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And why NOT knowing could make the difference between Success and Failure

The saltwater aquarium-keeping hobby is a hobby that seems to be ever-growing. New hobbyists are emerging on a day-to-day basis.

     With that also emerge many questions, and some aspects of the hobby can be downright confusing, leading many new hobbyists to either give up, or endure a very hard time trying to get their aquarium going.

     We at Reef Pro have experienced much in our journey for knowledge and experience in this hobby.

     Our experience has lead us to see that there are seven basic things you need to think about before starting a saltwater aquarium, and maximize your chances at being successful and having that beautiful reef you have always wanted.

     You will need to think about what you want in your saltwater aquarium. You will need to consider an approximate size of an aquarium. Then you will need to think about filtration, lighting, corals, fish; it sounds like a lot but it really is nothing to worry yourself over.


     There are many different kinds of tanks out there for you to setup. There are FOWLR (fish only with live rock) tanks, reef tanks, seahorse tanks, coldwater reef tanks, and possibly more than what I have listed.

     A “FOWLR” tank is a basic saltwater aquarium where the fish are the center of attention. Generally speaking most “FOWLR” owners don’t care much for coral.

     They just want beautiful fish with captivating colors, without having to worry about meeting the care requirements, of the corals. To compensate for that, they may install artificial coral reef inserts. Most beginning reef keepers tend to begin caring for soft corals.

     Corals like leathers, zoanthids, and mushrooms are corals that are very hardy and can adapt to many different ranges of conditions. A saltwater aquarium with these kinds of corals is the best way to ease your way into the world of reef keeping.

     You may have also seen other corals such as hammer and frogspawn, which imitate the movements of anemones and bring life to the tank.

     When adding these “LPS”(Large Polyp Stony) corals, stony meaning they contain a calcium carbonate skeleton, need to absorb the elements they need to create that skeleton and grow. A “mixed reef tank”, will take slightly more consideration, as you may need to consider dosing certain elements in the future.

     Sometimes you can get away with buying water mixed with a high quality salt that will reintroduce those elements in the water for you.

     Most beginners are not crazy about “SPS” (small polyp stony corals) dominant tanks, but there is a rare occasion in which a beginner likes the “SPS” look and may consider going for one of these tanks.

     However, these tanks are recommended for more experienced hobbyists, and will require more equipment to keep parameters stable and the water in a pristine state.


    Once, you have decided on the kind of system you would like it is time to decide on the size of aquarium that would better suit your needs.

     Many new aquarists usually tend to start with a nano aquarium. A nano aquarium is cheaper, in most cases, to setup up than a larger aquarium. However, they tend to create more problems than a larger aquarium as well mainly due to the volume of water.

     A 40 to 55 gallon aquarium is perfect for those new to the hobby. The cost of getting one setup and going is not much more than setting up a nano.

     The water volume tends to help new aquarists by giving them more room to correct their mistakes, if any are made, by taking longer for any mistakes made to affect the livestock. Now, in this hobby, bigger is always better. So the bigger tank you can start with, the better.

     An old saying in the hobby is, “The solution, to pollution, is dilution.”


     Now that a tank has been selected, a filtration system must be added to keep the water clear and clean of pollutants, such as fish waste and uneaten foods. 

     This decision will weigh heavily on the type of aquarium chosen. So considering filtration when purchasing an aquarium is a must.

     From the start, the best kind of aquarium is one that is drilled and has an overflow built in. this will allow for water to exit the aquarium via the overflow and descend into the “sump”.

     The sump is another small “aquarium” that is usually placed under the aquarium inside the stand. Here you will have all your filtration components, pumps, heaters, etc.

     Many people tend to start off with a wet/dry sump with bio-balls. It is strongly encouraged that you do not use the bio balls. Bio-balls are said that they harbor bacteria that eat the debris passing through the bio-balls.

     But they seem to create more of a problem than a benefit. Detritus passing through tends to build up and get stuck over time causing nitrate problems.

     To eliminate this, most switch out the bio-balls for rubble rock which can harbor the same beneficial bacteria and other beneficial little critters to process all the food and detritus. 

     There are refugiums, which is like a wet/dry but instead this sump has a section to setup a small ecosystem with sand, rock, and some macro-algae.

     This will allow beneficial critters, such as tisbe pods, to live in this “refuge” away from the fish and do what they do best, which is eat leftover foods, detritus, and other organics flowing through the water.

     Sometimes, new aquarists are not able to acquire a drilled tank. However, this is not a reason to become derailed.

