• Welcome to The Salty Box, a forum to discuss everything related to Marine & Reef Fish keeping in a friendly surrounding.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register to be able to join in discussions with others.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon

Another 'ex' salty returns to the fold.

Not open for further replies.

Freedom Dwarf

Hiya all,


Not exactly a total nubie as I've had a nice tank about 30 years ago and had to give it all up when I moved out from my parents into the big wide world. Its a real shame I don't have a ghost of a chance of having anything like my last tank - a really big 8ft x 6ft x 3ft custom made in 12mm reinforced plate glass. [012.gif]
I had the full gamot of a whole chunk of reef - 48 square foot of hand-built almost-vertical coral reef-face and 24 square foot of sandy coral floor, all full of livestock. [thumbup.gif]
Those were the days when I was earning a bucket-load of money every week! [011.gif]

This time round I have my own family who have never had the pleasure (pain??) of owning wet pets and until 6 months ago could only see them in LFS.
Nothing local stocks salty stuff so they've never seen the delights of this wonderful brilliantly-coloured and relaxing (perplexing?!?) hobby.

Like many people, I'm out of work and well short of readies so the whole thing is built on a shoestring and runs on a near-zero budget.
And to cap it all..... the Mrs wanted a tropical [freshwater] tank of her own!

All I can say is - there are many things that are sooo different than it was 30 years ago!! [w00t.gif] [002.gif]

Anyway... I bought two 2nd-hand tanks from eBay: a 2'6"x18"x12" on a stand for her and a 4'x2'6"x15" one for my marine. They cost £60 for the both of them and about £20 in petrol to drive round in a big circle to collect them.
Her tank is one of those commercial ready-built ones with a built-in single light in a fitted plastic hood with a simple matching black-ash effect stand. It came complete with some bright in-your-face pink & white gravel chips, lights (1x18W), a standard Fluval 202?? internal pump and a couple of cheap plastic plants and goldfish-type ornaments. Everything had been washed, dried and packed up in a box for collection. No heater.
Mine was an ex Pleco tank, no lid (but I re-cut & used the chipboard base for a lid), a twin growlux light unit (ballast & 2 tubes, 1 not working), a standard unknown internal pump, an undergravel filter base with 2 uplifts (no powerheads tho), 1 small heater + 1 larger one, and about 45kg of pea-type gravel. The gravel was still in the tank with most of the water when we collected it (was still in use until that morning) so we preserved as much of the water as we could when we shovelled out the gravel - that would at least keep a lot of the bacteria alive for use in her tank!
Between the two tank purchases we had a small box of various accessories (bits of 4mm air line, spare air stones, T-pieces, filter sponges.. etc.

We got home, set up her tank with some of the water and about 15-20kg of the gravel from my tank. Fitted the small heater and filled up with fresh water and quite unceremoniously dumped 20 Tetras from the LFS we'd bought on the way home.... Job done; instant fish tank with things to see - she was happy! [011.gif]
We dumped the bright gravel that came with hers into an old knackered bucket and shoved it outside the back door - and that's where its been ever since! [001_rolleyes.gif]
From walking in the door to having it all up and running and looking at fish ===> 20 minutes flat!! [yahoo.gif]

First things first guys'n'gals - when you wanna start a marine hobby you gotta placate the gods [our partners] otherwise you'll get [031.gif] );, [007.gif] [032.gif] [cursing.gif] every time you mention your tank!!

For my venture, I had to completely scrub the tank and hose it down inside and out, make a new base from an old kitchen worktop (added an edging to make sure it wouldn't slide anywhere), thoroughly clean the gravel, fix the tube clips and reflectors for the lights onto the re-cut base board now being used for a lid. I picked up 2 kitchen wall units (stood on their sides) for a base, shifted the (clean) tank to it's place and got the whole tank assembly where it needed to go [not something you wanna move later!!), re-assembled the undergravel filter plates and build the bits inside the tank. I got two 2nd-hand powerheads from freecycle (free), fitted a really cheap air pump. Added the (now clean) remainder of the pea gravel, topped off with a 20kg sack of new coral sand and finally (4 days later!!) added a salt mix to get things going!! [crying.gif] [025.gif]
Added some bits of rock and 1,000 river shrimp to get the bacteria filter started.

Bless her little cotton socks... the wife (and kids) kept me supplied with tea and meals while I cussed and cursed my way through the initial setup.

Now the tank is in its place and looking pristine & clinically clean - but ultimately and horribly BORING to watch!


Just a few shrimps to get the bacterial filter started.
It doesn't matter if they die - ultimately they are food for later stock!!

9 weeks later.....
Added some stock, replaced the 1 dead bulb (and replaced the Growlux one since!), added a Halea 1200lph canister filter, aquascaped many times, added a 4ft bubble wall and digital thermometer.

Setup: 4ft 220ltr marine tank with 3"+ coral sand over gravel and a few rocks (about 35kg, not live). Filtered by 1200lph Halea canister filter, 2 powerheads doing the undergravel bit (about 1200lph) & a 4ft bubble wall (just for effect and some water movement). Only has 2x38W HO's (14K marine white) in the way of lights, nothing for night time yet.

3 months down the line I took a trip to the local river estuary and collected myself some crabs, bivalves, bladderwrack seaweed and some periwinkles.
It was a mad hare-brained experiment just to see what would happen and what managed to live (or die) in a marine tank! [030.gif]

Current stock: 2 feather worms, 1 common clown, 1 small blue damsel, 1 yellow-tailed damsel, 1 humbug, 2 cleaner wrasse (1 male + 1 female we think), 1 very fat dwarf fuzzy lionfish, 1 large green brittle star, 1 horseshoe crab, 6 golf-ball sized bivalves (oysters/clams? collected locally), about 8 crabs (1 large one + 7 medium/smallish ones, all collected locally) and a handful of local periwinkles.

