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Old 01-28-2013, 02:44 AM   #1
talontsiawd
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Helping a friend rehab a saltwater tank...advice needed


I didn't know where to put this and I will join a saltwater forum if need be. I have never done saltwater myself but told my friend I would help him rehab his tank. At one point it was really beautiful, it's been neglected for about 1.5 years. Without going into to detail, he had to move for 6 months without much warning and the tank stayed where it was. After he moved back, he was very busy with his job, etc, and didn't have time to maintain it. Furthermore, all his corals died and it became an algae nightmare. He really has not had time to do much and is just adding tap water to top off. He doesn't even have his lights on any more, he knows he messed up but we want to bring it back.

What I know about the tank....
-90 gallons
-6 T5/T5HO bulbs, about 3 years old, I think about 50 watts/bulb
-3 stages of lighting, 2 bulbs per stage
-Some sort of premade sump
-9 watt UV sterilizer



To start, I was thinking about getting the water parameters better. He has not changed the water in about a year. I think a bunch of small water changes are better than one initial big one. His fish seem well so we obviously don't want to jeopardize the live stock. I am thinking 20% once or twice a week and then go to 50% after about a month. Does that sound good?

As for lighting, I am coming from a planted tank mentality. I am personally thinking that he should just start with one bank of lights since he has no corals. Then add a second and see what happens. Don't use the 3rd until he actually buys coral.

Any advice here? I am really not familiar with all this and it's his first tank so he may be more clueless than me. I just am trying to get a game plan because he has invested a lot and is a great friend, and needs some help. I know this is the planted tank and that's all I do, just hoping to get some advice.
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Old 01-28-2013, 02:49 AM   #2
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Default Re: Helping a friend rehab a saltwater tank...advice needed

The fish will be fine with low light. Jest keep changing water till water is in check I would do half I had a reef tank before I had a baby

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Old 01-28-2013, 03:29 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by moto826 View Post
The fish will be fine with low light. Jest keep changing water till water is in check I would do half I had a reef tank before I had a baby

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How much would you suggest for a tank that hasn't had a real water change in about a year? I just don't want to shock the fish too much. The corals will come later, we are just trying to get things back inline, not start all over for now. He may go back to a reef but for now, just a saltwater tank with fish.
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Old 01-28-2013, 04:02 AM   #4
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I don't have a reef tank, but I think you can just keep up with water changes for a few months, then add a few corals and see how it goes.
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Old 01-28-2013, 12:45 PM   #5
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You say you want to get water parameters in check -- what are they?

Just about any salt tank should be:

Salinity: ~1.023
pH: ~8.1-8.3
Nitrates/Phosphates: 0
Temp: 80-83 degrees F

Regarding water changes:

1. Check the salt level in the tank first. If he's just been topping off, the salt level could be way out of whack (for example, salinity = 1.032). If that is the case, you don't want to do a massive change with water that is salinity = 1.023. That's not good for the fish. Instead, you'll have to mix in smaller batches of higher salinity water (1.030, 1.028, etc.) and work your way down to 1.023.

2. Don't use tap water! Tap water usually has at least traces of phosphates, sometimes a lot. This drives algae in a salt tank. He needs to use RO/DI water. If he doesn't have a water maker then he'll need to buy water. You can have water delivered to the house from Deer Park or one of those -- that water has usually been through the RO process, with UV sterilization, and distillation, and chemical treatment, etc.... Tropical marine waters are known for being devoid of nutrients.

3. Make sure the change water roughly matches the temp of the tank and the salt is well dissolved.

Regarding lighting:

That lighting is a little low for a 90-gallon reef tank if he's going to grow any serious corals. Depending on what type of corals he had, they probably died from a combination of low light, high nitrates, too much algae growth (algae smothered them), and too high/low temperatures. Corals are sensitive.

Anyway, at the very least I'd change out all of those bulbs. Even after 1 year bulbs have usually shifted in their color spectrum. When I had a salt tank I would notice that at about the year mark I would start getting growth of red algae in the tank. As soon as I switched out the bulbs it would be gone.

Other thoughts:

What kind of water flow does he have in there? Corals like/need a lot of water flow.

Does he still have rock/sand in the tank?

What's in his sump/refugium? Does it have a light on it? Does it have a protein skimmer? Any kind of chemical/mechanical filtration?
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Old 01-28-2013, 01:50 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by bikinibottom View Post
Salinity: ~1.023
unless you have coral, then you want 1.025-27
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Old 01-28-2013, 02:58 PM   #7
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There are many harder ways of doing this, but here is what I would do.

- Clean skimmer or any other filtration system
- Add some chaeto in the sump and light it up
- Do not light the display tank
- Sit back and relax.