     Traditional style hang on back filters works just fine. The only other piece of equipment that will be necessary is a skimmer. There are plenty skimmers on the market for in tank only applications.

     Some will argue that not even a skimmer is necessary but skimmers can be vital to sustaining a reef aquarium, unless the aquarist is able to completely a series of water changes throughout the week. Hang on Back filters are fine for clearing up the water of debris, but it will not remove the nutrients out of the water.

     Therefore, the water is still coming into contact with rotting food and detritus causing your nitrates and phosphate to rise. This can create problems down the line.

     Canister filters are also an option. However, unless maintained on a religious schedule, they can be just as bad as a wet/dry with bio-balls.


     Based on the size of tank and the kind of tank you have in mind, you will need to consider lighting. For a “FOWLR” tank, you can basically use whatever lighting you would like to light up the tank and make the contents visible.

     Now for reef tanks, there are countless possibilities, and of those possibilities there are different ranges of qualities, and also price. There three basic kinds of lights available in the market.

     You will notice there is metal halide lightingfluorescent lighting, and the newerL.E.D. technology lighting.

     In my opinion, from my experience, metal halide lighting works wonders on all kinds of corals.

     However, most reefers tend to stay away because metal halide lighting can be costly, and most find a slight rise on their electric bill. Metal halides also will raise temperature in the aquarium and you will most likely need to provide a chiller to keep aquarium temperature stable.

    Fluorescent lighting, more specifically t-5 lighting, is another option that grows great, and covers more shadows in the tank providing greater light coverage and growing corals very well. The downside to t-5 lighting is that for more effectiveness, the bulbs must be changed every 8 months.

     Depending on placement and distance to the water, t-5s can also generate heat and may cause need to provide a chiller. Last but not least, recently many companies have begun developing L.E.D. fixtures for growing corals.

     These L.E.D. fixtures are a great alternative for growing corals. Benefits of L.E.D. lighting are, no replacing bulbs, no heating up water, and they create a beautiful shimmer like metal halide lighting. Not to mention, most L.E.D. systems have royal blue bulbs, which make the coral fluoresce more and make the corals more attractive.

     One downside to L.E.D. lighting is that they are very directional sometimes creating shadows in certain areas, which to some is good, but others are not pleased since this causes certain parts in corals to die. This is where combinations come in.

     Right now a very popular combination is T-5’s with L.E.D. for accent lighting. The T-5’s are a great light source and can produce some of the most beautiful colors in Acropora especially.

     The L.E.D. fixtures add more lighting, (PAR), to the mix and pull out beautiful colors and the fluorescence out of most corals.

     As I mentioned before, L.E.D. fixtures can create shadowing and kill off certain parts of some corals that don’t get light, so with the T-5 fixture, the shadows can be eliminated and it creates a more widespread range of lighting throughout the tank, even from the bottom up.


     There are many corals available to us in this hobby, even more now that technology for diving to deeper waters is being developed. However, the number of corals available in the market is still quite overwhelming.

     There are numerous kinds, all with different care requirements, that were collected at a wide range of depths, and a wide range of lighting spectrums.

     These are things one must consider when purchasing a coral and when setting up a tank, so the environment can be created to house a certain type of corals.

     Soft corals, can adapt to a variety of lights. They are very easy to care for and can adapt to a wide range of parameters. Soft corals are corals such as, Leather Corals, Xenia, Anthelia, Zoanthids, and Mushrooms.

    LPS (Large Polyp Stony Corals) need slightly more moderate lighting.

     This can be achieved with a standard 165-watt L.E.D. fixture or a simple T-5 unit. These corals depend a little more on stable parameters.

     Their skeletons depend on calcium and alkalinity being stable and benefit from feedings now and again. In fact, there are records showing that LPS such as Acans and Favias seem to grow twice as fast when fed on a regular schedule.

     Then, there is SPS (Small Polyp Stony corals). These corals include the popular acroporas, montipora, leptoseris, birdsnests (stylophora, pocillopora, seriatopora) stylocoinellas, and more.

     These corals need higher par numbers, and therefore, need better lights. One great example is the ATI sunpower T-5 fixture or an L.E.D such as the new Hydra 52 HD. They depend on a stable system. In most cases, 99%, dosing is a must.

     They prefer lower nutrient waters, meaning low phosphates and nitrates, and benefit from the dosing of amino acids as well. When setting up a tank to house SPS, it is best to let the system become established, and lots of planning needs to be done ahead of setting up the tank to meet as many requirements as possible for this type of corals.

