Guide to Clownfish Keeping


Q: I don’t want to wait 1-2 months for my reef tank to cycle, is there a way to cycle a tank faster?

A: The answer is yes, there is. You can cycle ANY reef tank in 7 days. I discovered the secret by accident when I was trying to control an algae bloom in two of my beginner tanks when I first got into the hobby, and I will share it with you now. There are three main ingredients you need to achieve this.
1) The first essential ingredient is live sand. I have always used CaribSea, but you can use any brand as long as it contains live bacteria and water within the bag. If it is dry sand, you have the wrong stuff. The bag must contain water to keep the bacteria alive.
2) The second essential ingredient is cured live rock. It must be cured, meaning the pet store has already conditioned the rocks in cycled water for weeks, making it safe to add to an aquarium without risk of releasing phosphates and ammonia into the water from decaying organisms attached to the rock. You cannot use base rock (rock that is not covered with living organisms and beneficial bacteria). The rock is your bio filter, so you cannot cut corners. You can, however, mix live rock with base rock to save cost. Just make sure you have more live rock than base rock. How much live rock to add is important, however I do not agree with the hobby rule of thumb, which is one pound per gallon of water in your tank. You can get away with half that if you choose porous rocks with lots of holes and crevices. I would rather have a small rock that looks like swiss cheese than a large flat piece. If you can find pieces with coralline growth on it, choose those instead of tan pieces.
3) The third essential ingredient is a miracle product called MicroBacter7 by Brightwell Aquatics. I will discuss the many uses of MicroBacter7 and why it is your best friend further down the page, but for now just know it is absolutely needed to cycle your tank in 7 days. This products contains a complex system of non-pathogenic aerobic and anaerobic microbes, as well as natural enzymes, specifically formulated to establish biological filtration in new aquarium set-ups, and to enhance the rate of nitrification, denitrification, and organic waste degradation in marine and freshwater aquaria through complete nutrient remineralization. What this means is it will seed your tank with all the essential bacteria you need to bypass weeks and months of cycling. All you do is dose daily for two weeks straight per the instructions on the bottle for establishing a new tank. Don’t worry, after 7 days of dosing your tank will be cycled, but you will want to continue for the additional week after to ensure a healthy environment that can handle all the new tank inhabitants that you add.
Begin by adding the live sand to the bottom of your tank. Make sure you have at least 1.5-2 inches deep of sand bed. Fill the tank halfway with water (if you can premix the saltwater to add that would be best. But if you are starting a large tank, premixing that much may be too difficult). I have always just used freshwater, than add the reef salt afterwards. As long as you do it quickly afterwards and don’t have anything living in the tank its fine. Once you have it half filled, add the live rock. Arrange the rocks so there is plenty of space for water to flow in and out, above and through. You don’t want to just pile them on top of each other. Finish filling the tank to the top. Turn on your powerheads and add the reef salt. I am not going to explain every detail of establishing a reef tank. There are thousands of articles out there that do so. This is just a quick guide to cycle your tank in 7 days, assuming you know the basic elements of a reef tank i.e ph, salinity, flow etc. Now that you have the basic setup, add the Microbacter7 per the dosing instructions. You can turn on your filter setup, whether it’s a hang-on filter or a sump, but do NOT turn on the skimmer until after the tank is cycled. Doing so will slow the cycling time. Leave it off. It’s not needed until after fish are added. Now, add a piece of thawed frozen table shrimp. You only need enough to bring up the ammonia levels. I use ½ a piece of a medium size shrimp for 20-30 gallons. One full piece for a 40-55 gallon. One and a half for 60-75 gallons and so on. You can put it in a piece of pantyhose tied like a bag to keep the shrimps slime and gross stuff from floating around the tank. It makes it easier to remove the shrimp once the tank is cycled. That’s it. You’re done. After three days test the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels. The nitrite and nitrate should remain 0 and the ammonia will rise to about .025. I have never seen it go any higher than that using this method. The MicroBacter7 does its job. Test every day. Day 4, 5, 6 you should see the levels dropping every day until ammonia reaches 0. Once the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate are at 0 your tank is cycled. The largest tank I have cycled this way is 90 gallons. But I imagine the same technique can be used for any size tank as long as you add the equal ratio of ingredients per gallon. Be aware that 2-3 weeks after your tank cycles you will experience an algae bloom of some sort. Sometimes its hair algae or diatoms. This is normal for a newly cycled tank. With weekly water changes it will go away on its own. This happens with any newly cycled tank, whether it’s cycled in 7 days or 7 months.

Q: What is the big deal with RO water? Can I just use well water or city water, and treat it?

