Reefing can be a complex hobby. It requires a lot of time and attention. And, it can be super frustrating. Some of that frustration can be avoided with a few simple pointers that are often overlooked. Here are three things I wish someone told me in the beginning:
1. Watch alkalinity like a hawk.
This easy-to-test parameter is a big deal. Many beginners test for ammonia, nitrate, and ph while alkalinity goes under the radar.
In my experience, people don't test for alkalinity until something dies and then, when they do start looking for an answer, find alkalinity levels under 7.
Then, they over-correct to get alkalinity back up and shock everything in the tank, causing a bigger issue.
I can point to inconsistent alkalinity levels for many issues in my personal tanks. The more stable my alkalinity, the better my tanks looked and grew.
I recommend grabbing a Hanna Checker and testing alkalinity daily until you understand how levels change over time.
Other parameters can be tested weekly but until you understand how much alk is being consumed by your tank, daily testing is a must.
We still monitor alkalinity daily on our tanks via the Neptune Trident while my main personal tank gets tested every 2-3 days with a Hanna Checker.
Determining what to do to maintain consistent alk levels depends a lot on how much is needed.
In the beginning, water changes may replenish alkalinity but in my experience, water changes needed to be too big or happen too often to keep up. Also, if you are using a high alk salt like Red Sea Coral Pro, the alk swings are too high and stress the corals.
Kalkwasser dosing also never worked for me as it impacted Ph too much while not maintaining alkalinity levels.
At Clownfish Cove and on my personal tanks, we've settled on using Tropic Marin All-for-Reef powder. It allows us to dose one product to maintain a broad range of parameters and nutrients. It's also very affordable.
2. Dip and quarantine everything (except inverts).
Get velvet once and you'll learn this lesson quick and hard. Nothing is more tragic than watching fish die within days one after another from a disease that could have been easily prevented with quarantine.
There is no battle more frustrating than playing whack-a-mole with aiptasia, or even worse, tearing a tank apart to deal with red bugs or acro-eating flat worms.
Dip, quarantine, and inspect everything, even in the beginning... Especially when beginning a new tank. Many people think they don't need to quarantine because they don't have anything in there yet. But, the last thing you want is to introduce a nuisance that rears its head months down the road. Start clean.
Even then, we highly recommend a quality UV light to keep the inevitable pest from overwhelming your fish.
3. Don't over-correct.
The knee-jerk reaction to finding an out-of-range parameter or outbreak of something like cyanobacteria is usually "OMG!" and either a huge water change and/or a heavy dose of whatever is needed to correct it.
First, take a breath to properly assess the situation. I've come across healthy reef aquariums that, when tested, had an alkalinity level of over 15. Dropping alkalinity to under 10 too fast probably would have killed almost everything. It's better to let it drop naturally over time. Maybe even weeks.
Same for raising alkalinity. If we find a tank in the 5's or 6's, we gradually increase the dose of whatever 2-part solution is being used. If none, we begin adding All-For-Reef at the recommended dose, test daily, and adjust as needed.
Similarly, we don't want to over correct high phosphates or nitrates with huge water changes or phosphate remover - bottoming them out and removing a source of nutrients for our corals. Neither do we want to overdose coral food when we find them at zero.
Always strive to go slow and steady. Play the long game. Research your issue as much as possible. Most of all, get to know your aquarium and it's parameters so that you can make intelligent, measured adjustments based on the results.