     In most cases, SPS, are and expert level coral to keep. Most new hobbyists will start with soft corals and work their way up.


     As well, as corals, it is good to think on the fish that will be housed. Many fish have special requirements such as the corals do. It is important to replicate the environment of the organisms that will be housed so they feel right at home and are more comfortable with one watching them.

     Studies have shown that fish are more likely to peer out and even interact with someone when they feel they are right at home.

     One example is gobies. One very popular goby is the Diamond Goby. They can be great for cleaning up the sand as they sift through the whole tank in search for small organism in the sand.

     These gobies can be very shy but if enough rocks are placed evenly throughout the tank it will give the goby a sense of security encouraging the goby to come out more knowing it can zoom off to a rock if anything were to happen. 

     Another issue you might face is compatibility between fish.

     One obvious example would be to not put a lionfish with a clownfish. You may come back to notice one of those fish has disappeared.

     There are also fish that are better compatible if added to the aquarium in a specific order. For example, if one wants to have a variety of tangs, you may want to add a yellow, scopas, powder blue, or powder brown tang last.

     These fish can be very aggressive towards new additions. That is why it is a good idea to add them when you know you will not be adding any more tangs.

     At the end of the day, fish have personalities of their own and some are more passive than others, so as hard as you try there will be a moment in which one fish decides to become territorial and harass tank mates.


     When it comes to starting a saltwater aquarium, I believe it is great to know as much as possible when it comes to setting up and preparing yourself for the tank you want to avoid as many complications as possible.

     However, the single most important part of starting a saltwater aquarium is to justjump right in.

     When you go to a store, or when you go to, say somebody’s house who has a big setup, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of equipment and all the accessories and pumps and wires coming out of the stand, but don’t let that deter you. In fact, most systems don’t really need all that depending on how you are with your husbandry.

     The most simple and efficient setup usually consists of a tank with a basic sump skimmer and return pump, or even a tank with a hang-on-back filter and an in-tank skimmer. 

     Now even the skimmer is optional, but it really does help with exporting wastes out of the water. So don’t be afraid. Set up that little 20 gallon with your “Marineland Filter” let that thing cycle, and enjoy the your very own reef in the comfort of your home! 


Salinity is if not the most, one of the most important things to maintain balanced in your aquarium.

 Some take it for granted or don’t think of it as much, however, it can have detrimental effects to the organisms in your aquarium if it is not stabilized.

Salinity affects all other elements in your aquarium. For example, Joe tested his aquarium today and the salinity was 1.025, his calcium was 420ppm, alkalinity was 9.0DkH, magnesium was 1320ppm. Joes tank is happy.

Joe however, does not have an auto top off system (a system that automatically replaces the evaporated water in his aquarium with RO/DI water).

The next day, Joe’s tank reads: 430ppm calcium, 9.6 alkalinity, and 1350ppm magnesium. He quickly thinks,  “that’s strange, I never added anything to the tank.

The point is, salinity affects everything in the aquarium, and if salinity is fluctuating, so is everything else.

This can stun growth and create stress for corals and also make it very difficult for you to balance your chemistry since salinity fluctuations can throw off your testing results.

There is much controversy regarding magnesium and it’s importance in the reef aquarium. 

Most say they don’t test it if calcium and alkalinity seem to be in line.

This can be true to some extent.

Magnesium is the third most abundant ion in seawater. The first being H2O and the second being sodium chloride (NaCl). More plainly put, salt.  
Because of this, magnesium is greatly affected by salinity, as was explained before. Here at Reef Pro, we call magnesium, “The Wall”.

If you can, imagine a brick wall with two different liquids, one at each side. If the wall is tall, the liquids cannot cross and do not come into contact with one another.

However, if the wall begins to sink, eventually, the liquids cross over and mix. This is usually, when magnesium drops under 1200ppm and calcium and alkalinity precipitate.

You will find yourself adding more of the two-part solution but the alkalinity and calcium will not rise.

Once you correct your magnesium and bring it up to about 3 times that of your calcium, everything should balance out.

As I stated earlier, some say if calcium and alkalinity is ok, then magnesium should be fine. I also stated this can be true but to some extent.

The reason I say that is because I have also seen in some cases where the magnesium has dropped under recommended levels and the elements are still pretty steady due to the hobbyist compensating for the precipitation.

Now, should you test your magnesium as often as alkalinity and calcium? No, I wouldn’t necessarily say that often.

