Refractometer or Hydrometer
Before you go out to grab either one of these, we highly(emphasizing highly) recommend getting a refractometer. A good refractometer will cost you about $50 but it's one time investment. A hydrometer will cost about $15 but the readings on these flunctuate. You can calibrate the refractometer by purchasing the calibrating liquid, but we always just use rodi water to calibrate ours. Constantly check the default reading is at "0" and you're good to go.
NOTE: For Nano Reefers, try to keep your salinity as low as possible at the best reading for your tank. We keep ours at 1.024 because nano tanks tend to evaporate much quicker which will raise your salinity levels that much faster.
Fish only - 1.020 to 1.024(some people keep it slightly lower, but 1.020 is good)
Fish with Inverts - 1.023 or 1.024
NanoAquatic Reef Guide
The smallest tank size we recommend is 10 gallons. The most popular type of fish for nano aquariums, such as gobies, require at least a minimum of 10. Anything below 10 should be kept as a coral and inverts only tank as most fish will experience stunted growth. This occurs not only due to the aquarium size but because of the lack of water quality that nano provides over bigger sized tanks. Below we will guide you with our very own 10 gallon tank. If you choose a different size, we'll adjust and add information accordingly as we go along. We've divided the guide into three sections, 1) Tank Setup, 2) Essentials and
3) Equipments. Those who are considering fish only and fish only with inverts follow the numbers with the blue fish.
RO/DI or RO
Wow! Why are these things so expensive!? Yes, they are expensive, especially the RO/DI units. If you're planning to keep fish only you can pass with the RO unit, but those who wish to keep corals should go with the RO/DI. You can purchase a decent RO unit from between $70 to $160. Pease do not skimp out on a good RO/DI unit. There are many choices to choose from, like SpectraPure, CaptivePurity, AquaticLife, etc., but the one we chose is AirWaterIce's Typhoon III. While a good RO/DI unit can cost you from $200 to $400 and above, the Typhoon III can be purchased at $189.95. Their replacement membrane and filters are often on sale which is a big plus. Honestly we never knew about this company until someone at ManhattanReef forums suggested this to us. This was probably one of the best investments we've made in this hobby.
NOTE#1: If you plan on using your RO/DI unit for drinking as well, please switch to RO mode. This is a must! unless you want explosive diarrhea. Do not drink RO/DI water!
NOTE#2: Normally many people state you need to change your filters at a specific given time(ex. 6months), but this really depends what your TDS reading is. If it's anything above "0" make sure to change it. You shouldn't have to change it all that often or much when keeping a nano. Same applies to your membrane, but keep a special eye on it after 2 years.
Make sure to pick one of these up if your RO/DI unit does not include a TDS meter. You should keep one of these to make sure your unit is producing 0ppm and it's very useful to have to test your drinking water. We got our on ebay for $10.
If you can afford a monitor controller like a ReefKeeper Lite or an Apex obviously you don't need a thermometer, but for the rest of us who spent too much on rest of the other stuff and just want a temperature reader, a digital thermometer is the way to go. Lifegard Aquatic's Little Time or Temp cost about $22.
Next is choosing which salt. This is really personal preference because we've tried A LOT of different salt mixes out there and we achieved similar results with most so you decide. Some people ran into some compatibility issues when using some salt brands with the ESV two part calcium-alkalinity additives(or other additives), but from the ones we used, we didn't experience any problems despite using a lot of different types of additives for various types of aquariums. The last and final salt we decided to stick with was Reef Crystals. Reef Crystals are easily obtainable from just about anywhere. That in and of itself was convenient. Tropic Marin was great, but we're not rich so we decided sto stick with something that offered both affordability and quality. Oceanic Natural Sea Salt Mix was amazing because it desolves and mixes extremely quickly without clouding the water. The place where I used to get them no longer carried them so that was the only reason why we stopped using it.
