Category Archives: Weekly Tips

Tip of the Week – Learn about the fish you are getting.

The lifespan pf many of the more popular fish we commonly keep in the hobby can surprise many people.  Clownfish for example can commonly live up 15 years in captivity and many tangs can live up to 25 years.

Conscientious Marine Aquarist, 2008, Bob Fenner

Planning a FOWLR Aquarium

Just a few ideas to think about when planning a FOWLR set-up.  This is not the only way to set-up a great FOWLR aquarium, but it is my preferred way based on my experiences

  • Start with the largest aquarium size that you can reasonably get.  The reason why I make this recommendation is that some of the most colorful and active fish best suited for FOWLR set-ups (such as triggers, lionfish, and angels), can get big.  You don’t want to limit yourself  latter on and have to buy another set-up.  Although you can have a very small FOWLR tank with a lot of the smaller fish commonly available in the trade, I would still suggest a 4 foot tank at least 120 gallons would be a good starting point.  A 6 foot long 180 gallon would be best. I always like to keep my options open for the future.
  • Although your live rock will supply very effective biological filtration, you will have to watch your parameters closely and consider adding additional filtration if you are having difficulties.  Starting off with a sump filled with live rock, a skimmer, and even some macro algae would help a lot here.
  • Choose your substrate based on the need of any fish you may want to keep.
  • Pick very good quality rock to use in the set-up.  You want to get the most out of your filtration so do not cut corners on your live rock
  • Pick a very good quality skimmer.  A good quality skimmer is the key to getting a keeping a very healthy set-up without adding any extra work.  You need the top of line skimmer, but don’t want to cut corner either
  • Don’t go overboard on lighting.  As there will be no corals, pick lower lighting levels and color tone that will allow the fish to look their best.  I would suggestion to use mostly acintic and Fuji purple in a FOWLR set-up with a little light ranging in the 20,000 to 22,000K spectrum .
  • Have a plan for adding your fish.  If the fish you want are very territorial or potentially very aggressive, add them all at once and when they are all the same size (preferably very small as well).  Keep a very close eye on your parameters as this approach can be risky. If your fish are not territorial and/or aggressive, add them one fish at a time waiting about 2 weeks in between each fish. Going as slow as practical here is the key when you have that option.

The below links might also be helpful:

Tip of the Week – Buying New Fish

One of the biggest lessons that I had to learn the hard way was to take my time when picking out a new marine fish at the local pet store.  It can be very easy to get caught up in the excitement of finally finding the fish that you have been looking for, but you should really look before you leap.  You want to carefully observe the fish to make sure it is not showing any potential signs of sickness.  At times, this can be hard to do if the fish is stressed, but some of the signs to look for are:

  • Rapid breathing or rapid gill movement
  • Hiding without coming out into the open at all
  • Flashing
  • Swimming very erratic
  • Oddly color spots on the body or small white spots
  • Damaged or oddly colored fins
  • Loss of apatite

I will typically observe the fish in the store for about 30 minutes.  Sometimes I will repeat this process over two or more different days until I am satisfied there are no visible symptoms and the fish appears healthy. In case you own many pets, you can learn here more information on how to use CBD products to keep hem healthy and happy.

Once you have had a chance to observe the fish and have not noticed anything odd, I would also suggest that you request the store to feed the fish so you can see it eat .  I would never purchase a fish that was not eating as that can sometime be a indication of internal problems.

And, as always, I strongly recommend placing you new fish in a properly set-up quarantine tank for careful observation.  There are so many other disease your new fish could be infected with that will take a very long time before there are any noticeable external symptoms.


The below links might also be helpful



Tip of the Week: Testing Your Water Parameters

Testing your water

Many of the fish and corals that we keep in our aquariums can be more sensitive to water conditions when compared with most fresh water fish.  This is even more critical in smaller set-ups as problems with water quality can get very bad very fast.  You need to be testing the basic parameters in the beginning while your tank matures.  Once you get a lot of coralline developing and you have started adding more fish and/or corals which consuming many elements from the water, you will need to slightly expand this to include other elements.

Without testing your water quality at least weekly, you will not be able to determine how well your set-up is maturing or much much elements the system is consuming from the water.


The below link will allow you to better understand what I am talking about


Tip of the Week: Waterchanges

I’m the type of hobbyist that likes to keep things as simple as possible while maintaining the best possible water quality that I can.  One of the more important parts of this is completing weekly water changes.  I have found that completing a weekly water change of about 10% to 20% works well for maintaining trace element that will be consumed by corals and coralline algae while helping to prevent a buildup of nitrates and/or phosphates in the water.  Depending on the amount and type of corals combined with the bioload of your fish, you can adjust the amount of your water change to have the same effect.  I have found the less supplements you have to dose, the more stable your water will be.  Weekly water changes allow me to achieve that without having to put a lot of effort and expense into dosing and testing trace elements.


