Setting up a reef tank
The following article is how we set up our reef tanks, there are many different ways to set up a reef tank so please do your research and find what works for you.
Step 1: water
Once you have set up your tank its time to add the sand and water. We use live sand where possible as we have had good results with using this. Or you can use a eco sand but this will take slightly longer to establish bacteria and aid in filtration. Salt levels in a reef tank wants to be around 0.25 some people go slightly higher some slightly lower. Choose a good quality salt or use pre made salt water. Remember do not top up your tank with salt water when evaporation occurs this will quickly raise salt levels and damage the inhabitants. As a general rule if you remove salt water replace it with salt water if your topping up, top up with RO water. The PH in your salt water should be around 8.2 and for general reef tanks the KH should be around 8-9 depending on species of coral kept. temperature should be around 77-78 degrees.
Step 2: cycling the tank
once your water is stable you can now add live rock. Let this settle for a week or so keeping an eye on water parameters in case of any die off from the rock. At this stage your tank wont be fully cycled you will need to start the nitrogen cycle. you can use a hardy clean up crew such as a hermit crab or sand shifting snail these will eat a small amount of food and produce very little waste that will not overwhelm the establishing system. feed them very lightly, this should start the cycle. at this stage you can also add any live bacteria cultures these help produce bacteria that feed on ammonia and nitrogen very quickly usually resulting in faster cycling although do not always believe what it says on the box, that you can add fish within 24 hours, we recommend taking your time and allowing a full cycle.
your tank will go through the following cycle. no1 ammonia will form and bacteria will start to consume it producing nitrites. no 2 nitrites will start to appear and will spike as new bacteria form and consume the ammonia and the nitrites at this stage you will usually notice a drop in ammonia nh4 and after a few weeks you will notice a sudden drop in nitrites at this stage you should now have little or no nitrite no2 and no ammonia nh4 and will be left with reasonably high levels for nitrates or no3. No3 is less dangerous but should remain around 10-20 and ideally around or below 10 in more delicate systems although do not try and get rid of it completely. Usually making a small water change will bring the no3 down. It is important to check these main parameters regularly during the cycle.
Step 3: adding the first fish or tank inhabitants.
Start small, your tank will still be developing bacteria levels and adding too much too fast may overload your tank before the bacteria can reproduce enough to remove the waste. Something like small clownfish are a good choice as they are relatively small and should not produce large amounts of waste. once your fish are introduced be sure to regularly check the water every other day for a week or so to make sure the tank is running properly and the bacteria have stabilised. After a couple of weeks you can add a few more fish depending on the size of the tank and increase your clean up crews if needed. You can also start adding some hardy corals such as soft coral. After a few weeks of the tank running smoothly you can now start to add anything such as star fish or more sensitive inverts like shrimp etc.