After a few weeks the seaweed started breaking down and with the help of the numerous crabs ripping it to shreds it really started to look very tatty. [016.gif]
It looked really good when I put it in there! I guess it didn't like being in a much warmer temperature.
So... last night I decided to rip it all out with most of the stones & bricks it was attached to.
I had bought some Caulerpa macro algae (3 different types) from eBay earlier in the day so I thought it would be a good idea to try and get the tank ready to receive it and also allow the sediments I'd stirred up to settle down again.

By now, I had discovered TSB and wanted to see what other people thought of my meagre efforts on a very limited and tight (almost non-existant) budget.
Apologies for the poor photography (I'm no David Bailey!) and I'll rearrange some stuff when the Caulerpa arrives.
I'll also try to get a few snaps of the stock not pictured in here and when the water gets a change and is back to being clear again.

So here is what it looks like now -


Here is the basic tank. 4ft long, 2ft6" tall (but only 2ft of water available), and 15" deep.
I'd just ripped out a load of seaweed and I'm gonna redo the aquascaping again so hopefully it'll look a lot prettier with weed and more stock. I put a small computer fan in the top when it got a bit warm in there the other day and I've lost a lot of water in evaporation (as can be seen)... its still early days yet!!


The green brittle star (about 9"+ across the arms) going for a wander... it sort-of 'rows' across the tank with its arms as if in a boat - very comical to see!
You can also see one of the feather worms and one of the native crabs I picked up locally from the river Medway estuary (Isle of Grain) about a month ago.


Two of the six bi-valves I collected with the crabs. They are golf-ball sized in general and there's 6 of them in all - and surprisingly all alive and open most of the day.
Even some of the barnacles attached to them are alive and come out to feed - looks creepy seeing a small feathery arm sweeping out!
Any ideas as to what they are exactly?? Are they local oysters or some other clam-type bi-valve??


In this shot you can see the feather worm (again), another of those bi-valves, the humbug, the blue damselfish (just darting away) and you can just see where the green brittle star has crept into a cave a few mins after I'd taken the first shot of it.


A shot of the yellow-tailed damsel as he popped out of his (hers?) sleeping hole somewhere in that piece of dead coral skeleton.
Looks a bit faded as he'd been asleep for over an hour!!


Here's one of the crabs I collected from the local river estuary a month ago. He is surviving very well and he's quite a monster at just over 2" across the carapace!
Because of his bright orange colour (most of the others are green/brown) he's earned the name of 'Tango' and is quite hand tame now for feeding.



A couple more of the local-caught crabs. Got these pics this morning just after they'd had a spat over some food.
Also managed to get one of the cleaner wrasses in shot by accident (this one has been with me since the beginning).


Here's my fuzzy dwarf lionfish.... looking more like a barrel that a sleek hunting fish!!
He's been with me from the beginning and is now fed by hand with cooked peeled prawns from Tesco!!


Last but not least is my horseshoe crab.
This pic was taken about 6 weeks ago just before she started her painful moult (see my other thread about this problem).

Honest comments please - and don't be nice for the sake of it!! [taz.gif]



Welcome to the forum and back to this wonderful I know what its like being 'dry' albeit only for a short while and its not a pleasant experience

The tank looks like its in good condition and has the making of a good system. Love the fuzzy dwarf!

Couple of immendiate comments - I'd be careful with locallly sourced stock as you dont know what disease you may bring in with them and also the horseshoe will I believe grown very large and also the green brittle stars have a reputation for taking fish.

I appreciate you are doing this on a budget but Im sure you already know the issues with u/g filters and a quick improvement would be if you can conceal the heater somehow.

I'm sure you know this already but you do need to top up regularly with freshwater (ro ideally) as leaving it to eveaporate this much will cause significant swings in sg

good luck in the development of your tank



What a riveting read [001_smile.gif] , just shows what you can do on a budget, not like anything I've seen in both stock and equipment setup but an interesting tank !!!!

Keep popping in, we all love a good picture here [drool.gif]


Freedom Dwarf

rockpoolie said:
Welcome to the forum and back to this wonderful I know what its like being 'dry' albeit only for a short while and its not a pleasant experience

The tank looks like its in good condition and has the making of a good system. Love the fuzzy dwarf!

Couple of immendiate comments - I'd be careful with locallly sourced stock as you dont know what disease you may bring in with them and also the horseshoe will I believe grown very large and also the green brittle stars have a reputation for taking fish.

I appreciate you are doing this on a budget but Im sure you already know the issues with u/g filters and a quick improvement would be if you can conceal the heater somehow.

I'm sure you know this already but you do need to top up regularly with freshwater (ro ideally) as leaving it to eveaporate this much will cause significant swings in sg

good luck in the development of your tank

I appreciate the comments re locally sourced stock - and certainly NOT something I would dare encourage anyone to attempt. Seriously tho, the price plus P&P for some algae-eating snails that you wouldn't see a lot of or some crabs is extortionate!
If the crabs & snails (periwinkles) did their job without a complete tank crash then it was worth the gamble. As an 'old salty' with a little bit of experience and the fact that the tank is still very new the worst thing that could happen is a crash, wipe-out or some other major catastrophe.
Most of the stock wasn't really expensive and could be replaced if need be.
If the locally-sourced stock died then it didn't cost me a single red cent except an enjoyable day out with my daughter who had a whale of a time doing the rock-pool investigations.
I have seen temperate-zone marine tanks as well as tropical and my research on the 'net concerning the critters I collected suggested that it could be quite successful. The biggest gamble was picking up something undesirable that affected the LFS stock.
If the tank were older and more mature with expensive frags, nems, fish and other stuff I would not take the gamble.
The end result is quite a formidable anti-algae army and something that keeps the substrate freshly churned all of the time - for FREE! That was the whole point of the exercise and watching the antics of the crabs is very entertaining indeed!