Red Sea Coral Pro Oceanic Natural Sea Salt Mix Tropic Marin Reef Crystals
2 - ESSENTIALS
OPTIONAL: Live sand
You can go bare bottom or you can add sand to make your aquarium look more natural. Live sand adds extra biofiltration and there are various kind of creatures you can get that really makes it look cool. You will get a lot of different opinions on what your sand bed should be, but we haven't really found it necessary to have more than 2 inches in deep(esp. in nano setups) unless you're keeping an BlueStar Leopard Wrasse(minimum 50 gallons) or any of that sort. In these cases you would want certain areas to be around 4 inches deep. They will find their way and make that spot their burrowing ground.
When setting up your live sand, try to make the back higher and the front a little lower, a gradual decline towards the front. This way your sand doesn't cover up your frontal view of the tank.
There are many different brands, sizes and prices to choose from. Some fish require fine sand while some are okay with coarse so know what your pets need first before choosing sand. Our favorite is the Fiji Pink by CaribSea. For our 10 gallon setup, one 20lb bag(for $20) was sufficient to make it 2 inches deep. We found Garf's sand bed calculator very helpful so follow it here.
Here is a short list of reef creatures we've kept with live sand:
Yasha Goby + Red Banded Pistol Shrimp(combo)
Yellow Watchman Goby + Tiger Pistol Shrimp(combo)
Pearly Jawfish or BlueSpot Jawfish(either or)
School of Engineer Gobies
BlueStar Leopard Wrasse with Choati Wrasse(either or, or together)
NOTE: BlueStar Leopard might be a little difficult to keep in the beginning, but once it gets used to the tank it will thrive. Choati Wrasse are for experts only. They are expensive and they carry a high risk of dying.
Can't emphasize this enough, but you absolutely need this at all times. We tend to use it less than we should and that's really not a good thing, but we always have these available. Aquarium Pharmaceuticals(API) brand are probably the most widely used. We keep both the "Reef Master Test Kit" and the "Saltwater Master Test Kit." You'll probably end up using certain bottles more than the other, but you can easily replace those specific bottles by purchasing them in singles. Each kit generally costs around $25.
OPTIONAL: Quarantine tank
Quarantine tanks are highly recommended. This method prevents diseases from spreading to your main tank. All newly bought livestocks should go through the quarantine process which may take up to two to four weeks. Though this may seem like extra money being wasted, it's actually a very good investment. Quarantine tank saves both lives and money. Adding medication directly into your tank is a big mistake. Though some medications are labeled "reef safe", this may lead to multiple problems. For instance, your skimmer might go wacky, your corals might close up, your water quality will decline, you are forced to do major water changes, etc. QT tanks eliminates these kind of hassles.
Items needed for a quarantine tank:
10 gallon for nano, 29 gallon+ for big fish(such as tangs, butterflyfish, etc.)
Power filter(leave the sponge and bio filter in your sump so benefical bacteria can colonize it)
Water test kit(should already have)
Seperate fish net
Cheap light(optional, not required)
Medication (Copper or non copper based)
Once you're done with your quarantine, make sure to disinfect the tank and all equipments. Some people prefer to keep QT tanks constantly running while others choose to set them up before purchasing new livestock.
NOTE: When we feed our fish, we dip all fish foods(both pellets and frozen) in Seachem's Garlic Guard. This boosts their immune system and even promotes recovery from bad appetites.
General rule of thumb for live rocks are to keep 2-3lbs per gallon, some might even suggest as low as 1.5-2lbs. This all comes down to how much biofiltration you want and what kind of aquascape you prefer. Most of our tanks have at least 2lbs per gallon. That amount seems to be sufficient for a good biofiltration as well as offering great aquascaping options.
Since live rocks aren't cheap, you might consider your budget. Some places have liverocks going for $9 per pound for premium. Whether it's Tonga, Indonesian, Pacific shelf rock or Fiji make sure you get liverocks from a reputable seller. You don't want nuisance algae or aptasia coming aboard! If the cost is an issue and you want a lot of live rock, consider buying some live rock and adding some dry rocks, mix it together.
When it comes to aquascaping we put base rocks first, then add sand. Lastly, we work with the premium rocks to finalize the look. However you want your tank to look is up to you.