Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Marine diary chapter two

Lionfish, Pterois volitans
Lionfish, Pterois volitans

That night I went to bed and could barely sleep, I was so excited with the tank being ready that my mind was racing with possibilities. I knew enough about keeping fish tanks that I wasn't delusional about having a completely set-up tank on the morrow. I knew it was going to take time to get the tank established and ready for a community of fish, but at least I was going to be able to get something started.

The next morning finally dawned. I think it was one of the first times I willing got out of bed before noon on a weekend. Indeed it was only 7am when I sprang out of bed to check out the tank. I made sure all the power-heads were working, checked to see that the filter was working nicely as well, I made sure the temperature was set to 78F and that the water was clear. By this time the air bubbles that are normally found when setting up a new tank had cleared from the side of glass walls. I also checked all the water parameters that I had test kits for. There weren't any ammonia, nitrite or nitrates in the tank, the Salinity was steady at 1.024, the calcium level was 420ppm and the Alk was at 4.2dKh. I remember these readings as if it was yesterday. Everything was perfect, as well it should be considering that I had brand new saltwater in the tank with nothing available to through any readings off. Unknown at the time, it would be a long journey with many pitfalls and lots of aggravation before I could brag about getting readings like that again!

With readings taken in the tank, confidence booming and cheque book in hand, off to the L.F.S I go! I was so used to everything being open long before I awoke on Saturdays, I was greatly surprised to arrive at the store and finding out that it wasn't going to be open until 9am, which was at least an hour left to kill! Time crawled that morning as I wandered around the empty mall with all the shops still closed. Slowly more and more people started appearing in the previously disserted halls until I couldn't stand the wait any longer. I made my way back to the L.F.S and sat at the doors until they finally opened! I don't know how I stopped myself from running to the Marine section, but I believe I made it there in record time.

Since this was my first Marine tank and since I didn't know anyone with a marine tank to give me advice, I was left on my own to figure out what in the world this live rock stuff was. Why was it so important to my tank and how to chose the best stuff? What makes one rock better then the other and how important was it really? I wandered around looking at the tanks they had set-up; especially the display tanks where they had the most live rock. Naturally, I wasn't allowed to take any live rock from those tanks, but they had a couple of bins where I was allowed to pick and chose from.

They had two main bins and the store clerk pointed to one and said, "That bin is the one for the uncured rock and the other was the cured rock". I smiled at him and said "Thank you!" As the clerk rounded the corner I stood there dumbfounded! I had never heard of cured or uncured live rock! That part was kind of left out of the books that I had read! What do I do now?

So, finally swallowing my pride, I walked up to the manager of the saltwater department, Jake, and started talking to him about my plans to set up my very first saltwater tank. Fortunately for me, Jake was fairly knowledgeable and had been keeping his own marine tank for a couple of years already. I told him what I had in the tank already, and what I was planning for the future and that I was at the store to pick up some live rock to start off my tank. I told him that I didn't have a protein skimmer since I read that it wasn't necessary for the first few months a tank was running and that I had plans on picking up one later. The budget was already getting tight as it was. Jake agreed that I didn't need the protein skimmer at the moment, especially since I wasn't considering having any corals in the tank. My lighting would be good enough with the twin fluorescent bulbs; I would just need an actinic bulb to balance out the spectrum.

An actinic bulb? Wait a minute; what?s an actinic bulb? I guess Jake noticed my eyes glaze over at this point as I was frantically running through my mind trying to remember if I had read anything about actinic lighting. He asked me to follow him and we went over to the lighting section of the store and he showed me the different types of light bulbs available and how each bulb had a different spectrum.

It was at this point that I finally remembered that the books had mentioned something along these lines and I began to breath a little easier. The actinic bulb is considered a cool bulb with a high Kelvin temperature rating and the ones they had in stock were 12,000K bulbs. This would give off a blue light.
This blue light is necessary for photosynthesis in the tank, to help macro-alga to grow and enhance the colouration of the tank inhabitants. I asked him where the best placement for such a bulb would be and he told me it was up to me to experiment and find what I liked best, but he had his at the front of the tank since he found that the colours of his fish looked more pleasing to the eye. So I picked up an actinic bulb for the tank wondering how much difference one little bulb could make.

