in the fish food. Macroalgae, frequent water changes, and feeding your fish the correct amount will prevent phosphate spikes.

          • Calcium:
          • This element is important in a reef aquarium simply because your coral (especially stony ones) utilize it to build their skeletons. Hey, just like us! Ideally, you want 375-475 ppm. Calcium chloride can be added to the water to boost levels but be sure to be extra conservative when adding anything to your water. Add only 1/4 the manufacturer's recommended dose and test levels every 24 hours. Adjust every other day until desired level is obtained. Watch your aquarium carefully 24 hours after adding anything new to the water for signs of distress or change.

          • Alkalinity:
          • This measurement is often confused with pH. Alkalnity is the ability of your aquarium to buffer changes in pH. In seawater, this is controlled by bicarbonate. Therefore, calcium and alkalinity are closely related when it comes to your tank since corals use bicarbonate for the calcification process required to build their skeletons. For reef aquariums, 2.5-4 meq/L is recommended. To find out more about alkalinity, go to this link:

          More links on water parameters for reef aquariums:

          Friday, July 23, 2010

          How to do a Water Change (Without Ruining your Floors)

          Oh, the dreaded water change. I imagined buckets of water crashing onto my beautiful, new hardwood floors made of the ever-so-chic bamboo. When I was little, my dad used to change the water in our goldfish tank. I remember soggy, wet towels, dripping with nasty aquarium water. There was water everywhere. Not to mention siphoning nasty water into your mouth! Yuck! But it doesn't have to be that way...

          Why do a Water Change?
          Yes, you really do need to do water changes. We, luckily, have a toilet to take care of our business. But fish, coral and other invertebrates don't have this luxury. In order to keep toxic levels of nitrates from rising and other algae-loving substrates like phosphates, water changes are necessary.

          How Much? How Often?
          Everyone has different recommendations but I like to do ~15-20% bimonthly. I've heard of anything from 10% weekly to 20% monthly. It all depends on your bioload (how many fish you have) and equipment (a nice media reactor and protein skimmer cleans the water for you, making water changes necessary less frequently). In my opinion, I prefer smaller, more frequent changes. It's not as stressful on the entire system. A big change may shock your fish. Saltwater species are sensitive to any change in their environment. Afterall, they're used to a big, stable ocean. It's a bad idea to throw out a bunch of water they're used to and suddenly give them a bunch of new water, no matter how closely matched the new water is to the old.

          Equipment Needed:
          • 30-40 gallon garbage can on wheels for mixing saltwater (with lid)
          • pump for mixing saltwater and pumping water into or out of tank
          • plastic tubing (attaches to pump and long enough to reach tank from garbage can)
          • high quality synthetic salt (I love Tropic Marin but there are other good ones out there as well)
          • heater to heat new saltwater in garbage can to match that in tank
          • thermometer to measure temp of saltwater in garbage can
          • refractometer to measure specific gravity (salt percentage)
          • sponge, scrubbing pads, old toothbrush, turkey baster and razor blades for cleaning algae off live rocks, substrate and sides of aquarium

          Step-by-Step Water Changing Procedure:

          1. Mix salt water, preferably 24 hours before use:
          2. Pour desired amount of RO water into garbage can (make sure you have extra RO water as back-up in case you overshoot specific gravity)
          3. Hook up pump to plastic tubing to circulate, turn on heater, put thermometer into garbage can.
          4. Slowly add salt a few cups at a time. Usually ~1/2 cup/gallon for a specific gravity of ~1.025. Allow each batch to dissolve (this is what the pump and tubing is awesome for) before adding new batch (~10-15 minutes). When you get close to total predicted amount of salt needed, begin measuring specific gravity with refractometer. It's always better to undershoot and just add more salt than overshoot and have to add more RO water.
          5. Check the temperature, pH and specific gravity. Adjust until these parameters are identical to your tank.
          6. Clean aquarium:
          7. Turn off pumps, powerheads, protein skimmer, etc.
          8. Use scrubbers, pads, toothbrush, etc. to lightly clean debris and algae off sides of aquarium and live rock. Be careful not to disturb fish and coral! Leave some green algae as "tang fodder". Gently mix top 1" of substrate with fingers to dislodge algae. Don't overmix or go deeper than 1" or you will disrupt the beneficial anaerobic bacteria underneath the top surface.
          9. Wipe off salt creep from outside edges of aquarium.
          10. Empty protein skimmer cup and clean out skimmer.
          11. Change carbon in media reactor, if necessary (monthly).
          12. Change filter sock.
          13. Remove 10-20% old water:
          14. Our tank is 75 gallons so this is 8-16 gallons for us.
          15. We use the same pump used for mixing saltwater connected to a long stretch of plastic tubing. We put the pump into the top of the aquarium and pump it through the tubing into a 2nd garbage can designated for waste water. Try to get up as much of dislodged debris as possible.
          16. Add new water:
          17. After carefully making sure the new water matches the aquarium water (pH, specific gravity, temperature or as I like to call it, "PST"), use the pump and tubing to pump water from fresh salt water in garbage can into aquarium.
          18. Turn all systems back on and check to make sure everything is running properly.
          19. Leave a fresh chocolate mint on your fishes' pillow.