A: The answer is yes, but there is a big BUT. You will have nothing but problems if you try this method. Trust me, I simply refused to use RO water when I first began. I figured if I just kept the tank clean and do weekly water changes it won’t matter. I used well water which ran through a high quality water treatment system that removed heavy metals, sulfur and softened the water. The problem is the system does not remove the phosphates and TDS (total dissolved solids, aka bad stuff that causes algae and all sorts of problems). After a month or so I was introduced to the wonderfully catastrophic world of green hair algae. I began buying all sorts of chemicals and components to get rid of the algae. It is possible to get rid of it and have a semi-reduced phosphate tank without RO water. After years of battling it though, I got so sick of it and wanted to quit the hobby. I then found out that my mother-in-law's city water had a TDS of 65. 50 and below is considered RO water so I thought hey, I will just fill buckets of city water and treat it for chlorine. It has to be better than the 190 TDS of my well water, right? Not really. You see, there are more chemicals added to the city water than just chlorine that treatments do not treat. Unless you have all the scientific testing equipment and know what to test for, you have no idea what may be in that water. Safe for us to drink, arguably, but not safe for fish to live in. My anemones did not improve their poor condition, the skimmer went haywire trying to remove all the foreign chemicals, and the algae did not go away. You will not experience a healthy tank without all sorts of patches and band aids. Don’t even think about getting an anemone with well or treated city water. They require the absolute highest quality of water. Anything less and you gave it a death sentence the moment you brought it home from the store. Look, Clownfish are hardy and can tolerate less than perfect water conditions. But if you want corals or an anemone, or a tank that is not full of ugly algae, you have to concede and use RO water. Save yourself months of punishment, frustration, hair-loss and heartache and use RO water. As much as I hate to admit it. I now have a commercial size RO system attached to my water filtration system and I have impeccable water quality. You can buy 5 gallons of RO water from your local pet store for $1.00-2.50. It’s worth the cost, considering you will spend way more than that on all the products and equipment needed to treat a well water or city water tank. Just do it.

Q: So, I didn’t use RO water when I began my tanks and I really don’t want to. How can I get rid of the hair algae and reduce phosphates without using RO water?

A: Alright, I will tell you how to treat it but heed my previous warning and USE RO water. I know, I hated hearing that too. But you will never truly enjoy your reef tank unless you do. Go ahead and find out the hard way, if you must. That being said, let's setup a tank without RO water and get rid of that algae. The first product you will need is my best friend, Microbacter7. Adding this product for two weeks straight, as you would when cycling a new tank, will reduce your phosphates and add nitrifying bacteria to your tank to handle the bioload. Then you will have to dose your tank twice a week with it for the rest of your life. You will get rid of diatoms in a week and see your green hair algae start to die (with multple water changes, about 25% twice a week). It will not happen overnight. It will take weeks, even months to completely eliminate it. But MicroBacter7 needs help to keep the phosphates down. That is where a good protein skimmer comes in, if you do not have one already. The skimmer will removes food and other chemicals before they breaks down into phosphates, and help keep the levels down. But that is not all you need, you also need a good GFO like Chemi-pure Elite or Blue. This can be placed in your hang-on filter or in your sump. You can use a phosphate reactor instead, but that is another large cost when you can easily toss in a $10 GFO bag and forget about it. Just replace it every 3 months or so, once it has depleted. GFO also reduces phosphates, nitrates and bad smells in the water. BUT, that is not enough to control algae in a non-RO water tank. You will also need a more powerful, more quicker method of removing phosphates. GFO helps remove it consistently over time, but does not have immediate effects. For that you will need a a product like Seachems Phosguard. I recommend this product because like Chemi-pure, you can add it to your hang-on filter or in the strong flow area of your sump. Just pour the recommended amount on the bottle into a pantyhose bag you made or a filter media bag and place it in a heavy flow part of your filter. Make sure you wash it really good first, so that white dust doesn’t comes out or it will hurt your mushrooms and sensitive corals. On top of all this, you will need to do weekly water changes. After a month or two you should see a huge improvement in your tank. It will never be as healthy as an RO water tank, but it will come close. It will just cost you a lot of money and time.

Q: Help! I have red algae growing all over my sand bed and rocks and looks horrible. What is it and how do I get rid of it without hurting my fish?

A: The horrible red stuff is called Cyano, its not an algae but a bacteria, which is why it is so hard to get rid of. I experienced a really bad outbreak back when I refused to use RO water. It does vacuum easily off rocks and sand, but will return a day or two later. There are two methods. The first method, and instant gratification, is ChemiClean by Boyd Enterprises. It works great but it does come with risk. You have to remove your GFO and turn off your skimmer. You also MUST add two airstones on full strength during the treatment because the product removes oxygen from the tank. Also, vacuum as much of the cyano up as you can before treatment. Follow the instructions on the box. What I did was add the dosage on day one. On day two, I did a 50% water change and added half the dose. I did another 50% water change on day 3 and turned my skimmer back on and replaced the GFO. The cyanobacteria was gone on day two, but I did lose some snails. The fish were fine. The bad new is, the cyano came back a few weeks later. Why? Because I was not using RO water and the phosphates brought it right back. Even with all the band-aides I was using to keep phosphates down.

