Planning for New Livestock Additions

by | Jun 22, 2023 | Opinion | 0 comments

LFS: Caribbean Forest in Rochester, NY

Without question, the primary reason we get into this hobby is for the livestock.  The varieties and colors that exist with marine life are immense; the number of curiosities that exist brings a new appreciation for ocean life and why we need to preserve it.

Many tend to research and spend a lot of money to create the most hi-tech and automated system. You would be doing a disservice to the organisms and yourself for not researching the proper requirements for this man made eco-system. In addition to understanding the livestock care information, you also need to know how you will process and acclimate the new addition.  The decisions made here will determine the amount of risk and and success you will have with not only the new addition, but with the system as a whole.

At minimum you should know what questions to ask yourself and your livestock vendor prior to any purchase.

Livestock Requirements

It may sound obvious to perform research prior to purchasing, but many hobbyists tend to make lots of “knee jerk” buys when visiting their local fish store (LFS).  I can understand since specific livestock you desire can be hard to come by these days, but at minimum pull out your mobile phone and perform some quick research while examining the candidate at the store.  If you have a trustworthy LFS then by all means consult with them as another data point. There really is no excuse these days. Some of the general care topics to investigate are the following:

  • Maximum growth size and space requirements relative to tank size
  • Known vulnerability to specific diseases
  • Compatibility with existing livestock
  • Feeding requirements – Do you have food on hand for a challenging specimen?
  • Specific habitat requirements (Flow, Lighting, Aquascape, etc.)

Educate Yourself about Quarantine and Treatment

  • Acclimation Methods – There are different acclimation methods for different organisms. I suggest following what is advised by your vendor.
  • Diseases – Spend time to learn how to identify all the possible ailments that you can encounter for the specific organism.  The quicker you can identify the problem the quicker (and more effectively) you can respond.
  • Quarantine Methods – As mentioned above, there are many various quarantine methods. Some are more successful and some are more complicated than others.
  • Treatment Methods – Research the latest treatment methods for each issue. At minimum know where to refer to when needed.

There are more experienced people out there that perform these types of practices you can refer to.  They frequently share their knowledge for the good of the community. I myself do not perform long term quarantines but have had good luck with the minimum option. I do keep all the required items on hand to perform hospital tank treatments but that is definitely not the best practice. You want to prevent anything BAD (disease, pests, algae) from getting into a healthy system as much as possible, but this is definitely a high expectation that I have never been able to achieve. The key is I acknowledge the risk I take with my current practices. I  know how to respond and know where to find the correct sources of information when needed.

There are tons of good online resources on how to set up a simple quarantine system. Many of the methods are tried and true, and have been advising the same hardware for years.

A few experienced reefers I respect on this topic are HumbleFish, Jay Hemdal, and OrionN. You can find them on many forums.

At Home Preparation

Before procuring their specimen, the hobbyist should determine what level of on-boarding they are planning to perform.  Just like human resources at a company onboarding new employees to acclimate them to the work environment, you will have to do something similar.  The following choices will vary in terms of risk and success. Prepare the setup and obtain all consumables (food & medication) well before going out to make your purchase.

  • (Minimum) Basic acclimation and dipping during acclimation (For example, Blue Life Safety-Stop, etc. for fish or Polyp Lab Reef Primer for corals)
  • Basic acclimation, dipping, and placed into an observation tank for a short period to be sure nothing develops and the specimen is eating.
  • Basic acclimation, dipping, and placed into a quarantine tank for a longer period of time to ensure safety to your main system.
    • There are many quarantine methods: Medicated single tank, tank transfer, etc. that require unique setups, components, and chemicals based on what you are treating.
    • Be cognizant that there are some specimens that just do not fair well in a quarantine system that are too small.

Variants of the above can be applied to inverts and corals as well but with changes to the observation/quarantine tank setup and chemicals used, if applied. Typically no chemicals are used for inverts, just basic observation and time for them to purge contaminants out of their system or for you to remove anything.

Sourcing Livestock

Even if you are lucky to have a quality LFS available make sure to take into account the following before pulling the trigger.

  • Is the livestock clearly and accurately labeled and how long has the specimen has been in the store?
  • How does the LFS manage newly arrived livestock? Are the tanks medicated?
  • Are there any obvious visible parasites, diseases, or body damage?
  • Is the specimen active and fully colored?
  • Is the specimen eating and with what type of food?
  • Can the specimen be held for a short period? Just to ensure it eats and survives the initial acclimation.

If you have deep pockets, premium vendor options are now available.  For a higher price point they will perform the tedious quarantine and food acclimation process for you. It’s a viable business and I have seen more vendors popping up recently. I believe this is a win-win for the hobby since specimen availability is getting tougher each year. Minimizing these losses is the right thing to do, but be aware that even with these services, the specimen can still get stressed just from the shipping process if the vendor is not local.


Ultimately you can perform the best practices but still have losses because of how the livestock is sourced.  Pick your poison, but there are definitely better options and practices today than when I started 20+ years ago.  As with anything living there are no guarantees. Support the supply chain sources that perform the responsible practices. If not, do the best you can to minimize the losses.

Be realistic… When you aim too high you will never enjoy the hobby. You will just constantly focus on every issue. Remember that all this occurs in nature as well. The best thing to do is to try to prevent and minimize the issues as best you can. Find the proper balance of what you are willing to do responsibly while enjoying the adventure of building your dream system.

If you are not willing to put in the minimum effort you should probably just get an aquarium screensaver.

  • Ellery Wong

    Ellery is a mechanical systems engineer at a Fortune 500 technology company. He has automation experience in the automotive, appliance, printing and robotics industries as a product development professional but also has over 35 years of saltwater aquarium experience as a hobbyist. He currently maintains a 9 tank / 540 gallon SPS/LPS/Mixed systems. DIY is his forte!


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