Posted: 2005.09.07(Wed)18:58 Post subject: Marine Aquarium Myths (things a beginner should know)
Marine Aquarium Myths (things a beginner should know) Copyright 2013 FloridaBoy
Chances are, you're reading this forum because you want to avoid making an expensive mistake with your marine aquarium. Besides the cost factor, it's a real drag watching a beautiful creature expire due to a lack of knowledge on the part of its keeper. Believe me, I understand... I killed a lot of fish when I started out many years ago, and I can tell you; the last thing a beginner needs is half truths and misleading information.
I have never claimed to be an expert, but hopefully this list will address some of the common misunderstandings in our hobby; most of them are promoted by ignorance, some by inexperience and sorry to say, I think still others may be perpetuated by greed. Hopefully this will assist you as a beginner in avoiding them all, for your sake and of course the safety of your fish. With that said, let's get to it...
Myth 1. "You can establish a marine aquarium in a few days."
Many have tried this to their dismay; it can take weeks to properly cycle a marine system, and rushing things almost always leads to failure. As long as I can remember, there have been plenty of products/cultures/packaged bacteria, etc. out there, all claiming to provide instant results... buyer beware. After spending years as a collector, wholesaler and retailer, I assure you many of the problems I have seen beginners experience actually relate to a misunderstanding of the requirements for cycling. Certainly adding a targeted seeding of live bacteria/sand/gravel from a healthy, established system can improve the cycling process, I have done this many times.
Yet, in my opinion there is a difference between cycling and "establishing" a healthy domain. Some species--tangs and angels for example--require more than just a cycled tank; green algae cultures are a real plus to these grazers/herbivores... and some species like Mandarin Dragonets require FAR more than a cycled tank, so please research your charges. Beyond cycling, we are looking for a stable environment here; a harmony of living things perhaps best described as "balanced." The aquarist learns his system's limitations during this period; if a specimen becomes a bully, it is removed. Balance is restored. If pH drops, water changes are increased or a buffering/dosing schedule is developed. While minor experimentation with lighting and filtration is often required, sometimes it's best just to stop tinkering and observe for a while. This process, this balanced, established system is sometimes achieved quickly, but often takes months.
Myth 2. "A marine fish will not grow bigger than it's aquarium."
While perhaps some stunting can occur in certain freshwater fish, there is no stopping a Tiara Batfish from growing, you cannot expect P. volitans to remain happy in a 30 gallon tank, and no, that nurse shark will not stop expanding at 18 inches. Be advised; many rising nitrate/dissolved organic issues are actually the result of a fish collection that has simply outgrown its habitat and filter capacity. Example; Joe purchases a Panther Grouper at 2 inches. Time goes by and one day Joe notices the grouper has gotten bigger. Joe puts a tape measure up to the glass and notices little "Spot" has grown to 8 inches. Dang, that didn't take long! And guess what, he eats a lot more now, too. Problem is, Joe's tank hasn't grown one inch. Sound like an unusual problem? It's not. This little grouper (C. altivelis) is offered any given day at every marine retailer across the country, often sold without hesitation to anyone with a 30 gallon tank, and it will easily reach 28 inches in the wild. The ocean is a big place my friend, please use common sense in selecting your animals for captivity.
Myth 3. "The fish is healthy; it's eating live brine."
I've said this before, it bears repeating; getting a difficult species to "pick at" or "accept" live brine shrimp (or any form of this product) is not the same as having it devour the variety of quality foods it will need to thrive in your system. I have seen many beginners tempted into purchasing difficult species like Butterflies, Anthias, etc. at the retail level because they saw them nibble at live brine; a food that offers little nutrition but apparently great taste (cotton candy comes to mind). Ask to see the fish feed on quality frozen foods. If the request is refused, take your business elsewhere. A fish that eats a variety of quality foods is always your best bet.
Myth 4. "This fish doesn't need quarantine."