As for the horseshoe crab - yes they can grow up to 6-7 feet in length but from what I've read about them it can take 30+ years to attain that sort of size.
If I'm lucky enough to still be alive when she reaches that grand olde age then I hope to have a much bigger tank to keep her in or sell her off to someone who has that capacity.

I did a bit of research about the green brittles but I did that after I'd bought it!! [oops.gif]
As it happens, this one doesn't seem bothered at the moment and hasn't made any attempts to catch anything living or moving (yet!).... famous last words!!! [005.gif]

As for the heater.... I've been wracking my brains on how to conceal it effectively without creating a dead spot in the tank. The seaweed was a very good cover for it and maybe when the Caulerpa is installed and grows I'm hoping it'll do a reasonable job of obscuring it from view as its sited quite low down along the back wall.
To be honest, I have never seen this heater come on except when we first switched everything on the very first day when the water was still cold. It is set at something like 23C and I have tested it during a water change by dunking it in a big jug of cold water - it lights up and works!!
The Tank temperature is usually between 75F and 79F and a couple of times recently it went to 80.6F - hence the need for a PC case fan to blow across the surface as a temp measure. Even with this drop in water level (of which the seaweed and rocks I pulled out accounted for half of it), the sg is still within the narrow green band of my hydrometer albeit near the upper limits. I just top it off by slowly dribbling a 3ltr jugful of water that I'd put in the fridge to chill for the morning - that works in 2 ways, by lowering the temperature by almost 1 degree and also bringing the sg down to virtually normal readings.
I've given that some thought and instead of investing in a very expensive cooler, I've just bought (and waiting to arrive from Japan) a USB 4-fan cooling block meant to cool a PS3! The fan block cost £6.99 + £1.29 P&P and it'll get its power from one of those cheap MP3 USB charger plugs (£1.50 if I had to buy one) and a USB extension cable (£1) - total cost of a 4-fan cheap-to-run surface cooler is a tad over a tenner for the whole lot!! [001_tt2.gif]
If I want even more surface cooling, it'll cost for another 4-fan pack, another cable for a quid and I will use my old 4-port USB 1.0 hub that I don't use any more (I only need it for the 5v power, not the comms). Compared to the cost of a water cooler and the inconvenience of topping up the water level every other day or so, it'll work for me on my budget!! [011.gif]
In the event of a power failure, hook it up to any old 5volt battery pack (usually found in old radios or broken toys) and plug that into the USB 4-port hub DC input socket.
Not the best or most elegant solution in the world but it'll work and keep your tank cooler than ANY electrically-driven cooling system - which WON'T be running in a power failure!
And best of all, I can run more 4-fan blocks across to the Tropical tank without much expense too! USB is certainly very versatile! [011.gif]

One thing I hadn't mentioned in my earlier rambles....
The return feed from the Halea canister filter doesn't flow directly into the tank water - which I notice is a very common practice with people using canisters or some other feed-back water system.
I use a simple "U" pipe at the top of the water feed and let the water run along the glass reinforcing bars that run round the top of my tank. This has the benefit of not having a flow of water going directly to the tank and creating a patch of water with different qualities to the rest of the tank which may shock some delicate critters if they get caught in the flow.
Instead, the water flows into a long puddle formed by the return water which just literally 'drips' off the glass bars all along its entire length and both side bars and thus improves surface agitation (and gas exchange properties) as it does so.
This also has a side benefit of washing down any salt residue that might build up due to evaporation in the surface cooling.
To add to this phenomenon, the 4-fan surface coolers are also cooling the return water from the canister filter as it spreads out and also the droplets as it drips back into the main tank - almost tripling the cooling effort for a very simple and extremely inexpensive to run system.

For those of you that want to know, the reinforcing bars in my tank are 2" wide (front and back) and 6" wide down either side. The two back corners have a triangle cut-out in the corners to facilitate cables/pipes etc as has the rear back plate.
That's an awfully large surface area of very shallow water that gets cooled very quickly!
It's also an easy way to top-up with clean fresh water without causing any shock areas in the main tank!

As the new stock slowly arrives in the coming months and the Caulerpa grows (I hope!) I'll post more pics of my mini-budget marine system.

PS: As a sideline, I managed to get a load of amphipods hidden in the seaweed. The fuzzy lionfish ate a lot of them but when I pulled the seaweed out (with their rocks) I had to shake quite a few of them off - and added bonus!! [thumbup.gif]


hey roy,

thought id say hello as i live in kent too :)

how much do you think your set up has cost so far?
im asking as i am a total newbie,.



Your tank seems to be going really well and on a shoestring too.

As others have said keep an eye on the green serpent as they can eat your fish stocks very quickly and also be careful as regards adding local temperate water fish and critters. But tbh it seems that you are doing a good job and know what you are doing so will get rid of any problem species before anything terrible happens I am sure.

Best wishes



Welcome onboard mate....been thinking of going "old school" with a reverse flow under gravel on a new predator system here soon myself.
Out of work here myself and have found both the forum and ebay invaluable for getting some bargain price kit so far for my own systems here.
Would unfortunately consider getting the shore crabs out soon but mate before they mature and start to predate on the rest of your stock and especially decide to turn on the horse shoe as these ancient crustaceans are stunning but may not withstand an attack from a crazed shore crab.
Once your cooling fans kick in fully I would also consider warming your top up water to tank temp as well as a blast of cold water hitting your system may cause nough stress to the fish to bring on an outbreak of whitespot.

Freedom Dwarf

:-o to the magical mini-budget marine tank!

I'll keep an eye out just in case he/she/it(??) decides to leave the luxury of cooked peeled prawns a-la-tesco and go for something living instead.