          Your fish will thank you!

          Links on Changing Water in a Saltwater Aquarium:

          Thursday, July 22, 2010

          Our First Fish!

          We got our first fish yesterday! An adoreable juvenile pair of clownfish that we aptly dubbed Bonnie & Clyde.
          They spend hours staring at their reflection in the glass. What do YOU think they're saying?

          Tuesday, July 20, 2010

          Are You a Good Slug or a Bad Slug?

          I've been spending a lot of time staring at my tank. With nothing but coral, snails, and hermit crabs, I expected to be quite bored. Surprisingly, I'm captivated by the lively movements and colors of the coral, alien creatures to me. The other night, I discovered the tank is still entertaining after the lights go out.

          This strange, large slug made its 2nd appearance late one Saturday night. I know. I have a very exciting night, spending long amounts of time watching my saltwater aquarium. Anyway, the first time I saw her, I thought it was a fluke. I rubbed my eyes and squinted. The mysterious creature had disappeared. Maybe it was just my imagination...

          Then, Nessie (we aptly dubbed the elusive creature) made its 2nd appearance. Well after lights-out, I spotted her, a large yellowish slug (antennae and all) with tiny punctate freckles, cruising up the back of our aquarium wall. I freaked. What is it? Is it good our bad? Do I kill it or feed it? I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures, a difficult challenge in darkness where a flash is also forbidden. We shined a flashlight on it, and Nessie quickly disappeared again.

          After some research, I've discovered Nessie is a Stomatella Varia, a type of snail with almost no shell. Nessie is a benefical hitchhiker commonly found on live rock. She eats annoying algae, moves quite fast for a snail, and is nocturnal. Bingo!

          I quietly await for what new surprises my mysterious aquarium has in store for me...

          Acclimation of New Fish

          We added our first fish today! Since we now have coral (just mushrooms and zoos) and a pair of clownfish, I thought now would be the perfect opportunity to discuss acclimating new creatures (fish or other inverts) to the saltwater aquarium.

          Remember when you had a freshwater tank? You got a new fish and simply floated the bag on top of the tank for 20 minutes before releasing the fish and all into the tank. Better to just erase this memory from your mind right now because the bag-floating technique is a big no-no. It's too much of a shock to the fish. Plus, you end up introducing strange, foreign water containing who-knows-what into your pristine saltwater aquarium (remember all the hours you spent mixing up your saltwater to get the pH and specific gravity just right?).

          How to Correctly Acclimate Fish to a Saltwater Aquarium:
          1. Carefully pour fish and water into container ~3x the volume of water.
          2. Gradually add water from your tank to acclimation container.
          • You can add 1/2 a cup every 10 minutes or set up a drip system (the easiest way).
          • For the drip system, connect a thin, plastic tube from the aquarium to container with a valve to control the flow rate.
          • Watch the drip system carefully. You may have to adjust the flow rate periodically. If acclimation container gets too full, empty a few cups out.
          • *Note--Do not leave to take a nap for 2 hours. I actually did this when introducing the coral. I can't believe they survived. I woke up and ran downstairs to check on them. The drip system had been set up too slowly, and the original water had turned cold. I put them immediately into my aquarium, and they now are all happy as clams (pun intended).*
          3. Continue step #2 until the water in the acclimation tank is the same as the aquarium (pH, specific gravity, temperature). The entire process takes ~45 minutes.
          4. Carefully net or use a small cup to delicately add your new fish to the aquarium.
          5. Keep lights off or dim for a few hours to overnight while new fish get settled.
          6. You may wish to wait a day before feeding. New fish that are stressed aren't very hungry, and uneaten food just junks up your tank.

