In The beginning

The beginning of your journey into a saltwater aquarium is filled with both nerves, worry and excitement.

You will start researching and have grand plans about what you want your tank to look like, what you want to inhabit it & you will dream of what the end product will be.

Regal Tang
Regal Tang

Then the nerves and worry will kick in. When you start poking about for information on your chosen fish species and corals, you will see words like “ick”, “marine velvet”, “tank crash” & “aggressive”. These words will make you question your ability to deal with these things and question how much you really want the hassle.

As a bit of re-assurance for you, just remember very few people will post on forums and social media if everything is going well. If everything is going well then they will just enjoy their tank & won’t need validation from other people. This will significantly increase the amount of negative posts you read online, as the chances are that’s when most people will post, asking for help and advice.

The Set Up

If you can make it past the nerves & worry, and take a dive to go out and get a tank, or convert an existing tank, then you will now be back to the excitement stage!

You will spend hours tinkering with the tank, finding the perfect spot, plumbing it, aquascaping it, filling it up & setting up the pumps for it.

Cycling with a prawn

Once filled, the fun begins! It’s time to cycle! However you chose to do it, be it bottled bacteria, cycling with a prawn, fishless cycle, fish in cycle, whatever you choose, it’s exciting!

Cycling complete, you now start stocking… the single most exciting moment in your fishkeeping journey is adding your first saltwater fish to your brand new aquarium.

You will now start to see real changes in your aquarium which will lead you to…

The Ugly Phase

Chalk Goby - White with Electric Blue Dots on Cheek
Diatoms on the sandbed

It’s unavoidable I’m afraid. Algae starts to grow, diatoms bloom & your tank just looks a mess.

At this point in the journey you are back to worry & maybe a twinge of disappointment, because even though you had read about the ugly phase, you hoped your tank would be different!

You know it’s a normal part of the process, but you will worry that it will never go away, or that there is something horrendous going on with your water parameters, leading you to test a lot more that you need to really.

Dreaded Dino’s

If you are super unlucky (as I was), then you may even be introduced to hideous things known as Dinoflagellets & red cyano bacteria. Cyano is actually very easy to solve… Dino’s, not so much! I am still battling with them now. Some days I feel like I am winning the fight, other days I am very much laughed at by the Dino’s. I will update you if I ever find a cure for them!

Light At The End of The Tunnel

The diatoms go, your algae is being cleaned up by your clean up crew, now you are content…?

No. You’re not. You now want to start adding more fish, more coral. You are now feeling a bit of relief because things are starting to look normal, but you’re also growing impatient.

You want that reef you were dreaming about at the start, filled with gorgeous, well established corals and fish darting out of every crevice. I’m sorry to disappoint, but that just wont happen unless you have a boat load of money to throw at your tank.

Mix Reef
Image credit to Abood from Reef2Reef Forum


Once things have settled down and you have gone out and made a couple of well researched purchases, you will suddenly come to the realisation that this hobby is about time.

You would have read it a thousand times in the forums, but not taken any notice of just how slow things can be. Maybe you have had a planted freshwater tank that flourished (as I did), and expected your corals to grow at a similar rate… Newsflash… NOT A CHANCE!

Slow, slow, slow. That’s the growth rate of corals. Maybe a couple more slows added onto that list thinking about it.

Nothing good in this hobby happens quickly.


Acan with new heads
Acan with new heads

Eventually, you will see a new head or two on your Blasto, or Acan. Maybe a couple of Zoa pups appear, seemingly overnight. When it does happen, and it will eventually, you will finally feel success & maybe even a bit content.

You will have had the time realisation by this point, so you will just be relieved that something is finally showing some more life! It will be an amazing feeling, trust me, your tank just needs time.

The Cost

Reef tanks are expensive. There is no escaping that. Yes, you can do it on a bit more of a budget by buying second hand equipment, cheaper equipment, waiting for fish to come up cheap, but the fact remains even with all those things, its expensive.

Even if you were to run a fish only system, the fish are more expensive than their freshwater counter-parts. If you buy cheap equipment, the chances are you will have to replace it quicker than if you had saved a bit more and bought something better to start with. Second hand equipment has already had some of it’s life expectancy taken.

I wouldn’t knock anyone for buying cheap or second hand, the majority of my aquarium is second hand and the bits that died almost instantly, I have had to replaces with cheap temporary replacements due to lack of available funds at the time.

Another way I have saved a bit of money is to buy juvenile fish & small coral frags rather than coral colonies or adult fish. This gives me the chance to watch my tank grow slowly & saves the cost a bit, but it means my tank looks empty for longer.

I am £2,000.00 into this tank now, and honestly, it’s worth every penny to me, though I’m not sure my hubby-to-be feels the same!

Marine Tank 17/04/19
Marine Tank 17/04/19