As for local temperate fish & critters I did my research beforehand (something I DIDN'T do with the green brittle star!!) and on reflection I should have picked the black one instead when I went strolling round the LFS! lol.
I won't attempt to harvest any fish - I think that would be cruel as they aren't particularly widespread in other more tropical waters around the world. The crabs on the other hand are very widespread and our native temperate species around our coastline here (common shore crab, Carcinus maenas sp,) is extremely well-populated from north of the UK right down to the equatorial waters of North Africa and also in Australia and North America and even in Patagonia!

To quote Wikipedia -
C. maenas is native to European and North African coasts as far as the Baltic Sea in the east, and Iceland and central Norway in the north, and is one of the most common crabs throughout much of its range.

The periwinkles I was fairly sure with but I didn't know whether they would live in a marine tank (which was constantly Tropical in temperament) as they do tend to live in the upper inter-tidal regions of the shoreline. I wasn't worried so much about the temperature (after all, they live through searing summer heat-waves OUT of water!) but more concerned about being constantly submerged. I needn't have worried... when they want to get out of the water they just waltz up the tank walls and firmly plonk themselves on the underside of the glass reinforcing bars where they can stay warm, wet and out in the air!! [021.gif] Several have done this already.

To quote Wikipedia -
The common periwinkle, winkle, or Littorina littorea, is a small edible species marine gastropod with gills and an operculum in the family Littorinidae. It is primarily an algae grazer, but will feed on small invertebrates such as barnacle larvae. They use their radula to scrape algae from rocks, and, in the salt marsh community, pick up algae from the cord grass, or from the biofilm that covers the surface of mud in estuaries or bays.

So... who needs to PAY for snails that cost as much as £6 each and you'd rarely see them!!
These aren't as pretty shell-wise but they look just as beautiful in jet black when they come out and feed.... and if they don't come out I can EAT them myself!! [015.gif]

It was basically a 1-off experiment just to see what results I got. =+
Having said that, I was also looking for a small anemone on my day trip which is also very common and is just about everywhere in the world.... A beaded or beadlet anemone (Epicystis crucifer, Actinia fragacea, Anthopleura ballii and Actinia equina are just a few of a number of such anemones). They come in a variety of colours but are usually bright red to deep brown. These are small anemones and rarely grow much bigger than 3cm across. Apparently there is a lesser common variety which is green but deeper research seems to suggest that the taxonomy of the green variety puts it into a different classification (Actinia prasina) because it can proliferate asexually by division whereas the other varieties cannot do this. [ohmy.gif] ...this is getting way tooo heavy now!!....
So.... because I never found any of these in the river estuary (probably too muddy and unclean here near the oil refinery) that is the only other thing I would venture out to collect and even then in small numbers and only the non-green variety!

I haven't really added it all up yet! [confused1.gif]
I know my last venture 30 years ago was frightfully expensive.... the best part of most of my wages (which was quite a fortune back then!) and a mortgage to go with it!!!
But I did have a fantastic custom-built tank! [026.gif]

Lets have a quick recky.....
Tank: £40 2nd-hand, with its fittings & gravel. eBay.
Petrol: £40 Collection and all the running around to get it going.
Stock: £65 Just the fish and critters from LFS - 1st lot (Ark).
River Shrimp: £45 1st lot of 1,000 to kick-start the bacterial filter system. **
Air Pump: £13 Ark Aquatics, Gillingham.
Coral Sand: £25 20Kg sack, not 'active' sand.... just plain sand! (Ark).
42" HO lamp: £12 The 1st one from Ark cost me £26! £12 on eBay now.
Powerheads: £free These came from Walderslade freegle (Yahoo freecycle Group).
1/4" airline: £4 10m of the silicon variety. eBay again.
Dig.Therm: £1 99p + free P&P from eBay.
Hydrometer: £7 eBay again.
6-way Gang: £3.50 2m 6-way mains extension lead - ASDA bargain bin.
Salt: £36 10Kg Tetra Marin, from Ark. Cheaper on eBay now.
Coral Rock: £40 Birchwood Aquatics, Swanley.
Stock: £60 Just the fish and critters from LFS - 2nd lot (Birchwood).
Stock: £60 Fish & frozen food from Aquatics-To-Your-Door*, mail order.

I did all this wonderful thinking at silly-o'clock in the morning and I completely forgot the Halea canister filter. This cost me £42 from eBay and came from a UK source (Brighton, I think) complete with all the filter media as well.

adjusting the total......
Just a smidge over £493 to get it up & running and the first 3 months costs for salt, fish & critters and frozen food blocks.
If you count the marine-style backdrop (about £3.50 for that size) you're talking about £500 in round figures which I think isn't too bad for a 4ft populated marine tank.

The petrol costs are those to collect the tank and cover all the running around buying & scrounging bits to get it all setup and actually start the pumps.

** The first lot of 1,000 river shrimps cost me a lot. I paid £45 for this lot and it took a LOT of haggling to get that price down from £85!!
Since then I've negotiated a deal with *ATYD to deliver 500 river shrimp for £15 and as long as my order is over £100 there's no delivery charge! What I don't have in my order to make it to £100, she adds bits on for her tropical tank!

Remember though, I scrounged the kitchen units & worktop for free as I did with the 2 powerheads via freegle.

Since the initial running for 3 months and buying 3 small lots of stock and feeding them I've only bought 1 other box of 10Kg salt and replaced the Growlux that blinked out 2 weeks ago.
Most places (including eBay) are charging something in the region of £20+ for a 42" High-Output 14,000 Kelvin "marine white" bulb that I use in this tank but I managed to find just *1* on eBay last week selling them for £8.99 with £2.39 P&P - that's less than half price from anything else I found out there (and it wasn't a special offer either!).