Next we went back to the live rock section of the store where Jake patiently explained the differences between cured and uncured live rock. Cured live rock is rock that had already sat in a tank for a period of time and a lot of the creatures and materials that came from the ocean had already died off leaving "clean" live rock that is generally used for mostly established aquariums. The cured live rock wouldn't cause much of an ammonia spike in the tank. Uncured live rock came directly from the ocean and hasn't had time for the creatures and organic material to die off.
When put in the tank this would cause an ammonia spike, which would help jumpstart the cycle the tank. This rock had plenty of creatures on it and lots of bacteria growing within.

Armed with this new knowledge, I decided to get some uncured live rock for my tank and started picking out a few pieces that I thought were nice. They had some pretty pink and red stuff attached to the rock and a few neat looking branch like things sticking out as well. Now I must say, I knew that the live rock would be a large portion of my remaining budget for the tank, but I don't think I was prepared for the reality of paying $7.99/pound.
Everything I read said that I should have at least 1 to 1.5 pounds of live rock per gallon of water in the tank, so doing a quick calculation in my head, the most conservative estimate would be $240 plus 15% sales tax would bring it up to $270 worth of rock! OUCH! That definitely exceeded the remainder of my budget and I frantically searched my mind for ways I could get around that. Finally I decided that since the store also sold cured live rock, I could always come back and pick some more up in small quantities until I had enough for the tank. Satisfied with the plan I got 15 pounds of uncured live rock.

At this point I was content and ready to go home and put some rocks in the tank, however Jake then decided to guide me over to the fish section so I could gaze longingly at the wonderful selection of fish available. Now I knew enough about aquariums to know that as long as there is going to be ammonia in the water, fish would suffer. I knew that the uncured live rock would be able to provide that ammonia for me and I didn't really want to have to get a fish right away.
I listened to Jake tell me that the yellow-tailed damsels are ideal for cycling a tank because they are so hardy.
I smiled and nodded but wasn't really prepared to get any fish that day at any rate. I just wanted my live rock then I was going to worry about how to cycle the tank later and let Jake know that I wanted to learn more about the Damsels before I bought any.
He was satisfied with my response, so off to the cash register we went.

Since it was the middle of winter, even though it?s a short trip home for me, I was concerned about my rock getting cold on me and I hadn't thought to bring any insulated box. The sales clerk assured me that this happens and all they did in those cases was wrap the rock or fish or anything that needs to keep warm in newspaper. After all the rock was weighed then bagged, we wrapped it up in a few layers of newspaper and put it in a cardboard box. Satisfied with this solution I was able to get the rock home safe and sound with minimal cooling.

Once home, I unwrapped the rocks, rinsed it off in some of the extra saltwater I had made up for this purpose and placed it in the tank. I don't know if you can imagine how puny a mere 15-pound pile of rock is but that's the reality I was faced with.
Here I spent more money on this tank so far then I had spent on anything else in my life and all I currently had to show for it was about a ? of a tank worth of rock! It was somewhat disappointing staring at the tank at this point, but I quickly got over that and proceeded to play in the tank for the rest of the day rearranging the rock numerous times to make this small pile look as big as possible.
By the end of the day, I had created a aquascape that utilised those few rocks to the best advantage so that ? of the back of the tank was covered with rock even though there were huge gaps and places for the future fish to swim through. I was finally pleased with the results.

Now I it was time to play the waiting game where patience is the key factor! Would I have enough patience to make it through whatever cycle the tank was going to produce? Or would I breakdown and get a fish knowing full well that I would be putting it into a risky environment?

Michelle's Marine Diary
By Michelle Stuart

Chapter - one:
Making a start.

*Chapter - two:
Finally set up,

Chapter - three:
Cycling the tank,

Chapter - four:
Oh no, algae.

Chapter - five:
The importance of acclimatizing

Chapter - six:
Making some adjustments

Chapter - seven:
The rocks are alive

Chapter - eight:
They're just sleeping!!!

Chapter - nine:
Just one more fish

Chapter - ten:
Pure water

Chapter - eleven:
War is declared

Chapter - twelve:
The art of skimming