Lots! That is the answer to what does it cost to set up a marine/reef tank.

Since my very first tropical tank, I have dreamed of owning a saltwater tank, the colour variations of the fish and corals are unrivaled. Now, at 31 years old I am in the position to be able to set up this tank, but I don’t have a massive budget… or at least, I didn’t think I did.

Over the past 4 months I have been buying bits and pieces for this tank, including the tank itself, but knowing I wanted to keep this blog and be honest to my readers, I have kept track of every penny I have put into it.

All the research I had done prior to buying my tank suggested I should buy the biggest tank I could fit in my allocated space to help reduce the swings in the tanks parameters, more water means slower changes in the tank which in turn should give me more time to react. So, I bought a massive tank. Including the sump, it will be just shy of 1000 liters of water.

Aquascape 6ft tank
Aquascape 6ft tank

This was a mistake. I should have started with a 4-foot tank, or similar. I hope this tank turns in to the beautiful mixed reef I see in my head, but it is going to take a long time to get there, purely for financial reasons.

You see, when you buy a big tank, you need big equipment, more sand, more rock, more water, more or bigger of just about everything you need in a tank. One big bucket of salt is not enough to start this tank, it needs to be two large buckets. One light isn’t long enough for the tank, it needs to be two. Two wavemakers aren’t enough, it has to be four. Do you see the pattern? The bigger the tank, the bigger the initial cost.

I have no doubt that in the long run, this will be a nice tank, but it is going to take a very long time for it not to look empty! Thankfully, I am not the sort of person that needs to rush into these things, I don’t care if it takes me another 4 years to finish this tank, I’m in it for the long haul.

What does it cost to set up a reef tank
What does it cost to set up a reef tank

In the interest of sharing, this image shows a breakdown of the cost so far. This tank is not even full of water yet and has cost nearly £1,300.00.

Not only are the start-up costs higher in a larger tank, but the on-going costs will be greater too. I have bigger lights, more pumps, more wave makers, more salt, more water, all things I didn’t consider fully when I found my bargain giant tank.

I have tried to build this tank on a tight budget, it is taking time, but there are cheaper ways of doing things. I scoured the internet for every item I bought, read the reviews and picked what I wanted. After I had chosen, I then waited for the item to come up for sale either second hand or go on sale somewhere.

I saved a small fortune by choosing to use half live rock and half ocean rock, then adding ceramic media into the sump for additional filtration. I also got the tank, lights, skimmer, sump, wave makers, pumps & a reactor all as a package at a very good price. I order things from other countries and wait for the long delivery times, OK I have to wait for 3 weeks for the item, but I paid half the price for it.

You should also consider the cost of your time and the stress this can cause to your family. Moving this tank about is no easy task, I am lucky enough to have a strong and patient partner in my life and without him, I wouldn’t be able to do this. He has helped me with all the lifting and shifting, he has done his fair share of carrying water buckets and throughout all of it, while our front room is in chaos he has not moaned once. He even tried to buy the sand for the tank as a surprise but quickly realised it was a minefield and bought himself some clothes instead!

My time is spent messing around with either the tropical fish, the dogs, the horses or now the marine tank. I didn’t have a lot of time before this tank, now I have even less. You see, I can’t just walk past it without sticking my hand in and doing something to it, I can’t sit and watch the telly when the internet is full of useful and useless information that I need to know about, regarding all things salt water.

Maybe you are lucky enough to be a fairly laid-back person, or you have the money to throw at a tank like this without worrying about it. But if like me, you throw your heart and soul into a project like this, it will take its toll on your relationships by sapping up all of your spare time and finances!

If I were to start this journey again, I would buy a smaller tank. It would half my initial costs and running costs, but I’m neck deep into this now so I am going for it! It will take time, a lot of time, but it will be worth it in the end.