I think that just about covers it. [thumbup.gif]

PS: Quick update.... We thought Tango was trying to grab and devour one of the terrible 'twins' that are always squabbling (see pic in my opening post at the top of this thread) but while I've been typing this reply he's come out of hiding and he is definitely mating with her!!
They can carry up to 185,000 eggs!!!!!!!!! [oops.gif] Anyone want a baby Carcinus maenas crab?? :-:eek:

Freedom Dwarf

Reefcubeboy said:
Welcome onboard mate....been thinking of going "old school" with a reverse flow under gravel on a new predator system here soon myself.
Out of work here myself and have found both the forum and ebay invaluable for getting some bargain price kit so far for my own systems here.
Would unfortunately consider getting the shore crabs out soon but mate before they mature and start to predate on the rest of your stock and especially decide to turn on the horse shoe as these ancient crustaceans are stunning but may not withstand an attack from a crazed shore crab.
Once your cooling fans kick in fully I would also consider warming your top up water to tank temp as well as a blast of cold water hitting your system may cause nough stress to the fish to bring on an outbreak of whitespot.


My system here isn't a reverse-flow system as you describe.... it's real olde old-school thinking - the powerheads drag the water up from the undergravel filter and spit the filtered water into the tank. The detritus and whatever else is living in the substrate is being pulled downwards to the bottom of the tank towards the filter plates - really old 70's & 80's take on filtration. The reason I didn't go RF is because the crabs do an excellent job on scrunching and sifting through the top layers of the coral sand substrate - as you can see by the pics, it's very clean to look at and doesn't get any chance to clog up the filter system. If you stir it up, it will produce some dark clouds of silt but that is ideal for deep-rooting and growing macro algae like Caulerpa. If you push all the silt upwards by RF the roots will be very shallow and likely to be ploughed up and pulled out by various things that like to feed on it. Apart from which, the horseshoe crab likes to dive quite deep in there to go hunting for food - we have found her very near the filter plates many times when trying to locate where she's buried herself.

The crabs are not a problem... yet! Not even Tango is bothered much nowadays but I will keep an eye out for any miscreant behaviour.
I think the trick here is keeping them well fed and content which is probably a good thing to do in any tank with predatory critters.

Generally they get fed twice a day and roughly at the same time - 7am & 6pm... give or take an hour or so either way depending on when we wake up or have our evening meal (kids are always good at making you cook meals at roughly the same times).
They have 1 cube of frozen something in the morning about 20 mins after they've been woken up with the lights going on (usually mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, marine feast or baby krill) rotated at random every feed time, a good pinch of Tropical flake food (yes, Tropical flake because it seems to have more of a veggie diet in there!) which the bi-valves and other filter feeders seem to like as well as the fish.
Tango and the other crabs get pieces of thawed cooked & peeled prawns fed by hand and if the fuzzy lionfish shows any interest (which is most days in the evenings) he also gets hand-fed a prawn or two.
We repeat the same thing for the evening feed.
If they are feeling hungry at any point (the cleaner wrasses seem to show that first by chasing any bits of prawn still floating about or hassling the other fish) then we throw in another cube of something picked at random or another pinch of flake (but not both!). This behaviour seems to happen about twice in every 3 weeks or so and at that point we also throw in a frozen veggie cube.

So far, everything seems to be very well fed and very content and apart from "The Twins" (aptly named by my daughter because you can't tell them apart) who constantly squabble for territory and/or food, nothing seems to be bothering anything else around it.

The philosophy I follow is very simple....
If a "local" starts causing any trouble for the LFS stock in any way whatsoever - it gets pulled out and will be put back where it came from in the local Medway estuary unless someone else wants it.
It cost me nothing to acquire and will cost nothing to dispose of back to its native habitat from whence it came. At least it won't get flushed down the pan or killed off in some other way.
I think that's fair don't you??

I might consider warming the water a little when I do a water change but only if I have the time to let it stand and warm up.... which is quite a rarity in this house!
I stand the bucket of new salt mix on the top step of a 5-rung step ladder and let it trickle by gravity (using the syphon kit) onto the glass reinforcing rails which mixes with the return feed from the Halea canister filter and drips into the main tank so there is no particular point where newer and much colder water causes a patch of potential "shock" conditions. It's quite a slow process as it takes a good 20-30 mins to trickle 15ltrs back into the tank.
When I look at the tank thermometer it barely drops by half a degree F throughout the whole process of a 30ltr (2-bucket) water change - a particularly cold day when the tap water is freezing cold it might just drop by 1 degree F.

Freedom Dwarf


This is where I try (and try being the operative word here!) to explain my background in marine keeping, why I do what I do, why a lot of of what I do doesn't follow today's current trends and modern thinking and frequently doesn't make any sense whatsoever - and try to do that without writing a complete novel!!

This ain't gonna be easy but here goes....

Why do I do some really stupid things that don't make sense most of the time??
There are several reasons for this...
1) I'm not a stupid person but sometimes my brain goes into meltdown and it doesn't matter what I'm trying to think or do it just won't come out right. If that happens when I'm actually doing something then it often leads to complete disaster and chaos and I have to live with the result! Just once in a while it turns out to be a good brainwave and all is well in the end.
2) Because I can; and most people won't give a damn if its all wrong anyway!!
3) I'm not a sheep! I'm happy to experiment if it doesn't blow up the world and harm my family. I frequently don't follow conventional rules and most times it seems to work - at least it does for me. Unless you can really convince me its worth doing things differently (aka, the same way as everyone else does it) then I'll stick to my irrational and unconventional methods until I fall on my ass and admit defeat.
4) If someone else follows what I do and it works.... maybe it's not so stupid after all and I have to think why it works rather than "it just does".
5) I'm a firm believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!". So why change it??
6) I blame the wife. [005.gif]

That'll give you some insight into how my mind and philosophy works. [030.gif]