          --Our new clownfish in the "acclimation bucket" (a tupperware container) with the drip system going from our aquarium to container.

          Saturday, July 17, 2010

          Invasion of the Brown Body Snatchers

          24 hours after we introduced the 8 pieces of new coral, I noticed something new as I walked by the tank. "Hmm. What's that on the glass?" Upon closer inspection, I observed a thin layer of brown slime. Instantly recalling upon the books I'd read, I recognized it as "diatoms". WTF? I had followed all instructions to a tee. Put in live rock. Add some substrate. A protein skimmer. A media reactor for the fun of it. Let simmer for a month. And, supposedly, whallah!, you're tank is ready for fish. Well, not quite. Only one or two hardy fish but that's irrelevant here.

          We added the coral and decided to wait another (yes, that's 2) months before adding fish. I patted myself on the back for being so patient and converative. I'm so brave for jumping right in. Maybe this wouldn't be so hard afterall. I followed the store owner's instructions about adding the coral supplements to the tank. Alkalinity? Check. Calcium? Check. Reef "vitamins" and "nutrients"? Check. To be extra careful, I added only 1/4 of the dose recommended by the manufacturer. The next morning, brown slime, creeping all over everything. Over the next 12 hours, I sat, wringing my hands, and helplessly watching the brown slime infest my entire tank: the glass, the walls, the substrate, live rocks, and even the thermometer. By morning, after consulting Mike, our aquarium guru, we knew what action was to be taken.

          First, no more adding anything to the water. The tank was simply too young. And too unstable. Second, shorten the photoperiod to only 8 hours a day (for now). Third, do a final water change (we had done 50% (our first one) only a few days before)of 20%. Scrub off algae from rocks and glass and mix up the substrate with fingers. Add 10 more snails and 10 more hermit crabs. Then, leave it alone. I was skeptical that was all that was needed to rescue the tank from such an aggressive full-frontal attack.

          We followed the above instructions carefully, then left the tank alone, watching it and wringing our hands again. One day later, I was pleased to see that everything looked much cleaner. But had the diatoms only retreated or fully surrendered? After several more days, I am happy to report that the diatoms appear to be defeated. The glass is clear, and lots of red and white coralline algae are painting the rock in colorful patterns. A little hindsight research teaches me that diatom growth is the first species of algae that commonly appears after a newly cycled tank. (I can already spot patches of green algae (2nd phase of attack) guys coming in nicely. I am secretly glad. They will be lush pastures for some hungry tangs.)

          Thursday, July 15, 2010

          First Addition of Life

          Jittery with excitement, we eagerly drove to the aquarium store to pick out our first coral. We had scoped out the place several days before, and after drooling all over the gorgeous, healthy fish, we had delusions of grandeur of adding some clownfish and a royal gramma. After talking with some experts at the shop, we decided to add some "beginner" coral instead. Of course, this meant we would have to wait another month for fish. Sigh...

          I had not wanted to jump into coral right away. Mostly because every book I read talked about how hard they were to keep. I figured I would probably kill them right off the bat. Turns out, lots of coral species (especially the soft ones) aren't as hard to keep if you have the right equipment. Because we had carefully invested in a tank with state-of-the-art gadgetry, many local aquarists suggested jumping into coral right away. I decided to dive right in.

          After reading up on coral a bit, I was completely overwhelmed by the diversity of the different species. I don't know Latin, and I don't plan on memorizing the taxonomy of every creature I'm interested in. No one else I talk to refers to coral by their Latin name either. However, every species seems to have 5 different, very generic names. We were advised to stick to the "mushrooms" and "zoos". I finally figured out "zoos" were zooanthids, which is a HUGE category. Same with "mushrooms". And each one is different.