This is perhaps the myth responsible for destroying more marine livestock than any other. You have been warned; lack of quarantine protocol is at best "Russian roulette," and at worst it is simple stupidity. Of all the advice I give, this is paramount. The reality is, millions of SW fish losses could be avoided with 1: several weeks of quarantine for ALL new arrivals and 2: having a second backup system for problematic fish; regardless of what others say, it is essential to your long term success, and made even more critical when mixing fish and invert populations. Please adopt FloridaBoy's first rule of marine aquariums; set up, cycle and maintain a small, second tank for quarantine/hospital purposes... and use it religiously.
Myth 5. "Aquarium temperature and salinity changes will kill marine ich."
For those unfamiliar with the terminology; we're chatting about those little white spots that look like someone sprinkled your Tang with salt. Many have tried various psuedo cures for these pathogens, with various results. Although some claim success with these methods, too often the parasites will subside for a while only to return with a vengeance worse than before; they reproduce in a nasty cycle of various free swimming and encysted forms including trophonts, tomonts, tomites, etc... dropping into the substrate and then re-emerging in higher numbers. This cycle confuses a lot of new hobbyists, who think they have solved the problem until the next "wave" arrives, indeed the trail of death is long for this industry-wide issue, and in my experience you need copper or starvation to kill the parasites in your system. I have had wonderful results with administering freshwater dips, but this only kills the parasites on the fish, it does nothing to halt those still lurking in your display. You can debate the resistant strains vs. the soft strains, you can play around with hyposalinity for days and weeks if you want---but make no mistake; left unchecked, a marine cryptocaryon outbreak can and will kill every last fish in your system. How can you reduce your chances of getting an infestation? See Myth Number 4. Where can you move your fish for safe treatment with copper and avoid killing your inverts, while you starve the parasites in your display? See Myth Number 4. How can you be sure your new arrivals are pathogen free? You get the point. Let's move on...
Myth 6. "You need lots of live rock to keep marine fish."
Live rock is good, I love it. In fact, I was collecting and using it back in the 70's, long before most retailers started selling it by the pound. For reef systems it is an essential foundation. But for basic, hardy marine fish setups it is not required. I say again; it is usually a benefit to any fish system, especially when it is provided with the correct water quality/additives/lighting to make its various encrusting inverts and corallines flourish, but large volumes are not REQUIRED. If you can afford it great; go for it. Heck, you can even make your own. But massive amounts of live rock are not required to keep hardy species like clowns, damsels, triggers, groupers, dottybacks, etc., and if you can't afford to spend a small fortune on live rock you can still have a successful marine fish system, and your fish can live happily for years and years. Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply confused... or maybe selling live rock.
Myth 7. "It takes a lot of money to keep marine fish."
Again, I see a lot of confusion in the hobby about reef systems vs. basic fish systems. Certainly, a large reef tank dedicated to live corals is a costly endeavor; the necessary advanced lighting alone is pricey, not to mention the various dosers, skimmers, reactors, refugiums, etc. But a basic marine fish system requires none of those gizmos. Sure, any system will benefit from a well-made $200.00 skimmer, but is it required for keeping a Maroon Clownfish and a Blue Devil? Hardly. As a teenager I kept marine fish for years armed with not much more than an old school undergravel filter and powerheads to drive it. Please don't shoot the messenger... I'm not knocking the advancements in the hobby here, but a word to the wise; arm yourself with knowledge before surrounding yourself with equipment.
Myth 8. "Saltwater fish are just too hard to keep."
Well, they CAN be I suppose. It depends on what you want to keep and what you consider hard. A big part of the problem is, beginners often choose the wrong fish! There are many beautiful, colorful and interesting fish that are actually very hardy; every bit as hardy as freshwater fish and in some cases more so. Many specimens endure terrible conditions during the capture/storage/shipping process, and still manage to adapt and thrive on the other side of the world. There are also some species that seldom live, even under expert care. Please refer to my list of Marine Species NOT for the Beginner, elsewhere on this forum.
Myth 9. "I don't need a heater, my tank is in Florida."