Now some history....
In a galaxy, far, far away...... there was a young lad who wanted to build his dream fish tank. Not any old fish tank, no that wouldn't do at all! It had to be part of the real world - his very own piece of the ocean, his own coral reef just like the one he saw on TV with Jacque Cousteau.
PHUTT!! The real world kicks his ass soooo hard he falls down to earth with a bang - a very LOUD bang!!
Now, how do we go about this?? Nobody to ask, no local shops... no such thing as the 'net or Google or Wikipedia! [lol.gif]
We build a glass tank - a big one like the ones they have in those Sealife/Seaworld type places.... but just a wee bit smaller so we can fit it in the house.
We spend months building a huge great glass tank. We spend even more months planning and building the vertical reef inside it with all the miles of pipework for air and water flows and filters. (makes mental note that parents are getting really hacked off with all this activity and building work in their front room and still no fish to be seen!!)
More months pass and eventually we fit the industrial pumps, connect the miles and miles of pipes to the junctions and make sure it's all sealed tight, route the hundreds of cables out of sight, discreetly position all the flow jets and heaters and double-check the temperature settings because we don't want to go climbing in here unless we need to replace a broken piece of equipment.
Now we triple-check the maximum load on all the electrical circuits and make sure all the relays are on timers so we don't try to bring down the National Grid when we switch it on! Make sure all 16 'Super Power-Twist' bulbs and the 20-odd back-up strip lights are working and on relay timers otherwise we'll have instant Sun in here and melt everything in sight!
Dustbins!!! Grab all the dustbins and start mixing the salt - we're GO!!! :))

A few days and a soaking wet carpet later...... with very tired arms we switch on "The Tank"!
We wait 5 minutes while all the power relays slowly trip in and voila!!! It's all lit up and working like a dream!!! Mum has a look at the electricity meter - the centre dial looks like its gonna spin off its spindles and take off out through the front glass! [ohmy.gif] Its easier to read the numbers clicking up than try to read the digits on that manic spinning silver disc in the middle of the meter - its just a dizzying grey blur!!

2 weeks later and more than £3,000 lighter in the wallet department... we have fish, we have corals, we have loads of different inverts and shrimps and...and..and... you get the picture!!

But wait!! There's NO greenery!! [oops.gif]
Off we go again (dad is getting well p*ssed off playing the private Taxi driver)... to find some greenery! Most of the shops don't/won't/can't stock anything green for a marine tank - unless it's plastic on a blister pack for a Tropical version (yeukk!). Found some marine retailers (not many of them around these days - its all too new and too expensive), they can order it in for me but I have to pay for it now because it has to come from a special place in France or flown in from the Philippines or some other such far eastern country.... and it'll take weeks to get here.
Why can't they grow it???? Sorry mate, not possible. Nobody in Europe, except this place in France (The Louis Pasteur Institute for Marine Research), grows it with any success.
Bummer! I want bucket-loads of the stuff and it's gonna cost me an arm and a leg for a piddly little bag of it that you could plant in an egg-cup sized seedling pot! GGRRRRRRRR!! [014.gif]

A year goes by....
Some of the pieces I'm having to keep buying looks to be growing slightly... or at least not shrinking and rotting away quite so fast!
Another few months go by.... Success!!! it's actually growing!!! No BS.. it really is growing!!

I phone the LFS to tell him I need to cancel my regular order for my Caulerpa - I don't need it any more as I'm GROWING my own!!
"You'll be back" he said...and laffed me off the phone!!
Apparently (and I really have no idea if this is true or not), I was the only person in northern Europe apart from a couple of Sea Life centres, Brighton Public Aquarium and the aforementioned LP Institute in France that was actually growing the stuff in sufficient quantities to supply wholesalers and the general public.

Another 2-3 months later *I* (yes, little old *MOI*) was supplying several LFS as well as many private customers!!

True story.... god's honour!

Perhaps now you might have some idea of why I think differently, do things differently, and don't necessarily follow the crowd or the generally accepted way of solving a problem or getting a result.


Biomechanical "old-school" tanks are a great way to go about things on a budget. Ok, they are harder work and limit your choices of stock, but if you really want marines are are hard for cash, they work well if you can understand and work around their limitations - oh, and keep up with the larger and more regular than normally recommended water change. [005.gif]

I probably wouldn't recommend a system of this type to a complete beginner with it being a fairly hands-on approach, but if you have some experience these types of tank can really work [027.gif]

:-o to the forum.

Please keep the adventures rolling, I'm looking forward to this one developing [001_smile.gif]


I've just read through this one and to be honest I look forward to hearing any updates you have as you go along with it . It is different and I like different for sure [thumbup.gif]


Riveting read so far..........takes me back 30 years or so to using tap water, bleaching Tufa rock and air driven undergravel filters............ [003.gif]

Freedom Dwarf

Thanks guys! [taz.gif]

Its nice to know there are some out there that just might get a handle on where I'm at.

When I was earning shedloads of cash it was easy to just go buy what you want and if that don't work then go buy something else.... oh for those days again!! [001_tongue.gif]

A lot has happened in my life over the many long years and I always wanted another marine tank.
I'm getting to the stage where work isn't so important (I'm out of work anyway), and I've re-married to a wonderful lady. Out of the blue just over a year ago, we got a call and (long story short) ended up with my 2 teen kids back at home with me instead of the ex. Wife's got 2 teen kids of her own and they are now living with us as well.... Jeez.... a very small (compact is the description they use today) 3-bed house with 2 adults and 4 teen kids running amok and generally causing bedlam as all kids do at that age!!

