~ Planning Is Necessary Before You Take The Plunge ~
  
by Eric V. Van Der Hope

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Planning Is Necessary Before You Take The Plunge
by Eric V. Van Der Hope
Copyright 2004 Saltwaterfishpets.com
~~~~ 

You cannot underestimate the value of planning when it comes to starting a Saltwater
Fish / Reef Environment as a hobby . . .

There is simply nothing more important than that!

It's so easy to get excited about this wonderful hobby after seeing all the beautiful fish 
and corals at your LFS (Local Fish Store). So it's no surprise that many people, without 
any thought of taking one step at-a-time, purchase what they see. There are fish enthu-
siasts that found their way into this hobby exactly this way . . . However, many of them
discovered that they could have spent less Money, less Time and less Effort if they
simply planned ahead.

After the initial purchase is made, it's taken home and set up. After a bit of time has 
passed and more thought has been put into it, it's discovered that there is inadequate
lighting for the system. The filtration system would not be large enough to sustain the
specific marine environment preferred. Because of inaccurate advice from a LFS em-
ployee, some expensive fish were purchased, resulting in their dying almost immedia-
tely after being introduced into the tank (so obviously the proper time for the tank to be
cycled was not thought through).

Because of Poor Planning, this new fish hobbyist was doomed from the start!

There is a definite plan of action that has to be implemented before starting in this
hobby.

First and foremost - how much money can you afford to put into this hobby? This one
decision alone could be the deciding factor to start or not . . .

Anyone involved in this hobby must be well informed of what's involved. Not one opinion
should be investigated from a good source but a couple. Getting the same advice from
reliable sources could be a start of a good decision - Do not be afraid to ask questions
as the more you learn the more you can put to good use.

Once enough thought is put into the size of the tank wished for, decide where it should 
go. The location of the tank is very important as some may not fully realize . . .

The tank should be close to a water source. It also should not be placed in the middle of
a room if on a second floor or above (depending on size of tank, saltwater is more dense
than plain water and with all the base rock, live rock, sand, etc that's placed in the tank -
it's very, very heavy). Proper support is needed to withstand this. Placing a tank along a
wall would be a recommended if there is not proper support underneath the center of a
room or apartment.

Since there will be a need for energy to power filters, pumps, heaters, lights, etc, a pro-
per power source is needed nearby. Also - the tank should not be in direct sunlight.

Starting and then maintaining a stable saltwater fish/reef environment takes a good 
amount of time, dedication and more importantly it will take patience.

You cannot haphazardly throw stuff together thinking everything will be o.k Without the
proper steps, without the proper investigation and research, without the proper patience,
will prevent the enjoyment of getting the rewards of a beautiful and colorful marine envir-
onment.

Once a decision is made on the setup that is desired - purchase the necessary compon-
ents. Through investigation, research, and much thought - you should have a good idea 
of where to 'shop'. In most cases you may already know that you can probably get a 
better deal for a particular component from a different dealer. That fine . . . This is impor-
tant - do not buy your supplies without first finding out from the dealer if he will agree to
discounting the purchase. In most cases, the LFS will agree to a substantial discount
due in part to acquire you as a customer. So if you are going to buy a whole setup, there
should be a considerable mark-down . . . The dealer is benefiting from your purchase no
matter what - so barter and get the price down! Also, look for 'starter' packages that have
already been marked down. Never buy the 'sticker' price!

Now that everything has been purchased, assembling everything is next. The next few
mini-steps are essential to guarantee a successful start. Make sure tank is level on the
stand. Install all your filters and pumps after rinsing components. Prepare the water with
the salt-mix you purchased. A good rule of thumb in mixing water/salt would be approx.
1.5 pounds of salt-mix to 5 gallons of freshwater. Your specific gravity should be around
1.022 to 1.025 (Don't try measuring the water until everything is completely dissolved).
Start turning your pumps and filters on to help circulate the saltwater you've mixed once
the proper level has been reached in the aquarium (Do not fill water to the top level of tank
since the sand, base rock, live rock or other aqua-scaping still has not be put into the
tank).

Add your substrate - sand, base rock, live rock, etc. The tank water will be cloudy, this 
is normal. Give it time to settle down. The guidelines to the amount of rock you chose
to put into the tank can be generally said as being 1 to 2 pounds of live rock per gallon
of aquarium capacity. However, much base rock should be used to build a good founda-
tion for the live rock to sit on. Probably, the tank should be filled about a third of the way
with enough space between for circulation of water currents.

Now 'seed' your tank. You've actually done this by putting live rock into the tank. How-
ever, to speed this process up, you can use other alternatives such as live sand, other
sources of bacterial growth such as filter media from established tanks or anything else
that has beneficial microbes in it (The goal is to obtain this from healthy, long-established
aquariums). Then you may start using your lights to help promote growth. In order to 
feed this bacteria - you need a source of food or other sources of ammonia . . .

You can use a couple of hardy damsels to provide a more lively scenario to your tank
instead of looking into an 'empty' tank. The damsels are hardy fish and should be the 
only fish you use to get the tank 'seeded' and to begin your tank 'cycle'. These fish will
help produce the needed ammonia from their waste products. There are other ways to
'seed'  the tank such as introducing a raw shrimp or other scrap of raw fish. All of these
will add to the 'cycle' of the tank by producing larger amounts of ammonia into the
system.

It's very important to wait for the 'cycle' of the tank to complete before anything else is
added to your tank in the form of fish or corals. Unnecessary death to your fish pets 
could be eliminated if you take time to wait for the complete nitrogen cycle. This could
take as fast as 3 weeks or up to 8 weeks to get established properly.