But I would recommend you test for it at least once every two weeks.

Calcium, Alkalinity and Their Relationship
Calcium and Alkalinity are like the “Ying and Yang” of the hobby, if you will. They need to be constantly balanced, and one can affect the other.

Many hobbyists have trouble finding this balance in the aquarium and it even causes some people to give up on the hobby altogether.

It really is not that difficult, once you understand the characteristics and uses of these chemicals in the reef aquarium.
There are many things that consume these elements in the aquarium, not just corals.

Depending on the water you begin with, you may want to test and balance your elements before even adding corals. I will explain why in a moment.

Many aquarists tend to run into some situations where they cannot balance their calcium and alkalinity.

Some tend to be pretty common and fairly simple. Some not so simple but can be dealt with.

•    High Alkalinity, High Calcium
Simply lower the dosage until the desired ranges are reached.

•    Low Alkalinity, Low Calcium
First I would recommend testing your magnesium. If your magnesium is in the desired range, then simply elevate your dose until the calcium and alkalinity levels desired are reached.

•    High Alkalinity, Low Calcium
In this scenario, add a calcium chloride solution such as Reef Pro Calcium to slightly elevate the calcium and lower your alkalinity.

•    High Calcium, Low Alkalinity
     This problem tends to be pretty common. Especially in newer or lower coral load tanks.

Alkalinity is consumed at a greater rate in any reef compared to calcium. This is due to the fact that alkalinity is consumed by not just corals, but also by nitrogen creating bacteria that process the wastes inside of your tank.

Not to mention some corals, while acclimating to your system, do not consume calcium. Your calcium consumption will not change until the coral begins to grow and consume. 

Because of this you will need to use a soda ash solution such as Reef Pro Alkalinity to raise your alkalinity to the desired level and stop dosing calcium and raise your alkalinity dose.

Do this until calcium begins to be consumed and lowers to the desired range. Once the calcium is in the desired range resume regular dosing.


Do you Really Need to Feed Your Corals? How Does it Benefit Them?     

One of the greatest controversies in the hobby and a question I hear from fellow hobbyists all the time is, is it necessary to feed your corals? I use to believe it was not necessary when I first got into the hobby. After all, corals are photosynthetic. I knew and understood that some corals, were non-photosynthetic, such as some gorgonians, colt corals, dendros, etc. These NPS corals require a constant feeding since they do not host the zooxanthellae algae most other corals have to give them energy. Now, the corals that do, do not need to feed since they have the zooxanthellae algae constantly photosynthesizing and providing their host with energy right? This is false.

Many corals and other sea-dwelling critters have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae algae. This algae, through the process of photosynthesis processes the polyps wastes and produces glucose and carbon. The coral polyps use these end products of the zooxanthellae for respiration and coral growth(See Figure 1 Below). These symbiotic algae reproduce by cell division. They are yellowish/brown dinoflagellates that live within the corals polyps. The coral can control the population of the algae living within them by regulating the amount of waste for algae growth, or by limiting the amount of light and intensity by closing and opening the polyps exposing more or less algae to the light.

Although the symbiotic algae provides energy for the corals, it is simply not enough.

“A limitation of photosynthesis, however, is that it seems unable to provide corals with sufficient organic nitrogen and phosphorus to maintain tissue growth and organic matrix synthesis. Therefore, corals have to feed on organic material, which is called heterotrophy or heterotrophic feeding (from the Greek words heteros, or different, and troph, or feeding).–Tim Wijgerde, Ph.D

(Figure 1: The process of photosynthesis in corals and the relationship between the polyps and the zooxanthellae algae illustrated in a diagram.)

One huge notable benefit to feeding corals is that it simply becomes a more efficient organism overall. Research shows that corals that are fed actually photosynthesize twice as much as non-fed corals do. The zooxanthellae algae will actually reproduce faster and therefore produce more energy for the coral to utilize allowing the coral to exhibit more vibrant colors and grow almost twice as fast.

”Research has shown that feeding enhances photosynthesis rates of zooxanthellate corals, by increasing zooxanthellae density and chlorophyll a content. For S. pistillata, zooxanthellae densities double within several weeks of zooplankton feeding, both at low and high light levels. The number of dinoflagellates residing in a single coral host cell also increases, with up to four zooxanthellae per coral cell. A higher photosynthetic capacity allows the coral to convert more light energy into chemical energy, which can be used for growth”. –Tim Wijgerde, Ph.D

Reef Pro Coral Jama is 100% natural freeze dried zooplankton. In this mix you will find, artemia, copepods, rotifers, mysis, and lots of other microscopic critters that benefit corals in their natural environment. This is the most beneficial food you can feed your corals. Especially SPS (small polyp stony corals) such as acropora or seriatopora.