Since then I've hurt both my shoulders and together with a few other medical hiccups (including diabetes), I'm off work for a very long time (almost a year now already) and stuck on benefits - a situation that I can't ever see being resolved and it looks more and more like I'll be on benefits until my retirement.
Bearing all that in mind, the thought of a nice peaceful hobby that I once enjoyed was becoming a burning desire again - but the harsh reality was kicking my ass to remind me that we don't have any money to speak of..... So, it'll have to be a shoe-string jobby!

Well.... The new Mrs likes fish and always talked about her friends' red-tailed shark and wanted one for herself. I wanted another marine tank and between us we struck a bargain - I'd get her the Tropical tank she wanted as long as I could have a marine one. Fair deal??? lol.

That's how it all started one day last October (2009). I showed her some pics of reef fish and like most people she wanted them all.... It took a bit of explaining but I think she's grasped the idea that we can't have half of the Great Barrier Reef in here!! Anyways, the story unfolded and when I found TSB (purely by accident I must say) I thought that maybe someone in a similar position re funds could have a real proper bash at setting something up for themselves.
A lot of it is a dash of well-founded, tried and tested (albeit old tech) information, a huge dolop of common sense with a pinch of luck thrown in for good measure.
Nowadays, most people have internet to do any research and to be honest there's no real excuse for not doing any! Like most things in life, you can't just go blundering through it and be blissfully unaware of what you're doing or trying to do to achieve the results you want.
That said, there are many good resources and places for information and certainly a place like TSB is a mine of expertise to draw upon if you get stuck or just want to know a bit more about what you are trying to do. There's no shame attached in asking about something you either don't know about or unsure of - even the likes of me have to resort to a greater knowledge somewhere outside of my own experiences and that's where TSB and the 'net are invaluable.

So this is my story of The Magical Mystery Marine Tank - warts and all!!
....and all done on a virtually zero budget.
Many times we've had to scrimp a bit (read that as 'quite a lot'! lol) or bought 'value' range stuff on the shopping list just to buy something for the tank(s). It's an interesting, and often very obviating exercise in resource management as well as the usual frustrations of following what is generally quite an expensive hobby.
The hard work and frequent failures in the beginning are sometimes soul-destroying - but the rewards when things are going well are way beyond any words that can be said!!

Back to the tank....
Received a very small section of 'grape' type Caulerpa thru the post this morning... not really impressed with what I actually got for my money but I duly planted it in the sand and maybe with a lot of luck it'll take and start growing - assuming it gets left alone long enough to think about growing!!

Got a new delivery of a couple more damsels and some salt for water changes due on Wednesday next week - I've actually run out of salt!!!!!! That was very remiss of me and it's very important! At least they had a small water change recently.
Nubies be very aware - you NEED to keep the environment reasonable for your wet pets.... A shoestring budget like my marine project is no excuse for making your pets suffer unnecessarily. If you can't afford to make it 99.99% near-perfect then at least you can make it 'livable' for them!! 'nuff said!

Also got another 500 river shrimps in that order to help with those in there that like to eat bigger stuff!! I've invested in some Salifert KH+PH buffer (a small bottle) because even though I don't have many inverts (I don't count the 'locals') I'm sure it will help with the general water quality when I come to do a water change - which I will do as soon as it arrives!!

My stock order from ATYD consists of a couple of glass catfish and 4 blue guppies for her tank, another common clown to go with what I already have, a blue-fin damsel, a domino damsel and a Banded Coral Shrimp to replace the one that died on me 4 weeks ago (was on my previous order but wasn't in stock and had to wait, so it's coming next week). I'd completely forgotten about my order for a BCS when I collected my locals so I may have to have a drastic shift in strategy when this one arrives.... Be prepared for it to be eaten overnight! [scared.gif]
The BCS is going to be a nightmare - I can feel it in my bones! Our original one grew soooo large in just 4+ months she was almost 12" across her feelers - a huge specimen by any standards. Unfortunately she died one morning during one of her many moults. I think I might have to sprout some extra eyes to watch the locals - especially Tango!!

That's it for now... more episodes coming up sometime soon!!! :)))


Would be worth you doing this exact same thread on ultimatereef just to see the difference in response, I remember how well gordon's old-school thread went down (reefloat)!

Freedom Dwarf

:-o to the magical mini-budget marine tank!


Whilst I was typing my last post last night, I watched Tango eating one of the smaller lime-green crabs!
Much as we don't like seeing predation going on, it's just one of those natural things that happen in the wild and when you have a tank with predators it's bound to happen sometimes.
As 'responsible'(??) keepers of wet pets we do try to keep our pets in a state where predation is kept to a minimum and preferably non-existent.

I was having a think about the arrival of the new stock due on Wednesday, particularly the new BCS. Crabs are natural predators and as much as we like our locals in the tank I thought that it was time for them to go back to where they came from.
The crabs in my tank are a helluva lot faster than any BCS would be and the size of Tango would mean watching him devour anything of similar ilk.

We had a discussion last night when I went to bed and we had a meeting of the family in the morning and decided that as good as the experiment was, they had to go if we wanted to keep any fancy shrimps or other slower-moving inverts.
Overnight, they had demolished and eaten most of the little bit of grape algae we planted so I doubt the tiny little battered frond that's left will survive.

Everyone wanted to keep Tango as we'd come to love the poor little critter - his antics were fun to watch!
We tussled with the idea of keeping him in a much smaller tank but to be honest, that would be cruel for such a large crab and eventually it was agreed he had to go back with the others into the wild where they came from. {sob}
C'est la vie!

So... with great sorrow, we caught them all, bagged them up nicely (just like any LFS would) and took them back to the river bank just a mile or so from where they originated from. Tears of sadness from the kids as Tango set forth into the river.

We still have the periwinkles and the bi-valves. We have also discovered a couple of very small white/clear anemones....

