An aquarium should be relaxing...right?

Mine?  I wish!  It will take years to accomplish something like this.
Mine? I wish! It will take years to accomplish something like this.

I think the salinity is taking my sanity!

When I decided almost four months ago and counting; to set up a saltwater aquarium, I didn't realize at the time that one: it would break me financially and two: it would be more difficult to set up and keep creatures alive than it was to conceive a child after a year on Clomid and following my body's natural rhythm! 

I began with a tank of 50 gallons.  There is only one local pet store (LPS as known on the reef sites) from which I can purchase a slew of items for a marine tank.  They are very expensive too.  Most likely because they don't have any competition.  They are very knowledgeable however and assisted me on everything I needed to know.  It was becoming apparent to me, that whenever  I graced their store wearing my recognizable floor length bright blue down coat, it was noted members of the salt water department would hide in hopes that they didn't have to wait on me.  I know I had a lot of questions in the beginning.  After all, I was willing to risk losing my house financially to set up a beautiful sea scape in my living room.  I deserved to ask as much as I wanted.  The online forums had such conflicting views and sometimes would even be a venue for people to fight on.  I was always confused!

I began to learn the lingo and also realized that unless you are planning on buying something, people that earn a living at the LPS get a bit upset when you monopolize the time they could be using assisting paying customers.  I don't want to give them a bad rap however.  Without them, I would really have a swamp on my hands.

Some of the lingo concerning a saltwater tank:

LPS- local pet store/shop       Salinity- level of salt in the water that needs to be kept just right  KH, Ammonia, PH, Calcium, Nitrate 1 and Nitrate 3- all things that need to be checked weekly if not more (if you see problems) in your tank; believe me, you'll begin to feel like a chemist and wish that you had paid better attention in class as a youth!     Clean Up Crew- the snails, crabs, stars, etc. that one uses to keep algae and detritus down in a tank    

Anemones- are actually sea animals, not plants that eat pieces of fish and can inflict a nasty and killing sting upon creatures living in your tank    Corals- also living creatures and not plants that can sting and slime (I speak personally on this one)  Live Rock- a necessity when setting up a true marine tank.  If you want things to live, then you need live rock.  It's filled with lots of icky, creepy little creatures that come out at night and clean up your tank or feed the creatures that you actually wanted in there.   Live Sand- another necessity to help cycle the tank and maintain an appropriate nitrogen balance  Salt Water- table salt not apply!  You need ocean salt that can be mixed with reverse osmosis water.  Luckily, my LPS sells it premixed at a decent cost.  Reverse Osmosis Water- must be used instead of tap.  If you want your fish to live that is.  Acclimating- the process of helping the new critters adapt to your tank water.  If you don't acclimate, you will have dead creatures.   Protein skimmer- a big must for keeping skimmate off the top of your water and protein/nitrogen break downs out of your tank.  These take weeks to break in sometimes.  It is your filtration system if you don't have a sump (which I don't).

The list can go on and on.  What I will share through my journey of setting up a tank however, I hope will assist you in some way if you  have such a vision.  Don't expect something to set up quickly however.  You will go insane and want to take a hammer to the tank if you do.  Patience is the key.  Lots and lots of it. 


Wow! Look at that interesting rock...ZZZZZ!

Week One:  I was so excited about setting up this tank.  My fifty gallon tank sat on a built in book shelf in my living room.  I envisioned gorgeous corals and anemones filling the tank.  Beautiful fish darting in and out of the rock.  Pristine white sand underneath. 

I went to the LPS and spent an hour picking out my live rock.  I wanted unusual pieces that I could stack together to form caves, arches and so forth.  I found some cool looking pieces.  About 50 pounds worth altogether; at .69 a pound...you do the math.  I then got some sugar sand; white and pristine and a small bag of live sand that looked really dirty.  I was told to put the sand in before adding any water, then arrange the rock how I wanted it.  Sounded easy enough...

four hours later I was swearing at the darn rock because I couldn't get it to stay on top of each other.  Maybe picking out those unique pieces wasn't the greatest idea because they didn't "fit" into each other and didn't stack very well.  I had read how snails and fish can knock them over if they aren't secure and thoughts of 50 gallons of water on my living room floor as a result of a cracked tank kept flashing in front of my eyes.  I persisted and with some zip ties and more maneuvering, I had some cool looking formations going.

Then, I slowly added the saltwater.  The entire tank filled with a cloud of sand and didn't clear up for almost 4 days.  I was beside myself.  When the storm calmed finally, I looked in and tried to see all of the creatures I was told were living in the rock.  Nothing.