Once you have established your tank, slowly stock your tank and never add too much at
one time. Every time you introduce a new tank-mate - you've begun another cycle where
more ammonia, nitrites and nitrates are produced which have effect on all fish and corals
at different levels.

Once the tank is established, then there are steps necessary to take to 'Maintain' a bal-
anced home for your fish pets which includes regular water changes, the adding of nu-
trients and trace elements, the constant cleaning of skimmer, regular cleaning of algae
and so forth. Much of what you do here, if taken care of regularly, will make the viewing
of this beautiful marine environment most enjoyable and also guarantee a high success
rate of keeping a high quality tank.

In summary, the following is strongly encouraged to help guarantee a successful and 
fulfilling start to this marine hobby.

It's important to know that these are just guidelines and not 'written in stone'. There are
variations to these steps - but if put into practice, these steps will be an excellent step-
ping stool towards success.

  1.  Do your homework - Learn, investigate and implement (Invest in some good salt-
       water fish/reef keeping reference books to get yourself educated with a proper 
       foundation).

  2.  Affordability - How much are you willing to spend on this hobby? You need to pro-
       ject some figures so that you can realistically know if this is a good or bad idea to
       start in the first place. There is the initial cost of the tank setup and then there will
       be costs on a regular basis to maintain your tank.

  3.  Develop a Plan of Action.

  4.  Decide on the type of setup you wish to take care of (Fish only, Fish and Inverte-
       brate, Reef only, Reef/Fish combination). The cost of the system will vary depen-
       ding on the system that is chosen. For example, the extreme lighting needed for
       reef setups would be unnecessary for a Fish Only system (buying proper lights for
       a reef tank is necessary for the growth and survival of corals and tends to be more
       expensive). Filtration as well as other factors will set the standards for how exten-
       sive your setup will be and how much planning ahead you will need to think of.

  5.  Placement/location of the tank (Once a tank is full - you should NOT think of moving
       it! The tank, as well as tank stand, will experience unnecessary stress and could 
       easily crack, break or loose it's structural integrity.

   -   Tank should be near power source, water supply and out of direct sunlight.

   -   It's also very important that if the tank is on a 2nd story or higher floor, proper sup-
       port should be investigated. Do not put a fish tank directly in the middle of the room.
       It's recommended that since there is more support along the walls of a room - this
       is the safest place for the tank to be placed unless proper support is below.

  6.  Once you decide on your system - you know what is needed to meet the require-
       ments of your tank. Purchase the necessary equipment taking considerable mea-
       sures to make sure you get the best discounted price on all components.

  7.  Assemble tank, stand, components and other accessories.

  8.  Mix freshwater/salt-mix together. Turn on pumps and filters to aide in the circulation
       and dissolving of salt-mix as well as the introduction of oxygen into the water.

  9.  Add substrate - the sand, base rock, live rock, etc. to the tank (This is assuming 
       that it's 'cured' live rock).

 10. Begin the 'seeding' of your tank (Assuming that the previous step did not include live
       sand or live rock, you must now introduce something into the tank that will begin
       'cycling' your tank such as filter media from an established tank. This will introduce
       the beneficial microbes that will help in the 'cycle' of your tank.

 11. Add a source for the microbes to begin their 'job'. Add a few hardy damsels, or a raw
       shrimp or other scrap of raw fish to introduce more ammonia into the tank.

 12. Completion of a cycle can take up to 3 to 8 weeks to finish. Only then should you
       think of introducing more fish or corals into your tank. Remember, that each time
       you introduce a new tank-mate - you've essentially started another nitrogen cycle.
       High level of ammonia and Nitrites can be deadly for less hardy fish and corals.

 13. After the tank is properly set up and is running smoothly, it's a necessity to test the
       water regularly until you have cycled your tank. Even after the tank has been cycled,
       regular testing must be implemented. In order to do this properly you must have the
       proper test kits (Make sure the test kits are not out of date!). Maintaining proper lev-
       els of Ammonia, Nitrites, Nitrates, pH, the Calcium levels and Phosphate levels can-
       not be underestimated.

 14. Once a decision is made on the type of system to maintain, careful choosing of the
       inhabitants of your future tank is most important. Not all fish, Invertebrate and coral
       live in harmony! Investigate what lives well together and what does not. Then, proper
       steps can be implemented when introducing to a system even on what order the fish
       or corals are introduced into the tank. Success of the tank also comes down to the
       compatibility of the inhabitants.

 15. Setting up a tank is a large part of this hobby. However, it's the maintaining of this
       environment at acceptable levels that will require regular work and patience. Main-
       tenance does vary between systems, however this one principle does not differ in
       that all systems need a tune-up so-to-speak. In other words, a regular schedule of
       maintaining the tank system should be and is the #1 Priority.

 16. Now that the tank is up and running - the easiest part of this hobby comes to fruition
;
       Enjoying the splendor and beauty of a tranquil mini-ocean.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Eric V. Van Der Hope is the Publisher and Author of "The Reef & Saltwater Fish Keeping
Cheat Sheet"
- A Newsletter For The Serious Reef Keeping & Saltwater Fish Hobbyist.
His website is: http://www.saltwaterfishpets.com and you can receive his Free Newsletter
valued at $79.00 if you sign up now. Discover Exactly How to Build A Perfect Aquatic Life
Environment For Your Marine Fish Pets . . . Without Having to Do It the Hard Way!" The
latest project he is working on is a book entitled: "A Practical Guide to Saltwater Reef
Keeping . . . Including Saltwater Fish Only Systems. Follow the steps to ensure proper
planning of your fish pet home - from choosing the right aquarium, placement of your tank
to researching the potential cost in maintaining a complete setup. Visit the website:
http://www.saltwaterfishpets.com for further information.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


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