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5 Common Mistakes Made by Reef Keepers

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We’ve all been there. Yes, we were all “newbies,” someone who wanted to know it all, but knows absolutely nothing. There are a million ways to enjoy a saltwater tank… and about six million ways to destroy it. But have no fear: I’m here to tell you how to avoid these mistakes. Learn from the mistakes of others, and remember, the most successful reef keepers always learn from their own mistakes.

Salt does not evaporate. Let’s say it again. Salt does NOT EVAPORATE.  Imagine it: you set up a beautiful new reef, but after a few weeks, you notice the water level decreasing. So what do you do? Many inexperienced aquarists will mix up some new saltwater and add it to the tank. What they are forgetting is that salt doesn’t evaporate along with the water decrease. When topping off the tank, use fresh water instead. If you don’t do this, the salinity in the tank will rise, and the tank will inevitably crash.

Related: Feeding Techniques for Your Coral Reef Tank

Stocking too many fish at once. Just like in freshwater systems, salt water systems require a tank cycle. Stocking too fast can result in ammonia spikes and kill the fish. Take it slow, stock a few fish at a time.

Another way to mess things up is over stocking. Be mindful of your fish’s adult size, because as they grow, they will take up more room and require larger territories. If you put too many fish in the tank in the beginning, you’re setting yourself up for a disaster later on. Paying attention to the type of fish you are stocking is important, too. Adding fish that cannot peacefully exist together will result in dead fish, lost money, and a disappointed fish keeper. These points all apply to corals and invertebrates, as well. Research every item you add to your tank before purchasing, and you will be much happier in the long run.

When adding corals to your tank, dip them in a solution to remove any unwanted parasites. If you do not do this, you risk the coral bringing in flat worms, bristle worms, and other unwelcome guests into your aquarium. These parasites will wreak havoc on your reef and can leave you with nothing. Corals are expensive, so protecting your investment is important. Being proactive about treating pests, even if you think that the coral is clean, can save you a lot of time and money.

Related: Why You Need To Dip Your Coral in Coral RX

All new fish should be quarantined if possible. It is much easier to treat a single fish for an ailment than it is to have to treat an entire tank, especially if it’s a large set up. It is also easier to risk losing one fish in quarantine than it is to lose every fish in your aquarium. Having a separate quarantine set up can be a pain, but it is a worthwhile pain.

Not using RO/DI water. Tap water is fine for most freshwater set ups, but in a reef it contains a lot of things that will just mess with the balance. One of these things is TDS (total dissolved solids). These are all those invisible minerals that exist in our drinking water, metals, calcium, phosphates, etc. In a saltwater set up they can cause a lot of grief. Some fish and corals will not tolerate them in their water, and you may find that you have an ongoing algae problem. The root cause is the tap water you’re using in your tank. An RO/DI system will eliminate everything you don’t need, and allow you to add back into the water only the amounts of nutrients that you want to be there. It’s a rather large upfront investment, but considering the expense of salt water tanks, it is worth the money.

Summer Davis is the mom of three kids, four dogs, and several tanks of fish. She boasts a passion for all animals, whether they are in the water or on land. This fish aficionado has kept many different species in her time, but holds a special place in her heart for wild and domestic bettas. When she’s not talking about fish, Summer “spins” her extra time as the director of a baton twirling organization.


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