Or Texas, or Hawaii, or wherever... regardless of where your tank is located, you DO need a heater for tropical marine species... they require stable conditions my friend; old salts know it's not the temp that causes the problem, it's the change in temp. Some tanks will even require a chiller to avoid the other extreme. You might be surprised how much that Florida temp can shift in a single night, and how much stress it can create for your fish. IME, many "disease issues" are actually triggered by temp stress. This myth is sometimes accompanied by "I don't need a lid for my tank."
Myth 10. "Smaller tanks are easier to maintain."
With apologies to all the nano keepers; for beginners my free advice has been and continues to be; start with a marine tank no smaller than 29-30 gallons. The cost difference is not that great; in fact much of the equipment such as a heater, filter, light, hydrometer, etc. will need to be purchased no matter which size you choose, so choose wisely. More volume = more stability. Thus, a 30 gallon system is actually easier to maintain than a five gallon system. Why? The water changes more slowly. Things don't go wrong as quickly. You get more time to react. That darned anemone you bought, the one that crawled behind the rock and died last night, won't pollute your water as quickly; are you listening? On the other extreme, going out and purchasing a 200 gallon tank for your first system may be taking it too far; please use discretion when choosing the size of your first tank.
Myth 11. "My tank is dirty, it needs to be cleaned."
Words like "dirty" and "clean" mean different things here; certainly a quality skimmer will go a long way in removing dissolved organics, and regular vacuuming combined with water changes will help nix detritus often referred to as "dirt." But the sterilizing process of removing everything into buckets and power washing the tank like you used to do with your goldfish bowl is anathema in marine systems. This approach can wipe out the beneficial bacteria with disastrous results. Remember the delicate balance we talked about in Myth 1? Sure, fish-only systems will develop a velvety growth of green algae after a while, but who cares... perfect for herbivores like Tangs and Angels. If it gets out of control you can cut down on lighting or add a few snails. If you must "clean" a choice decoration or two, you can remove these and give them a good brushing, but avoid doing this to everything at one time; it's too disruptive. Reef tanks will always need more attention with regard to nutrient removal, phosphate levels, calcium, etc., as various algae and cyanos can easily overwhelm the essential live rock. These delicate, natural systems will benefit from a population of living detritivores, sifters, etc. to do the "cleaning" for you. Fish-only systems can also take advantage of large, sump-based refugiums; housing the same types of critters safely away from the hungry Triggers, jumbo Wrasses, and other invert-chompers in your display. Macro algaes (plants) love nutrients (fertilizer), and can be employed here also to reduce them.
Let's see, bacteria, detritivores, algae... sounds "dirty," doesn't it? Well, it may not be squeaky clean to some, but it all adds up to a healthy system for your happy fish (clean with caution).
Myth 12. "Adding one more fish won't make a difference."
Trust me it can. Many troubled aquarists have learned the hard way that their tanks have limitations. Whether the system is comprised of 30 gallons or 300 gallons the principle is the same; the filtration components, the skimmer, even the glass box itself all have limitations. The successful hobbyist has not only learned them, but stays within them. Many foolish aquarists, beginners and veterans alike, tend to push the limits of their filtration systems, going right up to the very edge of the line with biomass. When a power outage or pump failure arises, they face far more trouble than the wise hobbyist who has an under populated system. Sadly, adding that "one more fish" can throw a balanced system into a tailspin with disastrous results. Beyond this, many species are highly territorial in nature, and the space inside your tank may be far smaller than this territory. Consider the fact that on the reef a male Imperator Angelfish commands a territory in excess of 10,000 square feet, and you will start to gain a perspective. Avoid a cluttered community with one specimen bumping into another. Instead of giving in to that "one more fish" syndrome... instead of asking, "how many more fish can I have?," ask yourself instead how FEW you can be happy with. Those carefully selected specimens will be healthier, happier and even have room to grow.
Myth 13. "Adding a new gizmo will solve all my problems."