          We took 8 pieces of coral adhered to live rock home and proceeded with the "acclimation process". This ended up being a bit of a disaster. (More on that coming later in a subsequent post). I figured I had killed them for sure. I put them in the tank, trying to stick to the recommendations of putting the mushrooms at the bottom (they prefer low light) and the zooanthids in the middle (for more light). Guess the guys at the store were right. Those suckers are pretty hardy. Within 24 hours, they were opened up, waving around, full of color in our aquarium. Pretty awesome! I love how after lights out, they close up like flowers and go to sleep. They are full of life and movement. I had no idea such simple, sessile invertebrates could be so alive! Needless to say, I spent at least an hour the next day just staring at each one.

          It will be another month before we add our first fish addition but the aquarium will be more stable. It will have a larger population of beneficial, nitrifying bacteria. Plus, I learned that many coral eat fish poop (among other things)! In other words, the coral is going to help stabilize our mini-saltwater ecosystem.

          Poll Question of the Day:
          How many of you name your coral? (I do now).

          Our aquarium (with lights, yay!) just after adding the 8, small pieces of coral.

          We named our coral after numbering them #1-8 (right to left). Unfortunately, #1, "Pippi LongStalkings", somehow mysteriously moved in the middle of the night in between #2, "Mini Pip" and on top of #3, "Sloth". As in, "I don't like this spot, and I'm lonely. I'm going to get up from this rock and walk down to that other spot." How the heck did that happen? It's alive!

          Shown here from right to left: "Sloth" named after the creature in Goonies because of its facelike appearance (2 purple eyes and a big red nose). Then, "Pippi LongStalkings" because of its long stalks. Finally, "Mini Pip" because it looks like a smaller version of Pippi.

          These are the Three Peppermint Patti Sisters: Pat, Patty, and Patricia. They have green stripes like peppermints, hence, the ever-so-clever name.

          After noticing the mix of zooanthid and mushroom coral on this piece of live rock, we aptly named it "Zooroom".

          This zooanthid is so pretty, I named her Lilly. At night, when she closes up, she is a soft blue. In the daytime, under the lights, she opens up with deep red centers fringed in a neon green. Unfortunately, she also seems the most sensitive. Perhaps I put her in a not-so-favorable location (too much light? not enough current?). Time will tell.

          This is "One-Eyed Willy" (also Goonies). He looks like the negative of Lilly (green centers fringed in red). Hence, the name "Willy". Ha ha.

          This last piece is so gorgeous and flashy, we named this mushroom "Vegas" like a showgirl. At night, she closes up and has bright green stripes. During the day, she opens up, displaying ruffles with pale green stripes. Wow!

          Aiptasia--Our First Lifeform

          June 16, 2010

          Only a few days after setting up our aquarium, we spotted our first lifeform. With nothing else to do, yet still brimming with excitement about our new saltwater ventures, I spent hours watching the empty tank, filled with nothing but substrate, live rock, and water. We still had yet to install even lights. I painstakingly scanned each crevice and cranny on the rocks for signs of movement. Signs of life. I eagerly hoped for some "hitchhikers", secretly hoping a little octopus or something exotic and interesting would appear. I quickly learned most hitchhikers are considered unwanted pests. However, a weed can turn into a flower if appreciated in the right setting, right?

          After a staring session with the live rock, I suddenly spotted movement and squealed. A pale, translucent white thing with tiny hairlike tentacles swirling from a small stalk was apparent in a small hole in the rock. Our first saltwater aquarium pet! I watched it tirelessly, captivated by its alien-like behavior. We quickly dubbed it "Creature". I wondered what it ate. Should I feed it? Oh, I just wanted to pick it up and hold and squeeze it and call him George!

          The next day, at the aquarium store, I excitedly described to Mike, our local aquarium expert, my new finding. He immediately identified my beloved pet as a well-known pest, "Aiptasia". (He had to patiently correct my pronunciation for the next week. I kept calling it A-TIP-SIA instead of the correct AP-TAZ-ZA). What exactly are Aiptasia? They are a type of extremely hardy sea anemone from the Cnidaria family. In addition to multiplying rapidly, they sting other precious fish and coral.

