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A corals-first marine tank

Posted 07/11/2015 at 02:22 PM by Sk8r

A corals-first marine tank...
I've discussed this a couple of places, and some people are doing it, but let me put forward the advantages and the problems---if you have done or are contemplating doing it, chime in. It's at least worth a consideration, counting how prevalent parasites seem to have gotten in the hobby...

Pros
You can start setting up right after cycle.
You put your cuc in, dip, (do a short observation after dip for zoas, particularly) put a number of corals in of a type suited to your lighting, and you're up and running.
You spend the next 12 weeks or so keeping the coral happy and getting it growing like mad before adding fish.
Unlike fish, corals are real expressive---a shriveled coral, temporarily spitting out the water that normally keeps it fat, is saying help! Water quality! Test and fix it, please! A fish just keeps a poker face and swims on till it suddenly demises. If your corals are open and happy, you don't have to wonder. If they close up---test and fix. It's a great learning tool.
If you like to shop---I won't say there's no such thing as too many corals, but compared to fish, which can only be a few for a tank---there's almost no such thing as too many corals. Those pretty reefs you see in the splash pix---they've grown that way from little frags by contesting for light and room.
If you want marine babies---you can start a new coral with a broken bit of another, swap with friends, etc. Fish, not so easily.


Cons
You don't have fish for 12 weeks at least.
You will fight your hair algae battle, which may slow down your coral growth. No fish will be eating it.
You will have to answer questions about where are the fish.
Corals do have their own pests and problems: but many respond to dips.
You do need a sump and skimmer, pretty much true: can be done without for hardy corals, but just say you really need one: you need enough live rock, and you need that sump and skimmer, because you need to push that nitrate level as far down as possible, and you can't do that with a cannister.
You MUST have a light level adequate for the type of coral you keep. Most are photosynthetic---like a geranium.

------------------
A tank running just after cycle? Now, where's the catch?
1. Your 12-week (ideally a shade more) countdown only starts when you have made the LAST addition to the tank before fish. Bought a neat coral in week 11? Start your 12-week countdown over again.
2. Ich isn't a problem for corals and other inverts because they can't provide the reproductive boost fish do: but coral dip won't kill encysted ich, and that's why the 12-week wait. Within that time, any encysted ich has to uncyst and try for a fish. If it can't get one, it dies. That's why that tank is ich-free at the end of the 12 weeks. (I'd go 13 to be safe.)
3. You still have to run quarantine protocols on your fish when you do get them and you must NOT have a mental glitch and put your hand or net into the DT after using it in the qt! If that should happen---another 12 week countdown for the DT. You also should not have your qt sitting so close to the DT that splash from one system reaches the other.
4. Ich isn't the only plague out there. Flukes, however, will likely perish in 12 fishless weeks: look up their life cycle and draw your own conclusions.
5. And really important: corals have their own pests. The good news is, a coral dip properly applied does get many of them, along with hitchhikers. The bad news is---the dip won't get things that lay eggs, like nudibranchs that prey on zoas, so a several day observation in a holding tank is in order. Red bug is another problem, as is brown jelly disease. Stick to simple corals for your first reef and try not to mix stony and softie types: no sense adding skids to the learning curve---the two types don't like each other much. Either is easier without the other, if rapid growth is your hope.
6. An ATO is about a must; so are tests and supplement for alkalinity for softies, and alk, calcium and magnesium for stonies. The good news is, the addition of kalk to your ATO can feed the stonies and hold their water pretty steady once you get it right in the first place. Testing is a must, even daily when you're first starting out.
7. you pretty well need a sump and skimmer to do this successfully: it's just easier---easier to keep balanced. Reefs like a nitrate level less than 2, and won't tolerate the nitrate levels a fish-only on a canister may reach. The good news is that fish really don't mind low nitrate at all, either, and will find the water consistently nice for them.
8. contrary to popular belief, you don't have to target feed most corals. They eat sunlight, water, and calcium from the water, and fish waste, or worm and snail and crab waste.
9. if your corals, such as zoas, have particular problems---eg, the observation for eggs, or say, brown jelly disease with elegance, be sure you go to the right forum speciality area and do some reading BEFORE you run down to the fish store and come home with coral-in-a-bag. Be sure you're using the right dip and the right protocol. I can't warn you of everything in a short general article. Look before you leap!
10. some fish eat corals. Be sure what you want is what you want, and that they can share the same space nicely. Don't know? Ask!

It's not necessarily a better way---but another way.
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