As with most hobbies, there has always been--and continues to be--a constant stream of new products offered for marine aquariums. Some very good, and some... well just junk, frankly. Since I have no ties to any of the various manufacturers, I am free to give honest and open advice based on my experience and/or the experience of those poor hobbyists who have spent their money, then voiced their concerns and problems. Online forums like this one are great tools for this kind of feedback, an advantage we never had in the old days. Filters, pumps, skimmers, heaters, dosers, reactors, lighting... all need to be selected with care and research. Most need to be maintained to some degree, and replaced from time to time. None should be expected to solve all your problems. Sorry, not even the most expensive, turbo charged, cell cast acrylic, high-volume thing-a-ma-jig will release you from the time-tested responsibilities of cleaning, water changes, equipment checks and adjustments, daily livestock observation, all best described as "good husbandry." Ignoring your pet snake for a week or so may not be a total disaster. Neglecting to change the AC filter in your home for that extra month may not be a problem. Can't change the oil in the car?--it'll still run. But treating your marine system with this kind of cavalier approach can easily result in a catastrophe--particularly with regard to sensitive angelfish, tangs, butterflyfishes, invertebrates, etc. They simply cannot tolerate the water quality that results from neglect, and they cannot pack up and move.
Myth 14. "Ordering fish by mail is better... and it will save me money."
I'm not sure of the percentage of hobbyists who do this, but I would ask those who do it one question... why?
Certainly it's an option if you have no access to those species through a local retailer, but other than that... well, the word insanity comes to mind. Purchasing livestock you have never seen takes away your ability to confirm if the specimen is feeding, healthy and showing no signs of pathogens or disease. And think about injury; after many years in this hobby/industry you would be surprised how many fish I have seen dropped on the floor during capture... was yours? I have always required the retailer to catch my fish in the same bag used for transfer; no nets. Does your online retailer take this kind of care? Are you sure? Factor in the expensive shipping and your "savings" may not be so big. Since I have no ties to any advertisers I am free to give you my honest opinion. I have purchased and saved a lot on mail order hardware for many years, but making my livestock endure double shipping stress was never even considered. Yes, I realize of course there are some terrible local suppliers, opposed to some quality shippers who will select, guarantee and deliver the best livestock they can get by mail... but for me, selecting my own animals has always been the most fun and important step for success. It also helps you support and build a relationship with a local retailer who can be invaluable when your tank leaks or you need immediate help. Most species can be special ordered by your retailer; just ask. Some shops will allow you to place a prized specimen on hold for a few days for observation. You may find that after a while they will even allow you to catch your own fish. The choice is yours... choose wisely!
Myth 15. "I can have a great reef tank on the cheap."
This is a follow up to Myth number 7 above. Many marine hobbyists have asked themselves, "am I ready for a reef tank?" Keep in mind, I'm not talking about a few declining, algae-covered live rocks and a dying anemone, but a thriving, growing reef system. You might be ready, as long as you first understand that reef tanks demand more than basic fish systems in three primary areas; equipment, knowledge and time.
As the home maintenance of live corals becomes more popular the cost of the required components goes down, but anyone who has a seriously limited budget may do well to avoid reef setups for a while. As a former retailer, I have seen hobbyists walk into pet stores and fall in love with fish that they have no idea how to care for. Several hundred dollars later, they have a decent basic aquarium setup, a good book and at least a chance of success. With serious reef tanks, it takes thousands, not hundreds of dollars. Just two or three of the basic items; the water purifier, the lighting and the protein skimmer for example, can easily vacuum up your first grand, and you haven't even got to the aquarium yet. After setup, there are higher recurring costs for bulbs, chemicals and other consumables. Sure, garage sales and E-bay can hook you up with discounted gear, but be wary of short cuts regarding wattage, GPH, etc. Being penny-wise here can cost you dearly in the long run. Anyone who has had a reef tank for a while will agree that automation is a key to stability, and automatic gizmos mean even more money. Many large reef displays are actually a thin veneer; the visible component of an entire hidden room dedicated to extensive equipment like dosers, reactors, stirrers, skimmers, plumbing, controllers, sumps, pumps and powerful lights. Some hobbyists are spending hundreds per month just on the ELECTRICITY for their large reef systems (!). And don't forget the back up equipment; extra gear that can save your $10,000 reef when the stores are closed or the power is out.