When the chaeto started growing, the nutrients are most likely on its way down. After a few weeks, if you don't have an algae grazer already, you can start to add some. The rest you can do whatever you want.
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Old 01-28-2013, 03:09 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by scapegoat View Post
unless you have coral, then you want 1.025-27
Yes, for coral it's preferred to have a higher salinity than lower, but if you keep both coral and fish, you may want to go a little lower. There's really no hard and fast rule. Consistency is best. The average ocean specific gravity is 1.026, but I always kept my tank on the low side (1.023) to leave room for error when water evaporates. People with fish like to keep theirs even lower (1.021), supposedly it reduces stress on the fish and decreases their likelihood of illnesses -- but I really don't think it's recommended to keep it that low in a reef tank. Idunno, cause I always kept mine consistent at 1.023 and I never had a fish die (that wasn't killed by another fish) or get any diseases, and my coral was always growing and I had to give pieces of it away....
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Old 01-28-2013, 04:03 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by bikinibottom View Post
Yes, for coral it's preferred to have a higher salinity than lower, but if you keep both coral and fish, you may want to go a little lower. There's really no hard and fast rule. Consistency is best. The average ocean specific gravity is 1.026, but I always kept my tank on the low side (1.023) to leave room for error when water evaporates. People with fish like to keep theirs even lower (1.021), supposedly it reduces stress on the fish and decreases their likelihood of illnesses -- but I really don't think it's recommended to keep it that low in a reef tank. Idunno, cause I always kept mine consistent at 1.023 and I never had a fish die (that wasn't killed by another fish) or get any diseases, and my coral was always growing and I had to give pieces of it away....
fair enough. it really depends on the person and their specific tank. I try to keep mine around 25 and everything has been super happy. I've noticed lower salinity causes even the easiest coral to diminish in numbers (yellow button polyp and my now gone star polyps)
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Old 01-28-2013, 04:12 PM   #10
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I know with my reef if I let my T5's go for more then 12 months I start to see some bad effects. T5 bulbs lose a lot of output over time and should be replaced especially on a reef tank about once a year. I would clean the skimmer/filter and then blast everything with a turkey baster and get all that gunk into suspension then do a 50% water change. Wait a week and then do another 50% change. Also as mentioned before RO/DI water is a must and tell him to get familiar with Mg, Alk, and Calcium if he wants to be serious about keeping any coral other then softies and polyps.
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Old 01-28-2013, 05:03 PM   #11
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Thanks for the advice. He actually was really on point until life got in the way so although I am not sure about the water parameters and all that, he is aware of the right way to do so.

I believe he is going to buy an RO unit. If not, I think he has about 100 gallons worth of containers he can fill and store. He knows that he messed up there.

I could be wrong on his lighting but he has talked about replacing them as well, likely LED's. Not sure what fixture but he has a friend with the same tank who has been successful with a certain fixture. I can inquire more. I know the bulbs are super bad because I can look right at them with all bulbs lit and it don't begin to hurt my eyes. Before it hurt my eyes.


Unfortunately I know little about the sump. I know it has a skimmer, that's about it. He did buy it but I don't think it was off the shelf, I think it was made by someone local or something and sold through a store. He didn't make it himself, that's all I know. I did add a UV awhile ago but I know the bulb is bad. I can inquire about that.

It is not lit and he does not have a refugium. I had talked about how they were very popular and explained the idea. I am not sure if he wants to add one or not but it sparked some interest.


So it sounds like he needs to get the salinity right before doing much else, correct? How much should we change this over a given period of time? I have never had anything saltwater. Also, is it better to do a small amount of more concentrated water or a larger amount that is less concentrated?

Sorry I don't have a lot of info but this has been extremely helpful to me. He knows quite a bit himself and knows other people who are really good at this stuff, I just told him I would try to get some idea of how to start this rehab process and he is doing the same. We will compare and contrast what we have learned. I just know what it used to be and think it deserves it's former glory.
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Old 01-28-2013, 05:14 PM   #12
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Test the salinity and see where you're at. He could get lucky and be fairly close to where he wants to be in terms of specific gravity. Then you don't have to worry as much -- just do a handful of 25% water changes over the course of a week or two and that should. For example, if he's at 1.026 and trying to get to 1.023, you really could just mix up a batch of 1.023 and use that when you do a 25% water change... it won't swing the salinity that much with a smaller change, but it will get you going in the right direction.

If the salinity is much higher, though, he may want to start with a higher salinity in his change water and work his way down.

What type of fish does he have and how many of them does he have?
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Old 01-28-2013, 05:30 PM   #13
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Do a major water change, 50% and match salinity and temp. as close as possible. This will not disturb the livestock. Change the bulbs too, the spectrum shifts when they get older to favor pest algae growth, LEDS don't have this problem. Other than that if everything else is doing fine you should be good.
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Old 01-28-2013, 05:38 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bikinibottom View Post
Test the salinity and see where you're at. He could get lucky and be fairly close to where he wants to be in terms of specific gravity. Then you don't have to worry as much -- just do a handful of 25% water changes over the course of a week or two and that should. For example, if he's at 1.026 and trying to get to 1.023, you really could just mix up a batch of 1.023 and use that when you do a 25% water change... it won't swing the salinity that much with a smaller change, but it will get you going in the right direction.

If the salinity is much higher, though, he may want to start with a higher salinity in his change water and work his way down.

What type of fish does he have and how many of them does he have?
That makes a lot of sense. Would all the other parameters just begin to sort themselves out after consistent maintenance? I don't know what parameters are most important for saltwater but it seems like PH would.

As for the types of fish, I have absolutely no idea what he has. He's told me, I just don't remember. Right now he has probably 4-5 larger fish and one smaller fish that he used to have a school of.
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Old 01-28-2013, 07:07 PM   #15
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I always found that if your salt levels aren't wildly out of whack, and you have argonite/calcium carbonate sand and rock, and as long as you're not adding a bunch of chemicals and stuff to the tank then yes, pH should "figure itself out". With nitrates, I always kept macro-algae (what we would probably call "plants" in the planted tank world) in the tanks to take in nitrates, and would just pull it out in bunches whenever it grew too thick. A PP suggested putting a small light on the sump and putting chaeto in there". I do think this is a good technique to take in any excess nitrates. You can buy a cheap little clip-on light to add to the sump. You should be able to get chaeto at the LFS.
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