There are 2 of these this size and one other one as big as a pinhead.
The bigger two are barely 1cm across and close down to almost nothing. The tentacles appear to be white & clear banded and the main body is quite short and stout.
I've noticed they don't like the bright lights in the tank and they moved from their original position on top of the rock to somewhere down the side where the central disc doesn't get direct light from above. One of them has ventured onto the coral sand substrate.

Any ideas as to which type these are and if they are dangerous??
Apologies for the poor quality of the pic - it's difficult to get a clear shot of something so small and almost invisible that's not directly in the front of the tank.

From talking to ATYD and several other LFS in our area, it would seem that our rather over-large BCS that died a month ago did so from old age or possibly from some problem when she moulted. Shame, she was also hand tame as well.
Never mind, hopefully the new one will take her place and we'll all love it in time.

We are so attached to our beloved pets that they've been given various names [005.gif]

  • Blue Damsel [Chrysiptera Cyanea] - "devil".
    Regal Damsel [Chrysiptera Hemicyanea] - "Randal".
    Remember the 70's 'Randal & Hopkirk(deceased)' TV series??
    The two blue damsels (bought the same day) were originally named Randal & Hopkirk - 'Randal' survived.
    His original friend died overnight on the 1st night by jumping out and drying out.
    We found him dead the following afternoon dried out on the glass reinforcing bars.
Cleaner Wrasse x2 [Labroides Dimidiatus] - "Jack" and "Jill". Jill is the bigger of the two, Jack has a yellow splodge on his head.
Common Clownfish [Amphriprion Ocellaris] - "Tiger".
Humbug Damsel [Dascyllus Aruanus] - "Humbug".
Fuzzy Dwarf Lionfish [Dendrochirus brachypterus] - "Fuzzy".
Green Brittle Star [Ophiarachna incrassata] - "Sweep" because he/it sweeps his arms around at feeding time.
Horseshoe Crab [Limulus polyphemus] - "DipStick" because of her stupid and reckless behaviour bumbling around the tank.
Feather Duster Worm x2 [Polychaeta Sedentaria] - don't have names.

  • One has cream, beige and brown banded feathers.
    The other has dark purplish feathers that have a black/charcoal underside and whitish edges.
unknown Bi-valve x6 - don't have names.
Periwinkles x8ish [Littorina littorea] - don't have names.
Removed today...

  • Tango [Carcinus maenas].
    Assorted crabs x9 [Carcinus maenas].
These have all been returned, unharmed, to where they were originally collected.

Coming on Wednesday...

  • Blue Fin Damsel [Paraglyphidodon melas] - probably "Snowy", "Chalky" or "Casper" (the ghost?).
    Domino Damsel [Dascyllus Trimaculatus] - probably "Domino" or "Spot".
    Common Clownfish [Amphriprion Ocellaris] - probably "Nemo".
    Tri-Colour Damsel [Chrysiptera rollandi] - No idea yet!!
    Banded Coral Shrimp [Stenopus Hispidus] - "Lara" (Croft) if female or "Arnold" (Schwarzenegger) if male.
    Our original "Lara" was sooo bold and strutted around lording over the tank, 'she' was originally 'Arnold' until we discovered it was a female!!

Have picked up a large (120 ltrs?) water butt with lid to do my water changes with! :)) Thanks again to Freegle, it was a freebie! [thumbup1.gif]
I'll get it cleaned out and put some water in it tomorrow morning ready for Wednesday morning's water change.

That's the latest update for now.

PS: The Mrs has started waffling on TSB about her Tropical tank under the name of Loppylou.

Freedom Dwarf

Well.... The new stock arrived at 11am this morning - all well.

I did a 50% water change (coz it really needed it) with my dechlorinated water from my water butt.

The 500 river shrimp got dumped into the new water - rather unceremoniously.
The Fuzzy Dwarf Lionfish went potty and started hoovering them up like there's no tomorrow - gutsy sod!

Eventually, all the stock went in and they've all been eating - a good sign!
Our new 'Lara' (BCS) has already caught a few river shrimp and has staked her place in the tank.

Here are the names for the new arrivals -

  • Blue Fin Damsel [Paraglyphidodon melas] - "Casper" (the ghost?).
    Domino Damsel [Dascyllus Trimaculatus] - "Spot".
    Common Clownfish [Amphriprion Ocellaris] - a bit smaller than Tiger so he's "Nemo".
    Tri-Colour Damsel [Chrysiptera rollandi] - "George" (don't ask!! lol).
    Banded Coral Shrimp [Stenopus Hispidus] - "Lara" (Croft) - she's a female.
    This new one is just as bold as our old one! lol.

When everything has organised itself and settled down I'll try to grab a few pics and post them on here for all to see.


Fantastic thread so far, a great read. Thanks for taking the time to be so detailed and including superb pictures too!

It's very good to see someone doing something quite different.

My chaeto and calurpa are doing OK, hopefully they will grow strong enough that I can share it back out to forum members so when I harvest I'll drop you a pm.

Freedom Dwarf

Well.... its been a few days since I updated my blog.

After a computer crash I lost my Tank pics [crying.gif]
How do you back up 1700Gigs?? [confused1.gif]

Anyway, now we're all up and running I might just get around to getting some pics done!

The water butt proved very useful - I don't think the fish stressed so much with this 50% change than previous ones of only 30% or less. I have now ordered (and received) a barrel tap for the barrel to save me a bit of work - just need to fit it.

The tank is all fine... water is nice and clean, need to clean the glass now. [005.gif]

I'm a little concerned about Jack (one of the cleaner wrasses) who seems to have done a disappearing trick. We can't find him anywhere in the rocks. He may be buried somewhere in the substrate (not unknown with wrasses) so we'll leave it for a while and see if he turns up before I rake it all up.

So.... its been an eventful week even if there's not much to show for it! lol.

I'll get around to cleaning the glass, then I can take some pics to post here.
Not open for further replies.