Reef tanks also demand considerably more knowledge than basic marine fish setups. Many hours of reading and a serious, written plan are an absolute necessity. The successful reefer must not only be aware of terms like metal halide, zooxanthellae, corallines, RO water, turnover rate, refugium, nitrate reduction, phosphate reduction, kalkwasser, calcium, magnesium, strontium, alkalinity, copepods, rotifers, oyster eggs, etc.; he must truly understand what they mean to his animals. All of this may leave him feeling like more of a biochemist than an aquarist. This isn't just a fish tank anymore. Fish will often take a back seat to the corals, and their numbers will usually be much lower in reef systems to avoid organic overload. Corals are competitive animals, and they play nasty. Soft corals wage chemical warfare on hard corals, others secretly send out stinging tentacles at night. For some who are unprepared, keeping a reef tank can be kind of like maintaining a fussy garden, where the plants all wage war on each other. Serious reefers may be surprised to find that their local retailer knows little or nothing about reef setups, at which point an internet connection and a computer can become even more vital equipment for those hobbyists without local support groups.
Reef tanks can also cost you a lot of time. For those who love to tinker, it's not a problem. But those with little patience, a tight schedule and a penchant for live corals may be in for a rude awakening. Think carefully about how much time you can devote to water changes, adjustments, cleaning... your new small polyped stony corals have zero tolerance for water quality that a Maroon Clownfish would happily breed in. Sound negative? Well take heart; many hobbyists now have gorgeous reef systems; it's not impossible by any means. Soft coral systems, once popular with hobbyists, have declined in recent years, but actually make a great starting point for those with less experience. As long as you are prepared financially and mentally, a successful reef system can be yours. Although not cheap, the rewards are a living biosphere more fascinating and beautiful than most can imagine; as long as you can afford the extra costs in equipment, knowledge and time.
That's it for now... I will update this from time to time, so please feel free to add your suggestions, surely there are many more Marine Aquarium Myths. _________________ Keepin' marines happy for 25 years
Last edited by FloridaBoy on 2016.07.30(Sat)6:37; edited 71 times in total
Excellent, and should be made a sticky and required reading before any questions are answered in this forum. What is said above is true and well thought out. Excellent work. _________________ Out on the road today...I saw a DeadHead sticker on a Cadillac...
110 Gallon DSA Pentagon
Joined: 06 Feb 2003 Location: Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Posted: 2005.09.09(Fri)3:30 Post subject:
not sure if this is a myth or something a lot of uninformed people do. but a lot of people think its regular maintenance to COMPLETELY clean their aquariums(wash through gravel replace all water etc). even my family used to do this with the 20g fw untill I did some research!
While definitely not a myth, perhaps a note of the dreaded cycling mistake known as Damsel's Revenge? _________________ But if you tame me, then we shall need each other....You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I would also caution people about saltwater books. While a good resource, pay attention to the date they were written. The one referenced above was written in September 1996. A good resource, but very out of date. Our knowledge in this hobby increases greatly each year. in 96 a trickle filter and bio-balls were considered state of the art, we now know better ways to keep a reef happy and thriving and free of nitrates. Use them as a resoource only, not the rule.
There are no hard and fast rules in this hobby, you will often find conflicting information, don't let that dissuade you, just take what you read and hear with a grain of salt. Trust in your local saltwater clubs if you have them, it is here you can see the results of someones work and they often will be able to help you. _________________ Out on the road today...I saw a DeadHead sticker on a Cadillac...
110 Gallon DSA Pentagon
Joined: 06 Feb 2003 Location: Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Posted: 2006.01.05(Thu)1:18 Post subject:
ya very true. I have several saltwater book. one thats my favorite has heaps of info but its quite old. bristleworms are evil acording to it! however I also have some books printed by TETRA. the only reason I have them is the pictures and some basic info on the fish. other than that theres a fairly good amount of rubbish.
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