An Introduction to Successful Reef Keeping

reef Keeping

One of the biggest problems that confront many new reef aquarists is the difficulty of obtaining accurate information. Frequently, stores or salespeople would rather turn a quick buck than offer sound advice. It’s a real shame since reef keeping is such a rewarding hobby, but one which requires skill, patience, and most of all knowledge.

Almost every new reef keeper goes through an initial period of frustration due to a lack of accurate information and ill-informed advice. First and foremost, knowledge and experience are the key ingredients to a successful reef tank. No sum of money or fancy equipment can make up for a lack of know-how. Now that I’ve stressed the need for knowledge, let’s cover some of the basic essentials. I firmly believe that there are three key ingredients to a beautiful and healthy reef aquarium.

Light, Live Rock, and Protein Skimming

Now, these are by no means the only important factors that go into a successful tank, but they are the strong foundation which everything else rests upon. Let’s briefly cover each topic…

1. Light

Most corals are essentially photosynthetic animals. A major portion of their nutrition comes from the sun’s energy since they share a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae. In an aquarium, we must attempt to provide a suitable alternative to natural sunlight. This is accomplished through high-intensity lighting (either metal halide or fluorescent bulbs of the proper spectral wavelength). Improper lighting is probably the most common mistake beginning aquarists unwittingly make. In short, do not skimp on the light!

2. Live Rock

A coral reef is built from the remains of millions of calcium depositing creatures (corals, clams, arthropods, etc…). Over time, calcareous algae cement these skeletons together into a large framework which future generations use as a suitable substrate for growth. Live rock is essentially a chunk of the reef with many of its accompanying organisms left intact.

In an aquarium, live rock serves several purposes. It accomplishes the role of a biological filter by providing a substrate for helpful bacteria to live and convert harmful chemicals into inert nitrogen gas. Live rock also serves as a natural looking framework for the coral specimens in the tank. Finally, pieces of live rock often contain many tiny creatures such as shrimps, worms, algae, and sponges which hitchhike along with the rock from the sea to your living room. Unlike a “show tank” with its sterile gravel and plastic decorations, an aquarium with beautiful live rock is a miniature ecosystem. The higher the quality of live rock you purchase, the greater your chance for success. Optimum live rock is often light and porous, covered with pink and purple coralline algae, and oddly shaped with plenty of nooks and crannies.

3. Protein Skimming

The final key ingredient to a successful reef aquarium is protein skimming. Unfortunately, it is an ingredient that is often overlooked or neglected. The process by which protein skimming works is fairly complicated, but the basics are simple. Air bubbles are injected into a chamber of aquarium water, where they interact with the saltwater and rise to the surface. Proteins, carbohydrates, and toxic substances gather on the surface of the air bubbles. As the bubbles rise, they produce a thick foam which is then skimmed off and removed from the system.

Protein skimming not only removes a large majority of the wastes produced by the aquarium’s inhabitants but also fiercely oxygenates the water. Although some reef keepers advocate “going skimmerless”, beginners should use every available tool at their disposal to make the initial learning process as easy as possible. I have briefly glossed over the three key ingredients to a healthy reef tank.

Hopefully, those of you who are just entering the hobby will take this information to heart and then do your own research and learn more about each individual topic. Certainly, one could write volumes about any one of these topics alone. The purpose of this article is to serve as an introduction to each subject and not to delve to deep into their technicalities. In future articles, we will learn many more of the intricate details which lend themselves to a beautiful reef microcosm. Until then, happy reef keeping!!

The Bubble Tip Anemone

bubble tip anemone

Today I am going to tell you all about the saga of my bubble tip anemone. After finally overcoming the issues with my much deadlier carpet anemone I decided instead I would purchase a smaller, more colorful bubble tip anemone. It was a nice thought at first and a great experience, however, I have quickly learned that anemones have a mind of their own!

Firstly, if you want to keep lots of nice corals in your aquarium, I suggest you think twice about purchasing an anemone unless you have a seascape that can isolate it from the majority of your corals or lots of money to spend on replacing your corals! I made the mistake of placing my anemone in a location that allowed ease of movement and growth resulting in danger to corals. They like to stick to things like rocks and the glass of your saltwater aquarium. If you can place it somewhere on the sand bed and let it dig itself to the glass you might find it will not move greatly from there. My bubble tip anemone seemed to gravitate towards my powerhead and would affect the flow of the water. Don’t add any corals until the anemone has been stationary for a few weeks.

After removing my previous carpet anemone I was worried about my 3 clownfish as I had just taken away their home, however, after a few days, I found they settled in quite fine and found new territory to call home. About 3 weeks later I got a surprise when I came home from work and found the clownfish hosting in the small bubble tip anemone. Everything was going well, the clownfish made a new home, the BTA was manageable and in a great spot, corals were happy but any aquarist knows that this new found peace in your saltwater aquarium doesn’t last forever.

Over the next 3 months the bubble tip anemone repositioned itself and grew at an amazing or should I say alarming rate. I understand that Clownfish feed their anemone host so this would explain the rapid growth. I found myself repositioning corals constantly to avoid them being stung. I also noticed as the anemone grew it lost it’s clear yellow color and beautiful purple tips. It also began stretching out and eventually lost its bubble tips and just became this large stringy beast!

I let this go on for another 3 months and finally made the executive decision to remove the bubble tip anemone. I first started this aquarium to have beautiful corals and fish and unfortunately, the bubble tip anemone was making this more difficult. I once again angered the clownfish to the point where the female would consistently bite my finger when my hands in the tank and she still does o this day! However, they quickly adapted to life without a host. I have since added a large hammer coral that I am hoping will play host to the 3 clownfish, fingers crossed!