When setting up your reef tank, you will first need to attain equipment and other components to get started. First you will need to buy a tank, stand, lighting, heater, salt mix, the livestock (fish, coral, rocks, sand), a filtration system (if the tank doesn’t come with one) test kits and hydrometer.
Clean & Prep
Next, you will need to prepare the tank by making sure it’s clean and setting it up on the stand. Make sure the stand is close to electrical outlets so that you can plug in the lights and heater. In this process, install all the equipment and ensure it works. You will also want to check to see if the tank is level. After setting up, the next step is to test the system. Go ahead and mix your salt water and fill up the tank. Let the solution settle and wipe out any residue from the solution. After this step, let the system run for a day at least. During this time of the system check, test the salinity of the water and ensure that the tank is not leaking.
Setup with Live Rock
After you have ensured your tank and system are working properly, the next step in reef tank set up is prepare the live rock, if you are using it. Live rock and live sand are a common choice for the aquascaping, or bottom of your tank. Live rock needs to be cleaned and cured before it can be placed into the tank. Once that is done, add the live rock to the tank to aquascape the base of the tank. In this process, it might be helpful to remove some of the water and put it to the side so that it’s easier to work in the water without it rising and sloshing over.
At this point, your tank is set up with the basics. This next step is very important in the reef tank set up process – cycling. A reef tank should cycle for nearly 30 days before you add any livestock. In cycling, the nitrogen cycle takes place in your tank where nitrifying bacteria is born and dies. This chemical process is important for a saltwater reef tank’s health.
Before adding the livestock after cycling, experts suggest that you do a partial water change (20 percent) at least five days after the ammonia and nitrate readings are at zero. This would also be a good time to clean the tank or adjust any rocks and make sure it is perfect before adding the fish. At this point, you can add your fish. But, don’t add them all at one time. Reef tank experts suggest adding coral and fish just a couple items at a time as to not overload the system and cause aggression among the livestock as they acclimate to the new surroundings. Also, you should only add fish and coral to the tank when the ammonia and nitrate readings are at zero, which will require some testing.
Ready to Go
At this point, you’ve added all of your fish, rock and coral and can enjoy the reef tank. Maintenance is very important in a reef tank. Consistent cleaning and testing are critical in keeping your reef tank healthy.