          Since I had no other fish or coral in the tank, he prescribed Aiptasia-X to get rid of it. Kill it! Do I have to?" I asked in dismay. I was loathe to destroy my new pet. He explained that Aiptasia could quickly grow out of control, producing 60 "babies" a day. "Oh," I sighed, reluctantly taking the chemicals home. I solemnly injected the stuff directly into the mouth of Creature, feeling overwhelmed with guilt. I tearfully watched Creature suffocate, shrink, wither and die, secretly wondering how this would affect my overall karma. Creature was gone and no sign of Creature Jrs.

          A week later, I spotted Creature II and, this time, did not hesitate to stab it with an healthy dose of Aiptasia-X. When did I become such a cold-blooded killer? In the future, once my aquarium is stable enough to support shrimp, I hope they can do my dirty work.

          Good Aiptasia Articles:

          Wednesday, July 14, 2010

          Book Review

          While waiting for my new aquarium to cycle, I read. And read and read and read. I ordered a stack of books from Amazon, read them, highlighted them, and made outlines. Some books were better than others. So why should others have to reinvent the wheel? Here's my 2 cents (add some salt), for what it's worth:

          1. Coral
          The Reef & Marine Aquarium Magazine
          By far, this one gives the most expert advice for anyone with a reef aquarium.
          2. Aquarium Fish International (AFI)
          Although not as specific as Coral, AFI gives good information, although if you're not into freshwater stuff, you have to weed through it.

          3. Tropical Fish Hobbyist
          So-so. Some good articles on corals, clownfish, etc. Also some freshwater stuff. Not bad.

          1. The Simple Guide to Marine Aquariums
          Jeff Kurtz
          This book is very easy to read and not too overwhelming in detail, which can ward off many beginners. It has lots of simple charts and tables, making it easier to retain information. However, it can be a bit oversimplified at times. All-in-all, this is a great addition to your library since it gives a little info on just about everything, from acrylic vs. glass to zooanthids.

          2. Marine Chemistry
          CR Brightwell
          A bit more advanced but a must-have for the serious aquarists library. It goes through every possible element in saltwater and what the parameters should be. It's definitely more of a resource book than a sit-down-to-enjoy-on-a-Sunday-night-by-the-fire book.

          3. Corals
          A Quick Reference Guide
          Julian Sprung
          This one is a very simple picture guide of some basic corals. There are very simplified charts of how much lighting each coral requires, where to place it in the tank, what it eats, how aggressive the coral is, and hardiness. My biggest gripe about this book is that it's a bit oversimplified. I had a hard time finding specifics on coral I purchased.

          4. Aquarium Corals
          Selection, Husbandry, and Natural History
          Eric Norneman
          I was hoping this book would give me more specifics on coral husbandry. Unfortunately, it was more of a coral biology textbook. If you want to learn more about the taxonomy and zoology of corals, this is the book for you. However, this is not so much of a how-to book.

          5. Ultimate Marine Aquariums
          Saltwater Dream Systems and How They are Created
          Michael Paletta
          This book is extremely inspiring and very fun to flip through. I love picking a page and drooling all over it as I read about Terry Siegel's 486-gallon reef aquarium from Provincetown, MA. It gives all the equipment used, water chemistry, and challenges overcome. It's neat to see how innovative others are when it comes to pumps and equipment (a jacuzzi pump? plumbing that runs to a 100-gallon sump in the basement or tool-shed outside?). I've heard it's getting outdated so my only complaint is that they should publish a new edition!

          6. The Conscientious Marine Aquariust
          A Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists
          Robbert Fenner
          Hands-down, this book is a must-have. It was recommended to me by several other hobbyists, and now that I own it, I can see why. It gives very detailed, yet easy-to-read advice on everything. I especially like how Fenner discusses the ecological impact of keeping a reef aquarium and things hobbyists should keep in mind to lower her environmental footprint.

          7. The New Marine Aquarium
          Step-by-step Setup & Stocking Guide
          Michael Paletta
          This book is very simple but I absolutely loved it. It made everything very concise and easy to read. Other books made me feel completely overwhelmed but this one outlined everything in a very basic manner. However, if you want something more in-depth, this one probably won't be able to stand alone.

