So I will start where I left off with my last update on the tank. At that point, we were preparing the saltwater mix. As you can see to the right, there is a picture of the tank as we began pouring in the water. The water is cloudy because we also bought some live sand (which I think I mentioned in my previous post). The sand comes straight from a beach somewhere and contains lots of good/helpful bacteria and life. The fish you see in the picture is actually just one of those thin plastic stickers that stick to glass but easily peel off. Bonnie (my girlfriend) randomly got the sticker from someone who did not know we were starting a fish tank. So we stuck it to the tank to remind us of why we were dumping all this time and money into this project.
Once we got the water and sand in, we also bought some live rock. Again, the live rock is useful for seeding the tank with beneficial bacteria and other life. Not only is the bacteria helpful in keeping a biological balance (by breaking down some of the nutrients and decay in the tank) but it also helps a bit in the initial “cycling” of the tank. When you first start a new tank, there is an interesting phenomenon where nitrites and nitrates will spike. This causes the tank to be toxic for fish. However, the cycle is useful because it allows beneficial bacteria and other life to take root in your tank. Once that happens, and the nitrites/nitrates start to return to normal levels, the biological balance of the tank becomes much more stable. A normal cycle takes sometimes a couple weeks to a couple months. If I remember correctly, we let our tank cycle for about 2 months before we started buying fish, invertebrates, and other life for it.
To the right is another picture of the tank once the sand had settled. The reason it is only partially filled is due to the fact that the trashcan we were mixing the saltwater in was not large enough to fill the entire tank. So I had to fill the tank incrementally.
Below you can see our “sump” tank where we keep some water treatment equipment. The cylindical looking device on the right is called a protein skimmer. It is a surprisingly simple device that creates tons of bubbles. Sticky proteins (like fish poop and other nutrients that can elevate the nitrate/nitrite levels in your tank) get caught on the bubbles as they rise to the surface inside the protein skimmer. This creates a film which is eventually pushed upwards into the protein trap at the top for easy disposal.
Here’s a close shot of the sump tank. We have subsequently added another baffle to the sump in order to create a refugium. A refugium is quite cool. It basically acts as a refuge (hence the name) for some of the more vulnerable life that can exist in your tank. In the refugium, we have placed some mud from Fiji (which, once again, has tons of helpful bacteria and life and provides a great source of food).