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Starting my saltwater tank


Dec 30, 2005
hi, I have been with this site for almost a year now and have done constant research on keeping saltwater tanks. Thats why I was deciding to create one of my own that perhaps later down the line could be used for a cephalapod.

Heres my problem, I have been researching a long time, but its hard to find sites that get to the point on setting up a saltwater tank. Things like nitrate and pH and all these other things come up and I was wondering if any of you could help me simplify setting up an 18g saltwater tank. Just so I could keep some local fish in (I live in southern CA), not for a fancy reef tank. Something a little more simple.

I know its alot to ask so if anybody could help I would be delighted! Thanks!

THe best thing is to buy a book on setting up a saltwater tank. You can also look at a site like About Saltwater.com. We have a lot of the information here in the articles, but it would be helpful to have a book to work from - even something simple, like Saltwater Aquariiums for Dummies. Then you can reread sections as you need to . You'll outgrow this book eventually, but it's good to start with. Getting a solid background in keeping a salt water tank will be a big help when it comes to keeping an octo.

You know that this size tank will be too small for a bimac - but it's a great size to learn on. You'll learn about live rock and water chemistry and all the other important things. One piece of advice - emphasize your invertibrates. Crabs and featherdusters and brittlestars can be very interesting.

thank you, Ill definetley look into some books. I have read alot and think I have come up with a plan that you can feel free to criticize:

i will fill my empty tank with 2 inches of sand from my local beach. then I will add live rock. after that I will fill my tank with already seeded water from the ocean. I will use a bio-filter/protein skimmer hang on external filter for all the filration and buy a parameter to measure salinity. I will use a flourescent strip light fixture on the top of the tank and cycle the tank for 3 months with a couple damsels. then I will start adding some local invertebraes and so forth.

does that sound right? thank you tremendously for your help!


I think it's great that you are willing to take the plunge with a saltwater tank. A couple of comments... you will need a permit from the Department of Fish and Game to collect local marine animals from the tidepool. Also, you may need a chiller (which is expensive) to keep the water at the temperature needed for local animals in the San Diego area. Damsels are a warm water species so they will probably be fine to cycle a warm water aquarium, but you will need something that will tolerate cold water to cycle for local animals...
I do have a permit and a saltwater fishing liscense.

a chiller? is there any other soltion? that is definetley not an option for me. the idea of having local animals was just a thought, maybe i will start off with a regular fish tank instead.

It seems like the ocean temperature in San Diego hovers around 58-68 F. I kept local marine life for 14 years in Long Beach and I always had a chiller. I kept the temperature at a constant 65 F. Any time the temperature went above 70 (like when my chiller broke), I lost animals. I kept a back-up chiller, because during the hot months, the chiller was more likely to break, and I could send it out for repair and not have to worry about the animals dying.

If you have another way of keeping your water temperature in this range, then you will be fine.

What kind of animals can you collect with your permit?
It might be easier to keep a reef tank at first. You don't have to go for expensive corals that take a lot of light.

I'd like to hear what others say, but I think you'd be better buying live sand (or regular sand getting a handful of sand to seed it from your LFS or someone's mature tank). The same for water - many of the labs that keep salt water animals bring in that water from further out in the ocean. It could be contaminated close to sure - and also, it's well filtered before it gets to the tank. So you could buy RO/DI water and add salt.

But I wouln't rule out what you have in mind. It's just that, as pointed out, you need colder water to make it work.

You could always use ice. As wierd as it sound it works. As long as your house is air conditioned and has a constant supply of ice you should be fine. Also, getting sand from the beach isnt good but If you go at low tide and go in a few feet in the water you should have good live sand.There is live rock in southern California so you could collect it and if it was brought home in reasonable time and put in the tank there would be little to no die off meaning he wouldent have to cycle his tank. If you went out and picked up a small air conditinor you could keep a tank under 70.

just a few thoughts,


You do mean put the ice in a bag first, right??? You could also use those "blue ice" packs, but you have to have a large supply of them and keep replacing them in the tank. That is a lot of maintenance to keep the temperature down during the summer in San Diego...
We had a big discussion about ice a couple of years ago.

It's not practical for regular cooling, but may be useful in an emergency (power failure).

Ice should not be added directly to the tank or sump - if you should do this anyway (and I'm assuming only a cube or two to the sump), please use RO/DI water to make the ice. The preferred way is to freeze small coke bottles full of water and float them in the sump.

One TONMO.com member stretched a broad elastic band around her tank and tucked in those blue cold packs (frozen) to reduce heat. Since these packs can leak, they should never be put directly in the tank or sump.

Here are some effective methods of lowering the temperature of your tank: fan blowing over the sump (requires more topping off), make sure your lights aren't too bright, use the protein skimer only at night (or when your ceph inks!), and perhaps the best method - turn the house air conditioning down to a lower temperature.

These methods may enable you get reduce the temperature from 78 down to 72 or 73 - not as much as a chiller could.

how much does the average chiller cost? Its only an 18g tank so it shouldn't be to hard to cool down right? I could keep it in the garage were it is usually nice and cool and keep ice as a back-up. I kept a bimac (it was for Dan) for a couple weeks in only a 10g which I would replace 20% of the water with fresh cold water weekly. remember, this isn't for an octo and he lasted a long time in that set-up
Just a thought, and I don't know whether this would work or not. What if you collected your animals from tide pools - it must get quite hot in those pools. I remember talking with Jimmy D. of Octopets about this.

Then, you could keep your tank in the garage, out of the sun, and even use a small fan on it. I wouldn't ever put water of a much different temperature in a tank, even to cool it down. Slow changes are better.

See what sort of a temp range you get -probably too hot for a bimac but might be fine for some other invertebrates.

I am looking at getting a bat star and possibly a brittle star for my tank. I went snorkeling yesterday on a local reef and saw an assortment of fishes that would be perfect for my tank.
can tidepool sculpins be kept in tanks? They are the perfect fish for my tank! That would be great if I could house one properly because they are very interesting to look at and also very common on the reef.

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