          8. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Saltwater Aquariums
          Mark Martin and Ret Talbot
          This was the first book I read, and I almost lost hope of ever being able to successfully start an aquarium. I was completely overwhelmed with information. It was very detailed and somewhat convoluted. Why discuss outdated filter systems if they're not recommended? I would have preferred, instead, focusing on the systems that are recommended. Not my favorite.

          9. Saltwater Aquariums for Dummies
          Gregory Skomal
          Again, this book was inundated with too much detail, some of it flat-out wrong. The only saving grace were some very helpful charts about water chemistry and routine aquarium maintenance. There are better ones out there than this. Who wants to weed out misinformation? For instance, you NEVER just float the new fish from the pet store in the tank to acclimate them!

          10. Your First Marine Aquarium
          John Tullock
          Skip it. It simply does not give enough information. There's a few sentences about a smorgasboard of everything but not enough to really learn anything. This will just cause confusion.

          11. The Complete Book of the Marine Aquarium
          Vincent Hargreaves
          This book very nicely categorizes many vertebrates and invertebrates with lots of pictures, a bit like an encylopedia of fish, coral, and other marine species. I like it as a reference guide in my library. It tries to give more basic info on aquarium husbandry but these chapters are very paltry, and I would have preferred the author stick to the encyclopedia format.

          12. Marine Reef Aquarium Handbook
          Robert Goldstein
          The chapters on corals and inverts are the best but the others on water chemistry, aquarium set-up, and maintenance do not read easily and fail to give enough information. There are better books out there if you want a coral encyclopedia. Not worth it.

          Happy reading!

          Tuesday, July 13, 2010

          Aquarium Set Up

          Sunday, June 13, 2010

          Today we set up our new aquarium. Since I'm not a plumber, we recruited Mike, our local "Deuce Bigalow" (without the jigalo), to set it up for us. I annoyed him with persistant questions as he worked, my 2 rats, Oliver and Linus, peering over my shoulder curiously. Afterall, I want to be able to maintain all this equipment. As he cut and glued various lengths of PVC pipe together, I was thankful we had hired him. The set-up was way out of my league. After it was all done, I was thankful the water had not flooded my hardwood floors. The $200 cost for set up was well worth it. Watching the water run through the filter sock into the sump, then the media reactor, and finally protein skimmer before going through the sponge to the return pump, it reminded me a bit of dialysis for a patient with failing kidneys. All the guts and glory of the aquarium is discreetly hidden in the cabinet underneath. I'm excited. We are creating a living ecosystem! Now we sit and watch the live rock and wait. And wait. And wait....

          Let the waiting begin....

          75 gallon glass rectangular tank
          Black wooden stand with canopy and cabinet
          75 lbs live rock (IndoPacific)
          ~65-70 gallons salt water (using Tropic Marin salt; includes sump)
          40 gallon acrylic sump
          Tunze Comline DOC Skimmer (in sump)
          Large Via Aqua Poly Reactor (with activated carbon) (in sump)
          Hydor Koralia Powerhead
          Pondmaster Magnetic Drive Return Pump (in sump)
          Titanium Via Aqua Heater (in sump)
          Aragonite substrate 1" depth (~75 lbs)

          Initial Water Chemistry Readings:
          pH 8.2
          specific gravity 1.023
          temp 79

          P.S. Lights will come later.

          Monday, July 12, 2010

          First Post

          I don't know what possessed us to do this. It's been A LOT of equipment and a BIG chunk of change. I have no idea what I'm doing but I'm very excited. I think this journey will be lots of fun. After much research online, hobbyists' advice, and several books and outlines later, we were ready to dive in. Our first saltwater aquarium.

          Greg and I had both had freshwater aquariums, which inevitably had failed. So let's make it more complicated! Undaunted by the complexity and drawn by the overwhelming beauty of saltwater fish and coral, we were drawn in, sirens drawing us into a vortex.

          Join us as we try to successfully launch our first saltwater aquarium. Ultimately, we decided to go with a 75-gallon rectangular, glass tank with 75 lbs of live rock for biological filtration. Our 40 gallon, acrylic sump in the cabinet under the stand supports a kick-ass protein skimmer and large media reactor (with carbon). Equipped with a state-of-the-art German flux capacitor, it can also do our annual income tax report and travel back in time.