The Most Important Takeaway for Novice Marine Aquarists

I was recently perusing a popular saltwater aquarium forum and came across a post from a novice hobbyist who is considering making the switch from freshwater to saltwater aquarium keeping. He had heard that the saltwater side of the hobby can be exorbitantly expensive and wanted to know which of a list of devices other forum members would consider indispensable to success. Among the devices in question were UV sterilizers, ozonizers, biopellet reactors, GFO reactors, ATO systems, and various and sundry other gadgets. As you might imagine, responses varied considerably depending on the individual’s unique circumstances, experiences, and preferences. It was clear that everyone who offered a recommendation meant well and genuinely wanted to help this person get started on the right foot—and most did indicate the devices they consider worthwhile investments. However, a few offered a different sort of advice that can be paraphrased thusly: “Don’t worry about all the gadgets right now; focus on the fundamentals first.” Jeff’s new Coral Vue Reef Octopus protein skimmer This viewpoint definitely got my upvote because, despite our hobby being necessarily equipment-intensive (all saltwater systems need certain core equipment to provide proper water circulation, heating, lighting, etc.), no ancillary device on the market can replace good aquarium-maintenance and livestock-husbandry practices or compensate for poor ones. But that’s not my only concern when it comes to focusing on equipment before fundamentals. Having been in the aquarium hobby nearly 40 years (initially freshwater and then saltwater), I’ve noticed that opinions on the utility of the latest, greatest ancillary devices can change quite dramatically with the passage of time

The Iconic Raccoon Butterflyfish

Raccoon Butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunula)Some of the marine fish we like to keep are surprisingly recognizable to both hobbyists and non-hobbyists alike—probably because they’re frequently depicted in photographs and artwork. Among these iconic fishes is the raccoon butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunula) of the Indo-Pacific and southeast Atlantic, a very hardy species that’s better than your average butterfly in terms of aquarium suitability and even beginner-friendliness. C. lunula would also be a great choice for natural pest-anemone control in reef tanks if it could be kept in such a system safely (but, alas, it cannot—more on this later). Physical traitsC. lunula has “typical” butterflyfish morphology, with a highly laterally compressed body and a pointed snout. Its color is orangish-yellow overall with a dusky hue on the dorsal half of the body and faint diagonal stripes on the ventral half. Like its terrestrial namesake, its eyes are obscured by a black “mask.” Behind the mask is a white bar, and two dark bands edged in yellow extend upward from the white bar.

The Best Beginner Large-Polyp Stony Corals

There are a number of beginner-friendly LPS coral speciesThroughout my years as an aquarium enthusiast, I have followed all the advice from all the books I could get my hands on since there were no other hobbyists with the same interest as I in my circle of friends growing up. My aquatic progression took the following path: 5-gallon slate & stainless-steel-framed fancy guppy tank from my grandfather Goldfish won at the carnival Betta bowl 10-gallon freshwater tropical tank 29-gallon cichlid-specific tanks (bred angelfish and convicts) Brackish-water tank 55-gallon saltwater FOWLR tank Saltwater FOWLR carnivorous tank Saltwater soft corals & anemones Saltwater large-polyp stony corals (LPS) Saltwater small-polyp stony corals (SPS) The reason I went through all these stages was the lack of technology and information that exist today. I could not keep any corals well at all back in the 1980s because the efficiency of the power protein skimmer did not exist (still used wooden airstones), the lighting was still just T12 fluorescents, and the filtration was not very good at exporting nutrients (canister filters, undergravel filters, wet/dry trickle filters). If you did not do regular water changes, chances are the livestock would all eventually die. The carnivorous fish were the easiest to keep while the omnivores tended to die out due to malnutrition because the foods available at the time didn’t provide adequate nutrition.My 90-gallon LPS system These days, with the help of current technologies, you can more or less jump straight to any stage without the experience of prior stages. Thanks to the vast experiential knowledge base accumulated by hobbyists around the world these last few decades, we now have references and starting points good enough to help just about anyone succeed with the correct coaching. The key is to do your research and consider the source of information from the standpoints of relevance and accuracy. Therefore, in this article, I’m going to jump right to the large-polyp stony corals

The Best Beginner Small-Polyp Stony Corals

These SPS coral species are a beginner’s best betUpon entering the world of small polyp stony corals (or SPS), many people ask the magic question, “Which types are best for beginners?” In my opinion the most beginner-friendly choices are found in the genera Montipora, Pocillopora, Seriatopora, and Stylophora. Most of the corals I’ll discuss here are commonly available, so there should be a low cost of entry. They’ve also proven fairly hardy in my experience and can be kept in a wider range of parameters than most SPS corals. What’s more, they’re rarely susceptible to the dreaded rapid or slow tissue necrosis (RTN/STN) that you see in Acropora species. General requirements for these SPS coralsCare level: moderate Temperament: peaceful (will not try to attack neighboring corals but will most likely lose to aggressive species) Lighting: moderate to high (of the correct full spectrum) Flow: medium to high Temperature: 72-78F Alkalinity: 8-12 dKH pH: 8.1-8.4 Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 Preparing for SPS The ultimate practice for these corals is mastering water parameter stability. Don’t chase specific numbers, but if you can keep parameters in the required ranges and stable with very little variance and spikes, you can keep practically any coral. The only other specifics to each coral are placement, which impacts lighting; flow requirements; and whether they need to be fed. These are primarily photosynthetic corals, but additions of amino acids and other elements may help with coloration and growth
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