Maryland Pet

Reef Tank 101: How To Get Started

If you’re quite the fish lover, you might have already seen a couple of reef tanks first-hand. And seeing how beautiful they can be may inspire you to have your own version at home.

A reef tank is the closest thing to the ocean that you can enjoy in the comfort of your own home. So you can only imagine that it’s not that easy putting up an aquarium that requires sea water in order to survive. In a closed system like your fish tank, you will have to make sure that the living things you put inside it will be able to get along with each other.

With the right information, you’ll not only get to build a mini reef with creatures that get along well together but also form a beneficial symbiotic relationship – with all organisms helping one another to survive. An example of this is the relationship between the clownfish and its host anemone. While the clownfish brings food for the anemone it also receives protection from its host anemone through the latter’s stinging tentacles.

If you feel you are ready to invest time, money and energy in building your own reef tank, be sure to take note of the following.

1. Safe Fish and Invertebrates

A sustainable and healthy reef tank will require occupants which do not harm corals. Choosing a “reef safe” fish that does not eat invertebrates, picks at corals, and acts violently against other fishes is essential in creating a healthy reef tank. When in doubt, seek advice from an expert. Pet shops have personnel who will assist you in determining which fish and invertebrates can live harmoniously with each other.

It’s not just the fish you have to be concerned about, you also have to make sure that your invertebrates are “reef safe”, which means that they do not eat corals.

When you choose the right fish and invertebrates, you’ll create the correct ecosystem for your reef tank. For example, a janitor fish when properly selected can reduce your need for tank maintenance. This type of fish is known to eat algae and other uneaten food which promotes cleanliness in your aquarium. They act like a “living filter” that keeps your tank clean.

2. Filtration

Even if you have a janitor fish inside your reef tank, it’s still not good enough for corals. Most corals can’t tolerate the phosphate and nitrate levels, and other toxins that invertebrates and fishes can withstand. The quality of water is also of utmost importance, and this is where filtration comes in handy.

There are many great filtration systems  that work well in removing toxins which you can find in pet supply stores.

3. The Right Lighting

Corals which are included in a reef tank system need sufficient lighting. For most soft corals, the rule of thumb generally accepted for a reef tank is 3.5 watts per gallon of water. On the other hand, for hard corals, 4.5 watts per gallon of water is advised.

Coral lighting is an important aspect of reef tank building so call in the experts if you need additional help.

4. Water Change

The quality of your water will determine the health and development of your reef tank inhabitants. It is not a mere aesthetic concern but is an integral part of overall fish health. Simply put, understanding the benefits of water changes and maintaining clean and healthy water is the key to the welfare of your aquarium dwellers.

5. Alternative Power Source

No matter how hard you try to build that perfect reef tank environment, when power outages come – you’ll be defenseless. But if you keep it smart and have an alternative power source ready, you greatly reduce the chances of your tank inhabitants suffering.

A tank can survive several days without lighting, but your corals, fishes, invertebrates, and other aquarium inhabitants will die in just a few hours without circulation, oxygen, and the proper temperature. If you don’t want to lose everything you’ve tried so hard to put up and spent money on, investing in a small generator will protect your mini reef from such risks.

The five points mentioned above are just the basics in getting started with your reef tank.

Creating the “perfect” reef tank is a work in progress. If this is your first time, having a tank log book is one way to keep a detailed record of everything you do with your reef tank. From construction, maintenance, and especially mishaps, you will thank yourself for keeping notes because it will be your basis in improving your aquarium.

There are many available shareware and freeware logbook programs you can make use of. Choose the one that you’re most comfortable using and start logging as early as today.



Farah Al-Khojai is the Managing Partner of Pet’s Delight. A passionate entrepreneur, Farah holds a Bsc in Government from the London School of Economics. She is always on the lookout for new opportunities to develop and grow the pet and equestrian retail and wholesale market in the UAE and beyond, and is proud to be at the helm of the first and the largest pet care provider in the market representing world-class brands including Origen, Applaws, Hunter, Savic, Flamingo, Ruffwear and Rogz.

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