The second, and better method, is my best friend Microbacter7. First, vacuum up all the cyano the best you can. Then do a 30-40% water change. Once that is done, begin dosing the Microbacter7 every day for at least 7 days, perhaps even 14 days. If you have cyano you need more bacteria to consume the phosphates and silicates. That's it. You will notice right away that the cyano does not start growing back the next day. It begins to turn a light pink, than orange, then disappears. To keep it gone for good, do a weekly water change and dose with Microbacter7 once a week. Simple and safe.

Q: I am trying to breed clownfish, but my fry keeping dying within the first 3 days. Why?

The breeding part of clownfish is easy. Just provide a good environment and they will do all the work. The hard part is raising the fry once they hatch. If it was easy everyone would do it and they would not be worth as much money. The cold hard truth of fry dying within the first 3 days is that they are starving to death. You must have a huge amount of rotifers available, meaning you need to culture your own rotifers. Purchasing a bag on the internet is not enough food to last more than one feeding, let alone 10-14 days of it. Raising rotifers is hard as well, because they love to crash a day before your fry hatch. In order to raise rotifers, you first have to culture your own phytoplankton. And keeping phytoplankton is hard, because it has its own specific needs and you need lots of it to feed the lots of rotifers to feed the lots of fry. If your fry tank is set up according to the various instructions on the internet, and you are doing everything right, than your problem is keeping them fed. I can almost guarantee you that is the issue. There are three more possibilities if you do have a large rotifer culture and feeding them plenty.

The first one is that your clownfish pair just began breeding. The first 4-5 batches they lay are usually weak and the parents have to get the hang of fertilization and keeping them tended to properly. Don't beat yourself up if you are doing everything by the book and you lose the first few batches. Its not your fault and you must accept that it takes time for the parents to produce really health eggs.

The second reason could be parent nutrition. If after the first few batches the fry are still dying within the first few days, than the parents aren't getting enough variety of food or as often as they need. They need a lot of food. If you aren't feeding them at least 4 times a day you aren't going to have healthy babies. Trust me. Feed those parents different variety of foods throughout the day: flakes, pellets, veggie blends of flakes, and cyclops. Do not feed them brine shrimp. It causes the egg casings to be too thick for the fry to detach from. You will have to deal with more water changes to handle the load, but it is a must if you want healthy parents and in effect healthy babies.

The third reason could be the daily water changes you are doing on the fry tank. Because there is no filter on the fry tank, you MUST change at least 80% of the water every day until they morph and are strong enough to handle a sponge filter. Fry are very sensitive to changes in the water conditions. Don't use newly mixed salt water for the water change for the first two weeks. It shocks them and kills them instantly. Some are stronger than others and can make it through, but you will see a group of deceased fry with every water change if you do. Use water from the parent tank for the first 2 weeks or until after they all have morphed. Then you can begin using newly mixed salt. Everything kills these guys. If you just look at them wrong they will drop dead. Trust me. Don't change anything. Don't move anything. Don't add anything. Don't disturb the temperature, make sure the fry tank matches the parents tank for water changes. Don't even breath on them. When fry and morphed fry are eating brine shrimp, they are highly and ridiculously prone to shock. Once you get them on flakes, get them off brine and they won't die so easily anymore.

Q:  I don't have rotifers. What else can I feed my fry to keep them alive?

Nothing. Fry only eat living, slow moving organisms for the first 4-5 days until they are big enough to eat newly hatched brine shrimp. They will not accept anything else. I have tried everything. The closest I have come to is powdered spirulina. When I add it to the fry tank they take interest and it seems like some eat it, but it has never kept them alive past the third day when their eggs sack is depleted. I tried feeding them just spirulina and several batches died. It won't work. I have tried feeding them newly hatched brine shrimp on day one and only 1 or 2 ever make it to morph. And no they won't eat crushed flakes or dried rotifers or shrimp if they get hungry enough. They just won't. They will die. You must feed rotifers. Plain and simple. There is no way around it. If you do get a small amount of fry to survive on only brine shrimp they grow very slowly, morph very slowly and most if not all will die during morph when they finally do. I know its not what  you want to hear, but it is the truth. I refused to believe it myself but after so many failed attempts I had to concede and become a rotifer and phytoplankton growing expert.