Week two.  Still nothing.

Week three.  Still nothing.  I was getting a bit perturbed.  Taking a sample of my water in to the LPS, I was told I could finally get a clean up crew!  Yeah!  Moving life in the tank..finally.

isn't it exciting?????
isn't it exciting?????

Clean Up Crew...the Janitors That Leave Poop Everywhere!

I was so excited to purchase my clean up crew.  I chose 2 large Turbo snails.  They were supposed to be excellent algae eaters.  3 large Tonga Nassarius snails, 4 other unusually shaped snails known by the LPS to be good eaters, 4 little Nassarius snails to tunnel under the sand, 4 hermit crabs and later on...I added two Green Emerald Crabs (they look like little Arnold Schwarzenager's) at seperate times.  I also added a cool looking starfish.

Well, after a couple of days, the water in my tank began to turn green.  I thought these guys were supposed to eat the green stuff.  I also noted lots of poop being deposited into the pristine, white sand and it wasn't going away. 

One week into having these guys, my tank walls became coated with a slimy substance and when I put my hand in the water, it came out coated with green.  I also noticed a couple snails had been eaten.  In perusing online I discovered the starfish I had been sold looked a lot like the carnivorous starfish that would eat corals and other tank mates.  I compared a picture of what the LPS thought they had sold me and a picture of what was sitting in my tank.  They were very close in looks but there was no doubt in my mind that I had the meat eating type!  I returned him with a broken heart as he was very, very cool, and got some corals instead.

The green water was getting worse.  I called the LPS almost daily and took water samples in every couple of days and everything sample wise tested just perfectly but I had 50 gallons of pea soup in my living room and a tank full of janitors that didn't seem to be doing their job.  The LPS kept telling me that some tanks need to cycle and to be patient. 

I didn't want anyone to come over and visit for fear they would see the green monster in the house.  So much for the excitement of the clean up crew. 

I have all of these now; including the peppermint shrimp...
I have all of these now; including the peppermint shrimp...

The little skimmer that wouldn't....

Another problem I encountered was the protein skimmer.  I was told my specific kind; which hangs on the back of the tank, would take a couple weeks to break in.  It has been almost a month now and some days I think it is doing its job and other days, I don't.

The idea behind a skimmer is to improve circulation and to capture dead proteins, nitrates and gunk that would otherwise foul your tank.  It can be used with or without a sump.  I don't have a sump since I have a smaller tank so it is my filtration system.  When working, a collection cup fills up with brown water, gunk and foam that you empty once a day.  I got a collection cup with a hole in it that could be plugged up.  The reason for this was in case I am not home for a day or two and then it could drain into a bottle and not overflow. 

The first day I installed the skimmer, I had the overflow tubing hooked up and one end draining into a 2 liter pop bottle.  I was told they could over work at first and produce a lot of stuff.  Within one hour my pop bottle was overflowing with what seemed just the water of the tank.  Lowering the rubber ring around the collection cup brought less liquid but still, no foam.  I called the company and they graciously sent attachments for the pump and a better plug for the hole in the collection cup.  After almost 1.5 months, and being set at the highest I can get the collection cup, I am getting brown, stinky water and foam collected. 

The break in period of the skimmer has probably been my biggest problem aside from the green slimed water.  The skimmer didn't stop the slime from getting worse and it seemed to take forever to kick in.  I would recommend running your skimmer in a new tank before adding fish or the like, to make sure it is doing its job.  Very messy to have to monkey with when you have a tank of creatures.

The green water finally disappeared when the LPS suggested I float a bag with some phosphate remover in it.  It took 2 weeks to work but now I can actually see in the tank.

kinda looks like something from Dr. Frankenstein's lab, huh?
kinda looks like something from Dr. Frankenstein's lab, huh?

Watch out for those stings!

After doing research on the Sea Anemone, I decided that I would pass on one right now. They like to loosen their "foot" and float around the tank; often stinging things in their way. These stings can kill little tank creatures or injure them. With all the money I was investing, I didn't want to have my clean up crew eating a 30.00 fish or a 25.00 coral piece.

I decided to decorate the tank with corals. These creatures in themselves need a lot of special care and specific lighting and water flow in the tank. I have two blowers that I installed in the tank that keep the air/water circulating.

I began with little fragments of coral. They were so cute. Problem is, they were mad at me for about 2 weeks and the fact that I kept changing their positions in the tank so that they were in the right kind of flow. They wouldn't pop out of their bases or a couple drooped and looked like they were dead. More trips to the LPS and more assurances that they were in their angry period and would soon come out. They have.