The below links can add a little more details for you



Tip of the Week: Choosing the right Substrate

Some people have asked me which substrate is best for their set-up.  Below are some random thought on the subject that always come up in these conversations

1 – Why do you even need substrate ?  You can go “bare bottom” saving yourself some money and a little extra work. Pros: less work, less expense.  Cons: waiting for coralline to grow on the bottom, doesn’t look as natural as you can have with substrate

2- What are you planning to stock?  If you are planning jaw fish or some of the sand sifting fish, then you need to have a substrate that meets the specific needs of those fish.

3 – What about Live Sand.  In my experience, it is not worth the extra expense.  As this product is placed in a sealed bag and potentially exposed to temperature extremes, you will get a very large die-off of the beneficial bacteria’s that will be there.

4 – What type of flow are you planning for your set-up.  If you are planning a high flow set-up, then stay away from finer particle sand.  The flow within the tank can move the substrate around if you are not careful

5 – Stay away from crushed coral or excessively large particle substrates.  It is very easy to have debris collect in the cracks and crevasses in these types of substrate were your cleanup crew cannot get to it.  Without a lot of extra substrate cleaning, this will lead to higher than normal nutrient levels over time.

6 – Do not use substrates meant for fresh water aquariums.  These fresh water substrates (especially sand) will contain higher amounts of silicates than what is normally found in marine substrates.  This will put higher levels of silicates in your water which in most cases will lead to a lot more diatoms and other algaes in your tank.


The below links can provide you with additional information

Tip of the Week: Get the Optimal Filtration for your Tank

Many hobbyist just entering the hobby will have “sticker shock” when they see the prices for good quality live rock.  Sometimes this will result in some people t trying to find the cheapest approach to filtration.  This is the wrong approach to take.  Cutting corners on your filtration will always result in long term difficulties.  The below links can better explain what I mean



Tip of the Week: Always Quarantine New Fish

This is one lesson I had to learn the hard way many years ago.  It can be very easy to get a fish that is carrying, or infected with, a disease in the very early stages making it very difficult (if not impossible) to visually see.  I used to lose many fish to ick before I started using a quarantine tank.  Many people skip this process and add new fish to their display tanks right away, using the agreement that quarantine new fish is too much work and expense.  In my experience,  the work and expense of dealing any type of disease in your main tank is just as costly and just as much effort as utilizing a quarantine set-up, however, it can prevent the loss of existing fish in your display tank.


The below link will provide you with some more detailed information

Tip of the Week # 9, Display Tank Black-outs

A while back I had started reading about fellow hobbyists completing a 3 day black out on their reef tanks every 3 months as a part of their routine maintenance.  Starting about 6 months ago, I started blacking out my reef tank for 3 days every two months.  There was no harmful effects to my SPS corals or my carpet anemone.

Some of the Identified Benefits Include:

-Slowing down algae growth
-Very effective to help get rid of cyano when used with other traditional control methods
-When done right, it can add a part of a natural cycle as seen in nature as it can simulate a bid storm without some of the negative effects
-In certain set-ups, it will help to slowly reduce the nitrates and phosphates as the inhabitants would experiences a slowed down metabolism allowing the nutrient removal processes in the aquarium to have a greater impact.

Some Tips for Best Results:

-Only turn off the tank lighting.  Allow the ambient room light to hit the tank so you can feed your fish
-Keep all other equipment running on the set-up.
-Feed you fish about ¼ to 1/3 of the normal amount during the black-out period.
-On smaller tanks, carefully watch your pH levels as the level could drop very low in smaller set-up
-The approach works very well on set-up with refugium or algae scrubbers if you leave the lighting schedule the same for the refugium and algae scrubber
-Complete a larger than normal water change after the blackout due to any algae die-off can release extra nutrients into the water.
-Return to your normal lighting level slowly as to not shock any of your corals and/or anemones
-BTAs can start to move during a black-out period
-This will only temporarily solve algae problems.  Without removing the cause(s) of the algae, it will come back in time.

Some other references for routine aquarium maintenance:




Tip of the Week # 8, Stocking Tangs

The one aspect about stocking marine aquariums that I have found the most conflicting information on is what is a proper stocking plan when keeping tangs. A part of the problem is the amount of variation between maximum sizes, growth rates, and the temperament / personality of the fish. I have personally seen yellow tangs reaching a maximum size 10 inches and other reaching a maximum size of about 14 inches, both being kept in set-up that would allow for more growth.

So what is the right answer ?

  • Do your homework, get as much first hand information from trustworthy people as possible.
  • If you are new to marine aquariums, error on the side of caution and get a aquarium that is a little larger than what you could stock your tang in.
  • Use extreme caution when keeping multiple tangs in one aquarium in numbers less than 5.
  • Always watch carefully for signs that your current stocking is not working out in the best interests of the fish.

The below links will provide you with some further information to help you understand this better