To determine what corals feed on in the wild, researchers evaluate the gut content of corals in the wild and also experiment with the animals in laboratory. Evaluation of the gut contents of a Monastrea coral contained copepods, ostracods, mysids, menatodes, polychaetes and other zooplankton. Suspended organic material ingested by corals via sedimentary filtration included bacteria, protozoans, detritus, feces of fish, etc. Interestingly, research indicates that the scleractinian corals rejected algae and other plant material. Research indicated that even if plant material was ingested it was not digested and regurgitated. The size of prey captured by the polyps can be larger than the polyps, with the general rule being – the smaller the polyps the more important the role of autotrophic feeding. Some of the laboratory experiments were conducted using artemia nauplii as food. These are basically a form of zooplankton. The polyps easily captured nauplii of size 0.7-0.9mm. Corals with larger polyps (e.g pocillopora, stylophora) also captured Artemia nauplii up to 1.4mm. Research in predatory feeding has shown that, even in corals with polyps active in the daytime, polyps hunt more efficiently at night. –Sanjay Joshi


  • Wijgerde Ph. D, Tim (2013,12) Feature Article: Coral Feeding: An Overview
  • Joshi, Sanjay (2000) Feeding a Coral Reef   Aquarium

1.    Turn off Aquarium Lights and be sure to dim down or shut off lighting in room where the box will be opened. Fish are not able to close their eyes so adjusting to lighting can be just as or more stressful than any other kind of acclimation.

2.    Have a bucket prepared next to your system. If you’re using a “Reef Pro” acclimation kit, dump contents of packet included in kit into bucket. Carefully open bags (you may need bags near end of acclimating process) of specimens and empty contents including all water into the buckets. Be very careful not to expose sensitive inverts, such as starfish, to air.

3.    If there is a small amount of water in your bag, you may need to tilt your bucket at a 45-degree angle to make sure the specimen is completely submerged.

4.    Set up Drip Acclimation kit. You will need one kit for each bucket used. The rigid tubing will need to be over the trim of the aquarium with an end in the water. The valve included will be to regulate the flow of the water going into the bucket.

5.    Next you will begin a siphon by sucking on the end of the airline and adjusting the drip to about 1 drip a second. After 30 minutes have passed you may raise the amount of drips to about 2-4 drops a second.

6.    When the amount of water in the bucket doubles, be sure to empty it by half. Then simply wait for it to double once again. Approximately 1 hour.

7.    At this point the specimens are almost ready. Now you will place the specimens in a bag and float bag in aquarium for about 15-20 minutes to acclimate specimens to tank temperature.

8.    Once time has elapsed, specimens are ready to be released into tank. Be sure to discard all water from the acclimation process. The water has been fouled in this process and you would not want to add any into your system.

9.    Remember to never touch fish by hand, as it may remove some of their protective slime and harm the specimen in the process, stressing it and making its survival chances lower.

1.    Open box, remove corals, and float them in bag in your system for about 30 minutes.

2.    Open the bag and pour in enough water to where it increases total volume in bag by at least 1/3.

3.    After about 15 minutes, repeat process again so that the bag now contains about half of your tank water. You may remove water from bag to compensate for water being added.

4.    After about 15 more minutes, the livestock is now ready to be added to your system.

5.    If you are going to dip your corals, be sure you dip them now before adding to the system. Rinse the coral off with tank water after the dipping process.

6.    Be sure to place the coral in an area in your system where it will meet its lighting and flow requirements. If your tank has high intensity lights such as LEDS, you may want to slowly acclimate the coral by placing it lower in the system and then slowly moving it upwards towards higher light, if need be. You may also dim your lights or run a shorter light period to acclimate new corals.

7. It is always better to have your corals under lower light than under higher light. The coral will not be harmed by having lower than normal light for a few days while it acclimates to its new system will not harm the coral.



Reef Pro is partnered with Mote Marine Laboratory. An Organization whose programs have already planted over 35,000 corals in the Florida Keys alone. Mote is also conducting a wide variety of research aimed at better understanding processes and environmental factors that influence coral reef health, which in turn will help reverse the declines of coral population in our lifetime. By purchasing Reef Pro Products you are not only nourishing your corals at home, but also the Corals Worldwide. Together we can make a Difference.