After a couple months, I decided to get some bigger pieces of coral. I found a cat's paw species and another that looks like a fuzzy tree. When I was placing them in my live rock, that lovely tree decided he'd retaliate and he stung me! It was like a bee sting. Then, if that weren't enough, he decided to slime me too. Quite a learning experience.

It's been three months now with my tank and the corals are still retracting at night but they are looking healthier. I have to add calcium daily as they seem to suck the tank of this mineral and I also feed them with a phyto feast supplement that also feeds the live rock. They reach out and try to grab the zooplankton that I add as well.

someday, I hope to have this vivid color in my tank
someday, I hope to have this vivid color in my tank
Two Clowns; not mine
Two Clowns; not mine

Yes, I have fish too!

After months of battling a skimmer, green water, a rabid starfish, dirty sand and a stinging coral, I decided it was finally time to get some fish.

I ordered them online from a reputable store because I could get 6 fish plus shipping for the same price as 2 fish from the LPS! 

One Saturday, I excitedly greeted the UPS man at the door.  He held my little babies in his arms.  I acclimated them for hours before setting them into the tank.  The two clown fish, the Royal Gramma Basslet, 2 Green Chromis and a Wheeler's Watchman Goby all settled into their new home without any trouble.  They ate and swam.  They seemed to all get along together as well.  Life was good.

One night, my significant other called me on the cell and told me that one of the Clowns (Anemone named by my daughter) was acting strangely.  By the time I got home, he was laying on the bottom of the tank, peacefully in the sand.  We were all heartbroken.  I think Nemo is too.  He hasn't eaten since Anemone died and I fear he will soon demise if I don't get another mate for him soon. 

Such is the life of fish.  One day, they are happily swimming and then for no reason (or one that can't be seen) they kick the bucket.  I have had goldfish live for 8 or more years in my 75 gallon fresh water tank in my basement.  I was heartbroken nontheless over little Anemone's quick passing and may have to quickly get a mate I hope he will accept and not beat up.

I plan on getting more fish at a later date but for now, am watching my present brood to make sure they stay healthy.

The tank below is a goal one day....

Any regrets?

Going on four months now; I feel like I am just beginning to understand the marine tank. 

Setting up a new marine system takes a lot of patience and a lot of research on your part.  I have exhausted my resources in finding fish that get along and corals that are peaceful as well.  Many people throw anything into their tank and hope for the best.  With the amount of money that I have and will spend on this project, I want to have some type of assurance that my creatures will live and not die within the first month of getting it.

I do now see lots of worms and little stars coming out of the live rock.  I laugh at the Emerald crabs as they crawl on the rock and raise their muscle bound upper torsos; mimicking King Kong on the Empire State Building.  I love to see the little Goby come in and out of his hole in the rock; huffing and puffing at anything that comes near him.  I also feel a motherly affection come over me when it's feeding time and I see all of my inhabitants come out to fill their bellies.

I have a long way to go until I have what can be considered a mature and successful saltwater tank.  I can't wait!  So, yes... I have to be patient.  No regrets.

Even though I won't be getting angels, I hope to have the serenity in my own tank as shown in this photo
Even though I won't be getting angels, I hope to have the serenity in my own tank as shown in this photo

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Comments 8 comments

Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Great Hub.


ljrc1961 profile image

ljrc1961 6 years ago from Michigan Author

thanks Sandy


Basim ANSARI profile image

Basim ANSARI 6 years ago from K.S.A

nice pics, marine tanks are always beautiful then fresh water tank any way nice interesting hub


ljrc1961 profile image

ljrc1961 6 years ago from Michigan Author

thanks Basim...wish they were pics of my aquarium!! :)


Jon 4 years ago

That was awesome! Great article


ljrc1961 profile image

ljrc1961 4 years ago from Michigan Author

thanks Jon!


greg 3 years ago

$0.69 per lb of live rock? Where do I sign up? I spent $5/lb on mine lol.


ljrc1961 profile image

ljrc1961 3 years ago from Michigan Author

greg, now I am paying $4.00 a pound! that's for sweet rock; the live rock, which I mix is up to 7.00 a pound! I got a few rocks from a local pet store and found they were the reason for so many of my problems as they came with lots of surprises! Now, I get my rock from a qualified salt water shop and have had little to no problems over the years. I am presently upgrading to a 75 gallon now! Even the sweet rock cost me 150.00 this time around!

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