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Want to Start a Reef Tank? $35 per Gallon


I think a lot of people don’t realize that starting up a reef tank will most likely cost about $35 per gallon. Who would think you could even put $350 into a 10 gallon tank! That kind of money adds up quickly, not to mention the time it takes to do maintenance and “figure it out.”

It seems like most stores try to sell you the tank, maybe some lights, then explain to you that you have to add salt to the water, lol.  The rest is figured on through what feels like frustration and hearsay. You then have to buy a stand, rock, sand, skimmer, RO/DI unit, holding tank(s), testing equipment (pH, alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, nitrates, phosphates, etc), additives (alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, etc), pumps (water movement and mixing salt), heaters, lights (because the ones you got upfront were cheap and didn’t grow the corals you wanted to), additive dosers (optional), controller (optional), Auto Top Off (ATO) for evaporation (optional), chiller (optional), battery backup or UPS (optional), ultraviolet sterilizer (optional), filter pads/media, salt, etc. Granted a lot of the things mentioned above are optional but they save you time, money and give peace of mind for the long-term. I believe all of that “optional” stuff is pretty much a necessity if you plan on having a reef system (past the average 2.5 years) and having a LIFE. It’s nice to be able to leave for the weekend, or longer, and know that most things are automated and if there is a problem you can be notified by text or email from your controller.

Fortunately there are a lot of online forums (Reef Frontiers, Reefland, Reef Central, etc.)  and resources (ex. Wet Web Media) to help newbies figure out and ask themselves a lot of the questions that should have been asked before buying a tank/system and occupants. I’ve been in the hobby for around 8 years and am still using these resources to learn new tips and tricks.

I truly believe that if most people knew the costs and resources involved upfront they would probably not get into the hobby, or they would prepare themselves a bit better.

I’ve met some great people and made great friends while enjoying this hobby but I’ve also seen many people get really upset, toss their money down the drain and kill some very neat creatures. So, the moral of the story is to do your research before starting up a tank. And I mean pick the brain of someone who is not going to be receiving monetary gain from you setting up a system and who has already earned a degree, or two, from Bend Over University. 😉

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Posted on January 5, 2013, in Reef Maintenance, Saltwater Aquarium Reef Tank and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I do admire the Reefkeepers who grow their own corals and share it with others. In the old days the reefs were getting chipped away so we could have dead, bleached coral in our tanks(which I still have a few pieces of).
    As hobbyists get better at growing coral there will never be a reason to decimate wild corals. I also believe the appreciation for natural reefs will grow as people can see these things in their own homes.
    A parallel is in the hobby of snake keeping. Years ago, wild snakes were collected. Now, beautiful Corn Snakes and Ball Pythons are captive bred AND cheap. If you want a snake, buy a captive-bred one. If someone wants a coral reef, get the system components that are needed and then find the local Reefkeepers. Buy their coral frags.

  2. True True! Unfortunately there isn’t a huge market in Montana and lots of excess coral frags go into the trash in trying to keep a healthy reef system. Who knows but someday maybe the only coral we’ll have will be in hobby tanks.

  3. very true, we had a huge tank about 7 years ago, I can;t tell you how many 100’s of dollars I spent on this thing to have one of my then 10 year old’s friends come over and put something in the tank that killed all the gorgeous things we had bought. Diving may just be cheaper:) save for a trip down!

  4. Wow I didn’t know the corals grew faster than you could get rid of them. I wonder if it would be worth selling and shipping through Ebay or an Aquarium site. Maybe get your costs down to $34 per gallon!

  5. Lol, I am certified to dive but it’s a whole other hobby and there’s not much worth diving here in MT. Need to head to warm water!

  6. Maybe… there’s a lot in fragging. I would rather give frags to my friends than have someone that hasn’t done their research purchase something and kill it.

  7. Nice post! One of the sad things about the fishkeeping hobby is the general lack of caring and knowledge of the animals they’re keeping. People do atrocious things to fish like keeping large amounts of them in a small tanks, not caring for their environment (ie. toxic water), etc. Things they would never do to an animal like a dog or cat. And even if they ask you or another experienced fishkeeper for help, they’re generally too impatient to heed the advice (which is usually to wait a few weeks or months for the tank to cycle), and end up killing fish anyway. It’s a great hobby but it’s really only for a certain kind of person, one who is patient, willing to do LOTS of research, and generally willing to spend excessive amounts of money.

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